The Insanity of Obedience by Nik Ripken is one of the most vital texts for the American (and the entire Western) Church in this age. Note, Christ-followers do not seek persecution; it is inappropriate, not to mention mentally and emotionally unhealthy, to try to be persecuted. But we must recognize Paul’s inspired teaching to Timothy in the first century was clear: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12)
Mr. Ripken notes the common reaction to persecution, especially in the West, falls into five categories:
- We want the persecution to stop. (Well, obviously, right?)
- We want to rescue the persecuted. (Of course!)
- We want the persecutor to be punished. (Isn’t that justice?)
- We want democracy and civil rights to usher in the Kingdom of God. (Isn’t that why He established the USA?)
- We want to give money to help and rescue the persecuted. (That’s missions, isn’t it?)
“Significantly, however, all five of these responses FAIL on biblical grounds!” (emphasis mine) He goes on to say, “Jesus told us that persecution is normal and to be expected. The only way to stop persecution is to be disobedient to His call.” (See John 15:18-27.)
Mr. Ripken interviewed hundreds of Christ-followers in various levels of persecution, from simply trying to meet secretly to avoid it, to meetings with prisoners who have been (and some who were currently being) beaten to discourage them from their faith. His findings, reported in the book, are challenging, if not life-altering!
For example, Christians in China consistently reported that being sent to prison opened doors for evangelism that would not otherwise have opened. As opposed to praying for rescue from their persecutors, they requested that we pray FOR the persecutors, many of whom come to Jesus because of their witness. They determined that the best way to stop persecution was to help the persecutor to become a brother or sister in Christ. And they plant churches among the other inmates in the prisons! From their perspective, giving money to secure their release was counterproductive. Besides, they reported, “It is impossible to replace witness with money.”
A man whose door we knocked on back in the 70s when I was involved in a door-to-door evangelism effort, looked at us two young men incredulously as we told him our purpose was to talk to him about Jesus. “What for!?” he angrily answered. “I’m a Christian. I was born here in the US!”
Of the estimated two billion (2,000,000,000) “Christians” reported in surveys, one has to wonder how many are “census Christians,” believing they are Heaven-bound because of where they live or who their parents were. The lack of persecution in America today probably has less to do with our “Christian” heritage than with the fact that an accurate message of the Gospel is not being shared, much less received.
This confusion extends to other nations where, to Muslims, it is typically believed that to be American is to be “Christian.” With American culture reaching the world through television and movies, is it any wonder that Christianity is viewed so disgustingly as it is? These people think THAT is how Christianity causes people to live, like Friends or Bel-Air! Overcoming this stereotype is usually a long process with lots of face-to-face Bible reading and explanations.
The most poignant note I wish to make in this blog is the freedom we have to share Jesus with people we meet. While we claim, here in America, that we are free, one must wonder if that is true . . . based on how many people I have shared Jesus with in the last year. With how many have you shared? And not just in blogs, but face-to-face, with personal “skin in the game.” Am I free to share? Are we free to share?
A Chinese house church leader shared this distinction of “church members” and “true followers of Jesus.” “Of that large number of believers you described, two thirds are what we would call ‘members.’ Only one-third . . . are ‘true followers of Jesus.’ Probably two-thirds of the people you mentioned regularly attend church; most have been baptized . . . contribute financially . . . But we do not consider church members to be ‘true followers of Jesus’ until they have led other people to Christ.”
Mr. Ripken makes the point that EVERY believer IS FREE to share. The only difference is in the possible consequences of that sharing. We assume in the West that God only wants what “feels” best for me, my family and my country. But what if this assumption is wrong? “It might be that Western Christianity has diminished the heart of biblical faith by removing the suffering and persecution that the New Testament promises are intrinsic to following Jesus . . . Sadly, it may be time for believers in the West to admit we are afraid.”
