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I want to read to you the opening story from David Platt's book "The Radical Question" (Multnomah Press).
Imagine a scene that took place in Asia not so long ago:
A room in an ordinary house, dimly lit, all the blinds on the windows closed. Twenty leaders from churches in the region sit quietly in a circle on the floor, their Bibles open. They speak in hushed tones or not at all. Some still glisten with sweat; others' clothes and shoes are noticeably dusty. They have been walking or riding bicycles since early morning when they left distant villages to get here.
Whenever a knock is heard or a suspicious sound drifts in, everyone freezes while a burly tough-looking man gets up to check things out.
These men and woman have gathered in secret, arriving intentionally at different times throughout the day so as not to draw attention. In this country it is illegal for Christians to come together like this. If caught, the people here could lose their land, their jobs, their families, even their lives.
I was in that dimly light room that day, a visitor from America. I huddled next to an interpreter, who helped me understand their stories as they began to share.
The tough-looking man--our "head of security"--was first to speak up. But as he spoke, his intimidating appearance quickly gave way to reveal a tender heart.
"Some of the people in my church have been pulled away by a cult," he said. Tears welled up in his eyes. "We are hurting. I need God's grace to lead my church through these attacks."
The cult that had been preying on his church is known for kidnapping Christians, taking them to isolated locations, and torturing them, my interpreter explained. Many brothers and sisters in the area would never tell the good news again. At least not with words. Their tongues had been cut out.
Few men of this century have understood better the inevitability of suffering than Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He seems never to have wavered in his Christian antagonism to the Nazi regime, although it meant for him imprisonment, the threat of torture, danger to his own family and finally death. He was executed by the direct order of Heinrich Himmler in April 1945 in the Flossenburg concentration camp, only a few days before it was liberated. It was the fulfillment of what he had always believed and taught: “Suffering, then, is the badge of true discipleship. The disciple is not above his master. Following Christ means passio passive, suffering because we have to suffer. That is why Luher reckoned suffering among the marks of the true Church, and one of the memoranda drawn up in preparation for the Augsburg Confession similarly defines the Church as the community of those ‘who are persecuted and martyred for the gospel’s sake’… Discipleship means allegiance to the suffering Christ, and it is therefore not at all surprising that Christians should be called upon to suffer. In fact, it is a joy and a token of his grace.”
John R.W. Stott, Christian Counter-Culture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1978), 53
Billy Graham used to tell a story of a professing Christian who got a job in a lumber camp that had the reputation of being very ungodly. When a friend heard that he had been hired, he said to him, “If those lumberjacks ever find out you’re a Christian, your going to be in for a very hard time!” The man responded, “I know it, but I really need the job.” After he had been working at the camp for a year, he met the friend who had predicted the ridicule and persecution he would receive from the other lumberjacks. “Well, how did it go?” he asked the friend. “Did they give you a hard time?” “Oh no, not at all,” the man replied. “They didn’t give me a bit of trouble---they never found out that I was a Christian!” (Windows on the Word).
Perhaps an analogy will best clarify this. As Christians we may be compared with a reservoir for producing electrical power, like one of those you see when you drive down the canyon. When we accept Christ, construction of our reservoir is complete. We now have the potential to be useful and to affect lives. But until the flood gates are opened and the cascading river waters pour through, no power is realized. So it is when we are baptized in the Holy Spirit. We open our lives to God and the Holy Spirit pours into us and through us. It is then we become most effective in God’s service.
As with the reservoir, this power-generating experience is not intended to be a one-time occurrence. It is to be an ongoing process. When our spiritual power runs low, we need to return to the Source and let the blessed Holy Spirit pour into us again, bringing fresh power.
K. Edward "Ed" Skidmore
"MY SUPREME WEAPON IS DYING."
Joseph Ton was pastor of Second Baptist Church, Oradea, Romania, until he was exiled by the Romanian government in 1981. In Pastoral Renewal, he writes of his experience:
"Years ago I ran away from my country to study theology at Oxford. In 1972, when I was ready to go back to Romania, I discussed my plans with some fellow students. They pointed out that I might be arrested at the border. One student asked, 'Joseph, what chances do you have of successfully implementing your plans?'"
He asked God about it, and God brought to mind Matthew 10:16 -- "I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves" -- and seemed to say, "Tell me, what chance does a sheep surrounded by wolves have of surviving five minutes, let alone of converting the wolves? Joseph, that’s how I send you: totally defenseless and without a reasonable hope of success. If you are willing to go like that, go. If you are not willing to be in that position, don’t go."
