Friday, May 20, 2016

Keeping perspective and thriving under persecution

I was watching a sermon by Joyce Meyer earlier called “Building a Fortress of Faith.” As is the case with all of her messages, it had an application both on a personal level, but it also had an application for Christians in America I think. One of the points she made is in God’s school you never flunk. You just keep taking the same test over and over again. The best example of this that I know of in the Bible is the Israelites after God set them free from Egypt. “It is [only] eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea [on Canaan’s border; yet Israel took forty years to get beyond it]” (Deuteronomy 1:2 Amplified Bible, Classic Edition). So a trip that should have taken them less than two weeks ended up taking them 40 years. It took a very short time to get Israel out of Egypt, but it only took 40 years to get Egypt out of them.

Christians in America are getting ready to go through some tests. How we react to those trials is what is important. That is not to say everything is wonderful now, but it is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. The seeds of persecution have been planted in America with how Christian influence has slowly but surely been drained from the culture at large due to our own lack of faithfulness to God and our withdrawal from the culture. While things may be getting worse though, I think we need to keep things in perspective. While the seeds of persecution have been planted in America, church history has seen much worse. Even today in other parts of the world, our brothers and sisters in Christ are being captured, enslaved, driven from their homes, and even beheaded. While fighting against what we see happening in our country, we need to remember to have an attitude of thankfulness for what we still have and what we are still able to do if we will just use the freedoms we still have.

Then if and when the persecution increases to levels that we are currently seeing in other parts of the world right now, we still need not lose heart. The second point I got from the message I saw earlier that really applies to what I am talking is that increased persecution usually leads to growth in the church and personal growth among people in the church. “Persecution is inevitable for those who are determined to live really Christian lives, while wicked and deceitful men will go from bad to worse, deluding others and deluding themselves” (2 Timothy 3:12-13 J.B. Phillips New Testament).

For evidence of this, let’s just look at what has happened in Cuba that is having church growth comparable to the book of Acts.. Heather Sells wrote for the Christian Broadcasting Network on March 6: “Many believe the hardships and suffering have paved the way for an explosion of church planting. On a typical Sunday morning in Cuba, you can find churches across the island overflowing with worshippers. Many meet in homes and others meet in churches that look more North American but operate in a political climate that is very different. Space is the biggest challenge for many churches. Under current government rules they typically cannot buy land or expand. One church CBN News visited responded to the rules by building several stories up. Others cram into homes and multiply when they become too big...In the past 20 years, more than 16,000 evangelical churches have opened their doors...The growth of the church in Cuba is even more miraculous given the country's poverty. The average monthly government salary is $20 and professionals typically make less than $50...Still, Cuban churches are known for their generosity and willingness to sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel...Still, most churches cannot expand or buy land. They cannot produce Christian radio or television shows.”

Cuba is no paradise, nor is their persecution a goal to aspire to, but one cannot deny that when the squeeze is on the body of Christ, the results are usually difficult but positive. One thing persecution does is separate the wheat from the chaff, the true from the false, the counterfeit from the genuine. That does not mean God causes or desires persecution for His children, but as His Word says in Romans 8:28, “God works everything together for the good of those who love Him.” Regardless of what happens in the future, what decisions leaders make, or how much more apostate the church becomes, we have this promise from our Lord Jesus: “God will bless you when people mock, abuse, revile, hurt, and persecute you. They will lie and say all kinds of evil things against you because you follow me. Rejoice and be glad, because you have a great reward in heaven. People did the same evil things to the prophets who lived before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).

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