Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Fear Not!

Note: This was originally posted on Facebook on the eve of the election. It's a bit moot now, but not without value for the future, I think.

"Bonhoeffer's experience with the African American community underscored an idea that was developing in his mind: the only real piety and power that he had seen in the American church seemed to be in the churches where there was a present reality and a past history of suffering. Somehow he had seen something more in those churches and in those Christians, something that the world of academic theology- even when it was at its best, as in Berlin - did not touch very much."

-- Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas

In Matthew 16:18, Jesus proclaims to Peter that the gates of hell shall not prevail against his Church.

But that wasn't to say said gates wouldn't give it their best shot, and in Matthew 24, Jesus paints a vivid, frightening picture of what was to come, and did come.

It found partial fulfillment in the decades following his death and resurrection. In Rome, when Emperors like Nero tried to stamp out Christianity in the most monstrous ways, Christianity flourished, the message of grace, mercy, forgiveness, redemption and hope through the completed work of Christ spreading like wildfire throughout the known world and changing it forever.

And so it continues. In modern-day China and North Korea, a Christian caught proselytizing is at risk of the State-imposed penalty of disappearance and death. In Egypt, Coptic Christians have their churches and property seized, and in other parts of the Middle East, Christians are routinely hung, tortured, beheaded and burned alive by the likes of ISIS. Yet, like modern-day Wycliffes and Latimers and Ridleys, still they come.

In the United States, the Church has been free of any real persecution. Yes, disturbing inroads are being made on religious freedom, such as violating the rights of conscience of a Catholic religious order by requiring it to provide contraceptives coverage, and the severe curtailing of religious speech of the military's chaplain corps and servicemembers. But in America, the Church has always been surrounded by affluence and comfort and plenty that would leave third-world believers a-gape.

And yet (or more accurately, as a result), it seems to be wandering, seemingly more concerned with worship team amplification and pastors' piercings and skinny jeans and pandering to postmodern proclivities than with being a living sacrifice. As it always has, the Church in the US does an enormous amount of work that gets very little media attention. But where is our vital witness to a dying world?

Where is the salt and light? Where is our life-changing impact on the culture at large?

I believe this is a result of individual Christians' (me at the front of the line) pursuit of worldly goals and our eyes being focused on this world and looking to the things of this world for our sustenance and protection, rather than to our Creator and to the Author and Finisher of our faith. We are like the only seed sown on the pathway and rocky ground and among the weeds in Matthew 13. We have become indistinguishable from the world and have thus lost our power. Not the temporal power of princes and politics, but the power to change hearts and build the Kingdom. In pursuing political power, we have not gained it, and worse, have lost our spiritual power.  We're exchanging our birthright as children of the King for scraps from the tables of impostors.

Jesus never told us to organize into coalitions for the purpose of amassing political power. He never told us to try to cozy up to the seats of earthly power. These are lessons we were supposed to have learned in the '80s and '90s.

Jesus called us to be salt and light. He called us to proclaim the Good News. He called us to disciple others. When his disciples said the crowd around him was hungry, he said "YOU give them something to eat." He said to care for the elderly, the widow, the orphan, the childless, the sick, the imprisoned, the bereaved. He told us to let our light shine before men, that seeing our good works, they would glorify the Lord. He told us that we are to act humbly, sacrificially, in love.

And yet, here we are in 2016.

I've read and heard some odd and even disturbing things from my fellow evangelical Christians this election, as if we've forgotten who we are. I'll avoid a cataloguing of them here, because that's not what this is about. But will I do a facepalm over the shriveled view of God that dares to claim Him for one or the other side of an election, as if the plans of the Alpha and Omega, the Creator and Sustainer and Sovereign of the Universe, hinge precariously on who becomes the head of one of three branches of the US federal government for four or eight years, forgetting that it is for us to try to be on His side. (See Psalm 2 and Abraham Lincoln.) Because every four years is the Apocalypse and the End of America if our person doesn't win, I've seen a lot of things that seem to be motivated by fear.

Fear that has taken our eyes off the Master in the midst of the storm, like Peter's, whereupon he began to sink.

Fear that the wrong President will "take away our right to worship." I don't know about you, but given what we know of the history of the Persecuted Church, and knowing how Americans typically react when told they cannot do something they consider a fundamental right, that might be the best thing that could happen to the fat and unhappy Church in America.

Jesus said no servant is above his master; that if they persecuted him, they would persecute us. Read Matthew 24. Jesus promised that his disciples would be delivered up to tribulation and put to death; that we'd be hated by all nations for His name's sake, and I don't believe his words have seen their complete fulfillment yet.

But if the history of the persecuted church teaches us anything, it's that Jesus's promise to Peter is true, and that the greater the persecution and tribulation, the more power and vitality is found in the Church and the gospel. The greater the danger, the more converts brave the persecution to come to the One who has defeated death (Romans 6:9, 1 Corinthians 15:54-55, Hebrews 2:14, Revelation 1:18).

In Syria, Christians walk to the gallows singing hymns. In North Korea, they distribute Bibles at risk to their lives. In Malaysia, they risk beatings and death. In parts of Africa, people walk an entire day to attend a weekly Bible study.

It seems they have all taken to heart Jesus's words in John 16:33 in speaking of his death and the Disciples' temporary separation from him. "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Why are we then engaged in such strenuous pain avoidance, knowing his promises and our ultimate reward? Do we want to kick the can of trials and tribulations on down the road to our grandchildren, who, by all accounts, will be even less equipped to live through them than we are?

This rambling piece is meant, not for admonition, but encouragement. This election has been demoralizing for almost all of us, no matter where you find yourself on the political spectrum. We've probably all said things we regret. But in 2 Timothy 1:7, Paul says "for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control."  So render unto Caesar tomorrow, knowing God sits on his eternal throne. Vote for whom you will, but don't do it out of fear, which is ungodly and un-American.

Fear not! Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.

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