We Think We’re ‘Persecuted’

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” – Jesus, in Matthew 5:11

I think sometimes I get really comfortable in my American Christian persecution.

Being at a liberal arts school that is beginning to pride itself on its multi-faith initiatives, I get accused sometimes of being narrow-minded. That’s fine with me. I’ve come to expect that. I don’t find it offensive anymore, honestly – it’s just a part of following Christ. He promised that we’re blessed WHEN others persecute us and mock us. That word “when” is a big one.

But do we ever get comfortable in our persecution? I know I do. I think, “Wow, God, I’m really coming under persecution, please help me to get through this while honoring Your name.” That’s not a bad thing.

But my “persecution” seems really small in light of something like this video. Watch it:

100-200 million Christians at any one time under persecution.  The most persecuted religious group in the world at this moment. 1.2 million Christians in Iraq to less than 200,000.

Numbers that should shock us. It shocked me.

I watched this video tonight on Facebook when a friend shared it on her timeline. I was left saddened and hurt for my brothers and sisters across the world who are facing this evil in their time. But Christ promised we would be persecuted for our faith.

What should we do in response to this? Pray. Pray. Pray.

1. Pray that God would be close to those under persecution.

2. Pray that they would find their strength in the Lord.

3. Pray that we would be burdened for them every day and pray for them.

Honestly, I’ve never been someone who saw things like this and walked away seriously burdened. Tonight was different. My “persecution” (really just people saying I’m crazy for believing what I believe) is like a Christmas gift compared to what my brothers and sisters around the world are facing because they believe in Jesus.

Please pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ. They need it.

 

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Fighting Sin, Part III: Wrapped in the Truth

This is the third part in a series on fighting sin based on Ephesians 6:10-18a. See the second part in the series here.

There have been a couple days this year when I’ve gone to campus with jeans a bit too big and no belt on. I’m constantly tugging at my hips to pull my pants up and keep them around my waist. I can’t stand when I sag, so this is frustrating.

Two Wednesdays ago: I walked outside towards my car in order to drive to campus for class, and I realized I had no belt on. Silly me, I thought, and walked all the way back into my room upstairs in my house, grabbed a belt, put it on and then drove to class.

Secondly, have you ever been to a dress-up event where you’ve got to wear suits and ties and stuff like that, and you’ve forgotten a belt? I did that a couple times when I was younger, and maybe even once in college. I feel out of place! I feel like I’m missing a vital piece of clothing that completes the outfit that I’m supposed to be wearing.

The primary purpose of a belt is to hold things together. Pants that are too loose fall down without a belt on. It helps holds things in their proper place.

Funny, because that’s what truth does in the life of a Christian.

In John 8:31-32, Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus placed such an emphasis on truth and the freedom that comes from knowing the truth. Truth comes from the word of God. If we know the word of God (and I think there’s a deep emphasis on knowing there), we will find freedom. I don’t think it’s a mere academic acceptance of truth; it’s a heart-change, soul-believing truth. It’s not just knowing 2+2=4, it’s believing in the truths of Scripture, the word of God.

Ephesians 6:14 tells us to fasten on “the belt of truth” as part of the armor of God in fighting sin and Satan. How does truth become our belt?

Truth frees us up to be obedient to God. Without a firm knowledge of truth, we have nothing to go by, no standard to judge our lives by. If we abide in the word of God, we will see what is true and we will be able to grasp how to be obedient. It is that truth that holds our armor in place, that truth where we store our sword. If we’re not rooted in truth, we will be like the double-minded man in James 1:6, “like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.”

If we wrap ourselves in truth, we will be able to grasp how to fight sin because we will rightly understand how to use the tools in our arsenal, we will be able to wisely choose what to use at what time. If we don’t wrap ourselves in truth, the breastplate of righteousness will seem impossible to find; the gospel of peace will bring no peace at all; the shield of faith will deflect nothing; the helmet of salvation will be more like a handkerchief over our skull; and the sword of the Spirit will appear as a weak pool noodle shredded by lack of use. Only, and only, if we see it all through the lens of truth, wrap ourselves with the belt of truth and hold it all together, then we will be able to rightly attack sin.

Two more things to remember.

It’s a mindset. I know that if I put my belt on in the morning, my pants are less likely to sag, hopefully. It’s a mindset, and that’s what wrapping yourself in truth brings: a mindset ready to attack and defend against sin. It’s a proper understanding of the other tools. It starts in the mind. In a battle, a soldier doesn’t actually use his belt, but it gives you the confidence that everything’s in place, everything’s where it’s supposed to be.

