“To a Mature Man”: Stage 8–Persecution

My dear brother,

Jesus as the Example

Jesus, born human, temple-taught, baptized in Holy Spirit, empowered by the Spirit, on a mission, advancing the kingdom, and calling man to return to God’s Justice– this man was betrayed by his friend, abandoned by his followers, beaten, mocked, accused of evil, struck with rods, whipped near to death, un-protected by the justice of man, driven, stripped naked, nailed to a cross, and hung there in agony upon agony for hours, until he gave up his spirit and died. All of this and more is what I mean by persecution. When he did however, he showed how to respond to our persecutors: Trust in God, and Forgive your persecutors.

Assurance

– – Paul told Timothy, his true child in the faith, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” He could say this with assurance because of what Jesus told his disciples in John 15:18-21:

“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.“But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.”

We know that this is the road on which all Christians are heading. It is why we are carrying a cross on our back, so that our persecutors won’t need to find a cross to do away with us.

According to the unsealed scroll of the Lamb in Revelation, beautifully demonstrated in the Bible Project’s first Read Scripture video on Revelation, the persecution of Christians, and the vindication of them by God is the one thing that brings the nations to repentance. God’s judgment alone does not bring about repentance, but further hardens people’s hearts in rebellion against God. It is when people see the saints imitating the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross that they see the character of God and are either damned or redeemed. This is the message of the cross that is so offensive to the world, and so saving to those of us who know Him.

Jesus knew humanity better than anyone else, and he knew the Scriptures give insight into humanity better than anything else, and because of this, he knew persecution was inevitable. And so, he called the believer to be equipped for it. “If anyone seeks to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” So often you have heard people talk about denying themselves and picking up their cross, but really few Christians in our circles do. This means a lot more than going through a hard time.

Some Problematic Ideologies

I have heard some believers say this to me, and some might even be saying it in their heads now as they read: “I knew it! The only way the church can be woken up is to be persecuted. We need some persecution in order for there to be a revival.” This is wrongly ordered. The Church does NOT need to be persecuted to be awakened. The church needs to be awakened in order to be persecuted. How’s that for a motivation for Revival Church meetings? Do you want another Pentecost now?

Many other Christians have come to faith being told that Jesus went to the cross so that they don’t have to. A gross misinformation. I hope you were not brought to Christ with that non-sense bargain. Jesus went to the cross to show how much God loved you, and show you how much to love your neighbor. If you’re not ready to give your life (either by living or by dying) for your friend, can you rightly say that Christ is living in you? “And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to him.” ~Romans 8

Many Christians cannot bear the thought of this stage, because they have not passed the other stages. They are already fallen into pitfalls content to merely pursue spirituality, or stay babes in tradition, or use their regeneration as license to sin, or compromise with the Evil One, or seek the approval of men, or do all for a worldly end, or appease the evil rulers who wish to shut them up. But for those who will do none of these things, persecution is the only way that the world can shut up the truth– by killing the messenger.

And finally there are those who may mistake this exhortation for a call to seek out persecution. Nope. Jesus in Matthew 10 instructs his disciples,

“Whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes.”

Jesus avoided people who were trying to kill him until his time had come, but when it came, he showed us how we are to behave in this stage.

As you would face persecution I would encourage you to read and reread 1 Peter, and Matthew 10 gives all the instructions needed, especially vs 16-32, but there are more applications fruitful to consider in light of other passages.

