There is a part of the Bible that I don’t really get. Now, some of people talk about contradictions in the Bible, or places where the Bible disagrees with other accounts of history. Some others talk about how the theology doesn’t make sense.
But I’m talking about a different part—the parts about suffering for Christ. I know what is says, but my heart doesn’t seem to engage on them. That sounds like a terrible thing for a pastor to admit, but let me explain.
Pastor Chad Johnson and I shared about our trip to Sri Lanka on Wednesday, and it was powerful. Powerful for me to realize as we tried to share an experience that I really don’t understand suffering. Let me share that moment on the other side of the world with you.
In the midst of what seemed like a normal teaching day in a normal class in Sri Lanka…okay, that’s actually not very normal for me. But I had developed a heart-bond with these Nazarenes, and we sensed we were brothers and sisters in Jesus doing what church family does. Anyway, on a tea time in the open area, I happened upon one student watching a youtube video on his phone. Before I could even see the screen, Chad came up to me to warn me that it was a video of martyrdom.
Someone had recorded a Christian somewhere in Africa being killed for his faith and shared it on the web! I watched a little, simply because another Nazarene was watching it. I saw human figures in the dark and one on the ground. I heard Christian music playing from the audio. Someone had taken the video and added a recording of “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.”
I quickly turned away, afraid of what I would see! Our initial reactions are very telling about what our heart is thinking. In my heart the voice rose up: “That’s not right! Someone stop it!” I wondered where the police were to stop such a horrific crime and if the killer would be brought to justice by a human court of law. On top of that was the chilling thought that I might actually see someone die. In retrospect, these are good reactions to a point.
In that moment I was reminded I was in a very different land. Civil war was hard on some Sri Lankans. Some couldn’t speak their own language without being thought of as terrorists. Now they experience much cultural and religious freedom, and they are happy. But they have memories of oppression that I simply don’t live with.
In my comfortable world, no one is killed for their faith, or even oppressed. But how very different that is for much of the world, and throughout much of history! It is said that many of the ancient Christian martyrs died with peaceful looks on their faces despite the pain. In fact, many not only spoke truth to power as they refused to deny Jesus their Lord, but many became the final witness to others before they became Christians. Martyrs in the Roman colosseums actually brought others to faith! What these new converts saw in the faces of those Christians dying wasn’t earthly justice but truth. They saw the faces of evil men killing for the sake of power and the faces of Christians dying for the sake of truth. And some of the audience chose truth over earthly power. They chose God over Satan. They chose righteousness over justice.
The Bible says in 1 Peter 4: “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.
If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian,
do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (vv14-17)
Which makes me think: Is earthly justice the most important thing for me as a Christian? Is my comfort something I desire to hold on to at all costs? There is plenty of injustice and false gods here in America…no one needs to leave our borders in order to serve and be witnesses to the reconciling love of God. We need to do it, no matter where we are! Jesus calls us to be witnesses and to serve others in love. And if that brings the hatred of others in our land, as it sometimes does in contentious times such as these, that’s okay as long as we are doing it in the name of Jesus.
Speaking of the many saints in the Old Testament who endured difficulties because of their faith in God, Hebrews 11:16 explains: “Instead,
they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” This is powerful: believers who are not ashamed to be witnesses of Christ’s truth about salvation have a God who looks down on them
and says with a smile of joy: “That’s my people! I’m going to take care of them!”
The rest of my time in that nation was completely peaceful. I saw no violence of any kind—not even a car accident or sports brawl at the cricket games we watched on TV. I was privileged to go to the other side of the world to encourage and teach young pastors about our blessed Wesleyan Theology, something I may get to do again someday. But for the rest of my life God has called me here, to share his message.
I will share more of these stories with you in the coming months as I preach and spend time with you all. Thank you to everyone who gave to South Asia Nazarene Bible College! Thank you to everyone who supported and prayed for my trip there. The lessons and examples there will impact me for many years to come. In Christ, Pastor Eric Depew