Thursday, November 30, 2017

Living With First-Century Faith and Being Jailed for Jesus


The first time someone asked me to pray for his wife because he would be out of the country for a few days and "the terrorists are in and out of our village all the time," I was stunned. 

He's worried about terrorists? Really? 

Yep. He and his wife live in one of the most dangerous places in the world. When he travels, his concern is not that something will go awry at home and his wife won't know how to fix it. His concern is that she will be kidnapped by terrorists, tortured, raped, and killed, or worse. 

I met this sweet couple in person once. He told me about being beaten, as if it was the most normal event in the world. Beaten for the cause of Christ. I was amazed when his wife rejoiced as she shared how God had brought them through that hard time. 

This is a couple whose faith is first-century-real.

I thought they were unique, but I realized something shocking recently. I know quite a few Christians who are persecuted for their faith. I'm not referring to someone experiencing mild ridicule for being a Christian, although that can certainly be difficult, disconcerting, and discouraging. 

I know people who have been beaten and imprisoned for their faith, people who've lost everything for Christ, people who experience true persecution on a regular basis. 

Persecution didn't stop them from following what they believed God had called them to do, and, to be perfectly, and shamefully, candid here, I didn't understand. I wondered why they didn't go underground, why they didn't "play it safe." Wouldn't that protect the other believers? Wouldn't that somehow keep the cause of Christ going forward?

These brothers and sisters in Christ understand something I didn't. 

There is a time for prudence and caution, but hiding their faith wasn't what allowed the first century believers to take the gospel around the world. They ran for their lives, and shared their faith as they went. Sharing Christ when it was costly propelled the Good News from one city to the next, one nation to the next, one continent to the next. 

When God said go, they went. When He said speak, they spoke. When He said persevere, they persevered. When it was costly, they considered what salvation cost Jesus and they did what He did. They rejoiced in their suffering and they persevered.

That same kind of perseverance is happening around the world today.

When Jesus said "confess Me before men," He knew the price many believers would pay. They would lose everything - family, possessions, jobs, homes. Everything, except Jesus. In that moment, they would find He's enough. 

They still do. 

Consider the words of Jesus: "I tell you, whoever public acknowledges Me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God." (Luke 12:8 niv) Matthew says He also acknowledges those persecuted ones "before My Father." (Matt. 10:32) When, in the face of severe persecution, these believers confess their love of Jesus, He turns to God the Father and the angels in heaven and says, "He's mine. She's mine." 

In areas of persecution where Christianity costs everything you have, converts believe the gospel is absolute truth, worth living and dying for. The cause of Christ is all that matters, and it's evident in the way they share the gospel, the way they love, give, serve, pray, share. It's obvious in their unity. 

Their battle is not about how to make the persecution stop. It's about how to continue the work God has given them, despite the persecution. 

I'm in awe of their faith and their ability to go the distance, but I want to make their hard times stop. I want to write something passionate and push it viral so an outraged world can intervene to limit their suffering. 

I want to do something that makes a difference.

In moments of indignant passion, it's easy to forget I can do something that makes a difference. We all can. We begin to intervene through prayer. That's why many of us are up in the middle of the night, praying with believers on the other side of the globe. What does a few hours of lost sleep matter in comparison to one of brothers or sisters facing jail for Jesus?

If we are to "bear one another's burdens" (Gal. 6:2) and "remember the prisoners as though in prison with them," (Heb. 13:3), we will keep their circumstances fresh in our minds and in our prayers. We'll intercede consistently and with fervor. 

How should we pray?

1) For God's will
2) For strength and endurance
3) For joy, despite the trial
4) For provision of food and comfort, even in prison
5) For provision for their families and for those family members to persevere and not  be embittered
6) For God's Kingdom to advance and His name to be glorified through the suffering
7) For opportunities to share the good news of Jesus wherever these persecuted ones find themselves 

Pray for the one who's beaten for the cause of Christ, the one who has lost everything, the one who is imprisoned or facing imprisonment, the mother and children who are on their own because their husband and father is in chains for his faith. 

We don't see persecution of this magnitude in our country, at least not yet. Our lack of trials doesn't relieve us of the burden of supporting our brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering, however.

Instead, it compels us toward two actions. First, we, too, must live with first-century-faith of our own. Ready to live, suffer, or die for the One who purchased our pardon. 

Second, we must live with first-century-freedom that recognizes the imprisoned ones as family and responds with generosity and love.

Believers all around the world are suffering for Christ today. Their sacrifice behooves us to live for Him and pray for them. Today, let's do exactly that, and pray without ceasing. 

"Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body." Heb. 13:3
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ps - I'm writing because of my deep concern about people I know who are persecuted and facing such terrible times. I can't share names or circumstances or even locations, but I hope you'll pray anyway. God knows... Thank you.

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In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: Choosing Persecution and Other Hard Facets of Faith

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Or you can mail your check or money order to: Global Outreach/ PO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802. Be sure to put Account 4841 in the "for" line.