Application and Pitfall

  1. Arm yourself with this purpose: to suffer for Christ. Keep yourself ready at any moment to be given up as an offering to God, by denying yourself and daily laying everything down. Peter exhorts the church in 1 Peter 4:1-2 to do the same. “Since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.”~1 Peter 4:1-2.
  2. Don’t die til Golgotha. Jesus had a specific place and time to give his life. So, I tell you, don’t lay it down sooner than the place God has for you. Jesus eluded people’s grasp when they tried to seize him. (John 10:39)
  3. Entrust yourself to God. Peter wrote of Jesus that “while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously. “1 Peter 2:23. Dear Christian brother, this will be your ultimate test of faith. Trust Him. He is good, and there is more going on than you can see.
  4. Avoid the pitfall of Apostasy. Do not deny Christ when your life is on the line. Remember what Jesus said, “The one who endures to the end will be saved.” Matthew 10:22. Do not think you have suffered enough. Jesus suffered to the end. Don’t give up. There is more of his love to show that the persecutors need to see. When you have no more love, remember that it is God’s love that is your reservoir. He will give you what you need.
  5. Forgive your persecutors. Jesus didn’t just tell us to forgive others, he showed us at the darkest moment of his life what it means to forgive others. On the Cross, he cried out, “Father forgive them. They known not what they do.” Stephen when he was stoned, said, “Lord do not count this sin against them.” This is supernatural love.
  6. Testify. If you have a chance to share the gospel with your persecutors before you give your life, let the Holy Spirit bring the words that they need to hear.
  7. Rejoice! In Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, there are recorded the brightest flashes of holy joy on the faces of those who paid the ultimate price as Jesus did. Do not be afraid. You are entering into the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ! Rejoice! The world will see Heaven’s reflection on your face, just like Stephen’s!

Final Thought: There are countless brothers and sisters being persecuted right now. These brothers and sisters make up the body of Christ. With real blood they are suffering real pain. And when people forget how much God loves them, the persecuted and the martyrs remind us: Jesus’s body still bleeds for the world.

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“To a Mature Man”: Stage 4–Wilderness

Brother, remember that guy from seminary we watched about Myth and the Bible? Dr. Ryan Reeves. One day, as I watched one of his Youtube videos about the Crusades, I learned about one of the very serious problems resulting from the Crusades: undisciplined soldiers conquering lands and wreaking havoc on their enemies and their friends. If a soldier doesn’t go through boot camp, then war will turn him into an agent of destruction wherever he goes. This, I believe is the reason why God the Father requires everyone, even Jesus, to go through the wilderness. Here, I hope to shed light on a largely neglected stage about which I have heard precious little taught in churches. It is the neglect of this stage that I believe is behind the absence of God’s power in many churches today. While what I have written is my own insights, I thank Norm Wakefield of “Spirit of Elijah Ministries,” who started me on the journey of recognizing Jesus’ time in the wilderness as parallel to the crucial time Christians have with their Heavenly Father.

The Characteristics of the Wilderness

Testing: Israel was not allowed to pass from the Red Sea and Sinai to the Promised land without traveling through the wilderness. God explained why he did it in Deuteronomy 8:2,

” Remember how for these forty years the Lord, your God, has directed all your journeying in the wilderness, so as to test you by affliction, to know what was in your heart: to keep his commandments, or not.”

Direction: This is a significant time in the Christian’s life, where their intimacy with God grows, in that they learn the voice of their father, and learn how to follow His leading. God lead Israel through the wilderness during the stage and he did so step by step. Wherever the pillar of cloud was, there they people would be. This stage of a Christian’s life is very rich with the specific leading and directing of the Holy Spirit.

Affliction: It is not common knowledge, but it is not really surprising in light of Scripture, that God will afflict his people. It is discipline, not wrath. The Wilderness period of God’s discipline is not fun, though each one who has been trained therein will reflect back on it with tender gratitude. There is no better way to test the sinful enemy-turned-holy-friend than the affliction of the wilderness.

Isolation: As I have talked with people in this stage, and even have experienced it myself, it is apparent that the wilderness is a very lonely place. No one else around you will be able to understand the specific ways God will be testing you as his child. This, however is one of the most special things about this stage: Israel was isolated to God in the wilderness so he could personally instruct them how to live for him as a nation. In this stage, God himself, by His spirit will personally teach the new-believer his character in such a personal way. It is often felt that God never feels so close to a person as in this wilderness stage.

Elasticity: For Israel, this stage was lengthened to 40 years due to failure in the stage. For Jesus it was as short as 40 days, for the Apostles recently filled with the Holy Spirit it was a matter of weeks they were on trial. Once a person has passed the three tests of this stage to God’s satisfaction, he is ready for stage 5.