We must choose to obey Jesus’ call to disciple the nations, beginning at our Jerusalem and Judea (our neighborhood, our home town, our “village”), reaching out to our Samaria (those who are racially or socio-economically different from us) and to the uttermost parts of the earth. “We can either choose not to be afraid or we can choose to obey in spite of our fears.” There is no place or situation on earth over which the devil has so much control that we cannot share what we know to be true. “Believers cannot always choose safety, but they can always choose obedience.”
Consider lastly an illustration from Joseph (Genesis 37–45). If we were a “missions-minded church” in his day, what would our response to Joseph’s troubles have been? Upon hearing his brothers had thrown him in a pit, we would have sent an ‘extraction team’ to rescue him. When he was sold to the Midianite traders, we would have taken up a collection to purchase his freedom. If we found out about this when he was in Potiphar’s house, we would have sent a diplomatic delegation to press for his release from service. When we discovered he was in prison, we would have sent legal teams to argue against his unjust imprisonment.
And all our efforts of “rescue” at any stage would have left Pharaoh without a “witness” to provide for all of Egypt and Jacob’s family’s provisions that they needed to survive a famine; not to mention the blessings Egypt received as long as they did not oppress the Hebrews; not to mention the tremendous deliverance The God Who Is worked through Moses and Aaron to establish His covenant with the fledgling nation of Israel.
This is not to say we should ignore brothers and sisters who are persecuted for their faith. One of their greatest blessings is to know that they are NOT forgotten by the more fortunate branches in the Church; that we share in their suffering; that we give to promote the Gospel witness they provide at risk of their lives. But we must be careful to obey the Holy Ghost and not prematurely “rescue” those Father has ordained to either suffer or die for His glory. And we MUST share in their suffering, being willing to expend our lives, not just our money, for the sake of this Good News, just as they are.
So as you celebrate Independence Day here in the USA, or if you are just observing our native celebration from other countries, consider our real independence! Freedom from sin, release from its consequences, deliverance from bondage, a guaranteed resurrection from the dead . . . and freedom to share all this with anyone: from our neighbor across the street to the jailer in a Chinese prison, to the imam in a mosque to the Hindu who is burning Christian churches, to the pro-abortionist who wants to prolong abortion up to 28 days after birth, to the artificial “Christian” who warms a church chair every Sunday.
We are FREE TO SHARE OUR FAITH IN JESUS, the Savior of the world!
In his newest book, Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind, atheist Tom Holland, who is not a follower of Jesus Christ, claims the morals of the western world would not exist without Christianity. This is a really interesting read, especially coming from a historian of such repute, yet not a Christian.
For more interesting reading, just enter Tom Holland Atheist Historian in your search engine and find gems like this: https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/religion/2016/09/tom-holland-why-i-was-wrong-about-christianity.
For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. (Peter, the Apostle)
One of the most disconcerting features of our society is the “celebrity culture” into which too many Christ-followers have bought. Mega-church pastors, television evangelists, or best-selling authors (or bloggers) all beguile us into thinking, “Oh, if so-and-so said it or did it, it must be right.”
But when one of them falls from grace, the message of Jesus gets blamed as if HE was the culprit. Paul warned the Romans, “You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.‘” But this is not just a problem for prominent religious leaders.
If any of us who name the Name of Jesus as our Lord hate our enemies and only love those who look like us, act like us, talk like us and vote like us, we will embarrass our Lord. If we fail at the most basic principles of living in the Spirit, the Name of God will be blasphemed.
In our current time, the election of our president is pressing us to take sides, to declare if we are Trumpers or Bideners. Will Trump’s legacy be one of lying, cheating, and disgracing the Constitution or will Biden’s potential presidency be one of destroying the Republic and advancing communism against half of the country?
Let me suggest we are FREE. We who call ourselves Christ-followers are free from the politics of the Democrats or Republicans because our citizenship is higher and more secure than anything either party can offer. I am not proposing that we ignore political issues, and some may be called specifically to follow Jesus into the fray of civic rivalries. However, most of us are needed on a different “front” of battle: the contention for the souls of our families, neighbors, friends and colleagues.
