This week's "thought" comes to you from Francis Chan, and is taken from the book, "Passion" (a collection of different articles focusing on living the Christian life in earnest). This excerpt comes from the chapter by Chan entitled, "Living a Life that Makes Sense." It speaks of how Chan, a well-known pastor here in the U.S., learned to be bold in speaking the truth, and consistent in living out his faith, from members of poor and persecuted churches in India, China and Thailand. His words are very challenging yet inspiring. Enjoy.
"I've heard stories -- you've probably heard them as well -- about Christians overseas. I've heard stories about the underground church in China, for example. Or stories of people in India who give their lives to Jesus and literally sacrifice everything... I've been hearing these stories all my life, and I finally reached a point where I decided that I had to see for myself. I had to meet some of these Christians around the world. I had to know if they were for real. So I spent a few months overseas with my family. I didn't do this because I was godly; I did it because I knew I wasn't, but I desperately wanted to be. I looked at my life and saw that I was lacking boldness. I didn't have the guts to say everything God wanted me to say. So I wanted to learn from Christians who were bold enough to follow Jesus no matter what it cost.
We traveled first to India and I had an opportunity to to speak to a huge group of people there. You have to understand -- these people were the persecuted church. Many had watched family members be beaten to death for their faith. And there I was, standing on stage in front of all these people. I didn't know what to say to them. I told them that what I really wanted to do was hear their stories -- and that's what I ended up doing. I listened to a woman tell me about how she came to know the Lord. As soon as her village learned that she was a Christian, the whole village came to her hut. They brought decapitated lizards and told her that she and her husband needed to drink the blood and convert back to Hinduism. They gave her an ultimatum. She had to deny Jesus. At this point in the story the woman looked at me and said: "I couldn't do it. I couldn't deny Jesus." So she grabbed her Bible and she and her husband just ran. The whole village had rejected them -- they would be killed -- so they ran into the jungle to hide. She was pregnant with their first child at the time. So as they hid in the jungle, her husband helped her deliver their first child. They were desperate for food for themselves and this newborn baby. But God provided. He got them through it. This woman told me, "We weren't going to deny our Lord. I just held on to my Bible. I would not let any of them take my Bible from me. That was the only thing we grabbed, and we ran." I talk to a woman like that and I think, 'That's a life that's worthy of the Gospel. She understands that Jesus is all that matters. Her manner of life is worthy.'
I talked to another guy who showed me the scars on his head and his back. He told me that within a few months of becoming a believer, a huge group of people surrounded him and started beating him. He was thinking, "Okay God, this is it. This is the way it's going to end. That's ok. I'm not going to deny you." He told me he was able to crawl away, but looked back and watched the crowd beat his friend to death. He endured all this, and he had only been a follower of Jesus for a few months! I talked to so many people who went through these kinds of things, that I finally asked one of the leaders, "Don't you have any people in your churches who just call themselves Christians but don't really live it out?" He just looked at me and said, "That wouldn't make sense. [Over here] If you call yourself a Christian, you automatically lose everything. Why would someone volunteer for that if they weren't serious?" He told me his story -- that when he was eleven years old, he gave his life to Jesus. He told me, "I still remember coming home and telling my dad. It was pouring down rain outside. I told my dad that I was a Christian, and he took everything I had and threw it outside into the mud. Then he looked at me and said, "Don't you ever call me Dad again."
Think about it. This is an eleven year old kid! What would you have done? He said, "I went over and picked my Bible out of the mud, along with a few other items, and I just wandered around looking for somewhere to go." He eventually became a pastor, a husband, and a father. Twenty years later he even reconciled with his dad, who became a believer himself. That is powerful stuff! I hear these stories and I can't help but think that his manner of life is worthy of the Gospel...
Then we went to China. We visited part of the underground church where they train leaders... They asked me why it was so strange to hear their stories. I had to explain that things are different where I come from. I told them that most Americans talk about the church, but they're referring to a building. I explained we have a ton of these buildings, and you can choose which one you want to attend. Then I told them that people might attend one for a while, but when when they find another with better music, they'll switch. That's when these students started laughing hysterically. I swear I wasn't trying to be funny. Some times you're saying something serious and everyone thinks you're joking.
I kept going. I told them that if one church has better child care than another, then a lot of parents are likely to switch. The students started laughing harder. I explained that sometimes people will switch if the service times are more convenient, or if they like one speaker better than another. The students were dying with laughter. I felt like I was doing a comedy routine. But all I was trying to do was explain the American church to the underground church in China. As they were laughing I realized they're right. It doesn't make a lot of sense. I look at their lives and everything makes perfect sense. I look at our lives and I wonder... When we hear stories of Christians overseas, we think they're weird. But we're the strange ones. This is how Christianity works around the world, and we're over here in America getting caught up in our consumer-driven approach to church... Where is the manner of life that lines up with the Gospel?"
In my trips to India I have seen the same. I've spoken with people who have really suffered for Jesus and the Gospel. I prayed with one woman who had all her possessions thrown into the street and trashed, and was then threatened to be burned alive -- along with her children -- if she told another person about Jesus. But she wasn't going to stop. "It would be an honor to die for Jesus," she told me. I felt like a midget among giants. I also saw poor pastors who traveled hours to attend a conference, and others who bore in their bodies the scars they had received for being faithful to Jesus. It all made sense. It all made so much sense.
In the Bonds of the Gospel, Pastor Jeff