Tag Archives: persecution

More Than Survival

I just finished reading a long essay by a man who believes that everyone should acquire the knowledge that enabled people to survive and thrive before electronic technology existed. I agree. Electronics are seriously vulnerable, but the ways of pre-electronic society can and will enable a good life to anyone. God’s earth will still be here, even after the EMP or a hurricane or a world war.

People in today’s world need another “tool” in their “survival kit,” too. They need faith in Christ who redeemed humankind and all creation when he died and rose again.

Many people believe that it is “all up to me” and there is no help other than their own wits and strength. Self-sufficiency is an important and valuable character trait that keeps us from being needy and dependent on our fellow man and on government, but it is not enough to give us real health and long life. Only faith in Christ and a life lived in relationship with him will enable us to thrive in utterly destructive circumstances.

The first principle of a successful life before, during, or after disaster is to put all your hope in God alone.

Contemporary culture rejects the existence of God, and that stance means that one must be completely self-sufficient. God cannot help a person who denies his existence. God sends rain on the believers and the unbelievers alike, but only believers see God’s hand at work in the blessing of the rain. Unbelievers see a water control problem that they must fix. Unbelievers see no blessing in the seeming randomness of the rain, or in the gradual increase in the size of a desert, or in the transitions of natural climate change. Unbelievers see Inequality in the difference in rainfall, paychecks, or intellectual gifts. Unbelievers think that only equal pay, equal rain, and equal intellect is equality, and therefore unbelievers are always at war with God’s diversity and inclusiveness. God loves all people equally, but his gifts are distributed according to his perfect plan, not according to the ability of humans to measure equality.

To put your hope in God alone is to accept his work and his administration without fear. If you hope in God alone, for example, then when voters choose a tyrannical president as wicked and faithless as the ancient king Ahab, you do not lose faith in God. You recognize that a purpose and plan bigger than yourself is at work. When that godless tyrant begins to disassemble legal and moral structures that were God’s gifts delivered through leaders obedient to God’s direction, you recognize God’s judgment on people who chose the tyrant who hands out bread and circuses rather than a Godly leader who focuses on protecting opportunity for all. God has not stopped caring about the nation; the nation has stopped caring about God.

If you put your hope in God alone, then you trust God’s guidance and care for the nation and for you as an individual. You don’t despair when God’s will for the nation results in pain for you; rather, you give thanks to God for the privilege of suffering for His Name’s sake, in the same way the disciples suffered from human evil: “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”  (Acts 6:41)

This is why Christians who mourn the collapse of Constitutional government and the moral rot perpetuated by government mandate in public schools do not, nevertheless, despair. The church, Christ’s body on earth, was not made for the easy times; it was born of inhuman suffering and it thrives in the most inhospitable times and places.

Christians thrive and bear the sweetest fruit when nourished by being like Christ—despised and rejected by men.

It is wise for Christians to prepare for disasters. A wise person will be ready for war, civil unrest, hurricanes, or whatever hard times he can foresee. However, all that common sense wisdom can be made worthless by disasters nobody could have foreseen. When that happens, it is good to be able to testify with Job, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) Only those who put all their hope in God alone will thrive in times like that.

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Stop and Think About the Bible

Torah ScrollLearn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed. Isaiah 1:17 NRSV

Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Hebrews 13:3 NRSV

  • Secular thinkers believe they can figure out what is good by observing what makes them feel good. This means that the good is relative to the person making the choice. Christians teach that the Bible is where we learn what is good. Christians believe that the Bible reveals absolute good. How do you explain to a secular thinker the value of an absolute revealed good?
  • Do you observe oppression in the USA? Who is oppressed?
  • Social and political activists say that it is unfair that more people of color are imprisoned than white people. What do they think determines the rate of imprisonment? What do you think determines the rate of imprisonment? Are people of color routine oppressed because of their color by US society? By the government? What does the writer of Hebrews mean when he says we should show empathy for prisoners? Does this statement justify activism to release prisoners on the basis of skin color? What do you think determines the number and proportions of the prison population?
  • In Muslim countries Christians are frequently arrested for blasphemy. In socialist countries they are arrested for unauthorized worship. In countries with a history of animist religions they are arrested by not participating in rituals that are considered necessary for the prosperity of their communities. What must imprisoned Christians do about these threats? What must US Christians do?
  • These differences also turn on a difference of perception of what is good. What can Christians do to help others understand how we discern what is good?