Unless God has called us to join a political party, we are commissioned to a much freer and better task than merely getting a temporary “master” elected. We must trust the Maker that He has chosen our next president (see Daniel 2:21) and we will still be called to live as free men and women under whatever earthly rulership He has chosen for us.
This was true of Paul when he was in prison for The Name. It has been true for many martyrs and believers throughout history since Jesus ascended. And it may even come true for some of us if we hold to His call with grace and composure, refusing to obey men rather than God.
No one is truly free unless he is free in his spirit. It never ceases to amaze me that some foolish people think conversions to ideas can be forced. No heart or belief is changed by holding a gun to one’s head and demanding the victim to say words. However, “if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed!” If our citizenship IS in Heaven, then no power on earth can constrain us from doing what is right for our Master.
And His call is clear, one by one we must persuade, inform, and demonstrate that Jesus is who He claimed to be. It is for freedom that He has set us free, “for you were called to freedom. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Galatians 5:13-14)
So I challenge you (and myself), are we free?
I always wish to go to America. I have seen your pictures of your home and Kentucky is beautiful. The thing I admire most of your country is your freedom. Here in . . . if I say bad things about our leader I and my family will have to go hide. It would not be safe. In the USA many people say bad things about your leaders even if the leader is good or bad. Some of your leaders are bad but they still give up power when you hold your elections I think so. Our elections I do not know if the one elected we really choose or he clings to power to stay in power. I think it is the last. He stays in power because after he gets in power it is very difficult for another to get in and we people cast ballots and we do not know if the count is real or not. So I pray that America will solve your problems because it is great nation and best in the world for freedom. You are blessed to call America home. Pray for my country but do not say where I am from. RAS
Well, I am disappointed that so few responded to my invitation to write about what living in America means to you or about appreciation for police or other first responders. The only response is from an international friend, similar to comments he made when we were both “strangers in a strange land,” away from both our home countries.
But his view as an outsider is telling. Like someone told me once, the USA is kind of like Noah’s Ark: some animals you wish were not on board, kind of smelly at times, noise that keeps you awake, rough waters bouncing you about, feeling like you do not know where or when you will land, but all things considered, it’s still the best ship afloat; better than any other option!
And another reply, better late than never, as my Mom used to say:
After living overseas for 40+ years, I appreciate the freedoms and liberties my home country [USA] gives. From the CULTURE of my host country, Bangladesh, I appreciate that they accept me, are always respectful to me (especially as I get older!!).
Larry and Sharon Smith
BANGLADESH: Rd. 71, Hs. 11, Apt. 303A, Dhaka
PO Box 493907; Redding, CA 96049
I invite you, dear reader, to share briefly, 250 words or less, why you are a glad you live in the USA. Now, more than ever, we need to remember that ours is a nation that strives for the highest ideals of liberty and integrity, and we are privileged to live under a Constitution that affirms the inherent dignity and God-given rights of every individual. We are blessed to call America home.
Share what living in this nation means to you. You may want to read about America’s founding principles, the Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence. Consider what each word in the attached documents means: allegiance, liberty, justice, a more perfect union, all men, the consent of the governed, usurpations, despotism, sacred honor.
I encourage you also to express gratitude for those who have served in the Armed Forces as well as for your local police officers, firemen, and first responders.
I will weigh and post appropriate replies in the next week before July 11. You are welcome to specify your essay “Anonymous” and I will not publish your name. I reserve the right to edit without your permission any essay. I will certainly try to not misrepresent your views. Please understand I may not be able to publish everyone who responds. You can do your own blog if you do not approve of my edits or exclusions.
Teach these principles to your children, discuss them with your friends, be open to divergent opinions, and avoid listening only to voices that agree with you (FB likes, etc.).
The Pledge of Allegiance
I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,
That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.
[…]We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare,
That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.