“Persecution is a good thing”, said Tom. Tom is a house church pastor in Asia that I have known since 2009. Tom was referring to a new law that recently went into effect in his country. In essence, this new law increases restrictions and punishments for those involved in unsanctioned religious activities (aka: house churches). In all fairness, it does not strictly target Christians, but they do have a giant bulls eye on their back.
I am currently reading through Acts, which is causing me to consider a reality that is not so welcoming among believers in the US, which I am one. For example, I often hear my fellow believers in America talk about the need for revival in our land. We (myself included) talk of our desire to see thousands come to Christ, just like we read about in the book of Acts. We pray for these things. We seek these things. I truly believe we do. But, what I believe we are truly desiring and asking for is that God gives us “All the WOW of Acts without All the OUCH of Acts”.
The disciples in the book of Acts saw incredible events, things I would love to see take place in America. The Apostle Peter gave the first Billy Graham style Gospel presentation after Christ ascended and 3,000 people believed in that moment. We see time and time again that many were added to their numbers on a daily basis because of how they lived intentionally for God’s Kingdom.
These kinds of events are something I know we all wish we could see take place in America. But, there was another thing taking place as these early disciples experienced these incredible moments of God’s power. They were simultaneously enduring a tremendous amount of opposition as they proclaimed and displayed the Kingdom of God. They were beaten, stoned, left for dead and some were even killed.
As a Christ follower in America, I wonder if we really willing to see the whole of Acts lived out in our land. I say this because I do not believe we can eliminate the bad while only seeking to experience and see the good. I do not believe we can see thousands upon thousands come to Christ without direct, intentional and frequent opposition against us. Granted, no all persecution is equal but persecution should be expected.
One reason I believe we are not necessarily willing, just yet, to embrace the OUCH of Acts is because too many of us in America, more often than not, take a defensive posture. We rise up against anyone who seeks to harm, insult or simply shame us for our Christian faith. We dig our heels in the ground because it is our right to do so and “How dare they infringe on my God given right!”. By doing so, we inadvertently push these same people away from the Gospel that we should be seeking to reach.
Jesus told His disciples (us included) that we are to LOVE our enemies. That was not a suggestion. That was a calling. Jesus did not rebuke, attack nor stand up for his rights every time someone threatened him or said something nasty about him. The people He most often rebuked and stood up against were the religious elites of His time. He did not defend Himself against the Roman soldiers who swung the hammer that drove the nails through his body. Instead, He cried out to the Father saying, “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing”. He showed love and compassion, in the midst of tremendous physical pain, toward those who physically harmed him, those who were not part of the religious elites.
Regardless of what you or I think about our rights in America, our identity in Jesus Christ takes precedence over our earthly identity. Jesus Himself declared that anyone who follows Him will be persecuted. In 2 Timothy, we are told again that all those who desire to live a godly live will be persecuted. This theme is written across multiple pages in the New Testament. This was not theory that Jesus nor His first disciples talked about but a reality check for those of us who seek to follow Christ.
I know that many of us desire to see thousands upon thousands come to faith in Christ. I do not doubt this for one moment. However, we need to consider carefully what is needed to see those thousands upon thousands come to Christ. We need to embrace the truth regarding persecution. We need to stop digging our heels in the ground to stand our ground and start loving those who hate us. We need to bless those who curse us. We need to embrace a theology of suffering that is done for and in the name of Jesus. Whether the opposition is mere verbal or whether it becomes physically threatening, Jesus is calling us to love with our very lives.
The WOW of Acts cannot be separated from the OUCH of Acts. It was true then and it remains true today. I am thankful for Tom and his words. They struck a cord with me. I believe we need to learn from the likes of people like Tom so we are ready for the OUCH when it comes. And, when the OUCH begins to come, I believe the WOW is just around the corner.
Is Jesus Worth It to You?
Steve Schirmer, President of Silk Road Catalyst and co-Host of Missions Talk. Least Reached Advocate. Dedicated to No Place Left.