Saturday, March 14, 2009

Behind the Iron Curtain with much to learn

USSR (1975) Continued...
When we arrived in Kiev we immediately visited the registered Baptist church. The pastor there had made arrangements for us to pass our contraband on the his colleague in the Underground Church.

He explained to me that registration as part of an approved congregation enabled people to maintain access to basic services and a minimal education. In exchange for such tolerance, Sunday-school classes for children were prohibited, the content of his preaching carefully reviewed by the state, and church activities had to be pre-approved, monitored, and corrected when necessary.

Participants in the unregistered church, on the other hand, suffered persecution when they were found out. Their families were denied access to medical help, they were ineligible for official employment, and educational opportunities were routinely withdrawn. Disappearances were frequent, along with visits to the Gulag as well as mysterious deaths - especially among the clergy.

The romanticism and mystique of spy movies now thoroughly behind me, I quickly unburdened myself of what had obviously been a dangerous game. And it wasn't until we reached Yugoslavia, almost two weeks later (Romania is another story - see my new book!) that my heart rate returned to normal!

That was 1975. Today, in the year 2009, it is not terribly difficult to be identified as a Christian in the United States. I sometimes wonder, though, if our comfort is not related to our tendency to re-interpret Christ's radical message so that it fits more easily into the affluent, consumer driven society we enjoy. Our religion is not that counter-cultural, so most people simply ignore us and leave us alone.

Philip Yancey, in his excellent book "The Jesus I Never Knew", suggests that we have recreated Jesus in an image less threatening to expected modern day religious practice. Christ has been sanitized, rough edges sanded down, radical fringe elements carefully rephrased, re-packaged so as not to offend...

Christ-followers all around the world are still being tortured and slaughtered because they dare to take seriously the radical message of their revolutionary Savior. Can we not at least take a more effective stand for goodness, a more costly position regarding decency, and be more self-sacrificial advocates for His agenda?

Our call is - still - to be counter-cultural. How will they know the Father? How will anyone know Jesus? Unless we are willing to put ourselves on the line...?

PRAYER: Use us, Lord, use us to communicate your radical message of redemption and your costly message of sacrifice. Amen

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