As I sit here in the Taiwan airport waiting to leave for Manila and two weeks of speaking to pastors at conference, meetings and churches, I am still thinking of the shooting that took place at First Baptist in Maryville Illinois. The pastor Fred Winters was killed as 27 year old Terry J. Sedlacek walked into the church, came down the aisle and began to shoot at the pastor. After two shots, congregants sprang into action, without a doubt sparing lives. While I am comfortable that this pastor is home with the Lord and to die is gain, I am also aware that this type of activity is becoming more common place in our country. Jeff Hawkins, the executive director of the Christian Security Network says hundreds of church leaders have told him about all kinds of attacks they have recently faced, from arson's and burglaries to assaults on members and church leaders. In the first two months of 2009, churches have described more than 140 acts of violence to the Network, he said. In one incident, congregants noticed a person dressed inappropriately for the weather and acting odd. The man was taken outside and questioned. Under his coat, he had two machetes strapped to his back. "He said that he had been hearing the devil speaking to him, telling him to cut the pastor's head off," Hawkins said. "There was no struggle, and everything was calm. The man was removed.
This is a sign that persecution is no longer coming, it is not any longer on the way, but in fact it is here. We are no longer speaking about Hindus in India attacking the pulpit and beating the pastor to near death. This is not a discussion of Muslims in the middle east killing the men of God who have the courage to proclaim Gods Word. This is now people coming to church in the United States of America and seeking to do harm, even fatal harm to those who preach and teach the Word of God, and any who follow such men. That being the reality, what is to be our response?
We are to praise God, take heart and receive all of it with great joy. This was and is our Saviors instruction to those of us He has called to carry a cross and follow Him. The Word of God is clear when the Apostle Paul tells Timothy that, "everyone , who desires to live Godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted". Note the words "everyone" and "will be". These actions against preachers and pastors and believers, are the predicted consequence for being a follower of Jesus Christ. Sure, some will try to explain it away with mental illness, or the effect of Lyme disease, or abusive childhoods, and those might all be true at some level, but the real truth is that this is what is supposed to happen to the followers of Christ. It is the blood of His children that birthed the church, and keeps it going.
As we see and even experience some of this activity against us, let us be clear on our responsibilities. Yes, we are to defend the defenseless, so if there is opportunity to defend and save life, we are to take it and with all that is within us, protect the innocent and those who cannot defend themselves. Praise God for the men of the First Baptist Church in Maryville Illinois who sprang into action, at their own peril and suffering. They saved lives, and that is right for us to do. We also are called to use our minds, and be smart in our thinking through these issues as a church. But most importantly, most critically is our responsibility to rejoice. We need to get to the place where, like the apostles, we rejoice that we could ever be counted worthy to suffer for the sake of Jesus Christ! That ought to be the goal of our lives. To be in the place where persecution causes us joy and rejoicing. Where we marvel in amazement that He would grant us the privilege to suffer for His name sake. Paul the apostle would pray for suffering to come his way. He wanted to know Christ and His sufferings, and the Lord certainly answered that prayer.
When was the last time you prayed to know Christ and His sufferings? The world would say that was crazy, and sadly some Christians will tell you the same thing. But the Lord knows and the Apostle Paul learned that the greatest joy was found in the most intimate knowledge of Christ, and that, brothers and sisters is found in suffering on account of His great Name!
I will endeavor to blog from Manila and update on all that going on over here for the glory of God, as many of you who read this blog are supporters financially or in prayer or in both, and have asked me to blog on these trips, so that is my goal.
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