Oct 162015
 

The world was not worthy of themThis week I’m going to finish looking at the last beatitude about being blessed when you are persecuted. We have now spent 4 weeks on this subject, previously looking at the Old Testament prophets, the early church and now this week, I’m going to look at Christian persecution right up to the modern day.

The title of this blog is taken from Hebrews 11:38 where the writer to the Hebrews is recounting the many people who suffered for following God. In this blog I want to honour our brothers and sisters who are absolute heroes of the faith. Some will be more well known, whilst others, no-one has heard of and they suffered in secret, but I am convinced that right now they are not regretting one moment.

As I was researching this subject I was actually quite amazed at the extent of major persecutions directed at whole people groups, across the world and throughout history. Far too many that I could do justice to in one short blog. So I’m going to pick out just a few that have inspired me.

Gelasinus

One of the shortest journeys from conversion to martyrdom was a chap called Gelasinus from the second century AD. He was in a play which was lampooning baptism. As He was thrown into the water as part of the sketch he emerged and said “I am a Christian for I saw an awesome glory in the tub and I will die a Christian.” This so enraged the audience who were there to mock Christianity that they took him outside and stoned him.

William Tyndale

One of the reasons we can all own a bible was due to the sacrifice of people like William Tyndale. He was passionate to see the bible translated into English so that it was accessible to everyone, but at the time this was illegal. Tyndale had to flee England and spent most of his life in hiding because the English authorities were searching for him. He was eventually caught by an act of betrayal from someone who pretended to be his friend. He was executed by strangulation and burning at the stake in 1536 because he believed that; sins could be forgiven, the gospel was enough for salvation and that everyone should have free access to the bible.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

He was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian who stood against the evil Nazi regime during the second world war. His writings have since become very influential. He was vocally opposed to Hitler and his evil regime and as you might expect this put him in great danger. He was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and imprisoned at Tegel prison for one and a half years. He was then transferred to a Nazi concentration camp. After being allegedly associated with the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, he was briefly tried, along with other accused plotters, including former members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office), and then executed by hanging on 9 April 1945, just two weeks before Allied forces liberated the camp and three weeks before Hitler’s suicide.

Jim Elliot

Was one of five missionaries trying to reach the Auca indians in the Amazon rainforest and share the love of Jesus with them. They had made initial contact by plane but on their second visit on January 8, 1956 they were slaughtered by the Waodoni warriors (an Auca tribe) who had been lied to about the group’s intentions. The other heroes who were slaughtered that day were; Nate saint, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming and Roger Youderian. Amazingly, Elizabeth Elliot (Jim’s widow) reached out to the tribe that had killed her husband and saw many converted. A supreme example of forgiveness and love.

Wang Zhiming

Between 1966 and 1976 the Cultural Revolution in China brought an onslaught against all that was ancient or venerated in Chinese life. The young Red Guards who led the campaign sought to break free of the past and to create a revolutionary society that was utterly new. Religion must be destroyed. Churches were closed and Christians were forced to meet secretly.

Wang Zhiming was one of many Christians who were persecuted during this time. Many were sent to camps, were denounced or beaten. In May 1969 he and other members of his family were arrested. Four years later he was condemned to death. He was by then an old man of sixty-six.

Wang Zhiming was executed on 29 December 1973 at a mass rally of more than 10,000 people. Immediately afterwards many Christians, rather than cowering in fear for their own safety, instead remonstrated with the prosecuting official of the red guard.

Janani Jakaliya Luwum

Was the archbishop of the Church of Uganda from 1974 to 1977 and one of the most influential leaders of the modern church in Africa. He was arrested in February 1977 and died shortly after. Although the official account describes a car crash, it is generally accepted that he was murdered on the orders of then-President Idi Amin.

Mathew Ayairga and the 20 other Coptic Christians

I doubt there are many of us who have not seen the picture (Which is the header of this blog) of the shocking images of the 21 Coptic Christians on a beach in their orange jumpsuits about to be beheaded for their faith. This was from February this year and shows that the persecution of Christians is not only still happening but intensifying. The reason I have mentioned Matthew was because he was the only one from Chad (the others were from Egypt). He was originally a non-Christian, but he saw the immense faith of the others, and when the terrorists asked him if he rejected Jesus, he reportedly said, “Their God is my God”, knowing that he would be killed.

