Overcoming Persecution

Smyrna in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) was considered to be “the flower of Asia” for its strategic planning, culture, education, science, and medicine.  It was also a place of great persecution for the believer.  Jesus warned the church at Smyrna they would experience persecution, arrest, and even death for the sake of Christ at the hands of people who claimed to be the people of God, but were in reality a “synagogue of Satan” (Revelation 2:8-11).

The persecutors accused the Christians of cannibalism (ignorance of the Lord’s Supper), sexual perversion (mistaking the Christian fellowship meal for an orgy), political rebellion (because they would not declare Caesar as Lord and would not petition Rome for permits to meet), atheism (due to the absence of pagan idols in their homes), and destroying Jewish homes (as they converted to Christianity). The persecution of the believer always involves some type of spurious and injurious accusation, for that is the nature of the devil, the accuser of the brethren. We should not think that we are immune to persecution because anyone desiring to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12).

To persecute means to pursue, follow after, aggressively seek after as a hunter searches to apprehend, capture, or kill an animal.  To be persecuted is to be viciously and relentlessly hunted because of the gospel.  Although there are a variety of types of persecution, including spiritual (oppression), life (martyrdom), financial (denying employment, advancement or benefit), mental (condemnation or accusation), emotional (fear, anxiety, and despair), relational (rejection and marginalization), and physical (affliction and infirmity) the purpose of the persecution is the same – to press the believers to compromise, to denounce their faith, and to give up.

The keys to overcoming any kind of persecution are revealed also in the Book of Revelation.  Jesus said, “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death” (Revelation 12:11, KJV).  The first key is to know and understand the covenant that is the basis of your salvation.  The Christian is blood bought and blood washed, and ultimately and eternally safeguarded by the resurrected Jesus.  The sacred and irrevocable covenant means that no matter how bad the persecution or pressure, the Lord will eventually turn things around.

Second, we must continue to speak faith-filled words of our personal testimony and the truths of God’s word no matter how difficult things are in life.  By sticking to the word, we are harnessing the power of life and death that is in the tongue of the believer (Proverbs 18:21), and not in the persecution of the evil one. By sticking to the word, we demonstrate that the most prominent influence in our heart is the truth, rather than the persecution we are facing, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34).

Finally, we must live as though we were dead, meaning dead to self, dead to self-interests, and dead to our propensity to want to direct our own lives while claiming that Jesus is Lord.  We may or may not face a literal life threat that so many of our brothers and sisters face daily around the world for their faith in Jesus, but we will be tempted to live our lives forgetting the sacrifice of Jesus and the example of service at the expense of self.  Given the condition of the world and the spiritual trajectory of our own nation, it’s never been more important for believers to overcome the persecution, live out their natural lives, and live them out for the purpose and glory of God.

The Spirit of Infirmity

crippled woman healed pic“Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise  herself up.  But when Jesus saw her, He called  her  to  Him  and said to her,  ‘Woman, you are loosed from your  infirmity.’ And He laid  His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had  healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and  not on the Sabbath day.’ The Lord then answered him and said, ‘Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead  it  away to water it? So ought not this woman,  being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound—think of it—for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?’ And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were  done by Him” (Luke 13:10-17, NKJV).

I love to read about the power, wisdom, and compassion of Jesus Christ when it comes up against religious tradition. In this simple story about a woman with a chronic back problem, Jesus forever takes the lid off to reveal who exactly is behind sickness and disease – Satan through the agency of a spirit of infirmity (demonic activity that produces chronic weakness, debilitation, or sickness mentally, emotionally, or physically). For many years, the enemy was able to lay the blame at God’s feet with even some of God’s servants and ministers beating the drum and bearing witness to a wrong conclusion about the nature and origin of sickness. But Jesus makes it plain: “…whom Satan has bound.” Acts 10:38 echoes this vital truth by revealing that God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and power and went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil. The simple truth is that Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but Jesus came that we might have life, to the full, until it overflows (John 10:10).

It’s laughable to think that the synagogue ruler would challenge the people to come on the normal six days of work to be healed instead of the Sabbath. It’s amusing (and sad) because all this time people ought to have received healing ministry during the rest of the week through the synagogue system (healing has always been the will of God and “the Lord that heals us” has always made provision for healing throughout both the Old and New Testaments). The truth is, however, that people started to get healed when Jesus came preaching the message of the blessing and restoration and then backed it up with supernatural power. This is precisely why the Scripture says that the Word of God is made void (robbed of its power) by the traditions of men (Matthew 15:6). This is a classic example of a religious leader twisting Scripture to serve his own agenda and protect his own insecurities. It is unthinkable that his position and prominence was more important than the spiritual welfare and restoration of the people he was charged to lead.

