Category Archives: persecution

Suffering, in YOUR context

sufferingChristian suffering is not limited to the extreme cases that we hear about in the media. Certainly, the horrific persecutions of Christians (and other religious adherents) by groups like ISIS, and the unjust imprisonment of ministers like Pastor Saeed Abedini in Iran can make the sufferings of our context seem negligible at best. However, regardless of the relative ease or discomfort of one’s position in life, Christianity contains suffering in its essence.

First and foremost, there is the unseen, internal suffering of the cross, as God inexorably calls us to ever-increasing levels of Christ-likeness. Although God loves and accepts us exactly as we are, He is committed to transforming us into His untarnished image and plan for our life. Like a battling chrysalis prior to its release from the cocoon, it is with struggle and striving that we wage solitary battles with our vulnerabilities and temptations. For some, these internal battles are only won after enduring protracted seasons of pain.

Beyond the unseen, internal sufferings of the life of Christian discipleship, we Christians are also prone to the general, universal grief and woes of humanity. Although God is our source of protection, comfort, and strength, it is our lot as humans to experience some of the sufferings of our race. If it rains on planet earth, Christians get wet too.

Finally, there are numerous cultural persecutions that accompany faith in Jesus Christ, from mild ridicule to outright hostility.

  • Jesus said these persecutions are cause for rejoicing!
  • His disciples said they were honored to suffer in His name.
  • The Apostle Paul said that persecutions are pathways to greater levels of glory.

Regardless of the form it takes or its degree of intensity, there is a measure of persecution that accompanies our followership of Jesus Christ. It has always been this way and it always will be, and for those whose hearts have been truly captivated by Him, suffering for His cause is an honor.

We don’t need to seek it out. Indeed, we are told to live as peaceably in our world as possible (Romans 12:18), but when suffering finds us—internally or externally—let’s embrace it as true devotees of the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.” (Ephesians 6:24)

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Seneca on Unshakable People

dr kingA good friend and esteemed math teacher (someone I wish I had known when I struggled my way through math in school), Dr. Rick Simon, recently shared a fantastic quote with me from Roman Stoic philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca, popularly known as Seneca.

The quote ties in perfectly with the “Unshakable” teaching series that we’ve been doing on Sunday mornings at Grace Church. Whether you have been a part of that series or not, I think Seneca’s words will inspire you with a Churchillian determination to never give up amid the tough times of your life.

“Prosperity shows a man but one part of human nature. Nobody knows what such a man is good for; neither in truth does he understand himself for want of experiment. Temporal happiness is for weak and vulgar minds; but the subduing of public terrors is a work that is reserved for more generous spirits. Calamity is the touchstone of a brave mind, that resolves to live and die free, and master of itself. The combatant brings no mettle into the field, that was never bettered; he that has lost blood, and yet keeps his stomach; he that has been under his enemy, and worsted, and yet comes on again, and gathers heart from his misfortunes—that is the man of hope and courage.”

Seneca was essentially saying that the true quality and worth of our character is most clearly revealed during times of trial and misfortune. His words are similar to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous statement: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Let’s determine that those two sage quotations will be descriptive of us as we display God’s unshakable spirit throughout the many seasons of our lives.

Don’t Forget Pastor Saeed

pastor saeedToday’s constant barrage of crisis-fueled news reports combined with the mind-numbing effects that statistics can have on the human brain can sometimes make us forget some things that need to be remembered. Pastor Saeed Abedini is one of them.

It is likely that you’re familiar with the story of this Iranian-American Christian pastor who was arrested for planting Christian house churches in Iran. He was arrested for propagating the Christian religion, not for being involved in any other sort of criminal activities, and he has been held in prison for approximately eighteen months, separated from his wife and children.

His mistreatment has been significant and his physical condition has deteriorated accordingly. Please be praying for a divine intervention on his behalf.

The annual Bible reading schedule that we follow here at Grace Church currently has us in the book of Acts, which contains multiple stories of angel-led jail breaks. Both Peter and Paul were the beneficiaries of this angelic activity and were miraculously rescued from their bonds. (Acts 5:17-20; 12:5-7; 16:25-27)

Whether Saeed’s angel takes the form of Iranian government officials, prayerful Christians, or literal angels from heaven, let’s remember him and his family and stake ourselves to their need in prayer.

“So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him” (Acts 12:5).

“Resist him (Satan), standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (1 Peter 5:9b).

True Grit

John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit.

If you were born in the post-John Wayne movie era, it’s quite likely that you’ve never seen the original Western film True Grit. And if you’ve never seen True Grit, you’re probably only living to a fraction of your potential.

Well, that’s probably not true. However, it is true that to reach your full potential you will need to have true grit.

No great mission gets accomplished without it.

