What If Persecution Comes To America?

-Can It Happen Here?

We sit in our offices & our homes watching the stories of persecuted Christians play out, from afar, on our monitors & our TVs! Christian persecution happens in other nations; but, not ours! We may not say it out loud; but, the unprecedented freedoms that Christians have enjoyed in this country, through the years, have led us to some unrealistic— even UNBIBLICAL— expectations. I’ve seen it in political rhetoric! Many American believers have a sort of entitlement mentality; like, persecution just can’t happen here!

-What If That’s Not God’s Way?

Now let me be clear—I do not have a death wish! I pray that the persecution of Christians will not spill over our borders & into our land! I pray for God to send revival to His Church; that, the Church will fall deeply in love with God again & out of love with the created things of this world; that, God will open the gates of heaven to the spiritual refugees all around us & awaken them to faith in Christ; and, that God will do all that without a loss of freedom & without persecution here. But…. what if that’s not God’s way for us? What if it’s part of His Sovereign plan to bring judgment to our sinful nation; and, as He often did with Israel in the Old Testament, use nations even more sinful than our own to bring about His judgment?

-No “Land Contract” With God

The Apostle Peter talks about this: “For it brings favor if, mindful of God’s will, someone endures grief from suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if you sin and are punished, and you endure it? But when you do what is good and suffer, if you endure it, this brings favor with God. For you were called to this, because Christ also suffered for you…” 1 Peter 2:19-23. God uses persecution to make us look more like Jesus! That’s what Peter says here! Many Christians feel justified to be angry & lash out at those who persecute or harm them! We desperately need the Holy Spirit’s help to understand how we’re supposed to respond to suffering, persecution & mistreatment in a way that makes us look more like Jesus; and, we need His grace to live it out!  There is nothing in Scripture that would lead us to believe that we, here in America, have some type of “land contract” with God! Only one nation, in the history of the world, has benefited from a “land contract” with God; and that was Israel!  We may love this land that we live on called America, but God has not promised us that we have any right to keep it! To hold onto it!

-When Death Is Gain

When Paul wrote the Church of Philippi, “For me, living is Christ and dying is gain”; He was saying that he loved Jesus so much that to lose everything in this life in order to be with Him was “gain.” Jesus was worth more than anything he might have or experience in this life. Death was a “GAIN” to him! If it should be God’s will to bring persecution to America, I pray God’s grace to ask my tormentor’s this question: “In Jesus I have my sins forgiven; He has restored my relationship with God my Father; I have an eternal home in heaven that’s being prepared for me right now; what can you offer me that’s better than that?” Let us live, above all else, as “citizens” of heaven! We are “strangers” here in this world! This is our “temporary residence” according to the Apostle Peter (1 Peter 2:11-12). Let us check our patriotism at the foot of the cross! If we belong to Jesus, our longing is for a better place than anything America can give us!

Shining Like Stars In The World!

-God Enables Us!

Over the last few posts, I’ve asked you to read with me from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 2. In writing to this church, Paul shares something significant in v.15, “So that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world.” God intends that we would shine like stars in the world as He enables us & gives us the desire to have the mind or attitude of Jesus. Go back earlier in the chapter & re-read verses 5-11.  God will enable us to shine like stars in the world when we empty ourselves of self-glory as Jesus did.

-Empty Yourself Of All Self-Glory!

Consider that phrase, in v.7, where Paul says that Jesus “…made Himself of no reputation…” It means He “emptied Himself.” The word, in the original Greek language, means “to empty, or to pour out.” In a practical sense, the word means “to give up status or privilege.” When Jesus “…made Himself of no reputation…” or “emptied Himself,” Scripture means He willingly set aside some of the privileges He enjoyed as God.  Paul says that Jesus also took on the “form” of a slave. The word “form” means “the exact essence.”

-The Exact Essence Of A Slave!

Jesus was the exact essence of what a slave looks like, but He took it on voluntarily. No one forced Jesus to do it! He willingly took the form of a slave! He willingly came to earth! He willingly died so we could live!  Then, Paul says He came “…in the likeness of men.” In other words, He wasn’t just God in a human body. He took on all the essential attributes of humanity— He experienced all the emotions, the pain, and the suffering of betrayal & death! So, here is the application— Paul calls us out, as the church, to think of ourselves in the same way as Christ who emptied Himself! To set aside self-glory; and, become slaves to one another in the church, until it spills over into our city!

-Serving Our City With The Mind Of Christ!

Until we serve the people of our city in a way that the mind of Christ would direct us! God will also cause us to shine like stars in the world as we humble ourselves of our self-importance. In v.8 Paul says, “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” Jesus so humbled Himself that when a man looked upon Him, many of them only saw a “man.” He had no glory glow about Him; no halo as artists have erroneously depicted Him. He just appeared to be a man to them. He left the glory of heaven where He was “King of Kings & Lord of Lords.”

-Angels Worshiped him In Heaven!

In heaven, Jesus couldn’t go anywhere without angels bowing down to worship Him & singing Him songs of praise! While He could have strutted onto this planet with a spectacular display of His omnipotence, His omniscience, His holiness, and His justice— so that no one could mistake Him for anything other than the God He was— instead, He humbled Himself so that many disrespected Him & saw Him as nothing more than a mere man! Application? Paul said the Church of Philippi filled his heart with joy (v.3) because they humbled themselves of self-importance. When they esteemed the needs & interests of others as more important than their own & become more concerned with the rest of the faith community’s needs above their own, that’s when they were thinking like Jesus. That’s Christ IN YOU! The Spirit produces the mind of Christ IN YOU! We can’t! But He changes our minds & attitudes when we trust Him.

