Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Luxury of Prejudice

There are times when conviction hits you harder than at other times.  This happened to me several weeks ago, right when we were getting the news about the 90+ Christians who had been kidnapped by ISIS in Syria.

I was working on some website stuff for the church, and collaborating with a friend via Facebook, when he asked me if I'd heard the news about the kidnappings and sent me a link to a news article.  It had an instant sobering affect.  Here I was, in my pajamas...sipping a cup of coffee, with an episode of the Beverly Hillbillies loaded up on YouTube as I worked on a church website while 90 Christians halfway across the world were concerned for their lives.  Like I said, it sobered me.  It sobered me, not necessarily because I wasn't being persecuted and was enjoying the comforts of America, but because I wasn't even considering those who were under the threat of dying for their faith.  And it sobered me more because my first inclination was to ignore the news article because there was nothing I could do about it anyway.

What really made this an impacting moment for me (rather than just a passing pang of guilt) is due to what happened later in the day.  As I was praying later on, I began asking God what was on His heart.  What He was thinking about.  And those 90 kidnapped Christians instantly came to my mind.  But as I began praying, rather than just mumbling a prayer that God would Sovereignly take care of the problem and rescue them, I think I got a deeper glimpse of one of the aspects of Jesus' nature.  The following two portions of Scriptures kept coming to me:

Acts 9:4  And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? Acts 9:5  And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. 

Matthew 25:40  And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. 

And as I thought of those verses and the suffering of those Christians in Syria, I began to empathize with them rather than simply praying for them, because I believe that's exactly what Jesus was doing.  When Christians were being persecuted in Saul's day, Jesus took it personally.  He didn't just look down on them with sadness...He spoke of it as if HE was the one being persecuted.  He doesn't just shake his head at people who do wrong and reward those who do good...He identifies with those in suffering as if it were being done to Him.  He suffers WITH them.

I know this probably seems like it has nothing to do with the title of this post.  But I wanted to underscore the importance Jesus places on the "least of these" and the importance of identifying with people in their suffering rather than just ignoring it because it makes us feel uncomfortable and guilty.

I'm not saying you have to constantly be depressed because somewhere in the world someone is suffering...but I AM encouraging us to broaden our perspective and see the bigger picture of what is happening in the world and focusing on what Jesus focuses on and care about what--or rather WHO--He cares about.

We're going through the gospel of Mark in the Junior High Youth Class I teach on Wednesday nights, and over and over again as I've prepared for these lessons, I've noticed how much Jesus cares for people.  Take chapter 5, for example.  Jesus goes way out of his way, across the Sea of Galilee in the middle of a storm to a Gentile region where people don't even accept Him (they ask Him to leave shortly after He arrives), in an area that is unclean and dedicated to devils...just to reach out to one man who was bound by a legion of demonic powers.   Then when He gets back to the other side, He stops on His way to a very important, righteous man's house just to acknowledge a poor woman who had the faith to push through the crowd to touch the hem of His garment.  The Jesus I serve is a man who will go out of His way or pause whatever He's doing...no matter how inconvenient or strange to the people around Him...just for one soul.  That's pretty remarkable.

At this point, you might be thinking, "Yeah, yeah, Michael, but we already know all this.  We know Jesus is like that."  Yeah...but are you like that?

I've noticed a disturbing trend in some of the Christian circles I frequent, particularly with young people.  I call it "the luxury of prejudice".

Although we know that Jesus came to save sinners and that our most important job on this earth is to make disciples of all nations and try to reach the lost to turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to the power of God...sometimes it's too easy to sink back into our comfortable church cliques and to enjoy the Luxury of Prejudice.

The Luxury of Prejudice says something like this:  "I know I have to love everybody as a Christian...but that doesn't mean I have to LIKE everybody, or hang out with everybody!  There are some people whose personalities just don't jive with mine, and some people just really get on my nerves, and trust me...you DON'T want me to be around those people too long, cuz things will get meeeeesssssyyyy and I will end up not representing Jesus at all.  So I'll try to be nice to them but I don't necessarily want them coming to all of our get-togethers."  Does that sound familiar at all?

Don't get me wrong--some of that might be reasonable...if you're not trying to follow Jesus' footsteps.  But, as Christians, we are supposed to give up our right to the Luxury of Prejudice.  I know that some people are annoying.  I know that some people have obnoxious personalities.  I know that some new converts can say and act in ways that just make you cringe.  And I know that there are people who are very high-maintenance and self-absorbed and want to talk about themselves all the time or absorb the spotlight.  We may feel justified in ignoring or brushing those people off.  But for just a moment I would like you to identify people in your life that may fit that category and then think about how Jesus feels about them.  Try to identify with them the way that Jesus does.  Stop claiming your right to the Luxury of Prejudice.  That is one luxury as Christians that we simply cannot afford.

I started out this post with the story about how I tried to more intentionally identify with the suffering Christians in Syria.  I realize that there is practically nothing practical that I could do to help them.  I can't swoop in in a helicopter to rescue them or anything like that.  There will be people in your life that you may not be able to help for various reasons.  Sometimes it's not appropriate.  All I'm saying is that we need to try to adopt the attitude Jesus has towards people, and let that be our top priority.  I hope this makes sense and helps us in some way.  I promise I'm still working on it too.