Posts tagged Persecution
The One & Only Reason Why Anyone Should Follow Jesus

I have often wondered what in the world convinces a Muslim to follow Jesus. In many Muslim countries, the moment you convert to Christianity your wife will leave you, your husband will abandon you, and your friends will betray you. You can lose your job, your house, and everything you have ever worked for. Worst of all you can end up rotting away in a prison or killed for your faith. So what do you say to someone in these countries in order to convince them that they should follow Jesus? In the west we would go on and on about how wonderful Jesus can make your life. We would talk about how he can bless your finances and give you an abundant life and make you happy and fill you with blessings. We will tell you how much God loves us and wants us to have the best in life and we would invite you to the best church in town with an awesome worship band, comfortable seats, and a super cool preacher. The deacons would work hard to make sure the building is clean and the air conditioning is just right because we don’t want to give anyone an excuse for not accepting Jesus. 

Now, I'm not knocking any of this but do you realize that in Iraq there is no cool worship band and there is no trendy preacher or air conditioned, cushion chair, church? Do you realize that in many of these countries saying yes to Jesus means accepting the fact that you could lose everything including your family and your life? I ask again, what in the world convinces these people that they should follow Jesus? There’s nothing in it for them. And I look at my own life and I wonder, do I follow Jesus because I want to get something out of him? Or would I follow him even if I lost it all?

Well, I’m not the only person to ever have followed Jesus in order to gain something for myself. Peter struggled with this same exact concept. For many years Peter followed Jesus not out of love but because he wanted something out of Jesus. Have you ever met someone like that? They only call when they want something. They only come around when they need something. And when you have something they need or want they are all over you but when they get what they were looking for they are gone. I suppose we are all guilty of that and so was Peter.

In Matthew 16: 21-24 we read the following story:

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. 
Matthew begins this story with the words “from that time on” indicating that something significant had just happened. When we look back we see that Jesus was with his disciples and asked them who people said he was. The disciples gave all kinds of answers and then finally Jesus asked them who they thought he was. Peter stood up and confessed “You are the messiah.” And “from that time on” Matthew says, Jesus began to explain his destiny. 

Peter had finally come to the place where he knew Jesus was the messiah but he still didn’t know what that meant. You see, the Israelites had been under oppression for hundreds of years. First the Babylonians, then the Medo-Persians, then the Greeks, and now the Romans. They were treated with cruelty, abused, exploited, and dictated by the governing power of Rome. The Jews wanted freedom and they wanted a messiah who would deliver them from Rome and establish them as the most powerful nation on the earth. And this is what Peter wanted. To Peter, Jesus was a ticket to success and not much more. So Jesus began explaining to them what his messiahship meant, that he would suffer and be killed. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”  Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

For Peter Jesus' messiahship was about the earthly kingdom. Peter wanted to be a part of that earthly kingdom. In many ways, Peter and the other disciples were following Jesus, not because of what they could give but what they could get. They followed Jesus mainly because they believed that through him they would get political power and prestige. And when Jesus said he would suffer and die Peter said, “This shall never happen to you!” but what he really meant to say was “this shall never happen to me.” And Jesus rebukes Peter saying, “You don’t have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” I like how the Voice Bible translates it. It says, “You are not thinking about Gods story.” 

To the limited eye it appears that Peter was trying to protect Jesus, but the reality is he was merely protecting his own ambitions. He didn’t want Jesus to die because if he did, what would become of his own story? Peter didn’t really care about Gods story. He only cared about his own story. And Jesus was the key to make his own story better. In modern terms, Jesus was nothing more than a product Peter could use to improve his quality of life. For Peter following Jesus was about “What’s in it for me?” And the church today is filled with people who show up asking “What’s in it for me?” And what is the end result of this self-centered Christianity? The life of Peter answers the question, for when Jesus was taken prisoner Peter denied ever having known him. 

Why are you following Jesus? Why are the Christians in Iraq following Jesus? What of those who have been hung, imprisoned, or shot? If someone points a gun at your face and tells you “deny him or die” what will you do?

