Tuesday, November 4, 2014

One of These Things Is Not Like the Other

This coming Sunday (November 9th) churches all over this country will take time during their worship services to honor those who have served our nation in the armed services. Veteran's Day has become a major event in many churches as they use patriotic music and lots of flags to bring feelings of national pride to the Sunday service. I am all in favor of recognizing those who serve our nation with a special day, parades and heartfelt gratitude. I am not, however, a big fan of doing it in church. As Rachel Held Evans tweeted this past weekend, "when an American flag has replaced the cross at the center of a church, I'm not expecting much Kingdom." We gather in church to pledge our allegiance to Jesus, not the flag. So I struggle with services on the Sunday before patriotic holidays, often choosing to skip those weeks and worship on my own, because if I hear I'm Proud To Be An American in church one more time I may forget I am a pacifist!

But every year the second Sunday in November makes me especially distraught. While so many local congregations recognize our national heroes they are completely ignoring the opportunity to recognize true heroes of our faith. This Sunday is once again the annual observance of the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. All over the world there are thousands of Christians who risk their lives to be faithful to the work of Jesus. Many are in prison for refusing to deny our Savior; others lose their lives. This Sunday is a day set aside to pray and to remember these saints and martyrs, and yet the day is so often ignored in the USAmerican church. The reasons why are unclear to me. Most weeks our churches seem happy to take any pre-arranged theme they can find and use it to guide worship planning. This is a very biblical concept, as Jesus himself preached that those persecuted in his name were "blessed." It may be as simple as the fact that far too many U.S. church-goers like to believe that they are among the persecuted. We fret that "those people" are trying to take the Christ out of Christmas, or keep us from praying, or mess with Duck Dynasty. My friends, none of those things make us persecuted; they make us WHINERS! When we pay attention to what real persecution is, we can't help but be ashamed of our trivial complaints. Maybe that is why we often ignore this important day. We simply can't conceive of this type of persecution in our midst:
On 31 August, while the pastor of the New Blessing Church in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka, his family and 1 other Christian were walking home following a visit to a Christian neighbor, a group of 8 masked men accosted the Christians and assaulted them with wooden poles studded with nails and iron rods. The pastor, who received a blow to his hip with a wooden pole, was injured in the incident. The pastor’s wife, their 12 year-old daughter, 15-year-old son and the other Christian were also brutally beaten up by the mob.

Visit the IDOP website to read more and experience what it means to be a Christian in places where following Jesus is illegal. Then ask your pastor, your elders, your deacons, your church council or whatever the powers that be are called in your local congregation why the IDOP is not a MUCH bigger deal in your church. Are we or are we not a part of the worldwide body of Christ? If we are, then this day of prayer should be mandatory for us all!

Veterans deserve our recognition because they serve and sacrifice in the name of our country. Persecuted Christians deserve our prayers because they serve and sacrifice in the name of Jesus. The question in my mind is simply this: Which of these most belongs in a worship service? One of these things is not like the other...

Because of Jesus,

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