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Persecuted Church in America

Matthew 5:10-12 

"Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. [11] "Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. [12] "Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. 

Young, beautiful, intelligent--Maria Durant had it all. That is until she was imprisoned for talking about her relationship with God. 17th Century France, with all its religious intolerance, was not the place for a vivacious Christian woman like Maria. Or was it? For 38 years she suffered for Christ in a prison cell while her peers married, had children and relished their grandchildren. Life passed her by. 

Eventually she died a martyr's death. The enemy thought he silenced this witness, but he didn't. Though dead, she continues to inspire those who go to the place where she was imprisoned to read the single word she scratched on the dungeon wall Resistez--resist!

But that was 17th Century Europe. That kind of travesty of justice could never happen in the 21st Century, right? And it certainly wouldn't happen in America, the home of the free and the land of the brave.

In October 1998, David and Diane Reiter of Denver were ordered by the city to stop their weekly prayer meetings in their home. They could only meet only once a month. Even though they are complying with all municipal regulations, a city administrator determined that he did not want any religious activities in their neighborhood. The Denver couple are presently appealing the decision in a federal court. (ReligionToday.com Aug. 4, 1999)

This March, Chris King ran for president of Harvard's student council on the platform of, among other things "values-driven leadership." A fellow Christian, Meagan White sent out an email to members of the Harvard-Radcliff Christian fellowship requesting prayer for his candidacy. When news that King was a Christian became public, the school newspaper came out against him because King's "... ties to religious groups have raised concerns among students." (Baptist Standard, March 10, 1999)

Last April, government officials removed a display of the Ten Commandments from a public building in Manhattan, Kansas. The hand engraved granite table had hung on the building for over 40 years, but the ACLU and the Americans United for the Separation of Church and state threatened a law suit against the city if the display remained. The city fathers choose to bow to threats instead of listening to the 4,000 residents that signed a petition asking them to leave the display alone. (FALWELL CONfiDENTIAL, APRIL 30, 1999)

On April 2, In Seattle, Washington a twenty-five-year-old pregnant woman was kicked off a public transit bus in the pouring rain. What was her disruptive behavior? The bus driver overheard her talking with a fellow passenger about the Lord. (AFR News, April 9, 1999)

During the same month, the U.S. 5th District Court of Appeals ruled that clergy in Beaumont, Texas were no longer allowed on school property to answer students questions about religion, sex or abortion. ( FALWELL CONfiDENTIAL, APRIL 30, 1999) But of course, propagators of the "safe sex" religion can still find an audience in Texas schools. Humanists can still tell a scarred, vulnerable teenage girl that the answer to her problems is abortion, but clergyman are no longer permitted to pray or offer council.

In May, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that students in Duval, County FL could no longer decide whether or not to have student-led prayers in their graduation ceremonies. According to Chief Justice Joseph Hatchett, a policy that allows prayer "coerces objecting students to participate in prayer." (News Summary for Friday, May 14, 1999 religiontoday.com)

You know about the shootings at Baptist Churches in the Dallas area (http://www.coppellgazette.com/front/99/0923/index5.html )and the one in our own state at the Home Church in Fresno, CA, (http://www.sbc.net/articles/1999/10/07/bpa3.asp) and I'm sure you've heard about the COLOMBINE HIGH SCHOOL shootings--I mean who hasn't, but I wonder if you've heard the whole story? The news media have painted the church shootings as "random acts of violence by crazed people," but I wonder if there isn't more to it than that? Why would they enter a house of worship on Wednesday evening instead of a shopping mall or a sports stadium?

According to the editors of Religiontoday.com, the "Two teenage gunmen at Columbine High School shot students they knew were Christians." The news media widely circulated that they targeted athletes and minorities, but downplayed their thirst for Christian's blood.

Everyone knew about Cassie Bernall's faith. After a brush with the dark side, she found Christ as her Savior and when she did, she didn't keep her faith a secret. A member of West Bowles Community Church in Littleton, she took her Bible to school every day and wore a "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelet.

She was in the library when the gunman burst into the room and asked her a question, "Do you believe in God?" Among her final words was the word "yes." She said Yes!

A year before the shootings, Rachel Scott wrote these words in her diary:

"I am not going to justify my faith to them, and I am not going to hide the light that God has put into me. ... if I have to sacrifice everything, I will. I will take it. If my friends have to become my enemies for me to be with my best friend Jesus, then that's fine with me."

Rachel wrote these words exactly one year before she was slain for confessing her faith at Columbine High School, April 20, 1999. (SBC Life June 99)

Rachael attended Orchard Road Christian Church, an Assemblies of God congregation. Lori Anderson, one of the staff members of the church said Scott was "a remarkable, committed Christian girl who had a passion for God and for people. She was fun loving and gifted in drama and public speaking." (ReligionToday.com April 23, 1999)

For years I've encouraged my congregation to pray for the persecuted church. Little did I know that soon, I'd be asking people to pray for the persecuted in America. I know that what is happening isn't "state sanctioned," so it doesn't meet the technical definition of persecution, yet the enemy is attacking nonetheless. 

The time has come. Persecution will increase. Are you ready? Some of our congregation may one day soon be stationed in persecution hot spots around the world. Will you be ready? Is there any good that can some from this evil?

A few months after the tragedy, I referenced the Littleton shooting in one of my FreshStart devotionals. Shortly thereafter one of my church members emailed me with this note:

Pastor, I thought you might like to see this. I have been forwarding the FreshStart devotional to a friend of ours, John Beth, in Colorado Springs for a few weeks now. This was his reply to the one I sent today. It is wonderful to know that God is always able to bring good out of bad. Jamie.

Now a portion of the forwarded note:

"Just a little update on the Littleton issue. Living so close to the tragedy, we are still getting a lot of emotions between the Denver area and the Springs here. On the good side, a revival has broken out in our cities. The people's awareness of God has been sizable here and many teens are turning to God. Just like MADD and programs like it, many high schools have started doing "GUN FREE" pledge sheets where students are signing pledge sheets in commitment to not carry, handle or be involved in arms in our public schools. Kids and parents are devoting more attention to their relationships and to their surroundings. Police patrolling and armed officers will be more involved on school campuses and are readily available to the teens for any situation." John

Satan hasn't learned, has he? He cannot destroy the church with persecution. God can use it to spread the gospel.

Norm Boshoff once said, "Persecution no more defeats the church than water can defeat a grease fire in the kitchen. Water doesn't put out a grease fire but simply spreads it. The same thing is true of persecution and Christianity."

As we consider the plight of Christians around the world and close to home, shall we commit to pray that we will stand fast and that God may be glorified--whatever happens. 

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