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How Did They Finish?  

By now news from the London Olympics is so old, it's not even in the rear view mirror.   We've moved on.  There’s a presidential election just before us...the NFL season is in full swing—complete with the REAL refs… These are the headlines that now dominate our attention.

But a misstep in marketing takes me across the pond nearly every day.  Let me explain. 

At the train station that I walk there lingers a set of illuminated photos of Olympic hopefuls--the heart of a bank's advertising campaign.

The campaign’s idea was to suggest that in choosing the bank on the sign…you’d be signing up with winners.  One might say the bank was using these athletes who were going for the gold…to go for YOUR gold.

Walking through the train concourse you come face to face with

Two brothers who've played tennis together since they were kids.

Several swimmers...

A marathon runner...

Track and field athletes

Now that the Olympics are more than over, I've lately been intrigued with the idea of finding out exactly how these athletes finished.   So one by one, I've Googled these athletes, tracking down how they actually finished.  Some did great.  Others didn't place.  Some were projected to medal in their event…and never got close.

In my opinion, this marketing campaign that has stayed well past its prime…has a message for followers of Jesus.

What about us?  How are WE doing in this race called the Christian life?  We who been given wonderful teaching in Bible-loving churches….we who have gone to Bible school….or been mentored by a strong Christian friend.  We who live in a nation with more resources and more opportunities for Christian advancement than any other on the planet….How are we doing?

What if it was YOUR image on the sign promoting Christianity’s effectiveness and impact?  What kind of advertisement would YOU be?  Would your life be the gold standard?  The silver?  If you’re like me….you know you’d fall short. 

But like it or not—we are in a race. People really ARE watching.  They’re really is a finish line.  And they’re really is a prize. 

 
Lesser Characters  

Recently, my wife and I sat down with our three year old granddaughter to watch the 1973 Disney animated classic, “Robin Hood.”  If you haven't seen the film—or it's been awhile—it's quite charming in every regard. As we sat there with Joslynn, giggling at all the onscreen antics, I was struck with an observation.   Though the storyline is a classic, and Robin Hood, Maid Marion, and the whole cast are delightfully depicted, it was the lesser characters that grabbed my attention.

They are so well developed, so carefully crafted that I found myself looking forward to their every appearance.  For instance, there's a herd of elephants that blast their trunks as if they are regal trumpets.  They have such a look of royal sincerity on their faces as their trunks collapse and expand in beat with the music, you almost have to stifle a chuckle.  There are stern faced rhinos that attempt to walk with grace and dignity ill befitting their stereotype.  This, too, is amusing.   Then there's the crocodile who only shows up once or twice with key “announcements” in a bass voice so deep, the speakers in your audio system will rattle.

But all these lesser characters do what they do with amazing faithfulness, carrying out the smallest of tasks with an enviable panache.  For me, they become the heart of the story.  Yet...we're never even told their names.

Without wanting to sound preachy, I ask myself...how many of us in the body of Christ are content to be “lesser characters?”  How many of us are willing to simply develop, hone, and sharpen that smaller role we'll been given in the Kingdom story?

Seems to me, one of the biggest problems in the church today is our rush to grab for the lead role...our lust for the limelight.

But John the baptist has a word for those of us reaching for the stars:  “He (Jesus) must increase but I must decrease.”

That's what I've been pondering lately.

 
Capricious Judging  

Capricious.  When it comes to properly evaluating sin, that’s you and me.  And it's not a good thing, either. The word, capricious, means whimsical.  Fickle.  Given to unaccountable changes of behavior.  And like I say, that's many of us, when it comes to assessing our own sins.

You see, the Bible calls all sin...sin.  

But you and me?  Most of us have managed to downgrade a whole list of sins into...something less sinful than sin.  For example...

Anxiety.  We brush it off as a fairly harmless habit.  Like biting your fingernails: it'd be nice if we could quit—but no big deal, really. 

But anxiety IS a big deal when you're the God of the universe and you've clearly said many times in your instruction book, “Do not worry—about anything.”  But again, many of us blow that off.

