Saturday, August 30, 2008

Outdated?

In studying Hebrews lately, I had the opportunity to consider and discuss chapter 10 with other people and exchange perspectives on how it applies to the modern church. It was a fascinating discussion that cultivated a desire to clarify my thoughts and develop them further.

Hebrews is a treasure trove of godly advice and encouragement. It was written by an unknown epistle writer as a means of building up a church of converted Jews who were in need of encouragement. Times were tough in the early church, and we find evidence of this in Hebrews 10:32-36:

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.

The main question is, does this speak to us in the modern church? Does it apply to us who have never suffered major persecution? We have never been thrust from homes, thrown into jail, or cast to lions. Christians in the USA have it so easy. How can we understand true endurance? We have never needed to endure!

Some would say these verses do not apply to us. We simply cannot understand it. Perhaps the Christian in Pakistan or Egypt can comprehend endurance, but us?

The Word of God stands above circumstances, nationality, and upbringing. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16 -17)”

God’s Word is timeless. It applies to us just as much now as in the day it was written. Yes, the writer had specific trials in mind when he wrote to the Hebrews, but that cannot take away from its application to Christians living in the United States of America. It is just as imperative to us now as it was then.

Our trials are different here in the USA, and we may not fully understand the persecuted church in their specific struggles, but our challenges are just as real. Hebrews is written to us as much as to anyone else. Tolerance and silent antipathy can be as difficult to endure as anything --especially in light of our comparative "easy" existence in the 21st century.

The question is: how will we deal with it? Will we endure?

Consider the people of Israel. At many times throughout their history they were in seclusion from other nations and outside pressures. They governed themselves, had their own spiritual leaders, and had their own places of worship. Serving the Lord God Almighty should have been easy for them.

What did they do with it? Reading the book of Judges and the books of Samuel and the Kings tell us of the spiritual ups and downs the Israelites went through. Time after time they turned away from their faith. They complained, lost their trust in God, and disobeyed His laws. Yet were they being persecuted? No!

Exile and bondage came later as a result of their disobedience, and there were times when the Israelites were persecuted for their beliefs. Daniel and his three friends are an example of this. Often, however, the people of Israel got into trouble and failed to endure without any outside pressure.

Endurance can be attacked in many ways. The way a hidden church in China reacts to pressure may be unique to its situation. We pray for their endurance as we recognize the real challenges they face.

Christians in Islamic countries also suffer horribly at the hands of their governments and their own families. They need endurance.

The newly converted Christian in the United States who grew up in a household of atheists needs endurance to forge a new life out of the rubble of ungodly relationships and habits.

Endurance is also imperative to the Christian who grew up on Easy Street among Christian friends and family. Will this Christian make an impact on his world and live passionately for Christ? Will this Christian break through the barrier of tolerance in a nation that couldn't care less what you believe?

We live in a nation where more and more people believe that Christianity is identical to every other religion around. According to them, Jesus is no better than Buddha, Confucius, or Muhammad. We are all identical, and no one religion is any better than another.

Churches are declining in America. Church doors are closing. Many self proclaiming Christians think an occasional appearance in church is sufficient, and many more claim to be Christians without even attempting to find out what it means to be a “Little Christ.” Saying “I am a Christian” has become cultural to many people, comparable to saying, “I’m a Southerner,” “I’m Irish,” or I’m Conservative.”

These are the trials we face as American Christians. We live in a country where it is still politically correct to be “Christian” – at least in your own home. It’s less acceptable to let your Christianity make any impact on your decisions. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John McCain, and Jim Carrey all claim to be Christians (Carrey also claims to be Buddhist, Hindu, and everything else – it’s all the same to him).

We are lauded and praised by some people for our good morals, tidy appearance, and “innocence,” but more and more of these same people believe it doesn’t make any difference. If they are good, friendly, well dressed, and charitable they think they are doing just fine without Christ. Jesus is extra – not a requirement.

Will we endure in a society such as ours? Will we make an impact for Christ?

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:19-25

2 comments:

Wholesome Works said...

Great thoughts Elizabeth!

I know that I often study the Bible through a "what it was like way back then" mindset, and forget about application for the here and now.

Have blessed day,
Zachary

faithful lofgren said...

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John McCain, Jim Carrey... great examples of Christianity, aren't they? (sigh)