One of the indelible marks of a hero is the ability to come through when it counts and persevere in the face of great odds. When a man or a woman has this gritty strength of character they can do the impossible, but when grit is lacking their mission is doomed to failure.

Webster’s dictionary defines “grit” as “a firm character, an obstinate courage, and an indomitable will.”

  • It takes true grit to lay our lives down for our loved ones
  • It takes true grit to persevere in prayer
  • It takes true grit to continue believing when things look hopeless
  • It takes true grit to sow a seed and then protect it until the harvest
  • It takes true grit to not lose heart

The Bible reminds us that true grit is accessed when we fix our eyes on Jesus, the Pattern Son who modeled what it means to have an obstinate courage and an indomitable will.

“…And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him…so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV)

The world’s worst metaphor

Horváth Károly súlyemelő

Image via Wikipedia

Whether it is Chuck Norris sliding up and down on his Total Gym, Duane Johnson (The Rock) pumping iron, or everyday Joe’s struggling in the gym, everyone knows that there is seldom growth without resistance—at least not the good kind of growth.

Expanding waistlines might develop naturally enough; however, increasing muscle mass, flexibility, and strength only comes through pushing against resistance.

It’s a terrible metaphor—not because it’s inaccurate or untrue—but because it’s just so painful.

No one likes resistance. No one likes to be challenged and stretched and pushed to the breaking point. And yet wise personal trainers know that the breaking point is actually the starting point for personal growth and development.

It is in carrying burdens too heavy for us that we learn to develop what the Bible calls endurance. The Greek word for endurance is hupomone, and it refers to the quality of character that refuses to collapse under heavy burdens.

  • It’s what Joseph had when he was unjustly thrown in to Potiphar’s dungeon.
  • It’s what Moses had when Pharaoh’s chariots were bearing down on him.
  • It’s what David had when he spent years on the run from King Saul.
  • It’s what YOU will need to fulfill God’s destiny for your life.

In Isaiah 43 God promises that floods and fires won’t drown or consume us. I wish the promise was that we could bypass those things altogether, but the reality is that sometimes resistance needs to be faced—even when we are walking in obedient fellowship with God.

God is not trying to squish you under your heavy burdens—He’s giving you strength, character, and a spiritual six-pack. He’s training you today for where He’s taking you tomorrow.

Bloodsuckers

Do you have any bloodsuckers hanging around your life right now? Any people or situations that are constantly swarming you and sucking the life and vitality from you?

Bloodsuckers are an inevitable part of life, and they seem to get even more aggressive when we decide to take great risks for God.

At this year’s men’s retreat I was reminded of a helpful truth about bloodsuckers: they can only latch on to us when we stop moving.

Before the opening session of our retreat, I went for a walk in the woods to pray and I was instantly overwhelmed with how thick the swarms of mosquitoes were. They were large, loud, and aggressive, and if I stopped walking for even a second they were all over me. When I kept moving; however, they had a harder time sticking their proboscis (nice word, huh?) in to my skin. They were forced to retreat and follow me from a distance.

It’s impossible to avoid bloodsuckers—there will always be things that drain and deflate us—but if we are wise we will minimize the amount of time that we spend dealing with them. Rather, we will adopt Nehemiah’s mentality as he rebuilt the broken down walls of Jerusalem. When the bloodsuckers tried to latch on to him he said, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” (Nehemiah 6:3)

Sometimes the best way to deal with the bloodsuckers is to get back to work God has called us to.

Remembering the Persecuted Church

Titian's Ancona Crucifiction, 1558.

Image via Wikipedia

This Sunday is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Let’s all take time to remember and pray for our brothers and sisters throughout the world who are facing severe persecutions for their faith.

Although it’s very difficult to get entirely accurate statistics on how many people are actually persecuted for their faith, the World Evangelical Alliance has published some shocking figures about today’s worldwide persecution of Christians. According to their research:

  • There are 52 nations that are recognized as restricted and hostile where Christians still suffer for their faith. Five of these countries—Cuba, North Korea, China, Vietnam, and Ethiopia—have been on the Voice of the Martyr’s list of restricted nations for more than 30 years.
  • Christians are the most persecuted group in the world today, and every year literally hundreds of thousands of them are threatened, discriminated against, arrested, sold as slaves, tortured, and sometimes killed because they are followers of Jesus.
  • Each year, between 150,000 and 165,000 people are martyred (they love Jesus more than their natural lives).
  • There have been more than 26 million documented cases of martyrdom in this century alone.
  • More than 43 million Christians have been killed for their faith since the crucifixion of Jesus, and more of these martyrdoms have occurred in the 20th Century than in all of the prior 1,900 years since Christ combined.

Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 3:1-3 provide a great prayer template for us as we remember these precious men, women, and children in the Persecuted Church: “Finally, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.”