1505) How the Church Moves the World

By Mindy Belz, in World magazine, May 27, 2017, page 28 (www.wng.org).

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How does the church move the world?

An Iraqi boy prays inside St. George’s Church in Baghdad

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     Months into the invasion of Iraq by ISIS, I emailed a friend in Baghdad to check on his family and his church.  Islamic State militants by that time controlled one-third of the country and could reach Baghdad by car in 40 minutes.  Bombings were up in the city.

     Dawlat Abouna is a deacon in St. George’s Church.  He had a library in his home where he kept documents tracing his Christian ancestry in Iraq to A.D. 1117.  He loaned me history books and translated documents for me as I wrote a book about Iraq.  So I asked:  How is your family?  With so much turmoil, are worship services continuing?

     Dawlat answered:  “Oh yes!  We have started two new groups here at the church— one to pray for our persecuted brothers in the north, and one to pray for our enemies.”

     I don’t know any churches in the West with meetings dedicated to praying for enemies.  And if the enemy breathing down my neck were ISIS, starting such a group would not be the first thing to come to mind.  We live in a society so polarized that loving one’s enemies in any active, intentional way is foreign, maybe even a little absurd.

     Yet Dawlat and the faithful at St. George’s know and practice something deeply important, if rare, something history and Scripture tell us is what Christians do, what makes them distinct.

     Not long before Dawlat’s email, the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, preached from a mosque in captured Mosul:  “Terrify the enemies of Allah and seek death.”

     ISIS teaching on terrorizing enemies isn’t a distortion of Islam; it’s woven into the Quran, the sayings of Muhammad (the hadith), and its history, which began as brutal conquest.

     Preaching in Egypt last month on a Muslim Brotherhood channel, Egyptian Salafi leader Mohamed al-Saghir said “suicide bombers” are the greatest resource in the Muslim community, boasting that they are found nowhere else.

     Writer Nabeel Qureshi, himself a former Muslim, writes in No God But One, “The historical Jesus never sanctioned violence and endorsed absolutely nothing like the Crusades, whereas the historical Muhammad engaged in jihad as the greatest deed a Muslim can perform.”

     Jesus made “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” a byword and reconciliation the essence of his ministry:  “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

     Like all things that aren’t natural or easy (or safe), loving one’s enemies and praying for those who persecute you is a discipline, the work of weekly prayer meetings and day-to-day service in a potentially hostile community.  And potentially hostile communities can inflict real harm, no matter the prayers or good deeds.

     At St. George’s over the years, Islamic militants aimed crippling bomb attacks.  The church built blast walls, planted hedges over them, and continues to hold services and to serve the community.  Hundreds of mostly Muslim women line up to collect food parcels every month as part of one program.

     In the United States we live in a time of political upheaval, social fracturing, and racial strife.  Calling out one’s enemies has become high art.  Checking into social media requires dodging a barrage of insults and ire.  How many of us pause to pray before we post?  How many of us pray for those who make our lives hard, whether they live nearby or far away?  Commit with me to praying for such an enemy this month and next, for someone who is a real pill, making your life hard, undermining a faithful witness in your community.

     Praying for enemies has a dividend:  It tends to cast out fear.  Over and over in the book of Acts we see the early church praying boldly, suffering mightily, thanking its persecutors for scattering its people, and doing it all over again.  It may look as if the church is being pushed around, but in reality it’s how the church moves the world.

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Matthew 5:43-45a  —  (Jesus said), “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.

Luke 6:27b-28  —  (Jesus said), “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

Romans 12:17-21  —  Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written:  “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.  On the contrary:  “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

I Peter 3:9  —  Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult.  On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

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 Heavenly Father, we pray for those who do not know you, and for those who hate you, and for those who hate us.  Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do; open their hearts to the work of your Spirit so that they may come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior; and may they, and we, learn to love all people as Jesus did.  In the name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.

1486) Images of the Persecuted Church

Many Mid-East nations have (or, once had) significant Christian minorities.  Many of the refugees you see on the news are Christians fleeing not only the wars, but genocidal persecution specifically targeting them as Christians.  Recent victories by the  Iraqi army over ISIS forces have allowed some of these Christians to return home.  The fifteen photos below illustrate the destruction done to their places of worship.  Some of them also show these Christian brothers and sisters worshiping again in their ruined churches.  Think about them tomorrow morning as you worship in peace and safety, and remember them in your prayers.  

If you have trouble viewing the images on your email, go to my website at:

http://www.emailmeditations.wordpress.com/2017/05/06/1486

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By Alan Taylor;  www.theatlantic.com; April 27, 2017.

In August of 2014, ISIS militants swept through towns near Mosul, Iraq, taking control and forcing thousands to flee.  Among the towns was Qaraqosh, which was Iraq’s largest Christian city with a population of 50,000.  For more than two years, occupying ISIS jihadists tried to erase any evidence of Christianity from Qaraqosh— burning churches, destroying icons and statues, toppling bell towers, and more.  Qaraqosh was retaken by Iraqi forces in October of 2016, but the city remains almost completely deserted.  Little by little, some residents who were forced to flee have been returning to recover what belongings remain, to assess the damage to their property, and to attend church services and holidays.  Only a handful of families have moved back to the city so far, still fearing for their security, as Iraqi forces continue to battle ISIS in nearby Mosul.

A Syriac Christian militiaman stands guard on top of the Saint John’s church (Mar Yohanna) during an Easter procession in the nearly-deserted predominantly Christian Iraqi town of Qaraqosh (also known as Hamdaniya), some 30 kilometers from Mosul, on April 16, 2017.

A fighter from the NPU (Nineveh Plain Protection Units) walks through a destroyed church on November 8, 2016 in Qaraqosh, Iraq.  The NPU is a military organization made up of Assyrian Christians and was formed in late 2014 to defend against ISIS.

A woman looks to salvage items from the rubble at the back of a church in Qaraqosh on December 22, 2016.

