Thursday, January 11, 2007

Persecution vs. “Persecution” (context is everything)

Last night during the “ask anything” time of our Wednesday night children’s program, the 5th & 6th grade girls got onto the topic of suffering or persecution for the sake of the gospel. I honestly don’t remember how we got onto the topic of persecution and martyrdom, but the springboard into this part of the discussion was the response of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego to King Nebuchadnezzar.

Of course these three are famous because of their faith and their rise to prominence in the kingdom of Babylon, but they are less well known because of their greater contemporary, Daniel. Basically, these three guys are remembered for their miraculous deliverance from a death sentence in a blazing furnace. Their famous response to the threat of a horrible death in a fire so hot that “flame of the fire slew those men who carried up Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego” to have them executed. When they were threatened with this fate, they replied in one accord by saying, "If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king.” (Daniel 3:17) And we know that God did, in fact, save them from their death sentence and the result was that a decree was made by the very king that had condemned them, “that any people, nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego shall be torn limb from limb and their houses reduced to a rubbish heap, inasmuch as there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way." (Daniel 3:29)

However, it was not this part of the story that we looked at. As great and miraculous and praise-worthy of their deliverance by God or of the great faith to make such a seemingly absurd claim of this very deliverance, it was another part that really is important for us to see, understand, and mimic. Just following their bold declaration that God would deliver them from their death sentence (Daniel 3:17), they make this, even more, bold statement, “But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:18)

It is this statement and unwavering faith in God that is a very important lesson that we must learn and grasp. So often, Christians (especially children) see that God delivers His people in times of trial or persecution like this, but the reality of the fact that God may not deliver Christians from persecution is not a solid reality. With that in mind, I took these five girls to Hebrews 11 and read the following accounts of those people who were not delivered from death, but nevertheless held onto their faith in Christ to the bitter end:

“and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.” (Hebrews 11:35-38)

Of course we believe that God can save us, and He will do so if he desires to. That is relatively easy to say and believe. However, it is quite another thing to say that even if He doesn’t deliver us from death, we’re still not going to bend the knee to a false god (or deny God) and accept death.

It is not just that we don’t think about the fact that God doesn’t always deliver Christians from trials and persecution that is the problem. This problem is compounded by the fact that we live in America, and in America there is no real persecution for being a Christian. For instance, I can think of a few times in my life where I have been adversely treated because of my faith in Christ. The most recent (and the least deserving of the title of persecution) happened today, or I was made aware of it today.

I came to work after a day off to find some tracts1 piled on my keyboard at my desk. I then saw an e-mail from my boss with the subject line “Religious Materials on table” and it read:

“I put some pamphlets on your desk of materials that were on the table in your work area. Please do not leave those lying out as some have found it offensive.”

As lame as this may be, this is close to the extent that I have endured hardship for the sake of the gospel from anyone with authority over me. Sure, in a previous job, people inserted various blasphemous and bad pictures inside my Bible and a few other things done to me, but this is about as bad as it’s been in the past 10 years. Anyway, I wanted to be a good witness in this most recent experience, and so I replied to my boss with the following e-mail:

I’m sorry if the things in my work area have offended some people, it was not my intention to offend anyone as I had not accosted anyone with any material or placed the material on someone else's desk. As a matter of fact, a few co-workers told me that they read some of them and thought they were interesting, but nothing was ever said about causing offense.

Is there a specific work code/policy that defines what is or is not able to be sitting out at one's desk area (i.e. what things are offensive)? Is my bible (which sometimes is left open after I read it on my break/lunch) offensive to people as well? Please don't misunderstand me, I am not asking these questions in order to protest, fight, or otherwise make waves at the office, I simply want some clarity on what codes or rules I have violated so that I may make every effort to avoid this error in the future.

In any case, I will make a point of not having these pamphlets lying around, but a little more clarity of the rules (for my sake) would be appreciated.

To this, I received the following reply:

If your bible is at your workstation that is fine. Leaving pamphlets on a table that is not your work station, where others can see, is what some have found offensive. My best advice is that anything that references religion, just keep at your desk.

So, besides the fact that there was no rule broken and all material was in my work area as well as the fact that the only “violation” is that someone walked into my work area, looked at what was on my table, didn’t like it, and complained. Now, I am just speculating, but I am sure that if I complained about things on my co-workers’ desks or things that are said (which I will not do), I doubt if the same treatment would be dealt out on a non “religious” issue.

My point in relating this story to you is simply this: this is not persecution. Too often, I think, we Americans simply call any hardship a “trials, tribulations, or persecutions” when they are little more (usually) than inconveniences or social pressure without any teeth (i.e. you don’t get killed, beat up, tortured, or fired from your job). Persecution, true persecution, is where life, liberty, or livelihood are threatened because of an unwavering proclamation of the gospel and an unwillingness to go against your conscience or the Word of God to comply with the unjust or ungodly demands of those in authority over us.

We should be careful to never trivialize the word persecution by using it to describe being laughed at in America2 to someone being sawn in two in the first century, being burnt at the stake in the 16th – 18th or 19th century, or being raped, mutilated, and murdered or being sold into slavery today in Africa.

1 They weren’t tracts necessarily, but it was a bunch of stuff (namely printed posts from this blog) that contained the gospel message.

2 Hebrews 11 does mention being scoffed, and it is persecution to be mocked and ridiculed, but how much of what happens to most of us even qualifies for that? It may happen, and I don’t want to diminish the suffering of being genuinely ridiculed and mocked, but I doubt that this happens all that often or with any degree of harshness for most of us.

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