The Reality of Persecution

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Fox News had a guest on Oct. 18 named Johnnie Moore.  Moore wrote a book titled, The Martyrs’ Oath.  The book reveals the current levels of persecution of Christianity around the world.  The word Christianity is used in the general sense of those who follow Jesus Christ and affirm faith in Him.  Moore said that 322 Christians (general sense of the word) are killed every month.  Additionally, he said that 214 churches are destroyed every month.  He said that there are 70,000 Christians imprisoned in North Korea.  North Korea is a communist country.  In some Muslim nations, Christianity has nearly been eliminated.
World Watch List (2017) (Open Door ministries) is an annual report on global persecution of Christianity.  The report ranks the top 50 nations involved in persecuting Christians.  The rankings are determined by five areas of Christian life:  private life, family life, community life, national life and church life.  The criteria for rankings also include violence against Christians and churches.
The report lists eight engines of persecution.  The first is Muslim extremism.  Nine of the top ten countries persecuting Christianity today are Muslim: Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, and Eritrea.  The second is communist and post-communist oppression.  North Korea is the number one nation in the world persecuting Christianity today.  As noted above, 70,000 Christians are imprisoned in North Korea among the twelve prison camps scattered throughout the country.  The other six engines of persecution are: religious nationalism, ethnic antagonism, denominational protectionism, organized corruption and crime, secular intolerance and dictatorial paranoia.  Two hundred and fifteen million Christians experience persecution in the top 50 countries which persecute Christianity.
Three facts to consider are: (1) worldwide persecution of Christianity has risen for the past 4 years. (2) North Korea is the number one nation persecuting Christianity and has been since 2002. (3) Islamic extremism fuels persecution in 14 of the top 20 countries and 35 of the top 50 countries persecuting Christianity.
There is not only a culture war occurring in the United States and other places, but there is a spiritual war being waged worldwide.
Jesus spoke of persecution in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:11-12).  Those who follow Jesus will be persecuted from many different sources and in many different ways.  However, great is their reward in heaven for being willing to suffer for His name’s sake. Jesus warned His disciples, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matt. 10:6).  Jesus also said, “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved” (Matt. 10:22).  The apostle Paul wrote of true Christians, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (II Tim. 3:12).  Paul knew this first hand because he has suffered much for the cause of Christ being stoned, beaten, and imprisoned (II Cor. 11:21-27).
Paul words to Timothy are especially needed in the face of persecution, “Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (II Tim. 2:3). Satan uses persecution to separate Christians from God.  Jesus warned of this in Luke 8:13 in the Parable of the Sower.  “They on the rock are they, which when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away.”  The parallel passage in Matthew 13:21 specifically mentions tribulation and persecution as reasons why some become offended and give up on God.
Persecution tests faithfulness to God.  “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).

Keep A Grip On Your Soul!

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In Luke 21:19, Jesus states, “In your patience, possess ye your souls.”  Jesus makes this statement within the context of His prophecy concerning the destruction of Jerusalem.  Jesus is traveling toward Jerusalem.  His death is near.  As He approaches the temple complex, He hears remarks of those nearby who are impressed with the construction of the temple.  Jesus takes this opportunity to reveal that the temple would be destroyed.  We know that this prophecy was fulfilled in 70 A.D.  Jesus warns His disciples that they would face persecution during this time.  Persecution would challenge their patience and test their grip on their own souls.
The Nature of Persecution
In Luke 21:12-19, Jesus focuses on different sources of persecution that the disciples would face.  In vv. 12-15, the persecution would come from religious and political sources.  In vv. 16-19, the persecution would come from their own family members who would betray them and general hatred of all men.  This betrayal by family members would stun and shock them.  It would leave them disillusioned and may even lead to their death.   Imagine the emotional and psychological impact this would have on them.  Persecution is designed by Satan to separate believers from Christ.  It acts as a wedge producing tension, stress and suffering in order to separate Christians from God.  The stress and suffering could be relieved by recanting one’s faith.  To hold on to one’s faith under such extreme circumstances involves mainting a firm grip on one’s soul.  Jesus asked, “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26).  Would you give up your soul to save your life?  Would you give up your soul to maintain family relationships?  Would you give up your soul to have the acceptance from enemies?  Persecution challenges faith and tests its strength.  It challenges our ability to endure.
The Need for Patience
The need for patience is affirmed by the Lord.  Patience is steadfast endurance.  We need steadfast endurance that secures the soul in times of suffering and persecution.  Persecution is painful.  Most of us want to get out of pain as quickly as possible.  In some situations, we may have to endure painful situations over long periods of time in order to secure our soul in relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.  Endurance comes from faith (I John 5:4), love (I Cor. 13:4-8) and hope (Heb. 6:19).  Faith, love and hope form a three-fold chord that is not easily broken.  Also, the Holy Spirit strengthens us (Eph. 3:16), Christ strengthens us (Phil. 4:13 and Eph. 6:10).  When warring against Satan, we will need Christian graces and God’s help in order to be victorious.  In the strength of the Lord, we can secure our souls.
The Ultimate Prize
The ultimate prize is eternal life.  Our physical life might be lost in persecution, but through steadfast endurance we can reach the goal of everlasting life.  “In your patience possess ye your souls.”  Paul kept the prize before him at all times ( Phil. 3:13-14).  “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”  Keep a tight grip on your soul!  Keep a tight grip on God.  Keep a tight grip on heaven.  Don’t permit anything to come between you and your God.
Remember Jesus
The Lord does not ask His disciples to do anything He has not already done Himself.  Jesus suffered persecution.  Remember, the trials Jesus endured?  Remember the false witnesses that testified against Him?  Remember when they spat upon Him and mocked Him?  Remember the Roman beating? Remember the crown of thorns? Remember the blood shed?  Remember His death on the cross?  Jesus gave everything for us.  We must be willing to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to Him (Rom. 12:1-2).  “In your patience, possess ye your souls.”