How Do You React When Persecuted?

It’s the holiday season and so it begins.  Many Christians complaining because people are saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”  I hear claims that we cannot now say “Merry Christmas.”  But no one is stopping us from saying that.  A few employers may ask their people to use the “Happy Holidays” response to customers, but they still can wish a “Merry Christmas” outside their employment.

Is this persecution?  I don’t think so.

Last Sunday was the National Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.  Want to know about “real” persecution.  Read my post:

“Miracle Boy”

Now that is persecution!

Reading today from the book of Acts I was impressed again with the early church’s reesponse to persecution.

Ater the apostle were jailed for preaching about Jesus and warned not to do so again, they immediately went to the church and there was a prayer meeting.

Now, if that was us I think our prayers would be:

Lord, we are being so persecuted.  Please save us!  Please destroy the power of our enemies.  Protect us!

But that was not their prayer.

They prayed:

“Sovereign Lord, you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.  You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:  ‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed one. Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.   They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.  Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.  Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

Consider their threats and make us bold to keep sharing your word.

Let’s stop worrying about whether others say and let’s just keep sharing the love of God.

 

 

Is Your Body Suffering?

Today I went to church.  I walked from my car in a public parking lot with my Bible in my hand and never once felt afraid.  Entering the foyer of my church, I visited with fellow worshipers in front of large windows without once looking to see if anyone was watching us.  When it was time for the service to start I joined with others as we sang loudly and our musicians played loudly without worrying that someone might hear us and report us to the police.  My pastor stood up and gave a sermon reading from the Bible without any fear of being dragged out of the church and off to jail.

For me the worst persecution I might face because of my beliefs is hearing some comedian make fun of Christians.  But I really know nothing about real persecution

Today was the National Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.  I wonder how many churches actually took time to pray for their brothers and sisters who face real difficulties because of their belief in Jesus Christ.

The book of 1 Corinthians compared the church to a body.  In that chapter it states:

“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it…”

One group who documents persecution in other countries has listed North Korea as the country with the worst persecution of Christians.  To be a Christian in North Korea is to be seen as an enemy of the state.  If someone is found to be a Christian they are treated as a criminal and sent to labor camps or even killed.  Their family also faces harsh treatment.  They cannot meet openly and it is very dangerous for them to gather in more than groups of two or three.  Because being a Christian is so dangerous, it is even hard to know if someone you meet is also a believer as everyone has to remain secretive about their faith.

In Afghanistan no expression of faith except Islam is permitted.  To become a Christian is seen as betrayal of the family, the tribe and country.  Anyone who becomes a Christian is exposing themselves to death even by the hands of their own family.  They are considered to have brought shame on the family and the family honor must be protected at any cost.

In India it is the radical Hindu nationalists who view Christianity as alien to their way of life.  Christians are often physically attacked and churches burned or bombed.

In Myanmar persecution of Christians (and other ethnic minorities) is backed by the army which leans toward Communism.  More than 100,000 Christians live in camps for displaced persons, deprived of access to food and health care.  Buddhist monks have taken over churches and made shrines to Buddha on the church property.

These are only a few of the places where the body of Christ is suffering.  The causes range from corrupt government to the various other religions of the world.

But today as fellow Christians are suffering, I have to ask myself if the body of Christians in America share in any way in their suffering.  Where are the prayers?  Where is the concern?

I believe a large part of the problem is we simply do not know how we can help.  Here are a few suggestions:

  •  Become informed.  There are several organizations that can help you gain more understanding of the persecution taking place around the world.
  • Pray.  We often under estimate the power of prayer.
  • Write letters to those who are in prison.   Many who have been released from prison have testified how much getting letters meant to them, giving them courage to endure.
  • Become a spokesman for helping the persecuted church.

The writer of Hebrews tells us to “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.”

Here are a few organizations that work with the persecuted church.  Check them out and learn what you can do to help.

  1. OpenDoors: One of the most well-known ministries advocating for the persecuted church. (Write, Pray, Donate, Advocate, Learn)
  2. Voice of the Martyrs: Another well-known ministry that raises awareness and provides support for the persecuted church. (Write, Pray, Donate, Advocate, Learn)
  3. Samaritan’s Purse: Their ministry focuses on providing physical and spiritual aid to people around the world. They also provide opportunities to donate to the persecuted church. (Donate)
  4. PrisonAlert: Prison Alert is part of Voice of the Martyrs. (Advocate, Write, Donate, Pray)
  5. Be-a-Voice: Part of Voice of the Martyrs as well. It focuses on providing prayer points and writing letters to the persecuted church. (Pray, Write)
  6. icommittopray.com  (Pray)

Part of the body of Christ is suffering?  How does it effect you?  Are you suffering with them?

