Who is Blessed?
January 3, 2007 3 Comments
We’ve navigated the holiday waters once again. And — if your experience was anything like mine — you’ve been bombarded with the requisite year-in-review reflection, overblown sentimentalities, and had the notion that “we are truly blessed” foisted upon you time and time again. Please understand, I am a deeply sentimental person and have no aversion whatsoever to reflection. But this year I honestly applied some biblical perspective to the claims Christians in American make about our country being “truly blessed” and have decided that we need to further examine what it means to be blessed from God’s perspective and see if our claims of blessing match up.
Wait! Don’t answer that yet.
First think about how the topic of America being blessed comes up. Usually it is in contrast to some other place where Christians don’t have it as good as we do. Right?
During the holidays we may take up special offerings to provide presents to needy families in impoverished countries. We spend money to send Bibles to Christians in places where Bibles are not readily available or, worse, are illegal. We read about people like Noviana Malewa and pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who, because of their unwavering faith in or Lord, end up beaten, in jail, or murdered. We consider the horrible situations of those other poor Christians, then…
… because we are not in similar circumstances we say we are “truly blessed.”
We say things like:
• “Just last week I was ‘blessed’ to get a really good parking place at the mall.”
• “I was really ‘blessed’ to find the last PlayStation 3, which had ‘miraculously’ been misplaced behind the bargain bin of DVDs.”
• And then, when we finally get around to thinking of spiritual things, we say we are “blessed” to live in a country where we can worship as we see fit and share the gospel anytime we want.
You would think that American Christians — with all of our “blessings” — would be praising God like crazy and sharing the gospel constantly. Why, the church in America should be growing like gangbusters. Not like those poor Christians in places where they are persecuted for their faith. It would certainly be understandable if the church were not growing where they are, the odds are just so stacked against them.
Here’s an interesting tidbit: Church growth in America is virtually non-existent while the Church in all those poor areas where they don’t have it as good as we do is growing and growing and growing. Consider the following report from Global Christian Mission:
“…Persecution against Christians increased worldwide throughout 2006, but believers in those countries continue to stand strong for Christ. Throughout India, Hindu extremists have stepped up attacks against Christians, especially in the northern provinces. Experts say some Hindu leaders are alarmed over the rapid spread of Christianity throughout the nation. In China, the government continues to harass underground house churches — those congregations that do not register with the state-controlled churches. Dr. Carl Moeller, president of Open Doors USA, says Christians in persecuted nations know the risks when they identify with Christ. “What’s really happening around the world is [that] the Church is growing,” Moeller shares. “It’s precisely the very message that Jesus brought: that the gates of hell would not be able to stand against the Church.” But as that happens, he says, persecution comes. “The enemy is not silent; the enemy is not passive,” he says. “And the enemy is active in bringing much pain and suffering to our brothers and sisters.” North Korea continues to be the most repressive nation when it comes to persecution against Christians.”
And yet the Church thrives there.
Isn’t that interesting.
Even more interesting is that we are usually aware of the growth of the Church in persecuted areas. Even while we lament their less-than-desirable conditions, we admire the faith of those believers who stand firm in the face of real opposition. Maybe we recognize that we might not exercise the same measure of faith under similar circumstances. Often we make comments like, “I wish I had that kind of faith.”
I’m reminded of the story of a pastor in China. He was imprisoned for preaching and teaching the Word of God. Once in prison he continued to preach and teach — and God blessed. Not only were other prisoners saved, but so, too, were a number of prison guards and officials. This pastor created such a “disturbance” that prison officials decided to release him several months early just so his influence would be removed. You know what he did? He demanded to serve his full sentence so that he could continue to proclaim the gospel in prison. His wife and children fully supported his decision to stay.
Because they all viewed his imprisonment as a God-given opportunity to proclaim the gospel in a place he otherwise would not have been able to reach. They viewed it as a — here comes that word — blessing.
Which brings me to the biblical perspective I mentioned several paragraphs ago.
All of this reminds me of the apostles in Acts 5. The apostles were in Jerusalem preaching in Jesus’ name. The high priest and the Sadducees had them arrested and thrown in jail. But an angel of the Lord opened the doors and told them to go stand in the Temple courts and preach — which they did. They were once again brought before the Sanhedrin for questioning.
“We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” the high priest told them. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
How did Peter and the other apostles reply? “We must obey God rather than men…” they said.
Many members of the Sanhedrin wanted the apostles put to death but they decided instead to flog the apostles and release them, once again ordering them not to preach in Jesus’ name.
This is some pretty rough stuff — the same kind of stuff we see in other parts of the world today and thank God we do not have to endure. But how did the apostles view this little turn of events?
You guessed it. They viewed it as a blessing. Acts 5 concludes this way:
“The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.”
Okay, fine! But can’t things like wealth and freedom be considered blessings, too? Yes, they can — if they are utilized according to God’s will and in a manner that is glorifying to Him. If they are valued more than God they become idols. In Romans 1 Paul discusses God’s wrath against mankind this way:
“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator — who is forever praised. Amen.”
So, where does that leave us? Do we have the proper perspective on our blessings in America? Do we view our wealth and freedom as tools to be used for God’s glory, or do we treasure our wealth and freedom more than the God who provided them? We seem to have every advantage necessary to do mighty things in God’s name and yet we seem to lack the faith.
On the other hand, our brethren in other places seem to have the faith while lacking the things we count as advantages.
We look at them and proclaim ourselves blessed.
When they look at us I wonder if they do the same thing.