It tends to be more obvious when seen in foreign countries; where barbaric governments fine, imprison, or even kill those who profess to know and love Christ. But in case you haven’t noticed, attacks on Christianity are here in this rich and free land of America, too. It’s evident when companies are financially pressured to hold business policies against Biblical principles, or individuals are threatened to be suspended from a television program due to their open confession of faith, or a teacher is silenced from speaking the truth of the Gospel to his/her students. [John 15:19-21]
Those are the more obvious situations, and when it comes to violent persecutions, there are few–if any–who go by the name of Christian that would not be ready with a word of admiration for our brethren who are suffering for Christ’s sake. But many of us are not living like we care, or truly understand the full scope of things.
Before I go on, I want to make it clear that I am by no means perfect. Far from it; I am weak, lazy, and sinful. I am by no means disparaging others for their struggles. But I was convicted today, when during the morning sermon, my dad mentioned Christians being killed in the street for singing praises to God, and I thought of all the things we’re at liberty to do in America… and don’t.
A lot of us live with the crippling thought of, “Oh, I don’t want to throw religion in people’s faces.” Understood. There’s a time and place for everything; a way to speak to people without riling them up unnecessarily, and we shouldn’t be throwing God’s name around in order to pick fights. That’s not honouring God; that’s getting a kick out of hearing ourselves talk. However, why aren’t we more concerned about doing all the things that our brothers and sisters in the Lord are literally dying to do?
For example, one of my Facebook friends shared a link to this video of Chinese Christians opening a box of Bibles. How many of us understand just how enormously blessed we are to go into any bookstore, and be guaranteed to find a Bible in several different translations and binding options? They’re a dime a dozen at the thrift store. But others do not have easy access to God’s Word. In China, it’s illegal for public bookstores to sell Bibles, or for anyone to smuggle them in to hand out. You are allowed what the communist government deems right for you to have–including how many children.
When people are being beaten, and killed for owning a Bible, why is it so hard for us to open our own and study it? To treat it with the same overwhelming joy and gratitude that we would if we found a cure to a terminal disease? Why is it we can’t faithfully attend morning and evening service when there are those in the world who would risk everything just to openly worship for one day? An hour, even! Why don’t we take more advantage of the fact that it’s legal here to gather with fellow saints during the week and have a prayer meeting, or Bible study? Why do we cause divisions and separations over petty things in our churches, rather than concern ourselves with what really matters, like how we might glorify God together? Why do we make such a huge deal about… anything, really, except the matter of serving God and each other through our lives, and strengthening the church by our mutual labours?
I think I know why.
Because here, in such a country of wealth, and freedom, and the promotion of tolerance towards our fellow man, to merely slap the name “Christian” on someone is considered good enough. To know of Jesus, attend church
most some of the time, and basically believe the Bible, well, that’s the easy road to heaven, and why stir the pot if it means making life more difficult? [Matthew 7:21-23] That sinful man that dwells within us; that lazy, self-seeking, arrogant creature that constantly struggles to keep us a slave to sin is petted and pampered with this indolent attitude towards the Christian life. It’s not difficult to be a Christian in America. Not really. And that is precisely why it’s difficult.
It seems a contradiction, I know. But think on it for a moment. In countries ruled by dictators and warmongers who slaughter their own people, it’s so glaringly obvious who to point out as the bad guy. The last table of the law (all the commandments pertaining to how we treat our fellow man) is so blatantly disregarded, that we can shudder, and recoil in horror at the barbaric acts, and say, “There is true evil.” And everyone in their right mind wants to be the opposite of that, because what humane person wouldn’t?
But what about the first table of the law? The part of God’s commandments that Jesus summed up with one line as the first and great commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Jesus said it’s the greatest… and it’s greatly ignored. [Matthew 22:35-40]
Here, we tend to be the bad guys. Our own weaknesses are bringing us down faster than any terrorist regime. The lines of good versus evil are blurred all too frequently. Hollywood would have you believe that evil is good and good is evil. [Malachi 2:17] Our freedom of speech means not only that we can praise God in the streets without being imprisoned, but we are also free to blaspheme, slander our neighbour, gossip maliciously, and it’s all too clear which of these freedoms are more readily taken advantage of.
America’s worst persecutors of the church are often in the church. They don’t understand (or simply refuse to acknowledge) that to withhold tithe is to rob from God. [Malachi 3:8-9] They don’t see that to failing to denounce sin from the pulpit for the sake of maintaining a larger congregation (and higher pay) is the same as encouraging sin. [Proverbs 13:1 & 15:31-33 & 25:11-12 & 27:5-6] They don’t see that to raise their children with a pick-your-religion attitude is the same as saying, “I don’t care if you go to hell, as long as you’re comfortable here.” [Proverbs 22:6]
How can this be??
I’m going to bunny-trail for a bit, since something came to mind.
