Stop Whining!

For several years I have been hearing and reading lots of Christians, many of them leaders in churches, talk about the persecution that Christians are under in the United States and how it is going to get worse. In the last few days I have read and heard numerous doom and gloom scenarios about the future of persecution in the USA. Let me be clear from the outset, this drives me nuts. You would be hard pressed to find another country in the world where it is so easy to be a follower of Christ. I should know, I have been to more than 40 of them.

There are two main points I want to make. First, Christians in this country are NOT being persecuted. Second, if you are, PRAISE GOD! That’s wonderful!

As to the first point, it is without a doubt, that serious followers of Jesus face pushback, and opposition, and at times ridicule. There are often times when that ridicule is deserved, so I hardly would count that as persecution. Even still, the kind of pushback many Christians face in The United States does not rise anywhere even close to the level of any definition of persecution. If you want to see persecution, let me take you to some places I have been. Let’s go to China where pastors are regularly arrested and held in jail for undetermined amounts of time, while their churches get bulldozed, and their people arrested. Let me take you to Iran, where the church is growing faster than in just about any other country in the world, yet under one of the harshest regimes and life threatening persecutions. I could go on and on. You see, by comparison, it is a cake walk following Jesus in the USA. Yet, ironically, this is one of just a handful of countries in the world were the church is in decline.

Maybe it is not persecution that threatens the church so much as it is the fact that we have idolized personal comfort, physical safety, and financial security, above being loving witnesses to the glory of Jesus. How else do you explain that in a country where the constitution guarantees the freedom to worship, and practice our faith, and tell other people about Jesus, in a country with more Bibles than people, how is it in that country, the church is in decline? Yet in places with none of that and only facing hardship, the church flourishes and people are coming to faith in Jesus everyday?

The second point, to praise God of you are getting pushback and even persecution for your faith, simply comes from the words of Jesus…..

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:10-12

Jesus told his first followers that they are blessed when their lives so reflect who Jesus is that people persecute them and slander them. Those first Christians took that to heart. When they were arrested and beaten for preaching Jesus, they didn’t whine and complain and take someone to court. They walked away, “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name”. Acts 5:41.

You see, the life mission of a follower of Jesus doesn’t change because their environment makes it more difficult. It doesn’t matter who is in the White House, what executive orders they sign, who controls the Senate or the House of Representatives, or who gets nominated to the Supreme Court. The mission of the follower of Jesus remains to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, to love your neighbor, even your enemy, as yourself, and to go and make disciples of all ethnicities. Maybe if we focused more on that Great Commandment and Great Commission, we would have less time to whine about it being a little harder to be a Christian than it used to be.

If you are getting some serious heat for following Jesus, before you start screaming about persecution, it would be a good idea to ask if you have been loving your neighbor and your enemy as Jesus commands. Maybe they revile you and say all sorts of slanderous things about you, not because you are living like Jesus, but because you are being a jerk. In that case, it’s not persecution, it’s probably closer to justice.

Provocative Bible Verses: Sacrificing for Your Enemies

No it does not say “Sacrificing Your Enemies” as good as that might sound at times. Jesus instead was pretty clear and adamant about us making sacrifices on behalf of our enemies. In the Sermon on the Mount he hits this hard.

If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Matthew 5:41

Imagine this scenario if you would. The country in which you live has been conquered by another country that is steadily taking over the entire world. Everywhere you go there are foreign soldiers patrolling the streets. They are proud and boastful. They take what they want from anyone and arrest people whenever they feel like it. On a daily basis people are executed by the soldiers. Women live in fear that they may be violated like their neighbor was last week. Men live in anger and shame over their inability to do anything to protect their family and their possessions. In the midst of all this the occupying army has a law that any soldier may, at any time, grab any citizen and force them to carry their gear for one mile.

That is the context for these words from Jesus. This is not just some theoretical sermon on his part. This was life as faced by his followers everyday. The Roman army had conquered Israel years before. Soldiers were everywhere. In fact a unit was posted in a fortress right next to the Temple, the most holy of places for the Jews. Even when they went to worship they were reminded of being a conquered people. There was even the law about carrying a soldiers gear for one mile. You simply had to do it.

So now imagine that you had a son who was killed by the Romans, or a wife who was raped by them, or a husband who was beaten senseless by them. Then one day as you are heading to the market to buy food for your family, you see some Roman soldiers coming towards you. You keep your head lowered, avoiding eye contact at all costs. You move to the side of the road hoping to stay well out of their way and their notice. They move past you and you let out a quiet sigh of relief that nothing happened and you can move on to the market. Suddenly your heart sinks when you hear one of them shout, “Hey, you! Carry my pack and supplies”. The natural human reaction is to be angry, upset, maybe even a little afraid. You are being forced to go a mile in the wrong direction. In order to get back to where you are now means a total of two miles out of your way. You need to carry the very supplies that this soldier uses to keep your people in subjection and you need to do it so he is not worn out from doing it himself and has more energy to fight your people if need be.

