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Monday, May 6, 2013

Persecution! Should We Be Outraged? Or...Should We Shout Praises To God?

The outrage--righteous indignation--some Christians voice against the persecution of those who faithfully follow Jesus, appears to be an accurate response, from our human perspective.  But, have you ever pondered God's perspective on Christ-followers who are persecuted or even martyred for their faith?

I did some research on the word, martyr.  In the original Greek the word was martus and it means "witness" or "one who saw".  It was later, when the word witness or martus became synonymous with our word "martyr".  Today, Webster defines the word martyr as "a person who voluntarily suffers death as the penalty of witnessing to and refusing to renounce a religion." I suspect the persecution and murder of numerous Christ-followers and other religious fanatics helped to shape the now meaning of our word, martyr

In New Testament times, when someone became a follower of Jesus Christ they KNEW they would be persecuted for their faith and the possibility they would be forced to choose between life and death was very real.  Jesus Christ, Himself, was the first martyr, in the New Testament.  Stephen followed close behind.  Persecution was a part of the everyday Christian life, back then!  When you made the decision to follow Jesus you accepted the fact you would suffer for it, it was the norm, not the exception.

John 15:8 - If the world hates you, keep in mind it hated me first."

Matthew 5:11-12 - "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

Matthew 5:43-45 - “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."


Wow!  According to Jesus, we are to expect to be persecuted, we are blessed because of it, and we are to pray for our persecutors.  He does not teach us to pray against persecution nor does He teach us to try to prevent it.  Is this an oxymoron from what we thought should be a right response to persecution?


As I look back, when I was saved or became a follower of Christ, thirty-nine years ago-- March of 1974 to be exact --the thought never occurred to me that I could be put to death or martyred for placing my faith in what Jesus had done for me by dying on the cross.  At that time, in America, it was popular to become a Christ-follower, during The Jesus Movement, and many willingly surrendered to His call during that time. 

When Rachel was old enough, two or three years old (she is now 28), Charles and I began to have devotions and prayer with her every night before bed. A few years later, when Joseph was about one, he joined us.  We tried to keep them, age-appropriate for topic and time.  In the beginning, it was not easy and they were easily distracted and did not always pay full attention, but we persevered and often had some great times of sharing and praying together, just before bedtime.



We would also pray nightly for missionaries on their birthday. We had an inflatable globe that Rachel and Joseph would take turns locating the country where each missionary was serving.  Oddly enough, it was during that time when the FMB (Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and since 1997 the International Mission Board or IMB) began assigning aliases to their missionaries who were serving in especially dangerous places, for their protection.  And the names of the countries where they were serving were no longer shared, as well. 

We used a variety of devotional books and resources through the years, but when the kids were older one of the most impacting resources we used for our family devotion times were the "Jesus Freaks" books, compiled by the Christian music group "dc Talk".  You can still purchase these books, today, and I carried one of them to Liberia with me, two years ago, to give to our 19-yr old, then Heart Adopted deaf son, Amara, a Muslim.
 

There were more than a few stories, of those who experienced a martyr's death, whose captor's and executioners became followers of Christ after watching their victims refuse to renounce the name of Christ...no matter what they were forced to endure. Were these brothers and sisters "super Christians" and not afraid of suffering?  Not necessarily, but through their fear and their pain they remained resolute to never recount the name of Christ.  So, their physical death, full of pain and suffering, meant eternal life for others. Sound familiar?  Often the stories of these martyrs were told by their captors who were so impacted by these believers, willing to die for their beloved Lord, they, in turn, became Christ-followers as did others they shared their new found faith with!  Persecution meant...the gospel spread!

There are numerous stories from the Bible and other historical writings of those who died because of their faith in Christ and relentless following of their Savior and their Lord.  Paul's list of persecutions and perils he experienced, during his earthly life and while imprisoned for the sake of Christ is extensive, and are recorded in 2 Corinthians 2:11.  For a list of what the other apostles, themselves, endured and how they died check these links:





"On that day [the day of Stephen's stoning] a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria." Acts 8:1

Another event which forced believer's to scatter from Rome, in the AD 60's, was Nero's deliberate, burning of a significant amount of that great city.  Peter's two books are written specifically to those who had been scattered making it possible for the gospel to spread even further.  Read "Walk Through the Life of Peter:  Growing Bold Faith" for greater insight into this event, when "
Christian-killing became an acceptable and popular indulgence."

As Christians, we must not form opinions about events in this world without applying the truth of scripture.  If we are careful to do so, our "Christian world view" will become vastly different from what we think is right...based on scripture and not based on our own opinions and this world. 
"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth."  2 Timothy 2:15

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