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Monday, March 11, 2013

The Silent Spread of the Gospel

I really like stories about spies who snuck the truth past barriers, utilizing a lot of creativity and braving danger at every turn. Last night, as I was reading yet another spy thriller type novel, I found myself thinking about how the Gospel has often come through the same methods to reach new ears.

Christianity rarely comes into a society through the front doors--that is, through the news media and government leaders--because these groups don't know what to do with it.  The people at the bottom of society do understand it and feel the need for it, because they have no other hope. 

They may find themselves at the bottom because they are female, or poor, of the "wrong" heritage, or some other superficial reason.  Though this "bottom rung" of society may never see their base social status change in their lifetimes, the Bible offers them something new.  It has a subversive, stronghold-shattering secret.  They are valued by God, loved by God, and can be redeemed by God, even if the powers-that-be decree that it cannot be so.  No political or even educational power has ever achieved full mastery of the human heart.  What the heart needs, only a real, loving God can fully provide.

Lately in the news I've been reading that many governments have been cracking down hard on foreign missionaries to their countries and Christian communities in their borders, especially since the "Arab Spring" and other events that have been happening worldwide.  Persecution has picked up a little in my part of the world, as well. Of course, it isn't nearly as bold or high-stakes as elsewhere, but it has intensified.  At the very least, prepare to be mocked and ostracized for beliefs once widely accepted.  Occasionally Christians in the "free world" are the victims of religiously-motivated serious crimes.

What can I say to all of this anti-Christian paranoia? Only that Christianity is truly a religion of hope, but also one of desperation.  People who are not desperate for God, who have all the answers, and who are confident in their own choices and secure in their own lifestyle do not feel a need for God.  They aren't going to be ready or open to the hard truths contained in the Bible. On the other hand, those who are brought low and are confronted with their own mortality are more likely to listen, and more likely to be impressed by those who stand by their faith despite the risks. This is why Christianity spreads more quickly during times of oppressive regimes and persecution (see Acts 8: 1-4).

The underground, behind-the-scenes spread of Christianity is an example of God turning something bad into something good, although we can't forget that it is still bad to begin with. There may be lots of underground, secret revivals going on behind the scenes in the dark places of the world right now, but the fact that they have to hide only underscores the need for Christians everywhere to pray for those undergoing persecution.

We would happily praise the efforts of spies who quietly subvert evil political regimes and avert war, but we should support even more those people who face trouble of a more personal kind so that the message of hope can spread--the message about how Christ came to save us, and how He succeeded. Witnessing to one's own countrymen is a bigger job with higher stakes than any political spy job.

 We need to petition God on behalf of persecuted Christians for spiritual gifts they might have forgotten to ask for in their time of need, such as steadfastness, hope, and faith, so they can be blessed and strengthened to endure whatever they are facing today.  We need to ask God, like Abraham did, to spare those who are faithful to Him when He goes out to punish evil (Genesis 18: 20-33). We also need to ask that God frustrate and punish evil plans so that justice and peace can prosper in the land, instead of fear and cruelty, and people can come to know the Lord who brings peace (Proverbs 29: 2; Proverbs 11: 10, 11).  We have God's ear, but He is calling us to have His heart of compassion.  Will we pray, and if called, will we go?