Go and Make Disciples

I wrote the following blog post in August of 2014. In wake of the terrorist attacks in Brussels yesterday it seems fitting to share it again. While the names — known, and unknown have grown exponentially since then — the conclusion remains the same.

From August 2014 – My heart is heavy after being assaulted by the evil depicted across the internet last week of the American journalist being beheaded. The morning after I had the following thoughts:

As followers of Jesus Christ we must not be deterred by evil. Our mission remains the same as the day it was given to us—Go, and make disciples.

Now is not a time to halt; and count the costs. We counted the cost when we joined. We do not serve a God who revokes His call when the news is horribly grim. He is greater than the terror-filled words being screamed at the world by evil and demonic men. The Bible is filled with examples of God’s response to terrorists who taunt His people.

To many of us, the brutality we are seeing depicted on every media outlet may seem like a “new” kind of evil. While it is indeed brutal, it is not new. Christians have faced this enemy throughout the ages, and all over the world. I am struck by the fact that while I can turn off my TV, and avoid U Tube clips of the barbaric murder of our American journalist, many do not have that luxury. For many these acts are being played out in vivid color right now. If ever a time to pray, and take action, it is now. I believe today is a time for the church of Christ to step up its game. We are in, or we are out. We are hot, or we are cold. We are willing to give our life for our cause, or we are not.

Christians in refugee camp in Turkey receive a care package

photo credit – The Voice of The Martyrs USA

 

We must guard against walls of false protection being built up around our hearts, a deceptive fortress deceiving us into thinking we can hide behind it. When confronted by those whose culture and religion are unfamiliar to us, we need to reach across the self-imposed boundaries and love.

In light of the flames of persecution spreading across the globe I feel an urgency to stand up and do my part. Now is a time to run, and not walk—to be sober and alert. It’s a time to step up our efforts and give, pray, go, speak, and do whatever God calls each of us to do. We must live our faith out loud. We have no time to waste.

photo credit Milada Vigerova via UnSplash

Perhaps the façade we have cloaked ourselves with—the one that said to us “persecution only happens to ‘them’”—is being removed for our own good?

I pray we will redeem the times, and finish well.

Stand steady, and don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Bring others to Christ. Leave nothing undone that you ought to do. (2 Timothy 4:5)

Therefore go and make disciples in all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and then teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you; and be sure of this—that I am with you always, even to the end of the world. (Matthew 28:19-20)

I am mindful of the One I follow — Jesus — this holy week. He was well aware of the danger, and pain, and suffering He would soon face. He never waivered from God’s plan, and call on His life. The carnage the world is being assaulted with today has not taken Jesus by surprise  — to the contrary — He told us this would happen. May we finish well.

21-23“When people realize it is the living God you are presenting and not some idol that makes them feel good, they are going to turn on you, even people in your own family. There is a great irony here: proclaiming so much love, experiencing so much hate! But don’t quit. Don’t cave in. It is all well worth it in the end. It is not success you are after in such times but survival. Be survivors! Before you’ve run out of options, the Son of Man will have arrived.  Matthew 10:21-23 The Message

For more information on how to help those suffering Christian persecution please see – http://www.persecution.com

Also posted at Eternal Perspective Ministries blogs – http://www.epm.org/blog/2014/Aug/22/face-evil-faith

The Reward of Tenacious Prayer

In Richard Wurmbrand’s book Tortured for Christ he shares the story of an old carpenter whose inner turmoil led him to ask God for a reward; the prize of bringing a Jew to Christ. This carpenter not only knew how to talk to God in prayer — he had the tenacity to ask for a reward.

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“My God, I have served you on earth and I wish to have my reward on earth as well as in heaven. And my reward should be that I should not die before I bring a Jew to Christ, because Jesus was from the Jewish people. But I am poor, old, and sick. I cannot go around and seek a Jew. In my village there are none. Bring a Jew into my village and I will do my best to bring him to Christ.” – Tortured for Christ, Richard Wurmbrand.

What would happen if we had the tenacity to ask God for a reward like the old carpenter did? When I read the prayer of the carpenter I hear the voices of men of old like Abraham, Jacob, and Moses. Being unafraid to ask; they gave ear to their inner turmoil and allowed it to lead them into conversation with God.

