Suffering is Not a New Truth

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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/                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

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

I Am My Brother’s Keeper

~ I Am My Brother’s Keeper ~

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A trip to the Middle East is not needed to learn that untold numbers of people are suffering in these ancient lands. Multiple media outlets are sharing the unimaginable stories that are riddled with pain and affliction. Followers of Jesus Christ, once known as the ‘sect of the Nazarene,’ are being relentlessly pursued by radical Islamic factions. They are being kidnapped, tortured, raped, and forced to flee their homes and the birthplace of Christianity. A genocidal fire fueled by fierce evil is scorching the Middle East, and leaving in its wake death and destruction.

From the comforts of my home I watch and listen to numerous reports being shared with the world today. At the same time, I have the option of stepping away from the stories when I find my senses overwhelmed by the suffering depicted. I have the ability to turn off my computer, or avoid a particular website. I can turn off television, radio, or step away from written material. I have the ‘ freedom’ to choose the frequency, and volume, in which I will allow the pain of others to touch me. This is not so for Christians in places like Iraq, Libya, Syria, or Egypt – this luxury is not an option. Rather the raw pain and anguish of persecution is being vividly lived out in their lives daily.

     Perhaps this is what a Middle Eastern brother meant recently when he said to me “I think freedom in your country, and freedom in my country, mean two different things.”

As troubling, as I find the atrocities being committed against followers of Jesus Christ today – I find the silence from what is termed the ‘free’ world, more disheartening. The shedding of innocent blood dates as far back as the first book of the Bible. In the book of Genesis chapter 4 we are told of the slaying of Abel at the hands of his brother Cain. Only the blood of Abel could not be silent. The cries of his blood traveled from the ground to the ears of God. Not unlike the days of Cain and Abel, the blood of innocent men, women, and children continue to cry out to God. Even now, the martyr’s blood is heard crying from the deserts of Egypt, the mountains of Iraq, the streets of Libya, and the desolate places of Syria. It echoes off of prison walls, underground meetings, and public squares. Sometimes heard as the voice of one, other times it is heard in harmony with the voices of many.

9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. Genesis 4:9 – 10 

Today the martyrs blood continues to cry and a remnant of God’s people acknowledge they are their brother’s keeper. 

I recently met a young Middle Eastern girl whose simple devotion to Jesus spoke volumes to me. It was not long after meeting her that I sensed a beautiful story lay beneath her gentle brown eyes. I recognized the aroma of Christ she wore – it was the same scent I have seen on those who have suffered greatly for their faith. It is a fragrance that carries with it a high price, yet cannot be bought. A Nazarene King paid the price with His own blood long ago. It is now freely given in exchange for sacrifice and surrender.

I later learned that she had been nearly beaten to death at the hands of her fellow students in primary school. This young Christian girl was found drawing a picture of a church building during a break from her studies. This sight outraged her Muslim classmates who began to beat her mercilessly – without interference from the teachers in her school. Her mother tells the story of being called to the hospital to find her daughter close to death. I could hear the tangible pain in her voice as she described this time in their lives. I wish I could say this was an isolated case of persecution for this family. But, it is not. They like many Middle Eastern families are well acquainted with the price one pays for being of the ‘Sect of the Nazarene.’

This attack did not harden the hearts of this family. To the contrary – today they passionately reach out to their Muslim neighbors with love and respect. Whether it is standing to offer their seats to other Muslim women who enter the train, or taking the hand of a frightened Muslim mother with her baby in her arms, needing assistance down a long flight of stairs. This love is lived out when she routinely travels long distances to serve Muslim people in need. Out of their hardships they have been given hearts that have a capacity to love even greater.

Yes, we are our brother’s keeper. Being our brother’s keeper means giving voice to their stories. It is standing in solidarity with our persecuted family. It is praying for them – and with them. It is following their example, and learning from them. It is assisting them with both spiritual and practical assistance. It is standing arm, in arm, as we embrace the cross of Jesus Christ together.

One way we can stand with our suffering family is on the International Day of Prayer for The Persecuted Church. This coming November 2nd is this day, where believers from all over the world will join in pray for those who suffer for their faith.

For additional information on The International Day of Prayer for the persecuted Church please see – http://www.persecution.com/idop.

They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”- Revelations 6:10