Why It Is Important to Identify with the Persecuted Church: 3 More Reasons


In my prior blog post, I noted that there are at least 5 reasons all Christians should identify with persecution. First, the New Testament says that all Christians will be persecuted, and the persecution could take several different forms, from the mild mocking and name-calling to the more severe imprisonment and execution. Second, Christians are united in one body. Thus, attempts to distinguish between those who are “really” persecuted and those who are not introduce artificial division in the body of Christ.

All Christians Face PersecutionThis leads to the third reason all Christians ought to identify with persecution: Unity in the body of Christ. Throughout the New Testament, there is a constant urging for Christians to live in unity. Jesus famously prayed for us all to be one (John 17:19-20ff.). In John 17:23, He asks the Father to perfect us in unity so the world might know the reality of His appearing.

Christians who have the Spirit of Christ have also a longing for unity within the body of Christ. The Apostle Paul manifested this reality to the church at Ephesus. In Ephesians 4, Paul urged the Ephesians to preserve the unity of the Spirit. He continued further to say that the work of the church is directed toward building up the body of Christ “until we all attain the unity of the faith.”

On this basis of unity within the body of Christ, the writer of Hebrews commands Christians to “Remember the [persecuted] prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves are also in the body” (13:3).  The connection between persecution and the unity of the body of Christ is unmistakable. It is as plain as it is well-pictured by the human body itself. If you have a leg injury, it impacts your entire body. Drop a 10 lb. weight on the little toe of your left foot, and your entire body will respond accordingly (even if not appropriately).

So it is supposed to work within the body of Christ. There is a unity of the body which insists that the persecuted be noticed—that they be “remembered” as though we were actually in the prison cell with them. We are commanded always to identify with suffering saints in unity within the body of Christ.

Fourth, Christ is present in the midst of the persecuted—and what Christian does not long to be where Christ is? Christ, of course, is always present with His people, but the New Testament emphasizes several occasions in which Christ distinctly promises to be in the very midst of His gathered people. Christ promises His presence when His people gather together to practice church discipline (Matthew 18:20). He is present when His people gather to worship (1Corinthians 14:25). He is present when His people are making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:20). He is present when His people minister to other Christians in need (Matthew 25:40, 45). And He is present when His people are suffering persecution.

Consider the conversion story of Saul. In Acts 9, Saul—breathing threats and seeking vengeance against followers of Christ—is suddenly confronted on the Damascus Road with the reality of the living Christ. When Christ appears to Saul, He asks him a curious question:

Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?

Notice, the Lord does not ask why Saul is persecuting the church or my people. Jesus asks Saul, “Why are you persecuting Me?”  Jaroslav Pelikan explains it this way,

“Saul—together with the long line of his descendants—may have supposed that he was attacking the miserable adherents of a wretched fringe movement (14:22); but here the ultimate target of the rage and the violence (28:31) identified himself as none less than ‘Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’”

Christ is clearly one with His suffering saints. Our Lord undoubtedly cares for all humankind, but He must hold particular affection for His very own children who are harshly abused for the simple reason that they belong to Him. The martyred saints have no problem making the connection. In Revelation 6, martyred saints are pictured as being in the presence of Christ crying out, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”

And the answer they are given, apparently, is that the Lord will indeed avenge their blood on the heads of those who persecuted them, but He must first wait until the full number of martyrs is complete. One gets the sense from Revelation 6:11 that the reigns of history are at least partially held in reserve until an appointed persecution is complete. At which time, Christ will free His white horses to ride upon the clouds descending upon the earth to exact perfect justice against those who opposed Him by persecuting His body (Revelation 19). What Glory!

Finally, the fifth reason all Christians ought to identify with the persecuted is that the persecuted are blessed people! According to the New Testament, the kingdom belongs to the impoverished and the persecuted (see the first and eighth Beatitudes, Matthew 5:3, 10). Does it sound strange to call persecution a blessing?

It’s a strange and hard thought for my American Christian ears to hear, but it is true nonetheless that persecution is considered a blessing in the New Testament.

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your China Christians persecuted persecution blessing matthew 5reward in heaven is great for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12)

Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials (James 1:2).

