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Archive for the tag “Persecuted Church”

Five Hundred

Are you a numbers person? I am. When I hear numbers, I perk up – so to speak. It happened the other Sunday while I listened to my Pastor speak about getting our act together – well, he didn’t actually call the message that… but that’s the jest of this message series.

The number 500 came to my attention when Pastor Jimmy spoke about the last message Jesus gave to those gathered. The message was to go out and tell the Good News. Pastor Jimmy said the crowd hearing that message was less than the ones sitting in the warehouse that morning hearing Pastor Jimmy’s message.

Five hundred. That’s all it took to get the message to us today. Isn’t that amazing?

Five hundred men and women were called to tell the Good News to the ends of the earth. They heard the proclamation to go and tell in Jerusalem (city), in Judea and Samaria (region) and to the ends of the earth (world). But it took persecution to get the message to go beyond the borders of Jerusalem. When those believers felt the heat, they took off to parts unknown. But as they went, they told the stories of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

Five hundred.

The small crowd of followers listened intently to the message that day. These were the ones who stayed when others had left because of Jesus’ hard teaching. Their eyes were focused on the Risen Lord. I can imagine them sitting with their gaze – eyes wide; ears attentive and tuned in to His voice. They would hang on His every word. After all, this One was dead then He was alive. Who wouldn’t believe after that? Well, besides the religious leaders.

The last thing Jesus said would be the thing that would be engraved on their hearts. “Write it down; we need to remember this – it’s important.” The Gospel writers did so we could be there with them to hear the message they heard. The message changed their lives. It could change ours too – if we listened and tuned in to His voice.

Five hundred.

Peter helped increase the number with his first message. The followers numbered three thousand five hundred on Pentecost. Jesus said those assembled would increase with the help of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come. And they did. The Holy Spirit came like a rushing wind. Tongues of fire lit something within them and they were never the same. Jesus said the assembly – Ecclesia (Greek) or Church (English) – would be built upon the foundation of Jesus’ message – His Truth – He is the Son of the Living God who died for our sins and was raised to life so that we could be in relationship with God the Father as was the Plan from the beginning.

This message was passed down from generation to generation. For centuries, it endured because of the testimony from those who had been changed by its message. Throughout the world and across generations, lives have been changed because of the first five hundred. The five hundred didn’t have an easy road to travel. They endured many hardships. Persecution kept them going. And the message spread because of it.

What would it take today to get us motivated to tell others about this Good News? The message hasn’t changed. The Holy Spirit is still at work today as He was when the Church was first formed. Jesus said the Church would never be destroyed. And it hasn’t been, although it’s not because of the enemy’s lack of trying. One day, the Church will be snatched away and the world will fall into a great darkness.

The only thing keeping the darkness at bay is the power of the Holy Spirit working through His Church. It may not be apparent today in the US as it was in the past, but the Church is still a guiding force by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is still looking for those willing to risk it all, just as the first five hundred did for the message of Christ. The first five hundred experienced persecution for the Church to grow.

Today, the Church is growing in other parts of the world. Unfortunately, they experience great persecution as well. The decline of the church in the US may be caused by our “freedoms” and lack of persecution. What’s it going to take to wake up the church in the US today? Is it going to take persecution in the US to bring about a renewed interest in this old message? Will the church dwindle down to 500 faithful believers who will risk it all for the sake of the Good News? Time will tell… the church is still here – are we awake?

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are.

In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. 1 Peter 5:8-10 (NLT)

The Stories

Over the last few days, I have been listening to several speakers tell their stories. I tuned into Daystar on my Roku and found Joni Lamb’s Table Talk. She was in Australia for the Plantshakers conference. To tell you the truth, I hadn’t heard of this conference before; but apparently this conference has been going on for years. One of the stories was a young man who started a bottled water company because he saw the plight of the poor with no clean water. He saw the statistics of the poor without water, and the statistics of how much bottled water is sold throughout the world. That gave him an idea. He had no experience in bottling water. He had no experience in business. But he had an idea – a God-sized idea. According to their website, they have given over $5.5 million to people in need. That’s pretty amazing! Check out https://thankyou.co/ for their amazing story.