But Jesus takes the issue even further. He chides the rulers because hypocritically they would untie or unbind their animals to make sure they had life-sustaining water on the Sabbath but through their religious tradition impeded human beings – covenant children of God like Abraham who have healing as a benefit of that covenant – from partaking of God’s living water. That same spirit that we see now that demands the whales be saved while espousing the right to terminate unborn children has been in the world since the fall of man. Men, made in God’s image, are made inferior to animals and lands that were made by God for man both to enjoy and to steward.

A vital weapon the enemy uses to keep God’s people bound is ignorance – a lack of knowledge of the heart, nature, will, and power of God. Hosea 4:6 indicates that God’s people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge. No more. Jesus has blown the devil’s cover (and religion’s cover). Be encouraged that healing is part of the covenant blessing we share by faith (Galatians 3:13-14) and that, according to Jesus, covenant men and women of God OUGHT to be free from their bonds. Rejoice in the knowledge that there is no chain, no bondage, and no affliction that can stand up to the anointing released through faith in the name of Jesus. For whom the Son sets free is truly, free indeed – as free as Jesus is free (John 8:36).

Covenant of Ink

“Where there is no revelation [of the Word of God], the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law…If people can’t see what God is doing they stumble all over themselves. But when they attend to what He reveals they are most blessed” (Proverbs 29:18, NIV, MES).

There was a time in the this great nation when the integrity and centrality of the Word of God was not questioned, debated, or vilified, but gladly and openly recognized, accepted, and celebrated. Our country’s revolutionary and constitutional documents were so heavily influenced by the Scriptures that one can actually find portions of sermons lifted verbatim and inserted into the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and the U.S. Constitution. Additionally, one does not need to be a lawyer to notice right away that the moral law of our land has been directly influenced by the ancient moral code of the Bible. Unfortunately the enduring covenant words of the Most High God set in motion through the blood of Jesus Christ are being systematically replaced with an ever-changing covenant of ink that is marginal in its authority and easily and frequently manipulated

Today, vast numbers of Americans have no understanding of the history of the formation of these documents and how central the Word of God was to their development and adoption. Today, it is common to see a great ambivalence and even disrespect for the Bible. For sure, the high degree of authority the masses once gave to the Scriptures is missing in today’s post Christian America. With this decline in respect for the Word, we have seen a distinct decline in the manifestation of the blessing. As Proverbs 29:18 indicates, the more attention and honor we give to the Word, the more blessed (empowered to succeed and prosper) we will be.

There are four basic levels of respect that people in this nation give to the Word of God. I want to discuss each level to demonstrate where we have come from and where we need to return to if we want to see the blessing of the Lord on this great land again. The key is for all of us to come to the place where the Word has the highest degree of authority and respect. The more we recognize and honor the integrity of the Word of God the more victorious our lives will be. Conversely, when people reject, limit, or marginalize the authority of the Word of God in their lives they set themselves up for confusion and ultimately defeat.

First, many people today see the Word of God as “relative” these days. By relative I mean the authority they give to the Word is dependent upon external conditions, input, or opinions outside of the Word of God. In other words, there are no absolutes. These individuals may see a small portion of the values and morality of the Bible as relative to their lives but for the most part they reject the authority of Scripture opting instead to be the sole basis of right and wrong themselves.

Second, there are people who see the Bible as “somewhat authoritative.” They would agree that many aspects of the value system described are binding and important like the biblical prohibition on murder or stealing and the mandate to love one’s neighbor, etc. On the other hand, these folks have certain special areas of life they see as off-limits to biblical authority. They buy into some false reassignment or interpretation of Scripture to justify thinking or behavior that contradicts the Word.

The third level is made up of people who have historically viewed the Bible as “inerrant.” This means that they believe the Scriptures in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek autographs or manuscripts are completely without error. The sad truth today is that even Christians are backing away from this high view of Scripture to adopt a less authoritative view of the Word. In fact, one major evangelical group with a long track record of believing in the inerrancy of Scripture has only two Bible colleges left out of dozens that still boldly push inerrancy. The problem is that when we open this door we give license to individuals with terminal degrees deciding what parts of the Bible are accurate and which parts should be set aside. Imagine that, a man or woman thinking they have more intelligence than the author of the Bible, the Holy Spirit, simply because they have some letters behind their names.

The highest view of Scripture, however, is the understanding that all Scripture, regardless of testament or type of literature is “covenant language” and as such is sacred, binding, and irrevocable. This view of Scripture embraces inerrancy, accepts the commands, and makes a faith-based demand on the promises and the terms of the covenant that God, by his own volition, will, and sovereignty entered into with man. The Lord said in Psalm 89:34 says, “I will not violate my covenant or alter what my lips have uttered.” When we view the Bible as covenant language we have a strong conviction about the nature and character of God to honor His Word and great confidence that if we keep our part of the covenant we will tap into the covenant promises of God.

