Tuesday, May 26, 2009

‘…with persecutions’ (Mark 10:30)

Our perspective actually sets, interprets and becomes our reality. Preconceived prejudices largely determine what we open or close our eyes, ears, minds and hearts to. Revelation depends greatly on our training to either see or refuse to see. Plain truth and fresh vision might well be right before our eyes, but if we don’t have eyes to see or ears to hear, we’ll overlook, deny or even refuse them. We will miss it, though it might well be right before our eyes! Just ask Pilate. ‘What is truth?’ he asked, and The Way, The Truth and The Life stood right in front of him!

Thomas Jefferson’s prejudice against the supernatural precluded his rejecting both Christ’s divinity and miracles, so he took a pair of scissors and literally cut everything out of his Bible which did not agree with this rationalistic, but foolish, paradigm. Not only was he left with a holy Bible, but his assumptions ripped gaping holes in his overall world perspective.
Western Christians are being trained by culture and circumstances to view life through a lens of consumer-comfortable, self-centred materialist religion. Our culture offers us a line of stylish glasses, more concerned about how well we look (our appearance conformed) than how well we see (our vision transformed). We need Our Father’s New Covenant Son-glasses to see life His way, from His perspective. It 's all about 'The Revelation of Jesus Christ'! We need to focus and see Jesus at the centre on the throne. Only then are we able to see light in darkness, beauty through pain, order in the midst of confusion.
What glasses do you have on?
Conveniently but unfortunately, we have removed much of what the Bible speaks about suffering and persecution from our conscious worldview.
We have learned to quickly read over these verses, giving them polite lip service, but convinced they were for other people of other places or times. In turn, we have been spoiled for the real work of the Spirit and the kingdom of God.
We have been sold fashionable, but deceptive, designer glasses that have skewed our viewing, thinking and living.
We have equated suffering with personal and cultural discomfort and confused attacks of the devil with The Comforter’s efforts to renew us as salt and light. Comfort, personal peace and affluence are the new gods and goals that have supplanted sacrifice and service in our worship. We have virtually exorcised suffering and persecution from our Bible and life consciousness. Our eyes are predisposed to skim over these ‘difficult’ passages and focus on the more feel-good, pleasure-giving portions.
We have ascribed to the creed: If it is uncomfortable, it cannot be God.
We have taken away from God’s Word and diluted the gospel’s power.

For example, a ‘prosperity gospel’ mindset reads Mark 10:30, focuses on ‘houses and lands, hundredfold now in this time’, equates them with wealth + riches, but omits ‘with persecutions’. This set of glasses, either out of denial, ignorance, or blindness assumes this either 'must be a typo,’ or really applied to a different time when Christians were not as enlightened as we are today. But keep reading and you’ll find suffering and persecution virtually everywhere in the Bible and you cannot overlook or deny their value to us also today!
Look at 1Pet 1:11. The Old Testament prophets foresaw, but could not comprehend ‘the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow.’ The Pharisees looked for the glory of a future Messiah through their own set of expectations, but Jesus Christ the Messiah did not fit their list, especially the suffering part, so they rejected Him. They read Isaiah 53, but neither received its true meaning nor made the connection that the prophesied Messiah equaled this foretold Suffering Servant present in Jesus Christ. He came to His own and His own did not receive Him (John 1:12). He did not fit their preconceived mindset of who He would be and what He would do! Jesus neither wore their brand of glasses, nor conformed to their predetermined image!
The disciples had the same problem: it took them over two years to realize who Jesus was.
Yes, He was a real man, but the God-man, God in flesh, the Christ, Son of the Living God?
After His identity finally became revelation to them, Jesus started speaking about the next step, His destiny, but again they could not receive it.
‘We are going to Jerusalem; I will be crucified, but I will rise again.’
He clearly outlined the plan to them at least 3 times, but they never understood. When Good Friday came, they could not believe Sunday was coming. Sunday morning came and they were hiding behind locked doors, afraid for their lives. Jesus’ words hadn’t fit their worldview. Their Messiah was supposed to charge into Jerusalem on a white horse, liberate Judea and send the Romans packing! Peter even openly rebuked Jesus about His negative thinking. Every time He brought it up, they changed the subject, either willfully, ignorantly or just plain willfully ignorant. They could not see what He saw. Their glasses distorted, discoloured and blinded their view. Jesus tore the veil away so they could see clearly. Have we sewn it back up again?