I moved on to another speaker who talked about work that he and his wife are doing in the Middle East. Tom Doyle and his wife had a ministry that helps Christians in the Middle East. Their journey started when he was delivering a message to his church. During the message, the Lord impressed upon him that this was the last message he would preach to his church. His wife got the call as well. They both believed God was calling them to Gaza. Since that time, they have been ministering to the Christians in Syria and throughout the Middle East.

On Joni’s program, Tom spoke about some amazing conversion stories from the local believers in Syria. These men have chosen to stay in their country to win the lost. They all know that they will probably die for Jesus in that place. Tom mentioned that these men and women have such joy. Tom has a book out called Standing in the Fire that covers some of these stories. Check this out http://standinginthefirebook.com/ – the stories he told on Joni’s program are so inspirational.

On Joni’s program, she spoke to a couple who have a church in Manchester, England. They have been there for nine years and really making a difference in that place. The taping of this show was done long before the suicide bombing at the concert in Manchester a couple of weeks ago. So when I saw this program, I was intrigued by the fact there is a thriving church in this city where Satan chose to disrupt people’s lives by this tragedy. How much more can this church minister to this city now! Before this church, there were many churches in the city; but only a handful of churchgoers in each building. The church has been dying in England for years. But there is new life happening, and hopefully the church will have a greater impact in the midst of this tragedy.

I have heard there are pockets of rival going on in the western world. David Jeremiah said in one of his telecasts that all the great rivals have started by young people. They are the life blood of the church. Old men and women may have dreams, but the young can fulfill the dreams with their visions. It takes both in the church body. It takes us all to do our part. We all have stories to tell. Mine doesn’t have the thrill of the conversion stories in Syria. We all choose the path we will travel. I am praying my story has a better ending than the beginning. I want to make an impact on this world – I guess we all do. However, I will have to make some sacrifice to do it; we all do.

I guess that’s the kicker. We have to be willing to die to our self in order to move on with God. God can do amazing things through a willing heart. All we have to do is say Yes! As I consider this, I am reminded of the message at my church gathering on Sunday. The pastor said that desire informs behavior. Sin corrupts our desires and brings our destruction. The pastor mentioned that the intersection between desire and what we do is our idol. We will worship the desire of our hearts.

There is a war going on and the battle plays out for our hearts. We are told in Scripture to guard our hearts. Paul wrote in Ephesians about the armor we are to put on such as the breastplate to protect our vital organs. The heart is at stake here. In order to do the things God wants to do through us, we have to commit our hearts to him fully. There is no other way to have an amazing story to tell. When we get to heaven, I can imagine us telling our stories to each other. I pray for all of us to go out of this life with a blaze of God’s glory! Wahoo – what a ride! That’s my dream. What’s yours?

Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you your heart’s desires.

Commit everything you do to the Lord.
    Trust him, and he will help you. Psalm 37:4-5 (NLT)

It’s Inevitable

Can it get more bizarre? We have less than a week now to one of the biggest elections in my lifetime. I remember Watergate. I remember Carter’s presidency. I remember Bush/Gore election and waking up the next morning to find out who actually won. We’ve had a few twists and turns throughout our history, but really can it get any worse? But God is in control of all of it, and He is never surprised. He knows exactly what’s happening here and knows how it’s all going to turn out. I know God’s hand is in this election process. I mean, really. God has been all over this election period from day one when each candidate chose to run; and when each and every one of them dropped out until we’re left with these two.

And here we are with six days to go. On Wednesday next week, life as we know it will go on. Change will happen regardless of who is behind that desk in the oval office. Change is inevitable. We either go with it or fight it, but it’s going to happen regardless. After all, God’s Word has already told us things are going to spiral out of control in the last days. Yes, the last days have been since Jesus returned to heaven. But He told us it’s going to be like a woman in labor. The pains will come closer and closer together until that moment of birth.

I think we can all agree that the pains have grown closer and closer over the last several years. God’s word tells of the prophecies in the end, and we’re seeing a good bit of these things today. He tells us to be watchful and anticipate the end. I have struggled with the concept that all this (picture hands waving in the air) will come to an end one day. I have read Revelation – I know what it says about the end of time. But to believe that one day I could actually see it come to fruition seems a bit far-fetched. Why did He choose us to go through this period (if it truly is the end)? We could have all been born in a different century.