I remember joining a prayer meeting in the Middle East once. In our small group there were men and women from Brazil, Sudan, Libya, South Korea, Egypt, America, and Syria. I watched as a woman prepared the room before we prayed. She knelt and laid upon the floor pieces of paper with the names of Syria, Egypt, Libya, and Sudan written on them. One by one we all stood and stepped forward to surround the nations represented on the floor before us. We joined hands and formed a circle around the pieces of paper. Then we took turns praying for the countries and people represented. The sound of prayer in each native tongue was beautiful beyond description. We prayed passionately for a reward – the hearts of lost people.

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Among those in our circle was one of two men who had been imprisoned for their part in delivering Bibles to one of the countries we prayed for. He was imprisoned in a country that was not his own for over one year. He survived the imprisonment and torture inflicted on them while in prison. His friend did not — he died as a result of the beatings he endured. Another one of the men there has barely escaped arrest for his evangelistic activity a number of times. Today he regularly visits mosques in his country and prays quietly for the souls of those he is surrounded by. In countries hostile to the gospel men, women, and children are asking God for the reward of bringing their Muslim neighbors to Christ. The limits to God’s answers to our tenacious prayers are boundless.

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns! – Isaiah 52:7 NLT

     In 1844 Willem Ten Boom started a weekly prayer service for the Jewish people and the peace of Jerusalem. Later his son Casper continued in prayer for the Jewish people with his own family. The meetings continued for 100 years, until February 28, 1944 when Nazi soldiers arrested Casper and his family for hiding Jews. The Ten Boom home was open to anyone in need and provided — a hiding place for Jews and members of the Dutch underground. The end result was the rescue of 800 Jewish people.

You too can join in one voice with our brothers and sisters in hostile and restricted nations. The Voice of the Martyrs 2016 prayer map  is a great resource to use when praying. Your prayers may be the wings God uses to usher the next Saul to Paul conversion in our times. Perhaps they will be the fabric that sustains a prisoner yet another moment, hour, or day? You may not know the full effects of your prayers this side of heaven — but, be assured they are heard.  BOMPMP16

 Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand. Revelations 8:3-4 NLT

 

Order The Voice of The Martyrs free Special Issue and receive the prayer map insert at www.persecution.com.

Images – The Voice of The Martyrs – USA

Blog posted on Persecution Blog too — http://www.persecutionblog.com/2016/02/the-reward-of-tenacious-prayer.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Song We Sing With Our Lives

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Image – The Voice of The Martyrs USA

I recently returned from an I Commit conference hosted in the state of Washington. While there I heard a young man named Gilbert Hovsepain share his testimony. Gilbert is one of the sons of Rev. Haik Hovsepian, who was martyred in 1994 in Iran. The documentary A Cry From Iran , tells the story of Rev. Haik and his family.

Gilbert began his testimony that morning by making a statement about the “song we sing with our lives.” Since that day I have rolled those words over many times in my mind. It has led me to ponder, — what song is my life singing?

I believe we greatly error when we listen to the stories of our brothers and sisters who have suffered for Christ from afar. When we filter their living testimonies through the lenses of — us and them. For the follower of Jesus Christ, it has never been us and them. It is us and Him. The genuine lives of our persecuted family draw us closer to the cross — in a reformed unity. Together we are one voice in harmony with  the heart of God.

There is a beauty in martyrdom that can only be viewed through spiritual eyes. Victorious shouts that reverberate throughout the heavens. A crowd of witnesses cheering the martyrs on to the finish line. A homecoming celebration for those who have overcome. My heart is filled with joy as I imagine those who spent their time on earth as persecutors, now won to Christ by a the songs of love. Once on opposite sides — now family.

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Luke 5:7 NLT

The entry fee to join the voices of those who suffer is simple, yet costly — we must enter into the fellowship of their suffering. The Message Bible’s introduction to the book of Job describes this fellowship eloquently.

