Craig Groeschel - Different Perspective in Persecution
Well I came ready to preach today, I'm wondering if there's anybody ready to hear a message from God's word. All of our churches, welcome! Today we are in part four of a message series called Different if you're just joining us. We're actually looking at high points from the book of 1 Peter. And as you look at the way Peter wrote he was very, very direct. He said over and over and over again that this world is not your home. If you are a Jesus follower you are called to be set apart. You are called to be different, you are called to be holy. And today I want to bring to you what I believe is very possibly the most encouraging message that you didn't want to hear. Think that's possible. This may be the most encouraging message that you did not want to hear. Jesus promised us several different things.
Let me show you first of all what Jesus did not promise us. Jesus never promised us that everybody would be writ. Jesus never promised us that it would not rain on your vacation. Jesus never promised us that you would not get your heart broken by someone you're dating and Jesus never promised us that your plumbing would not back up. And my home is a personal testimony to plumbing hell as we speak. Jesus never promised us a lot of things, but what he did promise us was this. If you are a faithful follower of Christ, if you are set apart, if you are different, Jesus promised us that the world would hate us and the world would persecute us. And that's why I'd like to welcome you to Life Church today, where we're here to make you feel good about yourself. The most encouraging message that you never, ever wanted to hear.
Today I want to talk about a different perspective in persecution and we'll start with the words of Jesus, then we're gonna dive into the book of 1 Peter. This is what Jesus said, John 15, verses 18 and 20. Jesus said, "If the world hates you keep in mind it hated me first. If they persecuted me," Jesus says, "They will persecute you also". Today we're talking about a different perspective in persecution. And what I want to do in case you weren't here in previous weeks is give you a little background on the context of the book of 1 Peter. Peter was writing this letter to 1st century gentile Christians during a time of extreme persecution. They were being, literally often tortured under a very evil emperor named Nero who, among many things, Nero killed his mom. You may have wanted to do that at one point in your life, but I hope you never did. That is, you don't get any worse than killing your momma. He also killed his first wife, Octavius and many historians believe he probably killed his second wife, as well. He was evil beyond measure. This guy had an insatiable lust to build.
And when the senate wouldn't let him tear down parts of Rome, most historians believe he actually burned, set fire to Rome, this massive fire that burned for days and days. And then sparked again and burned and burned And then he blamed these 1st century Christians, saying they set fire to Rome. And these already persecuted Jesus followers, then faced extraordinary persecution under this very, very evil man. You fast forward to today and it really depends on what part of the world that you live in. In fact many of you at church online right now you live in places where the persecution is extreme. Many of you listening in the United States the persecution may not be as extreme, but it is very, very real. What I hope you'll understand, do not close your eyes to it for any length of time that in the world today there is extraordinary Christian persecution.
In fact most people would argue that the persecution is at its worst level today in the history of the world. Let me say it again. Almost every article that you'll read will say that the last decade has represented the worst decade in the history of Christianity in persecution around the world. In fact just the statistics are staggering. In an average month, an average month, over 300 Christians are killed for following Jesus. On an average month over 200 churches would be burned or completely destroyed. In an average 30 day period there's upwards close to 800 followers of Christ who will be beaten, tortured, raped or imprisoned for following their faith. So wherever you live, the pendulum could swing on how severe it is. In some parts of the world you may lose a family member in another part of the world you may lose a job.
In some part of the world you may be beaten, in other part of the world you may not be invited to a party because of your faith. All of it is persecution and Jesus said, "If you follow me, the world will hate you. And you will be persecuted". And that's why today this will be, for many of you, the most encouraging message that you never, ever wanted to hear. Let's dive into 1 Peter and look at what he said. He said a lot about this subject and I pray that it would speak to some people today, inspire your faith and encourage you to live even more bolder for the one who gave his life for you. This is what Peter said in 1 Peter 4:12 he said this. He said. Dear friends, don't be surprised at the fiery trials you're going through, as if something strange were happening to you. He's telling these people who are hurting, don't be shocked, don't be, don't be, don't be surprised that if you're living boldly for Jesus, that you would face opposition.
