Monday, November 14, 2011

Blessed Are The Persecuted

Please visit to sign the petition on behalf of Asia as we pray for her release!

Many experts suggest that more than 200 million people in over 60 nations face violent persecution or detention because of their identity as Christians. At least that many or more are discriminated against on a regular basis because of the faith.

 Christians are the largest identifiable group in the world today who are denied their basic human rights simply because of who they are.
 Evangelicals are growing at a rate three times faster than the world's population growth rate In 2000, evangelicals had an annual growth of almost 5%
 In China, the Protestant church had maybe 1,260,000 members in 1949. Today the church has grown to at least 81 million members (registered and unregistered).
 In Africa alone, the rate of church growth has been nothing short of staggering, skyrocketing from an estimated 10 million Christians in 1900 to 360 million in 2000.
 The church in Sudan is the fastest growing church in the Muslim world; this despite facing some of the most horrendous persecution known to man in recent years.
 India now has 10 churches with more than 10,000 members and 30 that have more than 3,000 members. In 1999, one church leader reported baptizing 2231 in a single day. Some Indian denominations are reporting that they are planting a new church every day.
 Among the Hmong people of northern Vietnam, there were NO evangelical Christians in 1989. In 11 years, by 2000, they numbered over 175,000. All of this church growth has taken place while being brutally oppressed by Vietnamese authorities.
 One of the main reasons for the persecution of Christians worldwide has been because of its rapid growth. It is truer to say that church growth causes persecution than that persecution causes church growth. In some countries, such as Iraq, Jordan, Syria, and other parts of the Middle East, persecution has actually caused the church to significantly shrink in size over the past 100 years.

The reality is that in these places they are desperately trying to get the Word out to people who have never heard and they are ready to pay the price.

When one part of the body suffers, all the body suffers.  We enter into and feel the persecuted church.

When we look at suffering in the NT, we will find that the majority of passages that deal with suffering deal with it in context to suffering for following Christ.  The truth remains that for the majority of Christians who live in North America, we have no idea what suffering for our faith really is.

Some of you have been ostracized from your immediate family because of your decision to follow Jesus and there are those who may have been passed over for a job because of your faith.  You may have been sworn at, ridiculed for your faith, but we still have no clue unless we choose to engage and face the brutal realities in our world.

Sharon and I have been reading the story of brother Yun in the Heavenly Man…
When you really immerse yourself into the stories of persecuted believers, their pain, their sorrow,  it makes you come undone for your brothers and sisters.  For me a righteous indignation starts to rise up in me and it is all too easy to be filled with hatred for what is done and then I listen to their testimonies.

Blessed Are The Persecuted
1.        The  HIGH cost of discipleship

Matthew 16:24-27 

Last week Pastor John challenged us on the reality of what it means to follow Christ.  The call to deny ourselves is to give our lives over to something that is greater than our own pursuit of success and fulfillment in life. to deny ourselves is the call of Christianity.

The demand of Jesus on His followers is to tread the path of martyrdom. As He prepared to send His disciples out as sheep among wolves and He told them that they would likely die in the process of carrying out their ministry. In order to build His Church (Matthew 16:18), His death was necessary, as He points out in 16:21. This is the foundation. Without Christ's death there is no redeemed community. But just as Christ's cross was needed to establish His Church, our crosses are needed to build His Church (16:24). Both are needed. As Josef Ton observed, "Christ's cross was for propitiation. Our cross is for propagation." To be called to follow Christ is to receive a call to suffer (e.g. Acts 9: 16; 14:22; 1 Thessalonians 3:3; 1 Peter 2:21; 3:9, 17).

This all comes into focus with the person of Jesus Christ, who is the revelation of God.  He showed us what sacrificial love is; for Christ to suffer and die was to accomplish the Father’s purposes.  We also recognize that the way up in the kingdom of God is down.  Christ must continue to become an ever increasing reality and presence in my life and the pathway that God chooses to use us is through weakness, suffering and sacrifice.  It is then and only then that we know beyond a shadow of doubt that God is at work but as His Word tells us, “my strength (power) is made perfect in your weakness”.  2 Corinthians 12:9

This is how God does His work.  It is not through our strengths or compulsion, but through love and invitation and Jesus dies and takes our sin in His own body on the cross.  He who knew no sin became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21)

It is not so much a willingness to die as our readiness to be bold in our allegiance to Christ and our unconditional obedience to Him.

