I know to many of you, these days look dark. I know you are facing fears that you haven't experienced before. I know, because I see it all around me. One of my dearest friends has received a serious cancer diagnosis; her nephew was killed in a car accident last night; my closest cousin died from a stroke that appears to be vaccine-related; our national and world economy is teetering; war threatens the entire globe; and "the nuclear option" is not just a slogan anymore. Many of you may be enduring far worse situations, or fearing the possibilities that you may soon face. But I am not writing from a position of fomenting fear, or "calling out" anyone's inability to accept what is coming upon the earth.
Instead, what I want to shout to everyone [especially people who proclaim their faith in Jesus] is that "Now is the time to see the truth of God in the world! Now is the time to come out from under the delusion that none of this should be happening! Now is the time to step into the unconquerable faith that we claim to possess!" That means we don't focus on the bad news, but we don't deny it, either. I don't understand why people are confused over troubling and painful events in their lives or the world. I have said it over and over, but people just look at me like it's not computing ... Why do we 21st Century American Christians think we deserve uncomplicated and trouble-free lives? Why are we convinced that somehow God has blessed us above all other nations, and that good fortune and security are our national and personal destiny?
I find myself thinking of those favored by the Father and the Son in the Bible ... the Israelites, who were the apple of God's eye, yet found themselves being subjected to slavery in Egypt; of Moses, whom God used to deliver them from their bondage, yet was denied entrance to the Promised Land; of David and Abraham, who were both highly favored by God, yet experienced suffering in their personal lives, found themselves fighting in wars, and saw their sons become embittered foes. And can you imagine what it must have been like for the Disciples? These were men hand-picked by Jesus, Himself, and tasked with traveling to places like Turkey and India to spread the news that the Son of the Most High God, [whom these foreign people didn't even know] had come to earth to save them from eternal death. And they were willing to go, even though Jesus pretty much assured them they would endure tribulation and trials, and be killed by those who hated Him. Why would we think that we could [or should] make it through this world unscathed and untouched?
People throughout the world and throughout history have understood that we live in a fallen world, and suffering [in all its forms] is "normal". But somehow, we, who find ourselves modern citizens of the Western culture and mindset, have somehow come to expect a life of ease, convenience and constant safety. How many times have I heard people say, "That would never happen here"! We seem to have forgotten Paul's exhortation to the young church in Thessalonica "not to become unsettled by difficulties", for he had warned them in advance that they were going to experience persecution, and sure enough, it had come to pass. It was to be expected! Yet, when we look upon the tremendous suffering that is happening in our world today -- from disease, violence and crime, war, the trading of human souls, and the consequences of our individual sin -- we still cry out, "How could this be happening to me? I've been a good Christian [or at least a good person]"!
But God's Word never promises a guaranteed escape plan from the suffering in the world. In fact, Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:12, Indeed, all who delight in pursuing righteousness and are determined to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be hunted and persecuted [because of their faith]. He couldn't have said it any plainer. But it is also apparent that God has given much favor to those of us born in the United States. No other nation has been created with personal liberty and freedom such as we've been blessed with. And up until now, we have been able to pursue our faith, free from persecution. Although faith in Jesus in other countries around the world can be met with loss of employment, estrangement from family, imprisonment, beatings, or even death, we in America have so far been allowed to experience [and share] our faith without such repercussions. What would you do if that suddenly changes? Would you pick up your cross and follow Jesus, being willing to suffer for Him? Even unto death? Others have.
Perhaps it's time to accept the truth of the Bible; that suffering is a natural part of the Christian life. Jesus tells us it is so. Just because we haven't experienced it here yet, doesn't mean we won't. It's time we examine our hearts and rid them of any form of entitlement or "right to be exempt". We must come to the realization that knowing Christ surpasses all else in this world -- including personal security, safety, prosperity, and health. We must recognize the cost of discipleship and offer nothing less to those we share the Gospel with. We must present the whole picture of the Christians life! Yes, we have our reunion with Jesus to look forward to, and to see His glory as He comes to redeem all who believe in Him. But we must be prepared to endure and persevere through tribulation until that glorious moment! Until that moment, we are to offer Jesus to others, and all that comes with that choice -- not just a cozy, easy life.
A 2017 article by Zane Pratt provides wisdom about how to approach the subject of the trials, tribulations, and sufferings of the Christian life. I'd like to share that knowledge, with a bit of personal insight added... We should not be caught off-guard or surprised by the realities of the world; suffering is a given. We can experience and endure through suffering without losing our integrity [and moral righteousness]. As hard as it may be to do, we are to love our persecutors and pray for them. We are not to seek revenge; that is the Lord's prerogative. As faithful Christians, we must trust in God through the midst of our suffering and look for opportunities to do good for others. We can identify with others who are suffering, and can therefore offer encouragement. We must stay focused on Jesus. And this is always a difficult thing to understand, but we can rejoice when we suffer because our hearts find Him so worthy to be identified with. We must believe and know that our suffering will be temporary and cannot compare to the glory and joy that we will find in the Presence of the Father and Son!
So, my final thought is this ... If you are finding the chaos in the world to be frighteningly unsettling, and you haven't been prepared for it by the Church, or you are unfamiliar with what the Bible reveals as Truth, then I want you to know this ... The story of Jesus is more than the joy of the Virgin Birth or the Resurrection of the Savior of the World. Our faith is founded upon more than our culture's celebrations of Christmas and Easter. There are a lot of pages before and after those stories [in the Bible] that speak of the heart-break that accompanies our faith; of the cost of following Jesus; and of His power in us to endure against the Anti-Christ spirit that has invaded the earth. The story and evidence of our lives as Christians must be our ability to stand strong, established in a faith so deep in Christ that no amount of suffering or persecution can uproot us. We will sing of our love for Jesus in the midst of both trials and triumph! And at the end of our journey on this earth, we will celebrate IT ALL as a dedicated offering of our unshakeable faith in the One who redeemed us!
2 Corinthians 6:4-10 We commend ourselves in every way as servants of God: in great endurance, in sufferings, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in riots, in labors, in sleepless nights, in hunger, in purity and sincerity, in knowledge and spiritual insight, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in [speaking] the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand [like holding the sword to attack] and for the left [like holding the shield to defend], amid glory and dishonor; by evil report and good report; branded as deceivers and yet [vindicated as] truthful; as unknown [to the world], yet well-known [by God and His people]; as dying, yet we live; as punished, yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet bestowing riches on many; as having nothing, yet possessing all things.