PERCEIVE Open your eyes to Christian persecution.

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1 Sermon Outline 1: PERCEIVE Open your eyes to Christian persecution. JOHN 15:18 25 If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: They hated me without a cause. KEY THOUGHT Persecution did not end with the early Church. It still happens today. In fact, for millions of Christians around the world, it s their daily reality. From intimidation to isolation, beatings, imprisonment and even death, they live with the ongoing threat of persecution and yet they choose to faithfully follow Jesus. A QUICK OVERVIEW Persecution isn t necessarily something we think about often. But it s incredibly real for believers all over the globe. The Pew Research Center estimates that as much as 75 percent of the world s population lives in regions with severe religious restrictions with many of those being Christians. And according to the United States Department of State, Christians face persecution from their neighbors or government in as many as 60 different countries simply because they claim Jesus as Lord. BREAKING IT DOWN Every 30 days Christians lose their life for their faith. 214 churches and Christian properties are damaged or destroyed. 772 violent acts are carried out against Christians. PERSECUTION ON THE RISE Christian persecution is more prevalent today than at any other time in the modern era. Open Doors releases an annual World Watch List (WWL), a ranking of the top 50 countries where Christians face the most severe persecution for their faith. (Visit OpenDoorsUSA.org/WWL to download the World Watch List Report.)

2 MAKING IT REAL STORIES AND VIDEOS Abdul* tensed as he heard the angry voices nearing his home in Central Asia. Suddenly, a group of young Muslims crashed through his door and began threatening him. If you don t renounce Christ, you ll regret it! they shouted. But Abdul refused: I might be kicked out of the village, I could be beaten, but Jesus went through it all. If my Lord faced persecution, who am I not to expect the same treatment? he said. (Visit opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/stories/tag-blog-post/central-asia-christianfaces-pressure-for-his-faith/ to read more about Abdul and his courage for Christ.) Helen endured imprisonment in a shipping container in Eritrea for her faith. Watch her compelling story: youtube.com/watch?v=ujcg1vedbjs/. OUR RESPONSE Jesus told His followers to expect persecution (John 15:20; 16:33). It s easy to hear about Christian persecution and feel afraid, but God did not give us a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7). It s also natural to want to put an end to the suffering of persecuted Christians. But the persecuted Church isn t asking for an end to their hardships. For them, persecution is normal. Instead, they pray for the strength to withstand it. These hardships produce believers with genuine faith. With so much on the line, there can be no halfway commitment to Jesus Christ. These believers are all in (Matthew 16:24). What we should do is pray with our brothers and sisters in Christ. TAKE ACTION Christian persecution is huge it s overwhelming. We can all too easily become desensitized to these statistics. That s why it s so crucial to stay engaged and informed. One way to do that is to visit OpenDoorsUSA.org. You can subscribe to stories about persecuted believers, sign up for weekly prayer alerts, find statistics from the World Watch List and download other resources. Before you walked in here today, think of what you thought you knew about Christian persecution. Did you realize it was so widespread? Think of three people who may not know about Christian persecution and share what you have learned. Send them to OpenDoorsUSA.org, too! * Representative names used for security reasons.

3 Sermon Outline 2: RECOGNIZE What does God have to say about persecution? 1 CORINTHIANS 12:12 13A, 26 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body Jews or Greeks, slaves or free If one member suffers, all suffer together. KEY THOUGHT Scripture makes it clear that God sees all believers as one Body one Church. There is no divide between persecuted and free followers of Christ. And, when one member suffers, all share in their suffering. A QUICK OVERVIEW Persecution still might feel like a foreign concept for many of us. After all, these believers who are suffering live halfway around the world. There s a good chance we ll never even meet them. So why should we care about the hardships they are facing? God s Word tells us why, as it shows us His heart for persecuted believers. He designed His Church to work together, united as one Body of believers. Those individuals who are hurting in Central Asia, in North Africa we are all part of the same Church. And when they are persecuted, we are called to share in their pain. When they lose their freedom, their jobs, their family members we grieve with them we grieve and we pray. FAMILY CHALLENGE What if those persecuted believers were your family members? What if it was your aunt, your brother or your mother sitting in a jail cell half a world away? Wouldn t you be doing everything possible to raise awareness of their plight asking everyone you know to join you in praying for them? The thing is, these individuals are your family members. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and they desperately need our prayers. SCRIPTURES ABOUT PERSECUTION We are called to be a voice to the voiceless (Psalm 82:3). We are told to remember those who are suffering (Hebrews 13:3). We are blessed when we are persecuted (Matthew 5:10 12). HOW GOD USES PERSECUTION In the midst of suffering, He gives us His strength (2 Corinthians 12:9 10). He uses persecution to open the door for the spread of the gospel (Philippians 1:12-14). He uses persecution to shape us into His likeness (Romans 5:3 5).