This belt can only be provided by God. This is not a belt we manufacture. We cannot develop a firm belt of truth on our own; it would be like a piece of string tied around our waist. It might like 10 minutes, if we’re lucky. That’s how good our selfish version of the truth is; it’s weak, pitiful, ineffective, not good at all. God’s truth is a truth that will stand. God’s truth is the truth. In John 14:6, Jesus said that He is “the way, the truth, and the life.” We must cling to this God-given, freedom-inducing, mindset-chaging truth if we dare try to kill any sin that proves to be invasive in our lives.

Check back for Part 4 on the “breastplate of righteousness.”

12 (or 13?) Things I’ve Learned in 21 Years of Life

So today, I turn 21 years old. So weird to think about, to be honest with you. It’s not that I didn’t think I’d get here or anything like that, it’s just crazy to think I’ve been around for this long. It’s only by the grace of God that I made it, that’s for sure.

Here are 12 things I’ve learned by living on this crazy earth 21 years.

12. Sometimes you’ve just got to blast some Family Force 5 or Black Knight and stop trying to be civilized.

Whether it’s hitting the cray buttoncrankin’ it like a chainsaw or living like a kountry gentleman, sometimes I’ve just got to have me some FF5. Or maybe you should swervput some headphones on and vibe or maybe put your Bibles in the air.  And whether I’m in my car or my room or the library or wherever I am, it’s OK to get a little crazy. You should try it sometime.

11. The Barclays Premier League is the best soccer in all the world. Specifically Arsenal.

My soccer skills are limited, so I may not know much, but watching the Premier League is easily the best soccer in the world. Go Gunners!

10. Christian rap is easily the best genre of music out there.

There’s no contest here. With the best guys, the lyrics are solid, the production is top-notch and the message of the Gospel is clear. Here’s a list of guys you should check out: Beautiful Eulogy, Trip Lee, Lecrae, Propaganda, Dre Murray, Christon Gray, Andy Mineo, Derek Minor, K-Drama, Shai Linne, Timothy Brindle and Social Club. Hit ’em all up for some sweet music.

9. Being a sports journalist is the most fun I’ve had in college.

I worked for the student newspaper at Elon for two years and got to cover men’s basketball and football for both of those years. I’ve also done freelance work for the local newspaper in Burlington, The Times-News, and my hometown paper, The Sanford Herald. I’ve never had more fun in college than sitting on press row or in the press box, tweeting away about the game and joking with the reporters around me. I’ve gotten to visit some incredible sites: Kidd Brewer Stadium (Appalachian State football), Cameron Indoor Stadium (Duke basketball), the Dean Dome (UNC basketball), the Wyndham Championship (PGA Tour) and Reynolds Coliseum (NC State basketball). But my favorite, by far, is Alumni Gym, to see Elon men’s basketball do their thing.

8. Be spontaneous every once in a while. It might be fun.

I’m a guy who likes to be structured, have things planned, all that. But there have been a couple times in college I’ve done things I planned very little for. Sometimes I did something that I had no plans for. Those are memories I’ll remember because I stopped planning so much and just enjoyed myself. Do that.

7. Don’t spend too much time on social media/your phone. Look at people.

As I write this, I have Facebook and Twitter open. I’ve learned that social media is nice, but there’s nothing like having a face-to-face conversation with somebody in your life. You never know, it might be just what they need for you to put down your phone and look them in the eye when they talk to you.

6. If you go on a mission trip, expect your life to get rocked. But maybe not how you expected.

I’ve been on a few mission trips in my life, none more recent and none more awesome than my seven weeks I spent in South Africa this past summer. It was a life-changing trip, but it wasn’t what I expected. I learned a lot about myself and my relationship with God, a lot about truth in Scripture, a lot about community and a lot about the importance of the Gospel, no matter where you are in the world.

5. Don’t hate your blood brother/sister. It won’t get you anywhere.

I’ve had fights with my brother and sister. Some of them not too pretty. But today, I have greater relationships with both than I’ve ever had, and I can tell you that’s the greatest thing. My brother Addison is a fantastic young man who is seeking to grow in his relationship with the Lord and I love to see it. My sister Karis is growing into a fine young lady who is beautiful and also wants to know God and trust Him with everything. I love seeing that. And I love them.

4. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” – Proverbs 17:17

I’d love to call out all my friends in my life by name, but I’m really afraid I’d forget somebody. You know who you are. Whether it’s making a sweet YouTube web video series, contemplating how to fight sin or trying to throw a discus as far as we can on a dirt baseball field behind a community college, I’ve shared many great times with the friends I’ve had, and many difficult times as well. I love every single one of you I call my friend, and my life would not be as blessed as it’s been had God not put you into it.

