November 18, 2010

Someone’s Messing With The Family

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“Building the bridge between the free church and the persecuted church”
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This is the message delivered at Faith-Hopewell Cumberland Presbyterian Church, in Batesville, Arkansas, on November 14, 2010.  The themes are the same, but the text was edited from its form of delivery in the church, face to face, with other relevant examples to the believers in the pews, to a writing that would have a broader appeal.  If you would like a PDF version rather than reading on the blog, just email me at kevin.mcmahan@fedpg.com and I will send you one.  Thank you for reading and thank you for your support for the persecuted family. 
-Kevin McMahan
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In preparing this message for the International Day of Prayer for Persecuted Christians, the Holy Spirit gave me this title as a way to make a connection to those of us who have always been part of the free church and can’t really identify with being persecuted for our faith in Jesus. But we can identify with someone messing with our family, we do know how to come to the aid of our family in need, and we do feel a call to action to do something about that.

In this message, we’ll address:

• Who is our family?
• How is someone messing with the family?
• Why should we care that someone is messing with the family?
• Why is someone messing with the family?
• What should we do about it?

Think about your family members: Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Grandma, Great-Grandpa and Great-Grandma, Sister, Brother, Aunt, Uncle, Niece, Nephew, Cousin, Brother-in-law, Sister-in-law, and so on. Then think about those other friends that are so close to you that you consider them family. Then add your brothers and sisters in your church; those who care for you and your needs and you theirs. It starts to become a pretty big family. Let’s look at God’s Word as we try to get our arms around who our family is:

Ephesians 2:19b-20 (NLT) says, “You are members of God’s family. Together, we are His house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself.” It’s a big family and it’s worldwide!

I can visualize my grandson jogging proudly out onto the ball field wearing that jersey that says McMAHAN on the back. All of us believers can go onto the ball field of life wearing that jersey that says GOD’S FAMILY on the back; and since the time of the Church of Antioch in Acts 11, that name has been called CHRISTIAN.

Let’s draw this comparison … when my Mom and Dad brought me into this world, there was no question what family I belonged to. Everyone knew I was a member of the McMAHAN FAMILY. Likewise, when we accept Jesus as our Savior, we are born again, and there is no question what family we belong to. Everyone knows we are member of GOD’S FAMILY. How do we know this? Jesus said so in John 3:3, 4, and 7, and the apostle tells us in 1 Peter 1:3 (NIV), “… it is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead.”

How is someone messing with the family?

Reports say that more than 100 million Christians are being persecuted today. Big numbers and a really ugly word, “persecuted”. How are they persecuted? It may be illegal to have Bibles, prohibiting talk about Jesus, and preventing any homegroup meetings or open worship in a church. Or it may be the loss of a job because you’re Christian, losing your home and all your assets, or separating the family. Or it may be jailed, tortured, or even killed.

On November 1, while many of us watched how many red and blue seats were projected to change in the next day’s election, a Christian church was stormed in Iraq. 64 people were killed, including a 3 year old, and 300 people were wounded. I didn’t hear a thing about this on the news. And now Al Qaeda has openly declared that Christians and their organizations are legitimate targets.

Open Doors introduced me to another testimony of an Asian woman. While being harassed by the authorities, she told them, “I’m walking with Jesus today. If you kill me, I’ll be with Him. Either way, I win.” What a testimony by one of our sisters!

Why should we care that someone’s messing with the family?

Back to that big number – 100 million persecuted Christians. It takes a big number to get our attention in this country. But not to get the attention of our God. Our God has counted every hair on every head. Our God has every name engraved in His hand. As long as one suffers, we all suffer. That’s what we do for the family, right?

The apostle Paul did so much of his writing from prison and he talks about why we should care in 1 Corinthians 12. In this chapter he goes over it again and again and again. That tells me that God thought this was really important and He wanted us to get it right. In verse 11 (KJV), “selfsame Spirit”; in verse 12, we’re introduced to “one body, many parts’, with Christ as the head, all of us as the body parts, and together, we’re the one and only church. In verse 13, “one Spirit”; and then reading verses 25-26, “That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it…”

We do suffer with our closest family members. For me, that means all those wearing the McMAHAN jersey. And even those wearing another jersey we recognize as family. But what about those wearing the CHRISTIAN jersey; those on the other side of the world, ones we’ll never meet, and we’ll never know their names? The bottom line is we care because God commands us to care. It’s the right thing to do.

Why is someone messing with the family?

Dr. Carl Moeller, President of Open Doors USA, a ministry that exists solely for support to the persecuted church, says, “Wherever light pierces darkness, darkness kicks back.” That really moved me and made sense. “Wherever light pierces darkness, darkness kicks back.” Think about that.

The Bible is one long tale of persecution. So many of those in the Old Testament who loved God were persecuted. So many of those in the New Testament who loved Jesus were persecuted. Of course our Savior Himself was persecuted. From the beginning, God has used persecution to build His church. It shouldn’t be a surprise to us that it continues today. Let’s look at Matthew 16:18 (KJV). There are only 29 words of Jesus here, but worth reading to yourself out loud. “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Our Lord will not be denied!

