Heirloom Love author Dominic Sputo was keynote speaker at IRD’s Global Summit on Christian Persecution May 10 on Capitol Hill. We’ve published his lunchtime address here in order to more widely share a dynamic personal testimony: how a deathbed phone call and an unexpected healing led Sputo to a study of scripture prompting him to reexamine how – and why – Christians give.
It’s an honor to be here. Thank you everyone for joining us. And thank you IRD for hosting this event. You are a beacon in the good fight to uphold the name of Jesus through the witness of the church.
When Faith and Chelsen asked me to share with you the Biblical mandate to care for the persecuted, they said that I could talk only until you to finish your lunch. What were they thinking? I’m from the south. We talk slow. I’m lucky if I can say “just do it” before you finish your sandwich, so please chew slowly.
Twenty-five years ago the Lord put it into my heart to be a voice for the persecuted. But I’ve made so many mistakes along the way including trying to run-away from God like Jonah, that it’s a miracle I’m here. Today I’d like to share with you what I learned from the biggest mistake that I’ve ever made. It started when I was a new Christian and reading the final instructions that Jesus gave us the night before He was crucified. That’s when He said, love one another just as I loved you.
It haunted me that He didn’t say it just once, or twice or even three times. He said it four times that night! It’s as if He’s saying to us – to you and me, “if you don’t do anything else, make sure that you love one another!”
I was so taken by Jesus command to love our brothers and sisters that I vowed to use my income to help them. But, then the Lord blessed me to start a software company with some friends. The Lord gave us the right product at the right time and within two years our company went public on Nasdaq and I conveniently forgot my vow. Oh, I gave 10% to my church and another 10% to charity probably just to silence my conscience because I turned my back on those who I vowed to help.
One of the first things that I did was build a waterfront house that was five times larger than the home we were living in when I made the vow. My wife Debbie, who is here with me didn’t want a large house, but I didn’t listen to her and went ahead with building it anyway. That was the second biggest mistake that I ever made!
Shortly after we moved into our new home, I was bitten by a tick while on a church camping trip. I was infected with an aggressive strain of lyme disease that didn’t respond to antibiotics and my health declined rapidly. The lyme caused severe arthritis that made it hard to get out of bed and very difficult just to walk from one side of the big house to the other.
The lyme parasites were literally eating me alive. Within a year my bones were sticking out and I weighed 50 pounds less than I do now. It also affected my brain in a way that made it difficult to complete my sentences. I had liver complications and candida from excessive antibiotics. I had green fungus growing in my nails. And if I didn’t look pitiful enough already, I had red bumps the size of pencil erasers growing on my head and neck. I was quite a site.
Shortly after I became sick, the Lord revealed to me that he was disciplining me for my unfaithfulness with His money. I may be a slow learner, but this time I repented quickly!
After 18 months my Debbie and I were losing hope. My earthly days seemed to be coming to an end. There was nothing else the doctors could do for me. I was off of all medications and I was still losing sometimes as much as ¼ to ½ pound per day.
Then I received a phone call from a friend in church. He said the Lord told him to tell me that He was going to heal me. At that moment, on the phone, the Lord healed me. All the Lyme disease symptoms immediately left my body. My brain and speech were restored. The arthritis was gone. The green fungus disappeared. Even the red bumps were gone! The Lord have me a second chance!
Money: A Biblical Perspective
After the Lord healed me I felt compelled to create a plan for how to use the Lord’s money. I started by studying what the bible says about money. I counted 426 verses in the New Testament that are meant to direct our giving. They’re all listed in the book, Heirloom Love.
281 of the verses, two-thirds of the verses, are specifically related to helping poor, persecuted Christians. I was surprised to learn that helping suffering fellow Christians is the primary reason for Christian giving in the Bible.
A lot of people are surprised when they hear this, but we shouldn’t be because we know from 1 Corinthians Chapter 16 that the biblical reason for Sunday church collections is to help poor persecuted Christians!
