Expecting Persecution: Responding To The World’s Hate

Last year, the persecution of Christians during the past quarter century hit a record high for the third year in a row. The World Watch List, released by Open Doors every year for the past 25 years, examines the pressures Christians face and levels of religiously motivated violence to rank the top 50 countries where “Christians face the most persecution.”click to read article, "Expecting Persecution: Responding To The World's Hate" | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Here in the United States, I’ve heard the Christians around me talk about being persecuted. “It’s getting bad,” they say. You might lose your business for not baking a cake or go to jail for not issuing a gay “marriage” license. You might be scared to say “I’m a Christian” because people will laugh at or ridicule you. Your kid might be told they can’t bring a Bible to school.

While that does qualify as persecution, the U.S. isn’t anywhere on this list, nor on the expanded list of countries to watch. India, on the other hand, comes in at #15. There are 64 million Christians in India and “approximately 39 million experience direct persecution.” That means about “40 incidents were reported per month, including pastors beaten, churches burned and Christians harassed.” A little closer to home, last year “23 Christian leaders in Mexico and four in Colombia were killed specifically for their faith.”

In 35 out of the 50 countries, including most of the top-ranked countries, Christians are being persecuted by Islamic extremists. In a rising number of Asian countries, the driving force is religious and ethnic nationalism. In summary, “Christians throughout the world continue to risk imprisonment, loss of home and assets, torture, beheadings, rape and even death as a result of their faith.”

Why The World Hates Us

Many U.S. Christians don’t even know about the level of persecution our brethren face overseas. And if we do, I think all too often our response is an American knee-jerk reaction that the solution is to export more of our ideas like religious freedom, tolerance, and equal justice. Those same ideals drive the indignation we feel seeing any sort of persecutions happen here in the United States.

As Americans, we think we deserve religious freedom. Under U.S. law, we’re right and I do believe we should continue to fight for that on a political level. But we should also realize the level of freedom we’ve enjoyed to practice our faith in the U.S. is an anomaly in world history. And while U.S. citizens should be able to count on freedom from persecution because of the Constitution, as Christians we’re never promised exemption from persecution. In fact, we’re told the opposite. Continue reading

Healthy Christian Boundaries and Loving People You Don’t Like

It’s easier to follow the second great commandment “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” when you like your neighbor. But Jesus didn’t say “love the people you like” or that this great command only applies to people who are easy to be around.

For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not the tax collectors also do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing that is remarkable? Do not the Gentiles also do the same? Therefore you be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt 5:46-48, LEB)

God is perfect in every way. In this case, however, Jesus is specifically talking about His perfect impartiality. Leading up to these verses, He said,

 But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you, that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. (Matt. 5:44-45, WEB)

If we want to be like God, we have to love the way He loves. God is love. It “is the sum and harmony of all His attributes, His essence” (Expositor’s Dictionary of Texts on 1 John 4:8-9). Love isn’t just something God does. It’s His nature; the motivation driving every choice He makes. The chief example of this is that while “we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8, LEB).

click to read article, "Healthy Christian Boundaries and Loving People You Don't Like" | marissabaker.wordpress.com

photo credit: “Argument?” by Jules Minus, CC BY via Flickr

Clearing Up What Love Is

But things get complicated when dealing with humans. We run into questions, not because we’re trying to wiggle out of the command to love others but because we’re not sure what it means. Consider these scenarios:

  • Does love that “bears all things” mean I let my abusive parents/spouse/etc. keep hurting me?
  • Does love that “covers a multitude of sins” mean I always have to trust people again after forgiving them?
  • Does love that “does not behave rudely” stay friends with people who creep you out?

Continue reading

Asking The Father To Work In And Complete Us

Prayers are how we talk to God and, if we’re listening, one way He talks with us. The Bible contains several example prayers that can give us a guide, including many we don’t often think of. I’ve noticed that Paul tells people he’s writing epistles to that he’s praying for them, but before last week’s post I hadn’t thought much about using those as model prayers. In that post, we talked about the first prayer Paul records for the Ephesians. In this post, we’ll talk about the second.click to read article, "Asking The Father To Work In And Complete Us" | marissabaker.wordpress.com

