One of the things I often stress to Christian audiences that I speak to is that when you survey the history of humanity, one of the most peculiar things God has done is provide the cocoon of peace and comfort for His followers in America. While basking in the benefit of religious freedom has become second nature to us, it is hardly the story of God's people down through the ages.
In the first 300 years of the church, it was an immense risk to your possessions, your family, and your life to profess faith in the Lordship of Christ. It's no exaggeration to say that Christianity grew in soil watered by the blood of martyrs.
And despite the experience of American believers, persecution of the Christian faithful continues unabated today. In North Korea, Somalia, Libya, Sudan, Pakistan, Yemen, Eritrea, China, Afghanistan, India – some of the world's most populated regions – Christian churches are in hiding, and conversion to Jesus is seen as treason worthy of slave labor or death.
And that's the government-sanctioned persecution. Then there exists the unpoliced terror inflicted on believers by terror cells and radical extremist groups:
According to U.K.-based nonprofit organization Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART), over 1,000 Christians living in Nigeria have been killed by terror group Boko Haram and Fulani extremists this year alone…Additionally, Islamic terror group Boko Haram has vowed to kill every Christian they encounter. They have displaced hundreds of thousands of people in Nigeria.
So how should we respond? And by that I don't mean the United States; I mean you and me.
As believers, I think first we must vow to remember them. That may seem trivial, but it's not. When Paul wrote to the Colossians, he implored them, "Remember my chains." Throughout Scripture we are instructed that remembering strengthens faith and has a sanctifying effect on believers. Seek out news about the persecuted church, talk to others about it, and refuse to ignore the reality of what is happening to our brothers and sisters.
Next, I believe we have a duty to pray for them – their resolve, peace, courage, conviction, and their influence. That last point may seem odd to say given that a Christian kneeling down with the blade of a knife pressed to their neck by an ISIS terrorist doesn't seem to be in a position to influence anyone. But two Biblical examples suggest otherwise.
When the first Christian martyr Stephen was stoned to death, the book of Acts says that Saul was there, approving of the entire scene. Saul would later meet and surrender his life to Jesus. Who knows to what extent the courageous faithfulness of Stephen's example paved the way for God's redemptive work in and through the great Apostle Paul.
Further, recognize that nothing shuts the mouth of Satan quicker than martyrdom. He's been lying to the world about faithfulness to God ever since the days of Job, claiming that Godliness is only the result of God's benevolence and abundant blessing on those who choose Him. "Take away his flocks, possessions, or family and he would curse you," Satan taunts. Nothing demonstrates the depth of conviction that accompanies true Christianity, nothing persuades those aimless drifters desperately searching for something to live for – and if needs be, die for – than a Christian martyr.
If Saul could become Paul, don't discount the possibility that a knife-wielding ISIS murderer could become the next great evangelist. Pray for the persecuted church's influence.
And while doing so, may we not insult God by making apologies for the time and place where He has planted us. Do not feel badly that you are living in relative peace while your brothers and sisters are in danger, but instead commit to doing exactly what they're doing: living faithfully right where we are. After all, God has called all of us, regardless of our current circumstances (good or bad) to live for Him – to make disciples, to be His witnesses, to shine the light of His truth.
Are we bound for a future like our brethren in distant, hostile lands? As difficult as it may be to conceive, the testimony of history would suggest so. The truth is that no one knows how long the cocoon of religious liberty will envelop American Christians. But whenever it disappears, may we have learned the lesson taught every day by the persecuted church: no matter what man-made laws change, freedom in Christ never will.
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