I want to say this to at all of our different churches. If you are living boldly, if you're set apart, if you are different, don't be shocked when you're criticized, when you're ridiculed or when you face spiritual opposition. Many of you would say, "Well you know I can't really think of a time that I ever really did face opposition for my faith". And we'll start there and maybe try to understand potentially why that might be. For example, after teaching today I will get in our car, dash to another city and go to my third home. My first home is my home, my second home is the church. My third home is soccer fields across America. Where my boys play every single week, competitive traveling soccer. And they always win or if they lose, it's only because they were ripped off by a bad call. And technically they won, but they didn't really win.
And so imagine I'm playing soccer. Imagine you are the opponent. Let's just say that you're on the field playing I'm on the bench. And I'm not even watching the game. In fact instead I've got a water bottle and I'm water bottle flipping on the bench. Then maybe I'm playing a little game on my computer or I'm posting a selfie on Instagram. And then I'm flirting with this really cute cheerleader named Amy who's over there. And I'm not paying attention to the game. If you are my opponent, are you concerned about me impacting the game at all or not? The answer is say loud, not a bit, not a bit at all. If, on the other hand though, let's say I'm a really good player, and I'm not water bottle flipping, playing games or flirting with anybody, but instead I get on the field and I am a threat to score.
If you are the enemy are you then concerned about me? And the answer is yes you are! And you're gonna do anything you can to stop me. The same is true when it comes to spiritual things. If you are on the Jesus team, you believe in Christ, but you're on the bench, in other words you've got the jersey, but you're not in the game. I mean you'll, you'll come to church every now and then because you got to do that when you're on the team. You'll show up to the game, but you're not engaged. You're not, you're not praying for miracles and asking God to do something and interceding on behalf of others and tapping boldly into the power of God and going before His throne of grace believing that He would help people in their time of need. You've got gifts and talents, but you're not using them to further the kingdom.
You could make a difference and you know it, but you let somebody else play. You're not giving generously. You may tip a little bit here and there, but you're not strategically, prayerfully asking how I can use what God has given me, time, talent and resources to influence others and be generous and make a difference in the world. You believe in Jesus, but you're not representing Him boldly, you haven't invited anyone to church and you're not sharing your faith. You've got the jersey on, but you're not in the game. The same is true in that example that your enemy takes no notice of you. The moment though you engage, you have a spiritual enemy who takes notice and you will face opposition. The most encouraging message you didn't want to hear.
Imagine a warrior, a soldier enlisting in a battle, going into war and coming back to his commanding officer going, "Sir, sir, they're shooting at me! I didn't think that was gonna happen"! What would the officer say, "What did you expect? We're at war"! Sarge we have to understand, Christianity is not a playground. It is a battle ground. We are at war against the forces of darkness and we are in a very real spiritual battle. When you engage in the battle you will face opposition. If you've never, ever, ever faced any sense of real spiritual opposition, maybe it's because you're not on the front lines engaging in the battle in the way that God would want you to do so. That's why Peter said, he said, "Hey, don't be surprised at the fiery trials that you're facing".
Now when Peter said fiery trials it's very likely that he was being literal. When he said fiery. Because among other things what Nero would do, this guy was sick in the mind. He would take, one thing he would do it take animal skins, so like cut up a dead animal, put the animals skins around Christians and then put them into a cage and release wild dogs to attack these Christians and maul them to death as he watched on for entertainment. But the fiery part, very likely Peter was referring to what Nero would do, is he would dip Christians in hot wax and then put them onto a tree out in his courtyard and light them on fire, essentially making like a candle. And he would light the night sky as he would entertain with suffering and dying Christians. And that's who Peter is talking to and he says, "Do not be surprised at the fiery trial that you are facing, as if something strange were happening to you today".
If Peter were writing this message in the year that we live he would probably adjust the way he would say it. Perhaps if he's writing to someone in the Middle East he might say, "Don't be surprised if you lose a loved one because of their faith in Christ". If he was writing to a new Christian in a predominantly Muslim country he might say, "Don't be surprised if your family turns on you and you face extraordinary danger because of your faith in Christ". If he were talking to a freshman girl in a university he might say, "Don't be surprised if you don't get a second date because you have a stance of purity". If he was speaking to you he might say, "Don't be surprised if people make fun of you at Thanksgiving because you're following Jesus and you're engaged in the church".