One of my favourite dramas has a scene where the girl has been kidnapped and is made to watch while the man who loves her is viciously beaten by a handful of rogues. The leader of the gang tells our leading man to give the girl up, or he’ll have him beat to death. The man refuses, the abuse increases. The antagonist says again, “Give up on her.” He is met with the same response as before. “I won’t. I can’t.”
Maybe my idea of romance is a bit… morbid. But it really made me think. In this fictional drama, the man loves his lady so much, that to even renounce his love for her in her hearing (regardless of how obvious a lie it would be) is a more painful concept than bearing the most agonising physical abuse. He laughs at his abusers, glad to be suffering for her sake. Our love for God and His Word should be like that. We should be so consumed with love for Him, that to even speak against Him, to hear His name reviled, should cause more pain than any physical deprivation or injury. We should be overjoyed to suffer for the sake of Christ, as Peter and the other apostles. [Acts 5:41-42]
It’s a tall order, but that’s what the Christian life is about. [Matthew 5:10-12]
We look at extreme cases like that, and it’s nice to imagine we’d be just as heroic if faced with persecution. We understand the significance of being courageous for God in the face of terrifying danger, or a grand interrogation, yet… we can’t even pull ourselves out of bed to start the day with devotions.
We are persecuting the church. Us. We are. Members of the church. Our careless attitude towards the things of God are being passed down to our children, and they’ll pass it down to the next generation, and soon the church community will be nothing but a breeding ground for heathens that will actively persecute the remnants of a godly nation.
But why is this?
It’s because ordinary days are difficult. When tyranny is subtle, and persecution relatively mild, it’s hard to be strong because strength is defined by perseverance in the little things. It’s the day-by-day distractions of simply living that wear us down. We can point to a man who rushes into a burning building to save his child from certain death and hail him a hero, but what about the man who rounds up his children and takes his family to morning service, Sunday School, and evening service week after week, rain or shine? It’s not staring down the barrel of a loaded gun, or watching our homes burn, or loved ones being slaughtered outside a humble chapel that’s making us lose heart in America, but the idols of our careers, our entertainment, the sport industry, the shopping frenzy, the needless fretting, and even our own families at times. We’ve stumbled like Peter. [Matthew 26:34-35] We swear we’d stay faithful under fire; we’d give our lives to defend the faith! We would sacrifice everything to inherit eternal life! We’ll spread the gospel to every corner of the earth! But when it comes down to it, we deny Him. We’re scoffing at the sacrifices of our persecuted brethren by failing to remain faithful in the little things. We commend those who flee tyrannical governments to raise their children in a God-fearing manner, but we’ve failed to bring our own children up with a sense of that heritage. [Hosea 4:6 & Joel 1:3] We’re not seeing to our own hearts. We’re not reforming our families. Outreach is a high priority, but our own lives aren’t disciplined; refined in the furnace, focused on the truth of His doctrine. [Psalm 119:20-22]
When I say “we” I mean America at large, and collectively all the churches here that profess the name of Christ. I’m not saying we’re in the days of Noah, where only one righteous man and his family could be found. But there are certainly a lot of Sodoms and Gomorrahs to spiritually combat, and flee, and we should take care not to follow in the footsteps of Lot, who was nearly consumed in the fires of God’s wrath for capitulating with the wicked.
I know that personally, I fail often in the little things. I grumble to get out of bed and take part in morning devotions. I shush my little sisters for singing hymns too loudly in the store for fear that they’ll offend some passerby. I fail to speak up when opportunity to share the Word arises. I find it easy to read a huge novel, but lack motivation to open my Bible and select a verse for the week.
But recently, thanks to God, I’ve gained some perspective. I think of those who get no sleep because they’re too busy defending our country from those who would turn it into another China, or Syria, or North Korea. I think of the martyrs of old who were burned at the stake for preaching truth to the rulers of their day. I think of the saints who are risking their lives to distribute Bibles to a people who pine for the written Word. And I know I’m a wretched ingrate, and have no right to complain.
For me, it’s hard to drag myself out of bed and do things for my family in the morning. It’s hard to give the kids their school lessons rather than flip on the telly and let NatGeo educate them. It’s hard to stay awake during 1 and 2 Chronicles. It’s hard to go to church when our congregation keeps shrinking, and shrinking, and the biggest outcry is not against the enemies of Christ, but the enemies of the enemies of Christ. It’s hard to return to church in the evening, and see it even emptier than the morning. It’s hard to pray every single day and night for revival, and restoration, and for God’s people to hunger and thirst for righteousness that they might be filled, not seeing it get better, but just get worse. And I have to bear in mind… this is nothing. We still have it so easy, and I should be glad to have some troubles for Christ’s sake.
For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men—as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honour all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.
1 Peter 2:5-17
And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Despite the hardship of ordinary days, we have an eternal hope. One day, all the saints will be taken into glory to spend an eternity praising God, and we’ll feel very foolish for all the time we wasted in strife and laziness.
Oh, yes. And I have my long-awaited trip to Scotland coming up. That’s kind of like a prelude to heaven, so I really, really, really don’t have a single thing to complain about. : )