Preserving freedom: The authenticity of faith has a high cost. The question we need to ask ourselves is if this authenticity will be preserved.
Living as a Christian under the dictatorship of Chauchescu in Romania had extreme difficulties and dangers. Even though Rev. Joseph Tson has counted the cost and served the Lord and His flock faithfully he feared the day that he would be called in by security. He knew the possibility of facing death was inevitable.
The day that Joseph feared arrived as the security arrived at his home one day and took him to the headquarters. Joseph was instructed to sit on a chair and a gun was put to his head. "The choice is easy" came the commanders voice "Deny Jesus or we pull the trigger" This was indeed the moment that Joseph feared all through his ministry but suddenly the Spirit of the Lord filled his whole being. "If you kill me today you will do me a great favour. All my sermons that were recorded will be in great demand because I will be a martyr for Christ. You will help me greatly to share my messages. You will also help me to go to my Lord quickly!" Joseph fearlessly replied. The officer dropped the gun. "You Christians are crazy" he shouted and then commanded the officers to take Joseph back home.
The life of Joseph was spared but in a sense he lost it that day. "Never again did I fear what man can do to me. Never again did I fear for losing my life" Joseph told us later and this reflected in his ministry in Romania up to today
Today, in this modern era of human rights and democracy, Christians still remain the largest persecuted group in the world. For countless believers across the globe following Jesus involve a “norm” that would seem abnormal to many fellow believers in the West. It involves restrictions, discrimination, imprisonment, torture and often death. The Persecuted Church has to count the cost of following Jesus every second of every day. They have no other option
The blood of the martyr is the seed of the Church
During a recent visit to a Bible School on the outskirts of Jakarta we were told the victorious testimony of Sariman, a young student who was preparing himself to serve the Lord amongst the 30-million-strong Sundanese, the largest unreached people group in the world. During a violent attack on the Bible school Sariman was killed and 44 other students were wounded. Sariman bravely assisted his friends although he could have saved himself. Before his death he was tortured and other students testified how Sariman was slaughtered. He was hit with a bar of wood and iron, then hacked, stabbed and his mouth was cut from the left cheek to the right.
Upon hearing yet another testimony of martyrdom many questions arose in my heart. “Why this tragedy Lord? How long will you allow this to continue? This is such a tragic loss for this wonderful ministry. What is the sense in all of this?” Then the dean of the Bible school concluded the testimony and at the same time answered my unspoken questions. “The victory in this tragedy was that only ten days after the murder of Sariman we had ten new applicants to attend the Bible school. Today, 6 months after the incident, we have 98 new students who are willing to go where Sariman would have gone. The blood of the martyr is indeed the seed of the Church.”
If the blood of the martyr is indeed the seed of the Church, as we so often confess, then the Church in the West has certainly not been doing too much sowing in modern day history. In an age of human rights and a martyr-free society , we need to take note of the seeds which is sown in many a closed country today.
Paul clearly warns the Church in Galatia (Galatians 5:1) to stand firm in the midst of freedom. Freedom is not a time to relax. Freedom often creates a new kind of slavery. There is a price tag attached to freedom and we need to count the cost. In this regard the existence of the Church in the West will to a large extent depend on her relationship with those who suffer for the sake of the Gospel. It is time to open our hearts to the valuable lessons that we can learn from those that follow Christ in restricted countries. The clouds of witnesses that surround us from closed countries are crucial for the future of the Church as a whole. How we implement these lessons of self denial, that was not taught in air-conditioned rooms but in prison camps, will enrich, strengthen and challenge our own faith
We will impoverish ourselves if we merely see the persecuted Church as an unfortunate group of people who need our support. We must listen to her lessons of counting the cost in following Christ. She teaches the lessons of true discipleship that are neither theology nor speculation but teachings of life, reality and practice.
In his book “The Persecution of Christians concerns us all” Thomas Schirmacher wrote the following:
“One of the reasons why we care less and less about the persecuted Church is because we have trivialized too many verses by taking them out of their context of persecution and suffering. Large portions of Scripture can only be understood in the context of past or anticipated martyrdom. None of the early Christian literature is untouched by the subject. Only three books in the New Testament does not mention persecution and four were especially written with persecution as the main topic. The book of acts contains only two chapters which do not mention persecution. Paul’s entire missionary practice and theology is saturated with the subject of martyrdom. Paul could see himself only as a martyr”
The Church arose out of persecution. Martyrdom is part and parcel of being Christian, part of its very essence and suffering is the mark of missions. Jesus is the archetype and actual object of all persecution and this is why counting the cost remains one of the most crucial aspects and teachings of Christianity in closed countries. It also remains one of the most neglected teachings in the west.
We once asked a Christian in Vietnam how he introduces the Gospel in the villages where people have never heard about God. Without hesitation he answered “Oh very easily.. I simply tell them the following: I have good news for you but it might cost you your life, would you like me to continue? People want to hear good news and most of the time they eagerly ask me to tell them. But the introduction is always that there will be a cost involved because for us in Vietnam, being a Christian means a life of self-denial. When they are persecuted and imprisoned they are not surprised. They expect it”
For those who have read up to here and still doubt the Biblical command of counting the cost or the Biblical promise of persecution, here are some wonderful promises to those who will persevere to the end. This is not a theology but reality to those whom I have met in my travels to areas where Christians are persecuted, ridiculed and murdered
Persecution teaches true abundance through Godly joy
Persecution teaches true hope through endurance
Persecution teaches true unity with Christ through Godliness
Persecution teaches true salvation through confirmed obedience
Persecution teaches true discipleship through servanthood
Persecution teaches true revelation through submission
Persecution teaches true worship through the testing of faith
Yes indeed, It would be best for us if one day we too can say: “I have never been to college or university, but I have been to Calvary.”
Leadership demands Servanthood: A culture of achievement will inevitably create a search for leaders based on worldly principles of success.
We live in an era where achievement dominates a success driven society. And at the root of our quest for achievement lies the desire for leadership. The Church in the west has not escaped this. The affirmation of Christ “Well done my good and faithful servant” (Mat 25:21) has changed to “Well done my skilful and successful leader”. For the persecuted Church leadership is not one of the Christian ambitions. Only servanthood will impact society and a life of faithfulness. Being a minority in the Middle East , Africa and Asia means that support systems and opportunities are rare.
The subtle danger of success and achievement results in a self-sufficient and a self assured Church. Losing sight of our inadequacy without Christ happens as we start concentrating on our adequacy with Christ. Paul understood this. 2Co 12:5 So I will boast about this man---but I will not boast about myself, except the things that show how weak I am. (9) But his answer was: "My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak." I am most happy, then, to be proud of my weaknesses, in order to feel the protection of Christ's power over me. (10) I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
We only need to travel to the nearest Christian bookshop to understand the influence that this quest for leadership has on the Church. Browse a Christian book web site or bookstore and just notice how many books there are for leaders and on leadership. There are books on every topic ranging from keys to leadership, how to be a leader and studies on both current and historical leaders. Next notice how many books there are on servanthood that is not tied to leadership. Hard to find, are they not?
Servant leaders and leading servants
My exposure to Christian leadership in both the free world and in countries where Christians are persecuted has led me to believe that the true meaning of Servant Leadership has been hijacked by an obsession with leadership.
The phrase “Servant Leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay that he first published in 1970. In that essay, he said: "The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature."
Unfortunately the desire for leadership has overruled this Biblical aspiration. It seems like servanthood has now become one of many tools in the quest for leadership. In countries like China true servant leadership has resulted in a revival and Church growth without comparison. In the free world the same attitude so easily produce celebrities and consultants. Maybe we should return to the value and change the phrase to a more Biblical “leader-servanthood” What is the difference between Servant leadership and leading servanthood?
Servant leadership Leading servanthood
Jesus is a supreme example of a leading servant. He lead with a servant attitude. He lead the disciples by washing their feet. He led them from within the fisher boat and not from the shore. He was found at the pool of Bethesda before he went to the temple. He sat with the tax collectors and not the celebrities. He touched the leper and listened to the widow. He never served with a self righteous attitude. He became servant. Likewise we are challenged not to serve but to become servants (Mat 20:2 This, however, is not the way it shall be among you. If one of you wants to be great, you must be the servant of the rest).
Serving and servanthood
Biblical servanthood is a requirement for every Christian whether or not they will ever be in a leadership position.. In fact, most Christians will never be in any type of leadership. Leadership is not a requirement for a follower of Christ but Servanthood is. Sadly, most believers aspire to be leaders and most programmes are to raise leaders for the future.