Do not be surprised, Peter said, at the fiery trial that you're facing. You're in the game! You're on the front lines! You're making a difference and you're rattling the darkness of hell. Don't be surprised if you face opposition. Then he says this, the most encouraging message you didn't want to hear. He said instead, verse 12, be very glad. For these trials make you partners with Christ in His suffering. Is that different or what? Be glad. Be thankful when you're persecuted for your faith. You'll be partners with Christ, so that you'll have this wonderful joy of seeing His glory when it's revealed to all the world. Why is it that so many of us would say, "Well I've never really experienced anything like this". I don't think it's necessarily your fault, I think that culture is so convincing, so convincing that the most important thing for many of us is the pursuit of comfort. I mean I'll be honest. I would rather have a comfortable conversation with you than one full of confrontation. I'd rather have a nice easy day than one that's full of pain.
Comfort is something that we so often will pursue at all costs and even in the name of Jesus, "God help me have a good today, boy God I pray, bless us, keep us safe, don't let anything happen to us. God watch over us today, bless this food God, help our kids, be, be, be, protect us, keep us comfortable. And keep us safe". And essentially what we want is let's avoid conflict at all costs, let's dodge any opposition and so therefore we're gonna take the path of least resistance. How does this play out? Maybe you're at a party and you kind of give in and you smoke or drink whatever they're smoking or drinking, why? Because you don't want anybody to make fun of you, it's not that big of a deal, so you're just kind of gonna fit in. Maybe it is that you, you don't correct someone when they say a racist or sexist joke. You know it's wrong. You know it's wrong, but you don't want anybody, you don't want it to be uncomfortable, and so you don't say anything. Maybe it's that if someone asks you, "Are you follower of Christ," you'll say, "Yes". But you'd rather not just come out and lead with that because at your workplace you don't want people making fun, you don't want to be that guy that they talk about and make fun of. And there we are pursuing comfort.
In fact what I want to do is I want to show you just a couple of cycles. And I want you to think about these two cycles and ask yourself which one most represent your life last week. Let me show you the first one it looks like this. This would be kind of what culture says. Above all else we're going to pursue comfort, we want to be happy. And so when we pursue comfort then that forces us in many ways to avoid opposition. I don't want to upset anybody, I don't want to make anybody mad, you know I just want to have a good day. But the problem is when we avoid opposition our faith it just seems to weaken, we're not standing for anything, we're not passionate about much. And our faith for some reason we just don't feel so close to Christ. And then we wake up one day and we feel very, very empty. Life feels so empty, there's got to be something more, so what do I do? I'm going to pursue comfort, I'm gonna pursue comfort and maybe, maybe this thing, that place, this many likes, that relationship, whatever it is, maybe that will fill my void. Pursue comfort, avoid anything difficult.
What, why don't I feel close to Christ? I need to have something else out there that's gonna make me happy. There is another way to live. But let me warn you, you have to be different. And the only way you really live like this is when you recognize that you are a foreigner in this world. You're a stranger, you're a pilgrim, you're a sojourner, these are the words that Peter used. You're just passing through. But actually you come from a heavenly kingdom. And you serve a king that is not from this world. And His standards are very, very, very different. He teaches you to love when people hate, He teaches you to give even when people take advantage of you, He teaches you to turn the other cheek. He teaches you if they ask for your shirt, to give them the jacket, too. I mean His teachings are radical and completely different. And there is a totally different cycle that looks like this.
