Sermon November 05, 2017 – International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church

November 05, 2017

In his book, “The Global War on Christians”, John Allen calls the worldwide persecution of Christians, “the most dramatic religion story of the early twenty-first century, yet one that most people in the West have little idea is even happening.”

Christian persecution is any hostility, experienced from the world, because of one’s identification with Jesus Christ. In Matthew 5:10-12, Jesus said that persecution is a blessing! For those who have not undergone persecution, it is difficult to understand why persecution is a blessing. But it is a known fact that the church grows quicker in nations where it is persecuted.

John 15:18-25 is a passage that does not preach well in our western “Prosperity Gospel” mindset, where our culture, upbringing and education all teach us that we have rights.  It is expected that Christians are respected members of society and by living out our Christian values and principles people will give us honor. But this is so far from the reality of what Jesus taught.

We have the mindset that persecution is something that happens somewhere else, in third world countries, where people are less educated perhaps. We also tend to think that persecution of Christians was something that only happened in history.

However, persecution is right on our doorstep, Jesus taught that this world is not our home (see John 15:19), and Jesus continues in verse 20 to say that a servant is no greater than his master, this is the normal Christian life. We have recently completed the series on the normal Christian life, noting that the foundation for the normal Christian life is applying the cross of Jesus Christ to our lives, daily dying to ourselves, being willing to lay aside our preferences, our rights and our desires for the sake of the Gospel.

It is almost predictable that when I teach in any setting on dying to our rights, people get angry. It just proves how conditioned we are to expect that this Christian life is a life of leisure and prosperity and peace. Jesus taught the opposite and he was persecuted more than any other man in history. In 1 John 3:13 we read, “Do not be surprised, brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.”  This is the normal Christian life.

For millions of Christians around the world, persecution is their daily reality. From intimidation to isolation, beatings, imprisonment and even death, they live with the ongoing threat of persecution, and yet they choose to faithfully follow Jesus.

Faithfully being a follower of Jesus is the cause of persecution. Remember we saw that the life of the Christian is not found in simply becoming a better person, but rather we are “in Christ”. Being in Christ is the reason for and the target of persecution in our world.

In Romans 8:17, the apostle Paul tells us, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory.” So, when we share in Jesus’ sufferings we become heirs who will also share in his glory. Suffering is part of it the process that leads to us sharing in the glory of our resurrected Lord.

Persecution isn’t something we think about often, but it is incredibly real for believers all over the globe. The Pew Research Center estimates that 75% of the world’s population lives in regions with severe religious restrictions—with many of those being Christians. And according to the United States Department of State, Christians face persecution from their neighbors or government in as many as 60 different countries, simply because they claim Jesus as Lord.

Todd Johnson of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary documents that one hundred thousand Christians, eleven per hour, have been killed on average every year of the past decade. And it is estimated that more Christians died for their faith in the last century than in the previous nineteen centuries combined. Unfortunately, many Christians today, operate under the assumption that persecution is a part of the Church’s past.

Jesus told His followers to expect persecution, John 15:20 reads,“…If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” So this is expected but what is our response to be? How are we to respond as we sit here in comfort and ease without the threat of violence for our belief in Jesus.

It’s easy to hear about Christian persecution and feel afraid, but God did not give us a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7).

It’s also natural to want to put an end to the suffering of persecuted Christians. But the persecuted Church isn’t asking for an end to their hardships, for them, persecution is normal. In fact, many of our Christian brothers and sisters who are being persecuted are praying for you and I, that we would remain strong in the face of an increasingly godless society. Instead, they pray for the strength to withstand persecution. These hardships produce believers with genuine faith, who truly understand the cost involved in being “In Christ”, and they ask for our prayers for strength to withstand.

Christian persecution is overwhelming, and we can all too easily become desensitized by the statistics.

But I want to challenge you to spend some time today praying on your own or as a family for the persecuted church. Let us pray with them rather than for them, that the word of God will move swiftly across the whole earth.

