David Jeremiah - The Increase of Intolerance
Kelvin Cochran was the fourth of six children raised in extreme poverty by a single mother in Shreveport, Louisiana. He attended church regularly and developed a strong and active faith in God. He was invited to head Atlanta's 750-member Fire Department. He left Atlanta in 2009 when the president appointed him to head the National Fire Administration. But then Atlanta's new mayor persuaded him to return and rebuild the city's deteriorating Fire Department, and he did just that. And then he wrote a book, published it on his own.
Council member Alex Wan read the few pages outlining the biblical approach to marriage, that marriage is between a man and a woman and that's the way the Bible says it. And that's when his trouble began. Meetings among Atlanta's top officials followed and, as "National Review" reported, on January 6, 2015, the city of Atlanta fired Kelvin Cochran without providing him the proper process prescribed by city codes and he claims without even providing him an opportunity to respond, either to his suspension or his termination. At no point did any employee of the Fire Department ever complain of mistreatment or discrimination from Kelvin Cochran and yet we know now what happened.
Because the council member who started all of this war against Kelvin made the reason for his dismissal very clear when he wrote this statement, "When you're a city employee and your thoughts, beliefs, and opinions are different from the city's, you have to check those thoughts at the door". The substance of Christian persecution is an interesting journey. Before we go any further, we should not assume that any trouble that we have is persecution. I know people in my church have come to me and said, "Oh, Dr. Jeremiah, I'm going such persecution all the time". Then I talk to 'em and I find they did some stupid thing that got 'em in trouble, you know? And that's not being persecuted.
Persecution's not what happens to you when you do something wrong. We need to understand that persecution is what happens to you because of your faith in Jesus Christ and your determination to follow God's will in your life. And I've kind of taken this apart, looking at what's happened in our country and I've noticed that there's about five stages that we have to observe when it comes to what persecution looks like. The first stage I'm gonna call stereotyping. Today, if you've noticed in the media, Christians are stereotyped as ignorant, uneducated, backward, inhibited, homophobic, hateful, intolerant people. Usually, he's portrayed as a hypocrite and he doesn't live what he professes to believe, like the warden in the movie, "The Shawshank Redemption," who recites the Bible while he's abusing the inmates.
Our duty is to live our convictions in a way that shows these slanderous pictures to be gross distortions of the truth. Let's face it, in our media world today, Christians are stereotyped and marginalized by those who write the scripts. Sometimes, stereotyping moves into what we might call marginalizing. In other words, they say it's all right to be a Christian, just don't get in our way. It's all right to be a Christian, just keep your mouth shut. It's all right to be a Christian, but we don't want any of your opinions in anything that we do that makes the body politic work in our community.
Stereotyping, marginalizing, and then sometimes threatening happens. Banning religious expression within academic, institutional, corporate, and public arenas is not enough for many secularists. They are determined to make Christians pay the price, even when privately performing actions that conflict with the progressive agenda. For instance, an intern at Cal State was terminated and threatened with expulsion from the graduate program unless she stopped discussing her faith, even though the university admitted she only did it in her off hours. Some of you have felt some of this. You know what I'm talking about. You see it going on in your world and you wonder, "Am I seeing this correctly? Is this really happening"?
And then, of course, there's intimidating. I never will forget this story because it affects people who do what I do. Do you remember this one? In October of 2014, several Houston pastors encouraged Christians to sign a petition calling for a referendum on a newly passed non-discrimination ordinance which allowed men and women to use each other's bathrooms. The Houston City Government under Mayor Annise Parker ordered five of these pastors to turn over all of their sermons, text messages, and emails that addressed the gender issues. They had to turn 'em all over. And they refused to do it.
And I'll never forget how it got resolved and you may remember this. But those pastors, along with a lot of people who helped them, wrote to all the pastors in all the country and told all of them to send all of their sermons to this group. They got so many sermons, they had to hire extra staff people to open the mail. And ultimately, they backed away from it and they weren't forced to turn in their sermons. But can you imagine? Could you have believed 10 years ago that in any city in this nation, which is a nation supposedly under God, that the city government would require pastors to turn their sermons in because they didn't like what was in the sermon?
You have stereotyping, marginalizing, threatening, intimidating, and then you've got litigating. They're taking us to court, friends. A growing number of Christians and Christian organizations are being taken to court for refusing to compromise their Christian convictions. We may not like it, we may not think it's right, we may think it's totally ungodly which it is but it's going to happen so what do we do about it? That's what this is all about. Let me remind you that what's going on in our world today is not something that's new.