Meeting Philemon in Bhutan was an encounter that will be with me as long as I live. Philemon shared that when he heard the name Jesus as a young Buddhist he fell in love with Jesus. He knew little about salvation but he fell in love with the Saviour. About 6 months after he had accepted Christ the persecution became very severe in the district where he lived. If Christians were caught they were beaten and given 2 options: 1) they could leave the country, or 2) renounce their faith. If they chose to leave they were ordered to take even the bones of their deceased family members.
Philemon knew he could not deny Jesus and he did not want to leave Bhutan. He understood there was a purpose for his life and he started visiting Christians in hiding and he encouraged them to remain faithful. However, his activities were soon discovered and he was arrested. They took him to the police station; took away his Bible and beat him until he lost consciousness. When he regained consciousness he was filled with so much joy – what a privilege to suffer for the Lord! They then took away his police clearance and his Bhutanese citizenship and let him go. Of course he did not stop his Christian activities and he continued to serve and encourage the Christian community.
Soon Philemon became known in the community and a bounty was put on his head – anybody who saw him could arrest him. It was therefore not long before he was arrested again and brought before the authorities. They again demanded that he renounce his faith. When he refused, he was beaten in public - hundreds of his fellow villagers watched the beatings. The police would beat Philemon until he was unconscious and then take him away only to be beaten again the next day with the same consequences. Philemon went through the process of beatings in front of all the villagers for days without end. Of all his ordeals Philemon had the following to say: “While they were beating me I only had one concern. I knew that other believers were watching me and I didn’t want them be filled with fear or be discouraged so I knew I had to keep on smiling while they were beating me”
What a testimony of self-denial. What a selfless act to think about those who surround you instead of your own pain. What a wonderful Christ-like attitude!
Throughout the Christian Community Brother Philemon is known as the Servant of God and although he was forbidden to take part in Christian fellowship and proselytising, he remains faithful to his calling: encouraging his Christian brothers and sisters and telling anybody who would care to listen about God’s plan for the redemption of sinners.
There is a difference between serving and being a servant . Philemon not only served God but he was a servant of God. Serving is a choice. Being a servant means you have no choice and no agenda. And make no mistake, there’s a big difference. In Scripture we learn from the early Saints that they considered themselves slaves to the Gospel
Mat 20:25-27 Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—
The word used as servant is Greek is doo'-los ; a slave (literally or figuratively, involuntarily or voluntarily; frequently therefore in a qualified sense of subjection or subserviency): - bond (-man), servant.
It seems like our disgust with slavery has motivated us to change the word into servant. Which in turn turned into servant leader. And ultimately refer to leadership and not servanthood. It was noted once that the only way to know for sure if you are a servant is by the way that you react when you are treated like one.
Brothers do not serve God
“In his book "Brothers, we are not professionals" John Piper writes a thought provoking chapter on Brothers do NOT to serve God. This is a firm challenge in our attitude as we become servants of the living God.
John Piper challenges the reader that even though we are called to serve God (Ps.100:2) it is vital that we keep ourselves from serving God in the wrong way. Jesus came to serve, not to be served. (Mark 10:45) It is vital therefore that we do not “serve” God in a way that actually belittles and dishonours him but that we simply allow Him to serve others through us.
God wills not to be served.
Act 17:24 "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.
Paul warns that any view of God that makes him the beneficiary of our beneficence, implies we are meeting his needs.
Our God will not be put in the position of an employer who depends on others. Instead he magnifies his all-sufficiently by doing the works himself. Man is the depend partner in this affair. God is not looking for people to work for him or to serve Him but people who will allow Him to serve and work mightily in and through them.
Gods’ purpose is that we get the joy of service but that He gets the glory. The only right way to serve God is in a way that reserves for him all the glory. (1Peter 4:11)
So let us work hard but never forget that it is not us but the grace of God which is within us. (1Cor.15:10) Let us obey now, as always, and let us strengthen the Persecuted Church and let us spend ourselves in doing so. But let us never boast in anything except the cross. (Gal 6:14)
In all our serving may God be the giver and may God get the glory. Until we understand this, I want to encourage you NOT to serve God.
Oh may God grant the Church in freedom the grace “to live up” and confess our weaknesses. May we learn from the persecuted Church that we, without him, can do nothing. May we become servants in leadership and leaders in servanthood.
Knowledge demands action: There is only one thing worse than ignorance and that is apathy - knowing and not doing something about it
The past two decades have seen a technological explosion. We live in an age of knowledge where information is literally as far away as the press of a button. Via the internet knowledge is available 24 hour a day whenever the urge demands it. The question is no longer what we know but what we do with the knowledge that we obtain.
A believer in China expressed it as follows. “In the west you know far more than you teach. In China we teach more than we know. Sometimes Church leaders only know that Jesus died on the cross and yet they have to teach Sunday after Sunday. You have so much knowledge in the west. What do you do with it?!”
During a visit to Vietnam we had the wonderful joy of meeting Aunty Ruth. Aunty Ruth is an young lady (in Eastern terms) of 62 years old. This, according to Vietnamese culture is a mature age to share the Word. When Aunty Ruth came to know the Lord she had but one desire – to share this wonderful news with as many people as possible. Ruth regularly travels to the borders of China, more than 1,600 km away, to reach and train the people of those remote areas. What makes this labour of love so significant is that Aunty Ruth travels this distance on a small motorbike.
Her only regret is that she didn’t know about Jesus earlier in her life.
I believe that one of the greatest accusations brought before the church in the west is the abundance of knowledge and how little we have done with it. We must understand that this world will never be reached by wonderful strategies and well discussed theories. It will not be the amount of knowledge that we obtained that will feed the hungry or set the captive free. It will be only by the actions of every one who claims to be a disciple of Christ. Knowledge demands action. If we as believers in the west lose the ability to use our knowledge it will be taken from us. The Lord has not called his Church to meet together for the sake of meeting together. We are called to DO. To be the light and the salt is not a matter of discussion it is a matter of doing.
How do we use our abundant knowledge of salvation
Salvation is not a possession, it is a message. The more you hear about it the more you have to share it. The Church in the west has to realise that the cost of knowledge is high. We can never be satisfied to know Christ and keep it for ourselves. We have a responsibility to share this message
I asked Caleb how his suffering and persecution influenced his life and he answered as follows: "Our faith is to our God! I learnt a lot ns prison. I was in isolation for 5 moths. I was in a cell in complete darkness under very bad conditions. After 5 months they moved me to a bigger cell. I immediately started sharing the Gospel. When they discovered that I was evangelising they asked me if I have not learnt my lesson. They threatened to punish me and send me back to the isolation cell. When they told me this the words of Paul came to mind: For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. What I witnessed and experienced strengthened me more than it discouraged me.
How do we use our abundant knowledge of Gods word
I am often asked by supporters what the names are of the people who will receive the Bibles that they sponsored. After seeing several disappointed and heartbreaking faces during my last visit to Vietnam of those who did not receive their own personal copy of the Word of God I came to ask myself new questions.
But an even greater question arose in my heart
Through numerous visits to closed countries persecution got a face and the persecuted Church became a beloved part of my life. Experiencing the need, the joy and the hunger for God and His Word has often driven me to desperate measures. Reading about their needs is one thing but experiencing their needs, seeing their tears and hearing the requests is something I could not ignore. There are no United Nations nor Human rights organisations that will take the responsibility of caring for those who are persecuted for the name of Jesus. And why should they? The Lord has given this responsibility to His Church.
I cannot remember a single day in my life where I did not have access to the word of God and I am sure many a Christian from the west will be able to testify to that. Bibles are gathering dust on the shelves as one edition outdates the other. We even have “collectors editions” that beautify our coffee tables. A multitude of Bibles has become ornaments instead of instruments.
We cannot accept this as the norm. Millions of believers in China are dying a spiritual death without the word of God and we are satisfied. More than 100 million believers in Africa do not own a Bible and yet we continue to over indulge in our knowledge of God. We have to react. We have to feed the hungry and care for those who are starving
During a courier visit to Vietnam we were once again reminded of the necessity of bringing in Bibles into this restricted country. Past. John met us in our hotel room to collect his bags with Bibles. His first question came with a deep sense of urgency: “Have you brought us books? Last time you came there were not enough!!!”
The love of God and His Word was also confirmed during a seminar in an underground Church in Saigon. Upon arrival I was immediately taken to a room where a group of leaders were eagerly awaiting me. I felt so inadequate as I knew that I had far more to learn from these leaders than I could teach . But I also realised that not one of them owned a Bible that they were waiting to hear from scripture. As I started sharing the one pastor raised his hand. “excuse me brother, is that the Bible or is that you” “This is scripture” I answered and immediately the leaders took out a notebook and eagerly started writing every word down. I realised that this is the only way that they could collect scripture verses and they were literally writing their own Bibles through various exposures. I wanted to cry.
