Religious persecution is on the rise. In the US, Christian persecution has been in the news this summer. Think about the countries you know there is persecution. If you are like me you know about Egypt, Iraq, Indonesia, and Pakistan, maybe a few more. My list is way too short. Persecution can take on many forms. The Pew Research foundation describes persecution as government restrictions or social hostility. They further report that 41% of countries have high religious restrictions. This 41% does not include social hostility.
I am fortunate; I can go to church, pray and study in public. I can talk to others about my faith. If I am discriminated against, the courts will support me. I do think there is an increasing anti-Christian bias in my country that needs to be addressed. That is not what I am thinking of today. Today my life is not in danger because of my faith. There are believers in extreme situations everyday.
Please consider praying for the persecuted on a regular basis. The following links will help you be better informed:
Some time ago, I had a major decision to make. It was mine to make and no one else could make it. It was one of those lifelong, not going back decisions. I knew which way I should go in the decision. I prayed that God would help me recognize my struggle for what it was. I also wanted peace of mind. Through studying His word and prayer, I became more convinced of the correct biblical response. After over two months of struggle, choose the path that best represented Gods character and Jesus’ teaching. It was a blind faith jump, it didn’t feel right.
I didn’t have a peace about it. But still I knew the biblical response. I knew this path would take a lot of sacrifice and 10 plus years of intense commitment. I also knew that God would care for me and everyone involved. It wasn’t until much later that I finally understood how much I was the problem. This should have been a shorter struggle but I can be pretty selfish. When I choose do things Gods way, life goes better for me. Has Gods way been easy? No sometimes it has been downright exhausting but it is a better life than the one I planned. The sacrifices have been greater than I thought they would be but the rewards have been greater as well. God really does know me better than I know myself. 1 Ki 7.39, 1 Chron 28:9. When I give into selfish desires they don’t satisfy for long and I just want another desire and another and another. Each time I trust Him my history with Him is longer. I can look back on His faithfulness and rest more easily in His character.
He has me all the time
This was a good example of not trusting my heart. The heart or my emotions can be deceptive. Sometimes I choose the easy over the right. God really does know what is best for me. This should not surprise since He made me. He knows my innermost parts and thoughts.
How important are my emotions? Do my emotions control me or do I control my emotions? Which should be in control? Happiness, it is a socially acceptable emotion, and it does not make observers uncomfortable like anger or grief does. Unfortunately, happiness is frequently more fleeting than other emotions. I must be in control of my anger. I cannot rage verbally or physically when angry. Certainly there are times when I am overcome by grief and grieving is something to be worked through and not avoided. I have learned the hard way that my heart can’t be trusted. If I had stopped listening to the worlds message to follow my heart I would have had less problems in by life. Emotions are powerful and can lead me to sin. Num 15:9, 2 Chron 12:14, Mt 15:19. But there are good emotions like compassion, joy, love, mercy, hope. These reflect God’s character. How much influence do your emotions have on your decisions?
Who influences me? Whose opinion is important to me? Should that person’s opinion count? Influence is not all bad. I need to recognize who or what influences me and why. Is their influence too much or too little? I seek out mentors to help mold me. My spouse is important. Those who have authority over me like my boss is important as well. But each has limited authority. My boss’s influence is not beyond the job. My husband is not to be followed if he asks me to sin. Children are important but I am the parent. I can guarantee my children won’t like some of my decisions! When influences clash do I rank them as I should?
Sometimes I am afraid to speak truth or come to the defense of Christianity. Many times it is because I want to avoid the awkwardness or possible derision I will get. My comfort or what others think of me is more important than my Lord. This is sin. This can sometimes be me hiding my light under a basket. How dare I care about embarrassment when some of my brothers and sisters are dying every day to defend the gospel! When this happens I need to confess my sin. I can replay the scene in my mind and evaluate where I made my errors. Most of the time, it is a split second decision. With experience I can see the opportunities coming as few seconds earlier than before and be ready. I need to always speak respectfully with mercy and truth.
Perhaps disciplined is not the right word for our culture. For me, the first thing that comes to my mind when I say disciplined is childhood punishments. This is unfortunate. A better definition is a mind that is under our control. The benefits of a disciplined mind are enormous, priceless perhaps. The mind may be where some of the greatest battles are fought. I can’t recall the last time I heard the exhortation to think something through. It takes time and effort to think. It probably gets easier and faster with practice. To be able to set aside ruminating, lies, anxiousness and circular thinking, especially at night, is a skill many of us do not have. In our society, a quick fix to these problems is medicine. Antianxiety and antidepressant medications sure are popular and control the symptoms. After a few days of taking medicine, the person is sleeping better. Soon the problems or anxious thoughts don’t seem so insurmountable. They feel better but nothing is solved. The root cause is not searched for.