The Tests of the Wilderness

Jesus’ time led by the Spirit in the wilderness to be tempted provides the chief insights into this stage. I will order them according to Matthew’s account (Matthew 4:1-11). In this section, the Bold is the root of sin being dealt with, the underlining is the Spiritual discipline which Jesus used to gain the key, and the ALL CAPS is the key to the Power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus gained.

  1. Temptation to satisfy the flesh’s cravings. Jesus had the power to turn stone into bread, but had already learned, from his time of fasting, and his time in the Word of God that Man is sustained by God’s Word. The Key that Jesus unlocked here was DEPENDENCE on God.
  2. Temptation to mistrust God. Just as the serpent gave Adam suggestion, to mistrust God, Jesus could have answered him by proving God’s presence at the pinnacle of the temple, but he had already learned from the story of the Word of God that God is trustworthy and is therefore not to be put to the test. The Key Jesus unlocked here was TRUST in God.
  3. Temptation to seize power. Adam and Eve seized the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil to rule apart from God, and here Satan asked Jesus if he wanted all the kingdoms of the world, for the price of worshiping someone other than God. It is by his time of Prayer and the Word of God that Jesus’ heart had been completely reserved to God, and he bid the tempter begone! the Key Jesus laid hold of was his DEVOTION to the God he loved.

When a Christian has faced the temptations of cravings, mistrust, and power, and answered them with Dependence on, Trust in, and Devotion to God, being taught through fasting, God’s Word, and prayer, the result is that once the Devil had finished every temptation, Jesus was ministered to by angels, and returned from the Wilderness in the POWER of the Holy Spirit.

The Christian who is ready to move on to the next stage will also have the power of God confirmed in his life. This power is a three legged stool with the three legs being, TRUST, DEVOTION, and DEPENDENCE. This does not mean that he will do miracles at this time, but the Almighty Spirit of God will have settled in the heart of one to whom God can entrust “greater works than these.” (John 14:12)

Practical Application:

  1. Be led by the Holy Spirit in spiritual discipline to gain the needed attributes he seeks to give you. The only way you’re going to get anything done in this wilderness is if the Holy Spirit is empowering you to do it. And the only way his power is going to be secure in you in a mutual inter-dependent trusting relationship, is for you to fully make it through this stage. Listen to the Holy Spirit.
  2. If you’re ever wondering if it’s indeed the Holy Spirit speaking to you, remember that you will recognize the tone of His voice from Scripture.
  3. The disciplines which will be of most benefit to you are, Fasting, Bible Reading, Prayer, and Praise. Learn how to do each one as Spirit leads you.
  4. Wait on the Lord. Do not seek to go beyond this stage, until He leads you out of the wilderness. It seemed many times that I could have, should have, left the wilderness for all practical points and purposes, but in the end He vindicated my need for time alone with Him.
  5. Get to know Him one-on-one. This is a very special time, when He wants to show you who He is up close, and to help fashion you into the new-human He has re-created you to be.

I can’t really share much more than this. There are so many guiding spiritual principles, which I have learned, but I’ve only learned them by going through the wilderness. You need Him to teach you in the way that makes sense to you, for whatever purpose he anoints you for.

Avoid the pitfall: Compromise. The Spirit is making you wholly devoted, dependent and trusting on him, but the Evil one will seek to split you from that wholeness anyway he can. If there is any area of compromise, you will perpetuate problems after you leave the wilderness. Remember the lesson of the soils: He will prove what kind of heart you are. If you fail, and you will, don’t dare run from God, run to Him! He’ll have a purpose for your failures as much as your successes. But don’t dare leave anything undealt with that will cause you to be like Israel when it comes into its promised inheritance and failing to attain the whole.

The golden rule of the wilderness is: stay with Him. The more wholly the man is God’s the more wholly his entire life is God’s.

