Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Deadly Book

This week I, along with many others, read with horror the story of North Korean people who were executed by firing squad for possessing a Bible. It turns out that the Kim regime thinks this book is dangerous, that it could displace Kim-worship with something else and could eventually lead to rebellion.

So, as it was reported, Christians were publicly executed along with other enemies of the Kim regime. More than 10,000 spectators were forced to watch this gruesome event.

Of course, there are many areas of the world where Christians suffer because of their faith. But when I hear a report like this one, I can't help but wonder about our own, rather complacent form of North American Christianity. And I also get just a little more than irate when I hear North American Christians speak about "persecution" as being mocked in the workplace or some other public arena because of their faith.

The fact is, most of us don't have a clue what persecution is. Worse yet, I doubt many in our congregations could bear up under the sort of severe persecution suffered in many parts of the world. 

We don't think twice about owning a Bible. My own family probably has more than 10 Bibles in the house.  And we rarely think about this book, this Word, as subversive. Perhaps because we have so domesticated the stories of God's work in the world that we barely even notice that the call to discipleship is, as Karl Barth wrote, a call to die. But look at the folks we think of as heroes: Abraham, David, Mary, Ruth, Paul, to name a few. Not exactly easy lives. 

Perhaps in the coming weeks as we read our Bibles, let's acknowledge the fact that in many areas of the world, these "wonderful words of life," are also deadly words. And then follow that recognition by praying for the safety and religious freedom of our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Seek the Peace of the City

"Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile." Jer. 29:7

This was part of my morning reading today. So often this verse is used as a call to minister in an urban area. And that may be a fine application. But it seems to me that the command is much broader than that. The "city" in which we exiles is the whole world, not just some particular urban area.

The bible frequently portrays God's people as aliens, wanderers. Peter calls us "strangers and aliens" in this world, a world that Paul tells us we are to be in but not of. God's people are not primarily citizens of this kingdom, but of the heavenly kingdom. We wait not all that patiently for the full manifestation of that kingdom.

But in the meantime, while in exile, we must pray for the peace and prosperity of the world we inhabit, a world groaning under the weight of sin. We must seek the shalom - the well-being - of the world. That means not just our little corner of that world, but the world we never see except in pictures and news broadcasts, a world 1/2 way around the globe.

So what might seeking the shalom of the world look like?

I suppose there a numerous answers to that question, but I will offer just a few possibilities. It means caring for creation. Issues like climate change and our role in it affects not just us, but the whole planet. If our use of fossil fuels contributes, even in a small way, to climate change that causes parts of our world to suffer more drought, storms, and other problems that make crop production and life itself difficult, shouldn't we at least try to figure out what we can do to help?

Seeking the shalom of the world might mean addressing issues of justice and mercy. Ministering to those on the margins - the weak, poor, mentally ill, children, and elderly, to name a few. One does not need to go far to find these people. One need only go to our schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and streets to find folks who have been all but abandoned by their families, and society as a whole.

But most importantly, we need to be passionate about witnessing to the love of God in Jesus Christ. Shalom will never be found through social programs, self-help, or any other human means, regardless of the good these things might do. Shalom can and will only be found in Christ.

For those of my regular readers, I am sorry for the long delay since I wrote last. I have taken on some new responsibilities in the past few months and have not had much time to write. Thanks for hanging in there with me.