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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.

Just Try Jesus  

Forgive me for offending you.  But to make my point, I'm afraid I must offend some.

It is a well-established fact that I cannot stand the taste of creamed corn.  The truth is, after one bite, I honestly begin gagging.  I wish it were not so...but it is. (See—now I've gone and done it--offended all the creamed corn lovers out there.  My apologies). 

At a recent Christmas party, I turned down someone's prized recipe for creamed corn and was entreated with a familiar line: “If you'd just try it.....I think you'd like it.”  Trust me—ain't gonna happen.  And it’s not like I “tried” to whip up some awful hatred for creamed corn. What could be more American than corn?  I just honestly, sincerely, don't like creamed corn.

In the same way, I think we Christ followers sometimes miss the mark when sharing Christ with the people around us.  We logically assume that in a culture that reveres experience over just about anything, it's a powerful argument to say, “Just try Jesus.” 

For some people, that simple invitation may indeed be the tool the Holy Spirit uses to redeem a life. But an increasing number of people have a built-in distaste for a faith of any kind.

Just like my strong aversion to creamed corn, there are people who simply can't stand the notion of surrendering their life to Christ.  [All the pleasant language in the world about a King who longs to make right a world that's gone terribly wrong makes no difference to these folks.]

Does that mean “End of story....let's pack up and go home.”?   No! It just means that these people will need something else: the powerful evidence of life change in US.

If you were to do a life inventory, how much change could you—would you—honestly claim for this last year?  Are you and I tangibly more like Christ today than last January?  What will ultimately win hearts and minds, as Colossians 1:27 eloquently states, is “Christ in you—the hope of glory”--not fancy speech.

Christ in you.  And in me.  Now THAT's a taste we can ALL agree on.

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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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