4 MAKING IT REAL STORIES AND VIDEOS Thank You, Lord, for Persecution Visit youtube.com/watch?v=7ei-6kezqis to watch a video Open Doors created about how God uses persecution for good. Share it with your church! TAKE ACTION As Christians give up everything for the cause of Christ, they are creating a ripple effect around them. Those watching their devotion to Jesus are amazed by their commitment and want to know, Who is this Jesus? And why is He worth this suffering? The gospel is spreading as a result of their all-in faith. This week, use each day as an opportunity to create a ripple effect for Christ. How might you live differently?

5 Sermon Outline 3: ACKNOWLEDGE What does Christian persecution have to do with me? HEBREWS 13:3 Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. KEY THOUGHT We are one with our brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering. God calls us to stand with them. Christian persecution has everything to do with us because we are followers of Jesus. A QUICK OVERVIEW It s challenging to maintain a sense of urgency when it comes to praying for persecuted believers around the world. In fact, it can be all too easy to slide back into our comfortable lives where the greatest persecution we face is a weird look or two for the fish sticker on the back of our car. But these individuals are real, and so is the suffering they face every day. Remember, Scripture makes it plain that we re to stand with them (Psalm 82:3, Hebrews 13:3). If we claim Jesus as our Lord, that means we are part of the Body of Christ. And He designed the members of that Body to care for each other. WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM THE PERSECUTED CHURCH Persecuted believers have had to count the cost of following Jesus. They know they could lose everything for their faith and yet they choose to live for Christ each day (Philippians 1:21). That kind of faith is irresistible to those around them. We can learn from their example letting their courage bolster our own as we live boldly for Jesus. WHAT THE PERSECUTED CHURCH NEEDS What do you think is the number one request from persecuted believers? It s not for safety, supplies or even financial support. It s prayer. They recognize the power of prayer and need us to stand with them faithfully bringing them before the Lord as they face hardships. CAN I REALLY MAKE A DIFFERENCE? The short answer? Yes! Christian persecution is widespread and can easily become overwhelming. But let s reframe it for a moment: As many as 100 million Christians are facing or under the threat of persecution for their faith. 125 million Americans say they attend church every week. What if we all stood with our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ?

6 This very moment, Open Doors is working with persecuted believers on the ground, providing encouragement and support for these individuals. Open Doors is: Distributing Bibles and other Christian materials. Rebuilding communities that have been damaged or destroyed. Offering relief to refugees and their families. Providing safe houses for Christians who are in danger. Changing lives. We can be part of the impact Open Doors is making on the ground. MAKING IT REAL STORIES AND VIDEOS Amir ISIS Refugee Visit youtube.com/watch?v=uftsfvkmysu to see how an Open Doors microloan changed the lives of Amir and his family. This is what making a difference looks like! Changing Lives Through Literacy Rhea and Mehak s joy was contagious their laughter and tears affected everyone in the room. Those who were watching knew they were witnessing something monumental. The reason? The sisters had learned to use pencils, a seemingly small feat for teenagers, but one that marked a major milestone in their pursuit of literacy. And literacy opens doors, not only to better opportunities, but also to something of infinitely greater value the Word of God. Read more about how Open Doors is partnering with organizations in Pakistan to change lives through literacy and job skills training. This is another great example of what it looks like when individuals partner with Open Doors to make a difference! TAKE ACTION Think about the things that make your daily checklist maybe it s morning coffee, going to work and taking the kids to school. Thinking about persecution likely doesn t land on that list. It s easy to lose sight of those suffering around the world when you re in the thick of your weekday routine. Take a post-it note or a 3x5 card and write, Persecuted Believers on it. Stick it in your car, put it on your desk at work, on your bathroom mirror wherever you will see it often. Commit to praying for those who are suffering for their faith whenever you see it. (You can also visit OpenDoorsUSA.org/Pray to subscribe for weekly prayer alerts.)