 

Are Christians Persecuted in the USA?

By the strictest definition of the work persecute there is no persecution of Christians in the USA. However, persecution seldom arises full-blown in any country. It develops over time. The seed is sown as disinformation about Christianity is spread in conversations, blog posts, public discussions and printed material. Disinformation casts Christianity as anything from an annoyance to a real threat to non-Christians, and the reaction of non-Christians may be as mild as name-calling in a shopping mall or as severe as lawsuits pursued all the way to the Supreme Court. Harassment may lead to actual discrimination, a practice forbidden in law but easily practiced by pretending some other motive.

That path to persecution is littered with the establishment of dangerous precedents. For example, in contemporary culture, the generic issues of health care, marriage and education are seething stews of hot button issues that turn on personal values shaped by religious teachings. When legal discussions succeed in dissecting the issues to separate actions from the values of people embroiled in them, court decisions can set precedents that feel like persecution to individuals who cannot live by their faith principles without running afoul of laws or regulations. Increasingly, the secular stance of the culture shapes a secular stance by government. The secular worldview is not itself persecution, but it is diametrically opposed to the Christian worldview. The conflict between worldviews can and does lead to persecution. It has happened in countries around the world, and it could happen in the USA

In the US, the First Amendment to the US Constitution historically has moderated the friction between secularism and Christianity. At the beginning of the nation, most of the parties to discussions in this realm agreed on terminology and definitions without writing out the terms and the definitions. They simply understood one another. Today, the tacit agreements of the past no longer stand, and disagreement over the terms is creating new points of friction.

Contemporary Christians chafe at the changes but are loathe to use the word persecution. It sounds overblown. They do not want to call it persecution when an employer forbids employees to wish customers a “Merry Christmas.” They don’t even want to call it persecution when a student is forbidden to pray in a valedictory address, bad though they may think the ruling is. They want to get along, and they do not want to start trouble.

This is the real challenge. When might the courage of one’s convictions become thoughtless and irresponsible trouble-making? In first century Jerusalem, the same question arose. The apostles were going around talking about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, a real sore spot for Jewish religious leaders and Roman government officials. They had executed Jesus in order to shut down trouble, but trouble seemed to erupt despite everything. Ignorant fishermen made the powers that be look ridiculous by claiming their “execution” was a failure, and even worse, they were performing miracles of healing in the name of the very troublemaker who had been executed. The people with power in the culture and the government tried to make deals with these people. They said that if the followers of Jesus would just shut up, the people with power would leave them alone. The followers of Jesus refused to shut up, saying, “We must obey God rather than men.” The public disagreements escalated from disinformation (these people just want to make trouble) to harassment (demands by religious leaders to shut up) to discrimination (refusal to hire Christians or allow them to live in certain places) to outright persecution (beatings, stonings, imprisonment and public executions).

Nothing has changed. People in the US have become comfortable about being Christian, because until recently, the culture actually thought being Christian was a good thing. Public officials wanted to be known for regular church attendance, whether or not they believed anything. That state of affairs has ended. And that is no real loss. What is lost, however, is an easy, comfortable assumption that being a Christian is a social plus.

What should Christians do about it?

Christians must open their eyes. The cultural pressures that create the momentum to persecution seem almost too trivial or even too ridiculous to worry about. Some Christians feel that it looks immature to object when somebody says, “It offends me when you say that Christ is the way to God.” In the name of being considerate and sensitive to the feelings of others, Christians back away and back away and back away.

Jesus teaches his followers to love people who oppose them, and he even teaches his followers to turn the other cheek, but he also insists that his followers must never stop putting him first. The entire book of Revelation is devoted to one consistent message: overcoming. Christians do not overcome the world by aggression; they overcome by clinging to Christ. When they are opposed, they cling to Christ, they claim his name and his promise to go with them, and they never recant. When they are assaulted and abused, they turn the other cheek, and they keep saying, “Christ died for you, too.” When they are told to keep their religion to themselves, they simply do not do it; they share Christ everywhere at all times. They overcome persecution by never giving up Christ. Their victories may at times look like defeat. Christ on the cross looked like a loser, but the empty tomb testifies that Christ is the winner, the victor.

