I read these challenging and stirring words in the May issue of Mountain Mover Magazine:
"From its beginning the Church has faced those intent on destroying it. Saul, who later became Paul the missionary, wrecked havoc in the first-century church. He believed he was serving God to imprison Christians and threaten their lives.
"Tody in parts of the world the Church still faces that kind of opposition. To become a Christian in some nations includes being willing to sacrifice family ties, reputation, employment, educational opportunities, and quite possibly life itself.
"These churches are not cowering and defeated; rather, they are vigorous and strong. Believers see martyrdom as the highest calling, the greatest honor. They know their Leader, the "man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" intimately, and they obey Him implicitly. Their suffering has drawn them into unity, and they uphold each other in prayer."
Did you know that in Egypt, Christians have the status of a protected minority? A Christian's testimony in court counts only half that of a Muslim. A Christian pays taxes that no Muslim citizen must pay...and his children will have only those places at the university which are not taken by Muslims. A Christian congregation in Egypt may not make even minor repairs to its church without approval of the governor of the province -- an approval that often takes 10, 15, or 20 years to be granted!
Did you know that intimidation of Christians to induce them to convert to Islam is common through out the Muslim world? In Egypt, Christian men are offered a package deal -- a car, an appartment, a new wife (Muslim), a job, and a cash bonus...all totaling more that $30,000 -- if they will leave their Christian wives and convert to Islam.
When I read that report a question came to my mind. I wondered: For what price can you or I be bought?
About 9 months before he was murdered for his faith, the Superintendent of the Assemblies of God in Iran -- Haik Hovsepain Mehr -- preached at a conference in the Middle East. He challenged the church to face Islamic opposition with courageous action.
In his message, entitled "Paying the Price" Haik said:
"God is working in Iran. Perhaps in no other Muslim nation is the Holy Spirit bringing so many from Islam to Christianity.
We have witnessed our pastors being imprisoned. The bible society was closed, and 20,000 New Testaments were confiscated... We asked ourselves, "What should we do? Should we be like Jesus' disciples and sit behind closed doors and wait for our destiny?" I thank God that instead of waiting and doing nothing, people of God in Iran have taken action.
We began by forming a music committee. One of our brothers, a talented singer...formed a band and traveled the country and sang. Even Armenians invited him to do gospel concerts in their clubs.
Next we planned how to get Bibles into Iran. This is such a great need, in spite of the risks. I appointed several people to bring in a quantity of Bibles from another country. When they arrived at the Tehran airport, I went to meet them. One brother faced a customs officer who told him to open his suitcase. Slowly, trembling with fear, he obeyed.
The officer looked at the Bibles, picked one up, examined it, and said, "This seems to be a Bible."
Fearfully our brother answered: "Yes, it is."
The officer said: "May I have a copy."
By that time I had reached them and I said: "We don't have many Bibles, but you may have a copy."
In the city of Mashed, Pastor Soodman, a Muslim convert was hung for his faith in Christ. His assistant took over the leadership of the church. The assistant was arrested and released, but each week was interrogated by the authorities. The pressure was intense, and his wife feared he might break. She said to him, "If you ever deny Christ, then you can move out and return to your father's house. There is no room in our house for a person who denies his faith."
Pastor Haik gave other accounts of persecution and martyrdom and then closed his sermon saying: "The only way to win a nation is to be willing to pay the price for victory. This dedication should be part of our living."
About nine months after speaking these words, Pastor Haik was martyred. Two other leading pastors in Iran have also been martyred.
Missionary Mark Bliss who serves in the same area of the world reports: "Pastors receive harassing telephone calls frequently, threatening their lives or the lives of their families. Muslim converts face extremely difficult circumstances. In spite of all these things, the churches are filled with worshippers. Hungry hearts seek the satisfaction that comes only through knowing Jesus Christ. Since these martyrdoms, weak believers have expressed a deeper commitment, declaring that they will never deny their faith in Christ or turn back to Islam." The same kind of stories are lived out in Cuba, Croatia, and many other countries of our world. The words of Hebrews 10 have become a living reality for these believers.
READ: HEBREWS 10:32
The phrase, "stood your ground" is translated from a greek word meaning "endured". You faced a struggle and did not go under. You looked suffering in the face and did not yield to the pain; you resisted.
