“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing” (1 Peter 4:12-13).
Representative Randy Forbes (R – Va) leads the Congressional Prayer Caucus. He has started a new initiative called “Faith-It-Forward.” You can learn more here.
While I am not questioning the Congressman’s motive, and while I intend to do all I can through legal channels to protect 1st Amendment rights of all Americans, I find this particular effort both sad and amusing.
This is an attempt to gather all the stories of religious folks doing good in their world, as well as an effort to show off certain religious people who have proven quite successful in their occupational fields. The bottom line, per Mr. Forbes, is “We need to change the narrative.” Forbes believes the narrative of religion (and it’s obvious he has especially in mind Christianity) has been warped by mainstream media and those who oppose us. In that he is surely correct. But where he errs is in thinking we can somehow change people’s minds by plastering how “good” we are all over Facebook! And he errs in thinking we should expect the world to get our story right!
Sure, Jesus did say, “Let your light shine among men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16). But two things stand out here:
- Jesus surely did not mean His followers were to conduct publicity or marketing campaigns to show off their holy living! It should be noted that in the same sermon, Jesus also told His followers, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 6:1). Jesus went on to warn us of making a show of our prayers or generosity – the very thing this campaign is seeking to do!
- Jesus’ main concern is that God receive all the glory for any good done by His people. So, Christians are to live in such a way that any praise is immediately and by default deflected upwards to God alone.
These are increasingly perilous times for the Christian Church and followers of Jesus. I get that. I am concerned by that, believe me. I’m not keen on doing jail time for preaching God’s Word, nor do I enjoy the ongoing erosion of our Constitutional freedoms and rights as Americans. I am praying God will help us and turn our nation back towards the ideals that Founded the United States of America.
But here’s what I think we Christians have forgotten: America is an anomaly. The freedom of religion we have enjoyed for a few hundred years has never been the norm. Jesus promised to build His Church, not America! And build the Church He has, with or without governmental endorsement. Don’t take my word for it. Ask the brothers and sisters in China. In Sudan. In North Korea. In Syria. In Myanmar. In 1st century Rome.
So, dear American believers in Christ, be not shaken or surprised! R. Kent Hughes once wrote, “Those God royally elects, He ruthlessly perfects.” God is perfecting His Bride. Christ is purifying us, O Church. Give Him glory! As Peter urged persecuted believers in his day, “keep on rejoicing.”
And do not forget that our identity and success has never been tied to the world’s “narrative.” Indeed, the true narrative of the Church has been one of blood, sweat and cross-bearing. Why would we expect anything less? We do follow a crucified and risen Lord, don’t we? We need not worry about trying to make the world like us. They never have. They never will. Read Jesus’ words in John 16:18-27 again.
It’s not us they primarily hate. It’s Jesus. The world is still trying to crucify Him. But it is our joyful job to just keep begging as Christ’s ambassadors that sinners “be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20). And as those sinners, by God’s saving grace, are reconciled, we shall once again be reminded that our Savior said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).