Today I would like to draw a clear distinction between suffering for Christ and suffering as a sinful human.  To suffer as a christian, is to suffer in the way of the cross, as you faithfully follow Christ's leading in your life. 


All true believers who have taken up their cross and followed the Savior of their souls, will be led into the valley of the shadow of death. From the perspective of the Word, the Father desires for all of His children is for them to imitate Our Lord by walking with Him and studying His life and incorporating His virtue into their actual every day life.


Our Lord’s Prayer to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane was to have His disciples come into full fellowship with the Father and with Him. To make his followers “perfect” by the way that they handle and endure and suffering.


All political, personal, physical, emotional, any and all backup plans of self-protection must be jettisoned in order for us to proceed forward in the way of the cross and to walk straight into the plight of, “suffering as a christian.”


In America today you will have to search long and hard to find folks who have truly counted all their earthly possessions, influence, and comforts as rubbish so that they might gain Christ.  Obedience to God has always been costly.  In first century Palestine, true Jesus followers eventually were thrown to the lions, entire families were put to death just because they did not count their lives more valuable than attaining the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ.  


Unashamedly they placed all their trust in Jesus and His Father's infinite love and mercy.  Today we face tremendous challenges as a family, why?  Because I said “yes” to Christ and “no” to this world.  After our move to NC in May of 2005, our family was moving into the best financial times of our lives in 2005 and 2006.  We moved from New Jersey to North Carolina based on a heavenly directive.  In spite of personal and business opposition, we moved our family of 5 children to a place where we knew no one; here we claimed Christ as our Guide and we simply followed Him.   


The Lord blessed our obedience with financial prosperity the first two years we lived in Pilot Mtn, NC.  We instinctively knew, because of the calling on our lives, that we were to invest this money into the work of spreading the gospel in our area.  We laid the money at His feet and invested tens of thousands of dollars into the establishment of His kingdom here in Pilot Mtn.  


Personally I had to work long hours to finish the projects that would fund the build out of Livin Lattes first location in downtown Pilot Mtn.  In Aug of 2006 we started a church plant out of our cafe.  This effort was opposed by our neighbors with nothing more than empty gossip.  Then after about a year, we decided to offer more youth-oriented modern music and we offered food to draw more people into our establishment.  We did so in a spirit of much prayer, deliberation, and dependency upon Christ.  We saw more folks come in and learn about the way of Christ, but few chose to follow Christ in the way that we presented Him in His Word.  


The enemy was allowed, by God, to come against us and to fight our positive light in downtown Pilot Mtn.  We know that our way was contrary to the way of the people who have lived here for decades.  We felt and still feel strongly that their children are in desperate need of a dose of truth and godly living.  We offered this way unashamedly and we still have many young people who know more about Jesus because we took this risk. Now we stand at a crossroads with our ministry.  We are technically dead financially.  We are out of ideas and out of ways to work with local people to make this gospel work happen here in Pilot Mtn. 


Those projects and opportunities God brought our way slowed and eventually ended, as more time commitment was required to run our retail business and ministry.  I knew that I was losing projects because my competitors were stepping up their rhetoric of why they were the better choice than some radical Jesus dude who just moved to NC from of all places, “New Jersey!”  The way of the cross is unavoidable when we submit to Christ and His leading.


What has driven us to see the true state of the church in our area and we believe is a snapshot of the state of christianity in the country.  We are confident should others lovers of Jesus seek to go outside their comfort zone and preach Jesus without compromise, they too will suffer the same plight as christians.


Hunger for truth and godliness is at an all-time low.  Wannabe or pretend christianity is readily available, but those who sense the urgency and are willing to do “whatever” are at historical lows in our time.  We understand that the Lord of the harvest must raise up workers and send them into His field, this is our constant cry!  We are not the keepers of the field, God is, but we are called to be harvesters in His field, when it’s time to plant we must plant.


