The Sun Is Rising In the East

A researcher was speaking to a number of pastors in an area of the world where true believers in Jesus suffer persecution on a regular basis. He was hearing amazing stories of God moving in supernatural ways as well as horrific stories of Christian leaders being jailed, tortured, and even killed for their faith. 

Here is what he wrote…

At the end of a number of days of sharing I remarked: “There is one thing I don’t understand. You have told me so many remarkable stories about what God has done. You have told me about unspeakable suffering. You have told me about previous persecution. And you have told me about God’s power at work. Why haven’t you written these stories down? Why haven’t you published these stories? Why haven’t your stories been recorded in some way?

The pastors seemed genuinely confused by my questions. 

Finally, an older pastor took me aside. He gently took my arm and he led me to the large picture window in the home — a picture window that was facing the east.

The old pastor began by making reference to my family: “You have told us that you have some sons.”

“Yes, that’s true.”

“Tell me,” the pastor patiently asked, “how many times have you awakened your sons before dawn and taken them to the east-facing part of your home? How many time have you said to them, ‘Boys, get ready! Look out this window, because the sun is about to come up in the east! Boys, I woke you up early today because I wanted you to see it! It’s about ready to happen!’ Tell me, how many times have you awakened your boys and said that to them?”

“Well, sir,” I answered, “I have never done that. In fact, my sons would think I was crazy if I did that.”

The old pastor nodded as if a profound point had been made. However, I could see no connection to our earlier conversation. I was completely baffled.

Seeing my confusion, he went on to explain. “You would never do that with your sons because the sun coming up in the east is normal and ordinary. It is an everyday event. It is expected. Well, that’s the way persecution is for us. That’s the way God’s activity is for us. We don’t write much about these things — we don’t even talk much about these thing — because these things are as normal as the sun coming up on the east.”

The researcher went on the write…

It was a startling thought for me. From my perspective, persecution was something exceptional, unusual, out of the ordinary. From my perspective persecution was a problem, and it was something to be avoided. From the perspective of my pastor friend in (name of country), however, persecution was not exceptional at all. It was usual. It was ordinary. Persecution was simply to be expected for followers of Jesus. And God’s ability to intervene and use persecution for His purposes was expected as well.

Personal note: This brief message has caused me to do some deep thinking about my life and ministry and the often lack of any visible persecution because of my witness for Jesus. 

End note: According to several mission ministries … 80 percent of the world’s believers who are practicing their faith live in persecution. Believers being those who are born again and have a genuine relationship with the Lord Jesus. 

And yet, in my life….

Sheep and Wolves – Part Two

Continuing on from last time…

Jesus said plainly that He was sending His followers out “like sheep among wolves” (Matthew 10:16). Then He told them even more. He told them that they would be handed over to the local councils, flogged in the synagogues, and brought before governors and kings as witnesses. He told them that they would be arrested, betrayed, and hated (verses 17-22). In a word, His followers would be persecuted (verse 23). Jesus made it clear that this impending persecution was not merely a possibility; for those who would obey Him, persecution is a certainty.

In response to His instructions, Jesus’ followers set out on this grand and frightening adventure, and sure enough, they experienced everything that Jesus had promised. They went out as sheep among wolves, and they experienced what sheep typically experienced in the presence of wolves. Predictably, the sheep were true to their identity. Just as predictably, the wolves wet true to theirs. And the inevitable result is precisely what Jesus has promised: persecution.

If there is any possible way to do it, we generally want to relegate passages like Matthew 10 to the distant past. We want to keep passages like Matthew 10 as far as possible from our own experience. Obedience to these ancient words, in today’s world, would potentially be seen as unbalanced — even insane. Especially within the church today, we might be encouraged to avoid taking Jesus’ instructions too seriously.

All the same, we claim that we are utterly devoted to Scripture. With great respect, we study to understand the world of these earliest followers of Jesus., We read about their suffering and we celebrate their costly obedience to Jesus’ call. Jesus clearly told His followers long ago that they wold suffer, and they did suffer. We know the story of these faithful followers is true.

As true as this story of ancient persecution is, however, we long to believe that these verses are merely “history.” We want very much to believe what happened to these earliest disciples is not what will happen to us. We want to believe Jesus’ words in Matthew 10 do not apply to believers today — at least, not to all believers!

