Day of the Christian Martyr

Church tradition say that the Apostle Paul was killed on June 29. This year Christians are called to take time today – and throughout the coming weekend – to remember and honor those who have given their lives to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I have shared some of their stories in posts before. I hope you will take time to read them.

We have so many to remember. Check out the stores of some of these heroes of the faith:

  • John the Baptist
  • Stephen
  • Polycarp
  • William Tyndale
  • John Huss
  • John and Betty Stam
  • Eric Liddell
  • Jim Elliott and Nate Saint
  • Richard Wurmbrand

“Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” Hebrews 13:3

When Difficult Times Come

Looking through my files on lessons I taught when I was in full time ministry, I found these notes on the book of James. I thought I would share them in hopes of encouragement as we have been facing difficult times the past two years. Hope they challenge/encourage you.

The Book of James is a very Jewish book.  It is believed to be the earliest letter of the New Testament, written about AD 45.  Often called the Proverbs of the New Testament – it is practical living for the child of God.

James and Paul seem to contradict each other as Paul says we are saved by grace and James says it is by works that a man is justified. 

  • Paul – We are justified by faith
  • James – We are justified for works
  • Paul – the root of justification is grace
  • James – the fruit of justification is works

Who was James?

  1.  He was the half-brother of Jesus  – Mark 6:3
  2. He was an unbeliever until after the resurrection of Jesus – John 7:3-10
  3. Jesus appeared to him in His glorified body – 1 Corinthians 15:7
  4. He was among the 120 in the Upper Room – Acts 1:14
  5. He appears to be a leader in the early church – Galatians 1:17-21; Acts 12:17
  6. He presided over the first Jerusalem conference in Acts 15 and declared the results of that conference (verses 13-18)

James 1:1

“This letter is from James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.  I am writing to the twelve tribes – Jewish believers scattered abroad.  Greetings!”

James presents himself as a servant or slave.  At the very start of this letter, James is identifying himself as one who is self-consciously accepting this way of life for himself. His purpose in this letter does not require that he assert his apostleship (as Paul and Peter do in their letters) or his eldership (as John does in his letters). James’s identity is already known to the church at large. It is only his servant hood to the Lord Jesus Christ that matters to him here, for this is the theme of his letter:

How shall we live as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ?

He wrote his letter to the Jewish believers scattered abroad.  We know in that time many Jews lived throughout the ancient world, but in addition to those already living abroad, no doubt many included those who fled Jerusalem after the persecution broke out that we read about in Acts 8.

Acts 7:54-8:4 – NOTE:  It was NOT the 12 apostles that spread the gospel – it was the lay people. 

Greetings – The word James used is “chariein” and it means basically “to rejoice exceedingly” or “to be well.”  Used as a greeting James was essentially saying “joy to you.”  “Joy to you” seems a great way to start a letter to friends.  Hey, I’m wishing you joy, happiness, that you do well.  We do this for birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas.  On continuing to read this letter it is clear that James is not just being friendly in wishing his readers joy.  After saying “joy to you” he immediately speaks of times of difficulty, trials, tests.

James 1:2-4

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”

  • What do you consider trials?
  • What is your response to difficulties?

Romans 5:3-5

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

Matthew 5:11-12

God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.

trials –  difficulties  

testings – This term in adjective form means “genuine” or “without alloy”; so the noun refers to a “test to prove genuine.”  Not like our school tests designed primarily to reveal what the students already know.  The biblical concept of a testing, as James uses it here, is one that reveals the genuineness of the person’s faith; but James says the test is also designed to develop something that is not yet present in full measure in the person.

mature character – complete in all its parts – going through the necessary stages to reach the end goal.  

trials/testings  — perseverance/endurance  — mature character

  • Do we thank God for the trials?  What do we rejoice in?  What about a trial brings us joy?
  • Resisting that piece of pie – not a source of joy    BUT  losing that extra 10 pounds – great source of joy.
  • Walking on the treadmill an extra 10 minutes – not always a source of joy   BUT gaining strength – great source of joy.
  • Student giving up their favorite TV show to study – not a source of joy  BUT getting an “A” – great source of joy

James was writing to fellow Jews who were facing difficult times.  He is encouraging them to let these times help them grow in the Lord and not be an interruption in their relationship as a servant to the Lord.