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” (1 Peter 4:12-14)

Failure to identify with the persecuted represents a failure to recognize the blessed life in Christ. Surely, more than a few health-and-wealth, prosperity prophets have hauled in tons of followers and loads of cash by promising their hearers a “blessed” life. We know how wrong such preaching is, but are we altogether right about what it means to be blessed on Jesus’s terms?

Identifying with persecution may help us realize what abundant life really is as promised by our Lord. Don’t all Christians long for the abundant life Jesus said He came to give? Somehow, that abundant life includes both persecution and blessing. May the Lord grant us faith to embrace and receive all that He has to offer us.

Don’t Read This …Unless You’re Ready to Count the Cost of Discipleship


Since my friend Don Whitney posted a Tweet about this incident in Somalia, I have been unable to stop thinking about the sober reality of Christian faith. The world hated Jesus Christ when He ministered among men. And the world hates him still.

Persecution Cost of DiscipleshipThere is a robust theological heritage in Christianity which asserts that humans are sinful by nature. According to John 3, men love the darkness and hate the light. Paul says human beings actively suppress God’s truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1). And Moses, long before either Paul or John lived, said that our hearts are full of evil, continuously, even from our youth (Gn 8:21).

Somewhere along the line, Christians forgot the reality of the sinfulness of sin. I once preached a 35 week series on the sinfulness of sin. A visitor one day asked my wife politely, “Does he ever preach on topics other than sin?” I may have been guilty of overstating the case… maybe. But the situation with the persecuted church today makes me think I could never overstate the awfulness of sin.

The incident in Somalia is a sober reminder to us all of the fact that the world hated Jesus, and the world still hates those who love Him. Jesus is present with His people (Matthew 28; Acts 9; Hebrews 13). The presence of Jesus is odious to unbelieving nostrils. As Paul says, it is the aroma of death to death to some.

Sadly, a group of non-believing Muslims in Somalia sensed the presence of Jesus in the lives of two women, Sadia Ali Omar and Osman Mohamoud Moge. They were cousins. Omar had two daughters, ages 8 and 15. These two girls watched as the Muslim men brought their mother to the middle of town and there beheaded her.

Why were these women beheaded in the town square in Barawa? As with John the Baptist, so it was with these two women: They walked in the way of righteousness. The presence of Christ was with them, and that was unbearable to the Islamic militants of Barawa:

 “We know these two people are Christians who recently came back from Kenya – we want to wipe out any underground Christian living inside of mujahidin [jihadists’] area…”

The mere fact that these were Christians was enough of a crime to justify their being beheaded.  The incident was not about the global war on terror. It was not a political event. It was not about “Muslim-Christian” tensions. It was not extremism—well, it was, but that is really not the point.

The point is simple. As Jesus stated, “You will be hated by all on account of me” (Matthew 10:22).  If you are a believer in Christ, you will be hated. Most likely, neither you nor I will face the severe cruelty of a public beheading in front of our children. But we will be hated by some. Like Jesus, we will love others, but they will sometimes return that love with hate, slander, and persecution.

May our Lord God have mercy on these two girls and the rest of the family members grieving the loss of these two saints martyred in Somalia. Surely, Omar and Moge are absent in the body, but now present with the Lord. Perhaps they, too, are gathered around the Lord’s throne, crying, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”

Should Christians Flee Persecution?


In June of 1982, The Clash released (on Cassette) their only song to reach #1, the punk rock classic, “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” The song was neither toward nor about anyone in particular. Its staying power rests on its ability to speak to so many situations in general. It even speaks (in general) to a question that Christians must answer in relation to persecution: When should the persecuted stay, and when should they go?

Persecution Stay or GoIn one instance, the Apostle Paul agreed to be hidden in a basket and clandestinely lowered out of the city in order to escape the persecution awaiting him (2 Cor 11:31-33), while, in yet another instance, this same Paul refused to leave prison even after the guards told him he was being released (Acts 16:35ff).  How did he know when to stay and when to go?

This question plagues ministries today who seek to help our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. In the latest issues of Christianity Today, Kate Tracy explores this very question in relation to the work of Barnabas Fund in Sudan. Since 2012, Barnabas Fund (a non-profit ministry based in the UK which helps persecuted Christians) has committed a sizable portion of their budget to helping suffering Christians escape intense persecution in Sudan. Presently, they are working to free 3,400 Christians from Islamic Sudan.

