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.

A Christian Response to Attacks on the Faith

The terroristic attacks on the French Magazine Charlie Hedbo have once again thrust a simmering conflict into the headlines. The magazine is well-known for its satirical cartoons that are equal opportunity offenders. The Pope, Christianity, Islam, the prophet Mohammed are all fair game for the magazines satire. It is clear that the attack this week on the magazine’s headquarters, which left twelve dead, was motivated by satirical cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. Even as I write this the French security forces have surrounded the two suspected gunman who are reported to have told police they are ready to die as martyrs.

In the past few days there have been numerous articles, blogs, and news reports about the violent responses that radical Islamists have made to similar affronts to Islam in recent years. In the midst of the reports and debates there have been a variety of responses to the very idea of printing images that are offensive to religious sensibilities. Many editors and cartoonists have expressed solidarity with Charlie Hedbo by posting illustrations of their own, vowing to never give up the right of free expression. On the other side a number of news agencies, CNN and AP among them have made statements that they have long had a policy of not printing such offensive images.

The problem with the CNN and AP statements is that they are mistaken at best and outright falsehoods at worst. As recently as October of 2014 CNN ran a story on shocking works of art and included a picture of the infamous exhibit of a crucified Christ in a jar of urine.  Many have pointed out the hypocrisy of news agencies that feel free to attack and offend Christians at every turn, apparently without a second thought, yet go to great lengths to avoid offending other religious groups. I don’t want to delve into that subject. Rather, I want to look at how Christians need to view and respond to such attacks on the faith and on Christ.

The message of Jesus, as it relates to being offended, attacked, ridiculed, persecuted, or even killed for one’s faith, was a radical and provocative message. It boils down to these two things: one, expect those things to happen to you and when they do, consider it a blessing and respond to your antagonists with the love of Christ. Two, if you are not the subject of such attacks then reconsider whether you are truly following Jesus or not.

Jesus said it so clearly in His most famous message, The Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew chapter 5:10-12.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Far from being the exception that rocks our faith, Jesus says that persecution and ridicule are part and parcel of following Him and should actually increase our faith. Such opposition should serve as an assurance that we are truly following Jesus and being faithful to Him. The result of such opposition is that we are in some way blessed by God. We are in a better place in life when such things happen than when they don’t. Blessing in God’s economy is not measured by your prosperity and health but according to Jesus by the push-back you get because you love and serve Him alone as Lord and King.

Of course it is possible to be ridiculed for your faith simply because you are being a jerk to people. What I am talking about is the opposition that comes because you adhere to Christ and His teachings and do all of it under the command to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. I am talking about holding to theological and moral positions that the culture finds offensive, but doing so with the grace and love of Christ.

Being ridiculed and persecuted for who He was and what He taught is what Jesus faced all the time. His response was one of strong gentleness, returning evil with good and loving and forgiving even those who drove the nails into His body and spit on and cursed Him as He died. In Matthew 10:25 He warns us that is this is how the world treats Him, the Master, then why would we the servants expect to be treated any differently?

Why would a follower of Christ become offended and indignant when attacked for their faith? If anything it should be taken as a badge of honor that we are counted worthy to suffer for His namesake. That is exactly what Paul says to the Philippians in chapter 1 verse 29.

29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake

Talk about provocative! Paul is saying that we have been granted, as a privilege, to believe in AND suffer for the sake of Christ. When he writes of his own imprisonment for the Gospel he writes of the benefits such suffering and persecution have had for the advancement of the Gospel, making the point that other followers of Christ have been emboldened to share their faith more openly as a result of Paul being persecuted. How counter-intuitive is that? Rather than run and hide out of fear or protest the injustice of his persecution, friends and colleagues of Paul shared the Gospel even more. I think it was because they saw his imprisonment, his persecution, not as a sign of something going wrong but of everything going right! Rather than be angry and lash back at the opposition, they showed the love of Christ even more boldly.

