Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Why Should This Christian Care?

We'll answer for the Christian to the left in a moment. But first, you ought to know this post is a follow-up to an incendiary charge I made last week. Namely, if someone calls themselves a Christian, and yet holds such an indifferent disposition about the direction our present world is headed in they have not even begun to understand what those in Antioch meant who coined the term "Christian." This disposition of indifference is often hinted at when someone says, "The world's going to Hell, thank God I'm not going to be around to see it." Or for the more sanctimonious, "I'm outa' here, Jesus could come back at any moment" I don't take issue with the biblical fact that Jesus is coming back. What I do take issue with is for any Christian to resign themselves to such a cold, callus & compassionless response to the lost condition of our world. Hear me clearly, I am not saying that a Christian should't be cold, I am saying that someone this cold is not a Christian, and. Rather, they are the reason our world is so cold at the very mention of the word "Christian." Ouch! I'm obnoxious enough to have my own talk radio show.

All of us as Americans are lurching dangerously close to falling into this category. So I must state that what I am saying is not so much a rebuke as it is a confession. We hear news items everyday that speak of tragedy: the cyclone in Myanmar, the recent earthquake in China, the flooding of the Midwest, etc. We hear these items ad nauseum. Pretty soon, we hear "25,000 killed" one second and are ordering our spouse "pass the bowl of peanuts" the very next second. we are conditioned like pavlovian dogs to be indifferent when most of what we hear has no affect on our day to day lives.

This may sound innocuous to you. But I'm going to share some biblical texts that will hopefully rouse us to the realization that to view the world as an armchair spectator is not an option for the child of God.

I'm currently teaching verse by verse through the book of Romans and have learned a lot from this book. I used to think that the hardest passages to teach would be the ones dealing with election in chapters 9. But now I've found that ironically, the hardest text of all is in Romans 8; the chapter that many point to as the most encouraging chapter in all the Bible.

This week, I examined Romans 8:16-18, whih says: "The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us."

Notice how difficult v.17 is. Paul does not say that suffering is a sad misfortune that most Christians should never have to experience. He doesn't present God as the pansy parent who sues the school because his kid got a scrape on the playground. He gives us this black & white, conditional statement, "we are fellow heirs with Christ" . . . "If we suffer with him" (KJV). Stating it conversely we could also say, "If we do not suffer with Christ, we have no assurance that we are joint-heirs with Christ." That is a bold assertion. It is important to note that Paul does not present suffering as a precondition for salvation. Instead, we should see it as the inevitable fruit of salvation. It is the same as saying, "We do not perform good works to be saved; we perform good works because we are saved."

Paul is taking it for granted that if you are a Christian, you will suffer persecution. It's as simple as that. He corroborates this idea in many places. In particular, II Timothy 3:12, which says, "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution."

The disheartening thing about Romans 8:17 is that it doesn't even register with most of us. We don't even know what suffering is. We may be led to think that if we got cut off in traffic today, or if we had to pay $4.35 a gallon for gas, wer'e somehow suffering with Christ. But most of us who are the sad victims of pseudo suburban suffering don't even know what Paul is talking about.

Let me give you a brief timeline of events that have already taken place in 2008 to show that many Christians alive today are all too aware of what Paul means by suffering "with Him":

-February 17, a pastor named Neil Edirisinghe, of the House Church Foundation, was gunned down and killed by two assailants outside his home in Ampara, Sri Lanka.vPastor Edirisinghe was engaged in the Lord’s ministry in Ampara for many years. The attackers also shot his wife in the stomach. At last report, she was in the hospital in critical condition. Their 2-year-old son who received a minor injury in the attack is also suffering from trauma.

-February 28
, Christians in Iraq have called for prayer after gunmen kidnapped Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, on February 28. Three Christians were shot and killed during the kidnapping.

-March 18, Laotian officials arrested 15 Hmong Christian families in
Bokeo district, Laos. According to Compass Direct News, the arrests occurred a day
before a court sentenced nine Hmong church leaders to 15 years in prison
for ‘conducting Christian ministry and meetings that had grown beyond acceptable
levels for Communist officials.’

