If you want to know how much I love Jesus, just know this – a couple weeks ago, I ate lunch with my friend at a vegan restaurant so we could talk about church stuff together. My friend is vegan, so we went where he could eat. There was NO meat. No beef, no chicken, not even the other white meat (pork). There were no eggs, no milk and no cheese. There wasn’t even butter. We had cauliflower “wings” – and then I ate a bowl filled with vegetables and rice. I followed it up with some soy based dessert that was meant to taste like a Piña Colada. It was quite the experience, and it wasn’t my choice. It’s not that I am against activism, healthy eating, or sustainable living – it’s just that I really enjoy steak. If you’re asking, I do believe it’s ok for me to eat a cow, but I respect your right not to.
I missed meat. Compared to my normal, every day diet, the meal felt a little “less than.” Like I was giving up something that mattered to me and that I enjoyed for the sake of someone else. As I ate my meal, I thought about all the people sitting in restaurants around the city eating burgers, chicken wings, and blizzards – and I felt a little sad. Actually, I’m totally playing this all up. The food was delicious, and I didn’t miss meat at all, nor did I feel “less than” in any way. But I wouldn’t want to give up that stuff entirely, that’s for sure.
Around our world, people give up stuff all the time for the sake of that which they believe. Many people give up money, fame, opportunities and much more – to be sincere followers of their causes. As a follower of Jesus, I know that across the globe people like me even give up their freedom, and are jailed, tortured or sometimes even killed for their faith. We call it persecution. I am thankful this isn’t something I face, and don’t want to equate what I do face as persecution to what they do – but the word fits in many circumstances.
In this country, in the reality in which I live, people are still persecuted for their faith, just in different ways. Many people are passed up for job opportunities because they aren’t willing to engage in certain behaviors. Others don’t get to spend all their money on toys and fun things, because they feel led to give back to God and charities. Some have fewer or no friends, don’t date, or aren’t invited to certain events, because they are known for being “religious” or “no fun.” There are many more ways people today, even in free countries are persecuted – these are just a few. The repercussions aren’t as intense as death, but they can be hard to swallow just the same.
A lot of times people like to think that God is angry about the persecution they are facing. Like they are experiencing something that He could never understand and is completely against. While I am sure that God is against the bodily harm or death, and probably even the mistreating of people because of His name or their obedience to Him, I don’t think He’s against people having less than others or having to give things up to follow Him. I think in some ways, God uses the persecution we face for His glory and gain.
Let me give you an example. In the book of Acts, we see the early church members experiencing all sorts of persecution for being a part of this new upstart religion. A guy named Stephen, even gets rocks thrown at him until he dies. After his death, the people who hear of it get scared and flee Jerusalem into the outskirts of town, and some even go to other areas of the country entirely. In short they spread way out, to avoid suffering the same fate as Stephen. Sounds pretty awful – having to leave the familiar confines of home. But something cool happens because of it. Their locations have changed, but their beliefs have not. And so, as they meet new people and share their stories, Christianity explodes across the Middle East and into Asia. Luke writes it this way;
Acts 8:1–8 (ESV)
And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.
Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city.
Because of the persecution of the early followers of Jesus, many thousands if not millions of more people got to know about Him, His life, death and resurrection, and became His disciples. God used what was bad, to bring about good. It’s pretty incredible and I think it’s still happening today.
Maybe your non-involvement in certain activities prompts a conversation with your co-workers. Perhaps your giving money away to charities or your church causes one of your friends to ask about why you give so much away. Being someone who is faithful and monogamous is sure to turn some heads in certain circles. You might even find that if you don’t talk like others, listen to what other people do, or watch the same shows or movies – people will take notice, and discussions will ensue. The reality is, that MANY of the things we see as less than or persecution, God sees as faithfulness that has the power to lead others to Him. If only we will be willing to make the sacrifice.
I love Jesus a lot. Enough even, to give up eating meat if that’s what He asked me to do. He hasn’t, so I’ll probably have some for dinner tonight – but there are multiple other things available to me in life that He has called me to do, be, or let go of – and so every day I try. The persecution you and I face in this time and country, is nothing compared to what others in our world do, or what the early followers of Jesus did. What to us seems like “less” – could actually be God’s best for us. So I will continue to prosper in my faith, despite the mild persecution I sometimes face for it, in the hope that God will use it to bring others to Himself. Even if it means more lunches at vegan restaurants – I think it’s well worth the sacrifice.