The article notes the problem which arises through such extraction efforts. Lisa Jones, executive director of Christian Freedom International, says, “History has demonstrated that sometimes you end up creating a market for the problem.” Her point is that paying others to help Christians escape builds a market for holding Christians captive to the point that they want to escape. Christians become a commodity to be traded. While those who are redeemed obviously benefit by gaining their freedom, those not redeemed suffer a worse fate than before, as opportunists will always kidnap, torture, and oppress more Christians in the hopes of getting more money for their release. It makes for a difficult dilemma.

As The Clash note in their song,

If I go there will be trouble,

And if I stay it will be double.

There is no easy way to make the call. Should the Christians stay or should they go? Should Christian ministries help them leave or implore them to stay? The Bible gives no direct, one-size-fits-all solution. In Matthew 10:23, Jesus tells His followers to flee to the next city when they are persecuted at home. Yet, in many other contexts, He teaches that His followers must endure persecution—and are even blessed when they do so—on account of Him (cf. Matthew 5:10-12; Matthew 24:9-14).  The point seems to be that a Christian may either stay (to endure as a witness) or flee (to spread the gospel, as in Acts 8), but whichever decision is made, it must be made by faith, not fear. It must be made out of love for Christ, not fear of torment.  There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). Fear cannot be the motivator because cowards have no place in the kingdom of God (Rev. 21:8).

Gloriously, Christians past and present have displayed an invincible faith in the face of terrible suffering. It is not our place to judge the motives of those who flee by faith. As Todd Daniels says, “It’s not our decision as American Christians whether Christians in persecution choose to remain or flee.” Instead, we must remember both those who stay and those who flee to the next city, ministering at least through our prayers so that they will endure to the end.

The CT article closes with this powerful image from a Christian in Egypt who struggles with whether to stay or to go:

“We live in Egypt today with hearts full of peace and joy, realizing that even as we are on that boat, in the middle of the dark night in the middle of the high waves, Jesus will…show up walking on the waves.”

 

 

Preaching and Persecution Simply Explained


As noted in the first part of this article, Christ taught His original followers that persecution would continue on account of Him (Mat 5:10-12).  We have seen that the presence of Christ provokes persecution now just as it did when Christ walked the streets of Jerusalem (and was eventually nailed to a cross). What we shall consider further in this article is what the presence of Christ means.

Preaching persecution Christ KingdomAt minimum, the presence of Christ means that Christ is present with His people in the fullness of His identity. He is not present as we want Him to be. He is present as the true person He is. Christ exists as the Son of God without reference to our preferences. He is who He is. He will not be someone He is not.

Returning to Matthew, we see that Christ is present in the gospel as Himself—namely, as the king of heaven and earth. In preparing their readers for studying Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, well-respected New Testament Scholars Davies and Allison explain it this way:

   Before Jesus utters his commands, the reader has been informed—by OT prophecy, by John the Baptist, by God, and by the devil—who he is: the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of God . . . .  This Jesus, therefore, by virtue of his identity, must speak with authority and make sovereign demands.  The obligation to obey the commands of Mt 5-7 is grounded in Christology, in the person of Jesus.  Matthew sets up his gospel so that one may first recognize Jesus’ unique status and then heed his commandments.[1]

Jesus is King of heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18-20). So, when we say that Jesus is present in the church, we say that the sovereign Jesus is present with claims of kingdom authority and demands for obedience.

The Gospel of Matthew ends with Jesus saying that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. No one overrules Jesus Christ. And, in fact, Jesus gives His followers the commission to make disciples of all peoples, and part of the disciple-making process is teaching people to obey everything Jesus has commanded (Matthew 28:18-20). Such authority means that Jesus is king.

True to being a king in the God-intended sense (see Deuteronomy 17), Jesus established the righteousness of God on earth. Jesus the King still demands all men everywhere uphold the righteousness of God.  So, where Jesus is present, there is also a demand to uphold the righteousness of God. It isn’t simply a demand to obey; it is a demand to obey which is backed with authority from God.

Indeed, this startling dynamic is the thing which surprised people in Jesus’s day. At the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, the people were amazed that Jesus spoke with such authority, rather than speaking as merely “a good teacher” (Matthew 7:28-30).

