Christian persecution has been a common thing for Jesus followers from the beginning. For the early church, to follow Jesus was synonymous with Christian persecution. For many years, America has enjoyed a great deal of prosperity and peace. Often, America has been shielded from reality and from what it looks like to suffer for Jesus. The founders of America came to this land of the free to enjoy the freedom of religion. Although wars have been fought and blood has been spilt in other nations, the muscle of American military has often shielded the entire nation from what it means to suffer for the sake of the gospel.
The original founders of America came to this land that was inhabited by a large population of Indians. Although they had their gods, the English population that landed here in America brought their Bible and subsequently, their God with them to this new land. For the majority of the 239 year history of America, the majority religion has been Christianity. Everything seemed to flow from that worldview – including politics and every other aspect of life. Being that we are a land of immigrants, we are starting to see an increasing collision of worldviews coming to the surface through politics, public schools, and the public square. Only through the somewhat recent technology boom of constant cable television, Internet, and smart phones do we have access to more information and stories of religious persecution. Ministries such as the Voice of the Martyrs have been committed to telling us the stories of modern day persecution.
I can remember growing up and hearing pastors and evangelists calling people to repentance on a regular basis. Outside of a couple of occasions, I don’t recall hearing anyone come to the end of his sermon and say, “If you repent today and trust Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior – it may cost you your life.” The fact is, the sermons that have been preached in American pulpits for the last 75+ years have been a softer message that lacks the risk of repentance. In the most recent years, the American pulpit has been hijacked by vicious church growth techniques, psychologists, and politicians. What it means to follow Jesus by picking up your cross and following in His footsteps of suffering has been silenced.
As a result, many American Christians don’t really know how to respond to images and video clips of ISIS beheading 21 Christians. The images are horrid. The threat is real, and at times overwhelming. For the vast majority of American Christians, their comfort is tied to tanks, guns, and fighter jets that could be used to blow up the ISIS army. However, even in recent years of blowing up many terror leaders, we are starting to learn that new ISIS types will simply arise from their ashes. Islam is not as tame as many American politicians seem to think, and the Jihad mentality will continue until Jesus returns and forces all followers of Islam to bow before His Lordship. Until then, what it means to be a true follower of Christ will remain risky business. To follow Jesus has never been a safe pursuit, unless you have been shielded by American security for the majority of your lifetime like many of us have.
The danger of following Jesus will change how you preach, how you do family devotions, and how you call people to respond to the call of Christ. Is it true that Jesus is the treasure in the field that is worth far more than anything else on planet earth? Yes! However, in order to obtain Jesus, we must be willing to die. Far too many are willing to consider the financial cost of following Jesus, but they remain unwilling to consider the cost of cross bearing in a depraved world. Before we stand before a church and invite people to follow Jesus, we should communicate to them the danger of what following Jesus means. Sooner or later, in America, to be a follower of Jesus will not be a safe choice. The images of ISIS beheading 21 Christians should change our method of sharing Christ this summer at VBS or in our children’s Sunday school class this coming week. One day, not too far off into the distant future, to enter the baptistry waters will mean something far different than it did for those who grew up in the “Bible Belt” of America in the 1950s. In Luke 9:23, Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
In order to be fair, we should communicate the full message of the gospel – including the risk. However, it would be far better to risk the threat of ISIS than to risk the wrath of God. Millions of people are walking around in fear of ISIS when they have absolutely zero fear of God. A. W. Tozer once said, “To make converts, we are tempted to play down the difficulties and play up the peace of mind and worldly success enjoyed by those who accept Christ. We will never be completely honest with our hearers until we tell them the blunt truth that, as members of a race of moral rebels, they are in a serious jam, and one they will not get out of easily. If they refuse to repent and believe on Christ, they will most surely perish. If they do turn to Him, the same enemies that crucified Him will try to crucify them.”
As I look at the picture of the 21 Christians beheaded by ISIS, a few of the men appear to be afraid. I ask myself, “What were these men thinking about during their final moments of life?” Yes, I do believe they were thinking of their families and many other things. However, I know one thing for sure, they were counting the cost of following Jesus! Consider the words of Christ, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). After considering the cost of following Jesus, His value far exceeds anything this world has to offer.
What if the woman dressed in full head coverings from the pick-up line of my daughter’s school appeared on the pews for our church’s worship service this Sunday? What if she showed up on September 11th – in just a couple of weeks? You say, it’s not likely to happen, but what if it did? What would we think? How would we respond? That made me think critically about our September 11th events that will be held all around the nation in just a couple of weeks. Is it possible that our patriotism could become a hurdle to the gospel?
