So it is 2017 and much to my disappointment cars are still not flying, robots such as Rosie from the Jetsons aren’t cleaning my house, and teleportation still requires taking my shoes off at airport security. I am not overly impressed with this day and age, although it does have its bells and whistles such as Uber, Netflix, and being able to access just about any information we desire within a few seconds (although that still seems to be too slow, doesn’t it?).
And while most of the information that we choose to access and share comes from shakey sources with specific agendas, there’s still some information that we stumble across that meets us right at the core of who we are. For example:
A new study has revealed that Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world.
Further, The Center for Studies on New Religions said more than 90,000 Christians were killed in 2016. This means that out of 195 countries in the world 26% of them have made Christianity illegal and largely punishable by death.
Now, what did you feel when you read that? Nothing? A little something? Wiping the tears from your eyes?
As for myself, I came across this information while I was slowly scrolling my phone, taking a break from putting away all the Christmas decorations that Julie and I had put up in our home this year. I must admit that I didn’t have enough time to finish reading the article so I bookmarked it for later, set my phone on the bookcase and went back to packing the empty boxes. In case you missed it, I read that 90,000 Christians were killed in 2016, making it the most persecuted religion in the world, and yet I simply went back to taking down decorations that I had put up, like millions of others in our country, which were used to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
The problem? Much like everyone else who reads or hears these statistics, I either feel nothing or not nearly enough to live differently. Which begs the question: What do we do with a persecuted religion in a free country? How do we live with global awareness regarding our faith and not just within the narrow mind of our own false realities and freedoms?
I think one of the first things we need to consider is:
- Do we take full advantage of our religious freedom?
No really, do we? Because I must admit that I have more than elbow room to grow in this area. I have plenty of opportunity to allow Christ to speak into this life I’m living and not just settling for what I believe He has provided me with once it’s over.But only you can answer this question for yourself.
Because believe it or not, people can know where you stand with your faith and it actually be attractive to them. It doesn’t have to be abrasive, suffocating, or off-putting. You can love people through how you live simply because they were created to be lovely even if they don’t believe in the same Creator as you do.
For me, it is simply taking advantage of the moments and opportunities that others are literally dying to create. It is not being afraid to let people know where I stand, who I follow, and what I know Jesus did for me. It is being transparent about by failures and shortcomings because I don’t have to be perfect since I serve Jesus who is. It is about the small things: praying for my food (even in public), giving credit to God regarding my talents, abilities, and blessings. It is about the big things: Inviting people to Church but loving them just the same if they say “no”, actually making it a priority to participate and serve in the ministries of the Church, financially investing in the mission of the local church, and yielding to Gods direction of my life over my own ideas of how this life should go.
But what is it for you? How can you take advantage of the moments and opportunities that others are literally dying to create?
Another way I believe we can capitalize on our religious freedom is through:
- Praying for those who are not able to enjoy such freedom.
In the book of Acts we get to see the widespread effect of persecution, or those being robbed of their religious freedom. Yet miraculously enough it actually causes the Church to spread in popularity more than it causes it to shrink from fear. Funny how that has always worked.
Within the book of Acts, specifically chapter 12, we get to see how King Herod Agrippa began to persecute leaders in the Church, robbing them of this freedom that we have been gifted with. The text goes on to tell us more about the Kings actions beginning in verse 2:
2 He had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed with a sword. 3 When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish people, he also arrested Peter. 4 Then he imprisoned him, placing him under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring Peter out for public trial after the Passover. (Acts 12:2-4, NLT)
Several men, imprisoned and murdered for their beliefs, but what seems stronger than the oppression that many are facing are the prayers of those who have at this point evaded such persecution. Verse 5 goes on to say:
5 But while Peter was in prison, the church prayed very earnestly for him. (Acts 12:5, NLT)
And with their freedom, the church prayed and allowed Peter to miraculously find his.
I think we would all agree that God is still involved in the miraculous but are we still involved enough with prayer for those who have been robbed of religious freedom?
What if I told you that your prayers could still change the outcome of dire situations for those you have never met and bring about results you may never hear about? Would you then pray for those whose religious beliefs about Jesus are causing them persecution? I can promise you it wont hurt and you will find a new found appreciation of your freedom through that communication with God.
And for most of us, another way we can capitalize on our religious freedom is through:
- Giving financially to organizations that emphasize global evangelism
It is truly remarkable how far our excess can take others. I have heard remarkable stories about how families have sacrificed eating out once a month and used that money to change the stories and lives of those overseas.
A few of the organizations that I have had personal contact with and can heavily vouch for their work are:
- Pioneer Bible Translators, Pioneer Bible Translators exits to bridge the gap between the church and the Bibleless peoples around the world. Remarkable organization that I am proud to continually hear stories of victory from.
- Remember The Children , Remember the Children exists to bring faith, hope, and love to Romania’s forgotten ones.
- Central India Christian Mission (CICM), CICM responds to the needs of people in India and surrounding countries through outreach initiatives including providing medical care, disaster relief, shelter, food, education, training, and more. Our Church recently gave 100% of our Christmas Eve offering to CICM who has led 400,000 people to Christ since the mid 1980’s. Unbelievable work.
Regardless of what you choose to do, I hope that 2017 is a year full of perspective shift, blessing, and one where you are willing to bless others. And never forget that you have the ability within you to take advantage of moments and opportunities that others are dying to create. You can even empower them if you would like. But I think we are all living in an time where we must wrestle with what we are going to do with a persecuted religion in a free country?
Blessings and Peace,