Monday, November 6, 2017

Peace in the Midst of Tribulation

Yesterday, Sunday November 5, I had made the choice to worship in a church a couple hours from my home while my wife proclaimed the message to our congregation (it was her idea that I go). I had no radio on, did not check my phone, and had no idea that there had been a shooting at a church just outside of San Antonio, Texas.

I've read various things about it, and saw Facebook posts and Twitter posts saying that it is awful, and if we can't be safe in a church, where can we be safe?

I realized something though with those statements: the goal of the Christian life isn't to be safe.

Please don't get me wrong, it isn't my intention whatsoever to diminish or lack empathy for those who lost friends and family in this tragedy, including the pastor and his wife who lost their 14 year old daughter. We should mourn with those who mourn when evil is unleashed on them. All of humanity is created in the image of God, and therefore, as John Donne put it, "no man is an island, entire of itself..."

Perhaps though we tend to pay special attention when it happens in our country, because we don't expect it? But why don't we?

In the world you will have tribulation

These words were spoken by Jesus, in John 16:33, the full quote you can find here. He went on to say that He revealed this to us so that, in Him, we may have peace.

The persecution of Christians under the Romans was well documented. The Apostle Paul writes at great length what he endured, and at times reminds the readers that he too greatly persecuted and condemned to death Christians. Jesus Himself was put to death on one of the most brutal torture devices ever, the Roman cross. The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 2 that Christians are called to have the same mind as Jesus did, and in verse 8 of chapter 2 we read that it includes being obedient to the point of death.

To this day there are millions of Christians who live with the threat of persecution, even execution, as a reality. Yet they don't run away from it, they know that Jesus Himself endured a torturous death. What greater honor is there to them that they would suffer as He did?

Let me be clear, I am not suggesting that we glorify in the deaths of millions of Christians, whether at home or around the world. Yet I don't believe that we should be so naive to think that our Christianity gives us a pass when it comes to experiencing suffering, persecution, or even death.

Persecution and Tribulation Doesn't Stop The Gospel

Since our Lord established His kingdom through His death, burial, and resurrection, the world (i.e. those at odds with Christ and His kingdom) has tried to silence His message through torture, persecution, and putting Christians to death. The result has been the same: the gospel message has spread.

Christianity has spread in China, in India, in the Middle East, in parts of Africa and Asia despite it being outlawed, having Bible's burned, and Christian leaders disappearing never to be seen again.

In these places official numbers are hard to come by, but even the most conservative of estimates say that the underground Churches number in the millions.

But why?

The Kingdom of God is unlike any other thing that we could come to know and understand, because it unlike anything this world can understand.

The Apostle Paul's teacher Gamaliel once said of the young Christian Church that other movements had come and gone, and if God is not behind this movement of Christians, it too would fade. But, if God was behind them, then what could they do to stop it?

Do We Really Understand?

Again, let me be clear in stating that we should, in no way, rejoice in any act of evil. Though persecution of Christians and the Church has failed to bring about its demise and we can rejoice that there have been those willing to die for the Kingdom of God, I also believe that when it comes to truly understanding what we are called into when we accept Jesus' invitation to become part of His family, we don't have a clue.

Christian television is bloated with people who say that those with real faith don't suffer, have fat bank accounts, good jobs, big homes, and experience God's favor in all of their dealings.

In addition, they write books on how to get your best life now, how to have all that you ever dreamed of, to receive blessing and minimize (or eliminate) negativity.

Even if we reject "Word Faith" and "Prosperity" theology, we still might not really understand that Christianity, though freely offered to us through the work of Jesus, calls us to be like Jesus in how He lived His life and how He faced death.

If we actually did understand the life we are called into would we be so concerned about issues that don't really matter?

We get all up in arms over traditional hymns verses contemporary choruses.

We argue over which politician will do the most good for the Church.

There's a longstanding tension between preaching the gospel, sin and all, verses doing good for others in the world, as though the two are mutually exclusive.

We think that "tribulation" must mean the end of the world, so we look at things happening in the American Church but ignore that millions of Christians are living through tribulation right now. And when it does happen here, we cry "It's the beginning of the tribulation!"

We argue over women being ordained to lead Churches.

We'll split over the color of paint and carpet.

Don't like the pastor? That's okay, go to another Church and find a pastor you do like.

It is my belief that we have used our "Freedom of Worship" as a "License to be complacent" when it comes to actually understanding what being a Christian means. The Church in the United States and throughout Europe and other Westernized countries isn't suffering because we're losing our freedom guaranteed to us by the government. It's because we don't actually understand what we are called to.

So now what?

In the past couple years we've seen Church tragedies in Charleston, South Carolina; just outside of Nashville, TN, and now just outside of San Antonio, TX. Undoubtedly there will be those who call for tougher gun laws. There will be Christians who insist on concealed carry. There will be good men and women, perhaps even Christians, who come down on one side or the other on these and other related issues.

But, is that really what we need to be doing? Debating the right course of action in the aftermath of tragedy based on fear? Doesn't the perfect love of God cast out fear? Doesn't Jesus say "You will have tribulation, but I'm telling you this so that you can have my peace?" And when He says "Have My peace" notice it isn't spelled "p-i-e-c-e" as in a firearm.

As humans we ought to know that we all, at some point, will experience death. Many of us just don't know how we will. Should't our response be that we instead turn our focus toward God and what He wants for us and from us?

Maybe instead of tougher gun laws, we become practitioners of peace. Maybe instead of more concealed carry, we confront the sin that our Savior has broken the power of, not with bullets, but with His blood. How about our biggest concern becomes "Lord, did others see You in me today?"

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