Why are we surprised at how American society treats Christians?

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When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”  “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?”   Judges 6:12-13

As a marginalized Christian, do you ever feel like Gideon? The warp-speed of cultural change week to week has startled many, me included.  We feel less welcome to voice our values in the public sphere.  But it wasn’t that long ago that we FELT as though we fit in with the majority of Americans.   Not that we were ever in harmony with ‘mainstream’ America.  For we’ve accepted for years that we were as different as chalk and cheese when measured against the Hollywood or the academic and media names in the news.

However, these days a feeling of fear and despair is seeping under the doorways of our conscious mind and we find ourselves, if not anxious, at least bewildered.   Is this the way God treats His children?

Yes!!! and we should not be surprised. After all, God’s Word describes the very same situation throughout biblical history.

In my Bible-reading this morning I read two of the assigned psalms with much more interest and attention than previous years. The unnamed Psalmist minces no words as he describes how he and fellow believers suffered during what many commentators posit as the likely precipitating distress:  the siege of Sennacherib in 721 BC.

Psalm 66: 10-12

For you, O God, have tested us;
    you have tried us as silver is tried.
You brought us into the net;
    you laid a crushing burden on our backs;
you let men ride over our heads;
    we went through fire and through water;
YET you have brought us out to a place of abundance

Yes, the Psalmist is on the OTHER side of hardship, but 3 facts remain:

  1. God was the source or ultimate originator of the suffering
  2. The horrific and painful trauma was real and distributed to all the Hebrews
  3. God brought them THROUGH the tribulation to a joy-filled destination

Yes, that was then.  But do we American or Western Christians HAVE to suffer…like THAT…now in 2016?????

Let me ask this: Why should God treat us any differently than His chosen people?  He specifically selected the Hebrews out of whom would come His Messiah.  In the same way, He has chosen us, for His purposes.  We belong to Him.  He has the power and the authority and the very RIGHT as our Creator to do with us as He sees best.  We forget THAT ‘inconvenient truth’.

2 Tim 3:12 –  Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted

But that is SCARY!!!!  We all shrink back from the idea of calamity, of hardship and real damage, whether to our reputation, our jobs and income, our families, our churches. or EVEN to the very liberties we once considered safeguarded by the US Constitution!

So why is God doing this?  Does His Word tell us anything?

Fortunately it does, but the reason might not be something we moderns like.

Psalm 69:7 – I am being mocked because of you. Dishonor overwhelms me

Psalm 44:22 – Yet for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered

Acts 5:41- So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name

Psalm 44:11 – You give us as sheep to be eaten And have scattered us among the nations

What we know is limited, but many verses tell us that for the sake of God’s name or character, those who follow Him WILL be mocked, persecuted and even killed.  And even though we don’t know ALL the whys or wherefores, we can take comfort that God does have a plan and IN THE END, those who mocked God and us shall be punished.

Prov 11:21 Be assured that the evil person will certainly be punished, but the descendants of the righteous will not suffer unjust judgment.

So how can we prepare ourselves to handle this suffering?

Here’s encouraging advice from a man who faced suffering with courage- Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Link here.  In short, he says that gathering with the local church to HEAR the Gospel truth preached and exposited gives us strength and perspective to endure with grace.

So ‘do not be grieved for the joy of the Lord is your strength’. Neh 8:10

 

Love my boundary lines!

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Sheep in a pen

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. Psalm 16:6a

My thorn in the flesh that keeps driving me back to God in desperate need is my tendency to overeat and then get down on myself. I thought I had been liberated from that vicious cycle back in December.  It was then that I renounced once and for all slavishly weighing myself and tracking my exercise day by day.  But then, 10 days ago, I noticed that a certain pair of pants felt tight.  Immediately I spiraled into fear and loathing.

In a nutshell, I suffer from conflicting desires of wanting both to be lean AND to eat as much as I want.  I also fear future hunger and despise feeling stuffed. Taking liberty with the apostle Paul’s cry,

Oh wretched woman that I am! Who will deliver me out of this ….(ceaseless struggle!) – Romans 7:24

As I went round and round with God both in prayer and reading my Bible, He brought to mind that psalm snippet above about limits.  Yes!  I NEED boundaries, both to feel safe and to forget about myself. I’m not much different from a dog that escapes from his restrictive yard only to find himself in a big, scary world on the other side.  Once he’s back home on the safe side of his fence or wall, he might then trust his owner’s wisdom and leave off future waywardness.  Actually I bet a dog needs far fewer repeat lessons than I do! After all, I’ve been fighting that wall with God since I was 16.