Same with impatience.  “No big deal,” we say.  But God sees it all as sin, just the same: being pushy in line...consistently squeezing through yellow lights as they turn red.  It's sin.   Sin—as in if that's the worst we ever did it really would be enough to keep us away from the presence of a holy God. 

But you and I, we're capricious.  We've added sin to our sin by choosing to ignore our own infractions, while judging others for more—quote--obvious sins:   Cheating, lying, stealing, murder, drunkenness, homosexuality.  “Now THESE are REAL sins,” we insist.

No question that some sins come with more of a stigma.  More consequence.  Maybe more darkness.  But again, all sin is sin.

So where do we get off being so hard on others...and so light on ourselves?   How dare we be so capricious?

It's time we took the focus off the--quote-- “big time” sinners around us.

It's time we felt a godly grief for the sorrow our own sins bring the Savior. 

To a watching world filled with sinners in need of that Savior, worrying about the moral mud on our own shoes might just prove winsome. 

 
Putting the Persecuted Church on Your Radar Screen  

Time out for a pop quiz. 

Question one: Please name the country with the worst record of abuse toward Christian believers. 

Question two.  Please list the names of any countries you've prayed for in the last week where believers are heavily persecuted.

Now pass your papers forward, please.

How'd you do?  Did you get the answer to the first question?  It's North Korea, the most restrictive nation in the world for Christ followers.

I'm actually more interested in question number two—the number of countries you've prayed for in the last week. Places where Christians are treated with open hostility.

If you're struggling, you're a typical American Christian.  Our sense of global geography is so shrunken, there's little wonder we know so little about the persecuted church worldwide. But that doesn't make it right.  Nor does it excuse us from having the persecuted church OFF of our radar screen.

Did you know that a recent global study concludes 75% of all religious persecution is aimed at Christians?   And did you know that in more than 30 countries, Christians are significantly hassled for their faith?  Worldwide, more than 200 million Christians are denied fundamental human rights solely because of their faith.

Hebrews 13:3 commands us (note this is NOT a suggestion):

Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.

What if BEFORE we asked God to bless us with more…we asked God to lift up a soul sagging under the weight of persecution?

What if BEFORE we ever prayed for our loved one with cancer, we prayed for loved ones overseas right now suffering for their faith?

Like some practical prayer helps?  Go to persecution.com or…opendoorsusa.org.   That’s persecution .com…or opendoorsusa.org.

The persecuted church MUST be on our radar screen.  Otherwise we are living outside the declared will of God.

 
International Religious Freedom Act  

According to the World Evangelical Alliance, over 200 million Christians in at least 60 countries are denied fundamental human rights… solely because of their faith.  If current trends continue, by 2025, an average of 210,000 Christians will be martyred annually.

We hear numbers like these and feel disturbed...but powerless. Or at least I do.  That's why a recent article caught my eye about a senate bill under consideration.

The bill would appoint a religious freedom envoy that would operate in the Near East and South Central Asia.  The purpose of the envoy would be to monitor and report on abuses of religious freedom.

The envoy, to be appointed by the President, would report on countries like  Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco,  and Saudi Arabia, to name a few. But of course, religious persecution is also a huge issue in south Central Asian countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.   

The Senate bill that could help bring these troubles to light is number S1245.  It was introduced last year, but has yet to be brought to a vote.

And that's the point of this commentary: to invite you to step up.  To take a stand for our persecuted brothers and sisters by encouraging the Senate to pass this bill.

Heb 13:3  Remember the Lord's people who are in jail and be concerned for them. Don't forget those who are suffering, but imagine that you are there with them

What should you do? Write your Senator a short, but sincere letter, asking them to pass S-1245.  That's S-1245. You'll find a sample letter you can use as a guide at  Advocacy.opendoorsusa.org. That's   Advocacy.opendoorsusa.org.

Persecuted Christians. These aren't generic names and faces.  They're family.  The Bible tells me so.

 
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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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