A smashed statue of Jesus Christ sits on the altar of a church burned and destroyed by ISIS during their occupation of the predominantly Christian town of Qaraqosh on December 27, 2016.

The remains of a destroyed church stand in the town of Qaraqosh on April 13, 2017.

A soldier from the U.S Army stands guard next to a defaced christian statue during Christmas Day mass at Mar Hanna church in Qaraqosh on December 25, 2016.

The broken cross of a Christian Church in the town of Qaraqosh on November 26, 2016, after Iraqi forces recaptured it from ISIS jihadists.

A member of the NPU rings the bell of a destroyed church in Qaraqosh on March 3, 2017.

Iraqi priests hold the first mass in the damaged Grand Immaculate Church since it was recaptured on November 2, 2016.

Iraqi Christians pray at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, damaged by ISIS fighters during their occupation of Qaraqosh, on November 12, 2016.

A man sweeps dust off pews in preparation for the Christmas Day mass at the Mar Hanna Church on December 22, 2016.

Iraqi Christian residents of Qaraqosh attend the first Palm Sunday service at the heavily damaged Church of the Immaculate Conception on April 9, 2017, since Iraqi forces recaptured it.

An Iraqi Syriac Christian girl smiles during an Easter procession at the Saint John’s church (Mar Yohanna) in the town of Qaraqosh on April 16, 2017.

Christians take communion during Easter mass in Qaraqosh, Iraq, on April 16 2017.

Iraqi Christian residents from Qaraqosh take part in a parade on April 9, 2017, as Christians celebrate the first Palm Sunday event in the town since Iraqi forces recaptured it from ISIS jihadists.

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I Thessalonians 5:25  —  Brothers and sisters, pray for us.

Matthew 5:10-12  —  (Jesus said), “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

I Corinthians 4:12b-13a  —  When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted,we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly.

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Almighty God, you have taught us through your Son Jesus Christ that those who follow Him may be persecuted.  Strengthen, comfort, and encourage all those who suffer harassment, violence, imprisonment, and even death for being followers of Jesus.  We pray also for those who persecute your people.  May their hearts be turned towards you through the faithful witness of those they persecute.  Protect members of the families and church communities of those who are persecuted, and bless the work and ministry of the organizations that support them.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

1370) Words from the Spirit

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From the Voice of the Martyrs January 2017 newsletter, (www.persecution.com)

     A pastor from an Islamic country in the Middle East recently shared the story of Shani, one of his church members.  Shani’s husband was the leader of a house church, until one day when he simply disappeared.  For three months, Shani had no idea where he was.  The authorities who had taken him had filed no charges against him, and he wasn’t allowed to see a lawyer or his family.

     Shani was left alone, worrying about her husband and about herself.  She knew her husband was strong and that his faith would endure even if he were tortured.  He would never give up names of other Christians or details about their secret gospel work.

     But Shani was afraid she wasn’t that strong.  “Dear God,” Shani prayed one night, “please don’t allow them to find me.  I can’t handle torture.  I cannot handle a jail cell.  I’m not strong like my husband.  If they torture me I’d probably give up the names of every single Christian.  I might even deny my faith completely.”  She prayed that prayer, then went to sleep.

     Shani was awakened at 6 a.m. the next morning by someone banging on her door.  When she looked out the window, she saw two police cars in front of her home.  “God!  I told you that I can’t handle arrest and torture,” she prayed.  “And this is what happens?  Whatever happens now, God, it’s your fault.”

     The police took Shani to the local jail, which was filthy and smelled like a sewer.  She had grown up in a wealthy family and had never been in a place like this.  

     In the middle of her first night in jail, the guards pulled her out of her cell and took her to an interrogation room.  The interrogator across the table from her looked very angry.

     “Why do you talk about Jesus to Muslims?” he demanded.  “Don’t you know that is illegal here?  You are not permitted to evangelize.”

     The only thing she could think to say was, ‘Dear God … Lord.”  Then she suddenly felt God’s presence and peace.

     Shani looked up at the interrogator.  “I have a right to evangelize,” she said, “and I’m happy that I’m evangelizing.  We’re supposed to evangelize.  This is a commandment from Jesus Christ.  Everyone needs to hear this Good News.  You need to hear this Good News, too.  God sent me here to tell you about Jesus.  You are a poor man.  I feel bad for you.  You don’t have peace, you don’t have joy, you don’t have hope.  You don’t even know why you are alive.  The only way to the truth is Jesus Christ.  You are an interrogator now, but one day you are going to stand before the ultimate judge, Jesus Christ, and He is going to examine you.  Without Him, there is no hope for you.  And Jesus is going to ask you, ‘Why did you do this to My servants?'”

     The interrogator was shocked by her bold words.  “I see,” he replied.  “I know exactly who you are now.  Your punishment has just increased.  Go back to your cell, and I’ll deal with you tomorrow.”

     As Shani was escorted back to her filthy cell, she prayed, “Oh, Lord, what did I do?  How could I have been so stupid?  Why did I even say all of that stuff?”  After further thought, she decided she would apologize to the interrogator and take it all back.  She decided she would say whatever he wanted her to say.

     The following night, the guards again dragged her out of her cell and into the interrogation room.  Despite her plan, she again felt the Holy Spirit’s guidance and began to share the gospel with her interrogator.  The third night, it happened again.  Each night, Shani entered the interrogation room with the intent of apologizing to the interrogator, and each night she instead boldly proclaimed the gospel.

      After the third interrogation, Sham went back to her cell hoping to give her mind a rest and fall asleep.  She hadn’t slept since her arrest and she was exhausted.  In the middle of the night, she heard a knock on her cell door.  To her surprise, it wasn’t a guard.  It was the interrogator.  Shani was terrified.  Was he coming to beat her or even to kill her because of her disrespect toward him?