  1. Is any trial a reason not to be joyful (1:2)?
  2. Are the differences in poverty and wealth to cause favoritism (2:1-13)?
  3. Even in trials, shall we be cursing other people (3:9)
  4. or grumbling against each other (5:9)?
  5. Is loss of anything a reason to fight with each other (4:1-2)?
  6. Is sickness or other trouble a cause to cease praying or trusting in God (5:13-14)?

James says “Don’t let difficult times stop you from obeying and following the Lord.  In the middle of trials, that is the time to put into practice what you say you believe. 

James 1:5-8

“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.”

How do we gain strength and wisdom in times of difficulties?  How do we maintain the right attitude and find a solution to the problems we face?

Proverbs 2:3-6

Cry out for insight, and ask for understanding. Search for them as you would for silver; seek them like hidden treasures. Then you will understand what it means to fear the Lord, and you will gain knowledge of God. For the Lord grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

Matthew 7:7

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.”

Do you ever doubt?  Is that wrong?  Will God answer our prayers if we doubt?

Mark 9:23-24

“What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.” The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”

Acts 17:11

“And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth.”

It is entirely different to wonder why God allowed a certain event than it is to directly question God’s goodness. Having doubts is different from questioning God’s sovereignty and attacking His character. In short, an honest question is not a sin, but a bitter, untrusting, or rebellious heart is.

God is not intimidated by questions.

Being a Christian in a non-Christian World

Growing up in church I often heard a quote from the gospel of Luke that tells us Jesus said “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. Often this would be followed by an admonition that as Christians we would have crosses we must bear for Christ.

I wondered what my cross must be. Life seemed pretty good to me. Oh yes there were some heartaches and difficulties, but a cross? When I read about the death of Jesus and the sufferings of the Early Church, then looked at the American church, I found it hard to see that we were bearing crosses as they did.

We often had bible classes on bearing our cross for Christ. No doubt we have had difficult times that seem like crosses – death, accidents, sickness. But these are things that come to everyone – Christian and non-Christian and as far as I can see have little to do with suffering connected with sharing Christ. It is true that when we face these difficult times we can be a witness for Christ when we show faith and strength in the middle of these difficult times. It can be a chance to tell others of why we have hope and even joy in the midst of bad times. But I am not sure we can call these things crosses in the sense Jesus meant when He told us to take up our cross and follow Him.

Looking at the suffering Christians face in North Korea, China, Indonesia and many countries in Africa, I realize that cross-bearing is not a discipleship topic for them. They do not have the luxury of sitting in an air-conditioned classroom while viewing PDF slides on “How to Bear Your Cross.” Many of them could avoid suffering if they would simply stop talking about Jesus and/or agree to renounce their Christian faith. They face what Jesus called for – taking up a cross of suffering and danger daily.

Still, as our culture seems to becoming more anti-Christian, I realize the day is fast coming when we may begin to face real persecution. I mean beyond just being called a name or made fun of. I mean real persecution like losing your job, not being allowed to go to school or church or even having your life in danger. When I think about the possibility of the American church being called to “really” bear a cross, I wonder if we would be up to it.

According to World Watch List this past year:

  • Over 340 million Christians are living in places where they experience high levels of persecution and discrimination
  • 4,761 Christians were killed for their faith
  • 4,488 churches and other Christian buildings were attacked
  • 4,277 believers were detained without trial, arrested, sentenced or imprisoned

Open Doors tells us that

Looking in from the outside, we often want to pray for the trials of the persecuted church to cease. We hear about the decisions parents are forced to make to protect their children, or the prison sentences so many serve because of their beliefs. It’s only normal and seemingly right that we would want to pray for the persecution to end. Yet the reality is that believers in the persecuted church around the world often don’t wish or pray for their trials to end. The No. 1 request Open Doors receives from persecuted believers is prayer, but they don’t ask us to pray they will be removed from persecution. Time and again, persecuted believers tell us that persecution builds the church and their witness. In the midst of persecution, they still live out their calling to glorify God. Instead, persecuted believers ask us to pray with them that they will stand strong and witness with faithfulness.  This “ask” is straight from Scripture. This “ask” is straight from Scripture. Throughout the Bible, we see God’s people and His Church persecuted, but Scripture never tells us to pray for persecution to stop or end. We’re even told that persecution will often accompany us on our journey as believers, with John 16:33 assuring us that “in this world, we will have trouble.” While Scripture tells us that God lavishly blesses and provides for His people, our idea of blessing differs from God’s perspective (the perspective of the first-century persecuted church leaders). Rather, in His Word God shows us that being blessed and having joy come not through our Western mindset of wealth, success, fame or even leisure–but rather through His presence and eternal salvation. In Scripture, we see how persecution is transformative: We are called to find joy in our trials, knowing what God is able to bring about through it: “We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom. 5:3-4). Knowing that whatever we face for God and His glory on this earth doesn’t compare to the eternal joy He has in store for us, which helps us persevere: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17). As we are called to become more and more like Christ, facing trials for His Name helps to sanctify us: “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).