This blog has been in honour of the men and women who have laid down their lives just like their Lord did and who are now at rest in the presence of their saviour. Their blood has been a seed that God is using to sweep many into His kingdom. His church will prevail, Hallelujah.

Nov 072013
 

Stelios (MICHAEL FASSBENDER) crouches behind his shield as shrapnel tears through the air in Warner Bros. Pictures’, Legendary Pictures’ and Virtual Studios’ action drama “300,” distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.
PHOTOGRAPHS TO BE USED SOLELY FOR ADVERTISING, PROMOTION, PUBLICITY OR REVIEWS OF THIS SPECIFIC MOTION PICTURE AND TO REMAIN THE PROPERTY OF THE STUDIO. NOT FOR SALE OR REDISTRIBUTIONSo far in our series on ‘The Armour of God’ we have looked at armour that is worn; ‘the breastplate of righteousness’, ‘the belt of truth’ and ‘the shoes of peace’. This week we will look at ‘the shield of faith’. This shield is not so much something we wear, but rather something we take up. It is no use simply strapping it to our arm; we need to raise it in order to deflect the fiery darts of the enemy.

Faith is described in Hebrews 11:1 as follows: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” It is a trust in God, not only that He does exist, but also that He reveals His character and nature in the bible. Christian faith believes in a God who has made very certain promises to His children, promises that can be trusted.

The enemy’s fiery darts are designed to cause us to doubt God’s promises and not trust in His goodness. The very first dart that he threw was to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, when he said “Did God really say…?” (Genesis 3:1). He has been throwing similar darts of doubt to all mankind ever since.

Every day we find ourselves constantly bombarded by doubts about God. There is so much cynicism in this world, so we need to keep our faith shields up. It is our first line of defence. We would never go into battle without shields, simply relying on our breastplate, belt and helmet to take all the blows. Our faith is what keeps us moving forward in the battle.

It is important to see as well that we are not fighting alone. Our faith can rub off on our brothers and sisters around us. If you spend any length of time with somebody who has great faith, you will find that your faith grows as well. Faith is infectious. The protection of faith together is like the Roman soldiers who locked their shields together into a ‘tortoise’ so that their defence almost became impenetrable. It is said that in this formation a chariot could drive along the top of the shields!

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If you have only a little faith, seek out those in your church who have a lot of faith and allow them to encourage you. If your faith is relatively strong, see who you can encourage and strengthen. We are in this fight together and we can make huge inroads into the enemy’s territory when we fight as one.

 November 7, 2013  Posted by at 9:47 pm Armour of God, Faith No Responses »
Feb 222013
 

We have looked in recent weeks into the fact that when we become Christians we become new creations, our whole nature has changed. We are declared righteous before God, not through anything that we do but because what Jesus has done for us. We are also called saints or holy ones, with power over sin.

My question this week, given the truth that I have just stated is; “why do we still struggle to overcome in certain areas of our lives, why are we not living victorious lives on a daily basis?”

If it is true that we have been transported from one kingdom to another, things should be a lot different It is certainly true that Jesus won complete victory at the cross. In Colossians 2:13 -15 it says; When you were dead in your sins and in the un-circumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,  having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.  And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Jesus won the victory at the cross, winning us complete freedom, but the enemy still likes to lie to us and sometimes he can be very convincing. We are in a constant battle, although against a disarmed foe, he is still very cunning.

We have been set free – our old life the bit tied to sin has died – we can choose to follow God. The legal freedom in our lives however, needs to be applied as a literal freedom We need to be those who move from hearing and understanding the word to those who hold fast to it in daily situations. We need to Know the truth Believe the truth and act on the truth.