 “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

Tertullian

The Normal Christian Life – Part 1 – 10/1/17

The Webster dictionary defines a Christian as “one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ

What a terrible definition! How does the Bible define Christianity, after all, isn’t the Bible our authority as Christians?

You may have heard it said, that Christianity is not a religion, but it is a relationship. That is somewhat true, but also falls far short of what the Bible defines Christianity. A true relationship with my Creator only begins when I completely submit to Him and lay aside my own desires, wills, passions and preferences. Dying to my will and self is the beginning of what it means to be a Christian.

Galatians 2:20 reads; “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Beginning with the first phrase; “I have been crucified with Christ”.

Even though our sins that we have committed in the past have been forgiven (1 John 1:7), what about our sinful nature? That old nature that desires to do what is contrary to the will of God. We have peace with God, but we don’t have peace in ourselves because we wrestle with sin and temptation. This is where the cross of Jesus Christ provides an answer for us. Obviously, Paul was not on the cross with Jesus, and neither were you and I, but here is the profound miracle. When Jesus died on the cross, it was once for all. The death of Jesus on the cross included all who put their faith and trust in him. This is where those two beautiful words apply, “IN CHRIST” (see Romans 6:6-7, 11).

Do you want to be free from sin? You must realize your old self crucified with Christ, this is powerful, and it is absolutely crucial to being a Christian. The blood deals with what we have done, but the cross deals with what we are, the cross strikes at the root of our capacity to sin.

But do we apply the cross to our lives?

Satan will point to our struggle with sin and bring to mind our weakness in areas in our lives, but that is when we can point to the cross, and quote Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ…”. You see it is a declaration of faith, the essence of Christianity is faith.

So, if we are in Christ, does that make us perfect? Absolutely not, but we will be deeply troubled by sin in our lives. We will not have peace in our lives, because we know that we have fallen short of the Glory of God.

If you are not troubled by sin in your life or have no desire for holiness, I would seriously examine your heart to see if you truly are in Christ – if you have truly given your life wholly to Him and are saved

Galatians 2:20; “ I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

So how do we live this life, this crucified life? We live by faith in the Son of God. Daily asking the Holy Spirit to lead us and direct us. Our life goals are radically different, our aspirations change, instead of trying to build our own kingdom, we live to make the name of Jesus known.

The trouble with many people is that they think that when they become a Christian, God wants to take them and make them a better version of themselves. But we have it all wrong, there is nothing good, nothing worthwhile, nothing redemptive in my old self. God is not out to reform our life, he sent his son so that we can be born again.

This is where Christianity is completely different to any other religion. I cannot save myself, I cannot gradually get better until I am saved, I have to die, and then be reborn of the Spirit of God (John 3:3).

Coming to the final phrase of Galatians 2:20; “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Jesus loves you more than you will ever know, the cross is deeply personal for you and for me. When Jesus went to the cross, it was because he loved you so much, his love compelled him to give his life for you (see Ephesians 1:4).

1 Peter 2:9 tells us that we have been chosen by God, you are royalty, you are God’s special possession!

Have you ever heard of a royal prince cowering in the corner and begging for scraps from the King’s table?

But that is what we do, we don’t realize the value that God has placed on us, we are his special possession. He loves you far more than you will ever know.

When Jesus ascended into heaven he sent his indwelling Spirit. The Holy Spirit, the third person of the trinity, lives inside every true believer in Jesus Christ. The very same God who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you.

I know that we don’t come close to understanding the reality of the presence of God in our lives.

But what is the purpose of the Gospel? Why did God send his son? Why did God choose you and me and then fill us with his presence?  We have a natural tendency to see things from our perspective and say that God saved us so that we wouldn’t go to hell. Yes, that is true, but there is more, there is a greater and more glorious purpose for our salvation. God saved us so that we might bring Glory and praise to His name for eternity. This is what we were created to do. As we live by the Spirit and our lives become a living testimony of His presence we bring glory to His name.

Are you a Christian? If you don’t want to love and follow Christ, you are not a Christian. You may believe in Jesus, but is Jesus Lord of your life? Stop what you are doing right now, get on your knees, and make sure that you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.