Passionate and Persecuted
Friday saw me spend the entire day teaching in the seminary. I started at 8 and finished just after 4:15 with an hour for lunch. At 5 Kelly and I had dinner with the church planters from Borneo, our second church plant in Indonesia.
I’m truly amazed at the passion to learn these believers demonstrate. The attention span is simply incredible. It reminds me a lot of the passion and enthusiasm I have experienced when teaching in Africa and so often missed elsewhere. They were as engaged at 4:15 as they were at 8 and all that in 90 degree heat, high humidity while crammed into a room barely big enough to hold us. Many slept at the seminary. There were no beds and they slept shoulder to shoulder on a hard floor with sleeping bags and an odd insect or two for added company!
I am privileged to have ministered in churches that have always had a passion for God’s Word. Nonetheless this kind of passion is both incredibly encouraging and remarkably challenging. I found myself wondering whether many of our western churches are so lukewarm missiologically because we have it too easy? Does the western church need a dose of persecution to stir us from our missiological slumber?
I found myself thinking back to a pastors conference I attended in Europe when serving as President of the International Baptist Convention. At one meeting a Turkish pastor shared the incredible work God was doing in one city albeit at the expense of great persecution. In that moment one pastor spoke up and said, “Let’s pray for an end to the persecution so that you can evangelize in peace.”
That statement made me very uncomfortable and I shared with those pastors that persecution is often the springboard for evangelistic fruitfulness. Sometimes we can’t have one without the other. While teaching yesterday I wondered whether their suffering was the foundation for their passion just as that Turkish pastor’s persecution was the springboard for his evangelistic fruitfulness? Of course, we can’t generalize but are persecution and passion friends?
Part of my teaching yesterday took me to Matthew chapter 10. As I introduced the important concept of ‘worthiness’ I reminded the group that some believers have a more Matthean than Lukan ministry. [This pastor in Turkey had a little of both!]
In Matthew’s Gospel evangelism is invariable met, especially after chapter 12, with persecution. Luke, unlike Matthew, mentions the disciples rejoicing in their powerful experience on mission for Christ. The implication is that their mission was an unqualified success! The disciples didn’t spare Jesus any of the details! Matthew mysteriously ignores the rejoicing return of the disciples completely. He mentions only the persecution and trouble that the disciples will experience when they go. For Matthew disciples are always on mission and the trouble mission causes never seems to end.
There is little doubt that Matthew 10:16ff is not written for the mission of the Twelve but for the many following after them. Their witness for Christ would bring hardship and suffering not repentance and rejoicing.
As I was teaching a young lady raised her hand to ask a question. In truth her question was more like a confession than a question. Her transparency was touching. She shared the challenge of sharing the Gospel when a church is situated in an aggressive Muslim community. She battles the very real threat of persecution. The young lady wondered whether there was a way to transition to the Gospel that could minimize that threat.
A very real, honest and raw discussion ensued. At one point in the conversation I looked at Kelly and we both knew what needed to be said. Many times in the NT persecution follows evangelism not repentance. Where that is the case the Christ-follower must embrace the pain looking at Jesus’ example as a source of comfort and inspiration. His suffering was not in vain and neither is ours. God is a very real help in times of trouble.
Loud “Amens” greeted our statements. I asked them how many of them had experienced persecution. Nearly all of them raised their hands. It was in that moment I realized how blessed I was to be in the presence of spiritually wealthy believers who were willing to embrace suffering with joy and endure pain as a pathway to eternal peace. I couldn’t help but conclude that their persecution had indeed fueled their passion.
I had always thanked God that He had not given me a Matthean call. God has blessed me in so many ways. After yesterday was through I spent some time asking God to convict me every time I take the blessings of peace, comfort and prosperity for granted. As great as these gifts are I run the risk of becoming lethargic, lazy and dispassionate. In my time with God I gave Him permission to shake my world up if that is what is needed to make me spiritually wealthy and even more passionate for the Word and a lost world that needs to hear it. I’d rather be persecuted and passionate than safe and sedated.