     “Don’t worry,” the interrogator said calmly.  “I will not harm you.  I want to ask you for a favor.  Would you pray for me tonight?”  The interrogator entered Shani’s cell with tears in his eyes.

     “How did you know that God sent you here at this particular time in my life?” he asked.  “The past three days I’ve been going through hell.  How did you know that my life is so crazy, so messed up?  I tried everything in my religion and I could never find peace.  I learned today that the only Savior is Jesus Christ.  Please help me to be saved.”

     The interrogator stayed in Shani’s cell for three hours, and before he left, he placed his faith in Jesus Christ.  He then ordered the release of both Shani and her husband on the secret condition that they agree to meet privately to disciple him.

     Maybe you have prayed prayers like Shani’s:  Lord, I can’t handle cancer.  Lord, I can’t work for this difficult boss even one more day.  God, I can’t handle this rebellious teenager.  Lord, I can’t endure the betrayal of my unfaithful spouse.

     Shani told God she could not handle arrest, and that under torture she might give up the names of other Christians, or even deny her faith.  And yet this timid, fearful woman boldly shared her faith with her interrogator and everyone else in the room.  A frightened woman who thought she might deny her faith, ended up leading an enemy of the gospel into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

     Pastor Wally Magdangal is a Filipino Christian who lived and worked in Saudi Arabia.  He was arrested for his Christian ministry in Saudi Arabia and sentenced to death.  But God miraculously intervened, and Pastor Wally is still alive and serving the Lord today.

     As he shared his story with us, Pastor Wally said something profound: “Until God is finished with you, you are invincible.”  Until God says your time on earth is over (and He is the only one who can make that determination), you cannot be stopped.  We don’t have to live in fear of persecution, Muslim extremists, medical diagnoses, or anything else.  It’s not about us anyway; it’s about God and His power in us.  Because of God’s power in us, we need not be afraid.

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Luke 12:11-12  —  (Jesus said), “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

Luke 12:4  —  (Jesus said), “I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.”

Joshua 1:9  —  Have not I commanded you? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be dismayed: for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

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“Lord, help me.”  –Matthew 15:25b

1346) Persecution Backfiring

By David Yeghnazar.  Yeghnazar was born in Tehran, Iran.  He is the executive director for Elam Ministries, founded in 1990 by Iranian church leaders, to strengthen and expand the church in the Iran region and beyond.  Posted October 11, 2016 at:  www.thegospelcoalition.org

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     The Bible is full of stories reminding us that, whatever the opposition, God is always victorious.

     It’s the story of Joseph before Potiphar’s wife, of Moses before Pharaoh, of Daniel before the lions, of Esther before King Ahasuerus, of Peter and John before the Council.  Supremely, it is the story of the Lord Jesus, who was crucified and rose for our salvation.

     It’s also the story of the Iranian church in my lifetime.  When I was a child, persecution threatened to wipe it out.  Instead, the church in Iran has become the fastest growing evangelical church in the world today– and it’s affecting the region for Christ.

     Scripture is clear that God often uses his people’s suffering to advance his kingdom.  In his providence, the Islamic regime’s strategies to stamp out the Persian-speaking church in Iran have backfired— resulting in further church growth.  Here are five examples.

  1. Banning the Bible has backfired.

     In addition to banning the printing of the Bible in Persian, closing down the Bible society, and burning Bibles, Iranian government officials have warned citizens against reading the Bible.  Apparently, this warning has caused many Iranians, already disillusioned with their government, to become all the more eager to obtain a copy of the Bible.  And many have put their faith in Christ after finding and reading one.

     A few years ago, a government official waved one of the New Testaments printed by our ministry on national television and warned the population to avoid it.  Demand for the New Testament soared as a result.  Many who receive a copy through our street evangelism efforts say they’ve been searching for a copy.  Some say they’ve been searching for years.

  1. Closing church buildings has backfired.

     The Iranian government’s closure of churches over the past few years has forced Christians of Muslim background to meet in underground house churches.  These usually grow and multiply as friends, family, and neighbors give their lives to Christ.  Though government security agents work hard to crack down on these outlawed house churches, there are so many— and new ones are formed so regularly— that it’s impossible to find them all.

  1. Censoring television and blocking websites has backfired.

     Christian websites are routinely blocked and TV channels scrambled in Iran.  This censorship makes more people curious about what the government doesn’t want them to know.  Despite these censorship measures, blocked websites can still be accessed through VPNs (virtual private networks) and scrambled programs through satellite television.

     I know of at least 30 new house churches planted through satellite television and follow-up ministry last year alone.

  1. Killing leaders has backfired.

     Eight pastors have been martyred in Iran since 1980 because of their ministries.  Their deep affection for Christ— and their willingness to suffer for him— has made these leaders compelling examples for the rest of the church to follow.  Their martyrdom accounts are well known among Iranian Christians, many of whom desire to imitate their leaders’ deep love and courage for Christ.

     Because of their leaders’ example, many Iranian believers are increasingly willing to take risks in order to share the gospel.

  1. Imprisoning Christians has backfired.

     Persecution is intended to instill fear and paralyze the church. Instead, seeing Christians willing to suffer often draws unbelievers closer to Christ.  They ask, Who is this Jesus that people are so willing to suffer for?

     One recently baptized man began his journey to Christ when he heard on the news that Iranians Christians had been arrested for their faith.  Their willingness to go to prison for their beliefs made him curious, and so he googled “Christianity.”  The Lord used that internet search to eventually lead him to surrender his life to King Jesus.

Painful Path, Sovereign Christ

     We glorify God for how he is accomplishing his sovereign purposes in Iran.  Yet persecution remains deeply painful.  Lives have been lost; homes, businesses, and inheritances stolen; families torn apart.  Some will carry the physical and emotional scars of suffering for the rest of their lives.

     But we won’t shrink back.  As the apostle Paul declares in Romans 5:3-5:

We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

     Suffering has not destroyed the church in Iran.  Rather, suffering has deepened its dependence on God, which in turn has increased its endurance, character, and hope.