In a recent interview that was aired on the National Geographic Channel, President Bush explained what was going through his mind as the events of the attacks on September 11th 2001 unfolded. As he was placed in a hot seat as Commander in Chief of our Nation under attack, he was forced to make some really difficult decisions. He explained how he had to give the command to shoot down civilian airliners full of our own citizens if the plane refused to land. Thankfully, that never happened, but it was a heavy decision – one of many – that he had to make on that horrific day. As the day unfolded and it was clear that America was under attack, the President and his team started planning their response to these events. Within hours, statements were made, and within a couple of days, President Bush was standing on a crumbled fire truck in NYC at Ground Zero and he said, “I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!” It would not be long before brave soldiers were deployed to fight in the war that has become known to us as “The War on Terror.”
From Iraq to Afghanistan – brave soldiers have lost their lives fighting in this extremely difficult war against a faceless enemy that hides in the cracks of cities and caves of mountains in various countries. Thousands lost their lives in the attacks on 9-11-2001 on American soil. Thousands more have lost their lives on foreign soil fighting this war against terrorist organizations and dictators. No matter where you stand on the issue politically, the price for freedom is extremely high – one that we should never forget as Americans.
The war on terror is one that military experts have admitted may never end and may never be won by America. This is a war that cannot be targeted geographically and one that morphs from car bombs to internet attacks. Rather than viewing this war from a political slant or a military eye, we should as Christians see the battle from the lens of Scripture. This is a war that centers on the gospel of Christ. If you trace the attacks back to the men responsible for the hijacking of our planes on September 11th 2001, you will find that they were militant Muslims who were carrying out the attacks in the name of a false god. They were brave, committed, and dedicated soldiers of Jihad – one that is built upon a false god, a sinking foundation, and one without genuine hope.
We must see ourselves as soldiers in this war! Rather than spectators who are tuning in to see special reports on Fox News, we should see ourselves on the front lines of battle. This war is centered on the gospel. The terrorists are not our enemy, but the god of this world who has blinded their minds to the truth is our enemy (2 Corinthians 4:1-4). We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but we do wrestle against our great adversary known as Satan (Ephesians 6:10-20). This war on terror is a war surrounding the gospel. We will not ultimately win the war with bombs, tanks, and military campaigns. The war must be won through the preaching of the gospel of King Jesus.
The Muslim population is rising around the world – and exploding in America. As we approach the 10th anniversary of 9-11, we should be faithful to remember those who lost their lives, the families who lost their loved ones, and the brave soldiers who responded as called upon by our country. However, as we approach this day, we should also actively pray and seek the Muslim population with the gospel of Christ. As Christian soldiers in a spiritual battle – we have the truth, the way, the message of hope, the power of God unto salvation, and the means of everlasting life. We should do more than holding hands and singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” as a family of faith! How can we get involved in efforts to reach Muslims with the gospel?
With passionate hearts full of compassion for lost people – we should engage Muslims with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We should pray for the salvation of Muslim people around the world.
We should pray for Muslim families in our neighborhoods.
We should pray for missionaries who are serving in Muslim populations around the world.
We should not just see the Muslims as a foreign population since their numbers are growing greatly in our land.
Consider hosting special prayer services and gatherings specifically for the Muslim population as we lead up to 9-11.
Consider hosting special Muslim awareness events and conferences that teach people about Islam and how to reach Muslim people with the gospel of Christ.
Be patriotic without being hateful toward Muslims. We must view Muslims as lost people who need Jesus just the same as we view our lost relatives at the family reunion. They both need the gospel of Christ in order to experience the grace of God.
Remember the freedom of the gospel is a much better gift than the freedom of America. To be a citizen of God’s Kingdom is much greater than our American citizenship. Being an American will not give us the assurance of Heaven and reconciliation to God the Father, but being saved through Christ is our means of reconciliation and final salvation (Romans 8:28-30).
Unless the Mulsim population is confronted with the gospel, they will surely perish. We must be brave, risk-taking, gospel saturated, loving Christians who mobilize in an effort to engage and lead Muslims to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ died for Muslims – and it is our duty to go reach them with His message of hope!
A.W. Tozer said, “To make converts, we are tempted to play down the difficulties and play up the peace of mind and worldly success enjoyed by those who accept Christ. We will never be completely honest with our hearers until we tell them the blunt truth that, as members of a race of moral rebels, they are in a serious jam, and one they will not get out of easily. If they refuse to repent and believe on Christ, they will most surely perish. If they do turn to Him, the same enemies that crucified Him will try to crucify them.”