Sunday, October 25, 2009

Christian Persecution in Our Times

A couple of months ago I wrote about the case of Rifqa Bary, a young girl who converted from Islam to Christianity who fled to central Florida from her Ohio home because she said she feared for her life. I don't know whether Rifqa's concerns are genuine or whether she was simply trying to exert her independence.

But I do know that the reality of Christians being persecuted for their faith is very much an issue for today. According to most research, there are close to 500 Christians killed each day because of their faith. Unknown to most American Christians, our brothers and sisters in Christ in many parts of the world face life or death consequences for professing their faith in the Nazarene carpenter.

Our church is currently going through the book of Acts and this morning we looked at the story of St. Stephen, the first martyr in the early church. Here are some of my notes and thoughts on this morning's message from our pastor, Mike Tilley, on the 7th chapter of Acts:

-- Unlike the suicidal terrorist bombers of the modern day who kill others and themselves because of what they believe to be righteous reasons, Stephen calmly gave his life instead of recanting his faith. Following the example of Jesus, he left his life in the Father's hand.

-- As American Christians, we may not have our lives immediately threatened because of our faith but the threat to us is more subtle. Like the frog and the kettle, we can gradually fall away from our devotion to Christ as we allow the cares of this world to take the forefront of our lives.

-- Our narcissism may not be that we make our own truth but that we live for our own glory. We become much more concerned with what we want than what God wants.

-- Our consumerism can mean that Jesus becomes just one of many things that we seek to satisfy our needs. He is not our "all in all" but a side item that we can take or leave if things become too uncomfortable.

-- Deitrich Bonhoeffer, the famed German theologian who was martyred at the hand of the Nazis, said, "When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die." Our allegiance to Christ may not mean that we have to give our physical lives for His sake, but it may. The question is whether we will follow Jesus with our whole lives or only follow Him when it is convenient?

November 8th is known as the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. The Voice of the Martyrs explains this day:
"Begun in 1996, IDOP is a day for intercessory prayer and citizen action on behalf of persecuted Christian communities worldwide.

“As our staff meets with persecuted Christians around the world, their first request is that we pray for them,” says Todd Nettleton, Director of Media Development for The Voice of the Martyrs - USA. “IDOP is a day when the collective Body of Christ joins together to answer their request.”

Some churches devote the entire day to persecuted Christians, while others hold a special prayer time during their regular services. It is estimated that more than 100,000 churches have taken part in IDOP activities since 1996, and churches in more than 130 countries have participated.

"Our persecuted family is not asking us to pray that the persecution will stop," says Nettleton. "They’re asking us to pray they will remain faithful to Christ in spite of the persecution and pressure they face."

The Voice of the Martyrs has developed a special IDOP Church Resource kit, including a four-minute video presentation, that encourages church congregations to pray and that provides ideas about practical ways to help persecuted Christians. Visit for more information on the resource kit, as well as downloadable resources to help your church pray effectively.

"This is an important day in the church calendar," says Nettleton. "But we don’t want it to be something a church crosses off their list and doesn’t think about for 12 more months. Our hope is that this one day of prayer leads to 364 more days of prayer and action on behalf of our persecuted brothers and sisters."
Jesus told us that whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Jesus's sake and for the gospel will save it. Perhaps you could ask your pastor how your church might recognize this day. Our prayers, awareness, giving and helping all make a difference in the lives of those who follow Jesus throughout the world.

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