The Problem: Self-Salvation

Thanks Tim Keller for helping me with that phrase.
– – Dear Reader,
– – You have read lots. Here’s something else. I’ve been sick with a grueling fever for the past week or so, and I’m tired of it. As soon as I sit up, I start throbbing in my head. People are depending on me for so many things. I have responsibilities. Children to lead in song, home-bound family who need to go into town, and this is not to mention my truck which needs fixing, my laundry needs to be done, and I have about 2 hours of upright energy a day before my fever goes up a single degree. Thankfully my family are around to care for me, and take care of pressing needs as they arise. Things came to a pretty weepy head today when I had to skip work at school. I cried out, “God please come get me!” from my curled up blanket on the couch, wracked with weariness and worried-ness.
– – Finally. He really does listen. He just listens better than we do to ourselves. I could tell you countless times I had asked him to heal me because people depend on me. But now the problem comes down to just me living with me. What kept crushing down on me was the weight of everything I had to do, and just could not do. I had to partially delegate it to my boss.
– – I know He listens every time, but He responds to honesty. Suddenly, in that moment, I found myself writing in my journal, “Thank you for saving me from my own self-salvation.”
– – I like to think I can fix things. I can do it. I can handle life. I can face challenges. I can manage my time, my relationships, my money. And so I can, or at least act like I can. But what happens when all that power is gone? You go to your power source and have the balls to ask him, “Get me more power, so I can take care of things myself, so I will not need you to save me, cause if you save me, that means I have to completely serve you alone.” That’s what I’ve been doing anyway. I wrote this down after that realization:
“Let’s face it. We’re all a bunch of sucky self-saviors.” I slept with peace after that, ’cause I know my Savior is real. He won’t save everything important to me. That’s not His job. His job is sustaining the cosmos, just like he showed Job. And in the End his Wise plan is best.

 

The Lonely Caravel

The agonies that stang awake
In solitude they prod the weather-beaten heart.
An outcry for lost love
In hope it can again be found.

The lips that crack, the tongue can soothe,
Only to let the liquid of your spit
Be evaporated in the cold and evanescent air
And your own soul’s water be depleted.

The cavernous hole your bleeding chest aches
To let another soul find rest therein.
These calls that welcome, become a plea
For someone, ANYone to come fill me.

The organ plays to fill a church
With painful piercing chords that filet my hurt.
Can the flood of beautiful sound drown woes
That clutch the mast and rise again in silent calm?

Trust breaks over me like glass
Upon a hardened shale piece cut from the mountain.
It shatters and makes a weapon not to be handled
By a child whose hand has never been sliced open.

Cries muffled by a pillow make my scream
A softened surrounds for a golden needlepoint.
The heightened sense of the sheets around my head
Swim noisily as I bury myself in them.

Such noise is the song of fissures in the fabric of our bosoms
Where friends beloved come and go, and good men break their word
The powders of such explosive interruption
Are loaded in a canon aimed for the hull of nearby vessels.

“Friend or Foe?” I cry aloft
But feign to hear their polite reply.
How can they know my ship will sink
If they board and take not the greatest care?

For in these waters, all men are pirates.
Their colors or flag make little difference.
I, a pirate like them, have a vessel of goods
And none to transport to, since I have no bay.

What’s this? A ship sailing less a standard.
‘Tis white! A great white shark no doubt.
To seem to play weak, only to prove the briggand
And use their own canon when drawn in close.

But nay, the song aboard their ship,
A song of thanks spills onto the waves.
As they pull in tighter, they cast me a line.
And pray we may lee our ships in tow.

My fever heightened, but my anxiousness was lightened.
My wonder was dazzled, and my canon upturned.
A song of my own filled up to join theirs,
Though a sharp eye, I kept lest they catch me unaw’res.

Twas the song of the humble I learned in that day.
From these once pirates, who had learned a new way.
To sail thankful and sharing, on the sea of the king.
And join ships that were starving, and feigned to be mean.

My bow broke waves and liberated spray.
My canon unloaded was pointed off the stern.
My cargo stores replenished from the friendship learned.
My own royal colors retracted and His white flag displayed.

To trust, and to wait on the Maker who is good,
To look with love on the people He came to save.
To chart out new seas, knowing this thing for sure.
He is the Captain of every Soul who surrenders to Him.

O Lord, my tired hull is heavy with precious cargo.
I fear none will take before it rots away.
Please show me that I matter to You,
And give me a fellow heart with whom to share this load.