Sunday, March 8, 2009

Balaam's Donkey and Persecution

Mike, one of our pastors, has a second job. His employers, Christians, forbade him to tell clients and staff that he’s a pastor. He could say he works with children for a “benevolent organization” in the North End but that was it. He finally found this so difficult that he began to ignore the rules. Eventually they let him speak, but warned him that if he did, some would hate him.

Hatred. The Church often deserves the hatred it receives. Through the ages Christians have done some terrible things in the name of Jesus. But sometimes we are hated simply because we love and follow God. Jesus warned that this would happen but we are still surprised when it does.

Our text today was from Acts 13 and 14, the story of Paul and Barnabas, first in Antioch and then in Iconium. In each city, they preached to the Jews. After all, it was the Jews who had been promised Messiah. Some accepted the good news Paul and Barnabas brought but most were angry and drove them out of town.

Frances Shaffer wrote, “I believe that pluralism in the long run is a more deadly poison than straight forward persecution.” Paul and Barnabas told new believers: “It is through many persecutions that we enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22—not sure of the translation Mike used.) This verse seems to imply that we can't get into God's kingdom unless we've been persecuted. It’s a shocking thought and one I have never considered before.

Persecution. We understand the persecution the early disciples endured. We understand the persecution people like Voice of the Martyrs report—beatings, imprisonment, torture and death—but we have a hard time believing there’s any persecution here in North America. Yet Mike’s experience in the workplace is not unique. Many have had such experiences. Even children do.

One little boy told Mike (who’s the children’s pastor) that he can’t talk about church at school. If he does, he’ll be sent to the office. We offend others (even some who call themselves Christian) when we insist that Jesus is the only way to God. There is persecution in the Western World. It simply has a different face.

Mike says he had a harder time telling his Christian but very conservative parents that he was pastor at a Vineyard church. He said it would have been easier if his admission to them had been that he’s gay (he’s not).

What can we do? We can be like Balaam’s donkey. Balaam kept beating his donkey for not doing what he was told but the donkey saw an angel and chose to stop as the angel said, even though it angered Balaam.

I can think of times when I’ve experienced hatred and rejection because of my Christian convictions, beliefs and behaviours. What about you?

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