My prayer for the American church is that we will grow strong in His word and be found faithful as our culture moves to a non-Christian world.

Count it All Joy? You Have to Be Kidding me!!

What a year 2020 was! Coronavirus – and all the uncertainty and problems that has created. Loss of jobs/income, loss of ability to travel freely to name just a few. Division over wearing a mask or not wearing one.

The election also brought such division and unrest.

The arguments over BLM.

We were looking forward to 2021 – but now that it is here – I am not sure this year is shaping up to be much different than 2020.

So as Christians, how are we supposed to respond?

I turn to the writer of James and see that he started off his letter with the words “Greetings.” The word James used is “chariein” and it means basically “to rejoice exceedingly” or “to be well.”  Used as a greeting James was essentially saying “joy to you.”  “Joy to you” seems a great way to start a letter to friends.  Hey, I’m wishing you joy, happiness, that you do well.  We do this for birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas. 

However just after he says “joy to you” he begins speaking of anything but joyful times or situations. On continuing to read this letter it is clear that James is not just being friendly in wishing his readers joy.  After saying “joy to you” he immediately speaks of times of difficulty, trials, tests.

Difficulties. Tough times. Kind of like we have been experiencing. Situations that do not naturally led to joy.

The word he uses for testings is not referring to something like our tests in schools that are designed to reveal what the student knows. Rather, James is referring to something that reveals the genuiness of one’s faith, but he also implies this test is designed to develop something that is not yet fully developed in a person.

He says:

trials/testings = perservance/endurance = mature character             

James was writing to fellow Jews who were facing difficult times.  He is encouraging them to let these times help them grow in the Lord and not be an interruption in their relationship as a servant to the Lord.

Questions he raises and which I submit to you:

  1. Is any trial a reason not to rely on God and allow His joy to fill your heart?
  2. Even in trials, is there ever a reason a Christian should curse another or call them names?
  3. Even in difficult times, is there ever a reason a Christian should engage in grumbling about others?

James says “Don’t let difficult times stop you from obeying and following the Lord.  In the middle of trials, that is the time to put into practice what you say you believe.”

In my words I would say “put your money where your mouth is.” Growing up in church we heard all about the Sermon on the Mount and all Jesus said about turning the other cheek, loving your enemies and praying for them, being peacemakers. Sadly it seems many have either forgotten those words – or have tried to make them mean something else.

I ask you: Did Jesus “really” mean it when He said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Faith in the Face of Evil

I just finished reading a powerful book about the suffering of a Christian man imprisoned in Sudan for 445 days.  While I understand the concerns of Christians here in our country that we might lose some of our religious freedoms, I had to once again see that we have no idea what real persecution for the cause of Jesus Christ looks like. 

Petr Jasek,, a citizen of the Czech Republic and an aid worker, made a trip to Sudan in December 2015 to see what Christians could do to help their fellow Christians suffering at the hands of the government of Sudan.  After meetings with local pastors and other Christians he was at the airport getting ready to return home to his family when he was detained for questioning by  Sudan security agents.  They took his computer, phone and camera and charged him with espionage, waging war against the state and undermining the constitution.

After hours of no sleep and repeated interrogation, he was taken to prison and placed in a cell approximately eight feet wide by fourteen feet long.  There were already six men in the cell with only one bed. The five men without a bed slept on mattresses on the floor.  The only space he had to lay his body down was next to the entrance to the bathroom.  The shower was completely broken and the Western-style metal toilet was covered in rust.  He saw a hose coming out of the wall for water but soon discovered that the water was only on once or twice a day.  

