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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Stigma of Christ, Part 2: Fear

As I made it clear in the last post, it's essential that Christians should be willing to take a stand for Christ, even if it requires a certain amount of "risk." To be a fair-weather Christian is not okay.

Once a Christian decides to take the risk and stand up for Christ, Satan gets really busy trying to shut him or her down. At least, that's what I have experienced. One of his favorite tactics is fear. Satan will use people and circumstances around you to threaten you with the loss of your friends, your lifestyle, your job, your legal record, or perhaps even your life. It doesn't matter whether such bad things are really going to happen or not; the point is to make you afraid.

While it is true that God has promised to be with us, we do not have any promise that He will ensure that we always get it easy in this life. Sometimes Satan does get to carry out his threats. The early Christians boldly proclaimed their faith in Christ, even though it often led to death or imprisonment. Stephen was martyred for simply speaking the truth about Christ. Is fear of this sort of treatment one of the reasons that so many Christians hold back and avoid "rocking the boat" in this present age?

Years ago, I thought America was one of those safe places in the universe--you know, things that were inevitable everywhere else just never came to pass over here. As a United States citizen, I am not supposed to be mistreated for practicing my religion, because the central legal document of my government, the Constitution, supposedly prohibits that kind of persecution. But, just like any law, that one can also be changed, redefined, and even abolished over time. Frame jobs and other miscarriages of justice are not beyond Satan's usual bag of tricks. While it is safer in the free world to speak out about Christ, it can still be dangerous.

After I logged off from writing my last blog post, I discovered this article in my feed reader about some school officials and their spouses who are currently facing fines and imprisonment for praying publicly at a school-related dinner. As a U.S. citizen, I find the court's decision outrageous. It is a very obvious infringement on the legal rights of Christians to practice our religion. As a Christian, I can see a possible spiritual element in this situation. Praying over meals is such a common practice that it has even been showcased in Norman Rockwell paintings and other pieces of classic Americana! Now, suddenly, it becomes an offense worthy of imprisonment? I don't know the whole situation, but I must say there seems to be something fishy going on there.

We have a saying at my house that you must be doing something right if Satan is willing to expend that much energy just to make you miserable. It doesn't always hold true, because sometimes we encounter resistance when we try to do something that God doesn't support. However, when you come up against a lot of trouble when you know you have obeyed God's command, you can be certain that the trouble is of a supernatural sort.

Again, I don't know the context of the situation I just mentioned, but if they have done what God told them to do, they have my support, and apparently Satan's persecution.

I read this passage in my regular Bible study the other day, and thought I'd share it today:
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. 'Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.' But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.(1 Peter 3: 13-16 NIV)
So what can I get out of that passage? First, I see that I shouldn't be afraid, because I know God, and I can be confident that in everything, He will grant me victory over Satan's fear tactics. After all, no matter what Satan and his buddies manage to do to my body, I know that Satan cannot harm my spirit. One day, I will escape to Heaven while he gets the punishment he has coming to him.

Secondly, I see that I shouldn't put everything on the line for Christ if I'm not in fact doing it for Christ. For instance, if I'm doing it to draw praise or power for myself (things that don't "set apart Christ as Lord"), or with a bad attitude and a guilty conscience (such as showing disrespect to the authorities or a disregard for law and order). Professing my faith in public is not an excuse to riot or harm others. Even when they are harming me, I should return their treatment with gentleness, to their shame.

Facing the Judge

The author of the above passage (Peter) had once spoken out in court about his faith, although it was illegal to practice Christianity (see Acts 4: 1-22 NIV). He did this boldly, even though it was entirely within the court's power to put him to death for speaking about his relationship with Christ. Nevertheless, he spoke because it was the right thing to do, as he explained to the Sanhedrin at the time. We, too, ought to speak boldly, not because we are "safe" to do so, but rather because it is simply the right thing to do.

When the Time Comes to Speak, and We are So Afraid...

Christ warned us ahead of time that we might encounter some real resistance--not just bullying, but serious, physical harm. At those times, we might be terribly afraid. We might even be afraid that we had gotten in over our heads, or that we would not be able to follow through on "doing the right thing, just because it's the right thing." Here's what Christ said to such fears (incidentaly, this passage immediately follows the one in my blog header):
Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Matthew 10: 17-20 NIV).
So, when Satan is trying to make us feel afraid, we need to remember that he isn't picking a fight with us. Rather, he is trying to get at God through us, and God is going to handle the situation personally, rather than leaving us to deal with it alone. We don't need to be afraid. We don't need to worry about how we're going to handle it. We just need to trust God and persist in obeying Him. He will take care of the rest.

One last parting verse, from Paul's second letter to Timothy. (Both had been imprisoned for preaching the gospel, and Paul was still in prison at the time): "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." (2 Timothy 7-10 NIV).

I want to pray for Christians around the world who have encountered such tremendous persecution that they are afraid to persist. I pray that God will strengthen them and enable them to proclaim the message of God boldly, without fear, as He has done for so many others who have chosen to follow Him. May God be with them, and direct them, as He has promised in His Word. In Christ's name, Amen!