As I started the teaching the same question once again arose : “excuse me brother, is that the Bible or is that you”. “This time it’s me” I answered and suddenly everybody put their “Bibles” down and took out a different notebook and once again wrote down every word I said. Then came lunch break and the leading pastor stood up. “We will now have a time to test our Bible knowledge” he announced and I wondered how my Bible knowledge, with more than 10 Bibles to my disposal, will measure up with these leaders who do not own their own copies. The leader then asked the first question “What does it say in Obadiah 2:4?” I shrunk in my chair. Please don’t look at me” I thought. I know there is a book like Obadiah but I must confess it has been some time since I read it. The pastors started laughing and then one raised his hand. “Obadiah only has one chapter brother!” I felt so ashamed. How is it possible I did not know this and these believers without Bibles knew it.
Then came the second question “What does the Bible teach in Nahum 1:7. An elderly pastor in the front row raised his hand like and eager school child. He then eagerly started quoting the scripture: “The Lord is good, a strength in the day of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.” “Well done brother” said the leader “you may sit down now”. But the elderly pastor was not finished yet. “Please brother” he asked “may I please continue.” And upon this request he continued to quote the whole book of Nahum faultlessly. I was also later introduced to another believer who came to know the Lord only during recent years. His passion for the word of God is displayed in the fact that he has already memorised 78 chapters of the Bible.
How do we use our abundant knowledge of Gods character - all the seminars, sermons and books
“In China all the pastors are called empty vessels. They need to be filled. Empowerment means imparting the understanding that we have and they do not have.“
These words were spoken by our Chinese co-ordinator regarding training in this closed country. Receiving a Bible means having the whole Truth, but it could still mean only half an understanding. When Phillip (Acts 8:30) met the Ethiopian he asked him a simple question. “Do you understand what you are reading?” The answer is a plea far more than a reply. “(Acts 8:31) How can I if no one explains it to me! (Acts 8:34) I Pray thee - please explain it to me!
The Ethiopian was on his way to Gaza, the last city before the desert. A man with scripture but a man without an understanding. It was literally a situation of now or never. Moments later the Ethiopian would have disappeared into an unreached lostness. A one and only opportunity that not only affected one man only but also those at his final destination.
How dare we attend seminar after seminar without sharing this knowledge. How dare we store up the riches of knowledge without getting up and multiplying it.
How do we use our abundant knowledge of the lost
To a large extent mission weeks and mission conferences have replaced mission work as instructed by the Lord. The command to GO AND PREACH has been replaced by COME AND LISTEN. Year after year the same people obtain knowledge of the lost while millions die without Jesus. The greatest threat to the unreached is the thought that someone else will do the job.
Knowledge about the lost will not save them. Only our actions and obedience can make a difference. Presence at mission weeks will have no influence in a broken world unless that knowledge is used. The success of a mission conference is very often measured by how many people attend but it should always be measured by how many people go.
Our knowledge of the lost could become our greatest accuser when we stand before the throne of the Lord one day. Our knowledge of the lost has to result in tears which has to result in action. We have to get up! We have to act!
Freedom demands a voice: Freedom is not the absence of restrictions but the presence of responsibilities
As we sat in the small room we all sensed Gods provision tangibly. Boxes of food that will be distributed to the hungry and bags of clothes for the poor. Br.Atif shared his testimony of how his ministry came into being and every sentence started with an acknowledgement of God's goodness. But being an active Christian witness in Upper Egypt has many opposition and comes at a high cost. As a banker br.Atif hands out tracts to everyone he meets. This not only jeopardizes his work but also endangers his safety and his life. "I am willing to give my head (my life) for the people I serve" br.Atif gently shared. The boldness and perseverance combined with such a gentle and humble spirit reflected the God he proclaimed.
"Do you encounter any opposition brother?" Was our obvious question. "Many, many! There is not one month in the past 12 years in which I was not called in by security" "Then how do you do it?" was the next question. "As believers in this region we have only two things; our knees to pray with and our eyes to cry with!"
We sat amazed and concluded our time together with a final remark, which seemed to be more a statement than a question. "In the west we have freedom to do what you are doing and yet we don’t do it. You have no freedom and yet you have become irreplaceable in your community.
Br.Atif smiled. "If we have your freedom maybe we won't do it also"
The perception of freedom.
Freedom is a perception and the Church who live in restricted countries often use more freedom than her counterpart in the west. It seems like the freedom in the west has become its own worst enemy and is often the one obstacle that hinders radical steps of servanthood.
You may well have freedom legally but still be bound by fears of what other will say. We live in an era of tolerance and political correctness and often freedom and human rights becomes the greatest bondage of truth and justice. At the same time those who are persecuted experience freedom in Christ without the fear of offending someone. The cost has been counted and the freedom therefore lies not in the absence of restrictions but in the commands of the Lord who granted all His followers the “right” to share the Gospel free of charge, expecting nothing but persecution.
But freedom doesn’t come cheaply. Freedom of expression, freedom of worship and freedom of choice; all comes with an awesome responsibility.
In the west today everybody has an opinion but few have convictions. To have freedom will require and cost the church to speak up for what we believe and believe what we proclaim.
The danger of freedom
There is a subtle danger in accepting freedom as a norm. Firstly it dulls our senses to a real world in real need. Secondly it shifts our attention from gratitude to adoration. Freedom becomes the object of adoration in stead of the subject of preservation. Keeping freedom becomes more important than using freedom. It is always a good reminder to fix the words of Jesus in our hearts when he said “Blessed ar the peace makers” and not “Blessed are the peace keepers” (Matthew 5:9). How will we be peacemakers if we only try to keep it.
A recent article in a Soviet Newspaper revealed the thoughts of an Atheist leader towards Western Freedom. The opinion piece in Pravda, one of the Soviet-era newspapers still published in Russia, carried the headline, “American Capitalism Gone with a Whimper,” and was written by Stanislav Mishin, who runs the blog “Mat Rodina.” It says the following:
"It must be said, that like the breaking of a great dam, the American descent into Marxism is happening with breath-taking speed, against the back drop of a passive, hopeless sheeple, excuse me dear reader, I meant people," wrote Mishin.
"First, the population was dumbed down through a politicized and substandard education system based on pop culture, rather than the classics. Americans know more about their favorite TV dramas than the drama in D.C. that directly affects their lives."
Secondly, "their faith in God was destroyed, until their churches, all tens of thousands of different 'branches and denominations' were for the most part little more than Sunday circuses and their televangelists and top protestant mega-churches were more than happy to sell out their souls and flocks to be on the 'winning' side of one pseudo-Marxist politician or another."
To speak up
It is hard to believe that more than half of the world today is still closed to Gospel of Christ. But it is even more difficult to believe that those who live in freedom are so reluctant to speak out on behalf of those that are afflicted. Most sermons are about the “self” and most projects concern only that from which we could benefit
The war in Iraq has proven this point beyond any doubt. It confirmed that the “Christian” west is more concerned about the price of oil, the theology of war and the influence on the dollar than it was about their brothers and sisters in this restricted country. For months Churches debated on every issue regarding the war in Iraq but not once was the Church in Iraq mentioned by name. There were simply too few voices who were willing to speak out on behalf of the persecuted Church in this forgotten area
The young Iraqi women looked at my colleague with tears in her eyes. She shared about the hardship and the persecution. She shared how her brother was abducted and how her family was threatened with murder, rape and further abductions. They were given only hours to pack all their belongings and flee the country of their birth. They escaped to Jordan but their lives were in turmoil. Then, in conclusion, her words pierced our souls and broke our hearts.
“I am a Christian...” she said. “You are a Christian... Why didn’t you help us?
The saga continues today in Indonesia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, North Korea, Eritrea, Colombia and countless more countries with Christians being imprisoned, murdered, persecuted, abducted and even executed.
It is hard to believe that Christians is the largest persecuted group in the world today. But it is even more difficult to believe that this is so seldom mentioned in our gatherings and services. More Christians will be able to mention the names of their favourite actors than their fellow believers who are in prison for OUR faith
With every trip to closed country something in my breaks as I hear the echoes of suffering
How can I be silent? How can I not speak on behalf of those who suffer? How can I desert those that belong to the same body that I belong to and solely depend on my intervention on their behalf?
aul knew exactly what it felt like to be alone. To be deserted by all who called themselves “brothers and sisters”. He writes in 2 Timothy 4:16 At my first defence no one took my part. All deserted me.
Of his companion Demas, who deserted him as well, he wrote the following (10) he fell in love with the present world and deserted me.
The symptoms of a Church who falls in love with the present world is that she quickly forgets those who suffer and she deserts those in need. This is probably the worst aspect of persecution. The isolation. Being alone and forgotten.
We all know the saying that proclaims. “It only needs good people to do nothing for evil to prevail” And yet, evil is still prevailing in many countries in the world, even in our own. We cannot keep quiet. We have an obligation. Our freedom has a price tag.
