Prepared for Persecution
To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.
-Revelation 2:8-11

It’s been said that American evangelicals have a persecution complex, that we are hyper-sensitive to even the smallest slight against our religious beliefs. The accusation is that we are quick to claim that we are being persecuted, even in relatively mundane situations where no violence has occurred. For example, we often equate dismissive comments by atheist professors with persecution, but is it? Granted, the power structure and knowledge differential between teacher and student is significant, and dismissive or incendiary comments from the person at the top of that structure carry a special weight, but we shouldn’t see this as persecution. We tend to view any opposition to our faith as the persecution of the righteous, but maybe we aren’t always being opposed by people because our love for Christ and Christlike behavior are so evident to them. Maybe we’re opposed and “persecuted” because we’re being jerks — because, all too often, we actually fail to be like Christ. We need to be careful with the word persecution.


American Christians are far more likely to be seduced away from the faith than intimidated or oppressed out of it.

Real persecution is a program to exterminate a group of people because of their religious or ethnic identity. It involves violence (though it is not always murderous), oppression, and subjugation. In the case of religious persecution, the goal is for the religious person to renounce his beliefs and adopt whatever beliefs his persecutors think he should have. If the believer refuses to recant, then the penalty is either death or imprisonment. Persecutors operate with the power and permission of the state (or, at least, enact their violence while the state looks the other way) because the aim of persecution is the extermination of a particular group or belief. Many Christians around the world are experiencing this right now, perhaps more than ever before. You can learn more about what the violence and oppression that our brothers and sisters in Christ are experiencing today at The Voice of the Martyrs.

Understanding the Times

Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John all told us that we should expect to suffer for our faith, but not all suffering is equal. It dishonors the real suffering and martyrdom of these saints when we call what we experience in America persecution. The devil and the world have many ways to achieve their goal of seeing Christians renounce their faith. Sometimes they use violence. Other times they use intimidation or opposition. Other times they use seduction. American Christians are far more likely to be seduced away from the faith than intimidated or oppressed out of it.

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stronghold

Over the past couple of years I’ve been learning a lot about the spiritual realm, that place within creation that is inhabited by spiritual beings. Of course, we humans live in the physical realm, the creation of which is described in Genesis 1, but we are unique among physical creatures because we have a spiritual element — something that we have come to call a spirit. (We’re so creative!) The Bible tells us that, because of this, we have a certain amount of access to the spiritual world. In fact, it seems as though God’s plan was, and still is, for humans to be the link between, and even the rulers of, a new, combined spiritual and physical universe. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, I strongly recommend you check out the work of Dr. Michael Heiser. You can read my review of his book The Unseen Realm here.


A spiritual stronghold is a mental or emotional space controlled by our spiritual enemy.

Not all of the spiritual beings liked God’s plan to make human beings the rulers of both realms (ruling alongside God himself, of course), and so they sought to corrupt humans. I think that these spiritual beings wanted to both prove our unworthiness for the role, while at the same time showing how strong, wise, and qualified they were to rule the universe. Regardless of their intentions, their plan succeeded, and we have all lived in what the Bible calls sin ever since. Humans are in an interesting position here, because we are both actors in a spiritual war and the objects of that war. We are both soldiers and the battleground, and because of this sin, we don’t fight on the side of the good guys nearly often enough. Fortunately for us, God has fought back against these dark spiritual beings to redeem and reclaim us, which is what the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus were all about. Now that these forces of evil know that God will ultimately win, their goal is to bring as many of us into their condemnation as possible.

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First Love
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
-Revelation 2:1-7

Do you remember when you first became a Christian? Or, if you’re like me and were raised in a Christian home, can you recall that time in your life when you made the faith your own? For many of us, those are the moments of the birth of new life in our souls, of freshness and forgiveness, of a passionate love for Jesus burning in our hearts. It’s the moment of first love, when God reveals himself to us with grace and clarity, and we finally understand how deeply loved we are by our Creator — that is when our love for God explodes out of our hearts and flows out into the world around us through our words and actions. We love God so much that we just can’t hide it!

Let’s be honest: It’s hard to stay in that place. It’s difficult to maintain that level of passion and emotion over the course of our lives. I told Jesus this in prayer the other day. I said, “Look, it’s hard to love you when you’re not physically present on the earth. I don’t mean that you’re hard to love, because your character and the things you’ve done for me — how can I not love you? I’m just saying that it’s difficult to maintain this love in your absence.” I’m not trying to make excuses for myself, I’m just trying to guilt Jesus into returning right now! (It’s not working.) I recognize that I was speaking purely from an emotional level (frustration, disappointment) in that prayer, and that Jesus’s absence is no excuse to not be present to the passion of our love for him. After all, he has given us the Holy Spirit to be with us, and he is always urging us back to our first love.