To give some context, Paul has been talking about his role in preaching “the unsearchable riches of Christ” and ministering to the Gentiles. These riches include the fact that the Father now offers salvation to all men. Because of His work through our Lord Jesus Christ, we can boldly access God’s wisdom and revealed mysteries. With that discussion in place, Paul writes,

 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named (Eph. 3:14-15, KJV)

Last week, in examining Paul’s earlier prayer in Ephesians, we looked at the work God is doing in us through Christ and the monumental importance of Jesus’ role. But in focusing on Jesus, we must never forget where it all starts. The Father directs Christ’s work, leads the family of which He made Jesus the Head (Eph. 1:22), and is directly involved with the work being done. Asking the Father to work in believers is the focus of this prayer. Continue reading

How To Love The Lord Your God

Jesus told us “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment” (Mark. 12:29-30).

Even though this commandment forms the basis of all other commands and is most important for us to remember and obey, it can also be easy to overlook. It sounds so simple: “Love God, check. Yup. I’m good.” But Jesus went into more detail than just “love God.” He started out by reminding us Yahweh is echad. He is united, preeminent, and the only one worthy of the title Lord.

With that reminder in place, Jesus goes on to quote an Old Testament passage telling us how to love God. The way we should love our Lord isn’t left up to our imagination or emotions. We’re told what we’re supposed to do.click to read article, "How To Love The Lord Your God" | marissabaker.wordpress.com

With All Your Heart

As today, most people in Jesus’s day didn’t just think of the heart as a muscle pumping blood. It was seen as the “seat of emotions” and the core of your “inner man” (labab, H3824). In Greek, kardia metaphorically referred to the “center of all physical and spiritual life” and the “fountain and seat of thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, endeavors (G2588, Thayer). That’s the first way we’re supposed to love God — with all our emotions, thoughts, and yearnings that come from the very core parts of who you are inside. Continue reading

Are You Who You Say You Are?

If we say we’re followers of Jesus Christ, there are certain things we should, nay, we must do. As we talked about last week, there are observable markers of being someone who follows God — things we should be able to notice when we examine ourselves. Those things are inseparably connected with Christ’s presence in us.

There is plenty of freedom within the perfect law of liberty, but there are absolutes as well. God is highly personal and He’ll work with you on a personal level. That does not, however, mean He has different requirements for how different people follow and worship Him. He’s also a just God who is not inconsistent in His commandments, laws, and expectations. We might have different understandings of what God expects, but as we grow toward God we should also be growing in unity as we understand His mind more fully. There isn’t one law for you and one law for me. There’s just God telling us all to walk in His ways.click to read article, "Are You Who You Say You Are?" | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Love + Obedience + Indwelling

John begins both his gospel and his first epistle with a focus on Jesus Christ’s role as the Word of life. Then, in the epistle, he focuses on how we can have fellowship with this great Being and His Father. We must “walk in the light as He is in the light,” “confess our sins” so He’ll forgive us, and then keep His commandments (1 John 1:5-2:3). We cannot claim to know God unless we’ve keeping His word and walking as Jesus walked (1 John 2:4-6). God wants us to be part of His family and that means becoming like Him (1 John 3:1-2). Continue reading

“You’re Okay” Doesn’t Help A Sick Man

Imagine you’ve noticed something wrong and you go to the doctor. They run their tests and scans, take their samples, and sit you down with the results. You were right — you’re sick and quite probably dying without prompt attention. But instead of offering a cure, the doctor says he can alter the test results. You’ll still be dying, but you can pretend you’re not and tell all your friends the doctor says you’re fine.

Sounds ridiculous, right? I’m not sure any of us would take that deal. But that’s what churches are doing on a spiritual level if they hold out the idea of salvation without repentance.

Our Western society is uncomfortable with objective morality. It’s unpopular to think certain actions are inherently wrong. We don’t want to acknowledge a higher power with the right to determine what is and is not sin. Yet that’s exactly what you must do when you become a Christian. My decision to follow Jesus means I’m not the ultimate authority in my life. He and Our Father are.

Repenting From What?

When Jesus began preaching, He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). It has become popular in some Christian churches to say God’s commands aren’t relevant today. If you accept Jesus as your personal savior that’s it — you’re saved. There’s a measure of truth to this last statement, for God sent Jesus “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). But Jesus also commanded repentance and that begs the question, “What are we repenting of?” Continue reading