The Holy Spirit also reminded me what I have recently absorbed, that as Christians, our primary ministry is to our family. For me, my husband must be my focus. And if I am sucked inward, feeling bad about MY body, MY choices and MY satisfaction, I am NOT ministering to this man God has lovingly brought me.

Quickly my plea for guidance, “What am I to do, Lord?” turned into thanksgiving and praise for His Truth revealed in my heart.

Yes, I DO need limits and they DO make me happy.  Once THAT fact was settled, what I was to do fell into place.  No, I would not go back to weighing myself each day.  But I could cut out certain foods and reduce my portion size of others.

And if those parameters are what allow me to forget myself and focus on Mike and others in my sphere, then they truly ARE my happy limits.  Staying INSIDE the parameter is best.

Well, what about this fear of hunger and desire to eat abundantly?  I MUST ‘risk’ taking God at His Word and rely on His promise that I can do ALL things through him (Christ) who strengthens me – Phil 4:13. And all things means happily living with limited portions and occasional hunger pangs. For ifGod is leading me to stay within my boundary lines, then what He commands me to do, He will likewise enable me to do with Holy Spirit power.  As a Christian, it’s a fact that the Holy Spirit resides IN me. 2 Timothy 1:7 – For God has NOT given us a spirit of fear, but One of love, power and integral/sound thinking.

Name change

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I don’t know about you, but I don’t like the word DISCIPLINE. 

Let me make a distinction.  I have no problem initiating my own disciplines, which I see simply as habits to happiness.   But when DISCIPLINE arrives from outside of me, handed down and imposed, I squirm and feel guilty as though deserving of punishment.  Self-discipline sits differently. In fact, I remember a line from “Seventeen” magazine that went like this:

“(Self)-discipline is remembering what you want!”

The context spoke of how to stick to healthy eating habits and work-out routines.

But the term discipline, when spoken of in the Bible, jars me, reminding me of childhood spankings and the accompanying shame…. )

……hence my presumptuous proposal to substitute “training” for “discipline”.  Training feels more forward-looking since it often travels in company with a 3-letter pronoun, the word FOR.  As in, “I’m training for a marathon” or “I’m in training for 6 months to become a nail technician.”

Before you start criticizing my hermeneutics or saying that I’m changing the Bible to suit myself, listen to what I’m not doing…..

  • I’m neither using POOR logic as in the case of Representative Rob Portman who just this past week flip-flopped his OPINION of what the Bible says about homosexual unions.  Previously he had defended the traditional and Biblical definition of marriage.  Now he has chosen to broaden it because of his son’s circumstances.  He therefore has applied a Procrustean trick and made the Bible fit his desires:

Premise 1 – A loving God just wants us to be happy

Premise 2 – My son is happy with his gay partner

Conclusion – Therefore, a loving God must approve of my son’s pursuit of

happiness

  • Nor am I playing loosey-goosey in how I define the term ‘discipline’.  After all, the Latin root of the word discipline is discipulus which means student or follower. I’m just building on the original meaning – think the 12 disciples.

So, here is my thinking: IF God sovereignly sends/ allows…….  suffering….disappointments….frustrations, and IF God’s goal for ALL of His born-again covenant children is their sanctification or growth in holiness, and IF there is now no condemnation for those who are joined with Christ, and IF God is ‘totally for us’……then it sure makes the idea of discipline as training easier for me to swallow, accept and embrace with peace.  I can trust and flow with EVERYTHING that happens to me as part of God’s plan for my good.  Knowing that the painful stuff is not punishment, but TRAINING, meant to build my faith, increase my holiness, grow my readiness to flee to Jesus, lessen my grip on earthly pleasures and increase my satisfaction in God alone is a gift.

Remembering that scripture is the spoken (and written) WORD of God, let’s be assured by what God says through Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for    correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man/servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for all good works.

It could be God delivered you of that rebellious streak when you were united with Christ, but I must still have it, if I’m chafing at a word usage.  If so, then I will watch and see how God changes my heart.

But in the meantime, I will submit gladly to the ‘blessed and only Controller/Sovereign’ who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords (1 Tim 6:15) in whatever He plans for me.  

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