If you open the Bible from the beginning of the Bible, you'll discover Christians have been persecuted throughout all of the history of Christianity. Christian behavior angers non-Christians because it makes them feel judged. It resurrects in them the embedded truth of moral accountability that God planted in each one of us from the very beginning that we are ultimately accountable to God. And when they see Christians living out that accountability, it causes them to be very angry and instead of being angry at the message, they get angry at the messenger. If you are good and you try to live your life godly and righteously in the name of Christ, you will get attention and it won't always be encouraging. They will come after you. They want you to live life at their level so they don't have to feel guilty about what they're doing.
Persecution in the New Testament begins shortly after Christ's birth in Bethlehem and it does not end until the last chapter of the Book of Revelation. Here are a few of the most notable examples. The Judean king Herod, fearful of reports that a prophesied king had been born in Bethlehem tried to protect his dynasty by killing all the male babies born within the prophetic timeframe. John the Baptist, the first public proclaimer of Christ, was beheaded by Herod's son, Herod Antipas. Several times, the Jewish people and their leaders, angered over Jesus' message and his rebukes, tried to seize and kill him, even before their successful Crucifixion plot.
Peter and other apostles were arrested and beaten and imprisoned several times for preaching Jesus Christ. Stephen was stoned to death by angry Jews for preaching Christ. All 12 of the apostles, all of them, died violent deaths at the hands of their persecutors, with the exception of John who was simply exiled on the Isle of Patmos until his death. Persecution's always been with us, men and women, since the birth of Christ. And if you study the history after the Bible, the empire best known for persecuting Christians is ancient Rome. In the 1st century, Romans under Nero burned Christians on stakes and fed them live to lions for arena entertainment.
Other empires and nations and religions also took the sword against Christians. And today, we're here in this beautiful place, in the center of New York City, and I need to report to you that persecution is alive and well in our world. Many believe that worldwide persecution of Christians today is worse than at any time in history. Here are some facts that I discovered. Every single month there are 322 Christians who are killed for their faith, 214 church buildings and Christian properties are destroyed every month. And 772 forms of violence are committed against individual Christians or Christian groups.
Those figures add up to over 15,000 incidents of serious persecution against Christians every year. Given the history and the present state of Christian persecution worldwide, we should not be surprised that we are beginning to feel the sting of it in the United States. Now, I can say honestly I don't feel like I've ever been truly persecuted. I've been harassed and I do get a lot of emails and some letters and once in a while a phone call but I do believe that in our lifetime, most of us here in this room, we will either experience it or we will witness it.
The side effects of Christian persecution are interesting. How should we respond to persecution? What should our attitude be? Listen to the words of Paul to the Philippians in Philippians 1:29, "For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for his sake". When you suffer, remember that's a gift from God. And here's one of the reasons you can be positive about it when it happens. Remember these things. First of all, suffering promotes character. Although persecution is inflicted by the enemies of God, God uses it often as a form of discipline to mold us into greater Christ-likeness.
Here's what we read in Romans 5, "We glory in tribulation, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope". God is teaching me. He's taking me to school, he's putting me in the classroom, so that through the persecution that I face or the pushback that I face, I learn what it means to be a man of God and stand strong when everyone else is bowing down to the wrong people. Suffering promotes character and it provokes courage. Courage is a hallmark of authentic Christianity because it reflects Christ's character in adverse circumstances. Suffering promotes character, it provokes courage, and it proves godliness.
A.W. Tozer once said, "To be right with God often means to be in trouble with man". Tozer said that when you are right with God, you will not always be popular with the other people but isn't it great to know that we don't have to do this alone, that we can stand together as God's people? And Paul put it this way. Paul said, "All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution". He doesn't say maybe, you might, or you could. He says, "All who live godly in Christ Jesus, all, A-L-L, all will suffer persecution". It's really a matter of simple logic. Why would the enemies of Christianity bother anyone who's not living godly in Christ Jesus?
And then the Bible says that suffering produces joy. When we realize the purpose and the blessing and the positive results of suffering persecution, it can become a source of real joy. How many of you know, when you're really living for the Lord Jesus Christ and somebody comes after you and tries to hurt you with their words, it hurts for a minute but then you walk away and you realize, "I got to stand with Jesus today. Got to stand with Jesus today," amen. And then suffering also helps you to look to the future because the Bible says there are special rewards for those who endure suffering. Let me read to you Romans 8, verse 18. Paul writes, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in all of us".
