The unknown author of the letter to the Hebrews, makes a challenging statement in Hebrews 11:1. He states: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (NKJV) This statement highlights the genuine struggle we Christians have; physical circumstances dictate one reality to the physical eye, while the Word of God another, the spiritual eye of faith.
In Matthew 5:3, Jesus makes a confusing statement which highlights this struggle: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Physical circumstances would write off such people as ‘sinners’ and ‘hopeless’ but Jesus labels them blessed – who knew that such sinners were actually on the precipice of salvation! While most of us Christians would give a resounding Amen to this, I am not sure we would we be so eager to agree with the following statement in Matthew 5:10: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (NKJV)
India is ranked the 10th most dangerous country in the world to be a Christian. A primary reason for this is a philosophy held called Hindutva; that is, being a Hindu is seen as an essential quality of being Indian. Persecution and martyrdom have increased at an alarming rate. It is within this context that I want to share a story with you.
Due to the persecution, a pastor was unable to teach at a certain village because his life would be in danger for doing so. A 19-year-old man, barely three years in the faith decided that he would take the pastor’s place and lead the congregation by reading God’s word. He paid with his life for making that decision. Another woman, in the face of threats by elders in her home village, decided to start a church. For this she was stoned and is still recovering from her injuries.
Our subjective experiences would protest and say, “such things are an unnecessary waste”, but the objective reality of God’s Word triumphs and declares “blessed!” The physical eye despairs while the spiritual eye rejoices at such situations.
Conversely, in our prosperity, we can neglect the things of the kingdom by failing to preach the Gospel and highlight the plight of persecuted believers. We may even declare ourselves as “blessed” in this state. Jesus however explains the objective reality of such a state:
Revelation 3:17-18: “Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked—I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.” (NKJV)
This month’s challenge: Perhaps you are afraid to share the Gospel or give generously to the persecuted. Perhaps your physical eye deems this as a waste. God’s word challenges this however and declares such things as blessed!
If your life could be summarised on the epithet of a tombstone, what would you like it to say?
I can imagine that for some it may read “Highly influential”; for others it may read “Led many to the LORD”. Would you be happy if it simply read “A man after God’s own heart”? This humble title may not be good enough for some of us, but God deemed it good enough for Israel’s greatest leader, King David. King David was a man who was characterised by his intimacy with God and this, above all other traits, was the key to his strength.
Persecuted brothers and sisters are willing to suffer, not only for a proposition or a principle but the person of Jesus Christ; that is, our faith is essentially relational not propositional. Jesus did not say in John 14:6 “That is the truth”. Rather, he said “I am the way, the truth and the life.”
The Bible’s definition of eternal life is essentially relational. John 17:3 states, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (NKJV). Similarly, Jesus’ greatest indictment against the unrighteousness is not primarily on the basis of knowledge but on the basis of intimacy. Matthew 7:23 states “…I never knew you”. Boiling the Christian life to its basics reveals that it is intensely relational.
J.I. Packer in his book, Knowing God, says it beautifully: “What makes life worthwhile is having a big enough objective, something which catches our imagination and lays hold of our allegiance, and this the Christian has in a way that no other person has. For what higher, more exalted, and more compelling goal can there be than to know God?”
I want to give an example of a courageous Christian who exemplifies this. Nigeria is the 12th most dangerous country in the world to be a Christian. In 2018, 90% of the deaths which occurred in the top 50 most dangerous countries to be a Christian, occurred in Nigeria. Pastor Andimi was kidnapped by Boko Haram militants and decided to use a ransom video as a platform to praise God. He stated, “All conditions that one finds himself is in the hand of God”. “By the grace of God, I will be together with my wife and my children and all my colleagues, if the opportunity has not been granted, maybe it is the will of God.”
There is the genuine sense that Andimi trusted God, even though he was led through the valley of the shadow of death. Our God is the good shepherd and will faithfully carry us from the beginning to the end of our lives. Do you trust Him as your faithful, sovereign creator? Not one hair on your head will go white without his express permission.
This month’s challenge: Perhaps you have swerved slightly in your focus from Jesus and to the storms of life. This month reflect on what it is that you can do to cultivate an intimate relationship with God. One good way is to visit www.vom.com.au and prayerfully read the inspiring stories which are updated regularly.
In the 1840’s, leprosy began to spread in Hawaii. In order to curb the spread of the disease, leprosy patients were sent into forced quarantine at Kalawao on Molokaii island. The first patients were sent in 1866, with about 8,000 more to follow over the next 103 years. In 1873, Father Damien felt a conviction to show the love of Christ to the people who lived there. Where prior missionaries would not dare to touch the infected, Father Damien went beyond and embraced them; he taught them to farm, play instruments and they viewed him as a father figure. One day, after approximately 12 years of ministry, he accidentally spilt boiling water on his leg and had a disturbing realisation that he felt no pain, for he had himself contracted leprosy. His usual custom at each church service was to ascend the pulpit with the address “my fellow believers”, but this time would be different for he addressed them “my fellow lepers”.