READ: HEBREWS 10:33
These people faced public insult and ridicule for the sake of Christ. They were made into spectalces to be laughed at and mocked. The greek word is the word from which we derive our English word..."theater". In other words they were put on the stage of public opinion and ridiculed and shamed by their peers.
However, they were loyal and did not betray fellow believers in times of persecution but stood side by side with them.
READ: HEBREWS 10:34A
They showed care and compassion for those in prison for the faith...even though doing so must have involved risk for in doing this they identified themselves and implicated themselves as believers in Christ.
They accepted the confiscation of their property. The Greek word indicates that this was an act of seizure. It still occurs today. In fact, in some countries a Christian cannot own property. If you own a home and become a Christian...you lose your home!
Look again at this verse! They did not just have their homes confiscated...the Word of God declares that they joyfully accepted the confiscation of their property.
How does a person endure such persecution joyfully? How can you pay the price to stay true to the Lord? For there is a price to pay even in our own country. In fact, the dividing line between believer and unbeliever is becoming more and more observable as our culture embarks on acceptable forms of persecution.
For example: The "Washington Post" writes that conservative Christians are "poor, uneducated, and easy to command." If they had made that same statement about African Americans, Hispanic People, or about some other ethnic group they would have been buried in lawsuits and faced charges of discrimination.
And that is only one form of persecution amongst many used by the media, business, the government, the entertainment industry, etc. Yet, none of us have paid with our lives, with our imprisonment, or with confiscation of our homes. How can you pay the price, no matter what the price is...in order to be true to the Lord? It may be a price you pay in the workplace, in your neighborhood or family, in your finances, etc.
How can a person pay the price and not compromise themselves...not sell themselves?
There are two very clear answers in these scriptures?
1. You need a vision.
2. You need endurance or perseverance.
I. YOU NEED A VISION
Look at verse 34 again. How could they joyfully accept the confiscation of their property? They had a vision of something better.
"You knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions."
They had a vision of something better. They had a vision of eternity.
When you lose your vision of eternity...then it becomes easier to give in to the pressures of the moment and compromise...to give up...to give in...to go along with the thinking of the culture around you.
These believers had carefully weighed it out in their minds...earthly loss against eternal gain. The bottom line for them was eternity, so they paid the price to stay true to the Lord. They were willing to live or die for the eternal.
I enjoy going to auctions, but it's been a long time since I have attended an auction. At times God speaks to me at an auction.
Some years ago I was attending an estate auction here and the curb, lawn, porch, and backyard were lined with items being auctioned off because the owner had died. I remember the auctioneer saying: "This is the collection of a lifetime." And in that moment it seemed that the Lord said to me: "What will you have to show at the end of your lifetime?"
What will our "collection of a lifetime" consist of? If because of Christ our homes, jobs, possessions, etc. are taken from us...what will we have to show for our years of living?
Our scriptures speak of people who remained true because they had a vision of something better. For most Americans the idea of something better does not include eternity. Something better usually means a better house, a better car, better clothes, better food, a better education, a better TV, etc. It's not that wanting something better in this life is wrong or sinful...but such desires are limited and earthly. If that is the limit of your vision...how will you stay true when you face a time of testing in your faith? When your standard of living drops...when you don't get the promotion because you won't compromise...when you are being mocked...when the crowd says "don't be such a goody two shoes...etc.
During a vacation my wife and I attended an AM worship service in Virginia Beach. Then we drove to the Jamestown Settlement...America's first permanent English Settlement established in 1607. And we went to church again...at least a reenactment of church in the settlement.
When you read the history of the Jamestown Colony you wonder how they survived famine, disease, Indian wars, and crude living conditions. How did they pay the price. In one winter alone their numbers dwindled from over 600 to only 60 due to disease, famine, and Indian raids. They were ready to quit the colony. The temptation to give up was certainly understandable.
As we sat in the crude church with split logs for pews...I understood something about how you keep vision alive and passionate. And when I speak of a living and passionate vision...I am speaking of a vision that motivates you to keep going...to keep doing what is right...to not turn back....to be faithful and loyal no matter what the price.
Only people who have contact with the eternal can keep looking for something better...can believe and hold on to belief in spite of opposition or persecution or times of testing.
