Whatever Happened to All Those Pentecost Converts?

One moment 120 Christians were quietly praying together, and the next moment the hall was filled with a howling hurricane. Then they saw what looked like flames of fire that spread to every person. Running out they started telling what God had done. The crowds were utterly bewildered to hear them speaking in their own languages even though they came from fifteen different countries. Peter then preached a sermon which resulted in 3,000 converts with Jewish backgrounds.

Overlooked by Church Historians
Acts chapter two lists the fifteen countries represented by these 3,000 new believers. We know them by their modern names:
Nine countries in the Middle East: Palestine, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran.
Four countries in north-east Africa: Libya, Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan.
Three countries in south-east Europe: Crete, Italy, Greece.

Twenty years before the apostle Paul started his missionary journeys in western Turkey and Greece, these three-thousand new believers—an average of 200 new believers per country—returned within weeks to evangelize their own people and spread the Good News for 2,000 kilometres in every direction from Jerusalem. Jesus established His Church in the whole Middle Eastern region as well as in north-east Africa and south-west Asia.

Christians Are Surprised
The reason that this is a surprise to many Christians is well-stated by Paul-Gordon Chandler in his book, God’s Global Mosaic. “In Western theological colleges the study of church history begins in Jerusalem and proceeds quickly westward with the apostle Paul. Then there is a jump from the early church fathers to the medieval Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Reformation. Consequently, a student can be left with the impression that the church somehow ceased to exist in the lands of its origin.”

Strong Through Suffering
Although little is taught about the Church in the Middle East and Africa, these countries had strong, thriving churches. In Libya, for instance, archaeological evidence indicates the presence of a vibrant, creative Christian communityfrom early in the first century until the Muslim conquest of A.D. 643. All these churches endured enormous persecution. First under the Roman Empire, then under the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire, Christians were harassed and martyred for centuries.

Christianity survived in all the areas where portions of the Bible were available in the language of the people. Where the church used translation into Greek or Latin instead of the local language, the church did not survive.

With the spread of Islam came more widespread oppression and killing that continues even today. The first time the word genocide was used to describe the targeted killing of  people group was one-hundred years ago when the Muslim Ottoman Empire was accused of killing Christians in Armenia in eastern Turkey, an area far from where the apostle Paul traveled.

The Christians in northern Iraq were persecuted so much they were forced to migrate every couple of generations, much like European Anabaptist groups such as the Mennonites, Hutterites, and Amish had to do centuries later.

“Killing Christians Pleases God”
God has been faithful, the Church in the Middle East has endured, and the twelve million Christians currently living in these nations continue to carry out powerful ministries under some of the most repressive regimes on earth.

What sobers me is that these millions of Middle Eastern brothers and sisters in the faith have a heritage of suffering few of us can look back on. These believers have endured for generations and continue to persevere in their faith even though most are treated as second class citizens and some of them live among people who sincerely believe that to kill a Christian wins favour with God.

What about Us?
In comparison, we western Christians, especially in English speaking nations, have had it relatively easy for many generations, since we are living in countries where the laws are based on biblical principles. But as secular humanist ideology grows stronger, governments now feel free to marginalize Christian principles and repeal the laws based on them.

In some European countries, Christian schools are closed, home-schooling is banned, and children are forced to attend public schools where the parents have no input into what is being taught. There are local governments even in North America that promote the same atheistic, humanist agenda.

And what if these rather mild acts of discrimination provoked, not just a howling hurricane of protest, but a deep spirit of unity among Christians, leading to an outpouring of the Holy Spirit?

What if, along with uniting to protest, we also united in praising God and praying for strength to endure increasing persecution?

Would we grow strong in faith like our suffering brothers and sisters elsewhere in the world?

Would we, like them, also live by the words of Jesus, “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world?” John 16:33 (NIV).

 

Why Should Christians Need Encouragement?

“Working vacation” and “original copy” are oxymorons:  the words cancel each other out. “Discouraged Christian” should be an oxymoron, but it isn’t. Why?

Nine ‘Ds’ of Discouragement
We human beings are very often dejected, disappointed, depressed, dispirited, disillusioned, downcast, disenchanted, disheartened, and in the dark! No wonder the encouragement theme is so pervasive throughout the thousands of years of biblical history.

But why should Christians need encouragement? Here we are, children of a loving Father-God. We know He is Love, He is Light, He is Just and all-Knowing, all-Powerful, all-Wise, and Present everywhere. The more these truths about God soak into our minds, the more we set ourselves to live right, love others, speak kindly, make biblically sound decisions, and fill our minds with pure, uplifting thoughts.

And what is the result?
We, His children, the ones He says He loves, suffer the same sudden disasters that fall on those who live selfishly without any thought of God. We also experience deep disappointments, car accidents, killer cancers, botched surgeries, and financial failures.

In fact, the more Christians live in obedience to God and His Word, the greater the attacks of Satan. Witness, for instance, the growing antagonism the Alberta government is focusing on Christian parents right now.

