You might get ready to call me a heretic, because I’m going to say something that modern Christianity doesn’t like to hear: when you follow God’s will, sometimes bad things happen. I thought about that statement when I thought about those 21 Coptic Christians who were executed by ISIS. I read something interesting, though. Only 20 of those people were from Egypt. One was from Chad. Each Christian was given the opportunity to renounce Christ and live. They stayed true to their faith. The man from Chad was not a believer, until the executioners gave him a chance to renounce Jesus. His response brings tears to my eyes. He could have said, “I’m not a believer.” Instead, seeing their courage and their faith, he responded by saying, “Their God is my God.”
How easy it would be to think that living was more important than faithfulness. After all, if someone kills me for my faith, or hurts me, how does that advance the kingdom of God? What’s God going to do without me? The truth is that God calls us to be faithful to him no matter what the circumstances. The man from Chad has eternal life because 20 men from Egypt were faithful. How many others have been strengthened in their faith because of their strength? How many have come to know Jesus because of their courage? Bad things can happen when we follow God. Paul knew that. He had experienced that. And now that God was leading him to Jerusalem, everyone told him what would happen when he got there. “Then Paul answered, ‘Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’ When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, ‘The Lord’s will be done.’” (Acts 21:13-14)
Paul understood that our commitment to God is more important than life itself. He was warned by fellow believers, Christian prophets, that if he went to Jerusalem he would be captured by the Jews. “Bad things are ahead of you, Paul, don’t go!” was their paraphrased message. Paul’s response was so simple and so instructive: “God’s called me to Jerusalem, so I’m going. Whatever happens, I’m going to be faithful to the call God has given to me.” Again, a paraphrased message, but a powerful one. When he got to Jerusalem, he wasn’t worried about what the Jews were going to do with him, I imagine he was kind of curious about it. He should have known that it would be a false charge that the Jews would use to capture him. God doesn’t always give us warnings about what lies ahead. Paul knew what was coming, and not only was he prepared to be captured, he was prepared to use that event as an opportunity to proclaim Jesus.
God doesn’t always give us warnings about what lies ahead. I wonder if that’s because, unlike Paul, many of us would find ways to avoid the troubles ahead. Our culture is changing. At one time, it looked at Christians very positively. Now, Christianity is ok, kept in its place. If we move our faith out of the church and into the world, we may run into some hostility. It’s not widespread, but it’s well publicized when it happens. I believe that we are slowly moving into a time when Christianity will meet outright hostility in the United States, as it does in other areas of the world. Here’s the opportunity: if you prefer man’s favor to God’s favor, now is probably the time to leave the church and start denying Christ. You won’t have to make any last-minute decisions that may bring scorn on you. But if you are ready to endure the hostility and stay true to your love of God in the face of death, now is the time to become bolder in sharing your faith. Troubles lie ahead. Will you stay true to your faith?
Lord, it’s easy to follow You now when there are no problems. I pray for strength to follow You always.