 

 

It’s “When” Not “If”

When Jesus was on earth He seemed to assume that as His followers there were things we would naturally do.  Not to try to earn a place in heaven.  Not to rack up points on the “goodness” scale.  Not to “prove” we were His followers.

No.  Things we would do because as a committed follower of Jesus it would be as natural as breathing in and out.  We don’t stop and consciously think “I need to breath now.”  When we walk we do not think “I need to lift my right foot up, move it forward and put it down.”  These are just natural reactions to being alive.

So Jesus states that there are actions we will take – perhaps not even consciously but just as a natural response to His love and forgiveness to us.

Sadly we often seem to think the things He mentioned are suggestions, not actual outcomes of following Him.

Jesus told us:

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad,because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

That last one is a bit hard, isn’t it?  But if we are to be like Jesus, we need to rejoice when we are put down for our beliefs.  Rejoice, not complain.  Not get mad.  Rejoice.

As our culture seems to be going further and further from Christian principles, we need to remember that one.

But even with society becoming more hostile to Christian standards, we in the USA know nothing about real persecution.

The following is a list taken from the 2019 World Watch List by Open Doors.  This is a mission organization that supports persecuted believers in more than 60 countries.

persecution.jpg

North Korea  – Afghanistan –  Somalia –  Libya –  Pakistan –  Sudan – Eritrea
Yemen –  Iran –  India –  Syria –  Nigeria –  Iraq –  Maldives –  Saudi Arabia
Egypt –  Uzbekistan –  Myanmar –  Laos –  Vietnam –  Central African Republic
Algeria –  Turkmenistan –  Mali –  Mauritania –  Turkey –  China –  Ethiopia
Tajikistan –  Indonesia –  Jordan –  Nepal –  Bhutan –  Kazakhstan –  Morocco
Brunei –  Tunisia –  Qatar –  Mexico –  Kenya –  Russian Federation –  Malaysia
Kuwait –  Oman –  United Arab Emirates –  Sri Lanka –  Colombia –  Bangladesh
Palestinian Territories –  Azerbaijan

For more detailed information on these countries and suggestions on how to pray for each particular nation, check out this website.

https://www.opendoorsusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/WWL2019_FullBooklet.pdf

 

How Should Christians Resist Evil

I just finished reading (for the second time) the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Bonhoeffer was a German pastor during the time of Hitler and World War II.  As the Nazis came to power and took control of the church, he faced a real dilemma.  He could not continue to stand with the church hierarchy who supported Hitler’s regime yet he found it hard to speak out against the church.  Along with several other pastors and theologians he founded what was called the Confessing Church.

A group called the German Christians (Deutsche Christen) created a pro-Nazi Reich Church.  They wanted the church to conform to Nazi ideology.   In opposition to this, many Christians formed the Confessing Church taking a clear stand against Hitler and his agenda.

However, in time Bonhoeffer became discouraged by the Confessing Church because although they opposed the Nazi regime they said nothing about the persecution of the Jewish people.

As the evil of Nazism became clearer Bonhoeffer faced a difficult decision.

Should he just look the other way as many German Christians were doing?

He had already spoken out against Hitler and his government.  Should he do more?

He knew many of those who were conspiring to kill Hitler and free Germany from the nightmare that was afflicting the nation.  Should he join them in their effort?

What does a Christian do when faced with such evil?

Bonhoeffer, after much soul-searching, joined the effort to get rid of the monster in charge of their country.  For that decision he paid with his life.

He was originally charged with conspiring to rescue Jews and using his foreign travels as a pastor to share the situation in Germany with other countries hoping for help in staging a coup.  His connection to the broader resistance movement was uncovered after a failed July 20, 1944 coup.

He was taken to the Gestapo prison in Berlin and later moved to the Flossenburg concentration camp where he was hanged April 9, 1945 just weeks before the Germans surrendered to Allied forces.

As I look at the divisions in our country – liberal vs conservative, Democrats vs Republicans, pro gun control vs anti-gun control and the list goes on and on, I wonder what a Christian should do.

Please understand I am NOT suggesting that anyone is like Hitler (don’t you go there) or that our country is like Germany in World War II.

But I do wonder how much Christians should get involved in the political debate.  I remember that famous quote which has been attributed to Edmund Burke (although there is debate on who really said it first):

The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

Do we remain silent when we see bad laws enacted and evil triumphing?

Yet I look at Jesus and his disciples.  They lived under a dictatorship that was evil.  Their fellow Jews were taxed heavily by their oppressor.  Even their worship was controlled in many ways by the Romans.  The Roman ruler, Pilate, kept the garments the High Priest needed to wear on the Day of Atonement.  Each year they had to wait for him to surrender them to the priests so they could perform that sacred sacrifice.

Not one time did Jesus or his followers address that issue.  They were focused on sharing the good news that Jesus had died and rose again for their eternal salvation.