I don’t know when we can anticipate the rapture; before the tribulation period or after or maybe right in the middle; who knows? I do believe we’ll have to go through some times of suffering. Pruning will have to happen – to each of us personally and to the Church Body. Branches have to be pruned in order to be fruitful. These last days will be fruitful and persecution of the Church is inevitable – every branch of the church no matter where it is located needs some pruning. The American branch has been sitting pretty for a couple of centuries, but things are going to change. It has to. God foretold it in His Word. If God said it, then it will happen just as He said. Persecution is coming; it’s just a matter of time.

The thing about persecution, we are told to count it as joy when we experience suffering (James 1:2). In the early days of the church, the apostles rejoiced after being flogged because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name (Acts 5:41). In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul “boasts” about all the suffering he endured for the sake of the Gospel message. Of course, that was back in the day; surely we won’t have to endure such things, right? I cry over a stubbed toe!

I have noticed that we don’t get out of this life without some kind of suffering. If we are doing God’s work, then we will suffer in some way. Satan hates God and because of his hatred of God, he hates us. Anything Satan can do to thwart the plans of God, he’ll do it. Satan will try to take us out, but nothing can get to us unless it comes through God. God will only allow suffering for His purpose. Suffering will purify our faith. Count on it. And count it as joy because we have been counted worthy to suffer for His Name. Let it be as He said. And let us be found faithful to the tasks in this time and place for we are here for such a time as this!

“Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.” Revelation 22:12-14

Revival is Now!

I like to listen to prophecy experts. I’m not sure if they are prophets or just teachers who pay attention to what’s going on in the world. Either way, I find it very interesting. One of the things I hear from a variety of sources is a possibility of a great revival happening here in the US. There are many who believe Jesus will be returning for His church in the near future. There are many who think there will be a revival before that day of Jesus’ return. Someone mentioned that the revival will come as a result of this political craziness that we are experiencing. Many talk about martial law going into effect and there will be no “changing of the guard” for the presidential seat. Many visions have been seen revealing devastating earthquakes, tsunamis happening on both coasts, and even a great divide splitting the US at the Mississippi. Only God knows what’s really coming. I do believe judgment is coming one day.

People come back to church when their world has been shaken. But as it was with 9/11 with only a few weeks of returning, will it be a true revival or just a stepping back to family traditions? What will it take for a true revival?

Many times, Jesus spoke of persecution happening because of Him. In John 15, He said that if He was persecuted, then His disciples would be as well. As we have seen in the Book of Acts, the church body grew with persecution. Today, there are many who are being persecuted in different parts of the world. They ask us not to pray for the persecution to end, but for them to be bold and strengthened during persecution; to stand firm in their commitment to Jesus.

Recently, I read a couple of books concerning the persecution of the church. It’s difficult to read about what people have experienced, but what faith they exhibit in the face of persecution. As one who has never experienced such a trial, I cannot imagine how they endured it all. If persecution grows the church, then this could explain why the American branch of the church is showing signs of decline. Our population is increasing exponentially, but our churches are not seeing the same increase. In other parts of the world, the church is increasing even in the midst of great persecution. At the beginning of the church age, found in the Book of Acts – persecution brought the scattering of the church. As persecution continued throughout the next couple of centuries, the growth of the church exploded.

From 120 to 3000 to 5000, then persecution began. My pastor said recently that by the end of the first century there were approximately 25,000 believers. By the time that the Roman Empire “legalized” Christianity around the middle of the third century, 33 million were believed to have been Jesus followers.

So what would it take for us to have a revival today that would show this kind of increase? Do I dare say it? One of the speakers I listen to fairly regularly is a pastor in Hawaii. He gives a prophecy update every Sunday. This past Sunday, he spoke of a revival as well. He said on Sunday that we may have to face persecution like we’ve never experienced it here in the US. The revival may come not of the natural disasters or the man-made disaster from the political fallout; it may come at the expense of what we believe. Because of Jesus and His teaching, we may find ourselves in a position to either stand up for Him or deny Him.