But the world tends to distract us from our love for Jesus. The tedium and monotony of our daily routines, the triviality of consumerism, and the banality of entertainment have a way of dulling the senses — especially our deepest feelings for our Savior. The more that our love for God is at the surface of our souls and not buried beneath the anxieties and distractions of modern life, the more we will feel a passionate love for him. I am not as passionate about God when I spend a lot of time on my phone. There’s something about that screen that can pull me away from the One I’m supposed to feel most passionately about. Love isn’t a feeling, of course, but we do feel love. We have an emotional response to love and our presence to it, and the more in touch with that love we are, the more we will feel it on an emotional level. Love is like heat, and the closer we get to it the more it triggers our spiritual senses.


Love is like heat, and the closer we get to it the more it triggers our spiritual senses.

What Jesus is after from the Church in Ephesus, and from us, is that they become present to the passion of their love for him. It’s not that they don’t love; it’s that they have grown cold to love. Their souls have become distant from their first love, and a great chasm of fear and rule-keeping has opened up between them and Jesus. They didn’t fall off the path, necessarily, they just forgot why they were walking on it and who they were following.

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sexual revolution and christianity

One of the most remarkable things about human beings is our ability to think. We can think about ourselves, other people, or our environment. We can ponder abstract concepts like love or justice. We can imagine things that don’t exist and create whole new worlds in our minds. We can investigate the space around us, discover facts, do math. We can think of ways to accomplish tasks more safely and efficiently, and then we can create the machines that help us to achieve those goals. The human brain is the most incredible object in all of creation, and the fact that you’re now thinking about the thing that does your thinking proves the point!

Ideas are powerful things that shape both ourselves and our world. Sometime around 2008 somebody had an idea for a smart phone, and now the world has been changed forever. We could say the same thing about microprocessors, airplanes, automobiles, birth control, guns, toilets, printing presses – this list could go on forever. But ideas that shape the world don’t always take concrete forms. Sometimes an idea stays an idea, like a philosophy or a worldview, shaping the world by spreading from the mind of one person to the next. A culture is transformed by the behavior of people, and people’s actions are influenced by their thoughts. There’s nothing more powerful than an idea. Think about what we find right in the beginning of Scripture: The idea that humans are created in the image of God. This idea has had as profound an impact for good in this world as any other idea ever thought up!

Jesus People are Idea People

In significant ways, followers of Jesus are idea-people. The Gospel isn’t simply an idea, of course, but rather a message about things that happened in a real place at a real time — that Christ was crucified, that he died and was buried, and that he rose again on the third day. This is more than an idea; it’s a fact of history that can reasonably be proven to be true. But there are many ideas that flow from this message: God loves humanity; God is Trinity; We are saved by grace through faith; We don’t have to fear death and can have hope for a resurrection; We should love others just as God has loved us. The ideas that the Gospel reveals form the heart and soul of the Christian faith. We lose those precious ideas if we change or compromise the message of the Gospel. We all know that nature hates a vacuum, so we need to be aware of new ideas that will replace the old ones. If we lose the Gospel, what ideas will we come to believe? And how will those beliefs shape our words, actions, and desires? If we lose the Gospel, will we become more like Jesus, or less like Him?

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The Identitarian Epoch

For a long time it seemed that we were living in The Technological Age, a time of progress and promise for the human race made possible by significant advancements in science and technology. Scientific preeminence and technological innovation were going to deliver humanity into its long sought utopia where, because of the development of medical treatments through the free exercise of scientific inquiry, there would be no more death, disease, or pain. In a similar vein, internet communication and digital capitalism would allow us to connect with others over vast distances, while simultaneously fulfilling our every desire — whether material, sexual, or existential — so that there will no longer be any mourning or crying or sadness in the human experience. At long last, in The Technological Utopia, the old order of things will have passed away, and all things shall have become new. The Technological Age was creating the world as it should be, the final destination of mankind’s long and bloody journey into civilization.

We are no longer living in The Technological Age. The utopian claims of science and technology were always dubious, but we should not be surprised that they failed to deliver on their promises. Such utopianism should always be treated with great skepticism. Rather, the twist in the plot is that The Technological Age has resurrected an old monster, one that perhaps never truly died, but had at least been cast into the sea. This monster, running like a viral parasite through the same fibers that were meant to unite humanity, has now arisen in a form far greater than we could have ever imagined, leaving us all dumbfounded in awe, wonder, and terror. This monster has swallowed up The Technological Age, crushing the advancements of science and Enlightenment understanding in its iron jaws. It is a voracious beast with endless appetite, filled with bluster and rage and fire. The Technological Age is dead. We are living in what it has created, and by what it was killed: The Identitarian Epoch.

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