But what if Matthew 10 is not merely “history”? What if Matthew 10 is a true word intended for Jesus’ followers of every time — a true word intended for even our time? What if Matthew 10 is about your and about me? What if “sheep among wolves” is an accurate description of both our calling and our world today? What if Jesus’ followers — His followers today — really are like sheep? And what if the world — the world today — really is filled with wolves?

Opening ourselves to the truth of God’s Word is dangerous. Popular theologies would tell us suffering can be avoided, that there is a way to be both faithful and comfortable at the same time, that there is a way to be both obedient and safe, that persecution is the destiny of believers who live only at certain times or in certain places, that God will reward obedience with success and security. Popular theologies would tell us that, even if we are sheep, it is possible to minimize our exposure to a world filled with wolves.

God’s Word — lived out in present active tense — however, tells its something very different. Jesus would have us understand that His followers — His followers long ago and His followers today — are, in fact, sheep. Jesus would have us understand that our world — our world long ago and our world today — is filled with wolves. And knowing the certain outcome of that encounter between the sheep and the wolves, Jesus would have us understand, even in this kind of a world, He fully intends to accomplish His purposes. Jesus will use these sheep to complete His great plan. 

Judging by what eventually happened to Jesus Himself, we come to understand that persecution and suffering and sacrifice are necessary parts of His ultimate strategy, even today.

Jesus’ instruction is compelling in its clarity. It is not a suggestion: it is a command. “Go!” He says. “I am sending you!”

We have the high privilege of answering Jesus’ call to go. But let’s be clear about this: we go on His terms, not ours. If we go at all, we go as sheep among wolves.

Why then, given that Jesus led His disciples every day to be with Him “to seek and to save what were lost” (Luke 19:10), did He feel it necessary to one more time command us with the Great Commission of Matthew 28?

Can it be that which Jesus lived and commanded to most is what we ignore obeying the most?

Today are we willing to follow Jesus to the tough places; anywhere and anytime He still commands?

Sheep and Wolves – Part One

 

Blog for December 1, 2020

At the risk of sounding a bit “preachy,” allow me a moment to restate the obvious — for what we have heard the most often might well be the very command we ignore the most. As the Gospel of Matthew comes to a crescendo, Jesus gave His followers a final word of instruction. We often refer to these worlds as the “Great Commission.” And, often the reality is that they are the “Great Omission.”

With stark simplicity, Jesus set out the calling and the mission of those who would follow Him. “Go,” He commands, “and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). From that day until now, Jesus’ followers have endeavoured to fulfill that assignment. Whatever else the church takes on, it is broadly understood that both “going” and “making disciples” are essential and defining tasks. The church cannot be the church unless it is going and making disciples. 

Interestingly, Jesus’ final instruction was nothing new; it is utterly consistent with His overall ministry. He came to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10) Early on, as Jesus invited Simon and Andrew to follow Him, He explained that He would make them “fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). Later, Jesus designated twelve apostles. They were appointed “that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach” (Mark 3:14). He called them close, building an intimate relationship with each of them. Then He sent them out. Consistently, this invitation to walk closely with Jesus is linked with the command to go out with Jesus. In fact, it becomes clear that an intimate relationships with Jesus necessarily leads to a life of ministry and service and mission for all believers. God is a sending God. Repeatedly, He draws people close and then He sends them out. In the Gospels, we encounter this same pattern over and over again.

When Jesus sent His followers out, He gave explicit guidance. He also explained clearly what would happen to His followers as they obeyed Him. In Matthew 10, Jesus gave the twelve “authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness” (Matthew 10:1). He told His followers exactly what message to proclaim (verse 7). He also gave them specific instructions about their upcoming journeys (verses 5-15).

Some of His instructions sound uncomfortable and even potentially dangerous. For these specific and short trips, Jesus told His followers to take no money as they journeyed. He told them to take no bag. He told them to take no extra clothing or shoes. Evidently, Jesus wants His followers to experience God’s sufficient provision firsthand.

As challenging as some of Jesus’ specific instructions were, however, what He had said to this point was downright encouraging compared to what He said next. “I am sending you out,” He explained, “like sheep among wolves” (Matthew 10:16).

