Hey, Turn Out That xz#%*@# Light!

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” MT 5:1-12

This beatitude follows “Blessed are the peacemakers“.  Peacemakers are  those who seek to bring others into peace with God.  And sharing Christ often calls forth persecution, rejection and reviling.

Ultimately Satan is behind persecution of Christians, because any harm he does us pains Christ. But we conquer him through Jesus, who gives us the sword of his Spirit – his word, the shield of faith and prayer.

Unbelievers will often hate or dislike us as well, because the gospel and our transformed lives highlight their opposition to God.

When people huddle in a dark room doing wicked things they’re fine, till someone flips on a blazing light. Then they scream, “Hey, turn out the xz#%*@# light!” They do this because “everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” John 3:20

The righteousness of Christians stands in stark contrast to unbelievers’ unrighteousness, as with Cain and Abel:

And why did he [Cain] murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 1 John 3:12-13

The government of Eritrea stuffs Christians into metal shipping crates. The Chinese government imprisons and tortures Christians as well. Most of us won’t suffer this kind of extreme persecution, but every believer will suffer for his faith in one way or another. Jesus said that people will “revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”

My son’s first week in college a prof said, “Everyone who’s educated nowdays believes in evolution.” In other words, if you believe in creation, you’re an uneducated dolt.  A friend of mine lost his job for refusing to do something illegal his boss required.  Years ago in a meeting of the teachers in the elementary school where I worked, one teacher asked a question about the Bible.  One man mockingly said to the whole group, “I don’t know, let’s ask the preacher” – meaning me, because I had shared my faith with a few other teachers.  Everybody laughed.  That’s nothing compared to what some experience, but the point is, if we try to live for Jesus and especially if we tell others about him, eventually we’ll be mocked or reviled in some way.

But how is persecution a BLESSING?  To rejoice when reviled seems like a paradox.

The blessing is: The kingdom of heaven is ours (MT 5:10). Suffering for Christ proves we’re one with him, and all that’s his belongs to us. And suffering for Jesus will gain a GREAT reward:

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:12

We aren’t to endure suffering stoically, but REJOICE, and BE GLAD, for our reward is GREAT – like the prophets’ reward – “for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” No one will be disappointed in heaven. None will say, “I suffered all that for this?” We’ll say, “My suffering seemed great at the time but it pales in comparison to THIS!

Remember, our reward is IN HEAVEN. So keep let’s keep our eyes on the prize and rejoice when we suffer for Jesus.

Why not take a moment to pray for suffering believers in Eritrea, China, North Korea, and other countries?

How To Pray For Persecuted Saints

The Olympics provide an ironic contrast between the face China puts on for the world and its harsh treatment of Christians (see my Tuesday post).

The Bible says we’re to remember those in prison as though we were in prison with them (HE 13.3), so I want to grow in faithfulness to pray for persecuted saints, both those imprisoned and those who are “free”, but live under oppressive governments.

A few feeble thoughts:

  • Ask God to use his persecuted saints to spread the gospel

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. (PHP 1.12-13)

  • Ask God to deliver many from imprisonment as he did Peter and Paul (Acts 4.23; 12.6-11; 16.39)
  • Ask Christ to strengthen them

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy (CO 1.11)

  • Ask God to give them grace to love their enemies

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (MT 5.44).

  • Pray for their families

Ask our faithful heavenly Father to care for the spouses and children of believers in prison.

  • Ask the Sovereign Lord to cause evil authorities to become favorable to the gospel

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 TI 2.1-4)

We’re to pray for governments to enable believers to lead quiet godly lives for the sake of the spread of the gospel. Though Jesus uses persecution to spread the gospel, this passage indicates that in times of peace and government favor, the gospel can spread more easily.

Here is a suggestion:
consider taking a portion of your prayer time one day a week to pray specifically for the Christ’s persecuted saints. For more information and ways to pray see Voice of the Martyrs and Open Doors.

photo by Peter Stuckings

What Impresses God

Last week I caught part of the opening ceremony of the Olympics, reportedly planned and rehearsed for 5 years, and costing $300 million to stage.

It featured 15,000 Chinese performers. 33,866 fireworks were fired off – almost as many as our local Indiana County Fair on July 4th. It was probably the largest and most expensive show ever produced. Especially cool was the performance of 2000 drummers in playing in perfect synchronization. Obviously, China wanted to impress.

But China’s government is not impressive.

“They hung me up across an iron gate, then they yanked open the gate and my whole body lifted until my chest nearly split in two. I hung like that for four hours.”

This is how Peter Xu Yongze (age 61), describes how he was treated during one of five jail sentences in China because of his belief in Christ. Christians are not allowed to evangelize in China, and it’s against the law to worship in any group or home outside state sanctioned churches. To do so is to risk fines, imprisonment, torture and even death.

While he was in prison, one of the jailers told Mr. Xu the only way to avoid breaking the law would be if he prayed under the covers in bed.

“A believer was praying, so a jailer made other prisoners lift him up to the ceiling and drop him to the ground many times until he died,” Mr. Xu said. (BBC News, Nov 9, 2004)

House church leader Zhou Heng, who manages a state registered bookstore, was arrested on Aug. 31, 2007, for receiving 3 tons of Bibles that had been donated by South Korean churches and intended for free distribution to local Christians. The government only allows state churches to print and distribute a limited number of Bibles yearly. It is reported that in prison Zhou was beaten severely by both guards and inmates. He was still in prison as of this past February. (The Christian Post, Feb.7, 2008)

The Lord who spoke the worlds into existence is not impressed by our pomp and technology and fireworks. But he is impressed by his people glorifying him despite persecution by a wicked government. His eyes are on his precious sheep singing his praises behind closed doors of their homes or praying under their prison covers.

When you watch the Olympics this week, lift up a prayer for the persecuted saints in China. Ask Jesus to have mercy on them, fill them with his joy and give them the grace to persevere. Ask Jesus to bring his kingdom, the most impressive kingdom of all, to earth.

photo by Denis Collette