“So what church do you go to then?”
The standard question of the Christian. When we go to church we join usually with a local community of fellow Christians, we have a nice time together (hopefully), worship God, learn about God, share with one another and pray for each other. It’s nice.
Most of us will be well aware though that the Church (capital C people) is the Body of Christ – the family of Christians wherever they/we are in the world, united together with Jesus as the main man (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).
Part 4 of our Change It Up series, based on the book Jars of Clay (buy it), looks at how our understanding of church is challenged when we look at it through the lens of persecution.
The Apostle Paul encouraged the community of believers in Hebrews, “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” Hebrews 13:3. He wrote this to encourage them in their faith as a community and to remind them that part of Christian discipleship is to engage with persecution. We can learn, as one body, from the experience of persecution, whether it physically happens to us or not. Persecution of the Church means persecution of all of us, wherever we are and whatever we did at church this week.
And so, as one body, we are to love one another: “Love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13: 34-35. Paul was anxious to get to the persecuted community in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 2) that he had nurtured and when he wasn’t able to go he sent his friend and co-worker Timothy in his place. Paul was desperate to show his love and care for the persecuted and when Timothy returned from Thessalonica with good news, Paul is clearly encouraged: “…in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.” 1 Thessalonians 3: 8.
We can be encouraged to hear the witness of our persecuted sisters and brothers as they stand firm in affliction. We as one body, the Church, learn from persecution and grow in love for one another.
One of the most powerful testimonies I’ve heard is the story of Sarah Ambetsa from Kenya. Her faithfulness to God in the midst of horror is a constant reminder to me that God is at work through His grace in His people; when I join with her as a member of the one body, the Church, that we are both part of, I connect with persecution, I seek to learn more about who God is and what He calls me to, and I seek to love Sarah and others like her. Please watch her talk about her story here and get ready to Change It Up…
Follow Release Potential in the usual ways, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or you can change it right up and become a Change Maker.
We can do it all. We’ve got this. We’re educated to a pretty good level, we might not have tons of money but we’ve probably got basically enough compared to a lot of people, we’re protected by the law and we have competent security services designed to look out for people. All this means we’ve got a good framework for building a career, growing a family, serving in our churches and communities, maybe owning a home. Not everything goes our way and we all know that none of this in itself brings happiness, but we’re basically set to be able to do it all. Correct?
Nope. Christians know that God’s work in our world is a massive demonstration of grace: we cannot save ourselves; we must have Jesus to do that work for us.
And for those whose communities persecute them because they love Jesus, God’s abundant grace is the only way they can do it all: “For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” 2 Corinthians 1:8-9.
All suffering should lead us back to God, but there’s something extra poignant about suffering rooted in very relationship with that God. To trust in the God to whom commitment is the cause of your suffering requires a dependence on God that is far beyond what those of us who live self-sufficiently can really imagine. And we can learn so much from our persecuted family when we look to their dependence on God’s grace to sustain them through the fire of persecution.
Jars of Clay, (get your copy here) says “Humanly speaking, persecution is more likely to lead us to hide, to be silent, or, worse, even to deny our faith – if all we had were our own resources and strength. But the resources we need are found in the Lord himself. Persecution teaches this. It exposes the inadequacy of a ‘self-sufficient’ attitude to life and deepens our desire for God’s sustaining grace.”
In the book of Hebrews Christians are called to persevere through persecution. It builds to a great command to run with endurance the race of faith, continuing to look to Jesus. When we look to the persecuted and watch them run this difficult race of faith with perseverance and dependence on God’s grace for their success, we get a chance to change up our view of faith and to seek and desire grace in a whole new way.
And when we know God’s grace, we learn how to show it: in forgiveness. One of the most frequent testimonies that come from persecuted communities is the willingness of the persecuted to forgive the persecutor. This isn’t because they are super-holy super-Christians; this is because they desire and require God’s necessary and active grace in their lives and when we know God’s grace we can show God’s grace.
So change it up. Learn from the persecuted, follow their example: desire grace, persevere through trials, forgive.