What is beautiful about this story is the fact that Father Damien not only helped the lepers but demonstrated the humility of Jesus Christ by becoming one of them – this is the Gospel story. Philippians 2:5-7 (NKJV) Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.
It is easy to address persecuted believers with grand titles such as ‘our brothers and sisters’. When we examine our lives however, sometimes we do not live as familiar ‘brothers and sisters’ but as ones estranged; while they are willing to share the Gospel and die for it, we can sometimes shy away from the Gospel and live as its enemies.
Richard Wurmbrand stated, “Not all of us are called to die a martyr’s death, but all of us are called to have the same spirit of self-sacrifice and love to the very end as these martyrs had.”
This is a challenging statement though it is not unfounded in Scripture. In Acts 1:8 (NKJV), we are told: But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
The word witnesses here is derived from a Greek word which means martyr. To be a witness of Christ is in one sense, to be a martyr for Christ.
Challenge for this month: Are you a fellow martyr for Christ along with our brothers and sisters? If you are like me and lack in this area, now is a good time to repent before God and ask Him to develop a love for neighbours, family, friends and strangers who will perish if they do not hear or see the Gospel in our lives.
Due to the coronavirus, many of us are confined to our homes. For many, self-isolation looks like a Netflix and food binge, while praising God for the blessings of modern technology. However, for our founder Richard Wurmbrand – and perhaps others who have made a stand for Christ – isolation looks like being alone in a lightless cell for three years in solitary confinement. One slice of bread per week would be your provision and hunger your familiar friend.
The prison guards would put felt under their shoes so that their footsteps could not be heard. Other noises were heard however “It was ten o’clock at night …. the great tortures begin … You can hear the screams. The acoustics in the arched corridors are such that the wailings bounce off one wall and on to another with ever-increasing volume.” (Sermons in Solitary Confinement pg 26). For the persecuted, the blessings of God look entirely different to our own. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” Matthew 5:10 (NKJV).
The Scriptures say “Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also” Hebrews 13:3 (NKJV). The word ‘remember’ is used for at least two reasons. First, despite persecuted believers being our brothers and sisters, we are quick to forget them because they are an unseen reality. The Israelites, like us, had this problem “… you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness … ” Deuteronomy 8:2 (NKJV). The second reason why the word ‘remember’ is used is because the following command requires the active use of the imagination “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise” Luke 6:31 (NKJV).
During this time of self-isolation, please use your mind to creatively think about what it would be like to be without your family, to be truly isolated and to be in prison for Christ. Voice of the Martyrs is doing an outstanding work to help spread of the Gospel. In 2019, 1,300 book sets comprised of discipleship materials were sent by VOM to church leaders in China so that they could effectively spread the Gospel. Approximately 3,500 Christians were detained in 2018, so they do it with great risk.
Please consider this question: If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
Challenge for this month:
Please go to vom.com.au/write-prisoners to write to persecuted Christians. Also please pray for persecuted Christians “as though in prison with them…”
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” James 1:2-3 (NKJV)
The Apostle Paul was under house arrest in Rome. His situation was far from favourable; he was awaiting possible execution or exoneration – both options loomed over him. He wanted to come to Rome as a preacher and instead was chained as a prisoner. His memories of Philippi may have haunted him because it was there, recounted in Acts 16 that he was unfairly imprisoned and severely flogged after he cast out a spirit of divination from a female slave, ruining her owner’s profits.
Years later, writing to the Philippian church under house arrest in Rome, he could have – some may argue, should have – been miserable. Yet his first words, after the customary greeting, give us great insight into the heart of Paul. In verse three Paul beings his letter by saying “I thank my God…”. This is just amazing and is a summary of Paul’s character “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NKJV). In Acts 16, after being flogged, Paul and Silas sang hymns and Psalms while in prison – personally, I can get upset if the shower is cold.
Why is Paul thanking God? He goes on to say “…upon every remembrance of you.” Instead of lamenting his situation and saying “I need help” etc, he is thinking about his brothers and sisters in Philippi. Paul uses the word “you” seven times in the first ten verses! Paul’s joy was so others-centred that he made two amazing statements that can be absent from our human experience “For now, we live if you stand fast in the Lord” 1 Thessalonians 3:8 (NKJV), and “fulfil my joy by being like-minded.” Philippians 2:2 (NKJV)
But what specifically is he thanking God for about them? This is very important to notice; he says in verse five “For your fellowship in the Gospel from the first day until now.” Paul is thankful that they have a fellowship in the experience of the Gospel in their day to day lives and of the furtherance of the Gospel. Genuine Christian fellowship is not that we like the same worship songs or even that we go to the same church; it is that we have a genuine love for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and desire to spread it.
Many brothers and sisters are killed daily for the Gospel. In Uganda, Ali Nakabale, 36, lost his son, daughter, mother and stepfather when they were burned alive inside their family home on 20 August. Why did this happen? They were burned alive because he and his mother accepted the Gospel (https://vom.com.au/uganda-relatives-of-christian-convert-burned-to-death/).
This month’s challenge: This month, let us renew our minds with things that are profitable and pertain to the Gospel. The devil would like to distract us with trifling things which have nothing to do with Jesus or His kingdom.