Like sheep among wolves. With that simple, startling phrase, Jesus defined the identity of His followers: they  are like sheep. At the same time, He clarified the identity of the people they would meet in the world: they were like wolves. It is not especially difficult to ascertain what will happen to sheep in the presence of wolves. Even if we have no personal experience with either sheep or wolves, we plainly see how this scenario plays out. Frankly, it is not good to be sheep in the presence of wolves. Sheep don’t normally survive in the presence of wolves! Even so, Jesus wanted His followers to understand both their true nature and the true nature of the world in which  they would journey. Jesus wanted His disciples to understand both the content of the gospel and the context in which it was to be shared. What He offered was a simple statement of fact.

And notice this: Jesus did not ask the sheep to behave like wolves, and He certainly did not suggest that the wolves would behave like sheep!

After setting this image before them, Jesus did not give His followers the opportunity to revisit their earlier commitment to Him. He did not ask them if, in the light of these new words, they still were serious about following Him. After all, they had already answered His call, and obedience to Him was the necessary next step. With some notable objections, His followers obeyed. They went.

And ever since, His followers have continued to go. At least some of them haver!

More next time.  

Sometimes I Can Get Angry

When I am wanting to unwind I will spend a few minutes watching the highlights of America’s Got Talent or one of the other “Got Talent” shows from numerous countries. Occasionally as I scroll through the feed looking for one I have not see I run across someone commenting on a Christian leader, a specific Christian teaching (I use the word ‘Christian’ loosely there). And, most times the reviews and comments are negative. I understand that people want to vent. And, we are free to do so publicly.

The other night I was watching a post from someone I had not seen before … He was commenting on a specific movement within the Christian Church that I am familiar with and that I usually don’t completely agree with. So, I watched a few minutes of the You Tube posting. So, please note, I am watching someone I don’t know talking about men and a movement that I do know and mentioning things they teach that the reviewer believes are not biblical.

He entered into my territory … commenting on the original twelve apostles and how, after Judas was replaced by Matthias (see Acts, Chapter 1) and the early Church was established (see Acts, Chapter 2) that the ministry of the “apostle” was done away with. He simply states this as a fact. Which, by the way, it is not. He does not back it up with any credible biblical research. He just states it like it is absolute truth. Which it is not. In fact, there are 15 others in the New Testament who are referred to as apostles. In fact, the ministry of the apostolic that Jesus initiated continues today (Ephesians 4:11-12) and is foundational to all church planting and movements (Ephesians 2:20 and 1 Corinthians 12:28).

Of course, he was probably simply repeating what he was taught by others (see the blog on “monkeys” posted on November 27th). It seemed to me that he was repeating what he was taught – repeating it as a truth without ever examining the “truth” to see if it really was true. He obviously did not read the book of Acts nor Paul’s epistles as they mention many others who occupied the role and function of apostle in the early Church. He simply repeated something he was taught. Something that is biblically wrong. 

This type of ignorance and arrogance makes me mad. A totally dishonest presentation of his own beliefs passed off as absolute truth when really it is just his opinion not based in biblical fact at all. But, others will believe him. After all, he has a You Tube channel and a large number of followers. Not to mention that in the process of teaching heresy he runs down and speaks again the ministry of a number of true men of God. Again, I don’t agree with everything these men of God teach but my disagreements are in matters of interpretation and the way their ministries are operated. I do not disagree on the basics – and apostles and the other fivefold ministries are basic to the Church that Jesus is building. This man on You Tube was running down and speaking against their character, motives, and honesty. And doing so “publicly”.

Folks, we can disagree on interpretation of biblical verses and even on how we understand some basic theological truths … but these disagreements must be based on sound biblical research and a true understanding of both church history and church tradition. We have to be careful with teachings we receive and don’t examine to see if they truly contain biblical truths. We must discern what is man’s opinion and what is truly God’s Word and thus eternal truth. We must be careful with what others are saying – and posting – when often they are representing their opinion of their own church tradition as absolute truth. 

The Bible tells us that “even the very elect of God will be deceived in these latter days” (Matthew 24:24). Let’s be wise in what we do with what we hear, read, and see. Not everything is truth and even the Devil (and his ministers) can twist the truth today as he did when quoting Scripture during the tempting of Jesus (Matthew 4). 

Sometimes I get angry when I hear opinion passed off as truth. And, when I hear a so-called believer use their You Tube channel to destroy the reputation of good men of God who are out there on the front lines seeking and saving the lost … not sitting in front of a camera sprouting off about things and ministers of the Gospel they don’t even know. The man whose You Tube video on the false teachers and false movement of the Spirit I was watching is the true “False Teacher.” 