     A few years ago, an interrogator admitted to an imprisoned pastor, “We know we cannot stop the church.  We can only try to slow it down.”  Two thousand years ago, Jesus promised to build his church (Matthew 16:18):  “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it.”  He is doing so in Iran today.  Nothing can stand against him.  With humble confidence, then, we continue to press forward with the work we’ve been given to do.

     Please keep your Iranian brothers and sisters in prayer.  Pray for continued openness to the gospel among the Iranian people.  Pray for genuineness of faith among professing Christians.  Pray for perseverance and for the establishment of faithful churches.

     Never before have we seen such opportunity for ministry among Iranians.

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Image result for the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church images

–Quote by Tertullian, Early Church Father  (160 A. D.?-220 A. D. ?)

–Photo, martyrdom of 21 Coptic Christians, February 12, 2015

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John 15:18, 20  —  (Jesus said), “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first…  Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’  If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.  If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.”

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Almighty God, you have taught us through your Son Jesus Christ that those who follow Him may be persecuted.  Strengthen, comfort, and encourage all those who suffer harassment, violence, imprisonment, and even death for being followers of Jesus.  We pray also for those who persecute your people.  May their hearts be turned towards you through the faithful witness of those they persecute.  Protect members of the families and church communities of those who are persecuted, and bless the work and ministry of the organizations that support them.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

1345) A Good Story

By Mark Howard, of Elam Ministries, an organization founded in 1990 by Iranian church leaders with a mission to strengthen and expand the church in the Iran region and beyond.  Posted July 30, 2016 at:  www.thegospelcoalition.org

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     Everyone loves a good story.  As Christians, we especially love stories that tell us how, when all seems lost, God makes a way.

     One such story is about the church in Iran— and it’s one of the greatest stories in the world today.

     It’s a simple story that can be summarized in just two sentences:  Persecution threatened to wipe out Iran’s tiny church.  Instead, the church in Iran has become the fastest growing in the world, and it is influencing the region for Christ.

     As simple as it is, such an amazing story is worth examining deeper.

Growth Amid Persecution

     The Iranian revolution of 1979 established a hard-line Islamic regime.  Over the next two decades, Christians faced increasing opposition and persecution.  All missionaries were kicked out, evangelism was outlawed, Bibles in Persian were banned and soon became scarce, and several pastors were killed.  The church came under tremendous pressure.  Many feared the small Iranian church would soon wither away and die.

     But the exact opposite has happened.  Despite continued hostility from the late 1970s until now, Iranians have become the Muslim people most open to the gospel in the Middle East.

     How did this happen?  Two factors have contributed to this openness.  First, violence in the name of Islam has caused widespread disillusionment with the regime and led many Iranians to question their beliefs.  Second, many Iranian Christians have continued to boldly and faithfully tell others about Christ, in the face of persecution.

     As a result, more Iranians have become Christians in the last 20 years than in the previous 13 centuries put together since Islam came to Iran.  In 1979, there were an estimated 500 Christians from a Muslim background in Iran.  Today, there are hundreds of thousands— some say more than 1 million.  Whatever the exact number, many Iranians are turning to Jesus as Lord and Savior.

     In fact, last year the mission research organizatioOperation World named Iran as having the fastest-growing evangelical church in the world.  According to the same organization, the second-fastest growing church is in Afghanistan— and Afghans are being reached in part by Iranians, since their languages are similar.

Three Changed Lives

     The testimonies of Iranian men and women who’ve come to Christ are powerful.

     Kamran was a violent man who used to sell drugs and weapons.  One day, a friend gave him a New Testament.  After reading for five consecutive days, Kamran gave his life to Jesus.  When his family and friends saw his transformed life over the ensuing months, many of them also came to faith.  A church now meets in Kamran’s house.

     Reza was a mullah (a Muslim scholar) who hoped to become an ayatollah (a Shiite leader).  One day, while studying at an Islamic seminary in Iran, he found a New Testament that had been boldly left in the library.  Out of curiosity, he picked it up and was deeply shaken.  Over time, he fell in love with Jesus.  Today Reza is a trained church planter serving in the Iran region.

     Fatemah’s earliest memories were of being raped by her brothers.  At age 11, she was sold in marriage to a young drug addict who abused her and then divorced her when she was 17.  Upon returning home she was raped again, until she decided to leave.  On the streets she heard the gospel preached, and she trusted Jesus.  In time, she married a Christian man.  As they were receiving training in evangelism and church planting, Fatemah felt called to go back home and witness to her family.  Her entire family repented and gave their lives to the Lord.  The first church Fatemah and her husband planted was in her childhood home.

Story God Is Writing

     We’re living in a time when many Christians are suffering for their faith, particularly in Islamic contexts.  People often react by preaching fear and hatred of the Muslim world.  Yet the apostle Paul reminds us that we are to “rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12).  This is our call.

     And the story God is writing for Iran reminds us that we have every reason to rejoice and remain confident in our sovereign Lord and the power of his gospel.  Jesus will build his church.  It’s a promise (Matthew 16:18).

     I ask that you would keep the people and nation of Iran in your prayers.  Please pray for:

  • Many more Iranians to give their lives to Christ.
  • Endurance and joy for Iranian Christians suffering in prison for their ministry— many have testified to sensing the prayers of the global church while imprisoned.
  • More trained leaders to serve as evangelists, church planters, and pastors to disciple the many new Iranian believers.

     Persecution threatened to wipe out Iran’s tiny church.  Instead, by God’s mighty hand, his church is growing rapidly. Praise him!

Christians from a house church in Iran meet to worship secretly

Christians from a house church in Iran meet secretly to worship.

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Matthew 16:18  —  (Jesus said), “I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it.”

