Suffering is Not a New Truth

assyrian-christians-returned-to-their-church-after-it-was-destroyed-by-islamic-extremists

Assyrian believers return to pray at their church after it was destroyed by Islamic extremist.  Photo credit – VOM-USA

 First published 11/04/16 – Eternal Persepective Ministries http://www.epm.org/blog/2016/Nov/4/suffering-not-new-truth

“Suffering is not a new truth, it is an old truth.” — Sarah Liu imprisoned and tortured for her Christian witness.

This coming Sunday the 6th day of November, 2016 is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Christians from around the globe will set aside time to honor, remember, and pray for our persecuted family. I am grateful for the privilege of standing shoulder to shoulder with those of whom the world is not worthy. I pray that this day is the beginning of a deeper fellowship with our persecuted family.

I rarely approach IDOP without remembering my introduction to those who suffer for their faith.  I was reading for the first time a Voice of The Martyrs newsletter. The stories were disturbing and intriguing. I found myself face to face with a reality I couldn’t reconcile. The suffering and pain was too difficult to fit into the sterile package I had stuffed my understanding of God into.

The journey I began by reading the true life stories of persecuted Christians would eventually land me at a VOM regional conference in Bartlesville, OK. It was there that a more disturbing truth came to life. That first evening I listened as a man from Pakistan described the road of suffering Pakistani Christians walk. He told of the torture and eventual murder of a young boy—someone’s son, brother, and friend. This child died at the hands of his torturers—his crime? He was a Christian. For the first time in my life I contemplated the possibility that God would not always intervene–that perhaps suffering was part of His plan.

Being shaken by the very thought of suffering of this kind, I went back to my hotel room and had a heart-to-heart talk with my God. You see, it was up until that time that I had cried “send me!” Now I was asking Him to not honor my requests.  The weight I felt upon my heart was great. Standing securely in my “mirage” of comfort, safety, and control, I laid out “my” plan for my life. He graciously listened to me try to tell Him what to do.

Day two of the conference began with me feeling assured—certainly my one–on-one talk with God had sealed the deal. I had effectively canceled out all those “send me” prayers! It was then that a young man from the Middle East began to share about his work, which includes traveling great distances into hostile territories controlled by Islamic extremists. These were places where Christians die for their faith. Pictures were displayed on a screen behind him of people receiving the Bibles he delivered. Their expressions of curiosity and delight captivated me. As he spoke, he seemed puzzled by those who ask why he goes to such dangerous places. His response was simply, “Since when has the gospel been safe?”

I felt as if I were alone with the Lord in that room. I knew He was speaking directly to me. I recalled the list of demands I called “a prayer” the night before, and heard Him say, “I did not create you that way.” I’m so glad He didn’t “create me that way.”

Since then I’ve learned that God’s love trumps suffering. Those who walk the road of suffering for Jesus Christ—never really walk alone. Their sustance for the journey? An intimacy with God reserved for those He counts worthy.

“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, Introduction to Job, The Message Bible 

There’s a beauty in martyrdom that one can only see through spiritual eyes. Perhaps this is why Hannelie Groenwald can say God prepared her before the Taliban attacked, killing her husband and two children. She and her family had left the comforts of home to serve God in Afghanistan. They knew the risks and refused to deny the call of God. Her family gave it all for Jesus in Afghanistan. You can listen to her story at https://secure.persecution.com/radio. Pray for Hannelie and others who are living martyrs.

“We die only once. We might as well die for Christ.” – Werner Groenwald

The church in America can join with the body of Christ around the world to pray and remember the persecuted church on November 6th. To learn more please visit www.persecution.com/idop.

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And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand (Revelation 8:4).

“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.                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Also published in  – http://www.persecutionblog.com/                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

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

Say A Prayer

~ Say a prayer ~

 Did you see the homeless girl you passed on your way into work today? She is someone’s daughter. The man you passed this morning, the one sitting outside in the rain – he’s someone’s brother.

The next time you see that homeless girl, boy, man, or women sitting along the road, or against a building, or in a park, or anywhere – say a prayer. Say a prayer for them, and say a prayer for those who love them.

You may look at them and see a drug addict – I see someone’s daughter, son, mother, father, brother, or sister. I see the sleepless nights and tear soaked pillows. I see loved ones suffering silently. I see those enslaved to addiction and mental illness who are dying yet are alive.

So the next time you see that young women obviously bound by addiction, or the man hopelessly homeless – say a prayer.

12 “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one wanders away and is lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others and go out into the hills to search for the lost one? 13 And if he finds it, he will rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine others safe at home! 14 Just so, it is not my Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish. – Matthew 18:12-14

Beauty From Ashes

Beauty From AshesWhere we live we are able to burn our yard debris during certain times of the year. Each fall we clean up dead and dying plants and toss them into the burn pile, having deemed each plant as having served its purpose and its season having come to an end. When we do burn the pile, the fire burns extremely hot, and because of its size and intensity, it will often smolder for days. When it does eventually burn out, what remains is a large pile of ash.

This last spring a beautiful squash plant rose from the burn pile. Not a single person in our family planted it or tended it once it sprouted from the ashes. Yet this plant is the healthiest plant on the property. The seed survived the heat of the fire last fall and the freeze of winter, and the plant weathered the 80-degree, sun-filled days of this past summer. Not only did it survive all of those extreme elements, but it has also bore an abundance of fruit—there are over nine squash growing on this healthy plant!

The beauty of the abundant life rising from the ash pile has captivated me. I have found my thoughts consumed with what God is saying through this plant that came to life from the ashes. It comforts me to know that God can bring beauty from ashes, and also reminds me that there is great potential for seeds buried in the soil of disappointment, sorrow, and despair.

Never underestimate the potential of a seed buried deep within the ashes. The fire that seemed to be relentless was in reality creating the perfect soil for new life.