“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’” – Matthew 25:23 (ESV)
When the man of Matthew 25 left, he did not promise his servants a reward for increasing the talents he entrusted to them. He gave according to ability, then allowed them to respond through their care of those talents. Today we often use this passage to exhort Christians to devote their abilities to the One who gave them. “Use your talents for God,” I’ve heard many times. My response: why?
What gain is in forfeiting the opportunity to show others my abilities and knowledge? In the worldly sense, nothing. Living for Christ means surrendering the chance to be a person the world admires. If I truly follow Jesus, like He was, so I will be: mocked and disregarded, for obedience to Christ makes us the refuse of the world, not its victors. The lives of our persecuted brothers and sisters demonstrate the fact that the world hates us because of the One whom we obey. Their school records are destroyed, houses blown up, and families torn apart because they live faithfully for the King of kings, rather than cave under pressure from the world.
I do not want to feel the world’s pressure. I want to be accepted, appreciated, and loved. If I could use my talents to gain these things, why surrender them to Christ? Unlike the faithful servants in Matthew 25, I have His Word that promises good things will follow my surrender to Christ; however, I do not give only because of those promises. Not just because the things of Christ are better. Not just because He will grant me a place in heaven. Not just because He will give me what I so desire.
The greater reward of surrender to the Lord is knowing the Person of God, who owns our talents, which He has entrusted to us, and who deserves our devotion. As we come to know Him and wonder at His gracious, powerful, holy nature, we can come to full surrender. What could be greater than a relationship with the God who is perfect and loves so much that He give His everything for us?
Recently, 300 youth from churches across the Blue Mountains gathered at Springwood Anglican Church for a Thirteen Three Release event.
Dave McPhail, the Youth Pastor, gave a great message which raised the question: As Christians, how can we have confidence in the face of opposition?
This is a brilliant and relevant question for the youth of today. This generation of youth have a lot going on in their lives: school, peer pressure, puberty and parental expectations are just a few of the pressures that youth have to overcome. In such an environment we know that many youth struggle with life and might feel that the world is against them.
For a young Christian, there is another dimension of opposition where school, peers and even family can be against them because of their faith. Add this to the intense pressures young people already experience and it can feel impossible to have confidence in such a hostile world.
As Christians, the Bible tells us to expect times of opposition. Currently, in Australia, there are groups trying to stop Scripture being taught in New South Wales schools. On an individual level, you may face criticism from your parents for going to church, or you might be mocked by your peers for the moral choices you make when it comes to relationships.
This should not surprise us. The Bible is quite clear that we do not belong to the world – we belong to Jesus, and therefore we will face opposition (John 15:19) . However, many discard their faith because of the pressure and difficulties they face. It shouldn’t be like this; in fact, we can have great confidence in the face of opposition.
What can we learn from persecuted Christians?
Our persecuted brothers and sisters live in societies where they are always living with hostility. The opposition that they face is often physical and can even lead to death.
At the Blue Mountains Release event, Thirteen Three’s Jono Fox shared about the shocking persecution that Christians face in North Korea.
“Living in North Korea is tough,” he explained. “I met Stephen, who escaped North Korea last year. He described how the leaders would say, ‘North Korea is the richest country in the world,’ but in reality, he was driven to escape North Korea because he was so hungry. Stephen became a Christian when he read the Bible for the first time in China and realised that what he had been taught in North Korea was all lies. The Bible was actually telling him the truth.”
Despite severe persecution, many North Koreans continue to worship God. How can they do this when they know they could be arrested or executed for it?
As Dave said, “It is amazing what you can do when you know someone has your back.” It gives us confidence when we know we have support. As Christians, we have the living God as our support.
We can have confidence, even in the face of opposition, because we know that God has provided salvation and security for us in Jesus Christ.
“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?” Romans 8:31-33.
God did everything to save us! His Son died for us so that we could be reconciled with God. No one can take that away from us. Therefore, there is no enemy we need to fear because we know that our God is on our side. The Apostle Paul says no one can take us from the love of God. He wrote, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” Romans 8:38-39.
What a wonderful encouragement it is to know that the Sovereign God of the universe has our back and is with us through all the difficulties and problems we face. This is what gives our persecuted brothers and sisters confidence and will also encourage us to endure any form of opposition to our faith.
What opposition are you facing today?
Where do you get your confidence from? Does this need to change?
