I love my life, and that's why I'm terrified to write this.
I really have a great life. I live in a beautiful country; I have a great husband and kids; I have a regular paycheck and money in the bank. I have health insurance that will fly me to any place in the world in an emergency. I love my job; it is fulfilling and exciting.
Sure, you know, there's ticks and mosquitoes and electricity problems (it's off as I write this) and I miss my mom and blah blah blah. But really? Are those things really that big of a deal? Have I sacrificed anything for the kingdom of God? Because actually, I really like my life. For the most part, I am safe; I am comfortable; I am happy.
The level of terror I feel at the thought of giving it up is the indication of how tightly I am holding onto it all.
"[A Russian pastor] hugged each one of us [his children]. Then he said: 'All around the country, the authorities are rounding up followers of Jesus and demanding that they deny their faith. Sometimes, when they refuse, the authorities will line up whole families and hang them by the neck until they are dead. I don't want that to happen to our family, so I am praying that once they put me in prison, they will leave you and your mother alone. However,' and here he paused and made eye contact with us, 'If I am in prison and I hear that my wife and my children have been hung to death rather than deny Jesus, I will be the most proud man in that prison!'"
Often, it's easy to look around us at our organized sidewalks and our life insurance policies and our carpeted church buildings and Christian radio stations and assume that this life is the norm for Christians. Because for us, it is normal.
"We haven't made books and movies out of these stories [of persecution] that you have been hearing. For us, persecution is like the sun coming up in the east. It happens all the time. It's the way things are. There is nothing unusual or unexpected about it." (from Russia)
Our comfortable life is not normal for most Christians in most parts of the world. It wasn't normal during the time of the New Testament. In fact, looking at history, we have to say that both the religious freedom and material comfort of America are actually quite unprecedented.
"After we were out of earshot of that young house-church leader, my host leaned toward me and whispered, 'He's going to be someone God can use in a powerful way someday. But you cannot trust what he says now; he hasn't been to prison yet." (from China)
Sometimes I think, "Surely God wouldn't let that happen to us. American Christians aren't really going to ever be under threat of prison. Churches aren't really going to have their buildings confiscated. We couldn't possibly ever really lose our jobs because of our faith in Christ."
God wouldn't let that happen.
And if we can't trust God to keep that from happening to us, then surely we can trust America itself--the land of the free and the home of the brave.
"Perhaps the question should not be, 'Why are others persecuted?' Perhaps the better question is 'Why are we not?'"
And yet, it is coming, isn't it?
For centuries, American Christians have enjoyed the reputation of being honest, moral, good people. Maybe a little backward, but good people. We're losing that, aren't we? Bigoted, hateful, narrow-minded--that's becoming our reputation now. Granted, some of that is our own fault! But mostly, it's because of the gospel.
What about when it gets worse? What about when people can't get a job, or lose their jobs, because of their beliefs? (It's already starting!) What about when churches lose their tax exempt status? And we can't afford our church buildings? Or our pastors? Just this year, Christian groups were kicked off of all 23 University of California campuses. And the ideas that start in the universities always trickle down to the rest of life.
"Every morning one of the guards would take some of his own human waste and spread it on the piece of toast that he brought to my father to breakfast."
It's not a matter of if anymore, it's a matter of when. Will we see imprisonments in America in our lifetime? In our kids' lifetime? I don't know. I don't want to be an alarmist.
But when we read Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (II Tim. 3:12), shouldn't that be our expectation? Shouldn't we realize that this brief respite of religious freedom in American history has been unusual?
No matter how far it goes in our lifetime, it is certainly worth pondering.
How much am I willing to give up for Christ's sake?
My reputation? My career? My education? My house? My children?
We are so used to having our cake and eating it too, that we are in danger of not being willing to sacrifice anything for the kingdom of God.
And let me assure you again: I am terrified. I love my life.
Then I read things like this:
"Looking back now, I understand that one of the most accurate ways to detect and measure the activity of God is to note the amount of opposition that is present. The stronger the persecution, the more significant the spiritual vitality of the believers."
Are we ready?
Am I ready? To sacrifice, to let go, to truly love?
I read this book last week. One of the endorsers said, "This is not a book. This is a soul earthquake."
All of the quotes in this post came from this book. Yes, an earthquake went through my soul.
I was terrified and furious and indignant.
But I was also energized and triumphant. I wanted to shout and pump my fists in the air. If our God is with us, then what can stand against us?
Bring it on!
Bring it on!
"One of the house-church leaders actually asked me, 'Do you know what prison is for us? It is how we get our theological education. Prison in China is for us like seminary is for training church leaders in your country.'"
He is worth it!
Jesus is worth it!
"If we spend our lives so afraid of suffering, so averse to sacrifice, that we avoid even the risk of persecution...then we might never discover the true wonder, joy and power of a resurrection faith."
I grit my teeth and set my sights on things above. I love my life, but I love Jesus more.