7 Sermon Outline 4: YIELD Be still and pray for God s plan for you. PSALM 46:10 Be still, and know that I am God. KEY THOUGHT God calls us to quiet ourselves in His presence, to surrender to Him. This act of slowing down allows us to set our hearts and minds on Christ, to take on a posture of humility as we listen to His voice and consider how He would have us respond to Christian persecution. A QUICK OVERVIEW Waiting on God A key part of yielding to the Lord is waiting on His timing. However frustrating it may be at times, waiting is our way of trusting that He is ultimately in control and that His timing is perfect. We see this echoed throughout Scripture as well: Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield (Psalm 33:20). For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation (Psalm 62:1). But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles (Isaiah 40:31). The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him (Lamentations 3:25). God also uses waiting to shape us into His likeness into people who reflect His character. A HEART OF SURRENDER Surrender should be passive in that you are no longer spinning your wheels to see your own agenda accomplished. However, it should also be active when we surrender, we surrender to God s plan. Your energies are now directed toward seeing God s will carried out in your own life and in others lives as well. Thousands of Christians have taken up this heart of surrender for the persecuted Church, working with organizations like Open Doors to see these believers strengthened and encouraged. They re having a ripple effect of their own. They are gaining courage to share their faith as they watch the lives of their persecuted brothers and sisters. In turn, their neighbors, friends and family members are giving their lives to Jesus. JUST ONE PLAN An Egyptian Christian shared about his dependence on the Lord: You Americans have plans A through Z. We only have one plan, and that is for God to show up. If He doesn t, we are out of luck.

8 We live in a world of backup plans and contingencies so much so that we often leave God out of our planning and our days altogether. Persecuted believers rely on God in a very real and tangible way. They trust Him for everything because He is all they have. MAKING IT REAL STORIES AND VIDEOS Trusting God for Everything Esther lost her husband to a violent attack from Boko Haram in Nigeria. Left to care for six children alone, she prays every day for God s provision. One day, she had nothing to feed her children, so she asked God for food. The moment she finished her prayer, there was a knock at the door. An old friend of her husband s was standing there with a basket of food, even though no one had told him she needed it. God has used His followers to provide for my family in the most unexpected ways, she said. TAKE ACTION We talked about surrender being an active concept. Instead of trying to forward our own agenda, we now focus our energies on seeing God s plans carried out. What do you think God might be calling you to actively surrender to when it comes to helping the persecuted Church? Take a step of faith toward that this week. (If you need ideas for how you might be able to partner with our brothers and sisters suffering for their faith, visit OpenDoorsUSA.org/TakeAction.)