Romans 12:12-14  —  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.  Practice hospitality.  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Matthew 5:10-12  —  (Jesus said), “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

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Sovereign God, we worship you and acknowledge that you know all of those who suffer in your name.  We remember those who are imprisoned for their faith and ask that they would join with the Apostle Paul to see that even though they remain captive, their chains have furthered the gospel, not frustrated it.   May they inspire and embolden their fellow believers to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.  Amen.

1272) Last Words

Today’s meditation contains the last words of several martyrs who died because they would not deny their faith in Jesus Christ.  Most of the quotes are taken from the book Jesus Freaks: Martyrs/Stories of Those Who Stood for Jesus, published in 1999 by Bethany House Publishers, along with Voice of the Martyrs (www.persecution.com).

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“Do your worst, I am a Christian.  Christ is my help and supporter, and thus armed, I will never serve your gods nor do I fear your authority or that of your master, the Emperor.  Commence your torments as soon as your please, and make use of every means that your evil can invent, and you shall find in the end that I am not to be shaken from my resolution.”

–Andronicus, Roman Empire, 303 A. D.  He had been thrown into prison because he was unwilling to deny the Christian faith.  Then he was whipped and his bleeding wounds were rubbed with salt.  He was brought out of prison and tortured again, thrown to the wild beasts, and finally killed with a sword.  He was steadfast to the end.  (page 146)

“However it goes with me, I labor that you may have the Gospel preached among you.  Though it cost my life, I think it well bestowed.”

–John Peary, Martyred in Wales, 1593  (page 180)

“Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.”

–William Tyndale  (1494-1536).  Tyndale translated much of the Bible into English.  This was illegal, and after being betrayed by a friend he was arrested, convicted of treason and heresy, and burned at the stake.  Eyes were opened, and 75 years later the officially sanctioned King James Version of the Bible was published (1611).

“You can kill us, but you cannot do us any real harm.”

–Justin Martyr, Martyred in Rome, 165 A D.  (page 245)

Emperor Valerian of Rome ordered St. Lawrence (225-258) to bring him all the treasures of the church.  St. Lawrence said it would take a while to gather it all together.  He was given three days.  Lawrence then quickly distributed all the church’s wealth among the poor.  Three days later, he brought to the emperor several of the poor and the sick from the city.  “Here,” St. Lawrence said, “are the true treasures of the church.”  Valerian was angered and condemned Lawrence to a slow and cruel death.  He was tied to an iron grill over a slow fire that roasted his flesh little by little.  He remained faithful to his Lord and defiant of earthly authority.  Near the end, he said to cheerfully the judge:

“You can turn me over now.  I’m done on this side.”

He is now the patron saint of cooks, chefs, and comedians.

“Dear friends, I do not suffer today for any crime, but only for the defense of the faith of Jesus Christ.  As other faithful martyrs have offered themselves gladly, knowing that they will receive eternal joy, I praise God today that he has called me also to seal up His truth with my life.  I have received this life from him, and I willingly offer it for His glory.  If you want to escape eternal death, depend only on Jesus Christ and His mercy.  Pray, people, while there is time.  Lord, have mercy on me.”

–Walter Milne, Scotland, martyred in 1551 at the age of 82.  After being inspired by Milne’s words at his trial and execution, so many people declared themselves willing to die for their faith that the government re-examined their views on executing ‘heretics.’  (page 275)

John Bradford, the well-loved pastor of St. Paul’s Church in London, was thrown into prison for his beliefs that differed from the state church.  After two years in prison, he was sentenced to be burned at the stake.  With him was John Leaf, a teenager, who also refused to deny his faith.  After forgiving his persecutors and asking the crowd to pray for him, John Bradford turned to John Leaf and said:

“Be of good comfort, brother, for we shall have a merry supper with the Lord tonight.”  (page 178)

“God, accept all my sufferings– my tiredness, my humiliations, my tears, my hunger, my suffering of cold, and all the bitterness accumulated in my soul…  And, dear Lord, have pity on those who persecute and torture us day and night.  Grant them, too, the divine grace of knowing the sweetness and happiness of your love.”

–Woman in Siberia, circa 1960’s  (page 117)

“Why should I fear you?  You already have me in bonds.  What more can you do?  Shoot me, if you must.  That is all you have left.  I do not fear you, because my Lord has said, ‘Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell'” (Matthew 10:28)

–Li, China in mid-1960’s  (page 174)

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I Peter 4:12-13  —   Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.  –Peter the Apostle, martyred in Rome, 65 A.D.

Acts 7:59-60  —  While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  When he had said this, he fell asleep.  –The last words of Stephen, the first Christian Martyr, circa 34 A. D.

Matthew 10:16-20  —  (Jesus said), “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.  Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.  Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues.  On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.  But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it.  At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

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THE LAST WORDS OF JESUS (Luke 23:46):

Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.

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The Stoning of Stephen, Gustave Dore  (1832-1883)

1255) Jesus Visits a Muslim Persecutor

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From Jesus Freaks, pages 52-55, published by ‘The Voice of the Martyrs’, 1999.

   “When you catch the infidels, beat them!  Allah will be pleased,” Zahid encouraged them.  The crowd of young men, the youth group of his mosque, waved their sticks and iron bars and cheered in agreement.  Zahid’s arrogance and hatred swelled.  He felt he was doing well as a young Muslim leader.  His parents would be proud.  He had rallied a rather large group for this outing and they were nearly ready to go.  Within minutes they would be combing the streets of their village for Christians to ambush.

     Zahid had a proud heritage in Pakistan.  His father and older brother were both leaders in the local mosque.  As expected, Zahid had followed in their footsteps.  His hatred for Christians began to show itself as he rallied his followers against them.

     To Zahid, as to many Muslims, Christians are heretics and should be punished.  His government is becoming more influenced by Sharia law in some provinces.  Sharia law calls for the death of anyone found guilty of blasphemy against the prophet Mohammed or the Koran.  To these Muslims, rejecting Mohammed’s teachings by becoming a Christian is the highest form of blasphemy.

