With all of the recent chaos that broke out in Charlottesville, the stupidity of dozens of people (read: deranged, uneducated idiots) still toppling Confederate statues throughout the country and today’s ousting of top White House strategist Steve Bannon, any news of North Korea seems to have been temporarily buried amongst the metaphorical rubble. Obviously, these are all headlines worth following and — to be honest — I don’t really miss seeing Kim Jong Un’s bulging face and unsightly haircut plastered across every digital newsfeed on the Internet. In fact, it may have actually helped a few Americans to realize that he’s not the apocalyptic threat that he portrays himself to be — a topic that I discussed in a recent piece you can find here.
Also, we’ve had plenty of time to recognize that the psychopathic, self-described Neo Nazi White Supremacists in Charlottesville are not even remotely representative of Christianity, white people or conservatism. It’s probably time to move on from this topic altogether and take the spotlight away from them. Unfortunately, we’re trading that story for headlines about petulant rioters forming mobs and knocking over statues because their feelings are hurt by historical facts.
What a time to be alive.
Speaking of Christianity, though, I think there’s something worth mentioning about North Korea, particularly as I’ve been meditating lately on holding fast to one’s faith in the midst of difficult circumstances, trials and tribulations. It seems that for the last 16 years now, the eastern Asian country currently ruled by Supreme-Leader-Barking-Dog-In-Chief Kim Jong-un has been ranked as the “most oppressive place in the world for Christians” and the U.S. State Department even confirmed this week that NoKo is actually one of the world’s top religious persecutors. In fact, the brutal regime even goes out of its way to hunt down and execute individuals who are suspected — not proven — of worshipping God [any god other than Kim Jong-un], reading the Bible or practicing other traditions of the Christian faith. Of course, they also imprison or slaughter any friends and family members of these believers as well.
So, just looking at the numbers, how and why are an estimated 36% of North Koreans — over nine million people — still meeting to practice their faith? How is that even possible and, more importantly, why would they even do it when their very lives are on the line?
Could it be that perhaps they actually are ready to die for what they believe? Maybe they really are willing to suffer horrific forms of persecution and torture — like being crushed by steamrollers, hung on crosses while burned alive in fires and even used as lab rats in the testing of biological weapons? And, if this isn’t all terrible enough, North Korean Christians also have to be on the look out for government moles who continually infest their underground networks and report back to the regime leaders.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, we complain when our sanctuaries are too hot or too cold. We whine like spoiled brats when the pastor’s sermon goes ten minutes longer than we expected. We squirm when he challenges us to share Jesus with our neighbor across the street. We criticize the worship music, the color of the carpet, the lighting, the pews, the stage, the atmosphere, the ministries, the staff and even our fellow churchgoers. We find every absurd and utterly ridiculous reason imaginable to make the “church experience” more comfortable, more contemporary, more convenient, more easy, more luxurious, more cozy, more fashionable and more appealing by modern standards. And — once we’ve done all of that — we find excuses to not even show up at all. (Well, except for Easter and maybe Christmas Eve.)
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that there’s a problem with erecting that trendy wood pallet background or ditching that 1970’s burnt orange carpet for something a little more stylish. But, I think that we have to keep things in perspective.
The simple truth is that it’s not the church’s job to make us comfortable. It’s not God’s job to make us comfortable. The Christian life — ministry, discipleship, evangelism, outreach, relationships, community, pastorship — was never meant to be one of comfort, convenience and ease. In fact, Jesus Himself said: “In this world you will have trouble.” It was practically guaranteed. For the disciples of old (and the current ones in North Korea) that kind of “trouble” usually meant the possibility of being hunted down and murdered or thrown into prison for the rest of your life.
So what’s the worst that could happen here in America? What’s the worst that could be required of you as a true, committed Christ-follower? Well, you might have to sacrifice more. More time. More energy. More effort. You might have to wake up earlier, stay up later, work harder and longer. You might have to juggle a full-time job with full-time ministry. You might have to juggle two or three jobs. You might have to get out of your comfort zone.
You might have to actually, you know, go to church on a regular basis. You might have to abandon the plan you thought you had for your life, grab hold of God’s hand and follow His lead. You might have to toss every ounce of logic, reason and common sense out the window and walk by faith. You might have to invite your neighbor or coworker to church. You might have to witness to a total stranger. You might have to lose a few friends or relationships along the way.
If this all seems like too much to ask, then it might be time to seriously reevaluate yourself. It might be time to ask whether or not you’re a real and active member of the Body of Christ. After all, how can you be a part of His Church if you’re not even willing to walk the most basic and fundamental elements of the path He’s laid out for us?
Anyway, I think that — in light of what we’re seeing play out with believers in North Korea — we are left with nothing to justify our pathetic laziness and apathy as American Christians.
May God forgive us where we’ve failed.
And may He give us the strength to do better while we still can.
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