That is the Christian response to offense, ridicule, persecution, and even martyrdom. Instead of fighting back with vitriol, or anger, or even guns, the follower of Christ fights back with joy, love, grace, and forgiveness, in short, with the Gospel of Christ. For some people the answer is to destroy their enemies by way of attack. Abraham Lincoln asked the question, “If I make my enemy my friend, have I not destroyed my enemy?” That is the way of Christ. Not to make your enemy die, but to rather lay down your life for them so they are no longer your enemy. That is the way of the Cross. It is not an easy way. The easy way is to retaliate, to fight back, to punch harder and more frequently. The way of the Cross, the way of the Provocative Christian, is to respond with love by serving and sacrificing for your enemies. You do that so they may one day become followers of Christ, no longer enemies, but friends, even brothers and sisters in Him. So pray for those who persecute and ridicule you. Look for opportunities to serve them and love them in Jesus name. Refuse to attack their character or intentions. Certainly engage their ideas but as 1 Peter 3:15 urges, “do so with gentleness and respect”. And finally rejoice that you have been counted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus.

It’s Still Dangerous to Follow Jesus

You probably remember something from a history class somewhere in your past that during the first few centuries after Christ, that His followers were periodically arrested, beaten, thrown to the Lions and under Emperor Nero, covered in tar and set on fire as street lamps for the city of Rome. But you probably have the opinion that such persecution and danger for followers of Jesus is a thing of the past. Surely in 2,000 years we have progressed as people and there is a tolerance for people of other faiths. Live and let live.

In spite of our optimism, some reports claim that more people have died as martyrs for Christ in the past 100 years than in all the 1900 years prior. Such statistics can leave you overwhelmed and staggered, searching for some way to block out their significance and more one in life pretending that it doesn’t impact you. Such a notion runs totally counter to what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:16, “When one of us suffers we all suffer”. Every once in a while such numbers get personal and hit a little closer to home. That happened on April 17th 2010 in the town of Selaiya in central India.

For me it started in November of 2009 when I was at a conference in Delhi hosted by Rod Gilbert. Rod is an Indian who loves Jesus and is a leader in the House Church Movement in his country. He is a gracious man who is sold out for Jesus along with many members of his extended family. On April 17th the persecution of Christians struck very close to home for him. Rod has a cousin whose family follows Christ. On that day, Amit Gilbert, a member of that family was attacked by members of Bajrang Dal. These are Hindus who worship the Monkey God. Amit had been sharing the Gospel in that town and these men did not like that. So that beat him to death and threw his body down a well. That is not an isolated occurrence. Christians around the world are having their homes burned, being beaten and threatened, as well as kid-napped never to be seen again.

Two things come to mind when I consider the persecution of Christians around the world. First is that Jesus promised this would happen if we followed Him. 20Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. John 15:20-21

Certainly there are Christians who invite suffering simply because they are obnoxious and argumentative. That is not persecution for following Jesus. That is a just reward for being Un-Christ-like. But there are those who do follow Jesus, loving their neighbor, reaching out to those in need, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, setting people free with the life changing message of forgiveness. Those people are being persecuted and killed all around the world. It is just as Jesus said it would be. Following Jesus is not for sissies.

The second point that comes to mind is this. If you are following Jesus and never been ridiculed, laughed at, rejected, or mocked, are you really following Jesus? You may believe in Him and have knowledge of Him that includes things like going to church. But if you have never faced anything close to the rejection that Jesus promised, are you really walking in His footsteps? Again that doesn’t mean you go out and make a nuisance of yourself. But trust me, if you decide to go feed some homeless people, or use your vacation for a mission trip to New Delhi instead of a beach trip to New Smyrna, if you tell people you believe in a God of absolute truth, or that Jesus is the only way to heaven, you will find opposition and rejection. You will be persecuted as Jesus promised and if you are not that maybe you need to reassess how closely you are following Jesus.

Lest you leave this all bummed out and depressed let me share this final thought. Many in the west think that Christianity is on the decline. We look around us and think the influence of Christians is less than ever and fewer people are following Christ. Maybe, maybe not. What I do know is that around the world, Christianity is growing like a weed. It is growing in places like India, China, all over Africa and South America. It is growing in spite of a lake of resources and in spite of, or maybe because of life threatening persecution. Maybe the persecution exists in those places because more and more people are truly following Jesus by being loving, gracious, hospitable, committed to the poor, sacrificing for their neighbor in ways the west does not. And so as more people follow that kind of Jesus, the opposition grows and so does the church. Maybe the lack of persecution in the west and the decline of Christianity are linked. When it is so easy to follow Jesus, few people see the need and few people do, so few people bother to make Christians suffer.