Monday, April 22, 2013

Why We Should Expect Persecution

By Kristen Leigh Evensen
Persecution may mean that you are doing something right.
Such was the case for Coach Boone in the feature film "Remember the Titans". An African American father and football mastermind, the coach has the small town of Alexandria, Virginia in an uproar after he replaces former Head Coach Yoast (who is white and highly regarded by the students of T.C. Williams High School). One quiet evening, Coach Boone is reviewing football tapes in his home when a brick crashes loudly through his front window, followed by name-calling and the squealing of tires from a car barreling down the street. 

His response to the violence? Boone tells the reporters the next day, "And you can tell whoever threw this brick through my window they can come visit me anytime."

What I love about Boone's response is that it provides an excellent example of standing firmly despite persecution. Boone does not shrink from his identity out of humiliation, nor does he forfeit his position as Head Coach out of fear. In fact, Boone expects the persecution--and he welcomes it because the persecution is evidence that he is doing something right. 

Have you ever been persecuted for sticking by something you knew was right and true?

The "Ready For Battle" series kicks off this week. Our goal is to confront the distortion of truth, which seems to be more and more prevalent as the days progress. The series will also examine the particular ways in which followers of Christ can be encouraged while living in our relativistic society, with its shifting cultural tides and potential ambivalence to truth both outside and within the church.

And, like Coach Boone, followers of Christ should expect to be persecuted.

The Belief: Amidst this spiritual battle (one that truly has been going on for ages--just read the book of Daniel or the book of Acts) lies a common belief. It sounds something like this: "If I am being persecuted for my faith--being told that I am intolerant, narrow-minded and judgmental for following Jesus--then I must be doing something wrong. I don't want people to think I'm intolerant. Jesus was all about love. I must not be loving very well if people are saying these things about me..."

The Truth: If you are being persecuted in any way for following Christ, it means that you are precisely where Jesus predicted you would be: right alongside Himself, who was hated without cause.

How do we know this? Let's take a look at John 15:18-20.

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours...25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: 'They hated me without a cause.'"

We can expect to be persecuted because Jesus was persecuted. Do not be surprised when persecution--in word or deed--comes your direction because you refuse to compromise the truth that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).

The Defense: The Holy Spirit is given to us to bear witness to the truth. The Spirit of truth is sent to "convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment" and to "glorify [Jesus], for he will take what is mine and declare it to you" (16:8,14). When distortions of the truth arise, we have a foundation against which to test them, both in Scripture and in the Holy Spirit's counsel. Jesus did not go to the Father without promising us a strong defender in the Helper. The next time your faith is challenged by some distortion of the truth, test it. Take it to the Bible and to prayer, and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the absolute truth and expose any distortions.

The Response: When persecution comes, we can count ourselves blessed because it means that we are truly following Jesus Christ, even in His sufferings. 

40 and when [the Sanhedrin] had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus (Acts 5).

The apostles had a rough time of it. Each time they preached the Gospel of Christ, they were told to shut their mouths by the religious authorities, even beaten for their preaching. But Jesus told them to expect the persecution, so they made up their minds to stand firmly on their foundation in Christ. Our response to any form of persecution can be gratitude and perseverance. Gratitude, because Jesus counts us worthy to suffer dishonor for His name. Perseverance, so as not to "cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus", no matter what level of persecution comes our way!

The fact of the matter is, there will always be those who disagree. Jesus Christ made high claims when He called Himself "the way, the truth and the life". He meant that all other ways would not lead to the Father, and that can be an upsetting reality. I love what author Randy Newman says:

"Before people benefit from the Good News, they're likely to be bothered by the bad news. If our goal is to avoid conflict, we need a different message. If, on the other hand, our goal is to be truthful (something more difficult than open-minded)  and loving (something far better than tolerant), then we have the perfect message and ideal model to proclaim it."

We are told very clearly by Jesus to expect persecution if we choose to take up our crosses and follow Him. And we can have peace, even amidst persecution, because we know that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God, and He will give us strength for the battle. 

"In a dark world, we need men and women who are willing to stand before the Lord, men and women who are available and responsive to his command. Is that you?" (Colin Smith)

Father God, Give us strength for the battle that You guarantee will come. Tune us to the Spirit so we may know the truth and test all opposing messages. We count ourselves blessed to follow Christ, no matter what it takes.


[Post by Kristen Leigh Evensen]

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