The Apostle Paul even wrote that we should obey those in authority and that God had placed them there.

On the other hand we see throughout the Bible when people disobeyed the laws that were in conflict with God’s commandments.

  • Rahab hid the Jewish spies that came to her in Jericho.
  • Daniel continued to pray to God when the king ruled no prayers were to be said to anyone but him.
  • The three Hebrew children refused to bow down to the statute and were thrown into the fiery furnace
  • When told by the Jewish rulers not to speak about Jesus, the disciples said:

Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than God.  For we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.

In my own time I think of Martin Luther King Jr who lead the non-violent civil rights protests that led to the end of Jim Crow rules that had been in place since the Civil War.

As I see and hear all the debates in our country today on so many issues:  the wall, gun control, abortion I cannot help but think of that over used phrase from a few years ago:

What would Jesus do?

Wish I had the answer but I also wish that Christians would really think.

  • What issues are worth fighting for because they are evil and against God’s Word?
  • What issues are worth fighting for because we personally believe in them?  Because we believe we have a “right” to certain things?
  • What is our basis for our beliefs – the Bible or the Constitution?
  • Are any “rights” worth fighting for to the point that they become our battle cry instead of the cry for people to know Jesus?
  • Are we Christians first ready to die for the cause of Christ – or Americans first ready to die for our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
  • Where in the Bible did Jesus said he came so that we could have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

I still struggle with these issues.  My prayer is that the church will take a stand against real evil, but also be willing to let their time and energy (and Facebook comments) promote the cause of Jesus Christ over their desire for their rights.  I have angered friends – and some have even unfriended me on Facebook – but I will continue to say we must not become so obsessed with our “rights” that we forget our mission is to love the world and share the message of Jesus Christ.

 

Being a Christian in Eritrea

flag

Eritrea is the most restricted nation for religious freedom on the African continent.  Rebels, inspired by the Chinese Communist Revolution, led a bloody revolution for 30 years (from 1960’s to 1991) leading to the country’s independence from Ethiopia.

The independent nation fought again with Ethiopia in one of the bloodiest conflicts in Africa’s history.  On July 8 of this year there was a formal end to the war.

Eritrea was Africa’s largest single source of refugees to Europe from 2014 to 2016. Over the past decade so many people have left that Eritrea has been called the world’s fastest-emptying nation. It has been likened to Cuba and the former East Germany.

The sole legal political party, People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, has isolated the nation.  All media is state-run and there is no provision of freedom of speech, press or religion making the country ranked just behind North Korea for press freedom.   The Human Rights Watch indicates that the Eritrean government’s human rights record is among the worst in the world.  In the middle of this political conflict, thousands of Christians are subjected to treatment and conditions that would be considered criminal in the U.S. if used just on livestock.

Christians have been locked in metal shipping containers in the unrelenting desert sun.  The containers sometimes contain so many people that there is no room for them to sit down.  Provided little food or water they are also subjected to emotional and physical abuse.  Just for sharing their faith in Jesus or refusing to deny Him.

Their president, Isaias Afwerki, has failed to ratify the nation’s constitution, canceled presidential elections, outlawed other political parties and has embraced atheism.

One father is now raising his four children alone in a fugitive camp in Ethiopia after his wife died in prison because she refused to deny Jesus.  After his wife’s death he realized there was a strong chance he would be imprisoned and there would be no one to take care of his children.  To reach the fugitive camps in Ethiopia he and his children traveled by night trying to avoid the Eritrean guards.  If caught, his older boys would be forced into the military while the younger children would probably, with him, be sent to prison.

Miraculously they made it safely to Ethiopia.  While life in the camp is not the best of circumstances, at least they are safe from prison and can worship God in freedom.

When asked about his family’s experience with being a Christian in Eritrean, he replied.

“The Bible taught us that we should take up our cross.  We have to lose our life for Christ, and it happened to my wife.  This is the history of Christianity.  It is not strange, it is not something new.”

While not new in history or in many other countries, it certainly is not the gospel that is preached today in many churches.

Will you today take a moment to thank God for your freedom to worship (or not to worship) as you choose?

Will you today take a moment to pray for the Christians, not only in Eritrean, but around the world who do not have that freedom?

 

 

 

Two Views of Dealing With Our Enemies

I recently watched a pastor of a mega church on television (which I don’t do on a regular basis) and was amazed at his message.

He started off speaking of all the parts of our culture that Christians do not agree with.

  • He spoke about the damage pornography does to our society.  (I said Amen!)
  • He spoke about the many lives that have been killed through abortion.  (I said Amen!)
  • He spoke about the anti-Christian attitude in Hollywood portraying Christians as idiots or bigots or worse.  (I said Amen!)
  • He spoke about the terror from Islamic extremists.  (I said Amen!)

But then he lost me!

