Rush Limbaugh died yesterday at the age of seventy. He is being remembered today in ways that align fully with his political and cultural influence. Whether you considered him a vital voice for freedom or a danger to our liberties depended entirely on your perspective. To some he was a hero; to others, a threat.
What no one can question is that he used his influence to advance his vision for our country.
I saw the news of his passing while navigating the power outages that are afflicting the entire state of Texas. My wife and I had three hours of electricity yesterday and have no idea how much power we’ll have today.
I think things are hard until I check the news and find that so many people are dealing with much worse.
Some in our state have had no power since Sunday. Pipes are bursting all over our area, driving people from their homes and apartments. Water shortages are requiring many to boil water; some have no water at all and are using snow.
And the death toll from the storms and outages continues to climb. At least seventeen have died so far, including a grandmother and three children who died in a house fire trying to keep warm in a town near Houston.
I say all of that to say this: perspective changes suffering.
How to “run with endurance”
Evangelicals in the US are frustrated with the rise of censorship against biblical morality; some ministries worry about the loss of their tax-exempt status and government intrusion into religious freedom. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, most Americans expect evangelicals to lose influence under the Biden administration.
My friends in Cuba would not understand our complaints as they face prison or worse for their faith. The underground church pastors I met in Beijing would agree, as would Christian converts in the Muslim world who face horrific persecution for following Jesus.
On the one hand, perspective does not change circumstances. Learning of the intense suffering of others in my state does not make the power stay on in my house. Social media platforms and other media are still censoring evangelicals; many are still facing ostracism and worse for their biblical convictions.
On the other hand, perspective changes how we respond to our circumstances. The writer of Hebrews called us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). To encourage us, he stated: “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (v. 3).
When we remember all it cost Jesus to secure our salvation, we are empowered to pay any price to serve him in gratitude for such grace. When we remember the courage of other believers around the world, we are emboldened to stand for our Lord where we live.
A surprising fact I learned in Cuba
Perspective serves a second purpose: it clarifies our priorities.
During my first visit to Cuba many years ago, I told a pastor that I was praying for persecution to lessen against his people. He asked me to stop. Seeing the surprise on my face, he explained that persecution was purifying the faith of his people. It was separating true believers from those who were not authentic Christians and strengthening their resolve in serving Jesus.
Tertullian was right: the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.
The world’s fastest-growing evangelical movement is not in the US or Europe but in Iran. Despite government oppression, interest in Christianity is escalating. One teacher says his Bible study has seen online attendance grow from forty to more than six hundred. His church has planted twenty-five other Christian groups in twelve cities.
Since the Communist government expelled Christian missionaries from China in 1953, the church there has exploded in growth. The government’s current oppression of Christians is not working: Protestant Christianity is the fastest-growing faith in the country.
There are more Christians in China than in France or Germany. Some estimate that by 2030, there will be more Christians in China than in the US or any other country on earth.
The winter storms in Texas remind us of our finitude and God’s omnipotence. Despite all our technological sophistication and energy resources, our infrastructure has been no match for nature.
The coronavirus pandemic shows us that our medical advances cannot prevent mortality. The economic recession caused by the pandemic shows us that our financial resources cannot prevent financial loss.
When we allow suffering to show us how much we need God, our Father redeems our pain and emboldens our faith.
You are “the Beloved from all eternity”
What challenges are you facing today? You may not be battling a winter storm and its effects, but you are dealing with something you wish were different. Jesus was bluntly transparent when he told his followers, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33a). But then he promised us: “But take heart; I have overcome the world” (v. 33b).
Now we have a choice. Difficulties can make us bitter or better. When we are suffering, we can blame our doctor, or we can seek her help. Pain can drive us away from God or closer to him.
Here was Paul’s choice: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3–5).
Henri Nouwen advised us: “You have to keep unmasking the world about you for what it is: manipulative, controlling, power-hungry, and, in the long run, destructive. The world tells you many lies about who you are, and you simply have to be realistic enough to remind yourself of this. Every time you feel hurt, offended, or rejected, you have to dare to say to yourself: ‘These feelings, strong as they may be, are not telling me the truth about myself. The truth, even though I cannot feel it right now, is that I am the chosen child of God, precious in God’s eyes, called the Beloved from all eternity, and held safe in an everlasting embrace.’”
When we live in the truth that we are God’s Beloved, others will want the faith we display. God will use our courage to draw many to Jesus. And we will one day hear our Master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).
Will you ask Jesus for the strength to trust his promises and the courage to share them today?