So, instead of continuing to focus on preventing suffering — which we simply won’t be very successful at anyway — perhaps we should begin entering the suffering, participating insofar as we are able — entering the mystery and looking around for God. In other words, we need to quit feeling sorry for people who suffer and instead look up to them, learn from them and if they will let us — join them in protest and prayer.” – Eugene H. Peterson

One way to enter the fellowship of suffering is to join the chorus of those who will remember our persecuted family in prayer on the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted church . This coming Sunday voices from all over the globe will share in remembering and praying for our persecuted family.

One of those we can remember to pray for is Farshid Fathi of Iran. Farshid was arrested in December of 2010 and remains in prison till this day. You can read more about Farshid’s story and portions of letters he has written from prison at Prisoner Alert. Farshid’s witness was the inspiration for the song titled A Letter From Prison, written and preformed by his friend Gilbert Hosvepian.

May our hearts never be satisfied with being on the sidelines. May we be a chorus of surrender alongside of our persecuted family. May our lives be melodies of living sacrifice. May we be a song of love for both those who suffer and those who persecute.      

They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Revelation 6:10 ESV

The Bigger Question

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This week the world was once again assaulted by yet another senseless act of violence. This time the carnage took place in a small community many Americans may have never heard of before — Roseburg, Oregon. Eye witness accounts describe the gunman in this mass shooting at Umpqua Community College as demanding that students stand up and answer his question. Reportedly the killer then asked the students if they were Christians, if they replied yes, he said “Good, because you’re a Christian, you will be seeing God in about a one second”, then he shot them dead.

The news of this mass shooting has been spread both near and far, and across many different forms of media. The imprint  this evil act has left behind has sparked dialogues, speculation, and debates about the root of such heinous acts of violence. While this certainly merits attention; I wonder if there is a bigger question we should be discussing? A deeper inquiry into the lives of those who rose to their feet that day. What would cause the Christians who were slain in that dark moment to confirm their faith — rather than deny it? What do they possess that is of greater value then their very lives?  I think these are the same questions asked by those who witnessed the martyrdom of the twelve disciples that choose to follow in the foot steps of Jesus Christ.

Persecution of Christians always has a reverse effect. This is why Tertullian could write – “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”. It’s why Jesus cried out to His Father while being crucified; asking for forgiveness for the sins of His torturers.

34 And Jesus said,“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

And they cast lots to divide his garments. Luke 23:34. ESV 

All over the world, and at this very moment, persecuted Christians are uttering the same words to God on behalf of their persecutors today

As the world began to learn more about the mass shooting in Roseburg; including eye-witness accounts of the shooter singling out Christian students for execution; a media campaign began. A new hashtag can be seen on social media profiles, and accounts, declaring —#IAmAChristian. Four words that come with a price for those who own them.

There is no exception or exemption. If you choose to follow Jesus you will suffer persecution.

And all nations will hate you because you are my followers. But everyone who endures to the end will be saved.

Matthew 10:22 NLT

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Image – UTube

Last February, Libyan Islamic State (IS) militants released video footage of the martyrdom of Coptic Christian men in Libya. The footage of their martyrdom included a caption that read — “The people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian church.” The 21 men who knelt before their persecutors were identified as ‘people of the cross’, and asked to deny their faith or die. Many of the men are seen uttering their final words on this earth — “Lord Jesus Christ.”

While it was reported that all of the men where Coptic Christians from poor villages in Upper Egypt; it was later discovered that this wasn’t the case. One of the men martyred that day was identified as Mathew Ayairga; a young man from Chad. He is believed to not have been a Christian before kneeling in the sand beside the ‘people of the cross.’ Witnessing the courage and faith of the Egyptian Christians he also chose to follow Jesus.  Perhaps he understood the bigger question? Mere moments before Matthew was executed, His executors are seen asking “Do you reject Christ?” His reply was “Their God is my God.” Four costly words.

 Perhaps the answer to the bigger questions is that followers of Jesus Christ embraced the cost of being a Christian. Maybe like Stephen in the book of acts they see beyond this temporal realm we call life. Could it be they had already given up their lives? In reality not one of their lives were taken — they laid them down. They offered them up.  Could it be they had already reconciled the fact that their lives were not their own?