What are you afraid of as you live for Christ in a hostile world?
How does what you just read impact your fears?
Which Christian friend will you encourage with the knowledge of God’s inexhaustible strength?
Remember this verse to help you in hard times: John 15:19
The founder of Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, was no stranger to persecution by extremists. He spent 14 years in a communist Romanian prison, and his wife, Sabina, lost her parents, two sisters and one brother in a Nazi concentration camp.
“Jesus never feared or hated anyone,” Richard was known to say in the years following his release. Today, Western Christians are faced with new challenges presented by Islamic extremists, and many are unsure of how to respond.
During recent visits to Iraq and neighbouring countries where VOM is serving persecuted Christians, I have had the privilege of meeting and hearing the incredible stories of many of our brothers and sisters who have lost everything to Islamic extremists. Their responses to persecution provide us with an exemplary pattern of three approaches that are well supported by the Sermon on the Mount.
- Pray for Islamic Extremists and those they Persecute
When Jesus said, “pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44), he was teaching people who suffered under extreme oppression. The Roman authorities were known for their cruel tactics and utter disregard for the Jewish people they terrorised.
We in the West have been shocked by the cruelty exhibited in videos produced by the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS). Stories of their brutality naturally push us toward hatred and fear. But in contrast to our natural inclinations, Jesus calls us to pray for our persecutors. We should pray that they will come to know the truth of Christ and that many will experience ‘Saul-to-Paul’ transformations, becoming the next wave of bold evangelists in their region.
What about those who are persecuted? When we ask persecuted Christians how we can help, their first response is, “Pray for us.” Through prayer, some persecuted believers have experienced supernatural deliverance. Abu Fadi, a brother from Mosul who lost everything when IS militants attacked, was miraculously rescued along with his family after being detained at an IS checkpoint. Perhaps a believer in the West was praying at that precise moment, lifting up the plight of our Iraqi family members.
- Reveal the Love of Christ to Muslims
When IS extremists moved into northern Iraq, they began identifying Christian-owned homes and businesses by spray-painting the Arabic letter ﻥ, or ‘N,’ on the buildings. This single letter, the first letter of the word used in the Koran to identify Christians, conveyed the powerful accusation that the occupants were followers of Jesus.
Our Christian brothers and sisters were then given the choice of either converting to Islam or standing for Christ and losing everything they owned. In Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, more than 100,000 Christians were displaced, abducted or killed in less than one week.
How should Christians respond to this type of cruel treatment? Jesus provides clear instruction in His Sermon on the Mount: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you” (Matthew 5:44).
I have seen firsthand how persecuted Christians live out their faith and observed the remarkable ways they share the love of Christ with their enemies. During a memorable trip to northern Nigeria, I met a widow whose husband had been killed by Boko Haram. The woman said she often saw the man who had killed her husband walking through her village. Then, remarkably, she told me that with God’s help she was learning to forgive him. I was stunned by her response and deeply inspired by her example. Through God’s grace, it is even possible to share Christ’s love with the extremist who killed your husband.
- Stand with our Persecuted Family Members
Scripture reminds us that we are to “Remember the prisoners as if chained with them — those who are mistreated — since you yourselves are in the body also” (Hebrews 13:3).
What does it mean to “remember” them? At VOM, it means that we will do whatever we can to provide the spiritual and physical help that they need. We serve the persecuted church through persecution response projects, Bible distributions and support of front-line workers who are advancing God’s kingdom.
Today, you have Christian brothers and sisters who are in prison. You have family members who have been kidnapped by IS in Syria. Parents, siblings and children in our family are being mistreated. But as followers of Jesus, we are confident that they are never truly alone.
On 13 April 1969, Pastor Wurmbrand stood before an audience at London’s Royal Festival Hall and shared about his prison experiences: “You are alone in a cell; they meant you to be alone. But, we were not alone!”
I have met and prayed with Christians who have been held captive and faced unimaginable tortures. But they report that God was with them; they supernaturally experienced His presence. Some even share that these dark times were the times of greatest intimacy with their Father in heaven.
We invite you to partner with us as we stand alongside our persecuted brothers and sisters, who remain joyful and blessed by their relationship with Christ despite having lost everything they own. These Christians are our family members — part of the body of Christ. We will not let them suffer in silence. We will not let them serve alone.