The sad reality is that today myriads of people are following Jesus, not because of their love for Him, but because they see Him as a product that can improve their quality of life. Jesus has been objectified into a philosophical commodity that makes us “happy.” Christianity has denigrated into a “what’s-in-it-for-me” religion. And church has depreciated into a “what-can-I-get-out-of-it” performance. If that is our view of Christianity, I wonder, what will we do when we are asked to “deny him or die” with the cold barrel of a rifle pressed violently against our throats? Like Peter many of us are living a Christianity that does not have in mind Gods story, but merely our story—human concerns. And this is why Peter freaked out. His story was too important to him and the moment he heard the words suffering and death he was like, “Wait a minute! That’s not what I am here for! I want to be prime minister." And there was no room in Peters Christianity for suffering and death. 

Is there room in your Christianity for suffering and death?

Jesus doesn’t give us much of an option. 

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me…” 

In Jesus’ day the cross was not jewelry or a t-shirt. It was an instrument of execution. To carry your cross means that you die to yourself and your own ambitions and live for him and his glory. This is what it means to follow Jesus. This is what it means to commit your life to him: Suffering and death.

As a church we have got to stop trying to sell Jesus. He is not for sale. We do not bring people to Christ by telling them that if they follow him they will get everything they want. We do not make Jesus more attractive by turning him into our personal genie. We do not lead anyone to Christ by offering them a shallow, cheesy, and easy faith. In his article “Are You Ready? (Thoughts on Iraq’s Christian Genocide)” Pastor Gabriel Johnson says,

“as I listen to the messages being preached by many of the world’s most renowned religious leaders I can’t help but wonder if we are missing the point. Don’t get me wrong I want the big house; nice car and enormous bank account just like the next guy. And I do believe that the promises of God can open amazing doors in every area of life. But when much of what I hear is how God wants to bless my business while children are losing their lives it causes me to question our religion. Will the belief in the promise of success sustain me when they’re trying to kill my family or take my wife? What are we being prepared for in our churches?”
It is not our responsibility to try and make Jesus attractive by presenting only the promises and the blessings while ignoring his radical teachings such as “if you want to follow me, it involves a cross.” Because following Jesus is wonderful. Because following Jesus is the most rewarding thing you will ever do. But it involves a cross. Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means losing some of your closest friends? When my wife became a Christian she lost many of her friends. Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means alienation from your family? I have a friend in New Jersey who got kicked out of his house when he became an Adventist. Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means losing your job? Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means you will miss out on all the wild things your friends are doing? Allow me to make this a little more painful for each of us. Are you willing to follow Jesus when people in church criticize you? Are you willing to follow Jesus when people in church judge you? To the youth: Are you willing to follow Jesus when the old folk in your church reject, criticize, and insult everything you are trying to do? To the elders: Are you willing to follow Jesus when your church is making changes you don’t like? We can’t choose to follow Jesus based on how pleasant it is. We must carry the cross. We must die to self. We must live for his story, not our own—even if it costs us our life.

You know, I am heart broken when I hear about people who became Christians and then they left the church because someone said something mean or did something wrong. Don’t get me wrong, as a church we need to bend over backwards to make sure our youth and new converts feel safe and welcome. But at the same time, who told you no one will ever insult you in church? Who told you there wouldn’t be hypocrites? Who told you there wouldn’t be hard times? Jesus sure didn’t say that. And when we are concerned with our own story we walk away when something unpleasant happens. But when we are concerned with Gods story we can’t walk away because we know it’s all about him.

Some of you are probably asking right now: This is all good and everything Marcos, but if following Jesus involves so much suffering then why follow him? I have enough problems in my life at the moment. Why should I commit myself to something that is going to bring more problems? First of all allow me to say that God does bless his children. I am not saying that he doesn’t. There are many benefits to following Jesus and I am not denying any of those. Jesus does bring peace and comfort and joy to our lives. He does heal the brokenness of our families and he does forgive our sin and transform our lives. But I find it interesting that of the 22 times that Jesus said “follow me” in the New Testament not once did he say "you should follow me because if you do you’ll get this." Twice he mentioned a benefit of following him such as, “whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” But not once did he say, “I am Jesus. Follow Me and you will receive all of these benefits.”

For the most part, Jesus invitation of follow me is not preceded or followed by any sales pitch. He doesn’t market himself like a new refrigerator. He doesn’t promote all the benefits of having a Jesus-membership. 

To Peter and Andrew he said “follow me and I’ll make you fishers of men.” Peter and Andrew had no idea what he was talking about. But they followed him. Why? 