Safety demands faithfulness: Safety is not the absence of danger but presence of peace..
Living in Upper Egypt is not an easy life, especially if you are a Christian. For brother Yousif the challenges are even more. In his village the Church was closed down by the police and nearly 1,000 believers suddenly found themselves "Churchless". Christian homes were burnt down and pressure increases on a daily basis.
Br.Yousif knew he had no option but to take leadership and started holding meetings in houses. But the challenges remain manifold. Upon the question of what would happen if he, or any of the other leaders will be imprisoned or killed he answered as follows: "If a leader in our Church is killed we are obviously very sad but it is good for the Church. It is a good thing for the Church to produce martyrs”.
During the Iraqi war one of the major television networks conducted various interviews with soldiers from different nations involved in the battle. There were general comments made and a multitude of opinions expressed. One American soldier commented on how the war would influence the economy of the United States and how the fuel price would rise and the dollar will drop. A soldier from Britain commented that the war should soon be over and everybody would be on the way home again. Then came the interview with an Iraqi soldier. With a face that reflected his commitment he simply stated. "We might lose the battle but we WILL win the war, because we value death more than we value life.". What a contrast.
One of the most professed and least practiced theologies in the west is the fact the "we have given our lives to Jesus" So few who profess this have actually given anything, let alone their lives, to Jesus. We submit all and yet we keep everything. Safety, and a safe environment, is no exception. It is vital to understand that scripture teaches us that God is not a gentleman, He is a consuming Fire. We learn from scripture that God is not fair, He is just. Likewise we are taught that following God is not safe and neither is Christianity. To accept Christ is not supposed to lead us to a safe haven but rather a war zone.
Jesus told his followers “I send you out as sheep amongst the wolves”. This still applies to His followers today. When Jesus blessed the peacemakers it was peacemakers and not peace keepers that he addressed. It automatically implies that his followers would move out of their comfort zones into the conflict zones. The Afghanistan’s and the Palestine’s are the ministry fields, not the Alps and the palaces. God is more concerned about our character than our comfort. A prison might do more to our relationship with Him than a Bible school.
Gods’ purposes are far greater than his power. We love to sing the song “More Love, More Power, more of you in my life” It is so easy for the church in the west to demand God’s power in supernatural ways and talk about revival meetings and healings, but what about the purpose of a despised cross. It might require that his church today bares the cross and discover a quality far greater than “His power”, and that is “His purposes”.
Paul had a request that serves as a model: Philippians 3:10 10 that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed unto his death; (ASV)
These 3 cannot be separated from one another. Often we only want to know the power of His resurrection. Most of the times we honestly desire to know Him better. Every time when we visit the suffering Church we find the key to both – counting the cost, understanding His purposes and sharing His suffering
During a seminar in a restricted country we stood amazed at the intensity with which Christians were persecute. One brother shared how he was imprisoned and suffered a lot. He was put in a cell underneath the ground and had practically no fresh air, no toilets and very little to eat. One day he cried out to the Lord: "Why Lord? When you died on the cross you said it was fulfilled. If it is fulfilled why do we still have to suffer?" The Lord immediately answered him. "Do you remember when you took communion you became partaker in my body and my blood? This is a deeper communion"
God’s purpose of making us “one” with him is revealed in His prayer in John 17. If safety and comfort destroys this unity it becomes a curse and not a blessing. If persecution enhances this unity it becomes the blessing that Jesus so often referred to. God not only desires of His Church to know Him personally or to become intimate with Him. He wants His Church to become one with Him. Something that will never happen in the comfort zones of life.
As a church we need to face up to God’s purposes. His purposes is not for his children to have meeting after meeting after meeting. Seminars and Bible schools are incredible blessings but only as means to be equipped and not as the end. We can and may never be satisfied to attend seminars without intending to use the knowledge we obtain for His purposes.
Gods purposes for us are manifold
His purpose for His Church is to heal the broken hearted, to feed the widow. To share our wealth, to make a difference, to be salt and to be light
It seems like so much of our time and prayers go into issues that is related to our safety. Whether it be a crime-free society, a sick-free life or problem-free circumstances. Jesus never taught us to pray this way. His prayer for us, His Church, in John 17 clearly teaches that He does not desire to have his Church in the comforts of a problem free society. He desires for His Church to be faithful in the midst of trials and testing.
During a recent visit to Indonesia we had the wonderful joy of participating in an Open Doors seminar held in an area of intense conflict. The theme of the seminar was “Standing strong in the midst of the Storm” and the constant presence of armed soldiers outside the building confirmed that this seminar was far more than a theology – this was reality! More than 700 churches were already burnt to the ground and the Church was facing a severe onslaught.
During the second day of teaching one Pastor suddenly jumped up and with all his heart cried out: “My brother, please don’t teach us to survive, teach us to be faithful”
In the first 450 years of kings in Israel there were 41 kings of which only 11 did "what was right in the eyes of the Lord". Only 4 of these remained faithful unto the end. Not even Solomon in all his wisdom was one of these. This is indeed scary
In understanding God’s purposes for the Church it is vital to understand His requirements for us to remain faithful within these purposes. Faithfulness is not a request, it is the duty of every believer. “Teach us to be faithful in the midst of our circumstances “ should be a far greater priority in our prayers than that of making our society a safer place. Perseverance is far more important than transformation or preservation.
William Barclay said the following about praying for our circumstances:
“ When we pray for ourselves and others, we should not ask for the release from any task or situation, but strength to complete it and endure it. Prayer should be for power and seldom for release: For not release but conquest must be the keynote of the Church
One of the greatest dangers of a safe environment is the compromise of maintaining a secure environment. The quickest way to become unfaithful is the fear of loosing safety. This is often far greater than the fear of danger. We become unfaithful to all that God has commanded when the Church sees preservation as a greater priority than pioneering.
For the persecuted Church the cost of following Christ has become the norm and no one fears the habits of everyday life. For the Church who lives in the abnormality of safety and security the threat of losing that which is dear to us has become a greater priority than defending that which others are willing to die for. Political correctness, the fear of offending and compromise are far greater threats than persecution. It is indeed better to lose your life than to keep it and lose Jesus.
. It will require that we remain faithful in facing up to our responsibilities. We have an uncompromising duty to remain faithful in the midst of our secure and safe environment
During our visit to Eritrea we met with various believers who suffered severely because of their faith. Brother Joshua was one of them. He was imprisoned in a metal container for six months where he nearly suffocated to death. The ordeal was horrific and tears rolled down his face as he shared his testimony.
I asked John how his suffering and persecution influenced his life and he answered as follows:
"Our faith is to our God! I learnt a lot in prison. I was in isolation for 5 months. I was in a cell in complete darkness under very bad conditions. After 5 months they moved me to a bigger cell. I immediately started sharing the Gospel. When they discovered that I was evangelising they asked me if I have not learnt my lesson. They threatened to punish me and send me back to the isolation cell. When they told me this the words of Paul came to mind: For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Independence demands care: A body’s prime concern at all times remains the need of the body and not the member.
When I met my precious brother Joshua and his family in Egypt the first time many years ago there was something so common between us that we realised we were more than just brothers in Christ, we were soul mates, twin brothers. Joshua greeted me, looked at me for a long time and then said the following: “We are brothers! Whether we like it or not we are brothers and nothing can separate that. Even if we get angry at one another, we will always remain brothers”
In the same sense I will never forget the tears that ran down the cheeks of the pastor in Iran as we visited his house that Sunday morning. The imposing figure hugged me us as if he would never let go and in his limited English he repeated the following words: “You are angel, you are angel”. I knew I was definitely no angel but were reminded anew that we had something wonderful in common that can only be realised when we own up to one another and when we take care of one another.
A family of God
Since creation man was meant to belong. We were created to exist amongst others, we were created in the image of a triune God and we were meant to function as a unity.
In 1 Timothy 3:15 Paul commands Timothy ..... so that he may know how to behave himself in the household of God, which is the assembly of the living God and the pillar and buttress of the truth
We are first and foremost commanded as a Church to function, behave and conduct ourselves as a family. Herein lies a responsibility but also the greatest blessing for everyone who confesses Christ as his or her saviour:
The blessing is the fact that we have more familymembers than we realise. We have countless brothers and sisters who belong to the same entity that we belong to. The most amazing aspect of every single visit to restricted countries is the fact that when we meet believers we immediately have something Great in common. We might have a different skin colour, a different language, different clothes and different cultures but when we meet we know we belong
In Vietnam the Christians told us they were praying for us who live in freedom. I constantly come to a new understanding of the blessing of belonging to a family as we travelled around:
But together with the blessing comes a condition and a responsibility . The commitment of belonging to a family lies deeply in the fact that we have to act like a family. John 17 reflects the saviour’s heart for His bride. That we may be one. 1 Corinthians 12:20-27 gives a clear understanding that if one member suffers we all suffer together. Those in freedom as well as those in prison will share the same pain. This is not an option nor is it a command. It is natural. We have to take care of one another. We cannot rely on the world, the UN or governments to take care of the Church. We have to use our “independence” to confirm our dependancy
In the western society there is an ever increasing tendency to be self sufficient, self reliant and self sustainable. The desire for total independence, from man and from God, has resulted in the cult of self. To believe in the self has become the motivation behind every success. To improve the self image has become the healing behind every hurt. And yet, one of the first conditions of being a follower of Christ has done away with every teaching of modern psychology. - to deny the self.
