Why Christians Need to Have Great Courage Living Today in the World

We live now in a time of great courage. More people are suffering for their faith in Christ than perhaps at any other time in history. Christians are suffering in Muslim countries in many places in Africa, southern Asia, and the Middle East. Not only are churches burned with worshippers locked inside, and other Christians are severely tortured – but more "camouflaged" persecution continues, too, with harsh discrimination in jobs, education, housing and other necessities. In some countries like Afghanistan, no churches are even allowed, and it is a capital crime either to communicate the Gospel or to commit to Jesus Christ. We support a minister in Afghanistan who baptized dozens of new believers in the last year alone. He and these other born-again people daily risk death for Jesus. We need to pray for all of the brothers and sisters in these lands of oppression – for the Lord's protection and for them to have the gift of courage.

Great courage was so evident daily when I ministered as an underground missionary in Rumania in 1986, when Rumania was under the terrible dictator Nicolai Ceaușescu. Christians were targeted with planned fatal "accidents" as well as job, housing and education discrimination. One of the most insidious discriminations was in education. According to the twisted logic of the totalitarian Communist regime, no intelligent person could commit his or her life to Jesus. Consequently, many young people with stellar high school records were rejected at the universities if there was any evidence that they were Christian. Their Christian faith was proof that they were too stupid to study – in spite of being honor students for years. And what was the government evidence that smart people do not commit to Christ? Very few university graduates were Christians!

Nevertheless, the brilliance of Rumanian Christians was evident in many ways – including as joy-filled survivors of the persecution, and also in their bold, clear and shrewd witness for our Lord Jesus Christ. It was hard to return to "church as usual" when I came back home to America. Actually, after nearly 30 years I have yet to adjust. Instead, I seek to find and "encourage the courageous," wherever they are.

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Courage is an expression of personal faith, deep trust in God. We take the risks for the things that matter when we know that God has called us back into his family. The opposite is behaving foolishly, taking dangerous risks for no good purpose. The purpose of life is not a joy-ride for thrills, but there is an exquisite joy in offering ourselves, our bodies, as living sacrifices in the Lord's service – for humanity, the Gospel, for love, for justice – being walking proofs that his will is good, acceptable, and especially that it is perfect, as the Apostle Paul says at the beginning of Romans 12.

Courage is an essential quality of mature human character.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr observed years ago that if a person "hasn't found something he will die for, he isn't fit to live." That willingness even to die for some totally worthy purpose requires us to live with courage in the face of real risks. Jesus talked about carrying our crosses, and Paul talked about dying daily for Christ. Paul even affirmed the fellowship of Jesus' suffering and becoming like Jesus in his death for us, even being crucified with him.

Courage was the quality of the Apostles that was most noted by the power structure as evidence that the Apostles had been with Jesus. When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus, as noted in Acts 4. It was not any certified character education, but their time with Jesus that had transformed them from being mere bungling knuckle-heads into being purpose-driven representatives of the Lord of the universe.

Courage is the ability to master our fears in the face of danger. The stronger our understanding and experience of God and his presence, the more consistent will be our courage. Plato defined courage as knowing what to fear and what not to fear. Be afraid of being either unjust, or uncaring, or ungodly – rather than to be afraid of the ridicule, abuse, or discrimination that often comes to people who devote their lives to justice, love and Godliness.

Courageous people, our heroes, are the ones who have so mastered their fears that their courage becomes a kind of second nature. Rooted in Christ, the right behavior should become a holy routine for us. Recognition for courage is insignificant compared with the honor of unity with Christ and living for him. As a result, not only is our courage an expression of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ – but in some settings if you have faith in Jesus you will especially need additional courage to cope with the risks and abuse some people throw your way.

Now in our time there is a wonderful new wave of courageous Christian heroes who recognize a new deadly flaw in America and are willing to risk their lives and livelihoods to stop this veritable death wave from hurting others and themselves.

Here is what is happening: for 40 years there has been an on-going debate about the proper role of abortion. On the one hand, a group of people have a low view of the value of human babies, and argue that a decision to abort one is entirely the prerogative of the mother. They defend abortions even into the final days of a pregnancy. For them the baby does not count and the father's wishes are irrelevant. They like being called "pro-choice," in defense of their preference for the mother's absolute right to choose to end a pregnancy and destroy the baby at any point. However, legally there remain restrictions on some late-term abortions. Nevertheless, the present American legal system favors the pro-choice perspective.

On the other hand, another group of people believes that every human life is special, including baby humans – even if he or she is not yet born – and everyone deserves an opportunity to live. Their reasoning is that every human has a basic right to life, as revealed in the Bible and also articulated in the Declaration of Independence and other fine documents. In addition, human life itself is a special grace of God, who made us in his image. "Life" is so special that it is a name of the Lord God in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. This group of people like being called "pro-life," even though they understand that abortions can be justified under extremely cases, such as when the mother's life is at risk. Most people generally agree with the pro-life values, and so for decades no government money could be used to pay for abortions in America or in foreign aid in other countries.

This tense "truce" has continued for decades. Abortion is legal, but no one is forced to pay taxes that would pay for abortions. People believe in protecting all human life, but not enough people what to restrict distressed mothers' choices.

But the "truce" is now over.  The new federal Affordable Health Care Act requires everyone to buy health insurance policies – for themselves and/or for their employees – that would pay for abortions and also pay for the "day-after" pills many consider "abortion pills." They are required to pay for abortions and abortion pills whether they buy their insurance coverage through an exchange or through a private insurer. All "health" insurance must include paying for abortions and the abortion pills. This policy does not sound like health care for unborn babies – or for people who have convictions against abortions.

So the lines are now shifting completely. Simply put, (1) many people continue to grieve that they live in a society where many people around them choose to have abortions and destroy their babies. However, (2) it is even more morally outrageous that everyone is now required also to support offensive abortions-on-demand and the day-after "abortion pills" through their monthly insurance premiums and taxes. Ironically, the "pro-choice" people in charge of most of the federal government want to trounce the "pro-cife" people and not give them real insurance choices! Lord help us.

It is as if some people want America to become one giant anthill when it comes to abortion. No exceptions are allowed for Christian colleges, Christian charities, Christian hospitals, or Christian businesses. Exceptions are allowed only for Churches – although we all know that the Christian walk is necessarily much more than the organized Churches. And fines will be huge for not buying abortion insurance for all employees in a large organization.

In the face of this moral danger, many leaders have been courageously planning their options. Some Christian businesses – such as Hobby Lobby – are considering putting all on the line for the protection of the babies and for not having to pay for their destruction.

Let us pray for their wisdom and courage. And let us pray for a spiritual awakening in our God-blessed country.

Dr. Paul de Vries is the president of New York Divinity School, and a pastor, speaker and author. Since 2004, he has served on the Board of the National Association of Evangelicals, representing 40 million evangelical Americans.

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