Contemporary Persecution

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Matthew 5:10-12

John writes in the great revelation, “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed. (Rev. 6:9) Every time I read that passage I get this visual picture in my mind of a bunch of Christians sitting around “whining” about the fact they have been killed for the sake of Christ. In fact, they don’t even sound Christian – “How long, Lord, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Don’t they remember that passage, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:19) Maybe they do remember it, but don’t want God to forget it. But at the very least now that we are in Heaven, have we forgotten the words of Christ? “You have heard that it was said, `Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:43)

Persecution and Christianity go hand in hand. Worldwide, an average of 400 Christians are killed each day simply because of their faith in Christ.
That’s one murdered Christian every four minutes. An estimated 100 million Christians have been martyred in the 20th century. That’s more than the previous nineteen centuries combined. David Barrett is a mission researcher who collects information on Christian martyrs. Generally each year 150 foreign missionaries are murdered. Barrett says, “For every killing of a Western missionary or a high-profile Christian leader that captures international attention, there are a thousand anonymous Christians who die virtually unnoticed, except by God.” How does the Church handle persecution? Of such martyrdom Barrett notes, “The evidence of the centuries is that evangelization proceeds very fast when there are Christians prepared to die for their faith.” The Church flourishes! Prosperity has often been fatal to Christianity, but persecution never. A path without obstacles probably leads nowhere.

Most Christians in North America are “hothouse Christians” who bloom as long as they are kept in a protected and carefully controlled environment far from fear, distress, or persecution.” God forbid that it should ‘cost’ us something to speak the name of Jesus.” But time and again, we have seen that if you take hothouse Christians out of their protected environment and put them into the real world where the wind of adversity blows and the rain of sorrow falls…If they have to endure the hot sun and the drought it brings, then they discover that they never developed a root system in the hothouse. So they wither and say, “I’m just not cut out for this!”

God has dealt with me to the point where I have been forced to redefine some of my criteria for what it means to be “saved.” Christianity will never be found in the perfect environment. They don’t necessarily have air conditioning, ushers, nurseries, electronic paging systems, carpeted sanctuaries, or staff counselors. A few years ago I read an account of a group of Chinese Christians who were caught holding a church service. The officials placed a horse trough in the middle of town and forced every man and woman in that congregation to urinate into it. Then they drowned the pastor in it, right in front of their eyes! Do you know what happened? The church congregation doubled in two weeks, and it wasn’t because of their nice sanctuary or dynamic worship team. True church growth, wherever it may be, in freedom or persecution, comes because of only one thing. It springs forth from an intimate knowledge of the living God.

Acts tells us that a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Acts 8:1 represents an important principle of thermodynamics: “The greater the heat, the greater the expansion.”

Persecution for our faith takes place even in a Christian nation. I worked one summer between my junior and senior years of college with the Kentucky Department of Human Resources (Child Welfare). It was one of those rare opportunities to work, get paid and also get college credit at the same time.
About half way through the summer my supervisor asked that I be removed.
All based on the fact that I was a Christian. My professor said that being a Christian wasn’t a good reason for being dismissed.

There is a false boldness for Christ that only comes from pride. A man may rashly expose himself to the world’s dislike and even deliberately provoke its displeasure, and yet do so out of pride. . . . True boldness for Christ transcends all, it is indifferent to the displeasure of either friends or foes.
Boldness enables Christians to forsake all rather than Christ, and to prefer to offend all rather than to offend Him.

I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Rev. 2:10)

There once was an evangelist who loved to hunt. As best as I recall, the man bought two pups that were top notch bird dogs, two setters, I believe. He kept them in his large backyard, where he trained them. One morning, an ornery little vicious-looking bulldog came shuffling and snorting down the alley. He crawled under the fence into the backyard where the setters spent their days.
It was easy to see he meant business. The evangelist’s first impulse was to take his setters and lock them in the basement so they wouldn’t tear up that little bulldog. But he decided he would just let the creature learn a lesson he would never forget. Naturally, they got into a scuffle in the backyard, and those two setters and that bulldog went round and round and round! There were growls and yipes as bulldog hair flew everywhere. The little critter finally had enough, so he squeezed under the fence and took off. All the rest of that day he whined and licked his sores. Interestingly, the next day at about the same time, here came that same ornery little bulldog . . . back under the fence and after those setters. Once again those two bird dogs beat the stuffing out of that bowlegged animal and would have chewed him up if he hadn’t retreated down the alley. Would you believe, the very next day he was back! Same time, same station, same results. Every day, at the same time every morning, that little bulldog came back in the backyard and fought with the two setters. He never missed a day! And I want you to know it has come to the point that when the setters simply hear that bulldog snorting down the alley and spot him squeezing under the fence, they immediately start whining and run down into the basement. That little old bulldog struts around the backyard now just like he owns it.” That is persistence and determination. When you get whipped or when you win, the secret is staying at it.