If you just could get a look of the future, makes all the rest of what goes on down here make sense, doesn't it? One of the things I love about the Bible is it's a book that was given to us to prepare us for life, prepare us for whatever's happening. So let me just give you a few thoughts about what to do when you began to feel the sting of persecution tugging at your heels. 1 Thessalonians chapter 3, verses 2 through 4, we read these words from Paul, "And we sent Timothy to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith, that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and now you know it". What is Paul saying? "We told you this was gonna happen. We prepared you for it". And there are certain decisions that you and I can make, certain steps we can take to advance and steel ourselves for the moment when the persecution comes.
Let's look at three things as we close. First of all, make a decision that you're gonna stand for the truth. Don't wait until you're in the crisis. Make the decision now. Get before the Lord and say, "Lord God, whatever it is that you send my way, I'm gonna stand with you. I'm gonna stand for your Word. I'm gonna stand for the truth". Second, you get support from one another. You know, the Bible tells us that Christianity is not supposed to be lived solo. Supposed to be lived in community. Hebrews says, "Don't forsake the assembling of yourselves together, as the manner of some is". That's where most people stop reading that verse. That's the great verse in the Bible for preachers to preach on to tell their people, "Get to church. Don't forsake yourselves of assembling together. Don't stay home and watch television, don't go play golf. Come to church".
I've heard the message, I've preached the message. But have you ever listened to the rest of that verse? Have you ever heard the reasoning behind it? And the time sequence that the writer of Hebrews puts in the middle of it? He says, "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some, but exhorting one another," or encouraging one another, now here's the last phrase, "and so much the more as you see the Day approaching". Let me break that out for you. Here's what the writer of Hebrews is saying. "Go to church". Absolutely. When you go to church encourage one another.
You ought to go to church every week with a word of encouragement just in the ready of your mind so that when you meet somebody you can encourage them, say hello to them, hug their neck. You go to church not only to hear the Word of God and worship but you go to church to encourage one another. And to bless one another. But then, notice what he says. And he says, "And you need to do that even more as you see the Day approaching". What day? The Day of the Lord, the Coming of Christ, the Rapture, the Tribulation. In other words, Paul says, "As you get closer and closer to the return of Christ, you ought to be going to church more and more and fellowshipping with God's people more and more".
And guess what we're doing? We're doing it less and less. I read all the statistics of church growth in our country and it's not very encouraging. Let me tell you, in order to sail through today's troubled waters, you need all hands on deck. The church needs you and you need the church. I wanna put in a plug for the church. I know I'm a pastor and I'm paid to say this. But you need to be in church. Every Friday for almost 30 years on my radio broadcast, before I say goodbye for the weekend, I tell all of you and you know it, "Go to church this weekend. Find a church where Christ is honored and his Word is taught and go to church. Don't use 'Turning Point' as your church. We're not your church". I even go so far as to say, "Don't send me your tithe. I don't want your tithe. Your tithe belongs to the church. You got anything left over, we'll take it," yeah.
Listen, God ordained the church for such a time as this. We need the church now more than we've ever needed it. And one of the things you can do when you're feeling pressure is find a church where you can get involved, be a steward of that church, be invested in that church with your life and your presence and then build into the lives of other people while they're building into your life. And you won't have to face this by yourself. You'll be able to draw on the courage that comes from one another. And then finally, don't just determine to stand for truth and draw support from one another. Derive your security from the Lord. The key to standing firm in times of persecution is to remember who we belong to and where we're going. We belong to Jesus Christ and he secures us in his hand and we need not fear danger to our reputations, our jobs, our finances, or even our lives.
Jesus said in Matthew 16, "Whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it". All the persecution that we experience, men and women, originates from Satan, the usurper who is temporarily the lord of the earth. That's why C.S. Lewis called the world an enemy-occupied territory. We're living in a world that's been controlled by the enemy and whenever we move into his territory and we bring light into darkness, oh, does there come pushback! Satan doesn't like us messing with his territory.
When Christians move into an area, they begin to evangelize and light begins to replace the darkness, spiritual warfare comes as fast as you can imagine. But listen to me now. Philippians 3:20 says, "Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body". Men and women, we are on the winning side. You know how I know that? I read the last chapter. And you did too, didn't you? When you read the last chapter, you find out what God is up to.