Compass reported, “The day before the sentencing, Laotian authorities arrived in
Bai Sai Janrern village in Bokeo district with six trucks in which they hauled away
eight Christian families. Authorities also arrested at least seven families from
Fai village three miles away.” The arrested families make up a total of 58 Hmong

-April 13, China Aid Association reports that the Chinese Communist government recently launched a strategic campaign against house churches in Xinjiang
Autonomous Region. 46 Christians were arrested by Public Security Bureau (PSB)
officials on April 13, during a Bible class and worship service in Kashi city,
Xinjiang province.

-April 15, Pastor Vic Vicera, his wife, Beth; and another Pastor were shot at when an unknown assailant stormed Pastor Vicera’s home in Mindanao, Philippines. Pastor Vic had four bullet wounds to the body and was killed. Pastor Vic got four gunshots, two at the upper part of the knees that went through his navel and two shots to the lower part of his knees, the bullets remained in his stomach. Beth, his wife, got two gunshots, one in her palm and one in her leg. Pastor Saturnino got one shot in his leg; the bullet went through his leg.” Pastor Vic was killed, and Beth and Saturnino are being treated by doctors.

-June 17, You have probably wondered who this man is that's pictured above. His name is Rachid Muhammad Essaghir, who has already been convicted of blasphemy and evangelism in two separate cases this year. Essaghir is an Algerian Christian who recently went on trial in west Algeria for a third time tomorrow, again for evangelism. An evangelist and church elder for a small community of Muslim converts to Christianity in Tiaret, Essaghir believes that local police have targeted him for his religious work. Police stopped Essaghir and another Christian in the vicinity of Tissemsilt in June 2007 and discovered a box of Christian books in their car. The two men said they were transporting the literature from one church to another. Under Ordinance 06-03 passed in February 2006, Algerians can be fined up to 1 million dinars (US$16,405) and sentenced to five years in prison for printing, storing or distributing materials intended to convert Muslims away from Islam.

(I encourage you to learn more about how Christians all over the world are living up to the words of Paul. Some good sources are: www.persecution.com which is the official website for The Voice of the Martyrs. You can also go to: www.compassdirect.org)

If you continue to read stories just like these, which are popping up every day dealing with persecution in most parts of the world, at least you can begin to realize that not everybody has this idea that we should just keep our mouths shut and let the world die in their sins so we can be at least be peace with the world. The Christians we have just read about are often drug away from their homes for so much as possessing a Bible; or as a recent incident in Iran indicates, possessing a Christian music cd. The question is: why are they suffering? In short, these Christians were guilty of having their mouths open when the Word of God was a death sentence. We are guilty of having our mouths shut when speaking the Word of God might make you the joke in one of Bill Maher's endless rants. The two are hardly comparable and still the sad thing is that many Christians are bold in the face of death when many others cower in the face of laughs. We have to ask, "Who is our God?" Who are we out to please; man or God. Paul says that if our aim is to please men, we should not call ourselves the servant of God (Galatians 1:10).

Think about this; If the Christians mentioned above were concerned more about their own creaturely comforts than they were the fate of a lost world, do you think for a second that they would be so stupid as to identify with Christ?

It is obvious that when they read Romans 8:18, they see a vision of something far greater than any comfort this world could ever offer. It is the vision that Paul had when he wrote, "I reckon (reason) that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us" (v.18). These suffering Christians are able to care for a lost world because they have the leverage to reach down to pick up one who is drowning. They have he leverage to reach down and lift someone else up because something far greater is holding them up. It is the hope of glory they will one day lay hold of when they see Christ face-to-face (Colossians 3:1-4, I John 3:1-4).

I have to come back and develop this amazing text in Romans 8 some more tomorrow. But it is of great importance to begin to think about Paul's words. How can Paul assume as he does in Romans 8:17 that one of the most sure evidences of being a child of God is suffering? Do not be so deluded as to think that this idea of suffering for Christ is a relic from the ancient past. There are many Christians today that care about the direction our world is headed in; Christians that prove they are children of God because they care enough to say with Paul, "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men" (II Corinthians 5:11); Christians that can't help but speak of an awesome God even when talk of such a God is illegal, even when it is in the face of death.

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