Jesus makes it clear that when you get to the end of the one mile requirement of the law that you should offer freely to carry the pack a second mile. That means a four mile total for you to sacrifice for and serve your enemy and then get back to where you started hours earlier. This is clearly going above and beyond that call of duty. It is in fact where we get the phrase, “going the extra mile”.

In all of this Jesus is giving us a real life example for the principle of loving your enemies. It is a hard principle to follow but that is what makes it so provocative. Picture the response of your enemy at the end of the first mile when you freely offer to go a second. No one has ever done that before. Always in the past they dropped the gear as fast as they could and went rushing back the way they came. Maybe they even mumbled a few choice words as they did so. But you offer with a smile to serve this enemy. He is going to ask, “Why would you do that?” At which point you are given an open door to say, “because I love Jesus and I know he loves you too”.

It really is a matter of what you value most. If you value your agenda, time, pleasure, need for revenge, sense of justice or anything else more than you value fulfilling the call that Jesus has placed on your life, then this is an impossible task. Your reaction will default to complaining, anger or disgust. But if you have as your primary reason for being, to honor Jesus and see more people become worshipers of him, then you will set aside your need for revenge. You will give up your right to grumble and complain over the unfairness of it all. You will avoid the pity party of why this has happened to you. Instead you will, with joy, look at the opportunity that Jesus has given you to show someone what it means to truly follow Him.

That is what it means to be a Provocative Christian. So what is the extra mile you can go for someone? What is the thing you can do for another, even you enemy, so that they ask why you did it and you can point them to Jesus?

Provocative Bible Verses: Love Your Enemies

When love is seen as nothing more than a fleeting emotion that we can’t control, that we fall in and out of, and that comes and goes in a completely arbitrary way, then it is impossible to obey the command of Jesus to love our enemies. So either something is seriously wrong with our understanding of love, or something is seriously wrong with Jesus. Hmmm, I wonder which one it is? So exactly what was it that Jesus said?

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:43-45

Jesus gives us a command that directs how we are to treat people with whom we have major conflicts. He does this in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount in which he has already told us that when we are sued for one thing, we should willingly give up even more. He also said that when someone forces us to do go a mile in order to serve them that we should volunteer to go an extra mile. It is a series of statements about the need to sacrifice our own comfort, position and avoid emotional knee jerk reactions in order to demonstrate a Christ-like character. The command to love our enemies is one more example in that chain.

Although love certainly has an emotional facet to it, it is also a verb, an action that we are to carry out. When Paul tells husbands to “love their wives as Christ loved the church by laying down His life for her” he doesn’t say to do that only when they have warm, fuzzy feelings for their wife. He is saying that we love someone by the way we treat them, no matter how we feel about them. One way of understanding what Jesus is saying when He tells us to love our enemies is that we are to “be loving” by showing them the kindness that we would want shown to us. Jesus is including even our enemies in the definition of who the neighbor is that we are to love. We are to love them as we love ourselves.

He goes on to tell us to pray for those who persecute us. Your first emotional reaction might be to pray that God strikes them down and vindicates you. But when Jesus tells us to pray for those enemies who persecute us, He is telling us to pray that God blesses them. He is telling us to pray that God pours His grace upon them and leads them to a relationship with Him. He is telling us to pray for them in a way that love demands.

In doing this Jesus says we will show that we are children of our heavenly Father. That is what this is all about. How we respond to our enemies should demonstrate who God is. Our own feelings of anger and revenge and hurt are inconsequential compared to the opportunity we have to show people who our Father is and bring Him glory. 

Several years ago I was faced with a person who said and did some things that unjustly caused incredible pain for me and my family. My desire was to strike back but somehow God’s grace kept me from doing that. When his own life started to spin out of control and fall apart I did all I could to show him grace and mercy whenever I ran into him in the community. After two years he got in touch with me to ask forgiveness. He was trying to get his life back in order and get right with God. He told me that the grace I showed him was crucial in causing him to admit his own sin and turn back to Jesus. It was the love of Christ that made the difference. I could have reacted out of my emotion of hurt and anger or I could have acted with the love of Christ. Letting the love of Christ come through saved me from a life of bitterness and him from a life of estrangement from God. 

What motivated me time and again in that situation was the realization that such grace was exactly how God treated me when I was His enemy. The Bible makes it clear that prior to coming to faith in Christ, I was God’s enemy. Yet Jesus prayed for me in John 17 and demonstrated ultimate love by going to the Cross. If that is what Jesus did for me when I was His enemy, how much more should I show His love to fellow human beings who are my enemies? To deny that love to them is to deny the Cross in my own life. To refuse to pray that God bless those who persecute me is to deny that I am a child of my Father, it is to deny God the glory due Him.