Good Sunday Morning Dear Friend! It is an especially wonderful time of the year for Christians and Jews here on the doorstep of Passover and Easter. It is a powerful time of prayer, thankfulness, renewal, rebirth, new life, re-commitment, and refocus…
Last week I went to Valley View Nursing Home to visit an elderly neighbor who had been living alone since her husband died several years ago. I used to watch them on their tractors when he was alive. They were always working their land…mowing, clearing, cutting, plowing and sweating. It seemed like when he wasn’t working, he was hunting. He wasn’t the neighborly sort…didn’t really seem to trust or like people in general, although we got along fine. They were not religious folks…
The thing that struck me when I went to visit my neighbor was the look in her eyes. It was pain, despair, bitterness, hopelessness on the canvas of the same lost expression. She didn’t seem to have the energy for anger…what energy she had went into complaining about the two grey burger eyes staring up at us from the food tray in front of her. All I could think of for the rest of the day, was her expression…I’ve never been in a war zone, but I’ve seen WW II documentary films that show the faces of the refugees and peasants. They were the same eyes in the same expression!
I’m in a Relationship!
Our oldest finally put up the “I’m in a relationship” declaration on his Facebook wall for the entire world to see! It is such an exciting time of life for a young man…his first year in an Ivy League school, first relationship, concert tour in Cuba, Summer internship set and trip to Costa Rica planned. His world is nothing but possibilities! He is dreaming from a dream!
We had a great evening out with friends last night who shared with us that they finally cut the “financial” umbilical cord that had been a somewhat draining attachment to their 22-year-old living in California. Easy for the Dad, tough for the Mom, but so critically important for the sake of the daughter! We always have the best time together…meaningful conversation and ALWAYS great laughs! One of the things we talked about was how the world has changed since we were our children’s ages…the breakdown of trust and the falls from grace that once seemed to be the exception have since become the rule. It’s funny, we did talk about “church”, but what he observed as a community of “hypocrites”, I observed as a community “divided”…and yet we both believe.
This brought me back to a Capital Prayer Alert I received in my email:
As you know, my wife, Carol, prepares a prayer alert about once a month. I hope you will share Carol’s thoughts with your friends and fellow worshippers. Thank you for taking an interest in her monthly devotion. — Gary
The coming weeks are very significant on the Christian and Jewish calendars. Christians mourn the agonizing death of Jesus Christ on the cross but then joyously celebrate His resurrection three days later. We live with the hope His atoning sacrifice offers us.
Jews celebrate the Passover by acknowledging that the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob spared the children of Israel from God’s final plague by commanding them to smear the sacrificial blood of the lamb on their door posts in order to spare their first born from God’s wrath.
As hard as it may seem to accept in the 21st Century, the freedom of Christian and Jewish believers to practice their faith is under growing assault in an increasing number of countries. A recent Pew Forum Report found that religious minorities were targeted for abuse in 47% of the world’s countries in 2012, nearly double the rate of 24% in 2009.
Numerous countries in the Middle East have seen Christian communities driven from the very locations that birthed their faith. And some Middle Eastern countries that had a healthy minority of practicing Jews until recent years have now seen their numbers dwindle, with those who remain living in fear for their lives.
Though certainly not receiving the prominence they deserve, these stories have been in the news. No one who follows international human rights issues can claim ignorance of the disturbing trend line. And yet, after meeting with Pope Francis last week and discussing religious freedom, President Obama referred to “potential persecution of Christians in Syria and Lebanon” almost as an afterthought. Religious persecution is far beyond “potential” and certainly not limited to those two countries. And for a president who likes to refer to the Russian takeover of Crimea as an act not appropriate for the 21st century, I would suggest that the growing persecution of Christians and Jews falls in that same category, yet he will not describe it as such.
As Christians and Jews mark Easter and Passover in the weeks ahead, please be in prayer for those who seek to practice their faith, in the country of their birth or in a growing number of countries worldwide, without fear of persecution, punishment, jail or death.
Heavenly Father, as Americans we know that the freedom to practice our faith in our daily lives is enshrined in the Bill of Rights of our Constitution. America’s earliest citizens fled from countries where a state religion was imposed on them. Here they founded a country where freedom to live out one’s faith would be an individual choice. Dear God, the headlines we read today of Christian and Jewish believers being jailed or even slaughtered, driven from their homes or required to denounce their beliefs, are hard to comprehend.
As we sit in our comfortable houses of worship in the coming weeks, prompt us to pray for those who are paying the heaviest personal price to practice their faith. As Christians we will sit in churches adorned with Easter lilies and raise our voices to the Risen Christ. Jews will mark the Passover with the Passover Seder among family and friends telling the familiar story of God’s providence.
As we sit in those services hearing the familiar stories that are the bedrock of our faith journey, prompt us to pray without ceasing for those who share our faith but live in fear. They need to know that we stand with them, pray for them and will do our part to bring the needs of our persecuted brothers and sisters to the attention of our local faith communities.
Finally, ask our Heavenly Father to prick the minds of President Obama, members of the House and Senate and the Supreme Court, which is now considering key cases on the practice of religious freedom here in the United States. May their attention be focused on the growing problem of religious persecution and a narrowing opportunity for religious expression not only abroad but here at home.
The thread connecting the Bauer’s prayer to the observations my friend and I shared last night is the thread of persecution. “Thread” is the perfect word to describe it because like thread, persecution is woven into the fabric of our lives for the sole purpose of taking us out of the one relationship that matters most! I see a church divided where one half seeks the comfort of acceptance while the other takes the more difficult and increasingly less popular path. When Jimmy Fallon does his “Let’s give it up for…” whoever’s “in the house”, you and I know who is NEVER in the house! I’m pretty sure that’s in his contract…that is the more subtle thread of persecution. We make it less hip…
Politically, it’s very easy to understand why “Ruling Class” politicians love the subtle thread of persecution. After all, the person not in relationship is totally available…to their mind. And the person who is truly in relationship is not just unavailable to them. The person who is in relationship with the Holy Spirit has no need or fear of them…which, since the day they drove the nails through his flesh, has been their greatest fear!
When I am in relationship, I am invincible even to my own death. When I am in relationship, my suffering is a direct conduit to the love they nailed to the cross. When I am in relationship, I am gloriously drowning in the driest desert, comfortably warm in the coldest chill and delightfully full in the emptiest moment.
A much harder persecution is coming, which is why I pray for everyone to look beyond the trappings and weaving’s that have been so artfully crafted to deceive and distract. Plant a special garden for yourself and your family this spring where you will find the relationship I’ve described, if you haven’t already. With all my heart I would take you there…