To an unknown man Jesus said, “follow me and let the dead bury their own dead.” To the rich young ruler Jesus said, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” The rich young ruler decided “you ask for too much.” 

And then we come back to our story. Peter didn’t want to suffer and die. So in the end he denied Christ. But that wasn’t the end. Jesus came back to life. He found Peter and their conversation is recorded in John 21. 

Look at what was said,

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me…”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

And look at what Jesus says next. Pay close attention. Here it is:

And to Peter he said, “when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
No benefit. No discounts or coupons. Death. "Peter, you will be killed because of me. Now, follow me." And years later Peter was indeed crucified upside down in Rome. What changed? Why did Peter choose to follow Jesus when the cost was so high? Because Peter now understood what it was all about. It wasn’t about his story. It was about Gods story. Peter got lost in Gods story and he discovered it is a romantic and breath taking love story. “Peter, do you love me?” Yes, I do Lord. I love you. And that love was so strong he was willing to carry any cross, suffer any loss, and give his very life so that God’s love story could be told. Peter experienced Jesus. Peter tasted the love of Jesus. And Peter loved Jesus. 

I have discovered that this love is the only reason why anyone should follow Jesus. This is the only reason why a Muslim who stands to lose it all would be willing to follow Jesus. Because they saw him. Because they tasted his love and like Paul they cry out, “everything is trash compared to him!” I don’t want what he has to offer as though he was some sort of philosophical commodity or some kind of product off of the shelves in a super market. I just want Him! Love for Jesus. Live for Jesus. Die for Jesus. No matter the cost. No matter the cross. Follow him.
The Sabbath as "Seal" & Grace Alone: My Struggle with the "Contradiction"

photo credit: LarimdaME via photopin cc

I don't know about you, but the-Sabbath-as-seal doctrine is one that bothered me for quite some time. In case you don't know what that is allow me to explain. Seventh-day Adventists believe that the Sabbath is the seal of God and that in order to be sealed by God we must keep the Sabbath. Such a doctrine immediately throws up red flags. Being sealed by God means we belong to him. If we cannot be sealed unless we keep the Sabbath then logically it follows that we must keep the Sabbath in order to earn Gods seal and thus, ultimately, salvation. In the end then, it seems as is Adventisms claims to salvation by grace alone are pseudo claims since we do, in fact, believe that the Sabbath is the seal given only to those who honor the Sabbath. As I said above, this concept bothered me because it seemed incompatible with the gospel. However, after taking a closer look the Holy Spirit settled my questions by showing me two simple points I had totally missed. Ultimately my main problem was that I had an oversimplified understanding of the seal doctrine. It was this oversimplification of that led me to my misconceptions. By looking deeper I discovered that there was more to the seal than I had previously known and this new understanding opened up a whole new view to the seal. 

First, While Adventist believe that the Sabbath is the seal of God we do not believe that the Sabbath alone is the seal of God. To view Gods seal as simply the Sabbath is an oversimplification of Adventisms seal theology. The seal of God is primarily and foremost a love seal not a law seal. Ellen White expressed it well when she said, "Love is expressed in obedience, and perfect love casteth out all fear. Those who love God, have the seal of God in their foreheads, and work the works of God" (LDE 221.4). This quote demonstrates that Ellen White understood the seal of God to be more than just going to church on Saturday. It has to do with having a heart that loves God supremely – a love which according to scripture is always expressed by obedience (John 14:15). So, far from receiving the seal of God due to our ability to read the calendar correctly or to keep the law well, the seal of God is given to those who love God. 

Second, those who love God she describes as those who "work the works of God". Notice that the seal is not simply given to those who "work the works of God" but to those who "love God" and as a result "work [his] works". Thus, the seal of God must not be understood as simply a "law" issue, but as a "love" issue. What this demonstrates is that, according to Ellen White, Adventisms seal doctrine is presupposed by the same gospel that Luther, Calvin, and Arminius preached. That is that we are saved by Gods grace alone and that our salvation - while not dependent on - is nevertheless evidenced by our works. This point is important because it places the concept of obedience to God in the proper sphere. Working the works of God have nothing to do with earning salvation or earning the right to keep salvation. Instead, they have to do with the evidence for salvation. And it is the third point that God showed me which really brings this to life.