Dr Jason Peters works for The Voice of the Martyrs USA
“On a Sunday morning, I walked towards my church and mused about the sermon, which I would have to deliver…while I was debating with Jesus the sermon, which I had to deliver after half an hour, at once a car of the secret police stopped near me, four men rushed out of the car, in a minute’s time, I was in the car, I was handcuffed, I was blindfolded. And now, I was under arrest.”
As Richard Wurmbrand shared this story at the Royal Festival Hall in London, on 13 April 1969, he invited the listeners to enter into a dark world. He continued, “And now, in our imagination, let us all leave this hall. You descend with me blindfolded down some slippery stair, I do not know where I am led. A door opens before me. The blindfold is taken away. I am pushed in. The door is banged after me, it is locked. And now, Jesus is no more simply at the door; he is at a locked door, which I cannot unlock.”
He asked the spellbound audience: “What would be your first feeling, if such a thing would happen to you? I can tell you what happened to me first: I trembled. We knew already, how the communists behave towards prisoners. It is not only beatings, whippings, but refined tortures, cruelties, and dopings. And I feared that under these atrocities, my faith might break, I might become a traitor to the Church.”
These words provide a window into the soul of a frightened prisoner and the deep questions that each one of us would face when confronted with an unjust imprisonment. It is a space of denial, fear and loneliness. However, as believers, we have an assurance that can never be taken away.
Richard continued his speech, “You are alone in a cell; they meant you to be alone.”
“But, we were not alone!”
Right now. Today. This very moment, there are Christians who are facing the same denial, fear and loneliness. I have personally encountered, and prayed with, Christians in Asia and Africa who have spent years in prison, facing unimaginable tortures.
Even in these dark moments, Scripture reminds us that we are never alone. When Joseph was placed in a dark prison cell, the Lord was with him: “Then Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were confined. And he was there in the prison. But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (Genesis 39:20-21).
Will you join me today in praying specifically for those who are in prison right now because of their faith? Let’s pray that they will sense the deep comfort of God’s presence with them, that they will experience His mercy and that they will find favour in the eyes of those who have detained them.
We are never alone.
Dr Jason Peters works as Associate Vice President of Connection for The Voice of the Martyrs USA.
With the rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) in 2014, and many terrorist killings each year, it can be easy to focus on the negative. Instead, several Iranian Christian leaders worked together to share eight reasons why Muslims, particularly in Iran, are being drawn to Christianity more than ever before.
1) Wherever political Islam enters the stage, Muslims are drawn to Christ.
The healthiest governments are often those where religion and politics are kept separate, and the most corrupt governments are usually those where religion and politics are mixed together. Wherever religion takes on a political dimension, it results in a religious dictatorship and people are deprived of democracy, permissible freedoms and choice. The rulers end up making all the decisions. We see it today in countries like Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Nigeria and Somalia as well as others where religion and politics are intertwined. This has laid the groundwork for people to take refuge in Christ.
2) Disasters and tragedies can help lead Muslims to Christ.
History has shown that disasters, wars, fleeing refugees, earthquakes, famines, illness, terror and persecution prepares people to be ready to hear the Gospel of Christ. The Bible says, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (Psalm 119:71). Usually in the face of disaster and national calamities, it is Christian charities who offer assistance to those facing such disasters. Many refugees who have lived for years in some of the most difficult circumstances with no help from the government or United Nations have responded positively to the Gospel, especially in places like Iran and Afghanistan.
3) Refugees are meeting believers and hearing the Gospel.
Many who have left their home country as emigrants or refugees, especially from Iran, have come in contact with Christians and been drawn to Christ. Since the Islamic Revolution in Iran, approximately six million Iranians have moved to other countries as either immigrants or refugees over the past 36 years. Many Iranians also travel as visitors to other countries before returning home. Wherever they go, be it Europe, the United States, or neighbouring countries, they usually meet up with Iranian believers and become acquainted with the message of the Gospel. This has resulted in a tremendous growth of Iranian believers, and this has impacted their friends and families in Iran. This can be said of other groups as well, and the number of Afghan believers is increasing rapidly as well.
4) Miracles, healings and answers to prayer are drawing many to Christ.