The presence of Jesus is the presence of a sovereign king making sovereign demands. His is not the presence of merely a good moral teacher. When preachers preach Christ, they present before their hearers a king making sovereign demands with implications for eternity. The stakes could not be higher, and the claims could not be greater.

The point is that Christ has come as a king establishing the righteousness of God. There is no other Christ. Such a Christ is offensive to fleshly indulgence. He sounds restrictive, audacious, and even oppressive. His claims of eternal reward or damnation—all or nothing depending on relation to Him—are simply unbearable apart from faith. On occasion, the weight of the matter will so overwhelm the unbeliever that he will seek to silence the man or woman who carries the message. That is preaching and persecution simply explained.


 

[1]Davies and Allison, Matthew: A Shorter Commentary, 64.

Persecution and the Power of Christ’s Presence


You might remember the old western show Rawhide. Featuring the stalwart character of trail boss Gil Favor, this classic TV series launched the career of Clint Eastwood, who starred in the series as the upstart cowhand Rowdy Yates.

In one episode, “Incident with an Executioner,” the crew is bedeviled by the presence of a black rider who, apparently, is Rawhide presence executionerseeking justice. Because of the mere presence of an executioner, everyone in the camp begins to feel both guilty and quite nervous. What if he is there for them? The presence of this black rider is more powerful than the presence of any other person on the trail because this rider represents both a judge and an executioner.

You’ll have to watch Rawhide to see how the episode ends. For my part, I mention the episode to demonstrate the power of presence.  One person literally enslaved an entire crew of cowboys.  A more positive illustration could be made by pointing out how much different your job would look today if the governor were to be present. What if the President were to make a stop? Everything from the traffic to the telephones would be put on hold to make way for the presence of this powerful figure.

The power of presence is on display in snakes, too. A nice retreat might be ruined by the mere presence of a single, sinister, slithering reptile.  The weight of presence could be referred to as “glory.”  The glory of the President of the United States is much greater than any single person who holds the office. Even people who are his political enemies know instinctively to show reverence in his presence. In England, when the Queen enters, all must stand; men must bow (at the neck); and women must curtsy.

One would think with all this worked-out etiquette for royalty that we humans might also have worked out a proper manner in which to respond to the presence of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The King of Kings. And yet, the truth is, the presence of Christ is met today—as it was in the first century—with both worship (John 20:28) and sneers (Luke 23:35). The presence of the Son of God begets mocking (Luke 23:36); accusations of insanity (John 10:19-20); imprisonment (Mark 15:6); torture(Matthew 27:26); and death (Mark 15:33ff).

Apparently, there is no consensus on how to behave in Christ’s presence. What is clear, however, is that no one is neutral in the presence of Christ. And where is Christ present today?  According to the New Testament, Christ is always present with His Bride, the church. Repeatedly, the New Testament affirms that Christ is present with His people forever (Matthew 18:20; Matthew 28:20; Acts 9:3-6; Acts 18:10; and Hebrews 13:5).

His presence with His people is nowhere more evident than it is in persecution. Persecution happens because Christ is present (see Matthew 5:10-12).  So, on the one hand, the presence of Christ provokes persecution, while, on the other hand, the persecution it provokes becomes a blessing to the persecuted because it is a sure sign that Christ is alive in them.

It is the power of Christ’s presence which provokes Christian persecution.  The presence of Christ is actually the root provocateur of persecution. Thus, now, just as in Christ’s day, there will be times when His presence causes people to think that we are crazy (Mark 3:21); unconcerned (Mark 4:38); or even  demonic (Mark 3:22). When the presence of Christ in us provokes people to make insults or false accusations, we are blessed. The provocation is not (and must not be) our own offensiveness; it must be none other than Christ Himself. When it is Christ in us who provokes others to insult us, we should rejoice and be glad.  The turmoil is actually the result of Immanuel, “God with us.” Christ causes people to believe, but He also provokes others to persecute. His presence is still powerful.

Matthew 5:11-12,

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 

How Would You Answer These Ethics Questions?


English: A section of a page from the Wicked B...