3. It’s good to take time to just be alone and meditate on life.

I’m classified as an introvert, so being around large groups for a long time always stress me out. So there are times when I’ll just be by myself and I’ll think about life, think about where God has brought me, think about what I’m going through, think about the future. It’s easy to start overdoing it and start worrying, but finding that time to be alone and meditate is worth it. That’s what a lot of the Psalms are, and they’re pretty solid.

2. Don’t ever compromise on the Gospel.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23 spills it all out for us, the truth of life, how we are supposed to approach every situation: knowing that our truth is found in Jesus. Don’t EVER leave that or water it down. It’s sin-forgiving, life-altering truth. Don’t compromise.

1b. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28

God has the best in mind for those whom He loves. It might not be what we want or desire, but it’s for our ultimate good and His ultimate glory. There’s no need to worry about the unknown if you’re in Christ; God’s got it.

1a. “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” – Psalm 16:11.

People seek joy/satisfaction/contentment/life/pleasure in so many things, but only in God can we find eternal fulfillment of these things. Any others that claim to offer eternal joy/satisfaction/contentment/life/pleasure are liars; I can attest to that every day, just ask me. Only in Christ can we be forgiven of sin, raised to new life in Him and find the satisfaction we’re all looking for. The truth is in God’s Word. Read it, believe it, love Jesus.

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OK, so maybe that was 13 things. I could do a lot more, but this is already a long post, so I’m gonna cut it short. Thanks so much to all of you that have had a major part in my life, a major impact in how I’ve loved Jesus, loved people and sought to grow as a man. It’s been a crazy 21 years. I hope the Lord uses the next 21 for His glory.

Fighting Sin, Part II: Not on Our Own Strength

This is the second part in a series on fighting sin based on Ephesians 6:10-18a. See the first part in the series here.

Before Halloween night this year, I had never grilled anything on my own. Not even a piece of chicken on a George Foreman, nothing like that, nothing so awesome as a filet, nothing. Before Halloween night, I wasn’t even a grilling rookie, I wasn’t even drafted onto a grilling team.

But on Halloween night, I decided to go for it. I had bought some bratwurst a couple weeks before and had frozen them to grill at a later date when I had worked up the nerve. I finally got it and set out to grill.

But I had no idea how to turn on the grill. I mean, I figured I turned on the gas and turned some knobs. So I went outside and did what I thought I had to do. But the fire wasn’t turning on. I had to ask my roommate to help me turn on the fire.

It was a humbling reminder of how little I know about grilling and cooking in general. But by the end of the night, I had grilled some brats that were actually quite tasty. But I needed help to get to that place.

It’s the same way with sin in our life.

From the beginning of the Ephesians 6 passage, it’s clear. We are not to derive strength in the fight from anything we inherently are or anything we can muster. It’s all of God. You see that in verse 10: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” We are to find our motivation and energy for fighting sin in God’s power alone. That’s why in verse 11 and 13 the armor is “of God” and not “of man.”

And if you look into the pieces of the armor, none of the virtues Paul trumpets are man-made. I’ll get to what they are in the next few posts, but if you examine truth, righteousness, etc., none of that is man-developed, man-created. It’s all of God.

So if all of our strength and all of our weapons derive from God as the source, why do we trust anyone (namely ourselves) ahead of God? Why do we cling to our own man-made feeble armor in trying to fight sin? That’s why we fail by the way. In our pride, we think we have the strength and the knowledge to fight a fight we are sure to lose. But we don’t think we’ll lose. In our pride, we think we’re greater than our sin and can overcome it on our own.

At least that’s how I thought, and sometimes fall into that trap.

But we forget an important gospel truth: our sin is much more powerful than we are. If sin was weaker than us and we could defeat it on our own, we wouldn’t need the saving grace of Christ, we wouldn’t need the strength of the Lord in our fight to “withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (v. 13). Our standing firm, our strong position in the fight, our fortress, it’s built on the solid foundation and solid rock that is Jesus Christ.

And it must be: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (v. 12). Our battle is a spiritual one, so we must fight and defend with spiritual weapons, not puny earthly ones. For that will get us nowhere, and we will lose continually if we insist on always fighting the battle with our own two hands. The flesh is weak, Jesus said in the garden to Peter, James and John (Matthew 26:41).

If we do not keep watch over our flesh and clothe ourselves with strength from God, we will indeed fail. We are being attacked by “the schemes of the devil” (v. 11). It is imperative we cling to his greatest adversary, the One who has defeated him and will one day defeat him for eternity, for strength to fight the sin in our lives and pursue godliness.

Check back for Part 3 on the “belt of truth” in the armor of God.