The Jamestown church was different from church today. Monday through Saturday of each week the men of the settlement were required to attend morning and evening prayer. That is how the day began and ended.
It was considered a punishable crime to not attend church. And men, if married, were expected to lead their families in religious matters. It was also a punishable crime if a family did not financially support the church with tithes and offerings.
On Sundays, everyone had to be in church for Sunday AM worship, Sunday afternoon catechism class, and Sunday evening prayer. In order to ensure compliance...all homes were checked before Sunday services began and then the church door was locked until after service.
As we heard these laws read, I had to laugh thinking about the predominant attitudes in our culture toward the church and toward spirituality. In fact, even some believers do not highly value the place of the church.
I doubt if any of us would want prayer, church attendance, or financial giving to be enforced by community law. We would resist that, and rightly so, for we are taught to give ourselves to the Lord of our own free will, without holding back anything.
However, I realized that it was the spiritual realities that enabled the Jamestown Colony to survive. It was prayer that gave them strength to stand. It was the Word of God that kept hope alive. It was a vision of something better that kept them going.
Then I came home and read, "You joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence, it will be richly rewarded." V. 34-35
I read in Hebrews 11:16 of people who paid the price to stay faithful because "they were longing for a better country -- a heavenly one."
Hebrews 13:14 reminds us that "...here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come."
I Peter 1:4 speaks of "...an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade -- kept in heaven for you."
And I John 2:28 exhorts us, "And now, dear children, continue in Him, so that when He appears we may be confident and unashamed before Him at His coming."
How do you maintain this vision of the eternal? How do you keep this vision alive and passionate so that is motivates you into continued faithfulness no matter what the price?
The vision of the eternal must be fed...it must be focused on...or this world; its temptations and struggles, will fill our thinking day and night.
How do you do this? Here are some questions to help answer that question: Do you have times in your life when you meet with others to pray and worship? Do you have times when you meet with your family to pray or you pray with your spouse? Do you have times when you meet privately with the Lord. Do you have a group of men or women whom you meet with for prayer and encouragement in the Lord?
What are your reading habits? How can anybody stay in touch with the eternal if the eternal Word of God is not in their hearts and minds...guiding their lives and decisions?
When I read the Word I encounter eternity. In the Word I discover God's eternal purpose and meaning for my life so I don't have to spend my time and energy chasing after that meaning and purpose in what is temporary.
In the Word I am reminded of God's calling upon my life. I am taught how to live my Christian Life NOW in the Light Of Eternity. In the financial realm the vision is kept alive every week and month when I write out my tithe checks and my mission's offering. I am reminding myself that I live for eternity not for now. Otherwise such giving makes no sense. But the check register records that the vision of something better is still alive and passionate!
What about other reading material in addition to the Bible? Is it all of this world...filling our minds with the temporary facts and statistics of this life? Reading helps me keep my life on course. It keeps me in touch with eternal values and eternal truth for guiding my life.
Right now I am reading: A Passion For Faithfulness, Prophecy 2000, That None Should Perish, Sketches on Jewish Social Life, and a novel about the Russian Mafia.
Often we express concerns about people who have not learned to read and that is a just concern. But what about people who won't read? They have narrowed their world...limited their growth...and been robbed of one of God's provisions for keeping the vision of eternity alive and passionate.
READ: HEBREWS 10:35-39
These verses speak of our need for...
II. ENDURANCE AND PERSEVERANCE
Vs. 35 - God's promises are good!
Vs. 36 - One of Satan's tactics is to wear out the people of God. The antidote to this is endurance.
Vs. 37 - Looking for something better. It will be here in just a little while. Don't lose sight of this truth.
Children have no sense of time. They become impatient and start to misbehave. "Daddy, when are we leaving?" "Daddy, when will we get there?" Children in the faith get impatient and then behave childishly. But, those who hold on are comparing time with eternity. Their vision is alive and passionate.
Vs. 38 - Until that day of the Lord and the ushering in of His eternal Kingdom...we are called to live by faith. What does it mean to live by faith? See chapter 11.
Vs. 39 - God is looking for something better than quitting from you and me. We are not going to be quitters because we too are looking for something better.
We are of those who believe and are saved. We will keep the vision alive and passionate for we are determined to keep looking for something better!
Other sermons by Pastor John.