The martyrs who stood to face sure death and those who knelt to face certain death — now live — together alongside a multitude of their family who has gone before them. I can only imagine the reception they received as they stepped out of their earthly bodies and took in their first heavenly breath. As they each took their place alongside the multitude crying out before the throne of God.

They shouted to the Lord and said, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?” Revelations 6:10 NLT

Following Jesus has never been safe. The Christians in Mosul Iraq understand the cost of being of the sect of the Nazarene. Last summer in northern Iraq, the Islamic State (IS) painted the Arabic letter ن, or “N,” on properties, homes, and businesses of Christians. Those who owned the property were identified as Christians and given the choice to deny their faith or suffer at the hands of their persecutors. They were forced out of their homes with barely the clothes on their backs.

I Am NWe may, or may not, be asked to lay this life down as our persecuted brothers and sisters have, and do, today — but, we should live as if we were. Like those in Roseburg, Libya, Egypt, North Korea, Iraq, Syria, and many other hostile and restricted countries; we can stand, kneel, speak, go, and pray.

Yes, I am a Christian — and I am N. I will stand, I will kneel, and I will go.

Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies. Hebrews 13:3 NLT

  The Voice of the Martyrs is offering a tangible way to show your commitment to our persecuted family. You can show the world around you that you are “N” too. You can make your commitment to pray and stand with our persecuted family facing Islamic Extremism. Please see – I Am N bracelets at – http://www.persecution.com/.

People of the Cross

One of my favorite memories is of a trip to North Africa some time ago. It was on this particular trip that I had the opportunity to stay in a remote village and visit with the people who live there. I remember walking the dusty village streets and being captivated by the sights and sounds of village life. On occasion passing the local people and exchanging glances, and when appropriate a smile — that needed no translation, and was mutually understood by all.

It was during one of those days that I came upon a young boy. He sat quietly beside the street building a wooden cross. Using two pieces of wood, a hammer, and some nails, he worked. The simple innocence he displayed as he constructed his cross spoke volumes to me. Surely he was aware that the symbolism of this cross could cost him? Living in an area hostile to Christians this symbol could cost not only him, but also his family. I believe he had counted the cost long before that day. The price one may pay for being in possession of a cross was not unfamiliar to him. Perhaps he was keenly aware of the cost associated with his cross. IMG_1625

For Mary Sameh George, a 25-year-old Christian girl from Cairo; the cross would cost her very life. In March of 2014 she was attacked and killed after pro-Muslim Brotherhood supporters noticed her gold cross necklace. Her fiancé’s mother was so overcome with grief that she died shortly after learning of Mary’s brutal death.

I am reminded that the cross is much weightier then a verse in a song I sing, or design on a shirt I wear.  For a follower of Jesus Christ it is a literal exchange.

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 25 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. – Matthew 16:24-25 (NASB)

This past February, Libyan Islamic State (IS) militants released video footage of the martyrdom of Coptic Christian men in Libya. The footage of their martyrdom included a caption that read — “The people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian church.” The 21 men who knelt before their persecutors were identified as ‘people of the cross’, and asked to deny their faith or die. Many of the men are seen uttering their final words on this earth — “Lord Jesus Christ.”

While it was reported that all of the men where Coptic Christians from poor villages in Upper Egypt; it was later discovered that this wasn’t the case. One of the men martyred that day was identified as Mathew Ayairga; a young man from Chad. He is believed to not have been a Christian before kneeling in the sand beside the ‘people of the cross.’ Witnessing the courage and faith of the Egyptian Christians he also chose to follow Jesus.  Mere moments before Matthew was executed, His executors are seen asking “Do you reject Christ?” His reply was “Their God is my God.” Matthew joined his brothers that day — and laid his life down alongside them. He and the other 20 men joined the ranks of those of whom the world is not worthy. I can only imagine the reception they received as they stepped out of their earthly bodies and took in their first breath of heaven.140409_isis

The martyrdom of these 21 men by IS sparked the Bible Society of Egypt’s biggest campaign ever. A Bible tract was created and sent to print within 36 hours following their public executions. Titled “Two Rows by the Sea,” it carries a message of hope, comfort, and forgiveness for both Christians and Muslims alike. The Bible tract has been widely received in Egypt with 1.6 million copies being distributed.