The Lesson From a Group Of Monkeys

I am always astonished at what people believe. Not just in matters of the faith but in all aspects of life. Of course, with COVID-19 there are so many differing opinions and viewpoints. The most obvious currently: the mask or no mask debate and divide. We have people who believe that asymptomatic people cannot spread the virus when scientific and medical experts tell us the opposite. We have conspiracy theories about the origin of the virus…

People put their thoughts and opinions on social media and repeat them often enough that some people begin to believe they are true. And, of course, then they retweet or repost and thus spread them further ‘as truth.’ So we end up with large numbers of people believing something that is not true. 

The other day in a series of interviews with doctors and nurses they were sharing that people who they are ministering to in hospital and the ICU – people who are dying from COVID-19 – think the COVID-19 virus is not real and simply a hoax. They believe what they have been told and what they have heard over-and-over again … not checking the facts, just believing. Even when dying they still do not believe they were really dying of COVID-19. 

It reminds me of the scientific study done a number of years ago. I have reproduced it below….

Scientists once conduced a very interesting experiment

In the middle of a room, they hung a bushel of fresh bananas halfway up a pole

Then they let four monkeys loose in the room.

Immediately the hungry monkeys dashed towards the bright yellow bananas

As they climbed the scientists blasted the monkeys with icy-cold water

The monkeys backed off, regrouped, then made a second attempt. As they started to climb the pole, once again they received the discouraging dousing

After several unsuccessful attempts, the monkeys became convinced that failure was inevitable and finally stopped trying.

The next day, the researchers removed one of the four monkeys and replaced him with a new monkey.

What did the rookie do?

He went straight for the bananas

But before he even reached the pole, the three veterans pulled him away

Undeterred, the new money tried again. 

Again his compassionate roommates intervened

At last he gave up and adopted their fatalistic attitude

Each day, the scientists replaced one of the original monkeys with a new one

By the fifth day, four monkeys occupied the room, not one of whom had ever been sprayed with cold water

From that day forward, whenever a new monkey was traded in, the others would prevent him from going for the bananas … without even knowing why 

Four had failed, and then they conditioned the novices to not even try

This happens with more than a group of monkeys. 

This happens to us as believers more often than we care to admit

People hear what we are wanting to do and tell you all the reasons we should not. You hear it often enough and you decide that you likely were not hearing God or misinterpreted what you heard.

You were in a friendship that didn’t work – others tell you that friendships are always unpredictable and usually painful so you decide not to risk another attempt at friendshipwith someone else

You were married and the marriage failed. Others tell you to just stay single as it is not worth the pain to remarry

Your first child was a pain in the neck an totally upset your life – so you don’t ever have a second one

Once burnt – twice shy

Several people I know were told by their parents and teachers as they were growing up that they would never amount to anything. Born losers. And, having heard it often enough – they  live up to the negative expectation and never use their abilities, skills, and talents to build a life that they could be proud of; a life that would benefit others and be a blessing.

It seems that we can be programmed to believe anything if we hear it often enough. And, it seems that the source of the ‘belief’ matters little. What matters is that it is repeated over and over again until it “becomes truth” to the hearer although not based in any facts. 

Remember: just because you read or hear or see something on social media does not make it true

Remember: what others say about you is not near as important as what God has declared about you

Remember: what God declares about you is always, and I repeat, always true

Remember: it is perfectly alright to check out every thing you hear or read to see if it is based in fact and is not just someone’s opinion. This is true even with teachings and sermons you may have heard. Don’t believe it because someone said it; believe it after you check it out with the written Word of God – the Bible. 

Don’t let others “make a monkey out of you.”

A Warning to the Church Today – Part Two

As we continue to story of the survival and strength of the Russian Church in the early 1950’s…

On the day I heard the story about that conference, I was able to visit with some young people. The younger ones were excited about the chance to meet a real, live American; they wanted to practice their English language skills. Many of these young people were the grandchildren of the pastors who had been telling me the stories from the earlier days. I asked the grandchildren of the men who had so proudly told me how much Scripture and how many lyrics the young people in the house churches had been able to reproduce back in 1950’s: “Tell me how much Bible do the young people in your churches know today?”

They looked at each other and rather sheepishly admitted, “Not much.”

I didn’t want to put them on the spot or embarrass them by asking how much of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John they might be able to quote. So I asked them how many different stories from the Gospels they could think of and list. They came up with a handful.