How willfully ignorant are you about the next step ahead in your destiny? Are you willing to see, accept and embrace what lies ahead? Can you discern what the enemy means for evil and believe the Lord will turn it for good and a testimony to His greater glory?

Look further at Philippians 1:29: ‘…it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for His sake.’ Reading with C20th Western ‘comfort glasses’ automatically stops after ‘believe in him’ and evaporates that last phrase on suffering into unconscious unbelief. However, the Word remains. And its true comfort, if you will receive it, will be there for you when you need it. And rest assured: you will need it if you are serious about following the Master.

Take a further look at another familiar passage: ‘And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony,’ (Rev 12:11ab) Here is a powerful statement of God’s ability to bring victory out of seeming defeat. But that is only a portion of the entire verse and much of our contemporary Church has customized this Scripture by mentally blotting out the last phrase ‘and they did not love their lives to the death.’ Now I know that ‘death’ part is really uncomfortable and theologically, Jesus already died for my sinsand conquered death, so can’t we just skip the suffering part and go right into the glory! Let's just live in the glory, right?

Right! So, why not take the whole Scripture by faith and move into the whole glory, from glory to glory, disregarding our physical comforts' complaints. Our Western Christian mindset wants to serve God, but hesitates at the threshold of truly laying it all down. It’s like everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die to get there! We can't quite grasp what's really on the other side. Such incomplete views lead only to disappointment and discouragement when reality ultimately sets in.
Rev 12:11c is still in effect today. In fact, if today’s Church really wants to move into the next glory, we will have to count the costs (both what Christ already paid on The Cross and our present responsibilities as disciples) and follow Jesus just as every generation that has desired genuine testimony over mere hypocrisy.

Centuries ago, in the midst of intense, empire-wide persecution, Tertullian, one of our Early Church Fathers, proclaimed: ‘The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church!’
Or, in other words, ‘When the Church is persecuted, it grows!’
It is historical fact that when one Christian died in the arena, ten more were ‘born again’ in the stands. Do the math. Eventually Roman persecution destroyed itself: the true God won more hearts than the idol emperors!
But much of today’s Western church has lost the power and meaning of this revelation.
We have immunized ourselves against suffering and persecution. Comfort and self-preservation have become our underlying creeds and goals (although I’m sure we would not admit that).
We have so sheltered ourselves from real Christianity that it is difficult for us to even recognize, let alone respond to, the real thing when it confronts us.
We are familiar with stories and pictures of martyrs from other periods of Church history, but they seem somehow distant, so ancient to us.
We feel a sentimental tug on our hearts when we hear how they suffered for their faith: thrown to the lions, burnt at stakes, nailed to crosses, flaming human torches for Nero’s garden parties. But that was all back then, wasn't it?
We are ignorant of both suffering’s content (tribulation can really be in God’s will for Christians today - 1Pet 4:19 ‘let those who suffer according to the will of God’) and context in the worldwide Church today. Do you know that more Christians have died for their faith in just this last century than in all previous centuries combined?
Persecution is not a thing of the past, at least not for real Christians in the real world. For many it is a present truth, obstacle and overcoming testimony! Rather than just decry the Western Church’s Laodicean state and its exchange of fire, zeal and passion for religious form and escapist raptures, we need to take steps of faith and obedience to break apathy and reveal true Christian testimony. The kingdom of God is so much better than the seductive American Dream!

Should we then pray for persecution? 2Tim 3:12 clearly answers: ‘All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.’ We don’t have to pray for persecution.
Simply follow The Master faithfully; the world treats His real disciples like they treated Him. Experiencing reproach for our own sin is not the same as suffering for Jesus (1Pet 2:20). It’s for Christ’s sake, not our own, that yields glory to Him! Live godly in your everyday world like Jesus did (WDJD?), and you will encounter (no, you will create) reaction + opposition. The world will seek to crucify you! The status quo does not like its world turned upside down…. or right side up! Persecution will stalk, follow and find you.
It’s not so much what you do or don’t do: it’s essentially whom you follow, who you carry within, who you are. Desire to live godly ‘in Christ Jesus’ and this new identity will become so clear that, not only will your old ‘self’ be unrecognizable, but the world will recognize and fight against this Christ in you. You will make a difference for Christ and any crisis will be your opportunity to shine. After all, ‘crisis’, essentially 'The Cross in action', only brings out what truly lives within, reveals what we’re made of, and yields fruit to God’s glory.
The Sauls of this world are watching and cannot ignore God’s Stephens. Their deaths are never in vain; they yield Pauls who change nations.

No comments:

Post a Comment