After reading these Scriptures, I started looking for ways to help persecuted Christians. I contacted the leaders of the 150 largest Christian churches and the twenty largest Christian denominations in the U.S. I told them that we wanted to support their programs to help the persecuted. Sadly, only two of the 20 largest denominations and only three of the 150 largest churches were actively caring for Christ’s suffering body. And only one of them was caring in a significant way.
How can this be? The biblical reason for Sunday collections is to help poor persecuted believers. But fast forward 2,000 years and here in the U.S. less than ½ half of 1% of what we give on Sunday is used to help them. I’m not saying that 100% of Sunday offerings should be designated for the persecuted. My point is to highlight the shift away from biblical values.
One of the reasons why we’ve fallen away is we’re reading the New Testament out of context. The New Testament was written with the tears and blood of Christians at a time when the normal Christian life was defined by suffering and loss. But here in the U.S., our default lens for reading the Bible is distorted by our comfort and security so that we don’t fully see its persecution context.
For example, when we read the commands to be hospitable, we might think about having friends over for dinner. We don’t understand that biblical hospitality is about caring for our brothers and sisters who are refugees fleeing from persecution and desperately need us to provide them with life sustaining aid.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t have friends over for dinner. I’m Italian and my love language is feeding people. What I am saying is we’re disobeying and even grieving the Lord if we don’t care for our brothers and sisters who are refugees.
As many of you know, this is critically relevant today. Persecution is raging at an all-time high. In just the last few years ISIS and Boko Haram have driven millions of Christians from their homes. They’ve been without food, starving and have even died while waiting for our “hospitality”.
This is why I wrote Heirloom Love, to help us understand the New Testament in its original persecution context.
Peter Paul and James and John had a lot to say about how we’re supposed to love one another. You’re probably very familiar with these passages. But let’s review a few of them in their original persecution context.
As I share these Scriptures, keep in mind that Peter Paul and James were martyred. In fact, all the apostles were brutally murdered except for John. And John who referred himself as a “companion in the suffering” endured decades of persecution.
Also remember that the Roman empire had outlawed Christianity in the first century and the Romans savagely murdered many of the early church members. They even dipped them in tar and placed on poles and set them on fire to use them as street lights. And groups of Christians – men women and children were regularly fed to the lions for entertainment in the Roman Colosseum.
And how can we forget Paul who wrote 30% of the New Testament. He said that he was imprisoned and beaten so many times that he lost count. But he did remember that he had been beaten five separate times with the nearly fatal thirty-nine lashes; and was also stoned and left for dead once. And remember that most of the churches that Paul wrote letters to were also persecuted.
Lastly, we need to keep in mind that Peter and James wrote their letters in the refugee situation that originated in Acts 8 where it says when Stephen was martyred, a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. (Acts 7:59; 8:1, NASB)
Based on the information in the book of Acts, we estimate that there were ten to twenty thousand or more adult believers by the time Stephen was martyred. Imagine the hardships they experienced when as many as 50,000 people when you include their children were forced to immediately leave their homes, their livelihoods and their families. All they had was the clothes on their backs and what little food and water they could carry. And they had NO ONE to help them. Not the Romans. Not the Jews. And certainly not the UN. They only had other Christians.
This is the context in which we need to read the New Testament in order to understand Jesus command to love for one another.
Love Just As
When Jesus said love one another just as I have loved you, He was just a few hours away from the cross. He meant love each other sacrificially. That’s why in the same John 15 passage He told us to “lay down your lives” for each other (John 15:12–13). John reinforced this point in his letter when he said: “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 John 3:16).
The love that Jesus requires from us doesn’t make sense to a church whose world view is framed by comfort and security. But it makes total sense to Jesus followers who understand that they are one body and members one of another and responsible for bearing the burdens of 215 million other Christians who are suffering today for Christ.