“How many books of the Bible can you name?” I asked.

“Only a few,” they said.

I don’t know if those young people were embarrassed by their responses to my questions. I did see, however, what the Russian church had lost in the first decade of “freedom.” Under communism, the church had found way to survive and often thrive. Scripture and holy song was its lifeblood. Now, in a much freer day for the church, Scripture and holy song did not seem nearly as important.

With freedom to gather as believers the knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures apparently was no longer as important in the life of the believer. Nor were the choruses that expressed the very life and soul of the Church. The foundation for a strong and vibrant, reproducing faith was just not there in the life of the younger generation.

The warning I see for today is that many of the churches that I work in both in North America and overseas in Easter Europe and Central Asia have also lost a love for and a knowledge of the Word of God. Yes, they now have the Bible in print in their own language (and in North America in many different versions and translations). But it is not written on the hearts of the believers as it was just a generation or two before when printed copies were not available or even legal to own. And, believers no longer know the Bible’s content like they use to back when the written word was not always freely available.

It is not an issue of not having the Scriptures available. Yes, there are still many people groups who have yet to have God’s Word translated into their native tongue. But, in general …

It is not an issue of not having good Bible teachers. Many of the churches are blessed with anointed teachers of God’s Word. Bible schools now exist in many nations. And, with the internet good teachings are always available. 

It is not an issue of not being taught the Word. Good teaching is widely available if one wants to take the time to search and find it.

In most countries there is freedom to teach and preach from God’s Word. And, many can now have their own personal copy of the Scriptures available to read in their homes. 

I believe it is simply that we don’t have a hunger for God’s Word. Maybe it has become too ‘familiar.’ Maybe we rely on the paid professionals to know it and guide us into God’s truth so that we don’t have to be bothered learning it for ourselves. Maybe we no longer think that it is relevant in today’s fast-paced, social media driven world. 

Maybe it is just that when life is good and persecution is light or non-existent, God’s Word no longer seems as relevant or necessary.

Whatever the reason, the Church may be larger than ever before but I believe it is much weaker. God’s people apparently are less hungry for the Word of God. Thus we are not feeding our spirit the food it needs to be strong and vibrant in the faith. And, so we see a weak Church that is no longer fulfilling the Great Commission. A Church that is inward focused, not sharing the Gospel of the Kingdom, and thus is less and less relevant to the world in which she finds herself. 

But, this can change quickly by God’s people recognizing the need to know and live God’s eternal and unchanging Word and praying daily to be hungry for more of the Living Word of the Living God. 

How about you?

 

A Warning to the Church Today – Part One 

A story, which for me, contained a warning of how fast things can change in the world but more importantly in the Church. I read the following in a book on the Church overseas…

The place is Russia in the early 1950’s when three charismatic pastors were organ sizing house churches. While they were experiencing exciting growth in the larger moment and regularly adding new house churches, each individual house-church “congregation” consisted of the same ten or twenty people week after week, year after year. For security reasons, many of the house churches consisted entirely of people who who were related to one another and were, therefore known well enough to be trusted.

In that setting, I imagined how teenagers or young adults might understand the church and the Body of Christ., Their entire faith experience had been defined by a lifetime of weekly worship in the front room of the house with mom and dad and a few other relatives. In their eyes, that was church. There was no awareness of a larger Kingdom of God, no knowledge of what God was doing in other house churches — or even in other countries. These young people were surely in need of spiritual peers and a larger sense of community, but they likely felt isolated, lonely, and discouraged.

The three pastors who were helping to lead this movement realized what was happening, and they decided to try something. They came up with a very bold (some people would say foolish) idea. They planned and organized a youth conger in Moscow and invited all of the young, unmarried members of their various house churches —  from eighteen to thirty years of age — to meet and encourage one another. They hoped that there would be some spiritual cross-pollination between the different house-church groups and that their younger believers might learn what God was doing on a broader stage.

What some people judged top be “foolish” about the idea was thinking that a week-long meeting of almost Deven hundred young believers in Russia during the daly 1950’s could possible escape the notice of the communist government. Sure enough, the authorities did take notice. When the event was over, all three organizing pastors were arrested and sentenced to prison for three years each.

The people who were now telling me the story claimed that the pastors would have eagerly suffered the same punishment over and over again, because, as the explained to, “The Holy Spirit fell on that conference.”

