Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Choosing Persecution and Other Hard Facets of Faith

Not long after Jesus, the God-man-wrapped-in-baby-flesh, arrived, persecution began. Herod, in a fit of fear and jealous rage tried to kill Him. By the time He began His public ministry, even Jesus' siblings opposed Him. The Pharisees tried to murder Him repeatedly, and kept at it until they finally succeeded on the cross.

As Christians, we follow a persecuted Savior, so persecution shouldn't be a surprise to us. But, at least in this country, it is. We're outraged by it. We want to make it stop. 

To be perfectly clear, Jesus wasn't outraged or surprised by persecution or opposition. He expected it. However, other than being carried to Egypt by his parents when Herod came after Him, Jesus did nothing to stop the persecution that came His way. 

He went to the cross as a lamb to slaughter. He took what His enemies dished out, so that He could offer Himself as a sacrifice for us. (Isaiah 53:1-12)

Our salvation was birthed in persecution.

The early disciples were chased around the world as they fled persecution. The fires of destruction meant to extinguish the church served as fuel to the flames of faith. 

The spread of the gospel was birthed in persecution.

Paul's words in Philippians stung me to the core this morning. ". . .since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me." Philippians 1:7 nasb

The church loved Paul and they kept in touch. They wrote letters. They sent people to provide for him. They sent gifts. They were a vital part of his life. 

Even those who weren't in chains participated as if they were a part of the suffering. They kept Paul in the forefront of their minds, their thoughts, their prayers. 

He appreciated their tangible assistance, but what he appreciated even more was their prayers for him. The people in Philippi were so closely connected to Paul, through their prayers, that they shared in his suffering. They participated with him. Those prayers for strength, comfort, and perseverance helped Paul continue his ministry through the letters he wrote, despite his prison walls. 

Our Scriptures were birthed in persecution.

Men and women throughout the history of Christianity have literally laid down their lives because of their faith. For them, following Jesus was the most costly decision they could have made. It was also the most eternally significant. 

The church was birthed in persecution. 

Early in my journey with Jesus, I sensed one question I couldn't get past. 

"Would you lay down your life for Me?" 

I had answered that question once before as a 21-year old summer missionary entering an area where soldiers had been actively fighting. It wasn't an easy question.

I didn't think it was a casual question, either. I thought it was a literal, will-you-be-a-martyr question. This time, I had a young son, which made the decision so much harder. Would I be willing to lay down my life for Christ if it meant leaving my son behind? 

I imagined a firing squad or a prison or beating, rape, torture. I prayed. I fasted. I searched the Scripture. I wept. 

It took me weeks to sort it out, because I knew my answer to that question would determine everything else in my life, and it did. 

Finally, one lonely night, I surrendered to whatever God chose to bring my way. Yes. I would lay down my life for Christ, I realized. I'd trust God with my son. For nearly twenty-five years, I thought that meant the possibility of torture and death, and it still may. In the interim, however, I've laid down the life I knew to follow the path God has laid out more than once. 

That's what I did when I left medicine, which I loved practicing, because my practice was so destructive to my son. It's what I did when I moved my mother into my home when she could no longer see well enough to drive or live independently. Once again, I surrendered the life I loved to care for Sam in my home. 

Laying down my life has never been easy. It's also not been optional, because faith in Jesus IS faith that's willing to surrender anything for Him.

What we, in this affluent, entitled society, have misunderstood, is there's nothing in this world more costly than following Jesus. It's not cheap faith, but we sometimes think it is. 

People I know and love have been beaten for the cause of Christ. They've lost their homes and all their possessions, more than once, because they follow Jesus. They've been denied promotions, been cursed, and their children have been persecuted because of their faith. 

Theirs is not cheap American-style faith, that goes to a comfortable air-conditioned church with comfy seats once or twice a week and counts their work done. It's not a Bible study with head knowledge only. Their faith is real, and vital, and alive. Their Bible study is boots-on-the-ground pertinent.

They forgive enemies we can't even imagine, and they do it because Jesus commanded it. They bless their enemies with blankets and baskets of food, because Jesus said to do it. They love when it's hard. Give when there's too little to go around. 

I know these sweet brothers and sisters. My walk of faith seems so small by comparison, but I want what they have. The peace. The joy. The hope.

Nearly fifty years ago, a nurse in the Middle East was known for giving financial support and tangible help to non-believers. "Why do you help them when there are plenty of Christians in need?" someone asked. 

"Because we have Jesus, and they don't. And He's what matters most," she told them. She treated her enemies as friends and, along the way, a few of them met her Savior. Even when she was treated badly, she knew one thing. It was worth it. She laid down her life for Christ and counted it as gain.

People still tell stories about the power of her faith today.

That's the kind of faith I want...the faith that's so real, so powerful, so inescapably obvious that nations stand in awe of it and enemies tremble in the face of it. 

This is the path we embraced when we followed Christ. Hard forgiveness. Agonizingly difficult surrender. Nothing held back. All in for Jesus.

What we must ask ourselves today is, "Is this the faith I have? The discipleship I've embraced?" The question we must answer, because it's the question Jesus always asks His disciples, is the one I've had to answer over and over again. "Will I lay down my life for Him?"

"We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters." 1 John 3:16 NLT
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In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: How Facing Death with Sam Caused My Priorities to Change 

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