We have such a huge advantage over the Acts church of 2,000 years ago. We can skip to the end of the story and we know what happens – God wins! Every time you read it, God wins. Just like Gideon against the Midianites, God wins. And as members of His family, ones entitles to the inheritance, we win too! I sometimes ask myself, “How much faith does it take when I know God wins?” When Stephen was martyred (Acts 7:59-60) and church persecution began – at the hand of Paul – it was like stomping on an open campfire. Those hot embers of fire landed throughout the world and lit churches everywhere.

I mentioned Dr. Moeller earlier. I volunteer for Open Doors and attended training a couple of weeks ago. I heard him speak recently about three benefits to persecution. Yes, “benefits” to “persecution”. First, it strengthens the persecuted. Just like you and me, whenever we reach out to Jesus, He draws us close and we are strengthened. Second, it refines the persecuted. My brother-in-law, a pastor, told me, “When you realize all you have left is God, you’ll realize all you need is God.” While being persecuted, you can see how all the unnecessary stuff we pile onto our lives could be peeled away, leaving us with what really matters. Third, it unifies the church. As we pray for one another, as we are called to comfort others, we are unified. “God comforts us so we may comfort others.” (2 COR 1:4 NIV)

We are so blessed with comforts and freedoms in this material world of ours. Sometimes we may think we don’t need God. I don’t mean “need God” as in the sense of getting to Heaven. But “need God” in the sense of can we get from 8am to 9am, get from morning to night, without Him. It is sometimes a struggle to find time with God. On my crowded To Do List, I’m guilty of pushing God-time farther down the list, and sometimes, completely off the list.

Can you imagine yourself being jealous of someone who is jailed for their faith? A few months ago I couldn’t. I would watch videos or read stories of our suffering family members and I would weep and I would feel sorry for them. But God has been working on me and I gradually began to think that instead of feeling sorry for the persecuted church, I should be feeling sorry for the free church. The persecuted have a faith and a closeness to God that I don’t think I have! Just imagine, what if you had one To Do list item today – “to get close to God”?

There was another testimony published by Open Doors that I wanted to share. A man was imprisoned for telling others about the Gospel. He was released eight months later and immediately resumed preaching. People asked him if he was afraid of going back to prison. He told them that 13 people came to the Lord while he was in prison and he was ready to go back.

Jesus told the followers they would be persecuted as He was. Remember Matthew 10:16 – sending out the disciples like “sheep among wolves”. But, then the great promise in Matthew 5:10-12 (KJV): Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” In short, the persecuted are promised the Kingdom of Heaven and told they will be in really good company!

So that brings us to “What should we do about the fact that someone’s messing with the family?”

Like Gideon’s overwhelming task, we may say, “Who am I?” But when it comes to helping the family in need, we do know what to do. We come to their aid. As with all our actions, it should start with prayer:

• Pray for the persecuted family … that they remain strong in their faith, that Jesus draws them closer to Himself, and that they can rest and find comfort in Him.

• Pray for those who persecute the family … that they are brought to salvation through our Lord. Jesus’ command from Matthew 5:44 (KJV) is really clear: “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you…”

This breaks me down every time I read it. For the enemy who persecuted a McMAHAN, could I continue to love them in return? But isn’t that what Jesus did in His last words on the cross? And Stephen, as he was being stoned? The direction is clear, the examples are stamped in our minds and in our hearts.

Our persecuted brothers and sisters get this “love your enemies” thing. At Open Doors training, I listened to a guy named Labib, a Palestinian Christian. I hope I never forget his inspiring words, but more importantly, I hope I don’t forget the sound of his voice. It was the most compassionate, most loving voice I have ever heard. I found myself wondering if that’s what Jesus sounded like. Labib told us that he tells his Palestinian people that Israel is the greatest gift that God could have given them. Huh? Why? Because it gives them the opportunity to obey Jesus’ command to … love … your … enemies … each and every day.

• Pray about what else God would have you do. We have different gifts, different blessings, and each are called accordingly. If you want to address the need for Bibles, you can text BIBLE to 85944 and for a $5 charge on your next cell phone bill, send a Bible to a saint in need of one. If it’s continuing prayer and support, and you want to stay abreast of happenings to the family, you can register for the newsletter at www.opendoorsusa.org. If it’s training pastors, building training centers, visiting the family in jail, training the family without work, sheltering the family without a home, or feeding the family without food, you can make a donation online at www.opendoorsusa.org. Some specific options are available at Open Doors. Go to www.opendoorsusa.org, click “Ways To Give”, and click “Gift Catalog” for these options:

o Children’s Bible, $4
o Youth Bible, $4
o Hospital Visit, $14
o MP3 Bible, $30
o Pastor Training, $39
o Study Bible, $8
o Women Abuse Recovery Program, $28
o Job training for widow, $44

Before concluding your reading, please bow your head and pray: for the persecuted family, for those who persecute the family, and for what else you should do. God’s Word tells us “… let’s not merely say that we love each other, let us show the truth by our actions.” (1 John 3:18 NIV)

Go into the week humming the song, “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love”:

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord,
And we pray that our unity will one day be restored,
Yeah, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
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