The primary purpose in bringing the young people together was to gather the scattered parts of the Body of Christ in one place. The goal was to hear what God was doing with other people and to simply enjoy the experience of Christian community. At the beginning of the conference — evidently without much forethought or planning — the young people were given an interesting challenge. None of them had owned a Bible. They had never had hymnbooks or songbooks or recordings of religious music. So, in an off-handed way, the three pastors decided to determine how much Bible truth was present in that group of young people.

They said, “This will be like a game. Every day this week, we want you to gather in small groups. And we want to see how much of the four New Testament Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — you know and have memorized. In your groups, see how much of the Gospels you can recite. And then dod the same with songs and hymns. Let’s see how much of that van be reproduced by memory.”

At the end of the conference, when they compared and combined the efforts of all the different small groups, the young people had recreated all of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John with only a half-dozen mistakes. They had also recreated the lyrics of more than twelve hundred songs, choruses, and hymns of the faith from memory.

It became clear to me in an instant why and how the Christian faith had survived and often thrived under decades of communist oppression in the Soviet Union. I also understood what had enabled so many Russian believers to remain strong and faithful.

More next time… 

The Great Commission

The completion of the Great Commission will include great suffering, but eternity will prove it is worth the price. There are three significant truths in that statement.

1> The Great Commission will one day be complete. One day, disciples will have been made and churches will have been multiplied in every nation and among every people group on the planet. Thousands of these people groups remain unreached today, but one day — hopefully soon — they will be reached. In the words of Jesus, “The gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world as a testimony to all nations” (Matthew 24:14). 

According to the apostle John, one day “a great multitude that no one can number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” will stand “before the throne of the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands … crying out in a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10).

These words from Jesus and John in Scripture are guarantees. By the power of His Spirit through the testimony of His Church, Christ will be proclaimed as Saviour among all the peoples of the world.

2> This task of proclaiming Christ to all people will include great suffering. Jesus assured us of this, as well. Right before His promise in Matthew 24 of the gospel proclaimed to all nations, Jesus told His disciples, “They will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death” (Matthew 24:9). “If they persecute Me, they will also persecute you,” He told them in John 15:20. It is no surprise, then, to see the suffering of God’s people on every page of the story of the church in Acts and the history of the Church since Acts. 

Suffering is one of God’s ordained means for the growth of His Church. He brought salvation to the world through Christ, our suffering Saviour, and He now spreads salvation in the world through Christians as suffering saints. In the words of Paul, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Clearly, there is a sense in which the danger in our lives increases in proportion to the depth of our relationship with Christ.

3> Eternity will prove that such suffering was worth the price. The book of Revelation envisions the day when sin and Satan will ultimately be finally defeated, and followers of Christ who endured suffering in this world will reign with God for all eternity. How will this defeat come about? Through Christians who “have conquered [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives unto death” (Revelation 12:11). Men and women who wisely love the gospel and glory of God more than their own lives will enter into and experience eternal life, where God Himself will wipe away every tear from their eyes and dwell with them forever.

So, we need to decide that Jesus and His cause on the earth — to go to the nations and make disciples — is better than all the pleasures, possessions, and pursuits of the world put together. 

It is time for true believers to be more cognizant of the needs of the world, more confident in the Word of God, and more committed to making His Word known throughout this world, no matter what it cost you…realizing that God’s reward is far greater than anything this world could ever offer you. 

The Strategy of Satan Is Simple – Part Two

We are thinking about what it means to be a follower of Jesus and to be involved in His mandate to “seek and save the lost” as we “go into all the world and make disciples.” We looked at the simple strategy of the Devil and the issue of believers who don’t take seriously the task or mandate of the Church to complete the work the Lord came to establish (read Part One posted yesterday).

Our problem is not simply a lack of concern. And our problem is not that we are unaware or disinterested. We know what is happening around the world. We know about sacrifices that are made for the faith. We know more about the health and the whereabouts of members of the Body of Christ today than at any other time in history.,

It’s not enough to feel grateful for the blessed circumstances in which we live. It’s not even enough to do a better job remembering and praying for the suffering believers around the world. It’s not even enough to identify with the other parts of Christ’s Body around the world.