In John 8:31-32 Jesus explains; “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” It isn’t enough to just hear and understand without knowing the truth. To hold onto it is to know it. We take baggage from our old life into our new life in Christ and we need help taking that baggage off and having a completely new mindset. In Romans 12:1-2 it talks about renewing our minds. That’s the first step in discipleship.

Sometimes we can get stuck in patterns of behaviour that are unhealthy. That can be because things we are doing now or in the past have left an open door for the devil to get in. Here are a few examples of what I mean;

1. Occult influence – e.g. fortune telling, spiritualism, witchcraft, horoscopes, Ouija boards etc

2. False religions – Cults, paganism, legalistic churches, new age etc

3. Drug and alcohol abuse

4. Sexual perversion

5. Habitual gambling

6. Traumatic rejection

If you haven’t already done so, these old habits and destructive tendencies need to be renounced and dealt with. The important thing to note in all of this is we do have a choice. We can either live a life of freedom or of bondage. As I finish this week I would just like to ask you a couple of questions to consider;

• In what ways have you been lied to about your identity?

• How can you counteract these accusations?

• How can you know the truth, believe and act on it?

• How can this knowledge about your identity affect the way you live your life.

Let me encourage you to get together with a good Christian friend or church leader who can help you work some of these things through so that you can live a life of victory that is yours by right. If you have any questions about this subject or anything that has been said, please do not hesitate to contact me as I can make a few suggestions as to where you can go to for help.

 February 22, 2013  Posted by at 4:35 pm Confession, Faith, Resurrection, Salvation, The gospel No Responses »
Jan 102013
 

faithLast week we looked at the whole subject of repentance. As they fit so easily together, this week we are going to look at Faith. They are like two sides of a coin and make up the basis of God’s great salvation which many of us enjoy.

Faith is a great theme throughout the bible. In Hebrews chapter 11 you will find a list of men and women throughout bible times who did great exploits and were commended for their faith. In fact this chapter starts with a really good definition of what faith is “….faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see”.

Any dealings we have with God by definition are by faith as we cannot see Him, touch Him or hear Him.

God makes it clear throughout the bible that He loves faith. In fact it says in verse 6 of Hebrews chapter 11 “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him”.

Faith, like repentance is a gift from God.

In Ephesians 2:8-9 it says For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.

Many people today understand faith as ‘blind faith’. They refer to a ‘leap of faith’, a vague hope that things will turn out alright. This is not biblical faith. Biblical faith is built on the evidence of the bible and how God has revealed himself. It is a reasonable faith.

There are 3 points I want to make about faith:

(1) We are saved by faith

One of the most well known passages of the entire bible is John 3:16 which says “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

We believe that Jesus has died for us, we put our trust in Him to save us from our sins and we receive, by faith, God’s forgiveness.

(2) We are justified by faith

Justification is a picture taken from the law courts. God first of all declares us guilty, every last one of us has sinned and the just judgement is death (Romans 3:23). The wonder of justification is that God then declares us righteous because of what Jesus does in our place. He takes our punishment, paying the debt that we should pay. We receive all of this by faith. This is wonderfully summed up in the following passage:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:6-11)

(3) We walk by faith

The Christian life is a life of faith. The apostle Paul demonstrates this life of faith through the example of Abraham in Romans 4:13-21. We can take a number of points from Abraham’s life:

  • He heard the word of God and believed (v 13 and 21)
  • He placed his hope in that promise (v18)
  • He didn’t consider his own limitations or let them weaken his faith (v19)
  • He did not waver in his commitment to God’s word (v20)
  • He gave glory to God even before he received the promise (v20-21)

We would do well to imitate Abraham’s faith and gain faith by reading the bible:

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)

In what areas can you step out in faith this week?

I have found that there is a direct correlation between my faith in God and how often I read the bible. The more I read it, the more I believe that God can do in my life what He does throughout the pages of scripture.

A true faith in Jesus Christ will not suffer us to be idle. No, it is an active, lively, restless principle; it fills the heart, so that it cannot be easy till it is doing something for Jesus Christ.” (George Whitfield)

 January 10, 2013  Posted by at 10:06 pm Faith No Responses »