Jesus said that we should love and care for all people. This is so important that I need to say that again. Jesus taught that we should love and care for all people. But He was also clear that His brothers and sisters are a priority. Paul confirmed this when he said, “Let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10).
People oftentimes ask, why are Jesus brothers and sisters different from other needy people. The answer to this question may be the most important thing that I share with you today.
Loving Them = Loving Him
Before Saul became Paul, he was on his way to imprison and kill Christians when he was blinded by a great light and a voice said to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” Then Saul asked, “Who are you, lord?” and the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! (Acts 9:3-5)
This passage teaches us that those who persecute Christians are really persecuting Jesus. In the same way, when we care for persecuted Christians we’re really caring for Jesus! That’s why Jesus said whatever we do for the for the least of His brothers and sisters we’re really doing for Him (Matthew 25:40). It also means when we forget, neglect or deny care to needy believers, we’re really forgetting, neglecting and denying Jesus! That’s why Jesus also said,
whatever you did not do for the least of these brothers of mine you did not do for Me (Matthew 25:45).
Paul understood and taught this. That’s why the poor Macedonians in 2nd Corinthians 8-9 were begging to give money to help poor persecuted believers in a foreign land. Let’s think about this. When is the last time that you heard about poor people begging to give money to help other poor people who they didn’t even know? What was Paul teaching the church that caused the destitute Macedonians to beg to give? What were the Macedonians thinking? What did they know that we need to know?
I had an experience last summer that helped me to understand why they were begging. I was heavy-hearted last summer because hundreds of thousands of our Nigerian brothers and sisters were without food. They were starving to death and dying after they were forced by the Islamic group Boko Haram to leave their homes and farms. I was praying about how much to give to help them when the Lord whispered in my heart, “That’s Me. I’m hungry and I’m watching and waiting to see who loves Me and will give Me something to eat.” I started weeping as I thought about His love and all that He has done for me. I would have begged, if necessary, for a chance to feed my hungry brothers and sisters. This realization dramatically affected how much we gave to help them. This is the context and spirit of most of the Christian giving in the Bible!
This passage in 2nd Corinthians chapters 8-9 is the most comprehensive teaching and example of Christian giving in the Bible. The purpose of this teaching and exemplary giving is to help fellow believers who were poor and persecuted in a foreign land. But today, unscrupulous preachers use this passage out of context to coerce their followers into supporting their ultra-luxury lifestyles and ventures.
If I had could only leave you with one verse today it would be from 1st Peter. Peter wrote his first letter in the context of the Christian refugee situation that started in Acts 8. Peter talks about both love and persecution in every chapter of the letter.
1 Peter 4.8 is remarkable in this context. It says, “Above all things have fervent love for one another” (1 Peter 4:8, NKJV). The words “above all things” means this should be our highest priority. Peter then gives us the application starting in 4.9 by saying, “Be hospitable to one another without complaint”. Peter is saying that our highest priority should be to care for the suffering body of Christ.
James also wrote his letter in the context of refugee situation that originated in Acts 8. He’s writing to church goers who aren’t helping the Christian refugees who need food and clothing. And they’re not caring for the widows and orphans whose fathers and husbands were most likely martyred.
James said that these church goers are “foolish” and “deluded” about their standing in Christ. James theology on what he called “pure religion” and genuine saving faith was inseparable from caring for persecuted believers.
By the time the apostle John wrote his first letter around 95 AD, he had endured and shepherded the church through decades of persecution. By then, Christianity had been around for 60 years and false teachers had perverted what it meant to be a Christian.
John was the last apostle to die. He was the last living person who had physically walked and talked to Jesus. He was uniquely qualified him to set the record straight on what it meant to be a true Christian. John’s teaching on authentic Christianity is so radical when compared to what Christianity has become, that he had to start his letter by reminding us why he was qualified to make such bold and seemingly contradictory statements. That’s why he started his letter by saying and I paraphrase: I’m telling you what I have heard and seen. I saw him with my own eyes and I touched him with my own hands. I’m telling you what I’ve actually seen and heard from Jesus. Listen to me! 1 John 1:1-3
John wrote his first letter to teach us about authentic Christianity and he talked about what he calls “real love” in almost one-third of the verses. I want to leave you with one verse from his letter. But before I do, let’s quickly revisit John’s description of real love. “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?” (1 John 3:16-17 NLT).
