October 27, 2014
Are you willing to be persecuted for following Jesus? Are you willing to die?
Think about the approach we take to sharing the Christian faith in America, in the 21st Century. Presenting the claims of the Gospel to people who were born into American culture – who measure their quality of life against the celebrities highlighted on Entertainment Tonight, or the business champions on the Forbes 400 – and the question of "what's in it, for me?" is likely asked… and unanswered.
Marketing the Christian faith to a populace weened on privilege is the daily confrontation for the modern Evangelical. How can we offer a signing bonus that is significant enough to attract the attractive and convince them of sufficient benefits to seduce their sign-up?
Cheri and I are in Israel right now; we're participating in a ten-day experience that is blending the best of Bible history – Old and New Testament – with an insightful reconnaissance of the modern challenges of life inside a powder keg. We've been to the Golan Heights; we stood next to a United Nations monitor at a hilltop bunker looking down on the Syrian border – 36 miles from Damascus, across the landscape where ISIS is conducting its brutal mission of "convert or die" conquest. We've traveled from the Sea of Galilee to the Mount of Olives – and stood at the Western/Wailing Wall of the ancient Temple. Thirty-four marketplace leaders from the Barnabas Group – led by Tom and Joanne Doyle who lead the Mid-East missions for E3 Partners – had the chance to talk with E3's leaders who are ministering in a virtual suicide setting in Northern Iraq and Syria.
Refugees driven from their homes and cities by the scourge of ISIS are facing threat-of-life challenge as the militants multiply around them. Muslims who are not displaced are secretly expressing despair about the brutal acts carried out in the name of their religion, while feeling no sense of certainty that the faith they've been shackled to answers the deepest questions of their souls.
The in-country heroes who are standing in for The Lord Jesus are making the price of following Him clear and concise; the questions asked of the converts could not be more clear. Are you willing to be persecuted for following Jesus? Are you willing to die?
Anything short of that honesty would be a deficient description of the cost of discipleship. The avowed Christians within their communities have demonstrated the reality of those risks. Why would anyone in their right mind – anyone with an option – elect to embrace a faith that assures personal tragedy?
"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in Heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 6:11-12)
It's easy to read that promise and personalize it within one's unique situation; for the world I live in – within the controlled environment of contemporary America – emotional bullying may occasionally occur for the outspoken Christian who overtly shares faith with the ideologically sensitive. For the person embracing the Good News in the face of the threat of beheading or crucifixion, the strength of character – and, the power of the Holy Spirit – is far more demonstration of the Supernatural.
We heard the caution of friends who thought it risky to visit Israel on the heels of the Gaza shoot-out; during our time here, I've been embarrassed for flirting with uncertainty when brave men and women a few miles away are answering evil with a new convert's confidence… and paying the price.
Is forgiveness by grace – and, the promise of life everlasting – worth what it costs?