About Jesus     Steve Sweetman

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Possible Persecution

Iíve recently watched another video. This time the movie was about the life of the Apostle John while he was in prison on the Island of Patmos. It was sad to see John and others in such a horrid situation. They were malnourished, worked hard, and often beaten, sometimes unto death. Yet for John this unbearable treatment was a small price to pay in relation to the price Jesus paid for his salvation. Following in Jesusí footsteps was a privilege for John.

People in those days had to think seriously about becoming a Christian because there was a great personal price attached to their decision. Today this price is not so great. The greatest cost for us at the time of decision may be to repeat a simple prayer, or a walk down the aisle of a church sanctuary.

With this in mind, I remember the words of Jesus in John 10:10. He told us that weíd experience abundant life if weíd make this decision to follow Him. I often wonder about these words because many of those who heard these words died by the Roman sword. Others were imprisoned or lived in caves to hide from the Roman soldiers. So I shake my head and ask myself, "is this really abundant life"? Maybe there is more to Jesusí words than what meets the eye after a quick reading.

Yet through all the hardships the first generation church endured, the Kingdom of God grew both quantitatively and qualitatively. That is to say, more people became true followers of Jesus, and these who did were dedicated to Jesus beyond measure. Iím not saying the first generation church was perfect. We all know it had its problems.

The first generation church wasnít the only church in history to suffer on the account of Jesus. Over the centuries there have been many Christian communities who have suffered great persecution. Even today, there are many followers of Jesus who are under tremendous pressure. We should admire these people, for their lives and churches are probably closer to the Biblical norm than ours.

Something else has happened throughout the history of the church. Usually during times of little or no persecution we have formalized, doctrinalized, and structuralized our faith. One result of this is that many people in the church are Christian in name only. They havenít really given themselves to be disciples of Jesus, living according to what He has taught. Discipleship has given way to church membership. Following Jesusí teaching has given way to critical analysis of the Scripture that in many cases has destroyed the very nature of the Bible. Technically speaking, this is called "demythologizing the Bible" Ė explaining away the supernatural aspect of the Bible.

These things have produced what I call "Casual Christianity". We have a casualness to our faith and to church life. We come and go at will. We take the Scripture, or leave it - whatever is convenient at the time. Commitment to Jesus that is demonstrated in a life given to Him as Lord is not easily seen by others. The easy come, easy go lifestyle of many has become a part of the modern Christian experience. This should not be.

It is only my opinion, but I believe our "Casual Christianity" is in the first stage of change. If we cannot, or will not change the way we live as Christians, including our church life, then Jesus will do it for us. Some of us may not like what He will do and may opt out of the faith we think we have.

How is Jesus making this change? As our culture adopts the philosophy of secular humanism with greater fervor more pressure will be directed towards Christians who are viewed as intolerant. I have experienced just a bit of this pressure in the debate over same sex marriages. I have received many emails suggesting I am not a true Christian, have no love for God or man, and am misappropriating Scripture concerning this subject. It is a little infuriating thinking that someone who knows little about the Bible might suggest that I am misappropriating Scripture after being a student of the Bible for 35 years. But these emails are really no big deal. I donít view them as persecution, yet they give me a little hint of what the future might possibly hold for us.

I believe that in the years to come Christians will suffer persecution in North America. A tolerant society will no longer tolerate our so-called intolerance. Secular society will force the church to embrace the prevailing philosophy of humanism or else face the penalties. An example of this might be the loss of our charitable tax status if we donít perform same sex weddings. Or, we could be forced to pay taxes on church property, bringing some church groups into financial hardship. Both of these might not be such a bad idea. We may even have to become a subculture of believers, intent on following Jesus no matter what it takes. Those with a faulty faith may opt out of this new style of church life. Read the book of James concerning faulty faith. The rest will grow in the strength and power of Jesus. These are just a two logical possibilities for us to endure. Theyíre not tough ones either. Things may get much worse than that.

So when you see the secularization of our society, and the resulting hardships that may come our way, think of it this way. It just may be Godís will that these things are taking place. Yes, secularization of Canada, and the United States might just be the way in which Jesus brings our North American church to her knees. Jesus has brought judgment to parts of the church in the past, and He can certainly do it again. (remember, judgment begins with the house of God Ė 1 Peter 4:17 ) If this is to be the case, then let it happen. It is for our good.

Personally, I know I will be with Jesus in Heaven some day. I just donít think I will receive many rewards once I get there. I believe Scripture teaches that we will be rewarded for good works done based on trusting Jesus. Good works performed outside of faith in Jesus will not be rewarded for (Christians can do good works outside of faith). My life to date is like many other modern day Christians, nothing spectacular when compared to many of these productive and persecuted Christians Iíve mentioned. So the future may be a chance for me to see what I am really made of. The same goes for you.

I canít say for sure what the future holds. We may not see persecution as intense as the Apostle John saw, or maybe we will. What I am writing about is a logical possibility based on my Biblical understanding and present trends I see in society. I can say this. I know nothing about the hardships that John faced. I know nothing about the trials Chinese Christians have endured. I donít even like singing one particular verse of Amazing Grace because I canít sing it honestly to Jesus. You know the verse, "through many dangers, toils and snares I have already comeÖ". I havenít gone through any danger or toil to speak of . We should drop that verse from our hymn books and let those who have really experienced those words sing it. I actually like singing "when weíve been there ten thousand yearsÖ" much better.

From my understanding of church history, the persecuted church is the church to admire. If our church is to be admired as well, it will take more than church programs. It may take a good dose of pressure from a secular society, maybe even out and out persecution. If this happens, we need to view this as Jesusí way of restoring His church. At  this time the only way I see our church changing into something that is glorifying to our Lord Jesus Christ.

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