Updated: Oct 8
The governor of my state recently enacted an Emergency Order. Everyone at gyms must wear masks: before, during and after exercise. I was fine with “before.” I was fine with “after”. But during? Breathing seems pretty essential to sustained life. And it got me thinking about whether or not I have a “right” to exercise in an oxygen-rich environment rather than a carbon dioxide-rich environment.
Travel to any 3rd world country and you’ll realize right away that our Americanized sense of “rights” are definitely unique in the world-at-large. Enter that foreign country and your rights to your opinion, freedom of travel and worship practices may have just evaporated. Even smaller “rights” we Americans consider essential--we may find strangely missing. Things like accomplishing tasks on the timetable you “planned on” or things like working toilets with toilet paper.
One dictionary defines Rights as “legal, social, or ethical principles of freedom or entitlement; that is, rights are the fundamental normative rules about what is allowed of people or owed to people according to some legal system, social convention, or ethical theory.”
As Americans: we have opinions about our rights. Lots of opinions. Even on the little stuff. I have a right, I think, to hot coffee that tastes good (Well, I am from the Pacific NW), toilet paper, fast service, courteous store clerks, lots of choices at the store, reliable transportation, availability of food, access to heating (and cooling!) at my house, and clean drinking water. I have a right to give a donation to my church and get a tax deduction, I have a right to assemble and worship freely. We are a blessed country indeed. Too bad it’s not working for us.
Too bad America’s church growth each year is -.08% (and yes, that is a negative). Despite all our amazing “rights”, statistics say our faith here is dying. Want to know which church in the world is growing the fastest? Iran. And second fastest? Afghanistan. (http://www.operationworld.org/hidden/evangelical-growth)
Need we even wonder what religious rights people in Iran and Afghanistan have? It might go something like this: You have the right to be interrogated, rejected, beaten, raped--to receive the death penalty or be disowned by your family if you profess faith in Jesus.
Which makes me wonder what rights are owed us according to God?
Actually, the line up of the rights God gives believing Christians is quite amazing:
We have the right to:
Become children of God (John 1:12).
Be a family member in God’s family (Eph 1:5; I Cor 12:27).
Experience God’s love and know He will never stop loving us (Rom 8:35-39).
Have the same Holy Spirit power in us that raised Christ from the dead (1 Co 6:17).
Access God directly (Eph 2:18).
Obey God (John 5:19).
Pray to God in public (Daniel 6:6-13).
Speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
Preach the gospel regardless of what authorities say (Acts 4:18-20; II Timothy 4:1-2).
Say nothing to an authority figure who is interrogating us (John 19:8-12).
Exercise our political rights issued by the Romans 13 government (Acts 25:10-11).
Loosen the bonds of wickedness, break every yoke, and set captives free (Isaiah 58:6).
Share our food with the hungry and provide sustenance for the poor (Isaiah 58:7).
Defend the widow and the orphan (James 1:27).
Be assured that when we die, we will continue to live in heaven (Phil 3:20).
Wow! That’s a big line up. God “out does” any idea of “rights” we think we are due.
I guess it’s only fair to hear what God hasn’t promised us in this life. He hasn’t promised the right to:
A government that will support, allow or encourage my beliefs;
A preferential or protected status as a follower of Jesus.
And to be honest, our past experience of having these rights hasn’t born out a healthy robust church, has it? As a church we’re sickly, weak, whiny, and often unethical. We’ve been mired in scandals, stories of injustice, abuse of power and apathy. Our scorecard is looking a lot like the nation of Israel.
Paul, in 2 Tim 3, is in prison and knows he is likely to be executed. He tells his protege, Timothy, to continue on despite the fact that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Paul seems to think that persecution is more the norm than stability. The New Testament seems to agree. Persecution is mentioned some 48 times. It’s almost like I have a “right” to persecution, in God’s economy.
So if persecution is the norm, how am I to respond when I see my rights as a Christian eroding in front me? Paul encourages Timothy to stay immersed in the Word so that he can do good works. It’s a two fold plan: Stay in the Word. Do good works. He reminds Timothy that he has the "right" to be salt and light in this dark world, the right to bear fruit, the right to witness, the right to promote reconciliation, and the right to access Christ's resurrection-power as he does these good works. And everyone one of us, no matter our home country, shares these rights (Matt 5:13-14; John 15:16; Acts 1:8; 2 Cor 5:17-21; Phil 4:13).
These rights are great news to the female-led church in Iran. They should be great news to us as well.
So go ahead: march for your friends of color against police mistreatment; send those care packages to your police or military; wear your mask; don’t wear your mask; meet up as a church or meet with your family at home to worship God.
But don’t forget what rights you are promised by God and which ones you are not. And don’t feel fearful or worried if the rights you thought you had are vanishing. Lean in to the rights promised by our heavenly Father, Who does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17).
Carolyn Lu is a bilingual, pastoral consultant who specializes in goal execution. As a Licensed Professional Counselor she knows how to help organizations move out of crisis and away from the status quo doldrums. Carolyn is smart and gentle. Her approach to making changes is palatable to leaders because she takes the organization's best ideas and plots out a plan of how to walk step by step into the organization's own goals. As a team member with Right on Mission, Carolyn provides coaching, consulting, and institutional therapy to churches and nonprofits and anyone who wants to reach their goals more quickly.
After graduating from high school as valedictorian, Carolyn earned a BA in Biblical Studies from Multnomah University and MA in Counseling Psychology from George Fox University. She and husband have two children with whom they enjoy taking mission trips.
Carolyn's mission is to make critical adjustments that tap into God's fundamental grace.