I have been sharing on Friday some of the funny and/or challenging things I read or hear in novels, sermons and conversation with friends. Since this week we are asked to remember the Christian martyrs, I would like to share a list of ten ways to pray for those who are persecuted for their faith even today.
Pray that the persecuted believers will sense God’s presence.
Pray they will feel connected to the Body of Christ.
Pray they will experience God’s comfort when their family members are killed, injured or imprisoned for their witness.
Pray they will have more opportunities to share the Gospel.
Pray for boldness to make Christ known.
Pray they will forgive and love their persecutors.
Pray their ministry activities will remain undetected by those who wish to silence them.
Pray they will be able to rejoice in the midst of suffering.
Pray they will have access to God’s Word and grow in their faith.
Pray they will know that others around the world are praying for them and have strength in that knowledge.
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
John and Betty Stam
Jim Elliott and Nate Saint
“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
Temperatures are dropping as the leaves on the trees also fall to earth. Clocks have been set back an hour and the evenings get dark so much earlier than before. In the stores some are already putting up Christmas decorations, even playing Christmas music. Many of my friends love this time and think it is never too early to begin playing Christmas music. Others feel we should at least get through Thanksgiving before playing the carols.
And the annual debate begins again!
OR is it:
NO – this post is not about that.
I have written plenty about that in the past. Let’s not beat a dead horse. If you really want to know what I think about that debate you can visit my earlier posts on the subject.
But every year as I hear how Christians in America are being persecuted I hear things like:
People are saying “Happy Holidays” to me instead of “Merry Christmas.”
They have taken prayer out of the schools (I think the Bible is clear prayer belongs in the home and I always wonder if those complaining about no prayer in the schools actually pray with their children at home).
They want to take “In God we trust” off our money. Is your trust in God based on having that on your money? (And who uses money anyway these days.)
But is this really persecution?
Let me share some real persecution that is happening around the world.
There are reports from North Korea of forced starvation of Christians and forced abortion. Some Christians have been hung on crosses over fire, and others have been crushed by steamrollers. Protestants and Catholics are ranked among those least sympathetic to the state, which limits their access to food, education, and health care. Christianity is linked with American influence, and Christians are executed as spies.
In Sudan, the government’s pursuit of an extremist Islamist agenda led to orders to tear down Christian churches. Christians are arrested for alleged proselytism, and women face fines for wearing “obscene” or immodest dress. The government stripped citizenship rights of people with origins outside Sudan, leading many to leave for their ancestral homelands in South Sudan. Many had lived in their homes for three decades or more.
In Pakistan, banned fundamentalist cells pose a great threat to Christians, but some charge that the government’s failure to crack down on these groups worsens the problem of violence. On Easter Sunday 2016 as many as 24 Christians were killed in targeted violence in Lahore. A faction of the Pakistan Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
Christians in Egypt suffered a major suicide bombing attack in December 2016 and again on Palm Sunday in April 2017. Dozens were killed and more injured in both attacks, for which the Islamic State group claimed responsibility.
Here’s what real persecution looks like!
If you want to know the story of this smiling young man check out my post from last year:
I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture.
Still feeling persecuted?
As we enter into the holiday season and begin decorating our homes, buying presents, planning parties and family events and baking dozens and dozens of cookies, I want to challenge you to spent some time thinking of those who are really being persecuted for their faith. Let’s follow the apostle Paul’s admonition and
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.
My prayer is that all my readers will have a great Thanksgiving and Christmas with family and friends enjoying all the blessings we have as Christians in the United States, but that you will also take some time to remember those who are really being persecuted for Christ.
St. Nicholas: The Real Story of the Man Who Became Santa Claus
Many American children are looking forward to the arrival of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, bearing presents for good little boys and girls. But most of those celebrating don’t know that there is a real man behind the story of Santa Claus, and that real man was a Christian persecuted because of his faith and actions.
The following is excerpted from “A Note from the Author to Parents and Educators” that is included in The Story of St. Nicholas: More than Reindeer and a Red Suit, a book for children published by VOM that tells the true story of St. Nicholas of Myra, the man whose story became the basis of our modern-day Santa Claus.
Throughout history many legends about the life of Saint Nicholas of Myra have circulated around the world, bringing us to the man we know today as Santa Claus—a chubby man in a red suit who delivers presents to good boys and girls with his reindeer on Christmas Eve.
But who is this man behind the myth of Santa Claus?
Nicholas of Myra was born in the third century in a province called Lycia, which was a part of the Roman Empire. Today ancient Lycia is a part of the country we know as Turkey. Nicholas is believed to have died around 343 A.D., on December 6th, a date that is currently celebrated by many nations, such as Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, where it is called “Saint Nicholas Day.” For example, in Germany, children are known to put a boot, called a Nikolaus-Stiefel, outside their front door on the eve of Saint Nicholas Day, hoping he will fill it with gifts if he thinks they were good. But if found bad, they will receive a lump of charcoal.
The real Nicholas was a man full of generosity and conviction. He was born to wealthy parents who, when they died, left him their fortune. He chose to use his inheritance to help those in need. For example, one of the vignettes in the book is about three sisters who were saved from life on the streets. Their father was unable to arrange suitable marriages because he did not have enough money for their dowries. (Therefore, the father was left with no choice but to sell them to a brothel.) Upon hearing this, Nicholas secretly threw bags of gold into the girls’ room. The father was elated and, after discovering his daughters’ mysterious benefactor, was sworn to secrecy by Nicholas that he would never tell anyone who had given him the gold.
Nicholas is recorded to have exposed the corruptness of a government official during a famine. He uncovered the governor’s deceitful actions of hoarding grain until the demand forced it into higher prices. Later, Nicholas intervened in an execution of three innocent men…all falsely accused by the same, crooked governor. It is said that one of the prisoners was situated on the block for decapitation, and Nicholas grabbed the sword from the executioner’s hands, setting all three men free. He was praised for his bravery.
Even though many have preserved the stories of Nicholas’ acts of righteousness, few know of his sufferings for Christ. When the Roman emperor Diocletian took power, he instigated a horrific persecution of Christians. Nicholas was imprisoned and physically tortured (pinched with hot iron pliers) for refusing to deny Jesus as God. One account mentions the prisons were so full of church leaders there was no room for the actual criminals.
After the reign of persecution ended, Nicholas would still face a fierce testing of his faith—this time within the church. A preacher named Arius began promoting a heresy that Jesus was not God in the flesh. Arius even went so far as to set his false teaching to music by putting words to popular drinking songs. Constantine, the new leader of the Roman Empire, called together church leaders at Nicea to discuss Arius’ teachings and other issues dividing the church. This was called the Council of Nicea. According to legend, as Arius was making his presentation, he began singing one of his blasphemous songs about Jesus. Unwilling to see this man shame Christ, Nicholas stood up and punched Arius in the mouth. Those in attendance were shocked! Although they understood Nicholas’ need to stand up for Christ’s reputation, they did not believe they could allow such behavior since Christ taught us to love our enemies and live a life of peace. Therefore, Nicholas was no longer allowed to serve as bishop. (It’s noted he was later restored to his position.) But this action did not stop Nicholas from serving the sick and needy.
Those who are persecuted for following Christ today are much like Nicholas of Myra: They humbly serve their fellow countrymen and courageously stand for the Lord when faced with the choice of prison with Christ or no prison without Christ. His story of boldness and generosity in the face of persecution from the government and conflict within the church is for everyone. By any Christian definition, Nicholas was indeed a saint.
May Nicholas of Myra’s life challenge us to live generously by serving the poor and courageously by standing for Christ in a culture that is increasingly hostile to Him and His people!