Monday, September 12, 2016

Bullied Into Disobedience

I was listening to Wayne Braudrick, a local pastor, on the radio the other day. He recounted several stories of Mexican Christians who have been tormented, kidnapped, even murdered, for not bowing down to drug cartels. He quoted one Mexican Christian who is quite vocal and was questioned about his boldness. His response was "I will not be bullied into disobeying God." As Wayne talked on, my mind stayed on that quote and its truth: bullied into disobeying God. Isn't that much of what we face these days?

Let's face it, Christian, we aren't loved by a lot of people. And as much as we like to blame Christians for this (we're an easy scapegoat--you'll always find unhealthy people in a place designed for those who need a doctor), a lot of the anger and hate directed at us comes from people who want to force us to think and believe and act like they do.

If the way to death is wide and the road to life is narrow, it really shouldn't surprise us that a majority of people these days want to make us be like them. They despise the narrow road and they despise its travelers more. And many of them are not content with scorn from afar. They have a mission to force those on the narrow road over to the wide road. And this leads them to become if not physical, verbal bullies.

If you don't believe what they do, they will call you ignorant, intolerant, radical. If you don't act like they do, they will call you bigoted, unfeeling, cold. If you don't jump on their bandwagons, they will call you anti-progress, anti-modernism, antiquated. If you dare to say you believe in the Bible, they will call you stupid, dumb, naive. They will berate and berate and berate. And they hope, if they keep it up long enough, they'll knock you flat and you'll drag your sorry self over to the wide road.

Many do fall down and crawl penitently over to the wide road. When they get there, they are so praised and loved, they feel good about it. They make up reasons they really didn't disobey God, reasons why the wide road is actually the right one. They figure if the majority is on the wide road, it's got to be the right one. And they look back at the narrow road and point fingers at the bigoted, ignorant rabble they used to walk with.

Yes, Christian, you will be bullied. If not in person, certainly by media, especially social media. You'll be lambasted for taking certain stands and speaking certain truths. You'll be chastised by those who are sure they are right and you are the problem with the world today. They will harangue because they want you to stop doing what you're doing and believing what you believe.

But you know what? I have decided that like the Mexican Christian, I will not be bullied into disobeying God. Those on the wide road can stomp their feet and point their fingers and shout angrily. They can rant on social media, roll their eyes, and call me whatever they want. I will not be bullied into disobeying God. I will not be bullied into compromising Biblical truth. I will not be bullied into changing my life to make myself more comfortable. No. My God is my God and His truth is truth and I will not be moved.

Friday, September 2, 2016

I Admire Job, But Don't Make Me Be Him

You know what the worst part of growing up is? Facing the demolishing of your expectations. When you're in your twenties, the world seems pretty much all for the taking. Young love feels like it will last forever. Opportunities look like they will always come your way. The future is a bright place waiting for you to make your mark. I well remember that time.

But then the years pass and suddenly dark things start to happen. Friends you didn't expect to die so soon, do. Young love transforms, now commonplace and banal. Perfect children don't materialize (or if you face infertility, don't exist at all). The career so open for the taking becomes drudgery. A disease drains energy and finances. Oh, there are good days, days you smile and enjoy life, but there is dark and it is so very dark. The life you expected has disappeared. And perhaps you resent those whose lives seem to have turned out exactly as they wanted.

The truth is, for some of your fellow humans, life threw curve balls (maybe even for you personally). And as much as we Christians like to tell each other we trust God and his will for our lives, we don't like that he let the curve balls get to us. As much as we say we don't believe in legalistic tit for tat, we do. We've unconsciously determined we deserve smooth sailing: a perfect marriage, maybe a little arguing here and there, but an inexhaustible supply of forgiveness and thus abolished hurt. Children who are easily obedient, sweet cherubs, because we'd parent the right way. Careers that fulfill us, our contributions valued and lauded. And faith? Well, God makes that easy, after all, he's a perfect being so I can't help but love Him.

I recently read an article about a couple thrown a curve ball: their oldest daughter died of a sudden asthma attack. It was gut wrenching for them. The author noted that everyone at some point faces the confrontation of fears or the abandoning of destinies. That part gave me pause. Abandoning destiny? Then it hit me. He and his wife can't go back. They can't get their daughter back. They never wanted to face life without her. They never wanted to confront her death. They never wanted this. This was not the expectation of what life held.

Christians laud heroes of the faith and pretty much all those heroes stand up under suffering. Joseph sold into slavery. David hounded by Saul. Esther married off to spend her life in a harem. Jeremiah preaching and enduring hate to speak God's truth. Saul thrown in prison for releasing a woman from Satan. These heroes inspire us. "Yes, yes! They are faithful. Yes!" We love to see Job declare, "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord." "Yes, Job! Don't listen to your wife who wants you to curse God and die." But then our own dark hits and we find we admire Job, but we don't want to be him.

We don't want to be Hosea, faithful to a faithless spouse. We don't want to be Hagar, mistreated and sent away with our child. We don't want to be Elijah, standing up for faith and taking a hit for doing so. We don't want to be David, facing the disasters of a rebellious child. We don't want to be Job, our home destroyed, our wealth gone, our children dead. Not only do we not want it, we never thought God would make us go through it in the first place.

When expectations are dashed, when this smooth life turns out not to be so smooth, it can kill spirit and soul. The worst is when things happen that you cannot fix. When the miscarriage happens, when the child dies, when the child strays, when the spouse changes, when you stop being loved. Where is our faith in the midst of the deepest dark, the abandoning of our destinies?

The author of the article I read faced his pain head on. As much as it hurt, he didn't shove it away; he lived in it. It hurt, it stabbed, it crushed, but in he went. My life verse is Hebrews 11:13: "All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth." Most of the heroes of faith didn't see what God promised. Abraham didn't see his descendants as numerous as the stars. Moses didn't see the Hebrews take the Promised Land. Jeremiah didn't see Israel return after 70 years of exile. Isaiah didn't see Jesus born and die and save. And yet, these and more were living by faith when they died.

This is what gives me the courage to face the pain head on, to live in the death of expectations. I look to those I admire, who faced the dark and kept on trusting. I take comfort that I do not walk alone. I journey with a cloud of witnesses "fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2). I choose to see the joy on the other side of the dark.

Does this mean the dark is easy? No. The dark is dark, but there is a glimmer in a faithful heart. I hold to that glimmer. Some days the tears drench, the knees bruise as we fall, and our breath is taken from us, no words for the pain we endure. Sometimes all we can do is fix our eyes on Jesus ahead of us and Job, Hosea, Hagar, Jeremiah beside us. We cling to the promise that our victor will be victorious and some day the dark swallowed up in the city that has no need of the sun for the glory of God is its light and the Lamb is its lamp.