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Suffering and Growing

The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name [of Jesus]…. In those days…the number of disciples was increasing. –Acts 5:41, 6:1

“this century [the 20th],…has produced more martyrs than all other centuries combined.” – Philip Yancey

 Recently, as I was looking to update for our church newsletter something I once wrote, I went to the website of the World Methodist Council.  This headline caught my attention: “General Conference in Fiji to Begin Wednesday.” When I read the news report and some background I found out that the government had not allowed the Methodists to meet for four years.  This year they have been given permission to meet under some very strict rules.

Tensions between the MethodistChurch in Fiji and the government erupted in May 2009 when the rulers of the nation took steps to ban the annual conference, cancelled weekly radio programs associated with the church and even arrested nine Methodist leaders…. Police Commissioner Brigadier General Ioane Naivalurua has warned there may be a police presence to ensure attendees do not stray off topic from a pre-approved agenda.

This kind of experience is not an unfamiliar one in church history.  Christians have often faced great personal and corporate obstacles to their journey with Jesus.

            Some years ago Susan Bergman published a book entitled Martyrs: Contemporary Writers on Modern Lives of Faith.  It is stories of those 20th Century Christians all over the world who have sacrificed their lives in witness to Jesus Christ.  In the reviews of the book, Philip Yancey says, “this century,…has produced more martyrs than all other centuries combined.”  The 21st century may well pass that.  Richard Wurmbrand, who spent 14 years in prison for his faith, says that a third of the Christian church today must operate in secrecy, under the threat of extermination.

In our own denomination, depending on your source, there are now estimated to be as many as 70 million Methodists in the world.  In the last generation some areas of the world have shown staggering increases while others have declined.  What is thought provoking is that the growth areas almost always correspond to those areas of the world where it is costly to be a Christian and the declining areas are where Christians enjoy privilege and comfort.  For instance in a 30 year period;  Methodism in Africa grew by 178%;  Asia 319%;  in the Pacific 158%; and in Latin America 583 % (source World Methodist Council).

In those same years churches in both Europe and the United States were in decline.

Even where the church is declining, there are exceptions, individual congregations which defy the pattern and grow.  Again almost without fail, those churches are where the cost of being a disciple is made real in some way.

The evidence is clear.  History has demonstrated over and over that Christianity thrives on hardship.  The reason is clear.  Discipleship, Jesus said, is the way of the cross.  It is costly to be a follower of Christ.  When we try to make it easy for people to be Christians, we distort the Gospel and at best, it survives sterile and unproductive, or it dies.

For those willing to take the costly way of the cross there is a life of joy and power.

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