The blessing of religious freedom

Among the things I’m thankful for: the freedom to be Christian in this country.

Twelve Christians stood trial Easter Sunday in Iran, where they were called “apostates” in a courtroom and tried on multiple charges, according to sources close to Iran’s Christian community.

The Christians had been acquitted on the same charges, including “crimes against the order,” a year ago in Bandar Anzali, a city on the Caspian Sea. The group was first arrested when authorities found them drinking wine while taking communion, according to sources.

“It ultimately illustrates that being a Christian is illegal in Iran. No matter how clear or how open a pastor and a church may be, Christians are being brought to trial just for being Christian,” said Jason DeMars, director of the Present Truth Ministries advocacy group who is in daily contact with the Evangelical Christian community in Iran.

But converting, or more specifically, the act of turning from Islam, can be punishable by death. To leave the Islamic faith or to attempt to convert others away from the faith warrants capital punishment under Shariah Law.

The full article is here: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2012/04/11/12-christians-stand-trial-on-easter-sunday-in-iran/?test=latestnews

There are many Christians around the world, and many who live in countries hostile to that faith, where they fear death during the simple act of taking communion. I don’t know about you, but I’m taking a moment today and thanking God that I was born in a country where, however frustrating it can be sometimes to be a practicing Christian, I am never at risk of being sentenced to death by the government for it.

Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed.

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T.G.I. Good Friday

A Good Friday service always gets me thinking, and tonight’s was no different. I don’t really need the instructions to leave in silence, because after what we’ve meditated about during the service, I’m not in the mood to be chatty.

The thing that always gets me about Good Friday is how much we don’t deserve the sacrifice He made. We know that a crucifixion isn’t any ordinary execution. He took ALL of the sins of the world- and think about it, there are a LOT of sins in this world- and he took them on in the form of pain and suffering, so that we wouldn’t have to account for them. Can you imagine what kind of agony he had to endure to make up for all of our sins?

And why?

What did we ever do to deserve such a love?

The wonderful thing about this season is that it reminds us that we don’t deserve it, and there’s no way we ever could. And yet He went through it anyway, because He loves us. Isn’t that incredible?

Thank God it’s Good Friday.

Happy Palm Sunday!

Palm Sunday is a difficult service to plan music for. The question always is, should we mirror the sentiments of the people of the day, or should we foreshadow the events to come? For us today, it’s a day of apprehension, because we know how the events of the rest of the week unfold. But for those experiencing the events we are remembering, the day Jesus entered Jerusalem was truly a day full of joy, and they had no reason to expect anything to change.

When I was in college, I regularly had people ask me about my faith, or challenge it or question it. Several times people said things to the effect of, “But you seem so smart! Why are you Christian?” It took some time to sort out my answer to their implications that faith is illogical, simply because in my experience, there is nothing that could be more logical. That said, while faith might be logical, it doesn’t make it easy, because with God the logic is always seen in hindsight.

Innumerable times in my life I’ve been struck by the massive presence of God in my life, and how His planning and work has led me to exactly where I am. And when that hits me, in those moments of clarity when I know I’m exactly where I’m meant to be, I think back to all the steps in the journey to get here. Most of the time it involves both closed and open doors, joy and pain and frustration, and my faith tells me that each step is leading somewhere, but I have no idea where He’s leading. Of course once I look back, I’m forced to say, “Well duh. That makes sense now. That’s why I didn’t get that job, if I had I wouldn’t have worked in this place, that led to this other place…” and everything lines up so neatly.

All in all, it would be impossible to look back at how I’ve ended up in Richmond, VA, and not have faith in an omnipotent, ever-present God who has a hand in my life. To me, there is circumstantial evidence that God exists, from my personal experiences. It makes sense to me to have faith, because I see where I’ve been, it helps me trust in Him for the future.

Now, put yourself in the shoes of someone in Jerusalem as Jesus is entering on the colt, who’s experiencing this Holy Week for the first time. I can only imagine the range of emotions that must have been felt during that first Holy Week. Elation and despair, rejoicing and weeping. And all they had to hold on to, to comfort them, was their faith in God that everything to happen was a part of His plan. Can you imagine trying to convince yourself of that if you were there? It’s difficult enough in my own life to have faith that a closed door, or something frustrating or painful, is all for my own sake, and that God is having me experience it for a reason. And for those with Jesus during the Last Supper, or keeping watch in Gethsemane, or watching as He was mocked and beaten, their faith had to have been unbelievably strong, to keep faith that this was God’s plan, and that it would be all for His glory.

I suppose the moral of this tale is similar to what I tell myself when I run: “If there are people out there running 50-mile ultra-marathons, you don’t need to be complaining about 5 miles.” Likewise, I need to remember that if Jesus’ disciples were able to keep their faith throughout the harrowing journey of Holy Week, that all the events that seemed like disaster were all leading up to something spectacular, then I should certainly have enough faith that He’s in control of my own life, and has a plan for it as well.

I’d also like to issue a challenge: this year, try to experience Holy Week as if you were living it, feeling it, watching the events unfold for the first time. Read the scripture with a new perspective, and on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, pretend you’re there, one of the disciples, and this Savior, Teacher, is someone you have known for some time, and he’s warning you of what’s to come. I guarantee that if you do this, you will see Christ’s sacrifice for us in a whole new light.