     When their fervor peaked, Zahid led his group into the streets.  It was not long before they found a group of young Christians to attack.  As the mob descended upon them, the young boys ran, one of them dropping his Bible.  One of Zahid’s group stopped, picked up the Bible, and opened it to rip out its pages.  Zahid had always told his followers to burn all the Bibles they collected, but this time Zahid felt strangely compelled to keep it and study it in order to expose its errors to the people of his mosque.  He quickly snatched the book from the man, encouraged him to chase the fleeing Christians, and tucked the Bible into his shirt for later.

     Zahid reported in his own words what became of keeping that Bible:

I was reading the Bible, looking for contradictions I could use against the Christian faith.  All of a sudden, a great light appeared in my room and I heard a voice call my name.  The light was so bright, it lit the entire room.  Then the voice asked, `Zahid, why do you persecute Me?’  I was scared.  I didn’t know what to do.  I thought I was dreaming.  I asked, `Who are you?’  I heard, `I am the way, the truth, and the life.’  For the next three nights the light and the voice returned.  Finally, on the fourth night, I knelt down and I accepted Jesus as my Savior.

     Zahid’s hatred was suddenly gone.  All he wanted to do was share Jesus with everyone he knew.  He went to his family members and those in the mosque and told them what had happened to him over the last four nights, but they didn’t believe him.  His family and friends turned against him.  They called the authorities to have him arrested so he would leave them alone about this Jesus.  According to Islamic teaching, Zahid was now considered an apostate, a traitor to Islam, a man who had turned from his faith and accepted stupid lies.  Thus, he was a criminal.

     Zahid was locked up in prison for two years.  The guards repeatedly beat and tortured him.  One time, they pulled out his fingernails in an attempt to break his faith.  Another time, they tied him to the ceiling fan by his hair and left him to hang there.  Zahid said:

 Although I suffered greatly at the hands of my Muslim captors, I held no bitterness towards them.  I knew that just a few years before, I had been one of them.  I too had hated Christians.  During my trial, I was found guilty of blasphemy.  According to the Sharia law, I was to be executed by hanging.  They tried to force me to recant my faith in Jesus.  They assured me that if I cooperated there would be no more beatings, no more humiliation.  I could go free.  But I could not deny Jesus.  Mohammed had never visited me; Jesus had.  I knew He was the truth.  I just prayed for the guards, hoping that they would also come to know Jesus.

     On the day Zahid was to be hanged, he was unafraid of death as they came to take him from his cell.  Even as they took him to his execution and placed the noose around his neck, Zahid preached about Jesus to his guards and execu­tioners.  He wanted his last breaths on earth to be used in telling his countrymen that Jesus was “the way, the truth, and the life.”  Zahid stood ready to face his Savior.

     Suddenly, loud voices were heard in the outer room.  Guards hurried in to tell Zahid’s executioners that the court had unexpectedly issued an order to release Zahid, stating that there was not enough evidence to execute him.  To this day, no one knows why Zahid was suddenly allowed to go free.

     Zahid later changed his name to Lazarus, feeling that he too had been raised from death.  He traveled in the villages around his home testifying of his narrow escape from death.  Many of the Christians did not trust him at first.  But soon they saw his sincerity and received him into their family.  They now assist him as he travels from village to village preaching Jesus as “the way, the truth, and the life.”

     “I live in a land ruled by the false teaching of Islam” Zahid said.  “My people are blinded, and I was chosen by God to be His voice.  I count all that I have suffered nothing compared to the endless joy of knowing Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life.”

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John 14:6a  —  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”

Acts 9:4-5  —  He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.  “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.

Romans 8:18  —  I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

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 Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may move every human heart, that the barriers which divided us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease, and that, with our divisions healed, we might live in justice and peace; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978, (#167).

1250) What Makes Churches Grow?

From The One Year Christian History, by E. Michael and Sharon Rusten, 2003, pages 372-373.

     In 1928 the Sudan Interior Mission sent the first missionaries to the Wallamo tribe of Ethiopia.  They faced a difficult task, for the Wallamos were Satan worshipers.  On the first day of the year the tribe performed a ceremony resembling the Old Testament Passover, but that was, in reality, a sacrifice to the devil.  A bull was sacrificed, its blood was smeared on the doorposts of each house, and a drop of blood was placed on each family member.  The ceremony ended with the head of the household on his knees praying to Satan.  Then everyone ate the raw meat.

     Wealthy Wallamos were slave owners.  If a slave owner decided his slaves had had enough children, he would have all further babies born to them buried alive.

     By 1930 the Ethiopian government was attempting to stop the infanticide and slavery among the Wallamos.  In 1935 Emperor Haile Selassie was in the process of trying to modernize his nation when Italian troops under Mussolini invaded.  Italian troops had attacked once before in 1896 but that time Ethiopia had overpowered them.  That humiliating defeat marked the first time in history that an African nation had defeated a European invader.  Now Mussolini was determined to avenge that defeat.

     This time the Ethiopians were no match for the well-equipped Italian army.  They fought courageously, but in May 1936 the capital of Addis Ababa fell.

     The Italian army advanced into the tribal areas, demanding that the missionaries leave.  On April 16, 1937, the day before the missionaries to the Wallamo left, they shared the Lord’s Supper with the believers.  When the missionaries had first arrived, there were no believers in the tribe.  Now, nine years later, there were forty-eight.

     The next day Italian army trucks took the twenty-six missionaries and their children to Addis Ababa for evacuation.  As the trucks pulled away, the missionaries wondered if they would ever be able to return, and what they would find if they did.

     With the missionaries gone, the Italians tried to stamp out the fledgling church.  Many church leaders were given one hundred lashes, and one was given four hundred.  After the lashings they could not lie on their backs for months, and three died.

