"Indeed, all who desire to live a godly live in Christ Jesus will be persecuted"
2 Timothy 3:12
"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...."
Jesus prepared us.
Jesus told us.
Scripture makes it clear.
Persecution will happen.
Let me be rather transparent and honest; I DO NOT understand persecution in the way that many Christians do. I've had my fair share of hard times, do not get me wrong. In many ways, I believe persecution to be relative. Were I to sit in the room with a believer from the Middle East, or China, or Nigeria, they would undoubtedly find my "persecution" humorous. According to Open Doors USA (opendoorsusa.org) they say, "Christian persecution around the world is one of the biggest human rights issues of this era." Surprising, isn't it? Where it would seem in the United States the biggest human rights issue is gender identification. Boy, do we have it easy.
According to their statistics:
"in just the last year, there have been:
Over 340 million Christians living in places where they experience high levels of persecution and discrimination.
4,761 Christians killed for their faith
4,488 churches and other Christian buildings attacked
4,277 believers detained without trial, arrested, sentenced or imprisoned."
Open Doors USA release a "World Watch List" of the top 50 countries where Christians face persecution with the vast majority of those countries being dominated by the Islamic faith and/or Communist regimes. I do encourage you, dear reader, to visit their website and see for yourself. Afghanistan has the second spot. The irony is, according to Joni Eareckson Tada, "The church in Afghanistan is the second fastest growing church worldwide...." Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few days, you've seen the pictures. You have read the reports. You have seen the desperation of the Afghan people running away in droves, perhaps a contemporary picture of the Israelites and the Exodus, as they flee from Taliban forces that have since gained control of the area. Understand me here, although I could be critical of our President and his decision to pull out of the area (among other things), I do not intend to. This is not a political post, nor the place to criticize. It would make the point of my writing cloudy. The decision has been made. Nevertheless, it is not a heart warming sight. It is not a picture of hope. And as a result of this, many Christians and many churches are facing retaliation from the Taliban.
According to World Vision(1), they are "already seeing the effects of Taliban control: Territories and control are changing at frightening speed, schools are closed, food is scarce, and forced displacement figures are soaring. Children and families are in hiding or fleeing and their fundamental rights are being denied." It would seem that the "Babylon program" of forced displacement and indoctrination is well under way. The International Christian Concern (ICC) spoke with a church leader in Afghanistan who said, "They're going to kill some of the Christians that have been known, and that way they want to spread that fear that we will not tolerate anything against that." "It's just an obvious thing that they're going to take all of their kids and they have to go through the retraining of that system (Daniel 1; emphasis mine) and marrying the Taliban. And for the boys, they have to go be reeducated in the madrassas and definitely they will be trained as soldiers forcefully." (2); you can find the interview in the link at the bottom).
Now, before we grow comfortable and think, "well, that's across the ocean," let us not forget that many faithful are attacked here on our own soil. While it may not be to the degree that we have seen in other places, Christians in the United States are facing increasing intolerance, are often eviscerated publicly and on social media, labeled as racist or bigots, are being/have been fined by the government (see what happened to John MacArthur and Grace Community Church in California; he is just one of many), sued by individuals for standing on their convictions, who lose their jobs and their businesses, and are silenced and slandered for standing up for a moral and a Biblical conviction. What some might call "traditional views", such views are continuously labeled as "hate-speech." Well, they are not actually "traditional views." I have always despised that moniker. These "views" are actually grounded in God's Word, and have been a foundational piece of this country for generations (which is why is it the aim of many to "cancel" such views). Not to mention the constant pushing and influencing that we see in liberal colleges. Many colleges that at one time were beacons of "higher-education" have devolved into "persecution hubs" where Christians are often targeted for their beliefs. Many secularists argue that Christian colleges should never deserve accreditation, and if they do not argue it openly, they silently support the "defunding" of it. This has now, and has for some time, infiltrated our public schools where our children and grandchildren attend.
Alarming does not quite say enough. I could go on.
"A form of godliness, a profession of Christian faith without a godly life, often is allowed to pass, while open profession of the truth as it is in Jesus, and resolute attention to the duties of goodness, stir up the scorn and enmity of the world."
