Sometimes events occur which cause you to take a second look, a fresh look at a scripture verse you thought you knew and could learn nothing new about. One of our boys today at school was singled out because of his Christian faith and was subjected to some pretty rough treatment by a Buddhist teacher who has a history of exhibiting great disdain towards any Cambodian who professes Christ.
She holds that Cambodians who believe in Jesus are traitors because they believe in a foreign religion that did not originate in Cambodia–forgetting of course that Buddhism originated in India and was imported into Cambodia. In fact Cambodia’s great monument of national pride, the temple of Ankor Wat, was first built as a Hindu temple and only centuries later was turned into a Buddhist temple.
But I digress. This teacher basically ripped off his Christian necklace, grabbed his hair and scissor cut a big chuck off his head and then made him stand for 2 hours holding his hair in his hand. It was not punishment for any wrong doing– just classic discrimination and persecution.
As a result I had a long talk with the kids tonight about the nature of persecution and they shared with me additional stories and experiences at being singled out and treated differently because of their professed faith in Jesus. The fact remains though that persecution is so mild here in Cambodia in comparison to places like Burma, Iran or Saudi Arabia.
Nonetheless the flesh has a reflexive reaction of anger, defensiveness and revenge against any perceived discrimination–no matter how sleight. This particular boy was dealing such feelings tonight–as were some of our staff who wanted me to march into the school tomorrow and demand the teacher be fired. I was initially quite upset myself and just as I had my phone out to call the principal, I experienced that still, small voice of the Holy Spirit who impressed upon me the need for great patience and a Spirit-led, Kingdom response.
For some reason the verse about “not hiding your light under a bushel” (Mt. 5:15-16) popped into my head. It struck me then that in 1st century Jewish life the only time you would light a candle would be when the world becomes dark. And of course it would be silly to place a bucket over it just when it is needed the most to push back the darkness and shed light.
It further struck me that we don’t need candles and lights when the sun is shining high in the sky but rather when darkness falls upon us and all other lights go out. True Christianity is most needed when shadowy, dark days fall upon us.
Yet it is usually in the midst of those dark days that we hide our lights and refuse to show it. How? Why? Well to begin the “brightest” values of the Kingdom of God, as Jesus preached them and lived them, must be identified. They generally involve loving enemies, forgiving those who abuse us, and extending mercy and grace on those who “slap us on the cheek” and slander us.
Mistreatment by enemies, abuse, slander, discrimination and persecution are all dark events that can pull the shade down, draw the curtain and put our lives into the darkness of night. Yet it is in these very dark situations that the light of Christ–in essence the values of the Kingdom of God–can shine the brightest.
But so often…oh so often we react in the flesh just like everyone else and hide our light under a bushel. And in so doing we show we are just like everyone else. This is the greatest of tragedies and the greatest forfeits.
Christianity is designed to thrive on opportunities to be different when all other beliefs exhaust their resources! We have a source of power, strength and love that others do not have access to–we have the life of Christ within! How rarely we recognize this, admit our dependence on God and ask him to live his life, love and forgiveness through us.
Paul said it is in the exact moments when “he is weak, God is strong.” That is to say it is one thing to admit, “God I don’t have it within me to love and forgive this person.” But it is another thing entirely to continue on and say by faith, “…but you do! And I ask that you would love them through me.”
Conceding our shortcomings and natural limitations is the right beginning, but it can’t end there. It can’t end in a “period” as an excuse for not doing something. There must be a “comma” that gives rise to faith and declares, “, but all things are possible through him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13).
Personal shortcomings can showcase God’s strength.
Earlier I stated that Christianity is intended to shine when the lights of others become dim–especially in a Buddhist country like Cambodia. Otherwise the difference between Christianity and Buddhism is simply superficial. We are just playing religious games in different buildings!
Christian: “I go to this building to worship. It is called a church.”
Buddhist: “I also go to a building to worship. It is a called a temple.”
Christian: “I pray to Jesus.”
Buddhist: “I also pray. I pray to Buddha.”
Christian: “I give an offering of money. I give it to the pastor and church.”
Buddhist: “I also give an offering of money. I give it to the monks and temple.”
Christian: “I was slandered, abused and persecuted today by evil men. I have suffered at their hands greatly. I am going to pray for these enemies of mine everyday and do my best to show love them Christ’s love and forgiveness whenever I see them.”
Buddhist: “WHAT!! I can’t do that!”
Because the Christian life shines brightest in darkness and difficulty, it is no wonder that Jesus stated, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…For if you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” (Mt. 5:44-46).