Ultimately the problem is one of emphasis and focus. Instead of recognizing, thinking about, remembering, praying about, identifying with and focusing on the suffering of fellow believers around the world, we would do well to shift our focus. Quite simply, we would do well to ask ourselves whether or not we are being obedient to Jesus. He is asking us — He is expecting us — He is commanding us to share Him wherever we go. He is commanding us to do that wherever we are today.

It is simply a matter of obedience. If He is our Lord, then we will obey Him. If we do not obey Him, then He is not our Lord. He said, If you love Me, you will obey Me.” Obedience is one of the main keys and is missing in so many churches and in the lives of many believers.

Perhaps the questions should not be: “Why are others persecuted?” Perhaps the better question is: “Why are we not?”

I think the answer is obvious!

As believers we are seriously “self-focused.” We are always looking at and dealing with our needs, our wants, our hurts, our reputation, our dreams and, yes, our ministry. As local churches we are busy with programs and meeting the needs of those who attend. 

Here’s a life-changing thought: It is not the task of the Church to meet your needs. You have the Great Shepherd and He loves you and cares for you. He can and will meet your needs and heal your hurts.

Here’s a life-changing thought: The Church exists for it’s non-members. It exists to seek and save those who do not have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, the Christ. 

Here’s another life-changing thought: “Not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father” … and the will of the Father is to be a labourer in the harvest field and daily to share Jesus as we live among the lost.

So, I believe it is time to take a good, hard and honest look at our lives and our churches. Then we need the courage to make the needed adjustments in focus and what we value so as to come into line with the Scriptures. A change in priorities will also be necessary. It is time for some serious thought followed by concrete actions that will aline us with the heart of the Father. 

The Strategy of Satan Is Simple – Part One

As I travel and minister I encounter committed followers of Jesus who trust even His toughest teachings. They understand that anyone who wishes to save his life must first be willing to lose it.

They are willing to take that risk because they believe that, ultimately, good will defeat evil. Love will finally overcome hate. And life will conquer death forever by the power of our resurrection faith. They know that the final chapter of the greatest story ever told has already been written. And they know that, in the end, and, for all eternity, God will have His way.

In the meantime, in the here and now, a real battle continues. This is the same spiritual battle that the apostle Paul talked about. First-century believers understood Paul when he described an epic struggle that was “not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the power of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). Followers of Jesus in persecution today understand this battle well.  

In fact, everyone in the world today that claims to be a follower of Jesus plays a part in this battle. Faithful believers who are paying a personal price in pain and persecution for the cause of Christ truly understand the crux and the cost of their faith. Their witness, their lives, and their examples should inspire and instruct us. Their experience reveals what is at stake, and their experience also reveals much about evil and its power.

Believers who know what it means to suffer for their faith help us recognize and understand the Enemy’s tactics and his ultimate goal. Satan at his worst, evil at its core, and persecution in its essence, does not overtly seek to starve, beat, imprison, torture, or kill followers of Jesus. The strategy of Satan is simpler and more diabolical than that. 

What is Satan’s paramount intent? Quite simply, it is this: denying the world access to Jesus!

Satan’s greatest desire is for people of this planet to leave Jesus alone. Satan desires that we turn away from Jesus — or that we never find Him in the first place. If Satan cannot be successful at that, he desires to keep believers quiet, to diminish or silence our witness, and to stop us from bringing others to Christ.

It is that simple.

Once we understand the nature of this spiritual battle and the strategy of the Enemy, we see clearly the role that believers have been called to play. We also see the importance of our choices regarding witness and faithfulness and obedience.

At the beginning of every day, we choose. It is simply a matter of identification. Will we identify with believers in persecution — of will we identify with their persecutors?

We make that choice as we decide whether we will share Jesus with others or keep Him to ourselves.

We identify ourselves as believers by taking a stand with, and following the example of those in persecution. Or we identify with their persecutors by not giving witness of Jesus to our family, our friends, and our enemies. Those who number themselves among the followers of Jesus — but don’t witness for Him —  are actually siding with the Taliban, the brutal regime that rules North Korea, the secret police in communist China, and the many other nations where believers are persecuted. Believers who do not share their faith aid and abet Satan’s ultimate goal of denying others access to Jesus. Our silence makes us accomplices. 

I am often asked if I believe that persecution is coming to Canada. My response is often rather pointed. I say, quite sincerely, “Why would Satan want to wake us up when he has already shut us up?” Why would Satan bother with us when we are already accomplishing his goal? He will likely conclude that it is better to let us sleep. 

More next time…