When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, the words “me” or “I” did not appear in the prayer once. The Lords prayer is a communal prayer. A group prayer that addresses the needs of a community of people. "Give us this day our daily bread" simply means that if I had enough to eat today and one of my fellow brothers or sister is still hungry, my prayer has not been answered.
For the persecuted church an interdependency is one of the core values to survival. They need one another. They need us and we need them. We are indeed one body, one family and one unity.
The fellowship of the mat
The church was formed as a community to serve within a community. It is an institution that exists only for the purpose of serving others. The function of the Christian community is best described in Corinthian 12 by Paul as a body. We are created with individual functions within a greater purpose of seeing the body function as a whole and not the members as individuals. We need to own up to the needs of the body. If one member of the body suffers the whole body suffers with it (2 Cor.12:26) is not a command nor is it a request, it simply has to be the natural reaction. Whenever we ignore the needs of the family of Christ we ignore Christ himself (Matthew 25).
Sadly this is no longer the norm for the church in the west where most members and most congregations have prioritised their own needs above those of the body. It is estimated that more than 90% of all Church income in the west is spent on their own needs. 9% is spent on the needs in the area and less than 1% on the needy outside the area of the Church
The persecuted Church is indeed like the paralysed man on mat (Mark 2:1-8) It represents a community in a desperate need of friends to lift it up and present it before the throne of grace. It needs a gang of roof crashers to intercede and serve
In an unscheduled visit to the "Lat Village" in Vietnam we had the joy of visiting Father Tranh, the leader of the local Church. Realising the isolation and loneliness of this leader we immediately asked if we could pray for him. Probably not having an abundance of fellowship he started sharing his hardships and needs. He confirmed the persecution and discrimination against the tribal people as already expressed by all the believers we have met in Saigon. He shared the hardship of ministering to his people and the difficulties of restriction both by the police as well as the dense forest that limits his movements.
Father Thanh has 6,000 members in his congregation and finds the task overwhelming to the only leader. How do you do it brother? We asked “How many people assist you in this enormous task?” "I am only me!" he shared and immediately gave the answer "but even though I am limited, the Holy Spirit is unlimited" .
There are three major reasons why our independency will cost us to own up to the body of Christ and in particular to that part that is experiencing pain.; the persecuted Church
We need to own up because the Church of the Lord is the priority of the Lord of the Church
John 17:9 (This is the prayer of our Saviour and His last request to His Father before His crucifixion). I am praying for them (His disciples) I am nor praying for the world but for those you have given me, for they belong to you.
Genesis 39:21 The Lord was in prison with Joseph
Every time we visit the persecuted Church we stand amazed to see how much the Lord loves His Church. Every time we return to the west we stand amazed to see how little the Church cares.
We mourn the fact that Christians from the west will visit countries like Egypt, Indonesia, China and Vietnam without enquiring or visiting their brothers and sisters in the Lord. Holidays turn into selfish explorations and all responsibilities to own up to our family flies out the window.
A simple test to determine our concern for the persecuted Church is simply to calculate how much time of our prayer lives, and that of our churches, is devoted to the Church of the Lord, especially the persecuted Church. If we look at the Lords prayer in John 17 we find that most of His prayer is devoted to the Kingdom of God, the Church of God and the world who will come to know God through them. Is the Church of the Lord as important to us as to the Lord? Do we own up to this?
We need to own up because when the Church is persecuted, the Lord himself is persecuted
Matt.25:36 I was in prison and you came to see Me. … (40) Truly I tell you, is so far as you did it for the least of these My brethren, you did it for me
Acts.9:4 Saul Saul why do you persecute me?
If we lived a few thousand years ago and we received the tragic news that the Lord was arrested, imprisoned and tortured we will not find any excuses to intercede and pray nor will we declare that this is not our ministry or our concern. The simple fact of the matter is that Jesus was arrested today. In more than 50 countries world wide Christ was persecuted today in various forms and degrees and we need to own up to this reality
.We need to own up because if one Christian is imprisoned we are all imprisoned
1 Cor.12:25. If one member of the body suffers the whole body suffers..
Every single Church across the globe has to realise that they have members in prison for their faith today. There is not a Persecuted Church and a Free Church. There is only one Church. We often hear the one united plea from Christians in closed countries: “We are willing to be persecuted for righteousness sake. We see it as a joy to share His sufferings. BUT please never forget us. Please pray for us.”
Within our physical bodies it is indeed impossible not to share the pains and the joys of each member. If one member chooses to do its own thing gangrene or cancer develops and that member has to be removed or amputated. It is as simple as that. When we remove ourselves from the needs of the body we will be removed from the body. We need to own up to this responsibility. The one prayer of our Lord Jesus that remains unanswered today is His prayer in Joh.17:21-24 That we may be one.
As Pastor Angh shared his life with us we sat in awe. This young Vietnamese believer has known nothing but persecution since the day he submitted his all to Jesus. The scars on his body testified of the persecution he has faced. But most of all, his face testified of the joy of the Lord. Over and over he repeated the words "Oh, I am so happy to meet you brother! I am so happy to meet you"
I came to a new understanding of the need for one another which I have lost in my independent society. But as the brother continued I knew I have lost what God intended for to be a sustainable force.
"I have been in prison ten times the past ten years" the brother continued. “I came to a point where I felt like everybody has forgotten me, even God. I felt isolated and deserted to the point of death. I had no one to talk to and no one to pray with. Then last year I heard of a group of believers from the west that would visit Saigon. I travelled three days by bus to meet with these people and had the joy of spending an hour with them in secret. Oh, I felt so strengthened and rejuvenated. I knew I was not alone and the courage to go home again and face the opposition. Upon my arrival in my village the police was waiting for me and I was arrested and immediately sent to prison. But this time I was ready for prison."
Then the brother looked at me. I could hardly contain my emotions. "I was released from prison only a few weeks ago. I heard that you and your group would visit Saigon and again I travelled three day to be with you my brother." Past Angh smiled "Now I am ready to go to prison again!"
Comfort demands awareness: Comfort has a devastating effect on the believer and will require a wilful choice of being alert and awake.
The danger of comfort
The serenity of the pastor walking beside us seemed to calm the hustle and the bustle of the small village. He suddenly came to a stop, carefully looked around and then spoke to us. “Some time ago, exactly on the spot where you are standing now, a Christian brother was slaughtered to death because of his faith. He was abducted and brought here to be executed. Life in a Middle Eastern villages like this, is not easy if you confess Jesus to be the Son of God. It could cost you your life” We looked at this servant of Christ and asked him the obvious question “Why do you choose to live here? Why do you choose to follow Christ under such severe circumstances?” Without hesitation he looked at us and his reply became a challenge and guideline for me in my walk with the Lord, even if it is in the safety of my home . He replied “I refuse to live an ordinary life in Christ”
The story of the persecuted Church is not a comfortable one. It teaches us that Christianity that costs nothing is worth nothing and challenges us that faith only starts at the end of our comfort zones. Or, like a Christian in the Middle East so aptly explained: ” Unless you have found something worth dying for, you have not found something worth living for”
Our God is not a gentleman, He is a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24) He is far more concerned about our character than our comfort. Living in comfort might seems like a wonderful blessing but it certainly possess many spiritual pitfalls and dangers. George Whitfield wrote the following:
“Everything I meet with seems to carry this voice with it, “Go thou and preach the Gospel; be a pilgrim on earth; have no particular or certain dwelling!” My heart echoes back – “Lord Jesus, help me to do or suffer thy will! When thou seest me in danger of nestling, then in pity, in tender pity, put a thorn in my nest to prevent me from it”
Yes indeed, may God prevent us from nestling down into a dangerous comfort. May He in His tender mercy deny us peace and grant us victory. Because how will we ever experience victory if we only live in comfort and peace. How will our character ever be built if we do not buy gold that was purified in fire (Revelation 3:18) How will comfort ever contribute to our character and our steadfastness with the knowledge that the origin is found in persecution (Romans 5:3-4). Without exercise a muscle will not become strong. A Church without battle, without testing and without opposition becomes spoilt, passive and self centred
Scripture is quite clear that a comfort zone is a dangerous place for a believer to be and yet, it seems like we yearn for more and more comfort in our lives. Our time , energy and hard earned money are all spent on supporting and increasing our comfortable lifestyles. Churches are no exemption. Softer seats, stronger air conditioners and fancier equipment. Our prayers often evolve around the transformation of our society to make it safer and easier to live in. Prayer was never intended to make our lives easier. It is meant to obtain the strength to endure.