When we first moved to NC, projects came at me and I was able to win many profitable projects by God's grace.  Profits were gained and they were invested in the Kingdom of God.  My assumption was God would pour more money into our account as He had in 2005 & 2006, I thought this because we were more focused than ever to publicly proclaim Jesus Christ and Him crucified.    


The Lord did not abandon me, but He did warn me that trouble was coming.  I had a dream and a vision of a cross that was specifically fitted for my shoulders.  In actuality a real cross was placed next to our cafe that fit me exactly and I didn't even place it in the ground, this would emphasize to me that I would die in Pilot Mtn. (my flesh).  As scary as these visions and dreams were, I knew that their claim on my life and the future implications they alluded to were unavoidable.


In Mt. 16:24-26 Jesus holds nothing back from His disciples by saying to them,


“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.  For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?  Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”


I will tell those of you who take the time to read the things that I write, you cannot associate with Christ's words in Mt. 16:24-26 until you actually go through christian suffering.  So many of us suffer things common to man, but show me that man who suffers just because he said, “I will follow You wherever you lead me,”  and I will show you a person that has suffered for reasons associated directly by being a christian.


For many of our fellow believers around the world, the decision to follow Christ is met with certain trouble.  Persecution in the form of job losses, jail time, beatings, loss of family connections, public accusation, torture, mental and emotional abuse, estrangement from all human contact, and death.  Day one of their profession of faith and association with the body of Christ, they must face these challenges head on.  They know that trouble and hardship are coming!  They make an honest assessment between living in comfort or risking all to follow Christ.  By doing so, they save their soul and their eternal life simply by releasing themselves to the claim of Christ's authority over their lives as Jesus clearly told all us in Mt. 16:24-26.


Later on, after the church was inaugurated, the writer to the Hebrews wrote,


“you endured a great struggle with sufferings:  partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven.  Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward.”   Heb. 10:32b-35


Believers in Israel, Iran, Pakistan, China, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, even Europe are treated like scum of the earth in the earliest days of their public profession of faith in Jesus Christ.  In America, folks who follow Jesus are told that Jesus is the pill to fix all their problems, what hogwash we are selling the real sheep of God!


Be assured that we will be judged for scheming up ways to take the cross from the call of Christ!  I believe with all my heart that the days of tepid christian living in America are over.  You and I will see in our lifetime the great delusion associated with the deception of the end of the age.  This most certain deception will lure many weak believers or aid in the Heavenly defining of the wheat from the chaff.


The days of impressive oratory and TV personalities are over, the days of simple encouragement are upon us!  The typical property preacher we watch on TV can and will be easily corrupted in the times of the strong delusion.  They and all those who are not preparing their minds and hearts to suffer will be open to do whatever the authorities dictate.  They will say only what the government will allows just to stay in the place of authority and comfort.  In the days fast approaching, declaring openly homosexuality and other forms of sexual promiscuity as sin will meet with great resistance.  


Trendy words of secular psychology and new age mind games will fade more and more from those who claim to be part of Bride of Christ, only strong Holy spirit-wrought words of godly council will raise up the broken and the downcast of our time. 


When we read carefully the epistles of Paul are we blown away by their literary style or are you overwhelmed with the truth contained within his spiritual expression of God's will for us?  The more I read the writings of Paul, the more I sense the unlimited depth of his words to me in my personal struggle to continue to war with the spiritual foes wrestling against Christ's will for me and for all men, repent or die.  Paul's words are heavenly and deep.  In Phil. 3:10 Paul has encouraged me so many times when I was on the verge of giving up by speaking these words to my broken heart, “that I may know Him and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.”  Instead of analyzing Paul's writings from the standpoint of arguing points of doctrine; his words have been effectual in healing my broken soul.