When you are instead living boldly for Christ, standing up, sharing Him, expressing His love, suddenly when you live boldly, guess what you do? You do face opposition. The most encouraging message you didn't want to hear, why? Because you're in the game! You're making a difference. But the strange thing is that when you face opposition your faith tends to strengthen! There's something about it when you're living by faith, when you're on the edge, when you're comfortably uncomfortable, meaning that you're living by faith and not by sight. Then one day you wake up and realize, "Oh my gosh, I'm so much closer to Christ. How did this happen? His word is alive to me, he's guiding me daily". And suddenly you find yourself living even more boldly than every before. Leave those up for just a moment, look at them if you will and ask yourself, which cycle, best represents your life in the last week? Were you comfortable, avoiding any kind of trouble, kind of not really close to Jesus, empty life pursuing comfort? Or instead were you living boldly? Or were you facing some opposition? Were you going through and realizing, "I am closer to Christ because of my obedience," and it stirs you even more intimately to share your faith. Which one would you say best represents your life in the past week?
The most encouraging message you didn't want to hear that when you're different from this world, they will not always like you, but these trials will make you partners with Christ. 1 Peter, 4:19 to me is probably my favorite verse in all of this book. This is what Peter says. He says, so if you're suffering in a manner that pleases God, let's all read this aloud, everybody read it aloud, what does he say? He says, keep on doing what is right. Let's say it again, I need somebody from Broken Arrow, from Yukon, I need somebody from Tennessee, let's all say it aloud. So if you're suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never, ever fail you. Keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, because he will never, ever fail you.
Let me tell you what is one of the driving principles of my life. And before I tell you what it is I want to illustrate it with a story the first time I really lived this out. I read this verse years ago when I was a brand new believer in college. And it was my final year of college and I was nominated for this award, it was called the All Greek Man of the Year. Now pay careful attention, I did not say all geek man of the year, but all Greek. I was in the fraternity system and there were a handful of guys that were nominated for this. And for some reason I actually really wanted to win it. I thought this would represent something that meant a lot to me at the time. And so I had to fill out a form that would go before a board of maybe, you know 10 or 12 professors. And I knew every professor on the board and there was not a single one that was a Christian. And most of them were actually hostile toward the things of God. They didn't like Christianity at all.
And I filled out this form about, you know different successes in leadership and the last question was something like this, what was you're most valuable thing that you received at the university? Or what was the biggest, most important thing or whatever? And I just remember that the answer was very clear. It was that I had met Jesus, that my life was changed, that I once was in darkness and I'd seen the light, and my eyes were blind and now that I could see. I was spiritually dead and now that I'm alive. That was the true answer, but that was not an answer that was likely to help me win the award, in fact it was very likely to disqualify me in the eyes of those professors. So I had just read this verse about do what's right and trust God and I'm really there thinking, "Well, maybe it's right to win the award, get that influence and talk about Jesus then. So I can say what's politically correct or I can say what's true".
And I wrestled with it and I wrestled with it and finally I just decided, "I'm gonna tell the truth". And I wrote down something about Jesus saved me and you know just really and exclamation point, bah! There you go, just point. And I turned it in. Here's a principle. This is a principle that I try to live by, I don't always get it right, but I pray this speaks to someone. The principle is this. In every area of your life, in your family, in your finances, in your relationships, in your work life, whenever you're peer pressured, any area of your life, do what's right and trust God with the results. This is gonna speak to somebody. What do you do? How do you live? We as Jesus followers, we do what's right. And we trust God with the results. We don't cut corners, we don't take shortcuts. We don't try to do what we think will get us to the end result faster, we do what's right and we trust God with the results. We do what's right in our relationships and we trust God.
If we have to have a hard conversation, we have a hard conversation. If we have to confess something, we confess something. We have to stand up and say I'm sorry I can't do that, even though it may cost me we stand up and say, "I won't do that even if it may cost me". As Jesus followers what we do is we do what is right and we trust God with the results. As long as you're suffering for doing something good, keep on doing that and trust God who will never, ever fail you. What do we do? We are different, we do what is right and trust God with the results. Now. Some of you might be wondering, "So Craig, did you win the award, or not"? Does anybody want to know if I won the all Greek Man of the Year award, anybody want to know, okay. Did I win the award, the answer is I am not telling you. Because winning or not winning is not what matters in that story. What matters is that as Jesus followers we do what is right and we trust God completely with the results.