Why is this? Why do we often see such persecution? Answer: Read Genesis 3:14-15. There has been enmity ever since. Read Revelation 12:13-17 (The dragon or "serpent" is a picture of Satan; the "woman" is a picture of the "bride" of Christ - the church; "her offspring" is a picture of individual believers). This enmity will continue until Jesus returns. Jesus says, "if they persecuted me, they will persecute you." The "Old World" will always live in opposition to the "New Creation." But the rub, I think, does not come from making us aware of the reality of prevalent and potential suffering. The rub is in what Scripture says concerning our responses thereto. 1 Peter 3:14, "But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened." Romans 5:3, "but as also glory in our sufferings...." 1 Peter 4:12-13, "do not be surprised at the fiery trial.......But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ......" Matthew 5:10, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs in the kingdom of God."
You see, according to Scripture, the more we demonstrate the characteristics of the kingdom of God in our lives, the more we will be persecuted by a world nauseated by it; however persecution for righteousness sake (not persecution for it's own sake; or for doing wrong) is the "gold star" for the believer. Matthew 5:11-12, "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...."
"Blessed....."? Really? This is a shocking piece of counsel. How can Jesus possibly justify this statement? Either this is the talk of some insensitive theologian who has never tasted nor known what it was like to scream in pain and agony, or this is the talk of someone who has seen something and tasted something that most of the people had not even realized. Well, this it the Lord speaking. The same Jesus who would eventually go to the cross, though at the time He said this the cross was in the not-so-distant future. This is certainly not a "Praise God anyhow" kind of mentality. None of that. No, Jesus can say this because He knows that the reward in Heaven will more than compensate for the suffering on earth. He knows it because He's been there. There is mystery here of joy in the midst of agony, gladness in the midst of groaning - the assurance and conviction that the joys of Heaven is infinitely able to compensate for every pain, for every heartache, for every sorrow. So, there is actually joy in suffering but only to the degree that you believe in what Jesus sees in Heaven. Do you?
Oh boy, if we could only see it, right? Boy, if only in the midst of our greatest trials God would do what He does with John while he is in prison; that He would open up Heaven so that we might just catch a glimpse of it. Or that God would allow us to catch a glimpse Him rising up from the throne, as He did with Stephen. I would imagine that even a one second flash would be enough to calm this trembling heart. Wouldn't you? That would be nice. But I am reminded of what Jesus said to Thomas, "blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (John 20:29). Until then, we must have faith that it will be worth it. Until then, we are charged with praying for our brothers and sisters, here and across the globe. And it may surprise you that when a persecuted Christian is asked "what can we do," they will always say "Pray for us!" Will you take the time to do that today? Will you spend some time in prayer for His persecuted people. Listen, it may not be "real" to you, and for that you should be grateful. But it is "real" to someone. Somewhere, someone is living a godly life in a hostile world.
O Lord, you are great and awesome! You are ever faithful to your people! There has never been a promise that you haven't fulfilled. Incline your ear to hear our prayer today. We have rebelled against you. We haven't listened to your Word. Lord, you are in the right and we are in the wrong. We have not followed your instruction, but instead we have trusted in our own wisdom and because of this we have been broken. Your people are mocked. Your churches are burned. Your people are lead like sheep out to slaughter. See our despair and how your people are in ruin. Forgive us Lord!
We have never seen such times as these. May our hearts be resolute. I pray you comfort those who are victims of intolerance, and those who are oppressed. I pray you lead the oppressors that they may be inclined towards compassion. I pray you give courage to all who are unjustly imprisoned, displaced from their families, frustrated and abused by those who seek to kill, steal, and destroy. For those who have given their lives for your cause, I pray they rest in your embrace. For those who persecute, may their spirits be touched by the faith of their targets.
Encourage our brothers and sisters, wherever they are challenged. We pray that faith may not fail during these troubling times. According to your plan, you have lead us here. According to your mercy you will lead us home. And when the night gets darkest, and the flame gets hottest, may we be warmed and comforted by the words of Jesus; "Rejoice, for your reward is great in heaven."
May your will be done, Amen!