     Toro, a leader in the Wallamo church, was able to stay in hiding for six months before he finally captured.  He was given forty lashes.  Then an Italian officer wearing hobnailed boots jumped up and down on his chest, nearly crushing his rib cage.  Later as he lay immobile in his prison cell, he saw a vision of Jesus, who said to him, “Do not be afraid.  You are my child.”

     After a slow recovery, Toro was released from prison, only to be arrested again when he resumed preaching.  This time he and other church leaders were taken to the marketplace, stripped naked, and each given more than one hundred lashes.  Back in jail; Toro’s Italian captors taunted him saying, “Where is your God who can deliver you from us?  You’ll never get out of here alive.”  Hardly able to speak, Toro whispered that God could deliver him “if he chooses— and if not, he has promised to take me to heaven to be with him there.”

     Later, Toro and his fellow believers were praying when a fierce thunderstorm descended upon the prison.  The gale-force winds literally blew the roof off.  Torrents of water separated the mud walls from the foundation.  Most of the non-Christian prisoners escaped.  The frightened jailers were convinced the storm had come in answer to the prisoners’ prayers.  “Ask your God to withhold his anger,” they begged Toro, “and we will release you.”  They kept their word and released him.

     Finally on July 4, 1943, the missionaries were able to return to the Wallamo.  During the six years that they were gone, the forty-eight believers had multiplied to eighteen thousand.

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“When the prisoners were finally released, they fearlessly testified about why they were willing to suffer for Christ.  They explained the Gospel– that God’s Son had come to earth to pay for all our sins by his death on the cross, and conquered death, sin, and Satan by rising from the dead.  He now invited anyone from any nation to believe in Him, promising he would forgive their sins, walk with them through life, and take them to heaven when they died…  The only portion of Scriptures the Wallamo Christians had was the Gospel of Mark, along with a pamphlet that contained a few other verses.  They made up their own hymns, sent out Christians to bring the Gospel to other tribes, and established a hundred congregations.”

What’s the Big Deal About Other Religions?, John Ankerberg and Dillon Burroughs.

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A church in rural Ethiopia

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Matthew 13:31-32  —  (Jesus) told them another parable:  “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.  Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

Matthew 5:10  —  (Jesus said), “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5:43-45a  —  (Jesus said), “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

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Sovereign God, we worship you and acknowledge that you know all of those who suffer in your name.  We remember those who are imprisoned for their faith and ask that they would join with the Apostle Paul to see that even though they remain captive, their chains have furthered the gospel, not frustrated it.   May they inspire and embolden their fellow believers to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.  Amen.

1232) Counting the Cost

            Nadia was raised in a strict Muslim home in Pakistan.  She remembers even as an eleven-year old being curious about the Christian church in her neighborhood.  She knew better than to ask her parent’s anything about it.  They had already firmly warned her to ignore those infidels and their church, because Christians were an affront to their Muslim faith.  But her parents’ opposition only served to arouse her curiosity even more.  One time when Nadia was walking by the church she heard the pastor over the church loudspeaker saying that Jesus was ‘the Way and the Truth and the Life.’  She wondered what that meant.

            As a teenager, Nadia became friends with a girl in her neighborhood named Rachel.  Rachel was a Christian and a member of that church, so she knew all about Jesus.  Nadia was happy to have this friend who could answer the many questions that had been on her mind for so long.  First of all she asked Rachel, “Why is your pastor always talking about Jesus?”

            Rachel answered, “Jesus is God, who created us all, and who became a man and lived on this earth.  He loves you and he desires a relationship with you.”

            Nadia wondered what Jesus expected of her if she wanted to be a part of his kingdom— what she had to do and what rules and rituals she was required to perform.  Rachel told her that Jesus first of all wants her to know of his love for her, and then to have her heart and her trust.  Then, she would want to obey.

            Rachel gave her a Bible, which Nadia kept hidden and read only when no one else was home.  She learned that God was a God of grace and love and compassion.  This God would leave the 99 other sheep to save just one— perhaps even her.  This God was quite unlike the God she was raised to believe in, and she wanted to be a part of his kingdom.  She prayed and placed her trust in Jesus, and would occasionally sneak off to attend the church.  Time went by.

            One day, Nadia’s brother discovered her going to church.  Her flew into a rage, grabbed her by the hair, dragged her home, and beat her severely.  He insisted that she deny Christ, but she refused.  He picked up a wooden bowl and slammed it into her face, splitting the skin above her eye.  As blood poured out, her shoved her into her bedroom and locked the door.  He kept her there for weeks, entering only to give her small amounts of food and water, along with more beatings.  Not one of her other family members objected to his brutality, or did anything to help her. 

            Finally, Nadia escaped and found refuge with the pastor and his family.  Being a former Muslim in a town where she was known put her and the pastor and the whole congregation at risk.  So the Christians helped her to move to a distant city where people would not know she was a convert.  There she was baptized, and met and married a Christian man.

            When Nadia’s parents found out where she was and learned of her marriage to a Christian, they registered kidnapping complaints against the man.  They claimed he had lured her away from her Muslim faith.  Her brother attacked beat her husband.  Knowing that the authorities would rule against them, they had to go into hiding.  Again, a Christian congregation helped them move, find a home, get settled, and find work.  They remain strong and faithful and thankful to God, despite the ongoing danger that Nadia’s family will again find them.

            In Luke 12 Jesus describes how families will be divided because of him.  Two chapters later Jesus talks about counting the cost to follow him, and being willing to give up everything to follow him, and about bearing your cross for him. 

            Did you count the cost before you became a Christian?  I didn’t.  I couldn’t even count at all when I became a Christian, being baptized at two weeks old.  Yes, I grew up in the faith and made it my own.  But I still have not had to give up everything to follow Jesus, and my cross has not been too heavy compared to the crosses that many people have to bear for their faith.  They indeed have to count the cost before believing in Jesus.  Nadia knew what she was in for when she started going to that Christian church.  She knew the hostility from her family and from the whole town.  And she did have to give up everything to bear her heavy cross.