Comfort is no small matter. It is a matter of life and death: Matthew 16:25 For whoever is bent on saving his life (his comfort and security) shall lose if and if we don’t wake up, it might be too late.
Comfort dulls the senses : Matthew 13:15 For this nations heart has grown gross (fat and dull) and their ears heavy and difficult of hearing and their eyes they have tightly closed.
Comfort opens us to false teaching : 2 Timothy 4:3 For a time is coming when people will not tolerate sound teaching, having itching ears they will appoint one teacher after the other to satisfy their own needs .
Comfort exposes the nature of man, not God : Matthew 16: 22 Get behind me Satan! You are in my way. for you are minding what partakes not of the quality of God, but of man
In January 1996 Daniel was called by the Lord to the North of Vietnam where he soon found himself in the midst of a revival. People were coming to know the Lord and Daniel immediately started a training program to equip these new believers. He also witnessed the power of God as people were healed and many were delivered from their addiction to opium. The inevitable soon happened and Daniel was sent to prison, his “training School”, for three years. With a smile that illuminated the room, Daniel shared of his experience in prison: “After my arrest I was put in solitary confinement and chained to the ground for six months. This was a very hard time for me. The cell was only 2 x 3 meters, there were no lights in the cell and I only had one bowl of rice and salt a day. A piece of bamboo was stuck over my crossed legs and chained to the ground. My hands were chained to the ground behind my back and whenever I had to go to the toilet I was offered only a plastic bag. It was difficult to breathe and every breath became a torture. When I filled my lungs with air it felt like my shoulders would dislocate. Being chained to the ground for such a long time also resulted in my body swelling and creating a lot of pain. I felt totally deserted. I asked the Lord to take my life. It was too much for me. I prayed a lot but thankfully the Lord did not do what I asked. One night in my prison cell, chained to the ground, I saw a vision of the Lord. He did not speak a word. He just placed his hand on me and I felt how new strength filled my body. I cried and repented before the Lord. Then I knew the Lord was saying to me that He would not allow me to leave this world defeated, that when He takes me “home” it would be victoriously. The next day the police came and said that they would loosen the chains. They took me to another cell but I could not walk. They even gave me crutches but I could only crawl. After one year I could walk again but the difficulties did not cease. The police would never beat me themselves but they would often encourage the inmates to beat me. Today I can see why God allowed this difficult time. I could share the Gospel with many people in prison. After three years in prison there is a church in every area where I spent time in a prison and more than 200 inmates came to know the Lord while I was in prison. Three other prisoners who came to know the Lord also started churches in prison. Even when I was released from prison my Church in the village had grown to 500 people”
As Daniel concluded his testimony we could positively see the grace and love of the Lord in this humble man. He looked at us and summed up a life of sacrifice with the following words. “I know that God has a good plan – He sent me to prison to preach the Gospel and that I may become a strong warrior for Him”
The cost of comfort is awareness. The greatest threat to the Church in the west today is not the “iron Curtain of communism, the “Green Veil” of Islam or the “Mystic Curtain “ of new age. It is simply the “satin curtain” of comfort. The fact that the Church has come to value life more than death. We need to wake up
Chevchenko wrote the following from a Russian prison: “It is terrible to fall in prison and chains, but it is much worse to sleep in liberty. A believer from a closed country said the following: “The difference between a persecuted believer and a non-persecuted one is that one fears God and prays, the other loves God and sleeps. But only one is ready.”
Our chief purpose in life is to enjoy God. But this does not imply that our lives as Christians will always be happy or even enjoyable. Joy is happiness regardless of the happenings.
As I sat down with my colleague I marvelled at the humble dwelling and the uncompromising lifestyle. “Do you enjoy working in Sudan as a missionary” I asked. The quick answer surprised. “Not really” came an honest conviction. “I don’t like the snakes and the heat. I already had Malaria more than 50 times and I can honestly do without that. The heat and the storms are a pain” and then with a smile came the conclusion “but may God forbid that we only do what we like”
Apart from the danger of being asleep, a comfortable lifestyle also brings with it the cult of entertainment. The new trend in the Church in the west today is to have an enjoyable Christianity. Or, as the sign in front of one of our local Churches proclaim “Where coming to church is fun". These trends are all born in the womb of comfort. It might sound wonderful and might draw the odd visitor or two but where in scripture do we read this. Do we read in 2 Tim 3: That everybody who desires a Godly life will “have fun” or even “find it enjoyable”. No, on the contrary, it clearly states that everybody who desires a Godly life will be persecuted. “If they persecuted me they will persecute you” Jesus said. This is the natural consequence of confessing Christ.
Serving Jesus gives joy beyond words but this doesn’t mean it will always be fun. The opposite is also true. Everybody who desires to be His disciple will have to deny the self, pick up the cross and imitate Christ by a selfless life filled with the joy of sacrifice and obedience. Not the joy of fun and laughter. The danger of an “enjoyable Christianity” is that we lose touch with reality
It is time to wake up from our comfortable air-conditioned churches and behold the harvest. It is time to weep for a broken world. The time to laugh is over.
In John 17 Jesus prays about "Those in the world who has not known nor recognized the Father” (Verse 25) We read over this scripture so easily. A true believer will weep when he reads this. The world does not know Him. The Church of God cannot continue its mission unless we start weeping again. A true calling has a true anointing. Isaiah wept. Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet. The Holy Spirit filled the prophet that he didn’t see himself stopping weeping. There is no doubt that we live in a broken world and that never before has there been such a time as this. A time to express our emotions before the Lord. A time to wake up, a time to weep.
Abundance demands generosity: Physical or spiritual abundance must result in sharing and restoring equality as prescribed in scripture
During a recent visit to Vietnam we had the joy of meeting Pastor Hang*, one of the local leaders in Ho Chi Minh city. Past. Hang explained the desperate need of Christians in the highlands and shared a chilling testimony. A letter was recently hand delivered to Hang by a poor and neglected brother in Christ. Upon opening the letter Hang read only three words on the peace of paper. The words simply read, "Please help us" and it was written in blood. As Pastor Hang investigated where the letter came from he came across a whole village that has walked 1800 km from the North to the South of Vietnam to escape severe persecution. They were without food and nearly naked. Refugees in their own country. Even though they professed to be Christians they were not baptised, knew little about Christ and had to share three Bibles between the 1,000 people amongst them. When Past.Hang asked them how they came to know Jesus they shared how they heard about Jesus through a radio broadcast. The only way to get help was for the leader to write the simple letter. Without a pen the only “ink” available was his own blood.
This blood stained message to Pastor Hang is etched in my heart. “Please help us” is echoed around the world today and many of these pleas are still written in blood every day. It seems like every visit we bring to a closed country absorbs another piece of our already broken hearts. Every time we return home we seem to have more questions than answers:
These are not questions of condemnation but hopefully points of conviction. Our abundance has to cost us something and I can only pray that the Church in the west will start asking these same questions with a heart filled with compassion and with the urgency that it deserves.
What can we do?
Rebecca sat down in my office and before we started the interview we bowed our heads in prayer. Rebecca was a missionary in Iran and had already spent several years in this spiritual impoverished country. She knew the cost of following Christ and her heart spoke more than her words. After about 5 minutes Rebecca suddenly stopped and looked at me. “Mike, you live in gluttony” she softly said. I was offended. “How can you say this Rebecca. You don’t even know me that well.” Rebecca then pointed to my bookshelf. “Do you really need so many Bibles while in Iran people are starving without the Word of God. Do you really need so many spiritual books while in Iran we have none. Do you really need so much?”
I knew then and I know today that I live in spiritual gluttony
The Bible clearly teaches what economic relationships God desires amongst his people. In Luke 3:2-14 the question is asked by the crowds and John the Baptist shares the secret of Gods heart for those living in abundance. John clearly, without any further explanation needed, explains the cost of abundance.
The message that John preached is the message that is preached in most Churches in the world today. The message was one of (verse 3) repentance and forgiveness of sin. But John didn’t stop there as we so often do. He continues with a message of damnation. (verse 9) “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees., so that every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and cast into the fire”. It is not good enough to come to the Lord and repent with words only. He wants a lifestyle of repentance. Repentance must be an ongoing lifestyle. John then explains that we are not saved BY works but we are saved to be put to works. We MUST bare the fruits of repentance and forgiveness.