I can’t imagine the stench of the room with seven men crowded together and no real facilities to maintain cleanliness.  

Added to that horror, he soon discovered his fellow inmates were ISIS fighters.  Although Sudan is an Islamist government, they did not want ISIS to find a home in their country because they were afraid they would win the people’s allegiance  and their own control of the country would be lost to ISIS leaders. 

He first realized who he was sharing his cell with when he was awaken at 4:30 a.m. by the call to prayer.  The men in the cell rose to their feet and began their morning prayers.  He was told that when they prayed he had to wake up and stand in the back corner of the room where they would not have to face him.  

Since they had no access to news on the outside, they asked him to share the latest news.  He immediately thought of the terrorist attack that had taken place in Paris earlier in November.  At the mention of the death of 129 people, he was shocked when they at first became very silent, then began hugging one another and shouting with great joy “Allabu Akbar!”

After weeks of imprisonment he was set for a trial.  While waiting for his trial he was moved several times to different prisons and different cells.  Toward the end of his imprisonment he was able to share a cell with fellow Christians.  

Peter

After delay and delay he was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.  A fine of 100,000 Sudanese pounds ($17,000) was also imposed on him. 

For most of us I am afraid we would have been crying out to God “why me?”  Petr came to the understanding that his time and his life were in the Lord’s hands.  With confidence that God was still in control regardless of how hopeless things looked, he began finding opportunity to share the Gospel with other prisoners and with his guards. 

One of his greatest joys while in prison was when he was allowed to have a Bible.  He said 

The Word of God is not chained – even when God’s people are.  The Scripture is alive and active, and when I began feelings its activity in prison, I would not keep it to myself.  The Lord began prodding me to share the Gospel with my fellow prisoners – nominal Christians, animists, and even Muslims….In prison I truly learned to love my enemies.  I still pray for the ISIS prisoners and I pray that many Christian prisoners in Sudan might have the opportunity to share the Gospel as well.”

Thankfully the Czech government and Christians around the world continued to intercede for Petr and he was released in 2017 after 445 days.   

This story is one worth reading.  “Imprisoned with ISIS – Faith in the Face of Evil”.  

The book is worth taking the time and money to read but you can also check out his story at

Christian aid worker says time in Sudanese prison allowed him to share Gospel

Next time I hear someone complaining about how we are persecuted in this country for being a Christian, I will just remember Petr’s story and say God help us if we ever really have to suffer persecution.

American Christians Being Persecuted? Really?

I know this year has been crazy! Not being able to attend church on Sunday and meet with my fellow believers has been rough. Coming together each week to worship with my church family and hear God’s Word is where I gain a lot of strength. I have missed that. Recently my church began meeting again and it is such a joy to me to be back with my friends.

However, it seems most are complaining about how it has been hard on them to not have church – focused more on their own selves rather than on how can we in this difficult continue to share God’s Word and His love to those who do not know Him.

It’s like “how hard this is on me” rather than “we need to find other ways to share God’s message to the world.”

But hearing so many complain and say how Christians are being persecuted I have to say “really?”

* Inconvenienced – yes

*Stressful – yes

But persecuted?

Let me share some stories of real persecution.

In North Korea Christians have to hide any portion of the Bible they might have (and Bibles are scarce). The possession of a Bible can get you and your entire family killed. If you are not executed, then at the very least you’ll be sent to one of the five major labor camps for political prisoners. Sources who work with missionary groups tell us that between 50,000 and 70,000 Christians are in labor camps where they are tortured, starved and work long hours. Sometimes they are used for medical tests.

A young Vietnamese man who gave his life to Christ reports that when he shared that news with his family his father threatened to kill him. Many Christians there are secret believers because if they reveal their faith, discrimination,, threats and violence often are a result of that confession. To leave the village religion is seen as a betrayal to the family.

To see true persecution, check out this post:

 

“Miracle Boy”

 

 

Reading today from the book of Acts I was impressed again with the early church’s response 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 help me as I attack them with name calling and other personal attacks.

Consider their threats and help me to destroy them.

NOT

Consider their threats and help us to continue to share God’s Word with great boldness.

May we focus on sharing God’s Word and not so much on our own stresses at this time.

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.

Click to access 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.