In the US today, a Christian’s neighbors do not gather around and demand he leave town because everybody else is a Buddhist. It won’t hold water in a US court to accuse a Christian of blasphemy against the prophet Mohammed. The local shaman will not assemble a mob to burn down a Christian’s house because he refuses to contribute to the annual fertility festival. Those kinds of aggression do sound like persecution even to western ears. By comparison, battles over prayer in schools, wearing a cross at work, and even the funding of birth control don’t actually sound like persecution. Nevertheless, it is important to remember than unless Christians step up and defend the boundaries of religious liberty, the pressure of creeping secularism will steadily shrink the accepted scope of religious liberty. Christians in the US may not be persecuted today, in the strictest sense of the word, but their right to the free exercise of their faith is seriously under assault. Groups such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation do not try to hide the fact that they want religion shut down and cleaned out of US society. They are quite clear that each time they win a victory, they celebrate the narrowing of religious liberty, and they consider that small victory to be a stepping stone to the ultimate victory of removing religion from the culture forever.

Christ never taught us that we should expect it to be easy to live obedient to him. He said, “All men will hate you because of me.” Matthew 9:22 The cultural and even governmental restrictions that pressure Christians to be less and less visible may not be persecution, but if the enemies of Christianity achieve their objective, the suppression of the good news of Christ, persecution will not be needed. Persecution arises only when less violent tactics fail. Christians must be faithful against the least rejection, the tiniest restriction of free exercise of faith. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and Satan’s battle to defeat the good news of Christ may begin with nothing more than a whisper. Never doubt, however, that when Satan takes the smallest step to diminish Christ’s influence in the world, he has every intention of carrying the battle to its fullest development. The fact that Christians are not “persecuted” in the US today does not mean that it will not happen.

A Verse for Meditation

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  1 Peter 1:3 ESV

How new is the new Christian? Think about a newborn baby – eager to see everything, completely confident that Mother will take care of him, fearless, hungrily learning from every experience. How does that compare to your memory of being a new Christian?

What made the Christian’s new birth possible?

Read what follows:

to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:4-9 ESV

A new Christian is already experiencing the cleansing and forgiveness of Christ’s salvation. What does Peter mean, then, when he says that salvation will be revealed later?

Peter says that the faith of a new Christian is more precious than gold. In what other way does he compare this faith to gold?

The joy of knowing Christ, according to Peter, transcends the constraints of time. What are the characteristics of this joy?

Peter names three paradoxes that characterize Christian existence in this passage. What are they? See if you can figure them out before you read the footnote. [1]


 

[1] The three paradoxes are: 1) joy in the face of suffering, 2) confidence in delivery despite persecution, and 3) reliance in Christ despite the fact that he cannot be seen.

A Verse for Meditation

If we have died with him, we will also live with him. 2 Timothy 2:11

Paul wrote from prison to Timothy, a young pastor. Read what the experienced missionary said in verses leading up to this statement:

8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. 2 Timothy 2:8-10

  • What two things are key to Paul’s teaching about Christ in this passage? Are these things important to your faith? How important is it that God kept his promise to Abraham and to David?
  • What is Paul’s situation? How does he explain his own ministry in this adverse situation? Have you personally experienced suffering or chains, or have you endured misery or pain for the sake of the gospel? Do you know anyone who has suffered for the faith?
  • What is one of the important reasons Paul endures and stands fast in the faith?
  • When Paul says, “we have died with him,” to what is he referring?
  • How will we live if we have died?

12    if we endure,
we will also reign with him.
If we disown him,
he will also disown us;
13    if we are faithless,
he will remain faithful,
for he cannot disown himself. 2 Timothy 2:12-13 

  • Today’s verse is the first of a list of promises. Read the promises. What happens to Christ’s work if we are faithful? What happens to Christ’s work if we disown him? What happens to Christ’s work if we are faithless? Who loses if we fail him and disown him rather than persevere and testify faithfully?