John gives a clear answer; “SHARE” – Give up and give out! This is probably the one answer that you will not hear in the modern Gospel of today. But even though this is not the spiritual language that we use in our message of salvation today, it is the practical command from a man who has counted the cost. According to this scripture abundance is not having a lot, but simply having more than is needed. Saint John Chrysostom said the following which confirms this truth: "The rich man is not the one who has collected many possessions but the one who needs few possessions."
This however is not the reality within the body of Christ in modern day Church even though the early Church set the example in this regard. We read in Act 2 how the Church lived in complete unity as they shared all their possessions. The result was that people were added to the Church on a daily basis. (Acts 2:44 Now all who believed were together and had all things in common. and sold their possessions and goods and divided them among all, as anyone had need)
The cost of abundance will be high. It will require a life of sharing and a lifestyle of sacrifice.
We looked at the young Iranian girl in front of us. Our hearts were filled with compassion as Christina wiped the tears away. It has been an incredible ordeal and sharing about it was not easy. And yet, she wanted us to know what happened.
“My father left early the morning to visit some of the local believers in the city. He has been warned many time by the Religious Authorities to stop his preaching but my father always knew that there would be a cost involved. Father never returned. A few days later we received a call from the police station to come and identify the body. When we arrived at the police station they told us that my father has already been buried in a Muslim grave and they only showed us a picture where we had to identify him. On the picture we counted more than 30 stab wounds on the body of my father and we could see that his stomach was cut open. We miss him very much”
We had no words of comfort, no prayers of encouragement. But then Christina looked at us and amazingly the comfort came from her. “This is our gift to God” se said
What is my contribution to restore the equality? What is my gift to God that will make a difference in the lives of millions who are starving a spiritual and physical death? How does our abundance benefit those that hunger? God has indeed given us enough to preach the Gospel to all the world and to meet the physical needs as well.
Richard Wurmbrand once said the following: Why bother the Lord by praying for the poor. Open your pocket and give! Yes, God wills prosperity with justice. Yes, God wants the equality to be restored and he has provided sufficiently to do so. The cost of abundance requires generosity. But that does not mean we make up a Christmas basket once a year. According to scripture it means massive economic sharing - like the early church.
On his deathbed John Wesley looked at the people around him and said the following: “If I die with ten pounds in my pocket then you, and all who knew me, will know that I lived as a thief and a robber.”
May we too experience this grace as we count the cost of our abundance.
Affluence demands compassion: Wealth is a wonderful servant but a terrible master
A Christian who spent several years in prison for his faith wrote the following:
“ Before I went to prison, my own social and material situation was very comfortable. In moments of self-examination, I asked myself whether I really loved God or loved rather the many outward and inner gifts he bestowed upon me. Then, in solitary confinement, hungry, trembling for cold, without even shoes – then I could really check whether I loved God or His gifts. How I rejoiced to discover that songs of praise flew from my lips under those circumstances. The faith had been tried”
The brother closed with an encouragement towards those who are poor: “The challenge from scripture regarding the poor is therefore not only to share our riches but rather to share their poverty.”
Two greatest sins
A celebrity was once asked by a reporter what he thought the two greatest sins in the world are. “I don’t know and I don’t care” was the quick response. “Exactly” said the reporter. “Those are the two biggest sins in the world. Ignorance and Apathy - I don’t know and I don’t care“
Wealth and affluence has a dangerous way of creating complacency. Complacency results in ignorance, ignorance turns to apathy and apathy leads to death. We need to listen up. We need to understand the needs of those who mostly live at the borders of our comfort zones. But wealth is not a sin and poverty is not a curse. Injustice is a sin and apathy is the curse. Poverty is only the result of the sin of apathy and ignorance. Poverty is not because people don’t have, it’s because people don’t share. The root of the problem is apathy and this is the cause that needs to be addressed in societies of affluence.
An agonizing parable is told to the Pharisees, who loved money (Luke 16:14). Jesus speaks about the poor by addressing the rich. He does so by sharing the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. But it is essential to understand that the parable came after verse 14: The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this (this being No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.) and were sneering at Jesus.
The Pharisees considered that wealth was a proof of a person’s righteousness. Not unlike the Prosperity Theology of today. Jesus used this illustration to talk about “knowing without doing”- apathy and “having without caring” - ignorance
Neither the wealth of the rich man nor the poverty of Lazarus is addressed as the main theme. Jesus makes no judgement on either of them. But apathy is addressed. This parable is not a man who owned a lot but a man who couldn’t care less. The man who never noticed. Of this parable William Barclay writes the following: It was not what the rich man did that got him into hell; it was what he did not do that got him into hell. The sin of the rich man was that looked on to the world’s suffering and need and felt no answering sword of grief and pity pierce his heart. He was able to look at his fellow man, hungry and in pain and did nothing about it. It is a terrible warning that the sin of the rich man was not that he did wrong things, but that he did nothing
Compassion and Brokenness
The one lesson we learn from our saviour is the INEXHAUSTIBLE COMPASSION he had for the poor, the sick and the oppressed. What an amazing example He must have been to his disciples. On His way to the temple in Jerusalem, his first stop is not in the palace but at the pool of Bethesda with the poor and needy (John 5). Wherever there was despair, you found Jesus there.
When we read about the encounters of a caring Saviour we find that he never did it out of duty but He did it because of who He was. When he stopped in Bethesda, when he addressed the leper, when he healed the blind… He stopped not to show compassion – He stopped because He IS compassion.
It is absolutely crucial in an affluent society that we understand this: In Exodus 33 we find a compelling Scripture where Moses pleads with God for His presence and to show him His glory: Listen to God’s answer: Exodus 33:18 – 19 Then Moses said, "Now show me your glory." And the LORD said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
Gods glory is revealed through His compassion:
Listen to how the reign of Jesus is described: Luke 4:18-21 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people." Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. All the people in the synagogue had their eyes fixed on him, as he said to them, "This passage of scripture has come true today, as you heard it being read."
And listen to how Paul describes God in 2Co 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,
The Father of compassion. And because this is the character description of Jesus it becomes the character description of everyone who confess the name of Jesus; Col 3:12 Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
This should be the trademark of every believer today. We have to listen up to the needs of a broken world and clothe ourselves with hearts of compassion
Another look at Luke 16 and the parable of the “man who never noticed” will reveal a remarkable fact that we mostly overlook. Lazarus is the only character in any of the parables who is given a name. Is this a coincidence or is there a reason behind Jesus giving this specific character a name. We read that when Lazarus dies he is rewarded by his dignity being restored as he is carried by angels to the bosom of Abraham. He is not rewarded by wealth in the after life but by his dignity being restored. Wow, what an example of what Christianity is all about.
The one reality of injustice and poverty is that it robs people of their dignity. The need is therefore not only to restore wealth and give people food to eat but to restore their dignity.
One of the most telling examples is the story in Mark 2 where Jesus heals the man on the mat: This teaches us how to identify true ministry. Jesus did not only heal the sick or forgave sins but He specialized in restoring dignity. When the man on the mat is lowered through the broken roof Jesus looks up and simply says “"Son, your sins are forgiven.". First he calls him “son” then he address his dignity before he addresses his sickness. For the Jews sickness was a direct result of sin. Simply by restoring his body the man would not have been restored in his dignity. True ministry will always focus on the dignity of the one involved
God’s answer to a world where poverty increases at the same rate that wealth is increasing, is simply simplicity: But simplicity has two enemies. Prosperity and poverty AND we must understand that we can never address the one without addressing the other. Any program that addresses poverty only without addressing affluence will eventually fail. Any theology that addresses wealth only without addressing poverty is heretical and unscriptural.
May God have mercy on us. May we do like Jesus did and listen to the needs of those around us as we open our hearts and clothe ourselves with hearts of compassion and care.
Rights demand Justice and Righteousness: The corner stones of the Kingdom of God is not human rights but justice and righteousness
Our time with our Bhutanese friend was extremely significant. As a devout Buddhist he lived a simple life recognised by sacrifice and devotion. He once again raised the issue of people becoming Christians in Bhutan and the heavy and severe penalties for doing so. He then revealed why the practice of Christianity would never be accepted by the people of Bhutan. “Christianity will never set foot in Bhutan!” He proclaimed. "We cannot accept the message of Christians because we as Buddhists believe that we exist for the exclusive purpose of serving the people around us. Whenever we acquire wealth it must be utilized immediately to help those around us who have less. But you as Christians live exactly the opposite. You are becoming richer and richer while people around you get poorer and poorer. Therefore your message is not acceptable to us."
I understood what he said: The commandments of the Lord is to care for the poor, to help the widows and orphans and to share abundantly. But I also knew that this Buddhist friend indeed had a lesson for us in the west. For Christians to be witnesses to the ends of the earth will require that we give up all rights and demands.