He said our duty as Christians is to “identify these people and RUN THEM OUT OF HERE!”

Now I am not sure what he meant about “running them out of here.”  Maybe he just meant we need to stand up for our beliefs and not let them scare us from speaking out.

If so, I say Amen!

But the body language and the attitude he displayed when making that statement I found so offensive and so not like Jesus Christ.

Later that week I went to a conference where I heard a different viewpoint on our response to those who take a stand against our Christians beliefs.

It was a Voice of the Martyrs conference where I heard stories of Christians being persecuted around the world.

I saw pictures of young men badly beaten for refusing to deny Christ.

Marks of Christ

This young man lost his right eye and was brutally disfigured

I saw pictures of churches destroyed by bombs or fire.

20130804_Communion_Glasses_231_CVR_04_final

This was the communion set retrieved by the congregation after their church was burned

Then I listened to their response to how they treated their enemies.

Over and over those who had been persecuted asked that we not only pray for them, but pray for those who persecuted them.

Richard Wurmbrand, founder of Voice of the Martyrs said:

“It was in prison that we found the hope of salvation for the Communists. It was there that we developed a sense of responsibility toward them. It was in being tortured by them that we learned to love them.”

“I have seen Christians in Communist prisons with fifty pounds of chains on their feet, tortured with red-hot iron pokers, in whose throats spoonfuls of salt had been forced, being kept afterward without water, starving, whipped, suffering from cold–and praying with fervor for the Communists. This is humanly inexplicable! It is the love of Christ, which was poured out in our hearts.”

Martin Luther King, Jr said it so well:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

But the best voice of all for loving your enemies is Jesus Christ who said:

enemies

Maybe if we prayed more for those who take a stand against Christian principles their hearts would be changed.

Will you join me in praying for those who you disagree with?

 

 

 

 

 

Two Kinds of Christians

there are two kinds of Christians: those who sincerely believe in God and those who, just as sincerely, believe that they believe. You can tell them apart by their actions in decisive moments.”     Pastor Richard Wurmbrand

Richard Wurmbrand, founder of Voice of the Martyrs was born in Bucharest, Romania. Highly intellectual, Richard was fluent in nine languages.  A couple of years after marrying Sabina Oster, they were led to a faith in Jesus Christ in 1938 and Richard was ordained as an Anglican, and later Lutheran, minister.

During World War II, they tried to share Jesus with the occupying German forces. Preaching in bomb shelters they were arrested and beaten multiple times.

When the Romanian Communists seized power in 1945 Christians there soon realized they had only traded one oppressor for another.  Russian troops poured into the country.

The communists scheduled a Congress of Cults.  At that conference many religious leaders praised communism and swore allegience to the new regime.  While listening to the high praise from religious leaders, Pastor Wurmbrand later reported that his wife, Sabina, challenged him to “stand up and wash away this shame from the face of Christ!” When he responded that to do so would mean she would lose her husband, she said “I don’t wish to have a coward as a husband.”  (Tortured for Christ…Richard Wurmbrand)

Wurmburd

After being kidnapped by the secret police, Richard spent several years in prison.  The police also placed his wife in a workers camp where she had to endure unspeakable hardships.  This left their nine-year old son on his own.  Christian friends did take him into their homes risking imprisonment also.

After 14 years in prison Pastor Wurmbrand and his wife were able to leave Romania.  They founded an organization to help those who are in prison for their faith and their families.

 

I have written about this organization and the persecuted Christians around the world before but I feel so strongly that they are a neglected group of people. Christians in America feel they are persecuted when someone makes fun of their belief or a show portrays Christians in a less than favorable light.  But we really have no idea what real persecution is.  
I love some of the quotes by Pastor Wurmbrand.  They reveal his strong faith in Jesus Christ.  These quotes are all taken from his book Tortured for Christ.
tortured

Joy in sharing the gospel

It was strictly forbidden to preach to other prisoners. It was understood that whoever was caught doing this received a severe beating. A number of us decided to pay the price for the privilege of preaching, so we accepted their [the communists’ ] terms. It was a deal; we preached and they beat us. We were happy preaching. They were happy beating us, so everyone was happy.” 

Caring about the here and now

“churches assert their wish to save men from a future hell. Then they should prove their love toward men by helping save the world from today’s hell of illiteracy, hunger, misery, tyranny, exploitation, and war.” 

Concern for Western Christians

 “I tremble because of the sufferings of those persecuted in different lands. I tremble thinking about the eternal destiny of their torturers. I tremble for Western Christians who don’t help their persecuted brethren. In the depth of my heart, I would like to keep the beauty of my own vineyard and not be involved in such a huge fight. I would like so much to be somewhere in quietness and rest. But it is not possible… The quietness and rest for which I long would be an escape from reality and dangerous for my soul… The West sleeps and must be awakened to see the plight of the captive nations.”