            James 1:12 says, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”  We are all tested, though in different ways.  Christians in many Muslim areas are being tested by persecution, danger, constant threats, and even death.  They are being tested by the loss of everything.  In this country, we are more likely to be tested by the spiritual danger of having everything.  We are safe, we are secure, we have good health care, we are not being forced to leave our homes, we do not have to worry about our children being kidnapped and sold into slavery, we don’t have to worry about meeting secretly to worship, and even the poorest of us is wealthy by the standards of much of the world.  But having all of that brings other temptations and a different kind of testing.  Our persecuted sisters and brothers are forced to depend on God.  They have no other hope.  We might find it easy to believe we are able to manage life on our own, looking to God only when we think we need him.  They risk their lives to worship.  Here, many people worship if they feel like it and if it fits into their schedule.  You will hear from pastors in Iraq and Syria and refugee camps how their worship services are growing.  Most churches in the ‘more fortunate’ nations are in decline.  We are all tempted, though by different situations. 

     We must all pray for the faith to meet our various tests.  Referring to those suffering for their faith Hebrews 11:34 says, “Their weakness was turned into strength.”  Perhaps our test is to make sure our strength does not turn into weakness.

(The story of Nadia is one of 48 stories of Christians facing persecution from Islamic extremists collected in the book I Am ‘n’ published by ‘The Voice of the Martyrs’, available at http://www.persecution.com )

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People gather at the site of suicide attack on a church in Peshawa

All Saints Christian Church in Peshawa, Pakistan; the site of a 2013 suicide bombing which killed 85 and wounded 140.

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Luke 14:26-28  —  (Jesus said), “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.  Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.  For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?”

James 1:12  —  Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

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Heavenly Father, I thank you that you have counted me worthy to suffer for the sake of my Lord Jesus Christ, and I give you thanks that I may partake in the promise of eternal life.  Amen.

–Polycarp  (born, 69 A. D. – burned at the stake, 155 A. D.)

1224) The Greater the Persecution, the Greater the Revival

By Eric Metaxas, at http://www.breakpoint.org, August 15, 2016.

The greater the persecution, the greater the revival.  It’s a phrase Chinese Christians are using these days, and with good reason.

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     You’ve probably heard a lot about China in the news lately:  How it’s threatening peace in the Pacific by building military bases on artificial islands.  You’ve heard presidential candidates warn that China may soon overtake the U. S. as the leading global economic power.  But what you probably didn’t realize is that China is ready to overtake the U. S. in another area:  the size of its Christian population!

     You see, despite years of often savage oppression, the church in China is growing by leaps and bounds.

     Yu Jie, a writer and dissident from China, tells the story powerfully in the August issue of First Things magazine.  Yu reports that since 1949, when the communists took over and Christian missionaries were expelled, the number of Christians in China has multiplied from half a million to more than 60 million today.  If current growth rates continue, “by 2030, Christians in China will exceed 200 million . . . making China the country with the largest Christian population in the world.”

     And Yu, who became disillusioned with communism after the Tiananmen Square massacre, might very well be a little bit cautious in his estimates.  The respected Operation World prayer guide counts not 60 million but 105 million Christians of all kinds in the country, far outstripping the 70 million or so members of the Communist Party!

     Either way, it’s easy to see that the Chinese Church has been unbroken by decades of communist opposition.  These days few Chinese outside the Party believe in communism, and the Church has begun to fill the resulting spiritual and worldview vacuums.

     “Groups of young, well-educated, active professionals have gathered in urban churches,” Yu says, “smashing the stereotype in many Chinese people’s minds of Christians as elderly, infirm, sick, or disabled.  These churches … are a first step toward Christians assuming leadership in the development of a Chinese civil society independent of government control.”

     Perhaps that’s why the regime has begun cracking down on Christians of late.  According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, “Over the past year, the Chinese government has stepped up its persecution of religious groups deemed a threat to the state’s supremacy and maintenance of a socialist society.  Christian communities have borne a significant brunt of the oppression, with numerous churches bulldozed and crosses torn down.”  Yet as Yu reports, “Chinese Christians have refused to give in.”  In fact, Yu says, “One of the phrases I have heard most often among them is:  ‘The greater the persecution, the greater the revival.’”

     I am thrilled to tell you that many Christians in China are finding inspiration from one of my personal heroes— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who stood against and was executed by the Nazis.  Yu says, “Chinese Christians also see in Bonhoeffer a man who dared wage war as an ant on an elephant.  He found wisdom and courage in Jesus, knowing that Jesus exists for others, and those who follow him should do the same.”

     And that’s what Chinese Christians, unbroken by this latest round of persecution, are doing— living for others, no matter what.   The churches have a large and growing presence in serving their non-Christian neighbors in the name of Christ, Operation World reports.  They’re also active in evangelism, both at home and abroad.

     And folks, they deserve our prayers.

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SEE ALSO:

China’s Christian Future
Yu Jie | First Things | August 2016

God Is Moving in China: Filling a Peoples’ Spiritual Void
Eric Metaxas | BreakPoint.org | June 11, 2015

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Matthew 5:10-12  —  (Jesus said), “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

John 15:19-21  —  (Jesus said), “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.  As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.  That is why the world hates you.  Remember what I told you:  ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’  If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.  If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.  They will treat you this way because of my name,for they do not know the one who sent me.

I Corinthians 4:12b-13a  —  When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted,we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly.

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Almighty God, you have taught us through your Son Jesus Christ that those who follow Him may be persecuted.  Strengthen, comfort, and encourage all those who suffer harassment, violence, imprisonment, and even death for being followers of Jesus.  We pray also for those who persecute your people.  May their hearts be turned towards you through the faithful witness of those they persecute.  Protect members of the families and church communities of those who are persecuted, and bless the work and ministry of the organizations that support them.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.