When one of my sons lived in Dillingham, Alaska, I had several opportunities to visit him, my daughter-in-law, and my grandson.
The Yup’ik people
Dillingham is on Nushagak Bay at the mouth of the Nushagak River, an inlet of Bristol Bay, an arm of the Bering Sea in Alaska. Dillingham sits in a staggeringly beautiful setting, though the village itself is a typical, spartan Alaskan community.
The predominant indigenous people around Dillingham are the Yup’ik people (pronounced “yoop-eek.”) who have lived in Alaska and the Russian Far East for millennia. On one of my trips to Dillingham, I had the privilege to talk at length with a Yup’ik native; I don’t recall her name, so we’ll call her Ahnah (A wise woman). That conversation was eye-opening for me.
The failure of coercion
The Yup’ik have suffered much, both by intent and by accident, from Americans. More than 70% of their people have died from flu and other “American” diseases during the last thirty years. America struggled with COVID-19 last year, but the Yup’ik have suffered from wave after wave of disastrous epidemics.
In addition to disease, the Yup’ik lived through a time when our government thought it wise to remove children from their tribes and raise them to be Americans. Our government thought they could persuade indigenous people to cast off thousands of years of culture within one generation. This foolish act of coercion didn’t work, but this leads us to our devotional for today.
Coercion is not a ministry
As Christians, coercion is not a ministry. We are to contend for the faith but contending is not coercion. Stephen is the first Christian martyr. Here’s Stephen’s approach:
Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen…rose up and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. – Acts 6:8-10
The difference between Godly persuasion and bullying is something we quickly lose sight of during our debates with others. However, once the fire dies down, and we have time to reflect upon our demeanor, choice of words, and intentions, we attempted to coerce the non-believer into accepting Jesus.
Contend for the faith
To be a Biblical apologist, we focus on proof rather than persuasion. To contend for the faith, we use proof and persuasion within the Holy Spirit’s boundaries. We know when we have wandered off into human debate.
Paul “…reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded Jews and Greeks.” (Acts 18:4) and “And Agrippa said to Paul, ‘In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?'” (Acts 26:28) and “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.” (2 Corinthians 5:11)
So, you may ask, why is this simple topic worth posting? We live in a fiercely divided nation. As citizens of God’s kingdom, we are emissaries of the Gospel of Jesus. That must always be our focus. We must represent Jesus to our crumbling nation. In our actions, we must leave room for the Holy Spirit to act. We must not behave as our government did and try to coerce a nation to do things “our way.”
Proofs and persuasive debates
We bring the message of Good News. We contend for the faith by providing proofs and offering persuasive debates, but it is up to the Holy Spirit to convict and lead people to salvation in Jesus Christ. We can’t do that, and we shouldn’t cross that boundary. We should contend not coerce.
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