Sunday, June 13, 2010

Persecuted for the faith? Really?

I don't really know what it's like to suffer. I have lived in the United States my whole life, have great parents, went to private college and graduate school, so have scarcely seen real suffering, let alone experienced it. James, though, tells us that trials are good, as it develops us and makes us more like Christ. So, even if the magnitude of things like not having a girl like you might count if you use that as an opportunity to appreciate God's work in your life surrounding those circumstances. Sometimes her not liking you turns out to be a blessing in the end, right? Just ask Garth Brooks.

I don't really know what it's like to be persecuted, either. I think a lot of pop-Christian outlets make a bigger show of the worldly anti-Christian bias than is really the case, because those who are persecuted get credit for it (Matthew 5:10). Wal-Mart greeters wishing you Happy Holidays aside, the US is an awfully permissive place, and thankfully so. We are reminded in Sunday School videos and sermons that there are places where it is actually illegal to own a Bible or to preach, and the rights that guarantee our ability to that are preserved in our founding national documents.

In the face of that, I think the difficulty we American Christians face is, quite simply, a lack of difficulty. It is pretty easy not to lean on the Lord as your shepherd when you don't want anyway. That is something I find myself struggling with often, because to counteract that, you need discipline. As my flagging gym attendance indicates, a few cracks can lead to a flood of inactivity. In my mind, one of the most effective tools in the Adversary's arsenal is comfort.

Can you think of a time when Jesus said, "You're doing fine, just keep it up"? No, from Peter and Andrew to the Rich Young Ruler, He challenged and pushed them to be uncomfortable, of ten times with the only apparent motivation being to make the feel that way. While much of what Christ had to say was provocative like this and not easy to hear, shock was not, as we know from the context, ever His sole purpose. The initial intent is to say that you cannot follow Him and live as you were. The Holy Spirit changes you forever, and without exception, for the better.

As Christ pushed Peter and Andrew and tRYR away from their familiarity in fishing and wealth, the long term message is once you change, the Peace of God will reach you, even as your earthly comfort may not. We don't really know what happened to tRYR, but I think he was invariably different (as were Peter and Andrew) after his revelation. At least, I hope so, because want to be rich (and young, for that matter)?

So are we helpless then? Do we have it too easy, unlike our grandparents who had to walk uphill in the snow both ways to school? Are we so spiritually soft that we mistake not having the Ten Commandments in a courthouse as actual persecution? We should be secure enough in faith that our visible behavior will be sufficient to show those who wish it removed that we are living symbols of Christ, and do not require icons at work to spread the Word. That would make life more comfortable, though, to surround yourself with pictures that blend into the scenery rather than actually make you need to do anything, wouldn't it?

That, I think, is why suffering is good. That is why persecution is good. The challenge to live Christlike becomes more palatable when life otherwise isn't so cushy. The improvement is so dramatic, that the hesitation is quashed. Like the sinful woman who washed Jesus's feet in front of the Pharisee, for whom much is delivered, the greater the gratefulness. We are in peril of missing key parts of knowing Christ because we have cable television.

Not that I am in any particular place to judge; my life is extraordinarily comfortable. My discipline is considerably poorer than I want, and of course I do not pray for suffering to improve it. I do, however, want the passion that comes with defending something duly earned, like the first car you bought with your own money. I don't know if there is another way to reach that level, though, without first being afflicted with the scars.

I don't plan on canceling my satellite subscription, throwing my cell phone away or moving into a monastery. I am very much like tRYR. I am superlatively comfortable. While I don't necessarily think I have to give those things up, I must seek the challenge to escape them in the way Christ demanded of all of us, and I think that is one thing that joining a community of believers can help you do -- challenge one another in productive ways to do better. I hope that this prompts you to try something, like service you would not have otherwise considered, and that you readers (assuming there are any...) can help challenge me, too.

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