English: A section of a page from the Wicked Bible of 1631. The image is not copyrighted due to the age of the work. The section highlights a contemporary typographical error insofar as it omits the word not from the commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have taken a day for study today. One of the things I have been able to finally accomplish is to get a list of paper topics out to my students in Christian Ethics.  I have pasted the paper topics below in the form of propositions, which I expect the students either to defend or rebut. I am posting these topics because I thought you might find them interesting. You may want to think through the topics as well and answer them for yourself. Feel free to share your response to one or all of the topics:

1.  Christians should be protesting against the oppressing sin of usury because it is more clearly condemned in the Bible than abortion. (See Daily Kos article)

 

2.  Matthew 19:1-11 stands in complete agreement with Luke 16:18.

And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:9, NASB)

18 “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery.” (Luke 16:18, NASB)

 

3.  There is never a situation in which it is acceptable for a Christian to lie—a thorough consideration.

 

4.  A proper biblical understanding of theology leads to the conclusion that masturbation is a sin for the Christian.

 

5.  The most important reason Christians cannot be utilitarian or consequentialist in their actions is ______________________________________ (fill in the blank, then defend it).

 

6.  Any Christian in any country throughout the world who wishes to live a consistent, Christian life of faith will suffer persecution.

Path to True Blessing?


How do you know when you are blessed?  On first blush, you might respond that you know you are blessed when you have peace with God and peace with your wife and family.  Many of us would think we are blessed when we have plenty of money.  We think that NFL players who get paid 6 million bucks a year to catch passes are the ones who are blessed.

But what about Abera Ongeremu, is he blessed?  Ongeremu—a traveling evangelist—was visiting at a church in Olenkomi, Ethiopia, when members of the Orthodox Church there stormed the evangelical church building in which he was staying. They ordered him to burn his Bible.  He replied that he would not burn the word of life. So, they decided to burn him.  They tied his hands, poured diesel all over the room, started the fire, and locked the doors.  Ongeremu was certain this was his day to die, but his persecutors weren’t satisfied that their diabolical scheme was a sufficient outpouring of torture.  Thus, they dragged him back out of the burning church and beat him until he fell unconscious on the ground.  He did not die that day (you can read his story here).

Would we call Ongeremu blessed, or cursed.  According to the Scriptures, Jesus calls this man blessed:

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:10).

I doubt that we mean for anything like this to happen to others when we say to them, “God bless you.”  Indeed, when we seek the Lord’s favor and ask for His blessing, we are not at all hoping to be treated by the world the way Ongeremu was treated.  Quite the opposite, in fact, we are usually hoping that the blessing will cause the world to look on us with favor (thus giving us the job, the award, the contract, the admission to the school, etc.).

In the New Testament, however, persecution is a blessing.  “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me” (Matthew 5:11).  As we contemplate persecution (and the persecuted) we realize that blessedness is something more than (and something strangely different from) what we had imagined.  Blessedness is directly related to relationship to Christ—not to material prosperity.  The Lord does not say “rejoice and be glad” when you become rich.  Instead, He warns that it is hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven (cf. Matthew 19:24).  But Jesus does tell us when we are persecuted that we should “rejoice and be glad” for our reward in heaven is great.  This is, in fact, the way it has always been for the people of faith (Matthew 5:12).

To be blessed means to be in the presence of Christ.  Or, more specifically, it means that Christ is present with you (Matthew 28:20).  Such divine presence tends to make one invincible.  It means to be in right relationship to the Living God.   When we are made alive in Christ, no death will be a final threat to us. We cannot be threatened with death or any of death’s allies because death only promises to bring us nearer into the presence of Christ.  To be absent in the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8).  In Christ, we, too, are blessed like Ongeremu and will never be defeated.

 

Jesus Is God Says John


Jesus Christ is Lord

The point of the Gospel of John is to demonstrate that Jesus is God so that the reader of the gospel would trust his soul into the care of this Jesus.  Folks who cannot see the divinity of Jesus in the gospel of John have not yet understood the gospel.  In fact, the reality of the deity of Jesus Christ fills the New Testament. If you don’t know Jesus as the incarnate God, then you don’t yet know him at all. He will not be accepted as a teacher or a moral leader or a good man–or even a prophet!  He must be accepted as God the Son if he would be your Lord and Savior.

Here is a nice, summary article on the teaching of Jesus as God in the New Testament.