Is the church willing to suffer?

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I usually struggle to find anything to quote Brian McLaren on, but I finally found one that I can almost agree with him on:

To our most bitter opponents we say: “Throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our houses and threaten our children and we will still love you. Beat us and leave us half dead, and we will still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”

Brian d McLaren, 2007

Hardly emergent at all, as this was exactly the attitude of godliest Christians I know, who in the face of much injustice, suffering and persecution, yet not reviling nor rebelling. There are numerous accounts of such that have been immortalized in Fox’s Book of Martyrs, but I find myself agreeing with the spirit Brian has, in penning (or typing) those words.

Yes, although the context of his statement was to those who oppose the emergent church (EC), I’d like to think of it on a broader scope, of our place as Christians in society, in the country, in our families.

The idea of the suffering church is hardly what people would call Christians today, let alone Malaysia. Religious tolerance, democracy, freedom of speech (limited as it may be), human rights and society’s pursuit of modernism have given Christians a comfortable life, so comfortable, (i’d suggest) a sense of boldness and security never before enjoyed by the christian church.

If christians are unjustly treated or persecuted, they complain bitterly and plea to human rights, freedom of religion, and fight, struggle and squeal. What? Do we really expect to be treated fairly when the Lord Jesus Himself tells us

If the world hateh you, ye know that it hath hateth me first before it hateh you. If ye were of the world, the world would love its own: but because ye are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. John 15:18-19

Don’t you think the church today is afraid of being hated by the world? Why? I’ll suggest only two reasons:

1. The cost is to high: We have jobs, houses and cars, we need money sustain these lifestyles, we don’t dare imagine if these were taken away from us. We dare not imagine the consequence of being thrown out of the home and into the streets. Oh, the cost not being able to lay my head on my chiropractor-endorsed pillow tonight. And what about the prospect of waiting hours in a general hospital to get medical care and be treated like everyone else, ah, we’d rather go to the private hospital and pay by the thousands to be treated like a VIP and as we walk out, glance around to see who’s noticed our wealth. We cannot imagine if our friends shun us and stop calling us and inviting us to their weddings and birthday parties. Never mind that the Lord said “I will never leave you nor forsake you”, but oh, may it never be that we should be considered scum of the earth!

2. We love the world: Let’s face it. We love what the world has to offer: we want to have that nice black dress, we want to be able to have coffee in Starbucks, we want to able to walk into a boutique and not be looked at with scorn by the staff, we want to attend our friends’ weddings and be ‘on par’ with the rest of society, we want to be able to whip out that cool mobile phone in front of our friends. We want that promotion, we want to be able give out an impressive business card. We love the entertainment the world has, reality TV, singing competitions, video games, movies, travel, hobbies. We love the ‘feel good’ factor when we are treated well and with respect. We love the words “what a nice church building you have!”. We just love this world.

Lets not live in delusion, thinking all is hunky-dory for the christian, the Word of God makes it clear:

because to you it has been granted in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for Him Php 1:29

be not ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but suffer hardship with the gospel according to the power of God – 2Tim1:8

These things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye may have peace. In the world ye have tribulation: but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world – John 16:33

Let us not take the Lord’s grace for granted. I’m always impressed by this statement by Ignatius when at his martydom:

“Now I begin to be a disciple. I care for nothing, of visible or invisible things, so that I may but win Christ. Let fire and the cross, let the companies of wild beasts, let breaking of bones and tearing of limbs, let the grinding of the whole body, and all the malice of the devil, come upon me; be it so, only may I win Christ Jesus!”

As the new year comes, let us ask ourselves, in what way can we suffer, rather than prosper, be selfless, rather than selfish. Let us be like Moses, who “accounted the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt…” (Heb 11:26)

When we are willing to suffer, take courage, the Lord is not blind to it:

And shall not God avenge his elect, which cry to Him day and night, and He is longsuffering over them? Luk 18:7

… and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and jointheirs with Christ, if so be that we suffer with him , that we may be also glorified with him. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to usward – Rom 8:17-18

…because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye should follow his steps, who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth, who when he was reviled, reviled not again, when he suffered, threatened not, but committed himself to Him that judgeth righteously… – 1Pet2:22

Fear not the things which thou are about to suffer: behold the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried, … Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life – Rev 2:10

I’d like to leave you with an excerpt from the Fox’s book of Martyrs. It isn’t the worst of persecutions, but one that has taught me the meaning of putting Christ above even your own wife.

Timothy, a deacon of Mauritania, and Maura his wife, had not been united together by the bands of wedlock above three weeks, when they were separated from each other by the persecution. Timothy, being apprehended, as a Christian, was carried before Arrianus, the governor of Thebais, who, knowing that he had the keeping of the Holy Scriptures, commanded him to deliver them up to be burnt; to which he answered, “Had I children, I would sooner deliver them up to be sacrificed, than part with the Word of God.” The governor being much incensed at this reply, ordered his eyes to be put out, with red-hot irons, saying, “The books shall at least be useless to you, for you shall not see to read them.” His patience under the operation was so great that the governor grew more exasperated; he, therefore, in order, if possible, to overcome his fortitude, ordered him to be hung up by the feet, with a weight tied about his neck, and a gag in his mouth. In this state, Maura his wife, tenderly urged him for her sake to recant; but, when the gag was taken out of his mouth, instead of consenting to his wife’s entreaties, he greatly blamed her mistaken love, and declared his resolution of dying for the faith. The consequence was, that Maura resolved to imitate his courage and fidelity and either to accompany or follow him to glory. The governor, after trying in vain to alter her resolution, ordered her to be tortured, which was executed with great severity. After this, Timothy and Maura were crucified near each other, A.D. 304.

Blessed new year.

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