Why don’t we think? Is it the instant culture we live in? We live in an age where, with a computer or smart phone, the facts of the world are at our fingertips. It is faster and easier to learn facts than learn how to thing. I there are other reasons we don’t think but the maybe’s and whys are for another time.
Contrary to the world, we are not commanded to just do it, but we are called to think. I was never encouraged to reflect on my day. “Life” can seem so big and daunting. Some Christian writers exhort us to reflect on life. But more often, our generation of Christians has been encouraged to rely on our emotions. We seek emotional experiences; we doubt conversion because something emotional did not happen. Or the feeling did not last. The problem with relying on emotions is that they are fleeting. Wait a few hours or the next day and where is that fantastic feeling? If something went wrong, the feelings can last a long time, out of proportion to the incident. Solomon describes a person who trusts his own heart as a fool. Prov 26.23 These are strong words. Jeremiah is equally uncomplimentary, calling the heart deceitful, sick and not understandable. Jer 17:9. We know this from experience.
But when we prayerfully reflect on our day, we can see patterns of how we interact with others, how we used the resources of time, possessions, and influence. We may see a way out.
Last March, I had the privilege to see Romans 12: 1-5 lived out. Paul calls us to check our egos at the door. He echoes the command that begins in Genesis to worship God. To do this we need to be continually renewed. To grow in Christ we need good food. Just like a healthy diet has a variety of foods we need spiritual food from several sources. The Bible is of course, a staple along with a healthy spoonful of sermons. Condiments of spiritual mentors and friends plus a dash of soul feeding music complete my plate. Through this I see how I am a piece of the big picture. Each of us has a part to play. No role is more or less important than another. But the picture is distorted if I am missing or I am not doing my part. This came alive on a recent trip to Ecuador.
Group Picture Miami Airport
A church was planning to send out a construction crew to put roofs on some of the children’s homes at the Henry Davis Foundation–http://www.hfecuador.org/. A nurse practitioner was added and the crew grew from purely construction to both construction and medical. There were about 20 in the group. The attitude of the group was how can I help? Everyone found their niche, created by God. It was a wonderful trip, the camaraderie was high. People made decisions for Christ with good follow-up by their village pastor. The construction crew served the children by providing safe dry roofs over their heads. They modeled Christian manhood to the kids. The dental-medical crew loved and cared for patients. Some of villagers would ask: why are they doing this? Our Ecuadoran evangelists would then explain the love of Christ. Evenings were filled with playing with the kids and shopping for medications. The nights overflowed with laughter, filling bags of medicine for the next day, organizing the “pharmacy”, playing games. We had three cooks who replenished our bodies with fresh local food and supported us in any way they could. Some people were not so sure what they would do when they went, others their jobs evolved. At the end of the trip, it was obvious why God brought each one to Ecuador.
I am giving away kittens. It is really scary for them. From a family of six a kittens they get put all alone in a strange plastic tote. They ride in a car, feeling motions, sounds and vibrations that they have never experienced before. The kitten does not know about the loving family at the end of the trip.
Sometimes our Christian walk can seem just as scary. But we can know God and His character. We can trust in Him. He knows us better than we ourselves do. He knows our deepest fears, wants and desires. He knows what is truly best for us. Our forever home is being prepared for us and is more than we can ever imagine. We need to trust and obey Him, remembering we are on a journey home.
My view of God has changed since as I have grown up and that is good. As a child I thought as a child and as an adult I should think like an adult. My first lessons of God came from my Mom. When I did something wrong my mother would say: “Don’t do that again. God will get you for that”. So as I child I learned God was all seeing and a judge who would punish me for my sins. There is more to God than omniscience and judgement. At some point I did notice that if my dad was present he didn’t disagree with her but was uncomfortable with what she said. But Mom was probably exasperated and was using the God line to coerce me to obey. His reaction gave me a glimmer that perhaps she was not right. Slowly, as I have read and re-read the bible, and listened to excellent expository preachers, I have learned more about Him and love Him more deeply.
What does the Bible say? When we read about Him, we need to evaluate our ideas of God. Does our idea of God line up with scripture? If our ideas don’t line up, it is us who needs to change.
The more I learn of him the more there is to know. How does your description of God compare with what the Bible says about Him.
Some say there is no God. Others say there is a God but each person describes Him in such a way that I wonder if we are talking about the same person. There are many descriptions of God. Some people see him as an indulgent grandfather who readily forgives those who confess wrongs and then showers them with goodies. Others think of Him as vengeful, out to get anyone who steps out of line. Another opinion is that he set the universe in motion and then has stepped back and the world is on autopilot. There are many more. (I used Him, and person, in the second sentence and that would be open to debate by some).
What we think God is one of the central keys to how we conduct our lives.
When you imagine Him, what is the first descriptive word you would use? What is His character like? Do you project characteristics of good or bad men in your life on Him? Sorting out what our beliefs are is important.
The next step is to see if our opinion or description aligns with what He says about Himself. But that is for another day.