The most encouraging message that you'd never want to hear. If you are like this world the world will love you as its own, you will never be persecuted. If you are following Jesus you can not be like this world, you understand this. You won't raise your kids like the world, you won't use your money like this world, you'll have different morals from this world, you'll have different values from this world, you have different types of conversations from this world. You'll be different at work than this world, and if you are not like this world, guess what? The world will hate you at times. Is that fun? It's not fun but the odd thing is it does something to you and you recognize I am a follower of Christ. And it builds some kind of boldness in you and it makes you different. I have people sometimes ask me, "It looks like persecution coming more to our part of the world, this is where I live. Things could get worse, does that ever scare you"? The answer is no, not at all, not a bit, not in the least bit does it scare me.
In fact to be quite honest, it actually excites me a little bit when I think there might be a little persecution because I would agree all day long, persecution never, ever hurts the church. It always strengthens the church. Persecution never, ever weakens faith, it causes our roots to grow deeper in the things that matter. In fact I think that and where I live right now, it's so easy to claim to be a Christian, that many people probably aren't. And when there's a little persecution it puts some stakes to it, it matters. If we are followers of Christ we are willing to stand for some things and to be persecuted if we are. Let me show you the slide one more time, look at it again, just look at it again. Which side best represents you? Be really, really honest. We're gonna talk about it in our life groups. Are you like most people, life is about you, your comfort, what can I get? Avoid opposition, your faith is weaker, life is empty and so you're on this continual pursuit of something that's gonna matter. Or are you one that have died to yourself and Christ is living boldly through you.
And sure you face some opposition, but your faith is strong and you're closer to Christ than you've ever been before and it continues to build your faith. Which one best represents you? This is what Peter says as he's wrapping this up and I love the fact that he's, he's speaking to people that are really, really grieving in persecution and watch what he says. He says God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. He says so humble yourselves under the mighty power of God. And at the right time our God will lift you up in honor. Now watch what Peter says, he says give your worries and cares to God, because God cares about you. I want to pause for a moment and recognize that there are a lot of people that are hurting right now. Amy and I were a part of ministering to three different families that had three tragic deaths this week. And our hearts are so heavy, hearts are so heavy. We're facing other stuff just with people that we love close to us, that has us awake and praying and difficult sleeping, there's so much pain in this world.
This is what Peter said, he was saying it to people who's lives were at risk. He said, give your cares, another version says cast your cares, the word in the Greek, literally it's a fishing term, like the fisherman would cast their nets on the water. He says cast your cares on God, why? Because He cares for you. Cast your cares on God, because he cares for you. If you're living different, if you're being bold for Christ, you may face spiritual opposition, it may come in the form of persecution, it may by in some other way. And then what do you do? You let is build your faith, you cast your cares upon Him why? Because He cares for you. And then this is how Peter is finishing his letter he says this, he says it's so beautiful He says so after you've suffered for a little while, this is what our God will do, for those of you that are suffering, after you've suffered for a little while, our God will restore.
Touch somebody and say, "I'm on call, I'm on call". Come on, touch somebody and say, "I'm on call". Feel it, I'm on call, I'm on call. You may not be able to get out of the building that you're in today without stopping to pray for somebody. You may not be able to go to your next meal without finding somebody who's in need, why? Because you're on call. You're on call. God, give us eyes to see the needs of people in this world, give us a heart to care for those who are hurting. God, give us ears even to hear those who need your love. We're on call, when you know who you are, you'll know what to do. When you know who you are, you will know what to do. Who are you? You're chosen by God. You're a royal priest, you're a holy nation. You're a people belonging to God. And our God has called you to a different daily standard.
What do we do? By the way we live. We show up for work on time. We do a good job. We pay all of our bills. We pay things back. We're a blessing to people. We're a voice of encouragement. We're a positive presence in the office. We're not messengers of gossip, we're messengers of hope. We build people up. Our best defense is a good offense. We just show love. When they laugh, we continue to show love. When they criticize, we continue to show love. We they get in a war on social media, we're above that, we just continue to show love. Why? Because Jesus, the sinless Son of God, did not retaliate. He is our example. He bore our sins in his body that we could have eternal life. And God says we've been called out of darkness into the light, and the light shines bright into a dark world. We're never afraid of the dark, we just shine into it. The darker it is, the brighter the light shines, and that's who you are, that's what you are. When you know who you are, you'll know what to do.
