The Call to Stay Strong

Braland(blue bkgd).jpg

John Braland
IMF President

Every softball season my team would go to Floyd’s restaurant in Victoria after the game for our post game celebration whether we won or lost. We laughed and joked and acted like idiots. Most of the other teams went to the restaurant too, so it was always crowded. The guys would order a few rounds of drinks and I would sip on a Diet Coke. Every week there was a guy there who made his way through the crowd talking, joking, and cussing everyone out as if they were his best friends or worst enemies. He dressed like a rock star and had the black hair and bling to match. He was friends with the staff and the band members.

 

Every once in a while, he would come to our table and say hello and we would greet him back. This happened every week until something changed. He was in a particularly foul mood one night and came up to our table cussing and fussing about one thing after another. Then my friend Harry shouted, “Watch your mouth, this man is a minister.” That was the day that my strange relationship with the black-haired, bling-wearing drunk socialite changed forever. He grabbed a chair, sat right in front of me and said, “I am religious myself. I’m a warlock, I’m gay, and I like to drink.” What do you think about that Mr. Minister? You hate me, don’t you?” Then he leaned in closer to me waiting for the answer. The eight guys from my team all stopped talking and looked at him and me facing one another. I wasn’t sure if he wanted to fight or just insult me, so I picked up my Diet Coke, took a sip and said, “I don’t hate you, I barely know you.”

 

The same type of confrontation happened week after week for months. But the story doesn’t end there. I’ll reveal the rest of the story later. Persecution for believers is a reality and you should stay strong whenever you face it.

 

There is a cost to follow Christ. There is a cost to living out your beliefs. Being a Christian is no cake walk. Being a vocal Christian will bring criticism because the world is opposed to the will of God. Persecution is a real probability for believers. Go Christian on social media and get unfriended or attacked. Go Christian in public and people will call you judgmental. Go Christian at work and you can expect your coworkers to talk behind your back. Go Christian and your family may disown you.

 

According to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, over 900,000 Christians have been martyred in the last 10 years. As many as 90,000 Christians died for their faith in the last year. That is one every six minutes. (https://www.christianpost.com/news/over-900000-christians-martyred-for-their-faith-in-last-10-years-report-173045/, accessed 11/1/18)

 

The Center for the Study of Global Christianity also found that Christians are the most persecuted religious group throughout the world.

 

In spite of growing persecution, you must stay strong in your faith. The bible is not a collection of fairy tales and fables. The bible is the living, inspired Word of God. There is no other book like it on the planet. It is a believer’s manual for holy living.

 

From the beginning of time God set his plan in motion. He did not want to create people who were forced to love him, so he gave humanity free will. We can choose whether or not we want to fall in love with Jesus and connect with our creator. God knocks on your heart and will keep knocking until you let him into your life or die apart from Him.

 

I believe in Jesus Christ and I believe that he is who he said he is because he did what he said he would do. If you are a Christian, you should base your life on the teachings of Jesus found in the bible. Biblical faith isn’t based on wishful thinking, it’s based on the person and work of Jesus Christ according to God’s plan. History is His Story.

 

You might be blessed with a little persecution at various times in your life. Persecution is a reality now. Around the world Christians are being killed for their beliefs. There is more cyber bullying than fist punching persecution, but it’s still persecution. The more you live for Jesus, the more intense the attacks become. But it really is a blessing when you are persecuted. When the apostles were persecuted they considered it pure joy. Paul told the Philippians to experience great joy even though they were being persecuted.

 

The Holy Spirit gave Stephen wisdom, grace, power, and no fear when he was being persecuted. God’s power had shown up in his life in the past and it came again when he lectured to the religious crowd. You can expect God’s power to show up when you are persecuted as well.

 

One night I was back at the restaurant after a taxing softball game and saw Jack as usual. He saw me come in and sit down at the usual table with the usual guys. As soon as we got settled Jack brought his female friend over to our table. I thought he was coming over to bash me again for my beliefs like he had done week after week. But this time he walked up to me and told his female friend, “This man is a minister. I don’t believe any of that crap but maybe he can help you.” So, the woman pulled up a chair and we talked for a while with my team listening. We talked about Jesus, hope, love, forgiveness and grace. We must have spent an hour talking about God while Jack listened in. I even prayed for her when we finished talking. Jack actually smiled and thanked me before he walked away.

 

Jack and I developed a weird friendship over time. I saw him at the restaurant almost every week during the season for several years. He would always come and say hi and he would always bring people to talk to me about their faith, problems, or whatever. We connected on social media and I noticed he started commenting on my posts. Fast forward a couple of years and Jack ended up getting into a serious relationship with a woman even though he told me he was gay. She became a Christian and Jack told her to come and talk to me. She did, and we even baptized her. Today Jack is closer than ever to becoming a Christian. He knows the gospel but hasn’t stepped over the line giving his life to Christ yet. But we still talk, and he still sends people to Freshwater because he knows that we are a loving place.

 

At first, I had no idea why he was persecuting me for my faith, but over time I realized that he was persecuting me because he was struggling with God. In the same way many of the people who bully you are actually angry at God. You never know what God is doing in someone’s life. Your job is to be faithful and stay strong.

 

Are you willing to stay strong for Christ in a secular culture? If you think real faith will bring you unicorns, butterflies and rainbows, you are mistaken. Real faith may cost you real persecution. No promotion, public ridicule, social bullying, and public harassment—so stay strong. Real faith is exactly what God calls believers to have. Jesus said that he would honor those who honored him before man and not deny them. Stephen didn’t deny Jesus before his accusers. He stood firm and Jesus welcomed him into the kingdom of heaven. Stay strong, don’t deny Jesus or live as if you have no faith so you don’t get persecuted.

IMF Serves