When the Gospel and Happy Songs Part Ways: A 21st Century Parable of Persecution

August 22, 2019

Acts 13:49-52 (in context)

The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.


It’s easy to read a sentence like, “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit,” and assume these guys went around singing happy-happy-joy-joy songs like “Pass it On” most of the time. You know, “It only takes a spark . . . to get a riot going and soon all those around will you, the door, be showing.”

Seriously, try to put yourself in their place. Imagine this more present day scenario. You are a new youth minister in a medium-sized town. Things are going well. Kids are coming from all directions. They are coming to know Jesus for the first time since confirmation (where they heard about him but never really met him personally). They are reading their Bibles at home and studying in small groups.

But, after that summer camp things were never quite the same. Word about the altar calls got back to the home office(s). Kids who were already parent-tracked for high-paying careers start talking about doing a “mission-year” after high school instead of immediately going to college. A group of girls start reading Kisses from Katie and all of a sudden all bets are off on the debutante ball. They are headed for Uganda when the last bell of high school rings, and they may not come back anytime soon. Other students start talking to their parents about faith and calling and, heaven forbid getting baptized again. You know what happens next.

Yes, the Junior League starts comparing notes and the dissonant buzz grows. Then at the Chamber of Commerce meeting someone mentions that “new” youth pastor (whose not really new anymore) in town and his fanatical Jesus freak-ish-ness. What started as a good influence has gone way too far. Something has to be done. The next thing you know, you find yourself sitting with the senior pastor and the staff relations committee co-chaired by the President of the Junior League and the Chairman of the top local bank’s board.

The verdict: “We were happy with the way things were before; when our kids were just normal teenagers. You have taken this religion thing too far. You are probably not the best fit for our church or town.” Though far from a perfect analogy, this is the anatomy of a twenty-first century riot led by “God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city.”

Short of being beaten and killed, the worst persecution is probably that of being shunned and rejected by the people you thought were your friends. Yes, you are filled with the Holy Spirit and maybe you even sense a supernatural joy beyond your circumstances, but as you load your families belongings back into the U-Haul truck and watch your children say tearful goodbyes to their new found friends, it’s not a happy-happy-joy-joy kind of experience. Persecution stings. It hits you where it hurts the most.

The soles of your shoes will start to wear thin after a while from kicking off the dust. That’s the downside of the gospel.

The upside? When you are bold enough to simply go with the gospel, the Word of the Lord will spread throughout the region.




Have you ever witnessed upper-middle class highbrow Christians persecute those whose faith was a bit more raw and perhaps dangerous?

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt

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