So, Father, today we ask that you would empower your church to shine brightly into this world. Help us recognize, God, that we have a different daily calling. Instead of looking for that big something out there, God, help us realize there is a big something right in front of us, an opportunity to be different, to show your love and grace in this world.
All of our churches today, as you reflect in prayer, those of you who say, "I am a follower of Christ, and I want his power to be different every single day," would you lift up your hands right now just all over the place, just lift up your hands.
Father, I ask that you would help your church to see themselves on call, anywhere, all the time, 24 hours a day. Your force, God, your priests, your pastors on this earth available, ready, willing, taking what we have, recognizing it as not ours, it belongs to you. God, may we be ministers of love, that may we be carriers of grace. God, may we be voices of hope everywhere that we go. And I pray, God, we know we can't reach everybody. We know they'll always be skeptics. But God, help empower us to live right today, and tomorrow, and the next day, and over time we believe that the love of Jesus shown through your church will reach people far from you and bring them into your family that they could know the grace of your son, Jesus, call us, God, call us, God, call us, God. We're set apart, we're ready, we're on call for whatever you equip us to do.
As you keep praying today at all of our different churches, there are those of you, you're gonna experience a spiritual call. A call to Christ, we talked about it earlier. What is that? If you look back through your life at different times, there might have been a hunger for God, there might have been questions, there might have been something that was like pulling you in the direction of God. What was that? That is the Holy Spirit of God, who every single day is revealing the goodness of God. You may have seen it in a sunset. You may have seen it in the birth of a child. You may have seen it when you sensed that God was maybe with you. It's God's love reaching out to you. You're called, you're called. Peter, when he realized that Jesus was different, he was holy. He fell to his knees and he said, "Get away from me, I'm sinful".
The moment you recognize that the God of the universe is inviting you, you become intimately aware of your own shortcomings. Guess what, you may feel I'm not good enough. I've done so many bad things, how could God love me? The truth is, you are not good enough and neither am I. We've all done bad things. Those bad things are not called mistakes, they're called sin. We've sinned against a holy God, but the good news is, God does still love you. And he loves you so much that he became one of you in the person of Jesus. It was God in the flesh. Jesus loved those that religion rejected. Jesus bore our sins, he became sin for us on the cross. He died in our place for the forgiveness of our sins, and on the third day when the stone was rolled away, Jesus was not there. He was risen from the dead, why? So that anyone, and this includes you, doesn't matter how you feel about yourself, doesn't matter what you've done, doesn't matter where you are right now, anyone who calls on the name of Jesus would be saved.
There are those of you at all of our churches, you are here today not by accident, but by the divine providence of a good God, and you can sense it. You're being called to step away from your sin, step toward Jesus and say, "Jesus, take my life". All of our churches, those who say, "I need his grace, I need his salvation". When you call on him, he'll forgive every sin you've ever committed. You'll never be the same, you belong to him. You're chosen by God to be here. You're about to become a royal priest, a part of the holy nation. You're gonna be a person belonging to God because you said yes to the eternal call of Jesus. All of our churches, those who say yes, I need his grace today, I've turned toward Jesus, I give him my life, that's your prayer, lift your hand high right now.
All of our churches, lift them high. Right there, God bless you. Here in this middle section right back over here. Others today, way back here in the back saying yes. Right back over here, over here, both of you guys together, praise God for you. Over here in the back here. Church Online, you click right down here. Others today who say, "Yes, Jesus, I surrender completely to you". Would all of you join your voices together praying aloud. Can you believe we get to be a part of such a movement of our good God?
Pray, heavenly Father, I give you my life. Save me and forgive me for all my sins. Make me brand new. I believe Jesus died for me, and he rose again so I could live for you. Put me on call, I am yours to do your will. Thank you for new life, now you have mine. In Jesus' name I pray.