An apartment building in Surfside, Florida, collapsed yesterday. The death toll has risen to three as of this writing; nearly one hundred people remain unaccounted for. President Biden approved an emergency declaration early this morning and ordered federal assistance to supplement state and local response efforts. Viewing the pictures makes the tragedy even more real.
When I first heard the news, I was shocked by such a horrible tragedy. It’s difficult to imagine what it would be like for the building where you live suddenly to collapse around you.
However, I was not surprised. We live in a fallen world where pandemics strike and heat waves are a reality. We know that bad things often happen to good people.
By contrast, when our oldest son was diagnosed with cancer several years ago, I will confess to you my first reaction: It’s not fair. I’ve prayed for his safety every day since the day we discovered Janet was pregnant with him. The conscious part of me knew that such prayers were no guarantee, of course. Bad things are likely to happen to him as they happen to us all.
But my reaction, nonetheless, betrayed my unstated expectation that while bad things happen to good people, they’re not supposed to happen to God’s people.
The opposite, however, is actually the case.
Not “if” but “when”
Yesterday, we discussed the courage that is needed in a “post-truth” culture to tell people truth they don’t want to hear. Today, let’s close our week-long conversation about truth by focusing on the courage God’s people have always needed to follow him fully in a fallen world.
Jesus told his followers, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!” (Luke 6:22, my emphasis). Not if but when. Paul was dogmatic: “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12, my emphasis).
Over the first three centuries of the Christian era, it is estimated that as many as two million Christians died for their faith. Journalist John Allen reports that “Christians today are indisputably the most persecuted religious body on the planet.”
One scholar estimates that 90 percent of all people killed on the basis of their religious beliefs are Christians.
“A never-ending all-you-can-eat buffet”
We know Christians are being persecuted around the world. We hear the stories of believers being tortured in North Korean prison camps and massacred by radical jihadists in Africa. But it’s easy to think that these stories cannot be our stories, that we will not have to pay such a price for our faith.
One reason is that Americans have been conditioned to experience life as consumers. Philosopher Chad Engelland writes: “Our waking lives more and more resemble a never-ending all-you-can-eat buffet. Consumables include movies, books, music, stuff—with Amazon Prime, Spotify Premium, Netflix, and YouTube among others treating us to an unending smorgasbord of consumption. There’s content, lots of it, and free with a paid subscription, making it hard not to binge-watch, which is but the latest form of our binge-buying and binge-consuming.”
In our culture, you and I are in charge. We are told that we can have what we want when we want it. However, the reality is different: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Note the present tense.
Another factor is the fact that you and I have been living in an unusual period in history. For most of my lifetime, evangelical Christians have been empowered on a significant level in American culture. We have helped elect presidents, pass legislation, and advance our beliefs. We have seen the birth and growth of megachurches across the land. It’s been easy to think that this is the way it has always been and will always be.
However, those days are ending. From the so-called Equality Act’s attack on our religious freedom to political leaders equating our beliefs with those of the KKK to a rising secular ideology that brands us as dangerous to society, it is clear that opposition to evangelical Christians is escalating.
Three biblical steps
How should we respond? Let’s close with three biblical decisions.
One: Choose to pay the price of your convictions before the bill comes due.
Jesus always intended his followers to carry their cross “daily” (Luke 9:23), to be crucified with him (Galatians 2:20), to surrender their lives as a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). Determine now to give him whatever he asks, whatever it takes, whatever the cost.
Two: Ask the Holy Spirit to empower you before you need his power.
We are to be “filled” and empowered by the Spirit every day (Ephesians 5:18). We need the strength of Jesus for every moment (Philippians 4:13). Connect with your Source now, for you will need his power later today.
Three: Remember the commitment others have made before you need to make your own.
Hebrews 11 tells us of God’s faithful women and men and the often-horrific price they paid to serve their Lord. The writer told their stories for a reason: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1, my emphasis). When we see what others have done, we will be encouraged to do what we must do.
To this end, I’ll close with a story I found in Erwin Lutzer’s Where Do We Go From Here?
“During the terrible Boxer Rebellion in China at the turn of the previous century (the leaders were so nicknamed because they practiced gymnastics and calisthenics), the ‘boxers’ captured a mission station, then placed a flat cross on the ground. They gave instruction that those who trampled the cross as they came out of the building would be set free; those who walked around the cross, honoring it, would be executed.
“The first seven students trampled the cross under their feet and were released. But the eighth student, a young girl, knelt beside the cross and prayed for strength. Then she slowly walked around the cross to face the firing squad. Strengthened by her example, every one of the more than ninety students followed her to death.”
If they could die for Jesus, can’t we live for him today?