I have a poster taped to the wall in my office that says in large, bold letters, "Pray."
In smaller writing on the poster, it explains that the poster itself is to serve as a reminder to pray for the persecuted church throughout the world. In tiny print, the poster lists nations where it is illegal to be a Christian. A second list on the poster recounts nations that are hostile areas for the spread of Christianity. Although I wish the need for it didn't exist, I like this poster and I have had it so long that it has begun to yellow at the edges. Every time I go in my office to work on a lesson or to look up something in a commentary or to sit in my big chair and pray, I am reminded that other people throughout the world do not have those privileges and opportunities. At this very moment, Christians are meeting in secret throughout the world and their prayer is that someday they might share their faith openly.
I am disturbed by the number of Christians in our country who seem to feel that respecting other people is the equivalent of persecution. While we should always be watchful, we should also remember that our civil rights are finite and guaranteed not by God but by the state. If it became illegal to be a Christian tomorrow in the United States, how many people would simply fade away from our churches? If the government suddenly declared that all Christians must worship in certain places and use certain names and must abandon God-given practices in our worship, how many would go along, how many would fall away, how many would continue to worship in secret? My Christian friends who currently feel persecuted in America are misguided. Christians in the United States do not have it too hard; we have it too easy. Anyone can become bitter and angry and rail against society and gripe about the government. It takes a true Christian spirit to live with patience and with hope - someone who looks ahead realizing that this is not the end. We are the richest nation on earth, and yet spiritually many live in poverty. We have unlimited access to Scripture and spiritual resources and we leave our Bibles in the pews at the church building to mark our empty seats throughout the week. We have dust on our Bibles, and as consequence, we have souls that are soiled with greed and anger, pride and lust.
I believe our only hope is to go back to our roots. Not the judgmental self-righteousness of the Puritans or the American belief in self-reliance, but further back to the start of the church itself. To the Spirit-filled, Christ-centered, people-focused love of the early church. Congregations that had great problems, but also had great faith. Congregations that were contemporary to their times, but also living for eternity. Congregations that did not judge those in the world, but righteously judged those within their midst. If the church wants to be great, it will cease trying to be American, and start trying to be authentic. Christians in America don't need to win the culture wars in order to be pleasing to God; instead, we need to be a people that love peace and treat all people with respect and dignity. We must not compromise the truth, but we must acknowledge that not everyone sees life in the same way we do. Even in the midst of our current cultural chaos, I still feel the future of the church has never been brighter. If we stay true to Christ and live for His glory and not our own, no passing storm can endanger us. We are a forever kingdom, and when the nations of this world change and are forgotten, the church will stand. If we are going to be known for something, let's be known not for all the things we wouldn't do, but as a loving, celebrating people. It's only when people see our joy that their hearts can be changed. I want people to change, but not so they are more like me. I want to change, and I want others to change and for us all to be transformed into the image of Christ.