Notice the words of another great leader in the early church, the apostle Peter in his first epistle encouraged fellow sufferers with these words, 


“Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His is glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.  If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.  On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.  But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people's matters.  Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter, for the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God...”  I Pet. 4:12-17a 


Can the word of God be any clearer?  Suffering as a Christian is a glorious and special calling.  Many are called but few and chosen to walk this path in the way of God's call on our lives.  We are being instructed by Peter to be overjoyed when peril and trouble come our way as christians, because in a very special way, we have been called to do so for His glory.  In turn, we must prepare our minds to endure hardship as a good soldier to survive the days to come.  


We must go further with Christ, our flesh will only take us so far in our attempt to keep us with Christ.  Jesus wants us to go much further in our ability to handle the suffering that is sure to come upon us as soldiers of the cross!  We are not our own, but we have been redeemed by the precious blood of the Lamb of God!  


Now I will retreat back to my initial comparison of human suffering to christian suffering.  I am not saying that sickness, childlessness, loneliness, abandonment, murders, thievery, malicious gossip, shunning of peers, and any and all other forms of human suffering are not brought into our lives at random, but they are common to man.  What I am saying is that there is a distinction between suffering specifically as a christian and those sufferings you and I face and endure just because we live on this planet.


The stories of folks who live in our country who have endured cancer and then were miraculously healed by the power of God, usually they will start a ministry of healing others by the same power that released their bodies from the force of death, to the glory of God's grace!  Just as those who suffer much physical and emotional abuse as children who are delivered by the powerful hand of God; they will go on and minister to the others who suffer the same afflictions, for the glory of Christ's healing power.


I also note those who live in horrible circumstances, who live in poverty, and those who were abandoned by parents, who were by God's amazing grace saved by the mighty hand of Christ; these will shine as beacons of light as freemen and women who have been delivered by His Sovereign Grace.  


Compare the way of those slaughtered as believers under repressive evil dictators with those who die as christians from cancer and sickness in his body.  Do you see the difference?  Paul's head was lopped off, Peter was crucified upside-down, the Apostle John died of natural old age but had to endure being dipped in a boiling hot caldron of oil and left for dead, many others were burned at the stake, and still some others were left to rot in jail and met untimely death from the mouth of lions.  Epic tales are written of them in Fox's book of martyrs.  


The gospel only advances in times of deadness when men preach authoritatively to Christ-hating regimes, in turn, these authorities whether in the church or in government, oppress this anointed spirit-empowered preaching by a human force under the control of Satan.  They try in the physical realm to snuff out our voices, but they lose every time they take the life of one of Christ's precious ones.  A glorious crown awaits all those who die as martyrs for Christ.  


What I am presenting to you today is another way to view “suffering” in the way of being a christian.  The days are coming when we will see public execution of believers in our country, mark my words, these days are coming soon.  My personal christian suffering reveals to me, that we are fighting a powerful force that has license to kill and maim God's people.  


We must open our spiritual eyes when we read the scriptures.  We must prepare ourselves and our brothers and sisters living in this land with the right attitude.  I say all these words with this final qualification, until you and I actually go through these hard circumstances, we really can't comprehend or understand what it means to walk in this very exclusive way.


For most of my life I have seen suffering that is common to man.  I have not had the privilege to live in China or Pakistan to see firsthand what it takes to suffer as a believer in Jesus.  But over the last several years I have learned that I am suffering as a christian, just because I surrendered my life and way to Jesus Christ many years ago.


In the last days we are told in the book of Revelation 18:24 that the streets of Babylon will run with the blood of all the prophets and saints left on the earth to bear witness of Jesus authority as True King of the earth realm. While the theologians argue over the identity of these martyrs, we know that some humans who feel fear and who struggle with their faith, will be called to lay their lives down, by doing so, they will usher in the return of the King of Jerusalem.


Jesus has promised to build His kingdom with the blood of martyrs; those who publicly witness of His great power and authority over all kingdoms and principalities.  Let us not forget that today as we face our hardships as fellow cross-bearers with Christ and the saints of yester year and those to come in the days that lie ahead.


Many blessings,