The third point is this: The seal of God as the Sabbath must be understood in its apocalyptic setting in contrast to the mark of the beast. Let that sink in. In fact, read it over again two or three times before moving on. The seal of God as the Sabbath must be understood in its apocalyptic setting in contrast to the mark of the beast.  If we separate the seal of God from that context we end up with an oversimplification that both misrepresents Adventisms theology and also undermines the gospel. 

First, without the apocalyptic context in mind the Sabbath as seal doctrine translates as a “you must start keeping the Sabbath to be saved” theology that does nothing but undermine the truth about Jesus only. If such a theology were true then Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Wesley - along with the billions of Jesus-followers of every age - will all be lost because none of them kept the Sabbath and thus none of them received the seal of God. However, this is not  what Adventisms seal theology teaches. So what does it teach? Once again, this teaching must be understood in its apocalyptic context.

Scripture is clear that in the final days there will be a crisis over loyalty. All of mankind will be compelled by force and threat to worship the beast but those who are faithful to God will refuse on pain of death. The faithful are described in Revelation as "those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus" (Rev. 14:12). Today there is much debate over the validity of the Sabbath. Faithful Christians find themselves on both sides of the debate. But in the final crisis there will no longer be a debate. Every person will know for sure whether or not they are following God or following the beast. Thus, it is within this apocalyptic context that Ellen White could say:
... when Sunday observance shall be enforced by law, and the world shall be enlightened concerning the obligation of the true Sabbath, then whoever shall transgress the command of God, to obey a precept which has no higher authority than that of Rome, will thereby honor popery above God {GC, 449}.
Those who would have the seal of God in their foreheads must keep the Sabbath of the fourth commandment. This is what distinguishes them from the disloyal, who have accepted a man-made institution in the place of the true Sabbath. The observance of God’s rest day is the mark of distinction between him that serveth God and him that serveth Him not (Manuscript 27, 1899) {7BC 970.2}.
Understood within the apocalyptic context the seal of God poses no contradiction to Jesus Only. Those who decide to follow the beast will evidence their loyalty by obedience and those who choose to be faithful to God will evidence their faithfulness by obedience. Both groups will be obeying someone as a sign of loyalty. So the seal of God in Revelation is set against the backdrop of the mark of the beast. In the final crisis everyone will have either the mark or the seal. There will be no in between. And unless one is willing to go as far as to develop a theology that teaches that it’s OK to be disobedient and receive the mark of the beast and still be saved then you have to come to terms with the apocalyptic seal.

However, never make the mistake of thinking that we earn Gods apocalyptic seal and thus earn salvation. The issue here has nothing to do with faith vs works. It simply has to do with sincerity. Are we going to be faithful to God and worship him or are we going to ally ourselves with the religio-political beast system of Revelation and worship it? When you dig deep it becomes obvious that the real issue is not about 7th day VS. 1st day but about who your Lord is, man or God? It’s really that simple.

Therefore, it seems to me that the only way to turn the seal of God into a legalistic doctrine is to remove it from its apocalyptic context. Once you do that, yes it very much sounds like we are sealed based on our performance instead of Gods grace. But within the apocalyptic context it becomes clear that it is primarily and issue of sincerity/loyalty not faith/works.

A perfect example of this is the book of Hebrews. The book was written with one purpose in mind - to convince persecuted Christians, who were considering returning to Judaism in order to escape the persecution, to remain faithful to God. Hebrews is clear that turning your back on Jesus means forfeiting the salvation he so freely offers. Paul is encouraging the believers to be faithful to Christ because he is the only way to heaven. Judaism and its many ceremonies could not save, only Christ and his righteousness alone.

Likewise, in the apocalyptic context the Christian church will suffer intense persecution. The beast will offer his mark and say that anyone who receives it will escape the persecution. Since Adventists believe the beast is Papal Rome and his mark of authority is Sunday observance then we conclude that a Sunday law will be enforced. Those who honor it will give allegiance to Papal Rome. But those who refuse and instead honor Gods Sabbath (a sign of his creation, salvation, and redemption) will evidence their allegiance to Him and thus receive the apocalyptic seal. Is it possible for a sincere Christian during this time to say, "Well I'm not saved by works so I'm just gonna get the mark of the beast and go to heaven anyways"? No way! Such a thought is nonsensical. 

