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

Run the Race part 1 February 14, 2016

Run The Race 1 Title.2

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Running is such a great analogy for Christianity, and this is a race that we can all run in and are all called to be running in. Being a Christian is hard work, it is a challenge it requires discipline, it must consume you as you give your whole life over to the Lordship of Christ.

The early church in Corinth had a large number of wealthy people, as a result their personal Christian life was characterized by lack of commitment and ease. Something very much like the modern Western church. We don’t like to hear about discipline and sacrifice.

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul says that he is a slave to the Gospel. Paul is consumed with telling people about Jesus.

Why? Because he encountered the living God – Saul was on the road to Damascus to persecute the church when Jesus interrupted his life and transformed him from a persecutor of the faith to a proclaimer of the Gospel message. When Ananias is called to go and pray for Saul, the angel of the Lord says in Acts 9:16: “for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” And what follows in the ministry of Paul is a theme of suffering, challenge, persecution and trials. He doesn’t run from them, in fact he encourages other believers to embrace the way of suffering and trials (2 Timothy 2:1-10; Philippians 3:13-14; Galatians 2:2; Colossians 2:1; 2 Timothy 4:7).

When we are saved, we turn away from our life before Christ. As Paul writes in Galatians 2:20, we have been crucified with Christ and no longer live, but we have been born again. In many ways, becoming a Christian is easy, Jesus paid the price; all we have to do is to die. Die to our old way of life and allow the Holy Spirit to transform us and change our worldview. Seeing things and living according to the Word of God. The problem with dying to our old self is that we struggle to stay dead. Our old temptations come back, we are frequently reminded by Satan of our past failures and we are tempted to go back to our old ways. The hard work of being a Christian is staying dead!

Paul is calling Christians to a life of discipline. It is hard work, it requires sacrifice. We have to constantly be focused on the goal. The Goal is the prize that Paul talks about, eternal life and the reward that we will receive when we are all judged by Jesus when he comes again, but more about that in two weeks’ time.

We need to notice is that the Christian life is a race not a stroll, it is a hard fought battle not a meandering in the forest. Using the analogy of a race, there is so much that we can look at that applies to the Christian life. In any walk of life, in any sphere of society, nothing is achieved without dedication and discipline, and being a Christian, the stakes are much much higher, we are focused on eternity. The eternal destiny of our own selves and that of those around us.

Running a marathon takes weeks of training and preparation and carefully watching your diet. When an athlete is preparing for the Olympics he/she will go into seclusion and prepare when no one is watching. As a Christian, you don’t have the luxury of stopping the world when it gets crazy and taking a time out. You have to train as you go, prepare as you go. But that place of seclusion, that place of being alone is absolutely vital to our Christian lives. We cannot survive without a regular daily time spent with the Lord in prayer.

Which leads to the next aspect of the marathon race, it would be impossible to run a marathon without Nutrition. As a Christian our refueling is the Word of God, we need a regular daily intake of the word of God. Read the Bible itself, allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to us. Paul writing to the Ephesians says the Bible is the sword of the spirit, it is our only weapon to be used against Satan and his schemes. We need to know where our nutrition comes from and we need to feed on that daily.

Another wonderful part of running a marathon is the people you run with. There is a comradery that develops with others as you encourage one another through tough times and push one another to achieve what we would normally not be able to do. It is much the same in any Christian’s life, we need one another. It is essential and healthy to have time alone with God, but it is also essential to have time together, in community, as we run the race together.

And then finally, some of you may be thinking that this message does not apply to you. You may be elderly and not able to get around as freely as when you were young. You might not have as much energy as the younger folk. But this message is for you too. Everyone’s race is different, your pace may be different, but our destination is the same. Your race may be that of a bedridden intercessor, praying daily for our missionaries, for the lost, for our evangelism efforts. Older folk are not cheering from the sidelines, you are in the race with us all until Jesus calls us home or comes again.

Where are you on that race today?

Maybe you began the race many years ago, but you stalled out and started meandering? Maybe someone or something cut in on you (Galatians 5:7), some challenge, some tragedy, some loss. But Jesus is calling you to get back up and continue to run the race, pressing on to the finish line.

The Christian life is filled with unexplainable joy and peace, and we get to experience the miracles of God on a daily basis. But, at times it is also hard, but we must never take our eyes off of the prize – the day when we get to see Jesus face to face.