Have The Attitude Of Jesus!

-Stuck In This Broken Flesh!

The Apostle Paul’s command to the Church of Philippi in the 2nd chapter of his letter to them is somewhat disturbing:  “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,…” he says. Let that sink in for a moment! How are we going to do that, Church? How can we possibly have the attitude Jesus had; and think as He did? We’re stuck in this broken flesh! He was God! Paul went on to say that Jesus existed, “…in the form of God, & He did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead, He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. For this reason, God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow… and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:5-11).  How can we possibly have the same attitude that Jesus had? And, yet, we are commanded to!

-Encouragement In Christ!

Does that not disturb you a little, as it does me? I hope that it does, and I hope it drives you deeper into the text because there are 2 significant details that we can’t leave out if we hope to obey this command to have the attitude of Jesus. If you’ll look back to verse 1, you’ll see that Paul says, “If there is any encouragement IN CHRIST…” If there is an encouragement! If there is any hope in doing what Paul is about to direct this Church to do, it’s because of our position “IN CHRIST.” If you’re a follower of Jesus; if you believe in Him, you are IN CHRIST! And, Christ is IN YOU by the Holy Spirit! So, Paul is telling the church that we CAN have the attitude of Christ— that He’s going to describe for us next— because we are IN CHRIST!

-Work Out Your Own Salvation!

There’s a 2nd significant detail in this text. Look at verses 12-13. Paul says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose.” Again, Paul gives us a command! You… work out your own salvation! Your Christian life is your responsibility. But, then he adds, “…it is GOD who is doing the WORK IN YOU…” It is because you are IN CHRIST that God enables you & gives you the desire! So, IN CHRIST, God enables us with a desire to think; or have the attitude of Jesus!

-An Attitude That Mirrors Jesus Christ!

I hope you’re tracking with me; because this is great stuff! And, let me show you the payoff! The idea, that we floated in our last post, that Jesus uses the transformed lives of our church to convict Sioux City (or your city!) of their need for a Savior, is why everything we do in life is significant. God uses the deep relationships— through our participation in Small Groups & Sunday School & ministry opportunities— to transform us into Gospel lights everywhere we go! In our places of work! In our neighborhoods! Even in our leisure! Let me show you why I say that! It’s found in v.15, where Paul says, “So that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world.” IN CHRIST, God enables us by giving us the desire to have the mind or attitude of Jesus! He will make us shine like stars in the world; and right here in our own city!

We Are Gospel Lights!

-Forgiveness Or Plotting Revenge?

So, what were fights like growing up in your home? When my sisters and I got into a fight, as long as there was no blood & everyone still had all their appendages attached, we were usually just made to hug each other and say we were sorry! That was pretty much what negotiating peace looked like in our family. But, as I meditate on it, that method had some pretty serious flaws because it never got to the heart of the issue behind the conflict. We were usually saying “I’m sorry” through gritted teeth at the same time we were plotting our revenge. We hadn’t truly forgiven each other. We just went through the motions so we could get our parents off our backs.

-What A Church Family Ought To Look Like!

If you’ll open your Bibles with me to Philippians chapter 2, let me remind you that it’s imperative to always consider the context of every Scripture in order to come to a correct interpretation. This is a letter, written by the Apostle Paul, to the Church of Philippi. So, his audience is a specific local church community. Just flip back to chapter 1, verse 1, where it says Paul was writing “…to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the Elders and the Deacons…” So, we need to keep in mind that all his references to “you” are meant to include the church family of Philippi as a whole. This is what a church family should look like, Paul says. This is how you work through conflicts.

-The Way You Do Church Matters!

Here’s why the way you do church matters both inside the church and outside. Because it impacts & affects our ability to make disciples in our city.  Let’s remember that the New Testament begins with the announcement that the Messiah had come! That Jesus was His name; and, for 33 1/2 years He lived a perfect, sinless life; and then willingly died as God’s sacrificial lamb to pay for the sin of the world. On the 3rd day He rose from the dead; and, before ascending back to the Father, He commissioned His followers to make disciples & to establish local churches everywhere they went. And, for the most part, the rest of the New Testament is all about life and community within the local church body.

-Church Behavior Impacts The World!

There is a consistent sub-theme that weaves its way through all the Epistles & letters of the New Testament. And, this is it— how the church lives, on the inside, has a direct bearing on how many people, on the outside, come to know Jesus! We are not an island; nor do we live our lives in a vacuum. If our city rejects Jesus, we are part of the problem. Sioux City, Iowa has been my home for the last 19 years & Jesus uses the transformed lives of our church to convict Sioux City of their need for a Savior. That’s the message that Paul shares in Philippians, and it’s the persistent message in the New Testament.

-An Attitude That Mirrors Jesus Christ!

As we look into this small; but dynamic book, that’s what we see. Paul is challenging this Church to live their lives in a way that adorns the Gospel. And, that happens only as we take on the mind of Christ, Paul says. “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead, He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. For this reason, God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow… and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:5-11). It’s a command; an imperative to the church to have the attitude Jesus had!