Persecution…or Opportunity?

Have you ever faced persecution? Real persecution? Unless you’ve spent time living overseas as a local in a creative access country, the answer is most likely “no”.

red cups are back by Chris JonesWe like to throw the term “persecution” around a lot these days. The checker at Walmart doesn’t wish us Merry Christmas. Our nephew’s elementary school performs a “Winter Concert” and sings “Frosty the Snowman” instead of “Little Drummer Boy”. The Starbucks disposable cup is only plain red without any apparent Christmas decorations. Prayer is not said over the loudspeaker before our daughter’s high school athletic competition. The Supreme Court rules in a way that challenges our beliefs. Civil rights are extended to groups of people we don’t support. Religious freedom is given to faith traditions besides our own.

None of these are persecution. They are simply realities of living anywhere that is not completely ruled and governed by our own wishes. Notice I didn’t say completely ruled and governed by Christian values, because the reality is that even within the tent of Christianity, there exists great diversity. Let’s take a personal example – my husband of twenty-two years and myself. We are both committed Christ-followers, and yet, we are on opposite ends of the political spectrum. So if he set the rules and guidelines for society, I wouldn’t completely agree. Nor would he agree with my rules and guidelines.

So persecution doesn’t mean living in a society that fails to act out its Christianity the way I think it should. Nor is it living in a society that fails to reflect any of my Christian values. Nor is it even living in a pagan society, with pagan rulers, pagan courts, and pagan laws. This pagan-situation is precisely what I have repeatedly heard will happen if a certain candidate is elected next month. And even if that’s the case, we still won’t face true persecution. We will face opportunity.

That may sound surprising to you – but it’s not a typo! The areas where Christianity is most alive, active and growing are in areas where faith must become a conscious decision and effort. Places where the Church has to operate secretly underground. Places where it is dangerous to become a Christian. And by dangerous, I mean one’s life is at stake.

The early Christians often faced true persecution. Many were killed for their beliefs. And yet, the Church expanded and grew! Justin Martyr wrote, “For it is plain that, though beheaded, crucified, thrown to wild beasts, chains, and fire, and all other kinds of torture, we do not give up our confession; instead, the more such things happen, the more others—in even larger numbers—become faithful and worshippers of God through the name of Jesus.” This is persecution – persecution the early Church faced, and persecution Christians around the world face today.

The Apostle Paul in the New Testament faced this type of persecution as well, and he wrote about it in his letter to Timothy: “You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of.” (2 Tim 3:10-14)

persecution by ben hedgspethSo what are we – in the United States – to do? Firstly, we need to stop crying “persecution” every time something doesn’t go our way. To do so cheapens the real persecution our brothers and sisters around the world are actually enduring. Secondly, we need to pray diligently for those who do face persecution – pray that they would remain steadfast in their faith, that the truths of Christ would continue being shared, that God would protect the innocent, and that leaders would be impacted by the gospel.

Next, we need to remember that God is not a God of fear. Our society appears, especially now with each new election cycle, gripped by fear. After each election, regardless of the results, God will still be on His throne. The gospel will still need to be shared. Jesus will still command us to love and pray for our enemies. And Jesus’ challenge to his disciples will remain the same – others will know we are Christians by our love.

And finally, if we should ever face true persecution, may Paul’s words to Timothy register deeply in our hearts because our godly decisions and lives may result in some persecution. But, we can hold onto the promise that the Lord will rescue us. As time goes on, situations may well get worse. And yet, we are called to persist in what we know is true.

Let us commit to live in such a way that our automatic reaction to things we don’t like or agree with is not to cry “persecution” – but to love. To listen. To tangibly live out the commands we’ve been given. To model a life that will attract – not repel – others. To be the hands and feet of Christ. To continue sharing the hope and truths of Christ – whether we hear Merry Christmas, our nephew sings “Little Drummer Boy”, an organized prayer is broadcast, or every law pleases us. “Above all, love each other deeply, for love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)