Thursday, September 29, 2011

Real Life Modern Day Martyrdom


This week we learned in the news about an Iranian pastor named Youcef Nadarkhani.  This man has been sentenced to death for his beliefs.  Specifically, he was convicted for apostasy for converting from Islam to Christianity.  He was never a Muslim, but his ancestors were.  According to their law, even if he was never a Muslim, the fact that his ancestors were makes him a defacto Muslim.  He literally could be executed at any time or his sentence could be commuted.  Either way, what he is facing is a kind of persecution we can only have nightmares about as we sit in our comfortable pews in our air conditioned churches.  Our worst problem going to church is usually traffic and our biggest hardship is probably getting up early on a Sunday morning.  As for persecution, well people might make fun of us sometimes.  We have no idea what real persecution is.  We absolutely take for granted the safety that Lord has given us and we often think it is because we are highly favored.  Is that really the case, though? 
And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten [them], they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus [as] the Christ.  Acts 5:40-42 NKJV
We need to ask ourselves if we are truly blessed or if God knows we are too weak to face the persecution faced by Christians in much of the world?  Note the apostles were excited that they were counted "worthy" to suffer for the Lord.  In other words, their suffering was a privilege!  That sounds completely ridiculous, but it is an essential truth we have forgotten.  There is a kind of fellowship with the Lord that can only be experienced by suffering for His name.  Let's look at some Scripture.
Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which [is] from the law, but that which [is] through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.  Philippians 3:8-11 NKJV

Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed [are you], for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.  1 Peter 4:12-14 NKJV

The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs--heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with [Him], that we may also be glorified together.  Romans 8:16-17 NKJV
It is clear in scripture that suffering is a privilege and yet so many of us back down at the slightest hint of any kind of persecution.  So many of us are quiet about what we believe or even succumb to the world so as not to be made fun or to fit in a little better.  So many of us have no idea what real persecution means yet we think we are persecuted.  This pastor is facing death because a judge told him to renounce his faith or die.  We fall like a house of cards if a judge tells us not to pray or pay a small fine or spend a night in jail.  We fear the ACLU and lawsuits more than this man fears being martyred for his faith.  Please do not think it is because we are so favored that we do not face this kind of persecution.  It is because we would not be able to handle it. 

This is also why prosperity preachers make me sick to my stomach.  Churches in countries like Iran face death threats, death, rape, murder, abuse, beatings, loss of property, loss of any hope of employment, and loss of family.  That is only scratching the surface.  Yet despite all of this they hold on to their faith knowing they are laying up treasures in Heaven.  They meet in secret and quietly preach the Gospel hoping to not get caught by the authorities, knowing that every time they share Jesus it could mean their death, or worse, a disappearance into a time of unspeakable torture and abuse.  Prosperity teachers and their fat and lazy followers sit in comfort either in their own homes or in air conditioned half billion dollar cultural centers and watch their pastor wearing the latest fashions on a big screen.  You know, the pastors who live rich and lavishly and who are usually surrounded by body guards lest someone get too close.  And yet, despite all the lavish riches those churches are drowning in, they have the audacity to cry out for even more! They are rich already but they want even more!  They have jobs, but they want the best job!  Their lust for earthly treasures is utterly disgusting and the teachers who egg them on with false promises never made by God will stand before the Lord they pretend to serve one day and give an account for what they did with the resources God allowed them to amass.  I wonder what would happen if persecution should ever come upon those churches.  I wonder if they lost their arenas and stadiums, the the large screens went dark, the luxury cars were repossessed, the pastors had to fly commercial and not even first class, and if they had to wear clothes from Walmart, I wonder what would happen.  I can not say for sure, but I highly suspect they would say or believe whatever they needed to protect that earthly mammon they seem to love so much. 

So many of us are so weak and most of us do not even know it.  We fail to receive the blessings in suffering for the Lord because we crumble at the slightest semblance of persecution.  We need to stand for our faith no matter what some judge says and no matter what kind of insults people may throw at us.  Perhaps as we show some backbone and stand in this minor oppression we will be counted worthy for the joy of real persecution.  I am not saying we should seek after persecution, but we should face it and stand up to it should it ever come.  Trust me, if you stand firm in your faith, persecution will find you.  The idea of finding joy in persecution may seem utterly foreign to us, but that is only our flesh speaking.  The Word of God calls is a privilege and a joy.  Believing that takes real faith, and living it tests that faith like no other test can.  One day, if things continue as they are, that test may very well come our way.  I wonder if our faith will be found true or if the facade of false faith with burn revealing just how wretched, poor, blind, and naked we really are. 
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials  James 1:2 NKJV

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