Encouragement in the Bible
Before Joshua started his invasion of Canaan, God told him, “Be strong and courageous.” These words were passed on seven times to Joshua, to Moses, to the leaders, and to God’s people. David repeated the theme in the Psalms, saying, “Be of good courage.” Jesus, after telling his followers they would have lots of trouble in this world, encouraged them by saying, “But cheer up, I have overcome the world.” The apostle Paul constantly urges his readers to encourage each other.

Eight Ways to Encourage Ourselves and Others
1) It may be too soon to judge if something that happened is good or bad. We may only be halfway into God’s story of our lives.

2) When we receive comfort and encouragement in hard times, we are better able to sympathize with others and to comfort and encourage them. 1 Corinthians 1:3-4

3) Like a grower who uses a pruning knife on his vines to produce more and better fruit, so God uses persecution to purify His Church, sorting out the lukewarm, easy-believism church goers from those who are willing to pay a high price for following Christ closely. John 15:2

4) Just as Jesus suffered so mankind could be saved, so we need to suffer to bring His salvation to others. Colossians 1:24 (TLB)

5) God wants each of us to live bringing glory to Him. Some will do this by being highly successful in business or in ministry, others by quietly suffering under multiple stresses. Philippians 4:11

6) God has given every person on earth the ability to make choices. Every choice, good or bad, has consequences which affect other people, even Christians, but God works out all things for our good. Romans 8:28

7) Even if the story ends badly in this life, God is no one’s debtor. He is just and will reward suffering for Him in this life with glory in the next. 1 Peter 5:10

8) A well-known poem tells us God answers our prayers, although not always in the way we expect:

I asked for strength and God gave me difficulties to make me strong.
I asked for wisdom and God gave me problems to solve.
I asked for patience and God placed me in situations where I was forced to wait.
I asked for courage and God gave me dangers to go through.
I asked for love and God gave me troubled people to help.

Encourage Ourselves in the Lord, Not in the Circumstances
We can’t help but get discouraged at times, but we don’t have to stay discouraged. We can be like David after raiders had kidnapped his own family and the families of his followers, and his own friends wanted to kill him. David “encouraged himself in the Lord” and with God’s help, went on to win a great victory. (1 Sam. 30:6)

Didn’t See That Coming!

The Crash
I was peacefully driving along a major city street in Edmonton a few years ago when a large Mercedes SUV suddenly accelerated from a cross street and smashed into the passenger side of my car.

Whoa! I didn’t see that coming! I thought as I got out of my wrecked car. “Good thing your wife wasn’t sitting there,” the police inspector said later. “She would have been seriously injured.”

It was a classic case of getting T-boned. It was also completely unexpected. Not my fault, and yet destroying my car and throwing me headlong into the onerous, time-consuming task of dealing with police, insurance, and multiple used car salesmen.

We all can tell similar stories—sick babies, broken washer, power outage, losing a job—totally unexpected, not our fault, yet deeply affecting us and throwing our lives into turmoil.

God’s Purposes
I can think of only one Person who has never said, “Whoa! I didn’t see that coming.” Nor will He ever say it, because He is in complete control. He has the whole, wide world in His hands. He knows “The end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.” He says, “My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.” Isaiah 46:10 (NIV).

We, who love and follow Him, know Who holds tomorrow and we know Who holds our hand. The One who loves us enough to die for us, is still in control. We can trust Him. He orchestrates events and permits problems in our lives for purposes that go beyond this earthly life.

God, our Father, wants us all to become more like His Son. (Rom 8:29) As cross-cultural missionaries my wife and I were taught that as Jesus suffered to bring God’s Kingdom to earth, so must we be prepared to suffer to extend His Kingdom throughout the whole earth. (Col. 1:24). Christians of many nationalities and races have suffered through discrimination and persecution for centuries. Christians continue to be the most persecuted group on earth, even today.

Going Downhill
The way Christianity and biblical principles are being attacked even in places with a solid Christian history and tradition like North America, I wonder how long it will be before God permits full-blown persecution right here where we live?

It is already starting with the attacks against private schools, most of which are faith based. Here are some things we can expect the current trend of anti-Christian legislation to achieve:

  • Private schools shut down.
  • Children who did not graduate from the public-school system forbidden to enter universities.
  • Graduates from Christian universities not allowed to practice their professions.
  • Churches pay property taxes.
  • No more “tax deductible receipts” for donors to churches, missions or other Christian organizations.
  • Income tax levied on funds received in the Sunday offering.
  • What is now merely “not politically correct”, eventually will be against the law.
  • Government monitors in church services to check that the preachers do not break the law.
  • Churches going bankrupt, their buildings sold or confiscated.
  • Church leaders that refuse to have their sermon content controlled by government inspectors jailed.
  • Businesses owned by Christians forced to close, and Christian medical personnel, police, lawyers, teachers, etc., lose their jobs because they cannot in good conscience do what the anti-Christian laws require them to do.

HandcuffsThis is not fantasy horror. It happened to thousands of churches and millions of believers in China, Russia, Cuba and in other countries. Some of these things are happening elsewhere; they can happen here.