The greatest threat to Christianity today is the general abuse of human rights world-wide. Not only the abuse in countries where Christians are persecuted but the misuse of human rights in countries where freedom exists. Please read carefully. There is a simple yet clear command in scripture that explains the position of the RIGHTS of Christians. Paul gives a clear account of the rights of a believer in 1Corinthians 9:1-18. In verse 12 he clearly declares that they (the apostles) ….didn’t use these rights. On the contrary, they put up with everything in order not to put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.
Our obsession with human rights can so easily become an obstacle in the pursuit of justice. The fear of confrontation, the belief in political correctness and the submission to public pressure become an obstacle to the justice we need to proclaim. Oh how we cry for rights and ignore justice. The cost is high. The corner stones of the Kingdom of God is not based on human rights. The foundation of the throne of God is based on Justice and righteousness. God is not fair. God is just
Justice is one of the two cornerstones of the Kingdom of God
These two corner stones are probably inclusive of all virtues that should become the obsession of every believer. So often rights become more important than responsibilities and our obsession with our rights, even within the Church of Christ, has left us an unjust and immoral society. If we can only place the same value on justice than we do on our rights we would secure a Biblical concern for the oppressed to the same extent that the Bible requires. Scripture is clear
But what is the difference between Justice and Righteousness. In simple terms:
Both are needed, and make no mistake, we will be judged by the way we practiced both justice and righteousness. Isaiah 28:17 I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line; hail will sweep away your refuge, the lie, and water will overflow your hiding place.
We will be judged horizontally by our justice towards our fellow man and we will be judged vertically by our righteousness towards God. More than often when Scripture refers to justice it is in the context of the oppressed, the poor and the needy. And often when Scripture refers to righteousness it in the context of abundance. It seems like Scripture is instructing us to worship God by assisting the oppressed and we are commanded to worship God through what has been entrusted to us. We have a mandate to use the rights we have in order to exercise and practice justice. To rescue the poor. To support the orphans. To assist the oppressed.
To have abundance is not a sin. BUT to stay in abundance and prosper without the Biblical concern for righteousness, justice, equality and a biblical concern for the poor and oppressed signifies disobedience and, as it is repeatedly stated in proverbs, is an offence to the Lord
The connection between righteousness, and a concern for the oppressed are explicitly taught in Scripture.
Psalm 112:3 Prosperity and welfare are in his house of him who fears the Lord and his righteousness endures forever. (5) It is well with the man who deals generously and lends (9) He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor and needy, his righteousness endures forever.
The book of proverbs especially has significant verses in this regard
It is indeed a heresy to promote prosperity without including righteousness and a Biblical concern for the poor. Many teachings in this regard has flooded our western Churches as we try to justify our abundance and our need for more. To enlarge our territory has become a very popular phrase in western communities. For the persecuted Church enlarging a territory would only mean one thing: more opposition and maybe even a “captured” audience in a prison cell. As a Church we have one supreme example; Jesus Christ. The man of sorrow who had no place to lay His head. And yet we use His Word to justify our abundance which eventually leads to injustice and a greater rift between the rich and poor.
We need to give up our rights to ensure a Biblical witness. The cost will be high!
Choice demands reverence: Our choices will not only reveal our character but will also determine our Master
John Stott made the following statement about missions: The highest of missionary motives is neither obedience (important as that is) nor love for sinners who are alienated and perishing (strong as the insensitive is) .. but rather zeal – burning and passionate zeal, for the glory of Jesus Christ
We live in a time where the demands on our minds, our attention and ultimately our choices are higher than ever before. We can attend the Church of our choice that worship with the songs of our choice and then we listen to the Pastor of our choice reading from the Bible of our choice and presenting the message of our preference. If we don’t agree or dislike the worship we find another place of fellowship. The Church has become consumer friendly in order to satisfy the needs and the preferences of those who attend. We are overwhelmed with choices.
For many Christians in the world today this choice is unthinkable. In the Arab world there is approximately 7,000 Churches for 312 million people; 1 Church for every 44,500 people. In some areas of the Middle East and North Africa choice is not an option. In countries like Somalia and North Korea Churches are non-existent and the choice of fellowship is something believers dare not even dream about.
Peter wrote this warning to followers of Christ: 2Peter 3:1 My dear friends, this is now the second time I've written to you, both letters reminders to hold your minds in a state of undistracted attention.
The challenge in being confronted with multiple choices is to hold our minds in a state of undistracted attention. Someone once referred to it as the Incessant Internal Chatter of the self and the Excessive External Clutter of the world. As believers we are faced with choices that will either draw our attention to God, to the world or to ourselves. This will saturate our prayer life, our worship life and ultimately our understanding of God. John Piper writes the following: “Why is it important to be stunned by the God-centeredness of God. Because many people are willing to be God-centered as long as they feel that God is man centered. It is a subtle danger. We may think we are centering our lives on God, when we are really making Him a means to self-esteem”
God’s fundamental allegiance is to his own glory. He is committed to being God before being anything else. Let us choose and declare boldly and powerfully what God loves most – the glory of God. If we know this, if we believe this and if we confess this, then let us understand that our choices will ultimately reflect this truth in our lives. The freedom to choose will therefore leave us with two choices. Two choices that will influence every other choice we make. It is encapsulated in the words of John the Baptist. John 3:30 He must increase and I must decrease.
In a multi-choice society where we have the freedom to choose what we want to do, when we want to do it and how we want to do it, the demand for reverence becomes a matter of life and death.
If this is your first visit to this page please note this is a series of devotions and it might be helpful to go to the bottom of this page and start at the beginning.
According to scripture, one of the first duties of every believer is to count the cost. Not to count the blessings or promises as we so often emphasise during conversions but to count the cost. If we are commanded to count the cost, this should be applicable to the Church in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and also in the western “free” world.
Jesus told his followers the following: Luke 14:, 28“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it- 29“lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, ... 33“So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.
It is time to reconsider the cost of following Christ in our easy and affluent society. It is time to consider how our freedom should benefit those who are paying the ultimate price for our freedom
Angie* shared her own testimony of how she came to know the Lord as young Sikh girl in India. Upon, and even before, her conversion she was told and discipled that there will be persecution and consequences. She knew from the start that she would suffer difficulties and hardship and when it happened it came as no surprise. Her sister also came to know the Lord in the same time and together they had to plan to spend time with the Lord in a dangerous environment. They decided to take turn to go into the toilet to pray and read Bible. They would take turns of 30 minutes each to spend time in a "very stinky and dirty" room. When the family moved to a bigger and larger home their prayers were answered as they now had two toilets in their new home and each had their own "prayer/ washing room". As the two girls grew if faith, so did their times in the toilets and also the suspicion of their parents. 30 minutes grew to one hour and later to two hours. Some days they would spend 6-8 hours in the toilets as they prayed and read scripture. In these times the Lord spoke clearly to them. Sometimes the sisters were amazed to find out that the Lord was addressing issues in their lives simultaneously without them discussing it. Forgiveness, love and respect was some of the issues upon which they reacted immediately. Their parents became concerned and one day the mother saw them through a slit in the wall. They were both called in and severely reprimanded. The father persecuted them continually and various Sikh leaders were called in to convince them that they were wrong. They were referred to for psychiatric treatment but all this made them more determined to follow Jesus.
As we listened to Angie’s testimony we were amazed at the enthusiasm and joy of someone that made a conscious decision to follow Jesus in the midst of persecution. Was it perhaps the mere fact that she was introduced to persecution even before she was introduced to the Gospel? "Do not be surprised brethren when all kinds of hardships approach you" wrote Peter, and of this Angie could testify.
In the weeks to follow (after an exausting introduction) we would like to introduce the lessons of those who have counted the cost to us who live in freedom. It is about eradicating apathy and counting the cost of following Christ. It is not the teachings of an individual but the teachings of scripture. It is not the lessons of an individual but the lesson of every believer who wholeheartedly desires to follow Christ. It is not the wisdom of an author but a collection of thoughts from men and women of God who wrote on similar issues. The teacher in these devotions is the Persecuted Church and the lessons are not revelations but simply confirmations of what is already revealed in scripture and what you, as believer in a free country, probably already know and practise.
Every testimony recorded in this book is from personal encounters and interviews. Names have been changed to protect those involved. These records are not there to romanticise persecution nor to justify a theology of victory where every trial always results in a triumph. Not every testimony ends victorious but every testimony has a lesson. A lesson of counting the cost.
With the exception of Chapter one, the lessons are listed in no specific order because no single one takes priority over the other. No ONE Biblical teaching is more important than the other and to follow Christ will involve a complete life of total sacrifice. What costs will we in the west have to consider? What is the price tag of freedom? How will our abundance and security benefit the persecuted Church?