Yesterday I heard about two places where the church is under attack. The first looks like what you’d expect – churches and homes being burned, Christians being threatened. This is happening in an area of Africa where my church has a ‘sister’ congregation. In fact, a team from our church here returned from a trip there just a little over a week ago. It brings home once again that there are places in the world where following Christ is literally a life-and-death choice.
The other attack looks very different. Well-dressed men and women in a nice location sat and debated whether or not the Bible is truly the holy, infallible, inspired Word of God. This was not a gathering of agnostics or atheists, but spiritual leaders in another presbytery of my own denomination.
Both of these grieve me, but I think the latter is actually far more frightening than the former. In the first, it is the powers of darkness lashing out against believers. It is the serpent striking the heel. It is what Jesus told His believers was going to happen. It doesn’t make it right, it doesn’t make it less horrible, but we ‘get’ it. The second attack is more insidious because it all seems so polite and sensible. We mask the depth of the sin in fancy words. Because this creeping worldliness seems harmless, we (I!) tend to dismiss and ignore it as no big deal.
As much as it saddens me to say so, I think the church in Africa stands a better chance of weathering the storm than the church here in the U.S. It saddens me in part because the Western church was the spiritual mother of so many churches throughout the world. But, the daughters are rising up and taking the lead while we in the west, with our traditions and lovely buildings and dependence on programming and big budgets, flounder.
Why is this happening? It is too easy to just say that since those in the ‘Global South’ have so many fewer material things that we do, they cling more firmly to Jesus. Yes, there is some truth to that, but I believe they would emphatically deny being ‘special’. They understand that they, too, are sinners who only persevere in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit. As we endlessly debate each and every phrase of the Word, do we acknowledge none of us is even able to recognize Christ apart from the Holy Spirit? Do we cry out to Him to increase our belief? Have we become so dependent on human effort, human success that we no longer recognize whether or not Jesus is among us? It is sobering and brings me to my knees in dismay and confession.
I have to admit I haven’t taken time to educate myself on all the finer points of the ongoing debates in my denomination. I guess I’m naïve because I feel if people are truly encountering the Living, Holy Lord God Almighty, all these arguments about scripture would go away. Today is Transfiguration Sunday. In my own life, the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ, has been completely transforming my life. I’m not there yet, of course, but there is no logical answer for what has been happening in me. And, it’s not just me! God is at work in the world in powerful ways.
So, what am I to do with all of this? It makes me stop and think about where I am headed. I am going to an area of profound material needs, but deep spiritual emptiness, too. Where people are hungry – for food, for help, for meaning in their limiting lives. There is a deep hunger there which I firmly believe only Jesus can fill.
Perhaps those with little else are more willing to embrace His love, His power, His words. But, the students who come down, who are part of this new heritage of skepticism, relativism, nothing solid because they’ve been told no such thing exists, they are hungry, too. Perhaps being out of their comfortable lives for a short time will bring them to a place where they, too, recognize their hunger. Where they are unable to control things, and so may be more willing to consider the truth of Jesus.
Oh, that is my prayer! I want to share how Jesus has been at work transforming my life. I cannot ‘prove’ a thing, but I was lost, and He found me. I was living utterly for myself, and now I desire to live for Him, whatever the cost. I am far, far from being there. I am selfish and worried about my ‘earthly concerns’. But, God is working. I pray that in Him, I, too, can weather the storms. Storms of external persecution, storms of believers’ debates, storms of my own making.
Oh, Father, make us faithful to You. As we show the world Your Son, may this sinful nonsense fall away. May we never forget the cost of following You. Strengthen our sisters and brothers suffering persecution. Strengthen them, sustain them, keep them faithful to You. Father, strengthen those engaged in other battles here in the U.S. May we jealously guard Your glory. You will not be mocked.
Holy Father, forgive me for those times I have mocked You by living as if You are not everything You have told us You are. Holy Spirit, fill me with Your love and power to face the battles of this day, and those to come. Father, may my life reflect You so that perhaps in some small way, it will point others to Your Son. Until He returns, may Your church – all of it! – be faithful!