Miracles, healings and answers to prayer though Christ is another way of drawing Muslims to Christ. Muslims, who have some knowledge of the Koran, believe that no prophet did as many miracles as Jesus did. There are many stories and testimonies, especially among Iranians who have been drawn to Christ in this way. In fact the miraculous work of God in Iran is so great that there is no other country that is experiencing it on this scale. In the same way, through visions and dreams, God is revealing Himself and the truth of the Gospel. There are many Muslim converts in Iran who are not connected to any house church or Christian leader. It seems that the Lord does not give knowledge of all of these believers to us or other groups working among the house churches because we could not cope with the response. When we are ready, then God will gradually introduce them to us in his time.
5) Blossoming of cultural identity and knowledge spreads the Gospel.
This blossoming of cultural identity and the knowledge of other ethnic groups has also helped to draw Muslims to Christ. Our century is a technological one based around the internet. People from different cultures and countries are getting to know each other. We live in an age of communication where people are no longer restricted to one way of thinking or one particular ethnic group. One positive aspect of this is that many Muslims, despite the controls over the means of communication, find a way through various websites to become acquainted with the message, culture and ways of thinking of Christians and also with the personality of Christ. If someone wants to find Christ, that person will find a way.
Concerning Iranian people, the culture, customs and thinking of Iranians is vastly different from those of Islam and Arabic backgrounds. In the Iranian history of civilisation, there are poets and writers who express themes of love, freedom, forgiveness, truth, equality and justice throughout their literary works; truths that are found more in Christianity rather than Islam. People inside Iran today face pressure, lies, violence, discrimination and hate. Since the Islamic Revolution, 80% of the population are disillusioned and tired. They are searching for the God who is love and just and where there is salvation, equality, truth and freedom, and this God can only be found in Christ. It is for this reason that when Iranians hear the Gospel, they respond positively. And again it is for this reason that the Iranian government has forbidden the printing, distribution and sharing of the Gospel and even announced that it is dangerous. They spend all their efforts on closing down the evangelical churches and the production of Christian resources in the Persian language. However, Paul reminds us that no one can prevent the spread of the Gospel. Praise the Lord!
6) Radio and satellite television allow many to hear Christian broadcasts.
It is clear that radio and satellite television has a vital role in helping Muslims to get to know the Gospel. Fortunately, the number of Christian radio and TV channels in Arabic, Turkish, Urdu and Persian related languages are many and are on the increase. Some of these channels are 24/7 and in fact, as far as Persian is concerned, there are now four 24/7 channels. There are millions of viewers both inside and outside Iran. Iranian preachers and teachers are doing all they can to produce good quality programming. In addition to these channels, other preachers have Christian programs on some of the political channels as well. There has never been such an opportunity for Muslims to hear the Gospel, especially in view of all the restrictions that exist in Iran. The effectiveness of all these programs bringing the Gospel into people’s homes is seen through the many testimonies that exist.
7) Churches around the world sending workers into the Muslim World.
Churches throughout the world are involved in sending missionaries and workers into the Muslim World. In spite of the fact that many governments have restricted access to such workers by not granting residence or visas, we are aware of many tent workers, teachers and medical personnel who have entered the Muslim World. They have sacrificially learned the culture, customs and language in order to spread the Gospel. Workers are not exclusively from the West, and many entering the Muslim World are from countries in South America and even from countries in the Far East such as China, Japan and South Korea. There are many organisations that are supporting them to fulfil the commission to preach the Gospel. Furthermore, there are many workers who cannot travel to these countries, but operate behind the scenes to help those on the front lines. In this way, the work will not stop.
8) God is exposing the truth and reality of Islam.
As God has exposed the reality of Islam, this in turn has led to many Muslims becoming disillusioned with Islam and being drawn to Christ. In fact the best way of exposing Islam is when the extremists take over. Even while it is true that moderate Muslims say that what is happening is not connected with Islam, many Muslims are realising that Islam has its roots in terror. In any country where Islam develops, so also violence, terror, rape, compulsion, lies and dictatorship increases.
In the history of Iran there has never been an ‘evangelist’ such as Khomeini who has helped people to know what Islam is really all about and therefore has prepared the way for Christ in the same way as John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ. A new building cannot be built on an old foundation. The old has to be demolished so that a new foundation can be built. God is allowing Muslim leaders to destroy the old Islamic foundation so that a new Christian foundation can be built. The situation in Iran today is that Islam is weakening and therefore we must use every opportunity and every method to enable people to hear the Gospel.
Dory P is a writer for The Voice of the Martyrs USA