You Call This A Church?

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John 20:19-31

Gordon Dahl once observed, “Our problem is that we worship our work, work at our play, and play at our worship.” A Christian who says he worships God every Sunday morning on the golf course is really worshiping golf on God’s course. A little boy is learning about symbols in his church’s worship service. “Dad, what does it mean when those men pass those plates?” The Dad said, “The people are giving gifts to God.” Then the boy asked, “What does it mean when they have those trays stacked up there – and people go up and kneel?” The Dad answered, “They are guests at the Lord’s table.” Then the boy asked, “What does it mean when the minister lays his watch on the pulpit?” Since the minister was fairly long-winded, the Dad answered, “It means absolutely nothing, Son, absolutely nothing!”

Worship is connecting to God. The late Archbishop Temple, when he was primate of England, once told this story. One morning, in a house where he was a guest, he heard from the kitchen a voice singing lustily, “Nearer, My God to Thee.” He thought this was great that she would be singing hymns and he spoke of it to his host. The host replied, “Oh, yes. That’s the hymn she boils the eggs to — three verses for soft boil and five for hard.” He thought she was expressing her faith. All she was doing was timing her eggs.

A woman entered a Haagen-Dasz store on the Kansas City Plaza for an ice-cream cone. After making her selection, she turned and found herself face to face with Paul Newman, in town filming a movie. He smiled and said hello. Newman’s blue eyes caused her knees to shake. She managed to pay for her cone, then left the shop, heart pounding. When she gained her composure, she realized she didn’t have her snack. She started back into the store to get it and met Newman at the door. “Are you looking for your ice cream?” he asked. She nodded, unable to speak. “You put it in your purse with your change.” When was the last time the presence of God quickened our pulse?

We hear a lot of people talking about worshiping God out under the trees or on the river bank. We may commune with God, but that is not worship. We may read our Bibles, but that is not worship. We may talk to God in prayer, which is valuable, but that is not worship. Worship only happens among the assembled people of God. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrew 10:25) Even Jesus pointed out the power and importance when He said, For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matt 18:20) There are five elements to Christian worship. The first four of these elements came from our Jewish roots and were carried over into the first century Church.

The Reading of Scripture. Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17) Prayer.
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (James 5:16)
Preaching and Teaching. How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14) Praise, “thank you”. Offering. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. (Mal 3:9)Response. One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. (Acts 16:14) Baptism. He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:15) Hymns. When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Mark 14:26) Lord’s Supper. On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. (Acts 20:7)

Worship is the act of paying honor, reverence and homage to God. It is as natural to worship as it is to live. The feeling and expression of high adoration, reverence, trust, love, loyalty, and dependence upon a higher power is a necessity to people. In primitive times the form of worship that Enoch introduced was still maintained, for Enoch “walked with God” (Gen 5:24). Noah was righteous before Him, expressing his gratitude by presenting burnt offerings (8:20-21).

On the Lord’s day we worship. We worship by the Holy Spirit and its attributes are spirituality, simplicity, purity, and reverent decorum. It is a holy moment in our lives. Regular churchgoers live longer than non churchgoers, a new study shows. Researchers studied 21,000 adults for nine years, examining their religious behaviors and other factors. Demography Magazine, the Washington Times said: People who attend church regularly could live up to fourteen years longer than those who don’t, the study showed. “Those who never attend church exhibit fifty percent higher risks of mortality over the follow-up period than those who attend most frequently,” researcher Robert Hummer said. “Those who attend weekly or less than once a week display about a twenty percent higher risk of mortality than those who attend more than once a week.” The study, partially funded by the National Science Foundation, also showed ailments common among those who don’t attend church. “[They] are about four times as likely to die from respiratory disease, diabetes, or infectious disease,” Hummer said.