It doesn’t take you long to see the high place we have fallen from as a people – from seeing Scripture as covenant language to viewing the Scripture as nothing more than a moral suggestion – from a covenant of blood to a covenant of ink. For those of you that want to honor God and to see God’s best in your lives, make every effort to return to the high view of Scripture and develop a dogged determination to obey the principles of the Word of God and hold on passionately and diligently to the amazing covenant promises in the Word. Make up your mind today to make the Word of God first place and final authority in your life. This means the Word is the first place you go to for counsel and the final authority and influence once you know what God’s Word declares about a matter.

Spiritual Justice

“And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly” (Luke 18:7-8, NIV).

Micah 6:8 plainly expresses the will of God for His people. We are all called to further the cause of justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before our God. Humility is not debasing oneself in the name of religion but to fully submit to the dictates, principles, commands, and yes, even the promises of God. To reject the Word is pride. To submit to the Word is true humility. The person who loves mercy is a person who longs to see the distress in the lives of people alleviated rather than rejoicing for the obvious consequences of the choices they have made. Mercy, the Bible says, triumphs over judgment (James 2:13). But what about this concept of justice? Is the Lord talking about criminal justice, economic justice, or social justice? Actually the Lord is talking about a justice that supersedes all other concepts of justice – spiritual justice.

You see, Jesus went to the cross for our redemption and paid the price for our sin and rebellion. Justice was served through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is unjust for a person to stay bound in sin when they have embraced Jesus Christ. It is unjust for us to stay sick, depressed, oppressed, condemned, broke, in bondage, or filled with shame because blood has been shed. In other words, it is a violation of God’s sense of spiritual justice to put up with anything that Jesus died to redeem us from as God’s people. To do justly, as Micah expressed it, is to do everything we can to inform and help people tap into the marvelous consequences of God’s justice wrought through the blood of Jesus. We all should be righteously indignant when the enemy tries to rob us or the people of God from that justice.

We see a wonderful example of this in the life of King David (2 Samuel 9) when he reached out to be a blessing to Mephibosheth, the son of his covenant friend Jonathan. David quizzed his servant Ziba to find out if there was someone from the household of Saul still around so that he could show covenant kindness to them (intentional and overt assistance and favor bestowed because of covenant). Ziba found Mephibosheth who had been dropped and crippled early in life and was now living in the land of Lo Debar, a dry, barren, lifeless, dismal desolate place of shame, despair, and no pasture (contrast that with Psalm 23 where the shepherd provides green pastures). Lo Debar is a place of broken dreams, lives, and bodies where many people figuratively live to this day. It’s interesting to see how David enforced the blessing for this man that everyone seemed to forget about (but not God).

First, Ziba was instructed to fetch or violently remove this man from Lo Debar in the name of covenant and bring him to David. He was to literally retrieve Mephibosheth from physical devastation and bondage. In David’s mind no covenant child of God should be living in Lo Debar. He should be living in God’s Kingdom. This principle speaks of the practical, physical restoration that comes from God’s blessing. It’s amazing how the Lord can literally pluck an individual out of a corrupt and destructive environment and set them back on the path of life.

Second, Ziba was instructed to restore everything that had been lost by his family. All of Saul’s possessions, his lands, goods, and properties, were to be restored to Mephibosheth, and his lands were to be farmed as well to produce crops and sustenance for the son of his friend Jonathan. The blessing also works in our lives in this way to bring material restoration. The devil, the world, and religion do not like it much but the Lord truly empowers His people materially because of covenant. Deuteronomy 8:18 says, “…for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant.”

Finally, Ziba was told to bring this Mephibosheth to David’s table so that he would always dine with the King. This speaks of God’s spiritual restoration in our lives. This man who had lost everything in life including his father, grandfather, lands, wealth, possessions, respect, and health, had been rescued from Lo Debar and now brought to the table reserved for royalty. He now looked like royalty, smelled like royalty, spoke like royalty and sat at the table of the King himself who treated him as a son. That’s our God. No one transforms lives like our God.

Maybe you can relate to Mephibosheth today. When David received him, Mephibosheth, filled with shame, asked David, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me? (2 Samuel 9:8). Ironically, his name meant, “he scatters shame,” or “destroying shame,” or “exterminator of shame.” In thinking about what the Lord had done for him, despite the setbacks and hardship, it’s obvious that he lived up to his name in the end. All shame was stripped from his life through the justice and mercy of God. It was spiritually just for David to show kindness to Mephibosheth, enforce the blessing in his life, and remove his shame. By the same token it is just for you to be shown covenant kindness as well. Blood has been shed so that you too could have all shame exterminated from your life.