Around our house when someone starts to whine and complain about something one of the family members will say, “That sounds like a first world problem”. That usually puts an end to the complaining.
The idea is that we, in America have it easy compared with much of the world. We complain when we have to drink tap water when much of the world has no access to safe, clean drinking water. We complain when we have car trouble or when someone left the tank on empty and we have to take the other car. Most of the world walks or takes public transportation. We complain when our doctor’s appointment conflicts with something else. A great many people don’t have access to quality healthcare. The list goes on and on. We have it so good and we still complain.
Last night I was at the Easter Service at our church, it was at a local College in a massive auditorium. I attend a big church and Easter is a major production. It is an attempt to wow the C&Es, those who attend church only on Christmas and Easter. We know that this is one of the few chances to reach them with the gospel of Jesus Christ, so we go all out.
There is impressive music, and remarkable, high-tech lighting effects. Pastor Jeff delivers a powerful, clear and compelling message. And an altar-call is presented; people are invited to come forward and commit their lives to Christ as their Lord and Savior, and be baptized. That’s right, we do baptism on Easter. Large, blow-up pools are setup in-front of the stage. A large team of people are there to assist, so you can clear out your pockets, put on a, free tee-shirt (that says “I have decided to follow Jesus”), and help you out of the pool, take your picture, and give you a towel to dry off. There are also counselors to talk with you and make sure you understand the decision you have made and to get some information from you to help you plug in to the church. It really is a pretty amazing operation.
As I was listening to Pastor Jeff invite people forward, saying ‘come forward, accept Jesus and be baptized. Don’t put it off. We have taken care of all of your excuses, the pools are here. There are people here to assist you. We have tee-shirts and towels—come now.’ I heard that and went, ‘Wow, that sounds like a First World Baptism’. I saw the contrast between what we face in America when it comes to baptism and what much of the rest of the world faces. We sit there and ask ourselves, ‘should I go forward now and be baptized? I’m not sure. Who will hold my cell phone and wallet? I got all dressed up for Easter; I don’t want to get all wet. They are filming this, what if my make-up runs and I look awful on camera? We are supposed to go have Easter dinner after this. I don’t have a change of clothes and I don’t want to sit in wet clothes for Easter dinner.’ The mind swirls with a thousand different First World problems.
I thought of that in contrast to a young man, Omar, that I counseled with last year after he was baptized. He was a big, kind of tough looking guy. I thought I was going to counsel with him and explain what it means to be a follower of Christ. That is not how the conversation went. It was the other way around. He talked and I listened. He told me what it means to be a follower of Christ and what baptism means. He told me about coming from an Islamic country, and being raised to believe in Allah and follow Islam. I learned of his getting involved in drugs and crime, his time of incarceration, and his examination of the Bible and the claims of Christ. He went on to tell me of a dramatic encounter with the living Christ. I sat in awe. It was the kind of stuff that they write books about. I found myself wishing that my experience with Jesus was that powerful.
He went on to tell me what it means to be a follower of Christ. He had accepted Christ months earlier but had waited until that day to be baptized. His Islamic parents knew about his coming to Christ and were happy about the positive changes in his life. At the same time he was encouraged not to broadcast that he had become a Christian. If the news got out there would be severe consequences for the family. The family would be cut off from all of their family and friends. The support that they receive from their community would evaporate. That is assuming that it would end there and that it would not escalate to further harassment. The other choice would be for them to cut off their son and completely disown him. There is even more, because Omar was recently married, and she was not a believer yet. His marriage could be torn apart also.
To “counsel” with Omar was a great experience. It gave me a whole different understanding of First World problems, First World baptism, and First World Christianity. Omar lives in America, in the First World. When people in his home country decide to follow Jesus and get baptized, they may be killed, their house or place of business may be burned, and they will be ostracized. The problems and pressures will be enormous but it is worth it to have Jesus.
Every time I hear Pastor Jeff go through the list of First World problems that are preventing people from following Jesus, I want to stand up and turn around to the audience around me and shout, ‘Those are First World problems, stop your whining and complaining and get up there.’
I haven’t seen Omar since, our encounter last Easter. I often wonder about him and sometimes I even remember to pray for him. Pray for the millions of Christians around the world for whom coming to Christ is much more than a First World problem.