Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Answers for Religious Persecution

From the last post, "Religious Persecution," (which looked particularly at "in-house" persecution):

Persecution for displaying faith in Christ can be public or private. It may be physical, verbal or emotional abuse. It may be as serious as being killed, as simple as demeaning looks and snide remarks, as intimidating as threats to those we love. It comes from stranger and loved ones alike—and even from misguided Christians with whom we share faith.

Though it's the longest post I've ever offered, what I present here as a five-part answer to persecution only begins to address the suffering a person might endure for choosing to follow Christ. I nonetheless submit it with a prayer that God will use these words to strengthen—to "build up"—every one of His precious people being persecuted; to encourage anyone facing suffering of any kind.

~ ~ ~

1. Choose Jesus

"But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her."
~ Luke 10:42 (NKJV)

To choose Jesus is always to choose the good part. Whatever temptation there may be to "smooth things over" and simply quench faith, the better blessing will be found in Jesus every time. To choose Jesus is to follow both His example and His Spirit's guidance in each situation. Following Christ sometimes means holding our ground, and sometimes means yielding a right.

If persecution arrives as spousal abuse (physical, verbal, or emotional), it's especially painful to be mistreated by the person we love most, from whom love is most expected, with whom God unites us body and soul. It can be particularly difficult to discern when to stand up and when to stand down. If we cling first to Him, we can walk with God through even this.

However and whenever we are confronted face to face with immediate affliction, true faith remains fixed on the unseen (Hebrews 11:1) and the eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17-18) through the moment at hand.

2. Seek Relief from God

Give us help from trouble,
For the help of man is useless.
~ Psalms 60:11 (NKJV)

Do not put your trust in princes,
Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help.
~ Psalms 146:3 (NKJV)

If physical violence is present or threatened, or if persecution violates civil rights, relief is sometimes sought through the courts, police, or other government agencies. Temporal relief is occasionally found, but government too often stands on the side of persecution.

Ideally, the church would never contribute to religious persecution, and would provide a measure of relief through all of life's trials by coming alongside its suffering members in support. But our churches are as imperfect as the humans who fill them, every Christian a work in progress. Whether or not church community lives up to the exhortation, "Bear one another's burdens" (Galatians 6:2), reality is that "each one shall bear his own load" (Galatians 6:5).

In cases of maltreatment from a spouse, our local church might provide immediate encouragement and advice (including biblical information on separation and divorce), perhaps some short-term counseling, and maybe even appropriate confrontation. Maybe. More often, spousal abuse may be seen as marital conflict that's too private (or too messy) for involvement of the church, particularly without the cooperation of the spouse, or in the absence of adultery or civil law violation.

Especially in the USA, we seem to expect quick relief from trouble, via everything from pharmaceuticals to FEMA. Persecution defies remedy through assistance from others. True relief is available from only one Source. The Lord is sovereign over all the suffering He allows in our lives until it has accomplished His intent for it. God alone is able to deliver, whether He sends human assistance, calls His people to come alongside us as support, or works a heart change in a persecutor.

3. Ask for God's Sustenance

"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.
For I am the LORD your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior."
~ Isaiah 43:2-3 (NKJV)

Though God may not grant our request for relief from persecution, we can rely upon Him to sustain us through persecution. While we can count on God's strength to sustain us through any and all suffering, we can especially expect it when we suffer on His account.

Withdrawal is a common reaction to intense pain. We can become weary in prayer when the Lord does not grant, in our timing, requested relief from persecution. But may we never withdraw from prayer! We absolutely need divine strength to stand in the face of persecution. Whether or not He provides relief, He is ever faithful to provide strength in the needed hour if we will but ask.

We are never alone in persecution. The Lord promises to be with us. This is not merely a standing-next-to "with." Through His Holy Spirit, God lives inside of us. And being on the inside, He feels and experiences and goes through everything we go through, as fully as we do. When God says, "I will be with you," He and His sustenance are with us more completely than our finite minds comprehend.

4. Allow the Master to Own the Debt

For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord's freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ's slave.
~ 1 Corinthians 7:22 (NKJV)

Persecution hurts. And the more we have invested in the life of persecutor, the more persecution for faith hurts. The pain of persecution can be accompanied by the pain of anger, or the pain of anger grown stale—bitterness. Full forgiveness is difficult, especially when we continue to face persecutor on a regular or even daily basis.

God owns persecutor and persecuted alike. When we willingly give ourselves to the Lord, we are blessed to know Him as a good and loving Master.

No slave owns himself or anything he holds. All belongs to the master. In the case of a debt, anything owed to the slave is actually owed to the slave's master.

In the case of offense or injury from persecution, our Master owns the debt. We can freely forgive persecutor without being burdened by the debt owed for his sin.

(For more on this thought, see "Forgiveness.")