9 Sermon Outline 5: ENCOURAGE How you can stand with your brothers and sisters in Christ. HEBREWS 10:24 25 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. KEY THOUGHT As part of one Body of believers, God calls us to encourage our brothers and sisters who are suffering for the cause of Christ. A QUICK OVERVIEW One of the ways we live out our faith is by helping our fellow believers. God specifically designed the Church to be a support and encouragement to its members. It might be tempting to simply soak up that encouragement without offering any yourself. After all, you re just one person. Can you really make much difference in the life of a persecuted brother or sister on the other side of the world? Think about what happens when a pebble hits the surface of a pond. You see ripples floating across the entire surface, right? Something (or someone) very small can have a huge impact. This is true of Open Doors, too! Brother Andrew started the organization by himself in Today, Open Doors works with persecuted Christians in more than 60 countries! Too often, when we look at a problem, we feel we have to fix the entire situation. Once we realize that s impossible, we quickly give up, thinking it s not even worth trying. That attitude couldn t be more wrong. Don t give up on the persecuted Church. They need your encouragement! HOW TO HELP Stay informed. The best way to offer timely and helpful encouragement is to understand what your brothers and sisters are facing. (Head to OpenDoorsUSA.org/Stories for the latest stories of persecution around the world.) Pray. Time and time again, persecuted Christians request prayer more than anything else. They gain so much encouragement from knowing other believers are bringing them before the Lord. (Find prayer requests from persecuted believers at OpenDoorsUSA.org/Pray.) Write a letter. Can you imagine how encouraging it would be to receive a letter from another Christian who has been praying for you? It s a wonderful reminder to our brothers and sisters that they are not alone and are not forgotten. (Find a list of persecuted Christians you can write to, plus helpful writing guidelines at OpenDoorsUSA.org/Letters.)

10 When individuals take a step of faith and trust that God can use their small act of encouragement to make a difference in the life of a persecuted believer, something amazing happens. Not only does the Christian suffering for their faith receive support, but the person extending the encouragement is blessed as well. MAKING IT REAL STORIES AND VIDEOS Encouraging Brothers and Sisters Hear from a group of men and women who visited Iraq to encourage and support the believers in that war-torn nation: youtube.com/watch?v=3alitrttvvi/. LETTER WRITING Learn more about how writing a letter to a persecuted believer can make a difference in their life: youtube.com/watch?v=i1l4z0t5x_8. TAKE ACTION We serve the Almighty God. And He calls us to encourage our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. We can trust Him to use our seemingly small contributions to make a big impact in these believers lives. This week, grab a small rock from your yard or driveway and hold onto it. Carry it with you as you go about your days to remind you that God can use small things (and people) to create ripples across an entire pond. Then, commit to using one of the ways listed above to encourage those suffering for the cause of Christ.

11 Sermon Outline 6: RESPOND Apply your unique talents and passion to impact God s Kingdom. EPHESIANS 2:10 For we are God s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. KEY THOUGHT God wired us with our own unique passions and skills they re part of what makes us who we are. We can best respond to God s call to stand with the persecuted Church when we do it in a way that aligns with our natural giftings. A QUICK OVERVIEW You won t find another religion that includes such close fellowship amongst its believers as Christianity. God was serious when He placed us in community and said His Church was the Body of Christ. When we live out our call as believers to care for, pray for and encourage one another, He gets the glory, others are drawn to Jesus and we find ourselves growing in our own faith and relationship with Christ. As you think about how to respond to everything you ve learned about Christian persecution, take a pulse check. Be sure you aren t responding out of duty or obligation. Instead, if you sense God calling in a certain direction, listen to His prompting. TELL THEIR STORIES You ve heard and seen stories of incredible courage and perseverance from persecuted Christians all over the world. If you stand with them in no other way, tell their stories. Think back to those misconceptions you might have had about persecution before we started this series. How many people around you need to hear the truth about our brothers and sisters suffering for their faith? IDENTIFYING YOUR ROLE Open Doors recognizes that there s no one size fits all approach to responding to Christian persecution. That s why they have created a number of opportunities to partner with the work they are doing around the world. From sharing key content and stories from Open Doors on social media to praying with those who are suffering, donating resources or volunteering time, you can find the role that best fits your God-given talents. Head to OpenDoorsUSA.org/TakeAction for more information. MAKING IT REAL STORIES AND VIDEOS Watch this great reminder to pray with the persecuted Church, not for them: youtube.com/ watch?v=yzfmu1t_878/.

12 Threatened with death, Pastor Murat responded with Christ s love. What resulted is unbelievable watch his story: youtube.com/watch?v=ywskizh1gli/. TAKE ACTION You don t have to solve every challenge related to the persecuted Church. God isn t asking you to. But He has called you to not turn a blind eye to stand with your brothers and sisters who are suffering. Find the role at OpenDoorsUSA.org/TakeAction that best fits how God has uniquely designed you. Take the next step towards fulfilling that role this week!

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