Weekly Word – Persecution, stumbling blocks, spiritual death and us

(Every week, give or take, I send out a brief email to the students with some thoughts from Scripture and I offer it here also in case it may encourage anyone else who comes across it)

Last evening we studied Matthew 18:1-14.  When Jesus tells his disciples to have faith like a child, he is pointing to a child-like dependence on God similar to how children depend on their parents.  The focus is on trusting in God for strength, grace and forgiveness rather than trusting in yourself.  But Jesus does not mean to become a child in every other immature way.  As humans we grow into maturity.  Hopefully in college your parents do not wake you up anymore, that is a part of childhood left behind.  When you were little you read picture books, in college you have moved on to more difficult books.  In the same way, we are called to maturity (1 Corinthians 3:1-4; Ephesians 4:11-16; Hebrews 5:11-6:3), moving into a deeper faith.  But a child-like faith is not the opposite of a mature faith.  A mature faith is more unity, more love, more ministry and service (read those three passages, they describe it, also read 1 Corinthians 13)…but still a deep (hopefully deeper) trust in God.

Last night we did not really look at verses 5-9 in chapter 18.  In 18:5 Jesus says that whoever welcomes a little child in his name welcomes him.  On one hand, this can mean that we should invest time in teaching and ministry to children.  But I do not think that is all that it means.  Jesus said that true disciples are those who become like children (18:3) so the “child” in 18:5 also refers to other adult disciples.  Thus, if we welcome other followers of Jesus, we welcome Jesus.

This reminds me of a conversation I was having with Josh yesterday about the persecuted church throughout the world.  In much of the world Christians gather for worship with the very real possibility that they may be arrested and imprisoned (or worse) simply for being Christians.  Yet in places where this sort of things happens the church is passionate and vibrant.  If you want to learn more about this, check out Voice of the Martyrs.  Also, here is an interesting report on the growth of Christianity in Iran.  The church is also growing rapidly in places where it is not necessarily persecuted, but where people live in abject poverty; as Philip Jenkins said in his book The Next Christendom, the average Christian in the world is not a rich, white, male European but a poor, black African woman.

Another place where Christianity is growing quite rapidly is in China, estimates are that 80-130 million Chinese are Christians.  The cool thing here is that a stereotype many secular (and Christian) westerners have is that global Christianity is a phenomenon of mostly poor people – poor starving Africans, or Latin Americans, or Asians are coming to Christ.  Along with this is a bit of arrogance – an attitude that poor people have nothing so they cling to faith; we have a lot of stuff so we have moved beyond that.  Christian growth in China goes directly against the stereotype -many who are joining churches (legal or illegal churches) in China are the community leaders, the movers and shakers.  Even though Christianity is still only 10% of the population, it is an influential 10%.  To read more check out this, this and this.

The question to ponder – how are we “welcoming” our brothers and sisters throughout the world?  Are we praying for them?  I am sure they are praying for us because while the persecuted church may face physical death we face something far worse: spiritual death.  We live in a culture that offers so much and that puts us to sleep, desensitizes us.  It is so easy to just go with the flow.  This brings me back to Matthew 18:6-9 where Jesus speaks of things that cause his followers to stumble.  What sorts of things are being offered to you on a university campus that may be stumbling blocks?  Some of these may be blatantly evil, but I imagine that most of them are not bad things in themselves.  Instead, they can become stumbling blocks if we put all our focus on them.  For example, a good job and a decent salary is not sinful, unless getting such things is your sole drive and motivation.     Be aware of the things offered in our culture that may cause you to trip up in your walk with Christ (And read this article).

My prayer is that we would have a global view of the Church, being aware and in prayer for our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the globe.  May we also recognize that they are probably in prayer as we face spiritual rather than just physical death.  Or as Jesus says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28)

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