Ton writes: "After our return, as I preached uninhibitedly, harassment and arrests came. One day during interrogation an officer threatened to kill me. Then I said, 'Sir, your supreme weapon is killing. My supreme weapon is dying. Sir, you know my sermons are all over the country on tapes now. If you kill me, I will be sprinkling them with my blood. Whoever listens to them after that will say, "I’d better listen. This man sealed it with his blood." They will speak ten times louder than before. So, go on and kill me. I win the supreme victory then.'"
The officer sent him home. "That gave me pause. For years I was a Christian who was cautious because I wanted to survive. I had accepted all the restrictions the authorities put on me because I wanted to live. Now I wanted to die, and they wouldn’t oblige. Now I could do whatever I wanted in Romania. For years I wanted to save my life, and I was losing it. Now that I wanted to lose it, I was winning it."
Sermon Central Staff
ATHANASIUS CONTENDS FOR THE DEITY OF CHRIST
If Jesus is something less than God, he has no right and no power to forgive our sins. If Jesus can’t forgive our sins, we have no hope.
Yes, the doctrine of the deity of Christ is worth contending for. And there is nobody God used more to contend for this biblical truth than Athanasius.
Athanasius was born in the year 298AD in Egypt. In his early twenties he was a deacon in the church in Alexandria (North Africa). During that time, the doctrine of the deity of Christ came under attack by a highly influential pastor named Arius. Arius taught that Jesus was a created being, that he had a beginning, and there was a time when Jesus was not. Therefore, according to Arius, Jesus is the son of God, but not God the son. His heresy was later known as the Arian heresy (named after Arius). It sparked a flame throughout the empire, that would dominate the church for 60 years. It was a 20 year old young man by the name of Athanasius, 40 years younger than Arius, that God would use to contend for the doctrine of the deity of Christ (good word to 20 year olds here today, you don’t need to wait to have a huge impact in the kingdom. God can use you now).
Athanasius would endure decades of persecution, banished from the church, sent into exile five times, framed for murder, threatened with death, slandered by emperors and bishops, all for standing firm to the doctrine of the deity of Christ. In the end he prevailed, truth was preserved, and the church has stood on his shoulders ever since.
(From a sermon by Mark Connelly, The Deity of Christ, 8/24/2011)
Hitler imprisoned a German pastor, Martin Niemoeller, for eight years. He spent some time in prisons and concentration camps, including Dachau. Hitler realised that if Niemoeller, a First World War hero, could be persuaded to join his cause then much opposition would collapse, so he sent a former friend of Niemoeller to visit him, a friend who now supported the Nazis. Seeing Niemoeller in his cell, the one time friend is reported as saying, "Martin, Martin! Why are you here?" To which he received from Niemoeller the response, "My friend! Why are you not here?"
• Since the death of Jesus Christ, 2000 years ago, 43 million Christians have become martyrs
• Over 50% of these were in the last century alone
• More than 200 million Christians face persecution each day, 60% of whom are children
• Every day over 300 pe...
Those of us who pray for the persecuted church, mourned the loss of Cardinal Ignatius Kung who died last month at the age of 98. Though I’m not a Catholic, I admire Cardinal Kung who stood by his convictions, and withstood persecution for his faith.
He was ordained as a Bishop of Shanghai in 1949, shortly after the communists took over China. The Chinese government pressured him to align his loyalties to the "Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association," he refused, choosing to remain loyal to his church’s chain of command. In 1955, the authorities brought he and 200 other priests to a stadium in Shanghai. The government ordered them to "confess their crimes." Instead, Kung shouted "Long live Christ the King! Long live the Pope."
Shortly thereafter, he received a life sentence, where he spent the next 30 years in prison, most of the time in solitary confinement. He was freed in 1987 and finally arrived to his final resting place last month.
Dr. M.R. DeHaan put it this way:
In the early days of the church. . . , baptism was a declaration that the believer was definitely identifying himself with that group of people who were called Christians and were despised and hated. To be a Christian meant something. To identify yourself with those who were called Christians meant persecution, maybe death; it meant being ostracized from your family, shunned by friends. And the one act which was the final declaration of this identification was BAPTISM. As long as a man gathered with Christians, he was tolerated, but when once he submitted to baptism, he declared to all the world, I BELONG TO THEIS DESPISED GROUP, and immediately he was persecuted, hated, and despised. In baptism, therefore, the believer entered into the fellowship of the sufferings of Christ. A person might be a believer and keep it strictly a secret and thus avoid unpleasantness and suffering, but once he submitted to public baptism he had burned his bridges behind him. . .” (Pamphlet, Water Baptism, p. 27).