The vivid video footage depicting the killing of the 21 men did not spark division amongst Egypt’s 10 million Christians and 73 million Muslims. Quite the contrary. The declarations of faith uttered by the men only moments before their death; have created fertile soil for conversation between Muslims and Christians. A brother of two of the Christian men martyred that day went on live television to thank IS for including their faith filled words in the media released to the world.

Evil can inflict pain, suffering and temporal death upon Christians, but, — it can never kill their stories. The testimonies of Martyrs echo through the halls of history. Their music can’t be silenced. Songs of love, faith, courage, and forgiveness. Sounds that can be heard in the surrender brought about by the blood of the martyrs. Its melody piercing the most calloused of hearts. Moving it’s listeners to their knees, and leading them to the cross. There is a beautiful finale to the persecution of Christians —this is the other side of Martyrdom.

Then a white robe was given to each of them. And they were told to rest a little longer until the full number of their brothers and sisters–their fellow servants of Jesus who were to be martyred–had joined them. – Revelations 6:11 (NLT)
 

The Shadows of Persecution

As I recently watched and listened to the news of the attack and subsequent slaying of those in the French magazine office of Charlie Hebdo; I found my thoughts immediately drawn to a comparable, yet very different story.  Both stories share the similarity of bloodshed at the hands of adherents to radical Islam. Each story is painfully tragic. I wondered if any of those  slain in France had met their attackers before that fateful day. I thought of the life and deaths of Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel and Tilmann Geske, who were murdered in their office at Zirve Publising in Malatya, Turkey on April 18, 2007.

Those who were responsible for the murders of Necati, Ugur, and Tilman weren’t all strangers to these men or their families. To the contrary, one of the murderers had sought Necati out earlier pretending to be interested in his Christian faith. As described in the book titled Faithful Until Death and written by Wolfgang Haede, Necati was suspicious of this young man from the beginning. He and his wife Semse discussed this, and concluded that in spite of the young man’s motives, a meeting would still offer an opportunity to share the message of Jesus with him. Later Semse would refer to those who were responsible for the murders of her husband, Ugur, and Tilman as “their Judas.”

Necati Aydin, Ugur Yuksel, and Tilmann Geske didn’t have their lives taken from them, they gave them away, not unlike the Jesus they’d hoped to introduce to the five men who betrayed them that morning. Instead of this introduction they were ushered into the heavens where they’ve now joined those robed in white, as they await the full number of their fellow servants.

Semse and Nicati

Nacati and Semse Aydin

1Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.– Revelations 6:11

Susanne & Semse

Susanne Geske and Semse Aydin

Following the aftermath of the killings in France I wondered how this news would affect those who live boldly in the shadows of persecution. Women like Semse Aydin and Susanne Geske. Both of them  suffered great losses yet each found it in their  hearts to publicly forgive those responsible for the deaths of those they love. Would the images, and commentaries being shared on virtually every media outlet bring vivid memories to the forefront of their minds? Would pain that lay gently beneath the surface be visible to them once again? More importantly, I wondered if those who live in the shadows of persecution like Semse and Susanne know they are not forgotten? Do they know they are not alone, and that we remember them, and are praying for them? While it’s true that God is faithful to those with broken hearts, it is equally true that a broken heart hurts. I am convinced that those who’ve lost their loved ones because of their faithful testimony are also those of whom the world is not worthy. When we remember, encourage, and pray for those who suffer for their Christian faith, let us not forget the living witnesses amongst us. .

“It was not easy for me to say that I forgive the killers.” Semse said later at the memorial service. “To be honest, my heart is broken and my life feels shattered. I really loved Necati. He was the love of my life, my closest friend. But there is no one I love more than Jesus. Only because of this, I can bear it.” – Semse Aydin from Faithful Until Death.

To learn more about the ministry of Semse Aydin please sign up for her newsletters at rangunes@gmail.com

If you are interested in making a donation to her ministry you may do so at the following address:

Joy To The World Foundation 5550 Tech Center Dr. Suite 305, Colorado Springs, CO  80919, or online at http://www.joytotheworldfoundation.org. Please specify Aydin Ministries as the designation of funds for her ministry.