Our Attitude
What can also happen is that God will again give “beauty for ashes” (Isa 61:3) by refining His Church as He did in these countries. As true believers come together in homes, to biblically encourage and edify each other, God’s Kingdom will grow stronger here and will increase, not despite persecution, but because of it. It’s happened before. That’s not a bad outcome. But that’s not saying we should welcome injustice, lies and anti-Christian legislation with open arms!

It may be that God will allow massive persecution to come on His people in North America. But, right now, He still holds us accountable to pray for all those in authority and for justice and truth to prevail.

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good, and pleases God our Savior.” 1 Tim. 2:1-3 (NIV).

In these threatening days, God has given us, His people, power, influence, voice, and a vote, and He expects us to use them. Some Christians are like Esther who hesitated to use her position of influence to avert a threat to God’s people, but God’s message to her was, “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14 (NIV). This is not a time to passively wait to see what will happen but to actively stand for truth and justice.

Fear Not
We don’t need to be afraid of the future. Whatever happens in the end, God will never have to say, “Whoa! I didn’t see that coming!” God is still in control. Jesus’ promise is still in effect, “In me you will have peace. In this world, you will have trouble, but cheer up, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NIV).

China and Alberta: Surprising Similarities

Anti-Christian Government Pressure in China
I just read a news report from China that sounds like it could have come from Alberta. According to reports, in July, Chinese government officials in two provinces, Guizhou and Sichuan, are advising church-going Christians they must sign a form declaring they will stop attending church services. Any who fail to sign the form will have their old-age pensions, and other social assistance benefits terminated.

This is clearly a subtle form of persecution driven by atheistic ideology. Ignored is the fact that, along with other citizens, Chinese Christians pay taxes throughout their lifetime to fund these benefits.

UDHRAlso ignored is Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which lists “the right to freedom of religion . . . either alone or in community with others in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

Further, Article 22 states, “everyone … has the right to social security, and is entitled to the realization . . . of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and free development of his personality.”

Anti-Christian Government Pressure in Alberta
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In Alberta a similar scenario is developing between the government and Christians. Earlier this year, the Education minister issued some guidelines for schools to combat bullying which now are presented more as standards that must be obeyed.

Unfortunately, these standards are part of the sexual revolution, championed by progressive secularists, that presents sex without any moral aspects, and simply as any other physical activity that can be enjoyed by everyone, with anyone, in many ways. This philosophy is now taught in many schools as part of their sex education program. Although students are taught to avoid disease, to use birth control, and to practice sex only with consenting partners, moral values are not mentioned.

The specific educational standards currently presented are part of this sexual revolution and have to do with protecting vulnerable students from bullying and are focused on students who are gay, lesbian, or transgender.

In principle, this is admirable, since Christians are completely in favour of preventing bullying in any form against any vulnerable person. Christian schools are already fully on board with comprehensive, functioning, anti-bullying policies and practices.

The problem for Christians is that the Education minister did not just set a goal, “You must have policies and practices that will prevent bullying of LGBTQ students.” He also dictated very specifically what these policies and practices must be. Unfortunately, the policies demand that homosexuality be celebrated as completely normal, and forbids any kind of “conversion” counseling of sexually confused students to help them think through their feelings.

Financial Pressure on Christians
What’s more, the minister also indicated that if an independent Christian school did not fully comply to the letter with his policies and practices, he would consider defunding it. That is, he would disqualify the school from receiving the per-student subsidy every school receives from the government.

Ignored is the fact that every Christian parent pays taxes to fund the education of their children. It costs the government more than $13,000 per year to educate a student in the public school system, whereas it costs the government less than $4,500 per year to educate a student attending an independent Christian school. The student’s parents pay tuition and school fees to cover the rest of the expense. Clearly this policy is driven by anti-Christian ideology and not for financial reasons.

Christian parents of students exposed to this kind of teaching are upset since it contradicts what they teach their children. Christianity gave the world the restrictive moral prohibitions against all sexual expressions outside of marriage—a permanent, one-man one-woman, sexually exclusive monogamy.

Ignored is Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states in section (3) “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.” Ignored also is the clear biblical teaching throughout the Scripture that parents are responsible and accountable to God for the training and teaching of their children.

The Alberta Government Cuts Parents Out of the Picture
In Alberta, the state, not the parents are now in charge of a child’s education. For instance, if a student, even in an independent Christian school, tells a school staff member that she is lesbian, this information must be reported to government officials, but cannot be shared with the student’s parents without her permission. The parents are expressly left out of the situation.

With this policy the Alberta’s secular progressive government ignores the parents’ rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the biblical teaching of the parents’ responsibility, but fully endorses the sexual revolution and the LGBTQ agenda that goes with it.

This is a good time to remember to thank God that He is still in charge. He sets up rulers and takes them down. “The Lord controls the mind of a king as easily as he directs the course of a stream.”  Proverbs 21:1 (GNT) It is also a good time to pray and, as God leads, to speak up.

Note:
The link below shows how the Alberta government ignores Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
http://edmontonjournal.com/opinion/columnists/opinion-strong-arm-of-the-state-cant-overpower-charter-rights-of-albertas-faith-based-schools