The way I see it, the final test has nothing to do with revealing to God who his faithful ones are. He already knows. But the final test will help us see if we really love God and would be happy to spend eternity with him. God never tests us to discover something about us he doesn't know. He tests us to reveal something to us that we don't know. I think at this time many who thought they wanted to go to heaven and be with God forever will discover that they find no joy in honoring him in the midst of a temporary conflict and will thus make their decision to walk away from him forever. Again, sincerity is the issue.

However, the NT does say "do not grieve the Holy Spirit by whom you "were" sealed." Not "by whom you are going to be sealed." This concept, when combined with Revelation, paints a picture of a two dimensional sealing. One in the here and now. It gives us assurance of our salvation. The other is in the apocalyptic context, protects us from the plagues, and reveals to us how much we truly love God.

In conclusion, the Sabbath as seal poses no contradiction to salvation by grace through faith. An oversimplification of this doctrine that places it outside of its apocalyptic context certainly creates that problem. However, placed within its apocalyptic context where it belongs demonstrates that the seal of God is a love issue, not a law issue. Because this is a contextual topic it is clear that no one today has the mark of the beast. It is only at the end of time when the polarization becomes clear that the mark is given. However, all who love God today have the seal of the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of salvation and in the end of time, those who are alive will receive the apocalyptic seal in contrast to the mark of the beast. However, Gods people won't be sealed because they keep the Sabbath but because they love God. That love will compel them to honor him in the final conflict which involves the Sabbath by honoring the one day that celebrates him as creator, redeemer, and restorer while rejecting the day that celebrates the papacy - a system which presents an alternative method of salvation that counters the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Note: This post is an edited excerpt from: REclaiming Adventism: A Response to the Testimony of Former Adventist Eliana Matthews.
How I Handle Anti-SDA Assaults
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I get emails and comments every month that range from friendly to hostile. Adventists often write and thank me for this blog. Members of other denominations write and engage me in friendly debates. And of course, others (sometimes former Adventists sometimes not) write with aggressive tones, angry accusations, and hostile inquiries. I have had people email me to tell me ever so kindly that I am in a cult, that the church I love teaches heresy, that Ellen White was a false prophet, and that the SDA church has roots in freemasonry. I have had people tell me that the teachings of our church are unbiblical and built upon "the leaven of Ellen White," that I am in a "works-based religion," and countless other statements that I cannot even remember.

So how do I respond? With grace. At times this has helped turn the attacker into a friend, but there are other instances in which no amount of kindness has helped. Some people write with one goal in mind: to argue with me. They are not interested in common ground. They are not interested in appreciating my faith and having a respectful conversation. They just want to fight. But I made up my mind a long time ago that fighting about religion is immature and downright ridiculous. What's funny is when I refuse to argue but instead open an invitation to respectful and friendly dialogue these would be defenders of the truth never write back. I am left wondering, if I really was in a cult how in the world do these people expect to help me by bombarding me with hostile accusations from every possible angle? To those who like to attack my church, allow me to share with you a response I gave to one of my many assailants: "Is it possible that I am misled? Of course! But if you know the truth, you certainly are not doing a great job of wooing me toward it."

I am not surprised when people are hostile toward the SDA church. First of all, the SDA church is still relatively new in the world of Protestantism. Study the history of protestant denominations and you will see that every time a new denomination popped up the old ones were hostile toward them. As a matter of fact, SDA's are lucky when we are called a cult. Historically speaking many members of new protestant denominations were fatally persecuted by members of the older protestant denominations. "Because of the belief of opposing infant baptism and refusing to fight in wars, Anabaptists were persecuted by Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, and Calvinists. Hundreds to thousands of them were tortured and executed for their beliefs."* This trend continued as late as the arrival of the Methodists and Seventh Day Baptists. John Wesley encountered fierce persecution during his life, even to the point of being dragged out of his home by an angry mob that wanted to kill him. John James, a Seventh Day Baptist preacher, was martyred in 1661 for his political views. So when people call the SDA church a cult, as much as it hurts, I am thankful. I bet John James would have preferred such treatment.

At the end of the day the aggressors will always be there. There is nothing I can do about that, but as we begin this new year I would like to thank everyone who has ever dialogued with me in this blog and has done so with kindness and respect. Even when we disagree entirely it is always refreshing to talk about our differences with love. If that is you, don't stop writing me. I love to hear from you even if our faiths are polar opposites.

Wishing you all a happy new year.