At times, I have wondered if my faith is strong enough. Could I withstand persecution? Would I deny Christ as Peter did at his first persecution? Of course, that was before the Holy Spirit took hold of him and radically changed him. The Holy Spirit gave him such boldness that nothing deterred him from proclaiming the name of Jesus. That’s what the ones who are facing persecution are asking for today. Boldness. Maybe that’s what we all need to be asking for regardless if we are under persecution or trying to reach our friends and neighbors.

Suffering for the sake of the message of Jesus is considered a joy to those who experience it. Suffering helps us identify with Christ. He suffered for us. Jesus said the greatest gift of friendship is dying for one’s friends. If we consider ourselves a friend of Jesus, then we should be willing to die for Him – physically as well as just die to ourselves; losing those things that we hold on to that have no eternal value. So whatever happens in the future, my revival begins now. It starts with me ready to face whatever is in store, with boldness and with the strength God gives me through the Holy Spirit living in me. My revival is now – how about yours? Are you ready?

“I’ve told you these things to prepare you for rough times ahead. They are going to throw you out of the meeting places. There will even come a time when anyone who kills you will think he’s doing God a favor. They will do these things because they never really understood the Father. I’ve told you these things so that when the time comes and they start in on you, you’ll be well-warned and ready for them.” John 16:1-4 (MSG)

What Now

For the last few weeks, God has been instilling His plan in my heart. I know; it should be very evident this is what He wants done. Last year, my church started a training program to help us disciple others. I got it. I understood this is the great commission – we are told to go to the ends of the earth to teach others about Jesus. But what about going next door? Yes, I should go there too. I struggle with getting out of my comfort zone. I am perfectly fine sitting here in my nice quiet little house typing away on my computer. I may reach a few with my postings. However, my neighbor may never know that I write these blog postings. They may never come to the place of understanding that God loves them so much that He sent Jesus for them. Jesus came to redeem them – to set them free from their bondage to sin. Oh, we don’t talk about sin anymore – from our mistakes; the mistakes that we commit over and over.

God’s plan. He introduced the plan way back in the garden. He set things in motion until the right time. Then He sent Jesus to finalize the deal. Jesus did what God asked of Him. He suffered and died on a cross so that we could live in His resurrection power. He came to give us life everlasting. Jesus came for the lost. He came to end our suffering. The suffering we no longer endure is the suffering related to our sins. We give the weight of those burdens to Jesus. We now suffer for a different cause. We suffer for the sake of Jesus’ name. We take on His task of spreading the good news around the world or next door. Jesus said that we will have persecution because of Him. We will suffer for His cause if we choose to accept the challenge placed before us. It’s a matter of if we choose obedience or not.

I recently started another Bible study from the book of Jonah. This one is by Priscilla Shirer. This is a powerful study about God’s plan to reach the lost. Jonah had the task of reaching people he cared nothing about. He ran in the opposite direction. He didn’t accept the challenge until God put him in an uncomfortable place, then he did it reluctantly. About the time I started the Jonah study, I read about the persecuted church in the book by Nik Ripkin called The Insanity of God.

We truly don’t understand persecution in this country. It’s a foreign concept to us. But in the first century church, they understood it well. Persecution was like the stamp of a foot that scatters dust; persecution drove the people further into the world to reach the lost. Persecution scattered the Body of Christ. For those of us who are not under persecution, we are 30% of all the believers around the world. The rest of the believers are enduring persecution. Believers in persecution are willing to risk it all for the sake of Jesus’ name being known. They stand up in the oppression for the things we take for granted. They risk death for the sake of the resurrected Jesus. Those seeking will travel miles on foot to find people who know Jesus. They find Bibles miraculously in order to increase their knowledge. People in some areas only have a portion of Scripture, and they memorize every word.

I am perplexed by this concept of persecution. I take for granted all that was done for my sake to know Jesus. I have multiple Bibles. I can worship openly. I can talk openly about Jesus. Yet, I do not have the compulsion to go next door. What do I do with the words contained in the Bibles I have around my house? Something is wrong with this picture. So what now? How do I change my comfort zone to include others who do not know Jesus? It starts with knowing Jesus so well; to be willing to die to myself in order to gain the passion (suffering) of Jesus. It’s the plan that began so long ago. It’s in my hands (and yours). We are the torchbearers of this generation. What will you do with the knowledge that you possess?

Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. Luke 24:45-48

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