Maybe you want to be part of a community of people changing it up! Check out what Release Potential is getting up to with our Changemaker programme and become a Changemaker yourself! Find us and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Change it Up: Understanding the Gospel
I’m probably not the first person you’ve heard mutter about a consumerist view of the story of God, our saviour Jesus, and the reconciliation of people to God: the gospel. We do like to consume the gospel, to see what we can get from it. We all know we prefer to tell our friends and family who don’t know Jesus about how loving He is and how gracious He is because we get a lot from that; but we don’t want to mention sin and judgement, because they’re scary and no one wants to consume fear.
In our second post of highlights from Release’s book Jars of Clay (get yours here), we’re thinking about changing up our consumerist view of the gospel for the view the persecuted have of the gospel: that to follow Jesus is not about consuming the warm and fuzzies, but about standing firm in God’s promise of salvation throughout hardship.
Jesus taught that His story would bring opposition; that even families would turn against each other because of Him (Matthew 10). And we know this to be true – throughout history we have heard stories of families rejecting and punishing those who become Christians.
The world persecutes Christians because it hates Jesus. John 15:18 says “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” – when those that reject Jesus hate Christians, they hate Jesus.
The world persecutes because it doesn’t know Him, they don’t know that He is the way to God: “But all these they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me” (John 15:21).
And the world persecutes because Satan exists and opposes the truth of Jesus. John 17: 14-15 puts together hatred of Jesus and the “the evil one” – where God is at work in the world, Satan is working to oppose Him.
Yet we know this Story of God to be true, despite the opposition. So we need to change up what we think about the gospel; we need to change up our expectation that it will be consumed to make us feel better, and know instead that when we share the truth of Jesus the world will hate it, they will be ignorant of Him, and the Devil will oppose us.
Ultimately this is not a story the world wants to consume: they don’t want to buy it. So let’s change up our view of the gospel which says “come on in, Jesus loves you and you’ll feel great!” to a view that says “come on in, here is truth, love, justice and grace. You won’t always feel great, and you won’t always be everyone’s favourite, but you will know God and to lose everything for Him is to gain it all!”
If you want to be part of this kind of journey of faith, Release Potential is working hard to share amazing stories of amazing people, loving Jesus around the world under opposition, fear and hatred. Get involved, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. If you want to change the world, become a Change Maker.
Change It Up: Mission and the Persecuted
Release International published a book this year called Jars of Clay which looks at what we Christians can learn from our persecuted brothers and sisters . We think It’s really good. Get your copy.
At Pain and Passion we are going to have a quick look at some of the ideas the book explores in a series of posts over the next few months. It’ll just be an overview; get the book for more juice.
In this post we’re going to look at the idea of changing up how we think about mission, the assumptions we take with us when we think about telling others about Jesus.
Our world likes triumph and success. We like triumph and success. Jesus likes triumph and success. Only Jesus showed us triumph and success in a very non-triumphant, non-successful way; Jesus went for vulnerability, when He refused to fight the guards in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26); He went for suffering when He hung on the cross (John 19); He went for defeat when He died on that cross (Luke 23).
Except that in His vulnerability He showed us that God works out His plans in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). In His suffering He showed us that God is in control (Acts 2:23). In His defeat He showed us God’s victory (2 Corinthians 15: 54-56).
In the New Testament Paul tells us that our message is foolish to the world, our messengers are inadequate, and our methods are simple (1 Corinthians 1). The persecuted are often those inadequate people, taking a foolish message in the simplest ways. And yet, they are living examples of what the Bible tells us following Jesus looks like.
The persecuted are vulnerable in their towns, their villages, sometimes in their own homes and relationships. They suffer humiliation at school, violence at the hands of their communities, or solitary confinement in jail. They are defeated when they are shamed by their families, sacked from their jobs, or meet death at the hands of a suicide bomber.
So what do we need to learn from persecuted Christians? Change up what you think mission should look like, what you think telling your friends about Jesus will be like. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” 2 Corinthians 4: 7. Clay pottery was everyday stuff back in Bible times – there was nothing special about it. And it smashed easily. But it’s in these weak, boring, fragile, slightly pathetic containers that the power of God lives – it’s God who transforms, not us. We take our foolish message, our inadequate selves, our simple ways, and in our vulnerability, our suffering, and our defeat the power of God is working, in control, and achieving a victory.
If you want to hear more of the stories of the persecuted, spend a bit more time on the Release Potential website and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, think about becoming a Change Maker.
Look to the persecuted – their love of Jesus and the choices they make to live for Him will help you change it up.
