Being Brought Low
Today was interesting in many ways. I had a great opportunity to spend an hour or so with my brother and three guys who were in the youth group at Skillman. Knowing the statistics of how many students graduate from high school and walk away from church, it’s exciting to sit with four guys whom I’ve invested in and who’ve all become good men. Ironically that moment of encouragement came only a short time after the most humbling experience I’ve had in quite a while.
As you may or may not know, I’m on campus at Abilene Christian University this week attending the annual Lectureship, now referred to as “Summit.” ACU brought in some really great speakers this week in addition to the regular crowd of preachers, writers and professors from our faith tradition. Monday I was able to hear Brian McLaren speak in several settings. Yesterday Matthew Sleeth, author of Serve God, Save the Planet had some good things to say as well.
ACU is working to become an iCampus…meaning the billions of dollars it cost me to go to school here are finally being spent on someone else. All the freshmen this year received iPhones and the professors have been experimenting with online quizzes in class, surveys and other stuff. So this week, during the keynotes and special speakers folks with text messaging or email on their phones have been encouraged to send in questions for the speaker which are answered following the message/presentation.
People were able to ask Brian McLaren how traditional churches can navigate and respond to the shifts in culture; we could ask Matthew Sleeth what role the church might have played in convincing some people that caring for the environment and loving God are mutually exclusive. But today was different.
There was a gentleman on campus today with an unbelievable story. We were asked to power down our electronic devices as we listened to the “typical” story of a young man growing up under the influence of fundamentalist Islam. The story became untypical when, out of his frustration with obstinate Christians he procured a copy of the New Testament and began reading and rereading the story of Jesus.
At first he was enraged at this apostasy of Jesus and his Christians; their teachings so clearly out of sync with those beliefs he knew to be irrefutable. However eventually the quiet power of Jesus captivated and consumed him. He (with a courage I’m not sure I possess) approached his father to share the news that he was convinced that Jesus and not Islam represented the truth of God. This man knew full well that his father, a faithful Muslim, would be required to disown and turn him in to authorities.
Not only did he proclaim his faith to his family but he also refused to flee from his homeland after doing so. This led to a lengthy period of “interrogation” by representatives of the Islamic controlled state. Today, as he spoke to us, we were asked to turn off our electronic devices; no podcasts or videos were produced out of concern for this man’s safety. He was not just disowned and punished, everything about his life was taken – from his birth certificate to his multiple college degrees were all eliminated – and he was declared an enemy of the State and an enemy of Islam. This means that any Muslim would be seen as righteous for shedding his blood…
On the eve of our relocation to Burleson, we’ve been faced with the reality of the risk we’re taking. You may have heard that there are some minor economic “issues” going on right now. (I’m watching The Colbert Report right now and they’re clearly telling me that now is the time to panic…)
We are taking a risk, of that there is no real doubt. And yet when I consider the tremendous risks that are taken every day just to proclaim the name of Christ…well, as the title of this post suggested, that realization was quiet sobering. And so my prayers today go out in a special way to all of those Christians who currently reside in an area where it is illegal to be a Christian (several years ago I saw figures that suggested that number is nearly 2/3’s of the world’s population).
I pray that the disciples of Christ will commit themselves to lives of compassion, mercy, justice; I pray that we will commit ourselves to embodying Christ in this world; I pray that we will turn our attention to seeing Christ in our neighbors whether they have recognized the image of God in themselves or not; I pray that we will keep hopeful eyes open to the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God in this world as it is in heaven.
Specifically today I pray for the safety of those who follow Christ in the midst of radical Islam. I pray that they will be kept safe and that their lives will be such that their neighbors will praise God on the day he comes.