Normal Christianity

Cindi and I spent the first half of Christmas Break in Oklahoma with our families, and have been back in California since last Thursday.  We haven't been able to access the internet since we got back, which is why tonight's post is following one from Christmas Day.

I'm not entirely sure what to write about tonight.  I have a Microsoft Word document that contains forty to fifty ideas (titles) for future posts, but I prefer not to force the writing of them.  I trust that there will be a time and a place for each.  I could write about Christmas Break, but I've wanted to refrain from making this an online journal and Gundersen Update Center, opting instead to write for the purpose of edifying whoever's out there, whether you know us or not.  There is a subtle pride in blogging, and it makes me sick whenever I see it on the screen or sense it in my heart.  Writing solely to build up and encourage others and not simply to "express myself" or "share my thoughts" or tell you "what happened today" is one way that I try to fight the vicious battle against vanity and self-ambition in this strange, faceless world.

Everyone's blogging about the New Year, so that seems to be covered.  Resolutions fill the air, and at the risk of sounding pessimistic, most will never nest but will migrate to that warmer and cozier land called Good Intentions.  If you have made good and godly resolutions, my prayer for you tonight is that you count the cost of keeping them and that the end of 2006 would find your knees raw from desperate praying for divine help.  Only then will you be successful in the way that matters most.

I've decided what to write about.  This afternoon, I read some of the brief articles in the latest issue of SIM's newsletter (Serving In Mission).  One was particularly devastating.  It was entitled "A Hard Place to Be."  It was written by an SIM worker in Niger, Africa.

Benjamin, a big strapping son of Niger, is a student in university.  He's an avid reader and a devoted hobbyist of English — as friendly and winsome as can be.  He has been coming to the youth center for some time now, learning English and borrowing books from the little library.  It was easy for us to become friends, and soon we were discussing the Christian faith.  We began to study the Bible chronologically, and soon he accepted a French Bible.  He was so thrilled he could not stop smiling.  He said he planned to study how the Old Testament relates to the New Testament.  (He had already read through the New Testament several times.)  It's obvious that he understands the Bible.  But now his smile has faded.

I'm puzzled.  He hasn't yet confessed Christ as his Savior.  Why not, when he obviously admires Him so much?  I asked one of our Nigerien co-workers why Benjamin is so slow to come to faith.  He replied thoughtfully: "I know exactly where Benjamin is right now.  It is where I was too, so many years ago.  It's a very hard place to be and to come out of.  Don't you know the place, too?  Why, he's counting the suffering.  That's where he is.  You need to pray for him."

The haunting question of this particular article is this: "Don't you know the place, too?"  The answer to questions about Benjamin's hesitation is supposed to be obvious:  He's counting the cost.  Oh, he knows that Jesus is the Son of God.  He knows that forgiveness and reconciliation with God and eternal life are only found in Christ.  He believes in the truth of the Gospel.  The problem is that he doesn't live in America.  The problem, as the article goes on to explain, is that there is a type of Christianity (the real kind and the only kind) where the stakes are high, the cost is life, and obedience is a cross.  Benjamin read the Bible without American lenses on, so he knows this.  No one even had to tell him.  He's read the fate of the prophets, he's heard the words of Jesus, and he's seen the price paid by Christians around him.  He knows nothing of mini, gold-painted crosses.  He only knows about the old, rugged, full-size wooden ones.  And he knows that you don't purchase the nails separately; they're included.

Benjamin's love for Christ will most likely cause the loss of his entire family, indeed all aspects of life as he knows it.  Persecution will be a way of life, with painful rejection by his entire community.  He may have to give up his university education, since his father is paying for it.  Benjamin is facing the crucial decision between present (temporal) comfort and future (eternal) glory.  He cannot have both.

This is not nominal.  This is radical.  Indeed, if the Bible is allowed to speak for itself, this is not even radical.  It is normal.  It scares me to death that most believers in the West do not know persecution as "a way of life," do not know "painful rejection," do not know "the crucial decision betwen present (temporal) comfort and future (eternal) glory."  I am in their company in many ways, which is why I read articles like this and why I try hard to reform my views of Jesus and why I love the suffering saints and why I cannot stop thinking so hard about what real Christianity is and why I will pray like I will after I post this article.  Oh, I have suffered.  But not like Benjamin will suffer if he chooses Christ.  We would do well to pray for him and others like him around the world.  And we would be wise to pray for ourselves.  May God have mercy on the persecuted church, and a different kind of mercy on the comfortable church.


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