When you count the cost of being a Christian, how often does it REALLY hurt?
Those of us who follow Jesus count the cost all the time, even those of us here in the UK, where we’re free to do almost whatever we like. We count the cost when we end a relationship because the person we’re with isn’t really walking with God. We count the cost when we leave a job in banking to work with our local debt counselling service because we feel called to serve the vulnerable. We count the cost when we’re the only sober one left on the fresher’s pub crawl at 3am because the Bible tells us to avoid drunkenness.
We really do count our costs. They’re painful, sometimes excruciating.
But you all know what’s coming…
Our costs aren’t life threatening. They aren’t a jail sentence. They aren’t a midnight cross-border flight. They aren’t violent assault.
So you, and I, and them: those brothers and sisters in far-off Iran, Vietnam, Eritrea, Nigeria, and Pakistan, we all count our costs. It’s just that when we say “whatever the cost…” we mean heartbreak, a salary cut, lonesome sobriety. When others say “whatever the cost…” they mean separation, death, fear, pain.
Paul wrote to the family of Christians in Philippi “Everything is worthless compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:8). Paul counted his cost for knowing God and considered all else of no value because although it is painful to give things up for Jesus, the benefit of a life with God infinitely outweighs a life without God.
Release Potential is encouraging each of us to know our cost and to commit to count it for Jesus Christ. Some of us are even going to wear the t-shirt…
Get yours for £15.00 including p&p (count that cost!) and support a project in Sri Lanka which is helping Christian children and young people get the education they need. Last summer I visited some of these teenagers and heard the stories of how they counted the cost. Actually these stories aren’t dramatic, but they are constant: the girl whose journey to and from school each day has a relentless undercurrent of threat from the locals who don’t like her dad heading up a Christian community in the village; the boy who stood alone as a Christian in school, bullied and abused most days; the knowledge that maybe this is the week your church gets set alight.
So stand in costly solidarity with your brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka and around the world – get your t-shirt, join our Costly Crew. If you’re at Momentum this year, visit the Release Potential stand where there will be some t-shirt modelling happening.
Come and get to know Release Potential better – visit our website, like and share our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter and on Instagram, and find out how you can share with your family of faith, whatever the cost.
Like many of my childhood friends, I enjoyed a Christian upbringing. I’ve always believed in a Creator God, who sent his Son, Jesus, into the world to make us right with him. Perhaps, if your story is similar to mine, you’ve felt that your faith has slipped into auto-pilot mode: Christian routine is so second nature that you wonder what it means to truly live by faith.
Can you claim to be living by faith when your decisions are made on auto-pilot?
When considering this I looked to Hebrews 11, sometimes known as the ‘hall of faith’: Abraham, who believed God’s promise of a son and who God considered righteous because of his faith.
Then there’s my personal favourite, Rahab, who put her own life in danger by harbouring spies in her home. These spies were an instrumental part of God fulfilling his promise to Israel to bring them into a ‘land flowing with milk and honey’.
Living by faith often means doing some uncomfortable things. Noah’s relatives mocked him for building an ark in the middle of the desert, and Rahab risked her life. Hebrews tells us that some who live by faith are allowed to suffer: imprisonment, flogging, and torture are just a few of the trials listed in Hebrews.
When someone suffers as a result of their faith, we call it persecution – even today, for no other reason than their faith in Jesus Christ, people are imprisoned in Iran, Eritrea, Pakistan and other countries, where many experience torture, both mental and physical.
Incredibly, despite the physical suffering and the psychological abuse, those who suffer for Christ often testify about special encounters with God.
A few weeks ago we heard the joyous news that Zhang Cuijuan, a Chinese Christian imprisoned for her faith, was released at the end of her 18–month sentence.
In a letter she wrote, “In prison, I was very grateful. I truly felt that God was with me, even though I suffered punishment in prison. I had a thankful heart; I had joy from God. While my body suffered, my heart was free. I know that the more persecution I endure, the greater the blessing.”
I am so challenged by her testimony. Here is someone who put her belief in a good and loving God into action, even when she was allowed to suffer for a period. And I do believe that God will credit her faith to her as righteousness.
So where does this leave us as Christians? What are you learning about living by faith? How do you feel when you hear about Christians who endure suffering as a result? Share your thoughts and reactions with us on Facebook and Twitter @RPConnection!