2.       The pathway of persecution 

Matthew 5:10-12  Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The president of Turkmenistan wishes everyone to honor him like a god, to bow in front of his picture; and he calls himself “the king of kings”.  Christians in many of these persecuted countries suffer not only severe physical persecution, but also economic oppression. 

In their extreme poverty, there is intense pressure to convert to the prevailing religion or deny their faith and they choose to stand strong and suffer for the name of Jesus their Lord.
They have been imprisoned, tortured, injected with poison and left for dead.  They have had boiling water poured down their necks, scarred with acid and burned with fire.  They have watched their Bibles being burned, their fathers taken away and they have fled from their villages for their very lives.  They are our brothers and sisters and they ask us to not forget them.

2 Timothy 3:12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted

1 Peter 2:19-25 ESV  For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

From our perspective, we look at those who endure persecution as heroic, but Peter is stressing that they are recipients of grace.  It is evidence that God is working in their life.  There is no glory for the one that suffers.

The common practice for us in our Western practice is to thank God for living in a free country, the early believers thanked God for the privilege and honor to suffer for His sake (Acts 5:41).  Paul spoke of how death was at work in him in order to bring life to others. 2 Corinthians 4:12.  They recognized that bringing the love of God to a hurting world would cause them to face the hatred of those they were trying to reach.
3.       The call to response for the follower of Jesus

Romans 12:17-21 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
   "If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
      if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
   In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The call to response goes against human nature.  This kind of behaviour can only come from the radical transformation of Jesus Christ and the result of the new nature within!
4.       The prayer for persecutors     Psalm 83

Persecution was hardly just a NT phenomenon

This psalm is what is known as a “communal lament,” the cry of the community of faith in their extremity to God. It is couched in the language and historical setting of ancient Israel, but it is the cry, fundamentally, not of Israel as a nation, but of Israel as the persecuted “people of God”: that is, it is the cry of the persecuted “church.”

First and fundamentally, we are to pray that God will be God in the situation V1-4 

The cry of the Israelites comes out of the context of their relationship with Him.  It is a call for God to act on their behalf.

Ironically, it is the nation of Israel’s problem yet today: Philistia is the modern day Gaza Strip; Gebal and Tyre are the coasts of present-day Lebanon and Syria;
Edom, Ammon, Moab, and the Hagrites fall roughly within the boundaries of Jordan;
The Ishmaelites traversed the deserts as the ancestors of the Arab kingdoms; Amalek roamed the Sinai, now in the domain of Egypt; and Assyria—well, Assyria is modern day Iraq.

We are to pray for their shame, that they will be convicted so that they will seek Your Name v13-18

V16  so that ‘they’ will seek your Name... and if not v17 – may they perish in disgrace…

 “prayer is not the preparation for the battle, prayer is the battle.” For the battle is the Lord’s, and in prayer we come before the Lord . . .

And yet, even in this litany of perennial enemies, we must remember the redemptive thread, woven throughout the Old and New Testaments: that there will be those even from these who will share in the eternal presence and praises of God; for the redeemed of the Lord will come “from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev 5:9). Though here these nations are the sworn enemies of God’s people, one of King David’s mighty men was (likely) a Hagrite (1 Chr 11:38), another was an Ammonite (11:39), and yet another a Moabite (11:46). Moreover, one of his officials was also a Hagrite (1 Chr 27:31), and another an Ishmaelite (27:30). And Philistia and Tyre will become “born again” as God’s people (Ps 87:4). And even hated Assyria and Egypt will both become God’s very own, on par with Israel—fully embraced into God’s people (Isa 19:24-25). Even when we rightly—as God demonstrates in His Word—pray against the enemies of God and His people, we do so remembering the redemptive constant—a sometimes-faint-yet-continuous tone, which pervades the pages of Scripture and the plan of God.

The Takeaway

There is a clear scriptural link between persecution and discipleship. Indeed, there can be no discipleship without persecution; to follow Christ is to join Him in a cross-carrying journey of reconciling the world to the Father.

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