First, let me tell the world that today is my son Theo’s “Decade Day:” Theo is ten years old today. As Theo was getting ready for school this morning, it started snowing here. “Dear Theo, Happy Birthday! –God.”
One of the cool things is that as I’m progressing in my studies, I’m also progressing in my ministry responsibilities. I am the Director of Outreach at my church and just last week my Senior Pastor finished the paperwork to have me licensed as a clergyman in the state of Washington. Now, being licensed doesn’t have any big effect except that I can officiate a wedding and have some increased access when visiting a hospital. I’m not down-playing the role of the clergy, I’m merely stating that the state of Washington doesn’t seem to think “licensed” clergy are that big a deal. Really, the intent is to regulate marriage and to identify those who may be eligible for certain tax treatments.
However, just as that paperwork was finishing up, I was doing reading for school and read a chapter in “Authentic Faith” by Gary Thomas (a book I recommend, by the way). The chapter was titled, “Titanic Testimony: The Discipline of Persecution.” In it, Thomas contrasts the typical Olsteen-esq presumption in Western Christianity that faith in Jesus will bring blessing, comfort, and protection. But Thomas tells us that during the most vigorous times in the history of the Faith that physical persecution could be a normal part of following Jesus. Thomas does a bit of speculation that even the American church might see a foretaste of persecution when, politically, Christianity is labeled as a ‘religion of hate.’ As absurd as that is, there could well be a time when Christianity – a faith that repeats the claims of Jesus: “no one comes to the Father except by me” and stands for good citizenship (1 Tim. 2:1-6) – becomes hated even in the United States.
So then, during my devotional time, I read through Matthew 10 where Jesus talks about persecution and remembered John 15:20 – “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you…” Reading that passage sealed a thought for me.
Let’s just say that Thomas is on to something. When even a Baptist like President Bill Clinton can respond to his fellow Baptists’ desire to tell the Good News about Jesus by stating “his opposition to whatever organizations, including the Southern Baptists, that perpetuate ancient religious hatred.” You heard it: evangelism is a hate crime. Christian – you’ve been put on notice.
So who are the people who are stirring up Christians to such hatred? Yes – it’s their ministers, pastors, and clergy! How will the state know who to round up for perpetuating hate crimes? All the men and women who are licensed as clergy! So my being licensed as clergy puts me on a governmental roster for “Peddlers of Hate.” Yikes!
OK, OK – that sounds pretty extreme and maybe over the top. But it gave me pause – for about a second – when I realized that is exactly the point. Following Jesus has a cost and I had, decades ago, made a decision to follow Jesus whatever the cost might be. So whether it is the change of career, change of neighborhood, change in economic circumstances, or even physical persecution – following Jesus is worth the cost.