Where’s the line to see Jesus?

My gorgeous and brilliant wife writes her own blog and today had a piece on Christmas that I highly recommend.

It is so easy for us to lose sight of what is truly important in life.  Constantly review your perspective.

The party is a celebration, but if we forget what it celebrates, then it becomes a celebration of celebration. A hollow and soulless festival of the self.

Sultan Knish

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What Can We Do?

Yesterday, I wrote about persecution.  I’ll admit, this is not your typical Thanksgiving Week topic, but I think it is prescient to cover because how can we be truly thankful unless we have a crystal clear picture of the world we live in and the blessings we have received.

If you accept the premise that we all face some form of persecution, whether it is violent in nature (like those subject to Sharia law in Islamic countries or violent crackdowns in countries like North Korea or China), cultural, or personal, then the question that begs to be asked is how should we respond?

“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 children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48

It is hard to love your enemies.  They hate you. They want to destroy you in some capacity.  This is a pretty steep command.  What context should we apply to this?  How should we love them?  Should we hug our own executors?

They will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name.

Luke 21:12

Christ is hinting at something in the passage from Matthew and he elaborates more in the passage for Luke.  Christ is saying that persecution, decidedly not a good thing for those afflicted by it, is something that God uses for good.  If we were to respond wrongly in these circumstances out of prideful arrogance and self-worth rather than humility and Christ-likeness, we would short-circuit God’s subtlety in these circumstances.

If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.

John 15:20

Persecution is explicitly allowed by God to further His influence throughout the world.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Romans 12:4

So we are to not only called to endure persecution in order that we might exemplify the Truth through our actions, but also to actively bless those that persecute us.

In theory this is great, but how does this work in practice you might ask?

Let’s lay out one crucial basic then.  I have written of how we have nothing to fear, that the victory itself has already been delivered for those of us that believe.  So in those beliefs lies the answer – that nothing human hands or words do ultimately can hurt me.  Yes, they will cause temporary suffering.  Their words will cut.  Their threats will haunt.  Their violence will cause pain.  It is all for the glory of God.  If you remain steadfast in your faith and continue to stand up in the face of persecution, you will begin to wear them down.

This won’t be a boxing match. You won’t go punch for punch with them, but you will upper cut them and knock them to their knees eventually (metaphorically that is).  See, you are invincible.  They will eventually come to realize that everything that they throw at you is futile.  Then the door will be opened because they will ask “How can this be?  How are they able to just take this?  I would have given in long ago.”

That is when you get to be the blessing.  Your willingness to suffer, to die, for Christ is a more potent tool and weapon than any that they can use against you.  You will show not only obedience to Christ, but love for your fellow man.  Whether he slanders you, curses you, spits on you, strikes you, or kills you…. HOW you receive it and respond matters more than anything else.  Respond with love.  Respond with mercy.  As Christ said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

When the local atheist activist chapter attacks your Christmas Nativity scene, respond with love.  When someone scoffs at you reading your Bible in the library, say a quick prayer for them.  When you are struck either physically or verbally because of your faith, do not respond in anger and confront them harshly, but with an open heart.  Do not argue with them, but show them your inner confidence and your faithfulness by refusing to stoop to their level.  If you are arrested for Christ, go willingly and be like Paul – openly praising God in your prison cell – His design may be that you are to witness to a fellow prisoner,  a guard, or even the warden.  If you are to be tortured or executed, look with mercy on the men who live in darkness and ignorance.

You see that you are truly free.  Free of anything that the world can hurl at you.  Christ’s blood shields you completely.  Be confident.  Be strong.  Be courageous.  You have nothing to fear.

If you respond out of love, you never know who might be listening or watching.  Your persecution may be their first brush with the Truth.  If you let Christ work through you in that moment, amazing things will happen.

The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue,
    to know the word that sustains the weary.
He wakens me morning by morning,
    wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.
The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears;
    I have not been rebellious,
    I have not turned away.
I offered my back to those who beat me,
    my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face
    from mocking and spitting.
Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
    I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set my face like flint,
    and I know I will not be put to shame.
He who vindicates me is near.
    Who then will bring charges against me?
    Let us face each other!
Who is my accuser?
    Let him confront me!
It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me.
    Who will condemn me?

Isaiah 50:4-9

 

 

 

Persecution

What is persecution?

Simply, persecution is oppression and war waged against believers either openly or privately with the sole purpose of punishing the believers’ faith in Christ.

There are many in America that are blind to persecution because of our open and tolerant society where all religions and faiths are accepted and practiced.  It also helps that we are a majority self-identified Christian nation and founded based on Biblical principles as I have written about before.  Does this mean that we are immune from persecution here?  Not at all.  Persecution will always exist.  If you are willing to profess belief in something radical, and Christ’s promises and challenges for us are definitely radical in the eyes of the world, then you will be attacked for this belief.

When lots of Christians think of persecution today, they think of Christians being herded into coliseums in the Roman Empire for slaughter.  They think of missionaries attacked in the field by the very people they came to teach the Gospel.  They think of things that have happened in the past where the lens of time provides a clear picture of how and why something happened so we can easily label it persecution.

You can look about a list a host of countries where Christianity is not just scorned, but openly attacked.  Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Nigeria, China, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, North Korea, Russia, India, Cuba, Tanzania, and Indonesia are just a few of the examples where being a Christian can open you up to public ridicule, public arrest and punishment, or even death.

With Christmas coming soon, I think you’ll see a form of persecution in this country, and possibly in your own town.  Put up a manger scene.  Will it be defaced?  Will it be burned to the ground?  Will it be stolen?  Will it be protested?  If it is on public land, will it be the target of a lawsuit?

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:11-12

I even heard a ministry team member state yesterday that he was thankful that we are safe in this country from attack while we worship.  I don’t often disagree with the pastoral staff at my church, but on this point I disagree. Christians are not safe anywhere while they worship and to think otherwise is foolish and short-sighted.  The statistics say that it doesn’t matter how you worship in the US – the illusion of safety within a church is just that, an illusion.

I plan on diving into this topic all week because how thankful can we really be unless we have the right perspective?  Tomorrow – in the face of persecution, what can and what should we do?

 

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