5. Remember: Witnesses, Jesus, Joy

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every weight, and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Look unto Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross—despising its shame—and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners, lest you become weary and lose heart.
~ Hebrews 12:1-3

• Whether or not actively persecuted for faith, every Christian is on trial, to prove the genuineness of faith in Jesus, every day. Our lives are lived out before human and heavenly witnesses alike (both the good and the evil), our words and actions testimony to the power of God. (For more on trial / temptation / testing, see "Deliver Us From Evil.")

• Endurance can be passive. But persecution begs active perseverance, like running a race—or violently fighting a war (Matthew 11:12). And perseverance requires focus. A runner sets his sights on the finish line. Our focus is on Jesus, seated at the right hand of God's throne, who holds His arms out to us, spurring us onward.

• With our fixed eyes on Jesus, we can push through this life's afflictions. We can be renewed in the past joy of the salvation He's given (Psalm 51:12); we can express joy that we are counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus in the present (Acts 5:41); we can have joy in complete assurance of the future reward awaiting us.

" 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.' "
~ Matthew 25:23 (NKJV)

Comments are welcome (including respectful disagreement) and will receive a reply.
You may also contact author via Twitter – @anne4JC
or e-mail – use @gmail.com *after* buildingHisbody
Copyright 2013, Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Religious Persecution

Especially in America—a land settled centuries ago by pilgrims fleeing religious persecution, where freedom of religion and speech are held dear—we tend to think of religious persecution as something occurring far away or long ago. If you are among my readers who lives abroad, or if you are familiar with Voice of the Martyrs, you are likely aware that suffering for faith is still prevalent.

The devil has neither disappeared nor slowed with age, and he is personified contempt for God and truth. God's Word warns of our enemy's increasing activity in these last days, and of the many ways we can expect religious persecution to appear near at hand—nearer than we ever thought possible.

"Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.… and 'a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.' " ~ Matthew 10:34,36 (NKJV)

I've been asked what words I might have for a local woman being abused by her husband for her newfound Christian faith. Another woman with growing faith attempted suicide after her well-educated father made a case against the Bible, persuading her that faith in Jesus for help with her problems was foolishly misplaced. From my own family members, I've repeatedly received ridicule, profanity and contempt because I cling to Christ.

…'a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.'

Shamefully, the household of Christ is not immune to the devil's lies, and too often allows itself to be his agent of religious persecution. Denominational differences in particular are fertile ground for abuse.

I know of a family that began attending church. The wife and children didn't read the Bible much, because they had difficulty understanding the King James translation. When a friend gave them Bibles written in their native English tongue, they began reading with enthusiasm. But the husband and father threw the new Bibles away, telling his family they would read King James or nothing at all, threatening punishment if they defied him behind his back.

I know a man raised in a denominational church, who found faith as an young adult in an non-denominational church. On Sundays he comes home from church and is asked by his father and family what he learned from the sermon he heard, and is then ridiculed on every point made from the Bible that doesn't line up with their denominational bias.

I know of a group on Facebook called "You know you're a [denomination name] when …" Though I don't identify myself as anything but "Christian," I didn't give much thought to their adding me to the group since its denomination's traditions are grounded in the Bible. I began receiving notifications of their frequent postings, some of them intended to be amusing. When a quite serious and particularly divisive post came to my attention, I added a comment exhorting biblical unity and love in Christ. Other members of the group zeroed in for attack, giving me the most sound verbal thrashing I can ever recall receiving. When another member supported me, they also attacked her. (Since I'm not on Facebook much, I couldn't figure out fast enough how to exit the conversation and the group.)

"Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me." ~ John 15:20-21 (NKJV)

Persecution for displaying faith in Christ can be public or private. It may be physical, verbal or emotional abuse. It may be as serious as being killed, as simple as demeaning looks and snide remarks, as intimidating as threats to those we love. It comes from stranger and loved ones alike—and even from misguided Christians with whom we share faith.

If you are a Christian, this affects you. No Christian stands alone or suffers alone. Every Christian's strengths and gifts benefit the entire body of Christian believers. And when any individual member is weakened by suffering or attack, the entire body is weakened.

For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body … there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it … ~ 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 25-26 (NKJV)

Remember that first example, of a woman abused by her husband for her newfound faith? When I was asked what words of encouragement might be passed to her, I regret that I found myself unequal to a response, being overwhelmed by my own suffering at the time. The question has haunted me ever since.

How God's Word has encouraged me and what I would share with those undergoing any form of persecution for faith in Jesus Christ will be the subject of the next post.

Lord Jesus, make us worthy of whatever persecution we may face. Enable us to rejoice that You make us worthy. Strengthen us to stand for Your name and Your Father's name, whatever the cost.

Comments are welcome (including respectful disagreement) and will receive a reply.
You may also contact author via Twitter – @anne4JC
or e-mail – use @gmail.com *after* buildingHisbody
Copyright 2013, Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.