Friday, October 24, 2008

Fighting Discouragement

The following is the text of the message I will, God willing, deliver tomorrow during my 5 minutes at the Yavapai Baptist Association's annual meeting. If you are a follower of Jesus, pray for me and the others who will be speaking there.

I’m here today representing 200 million people who live in daily danger of violence, imprisonment, or death because they’re identified as Christians. I’m here today representing The Voice of the Martyrs, an organization that provides spiritual and physical assistance to these courageous souls. And I’m here today as one of 9 VOM speakers in Arizona, both men and women. Any of us is happy to come and share about the persecuted church with Bible studies, small groups, youth groups, Sunday Schools, or worship services. Our presentations can be adapted to many lengths, topics, age ranges, audience sizes, and meeting formats. We’re flexible!

A word about money, because I know that’s in the back of your minds. All 260 VOM USA Area Representatives, including myself, are volunteers. No fee or honorarium is requested for a rep to come and share with your church. When we do a book table, like I’m doing here today, we do post a list of suggested donations for the items we carry, but our primary goal is raising awareness, more than raising funds. We trust that if God wants to provide for the persecuted church through VOM, He can do it without us manipulating people.

Our primary tangible goal is – our primary goal of course is to praise God by showing how His glory is revealed through the suffering church – but our primary tangible goal is to get people to sign up for the VOM newsletter. People will forget what we say in a week or two, but the newsletter comes every month, loaded with stirring stories and practical ways to get involved. The newsletter is totally free. When people sign up for our newsletter, they just get the newsletter. We don’t send out those “emergency grams” asking for twenty, fifty, or a hundred dollars. I’ve brought sample issues with me today for each of you to review, be sure you get one before you leave.

I have an extra gift for the pastors here. This is a book of 365 daily devotionals with short, powerful stories from the persecuted church. What makes it valuable for pastors is this handy booklet which indexes the stories by topic and Scripture reference, making it an ideal source of sermon illustrations! Come see me at the table and get your copy.

As pastors, you have probably been persecuted to some degree. At least, I hope you have been. Satan leaves the pew warmers alone. Even in countries where Christianity is severely restricted, for the most part, not always, but most of the time, if you just keep quiet and don’t try to advance the kingdom of Christ, you’ll not be persecuted. But long term opposition has a way of wearing down the resolve of even the strongest Christians. So, for those here who are growing weary in the battle, I have a brief word of encouragement from God’s word, as lived out today by the persecuted church.

“You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your struggle against sin.”

That may not sound encouraging. Try that in your next counseling session. “My husband doesn’t love me”. “Well, you haven’t lost any blood yet, what’s the big deal!” But it’s the encouragement the author of Hebrews gave his readers.

First, notice he did not say “in your struggle against people” or even “in your struggle against sinful people” even though his readers did have very real human persecutors, but “in your struggle against sin”. We wrestle not against flesh and blood. And really, isn’t it the “sin” that we have to deal with every day that is so draining to our vitality and joy? Every day, everywhere we look, we find the constant signs of sin, spoiling our dreams, corrupting even the best of our friends and clinging tenaciously in our own hearts.

“You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding of blood in your struggle against sin.”

At the close of chapter 10, he talks about how they had accepted joyfully the seizure of their property, but now their joy is waning. Rather than consoling them in their losses, or praying that their suffering will cease, he spends the 11th chapter giving them example after example of heroes of faith, beginning with the first martyr of our faith, Abel, and ending with a whole string of nameless heroes who suffered gruesome fates.

He’s showing us that others have gone farther in their fight than we have. We’ve shed tears; they’ve shed blood. The martyrs of the Bible, the martyrs of church history, and the 150,000 people who now die for Christ each year are our cloud of witnesses, joining voices to call out to us in our own struggles: keep running, keep fighting!

Then at the start of chapter 12 he caps it off with Jesus: “Consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart.” This becomes most significant when we remember that we were the sinners whose hostility He had to endure. Jesus shed his blood for a vile sinner like me; will I not give my all for a glorious savior like Him?

“You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your struggle against sin.”

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