With this understanding of real love, John said: “We can tell who are children of God and who are children of the devil. Anyone who does not live righteously and does not love other believers does not belong to God.” (1 John 3:10 NLT) John’s test for telling who are the children of God and the children of the devil is the real love for other believers that Jesus requires!
Just to be clear, John is not saying that salvation is earned by works. We are saved by grace through faith not by works. What John is saying is our sacrificial love and giving to needy believers is the evidence of Christ is us. It’s also the same evidence that Jesus said will reveal to the world who are His true disciples (see John 13:34–35). And it’s the same evidence that the angels in Matthew 25 will look for when separating the genuine from the false Christians when Jesus returns.
I close with just two thoughts. 1. We’re here today because Jesus is still being persecuted through His children and how we respond to the persecuted is really our response to Jesus.
And 2. I’d like to give you an update on my book Heirloom Love. Before I do, I want you to know that I choose not to profit from the book sales and 100% of all donations are used to help the persecuted.
The Lord is using Heirloom Love to radically multiply the number of American Christians who are caring for our persecuted brothers and sisters. Some of the stories from people who recently read Heirloom Love include:
- I met with someone three weeks ago who read Heirloom Love and called me and said they wanted to give one million dollars to help the persecuted.
- A man read Heirloom Love the first night he got it and his wife read it the next day. Then they both said the LORD was leading them to sell their gorgeous home in southern California on the coast overlooking the Pacific Ocean so that they could give more to help the persecuted.
- Someone who is 72 years old and healthy read Heirloom Love and told me they wanted to give one-half of their retirement funds to help the persecuted.
But it’s not just about money. Many of you here in Washington can help the persecuted in other very important ways.
- After reading Heirloom Love a person went to one of the ten most dangerous countries to be a Christian to learn more about the oppression and persecution of Christians in that country. He is now working through underground churches in that country to help the Christians.
- A psychologist was in tears after reading Heirloom Love and he called me to ask how he can go to provide counseling to traumatized Christians.
- A few weeks ago, I was speaking at large church where someone gave one of the elders a copy of Heirloom Love. The elder then gave copies to the other church elders and they confessed forgetting the persecuted and voted to change their budget to help them. This church has significant a international missions program and their missions pastor is now looking for ways that they can also serve the persecuted church.
- I saved my favorite story for last. A pastor called me and said that he and most of the 100 people in his church read Heirloom Love. He asked me to come and speak and provide an update on the suffering church around the world. He then warned me saying, “We’re just a small inner city church and our members are reformed gang members, drug addicts, bikers, pimps and prostitutes. Our people are less than blue collar but they have a really big heart. Our church is the in the most dangerous area in our city but don’t working I’m packing and I’ll be watching you.” The church had a garage sale before I arrived. The church members begged their neighbors to give them stuff to sell. One biker donated his motorcycle. Another couple sold their wedding rings. They raised $21,000 and they took an offering for another $18,000.
Heirloom Love is designed as a personal devotional and as a small group study. One of the most effective things that you can do to help our persecuted family is start an Heirloom Love small group with a handful of your friends. The pastor in that inner-city church is also now leading an Heirloom Love small group with several Christian leaders in his city.
There are copies of Heirloom Love for you in the back of the room. They’re a gift to you at no charge. If you would like to give a donation for the book, all donations will be used to help persecuted Christians.
If you would like to lead or participate in an Heirloom Love small group, please sign up at the book table. I’m also available for leading small groups here in DC and would love to have you join one of the groups.
Dominic Sputo is founder of LumenLife and the author of Heirloom Love.