This entry is a heavy one, I'll warn from the start. I imagine I'll read and reread it many times in the future to reconnect, re-anchor because the content and message is so fundamentally important to my obedience to my Lord that it will shape my very Christian walk from this day hence.
It starts by my having attended a conference. We've all done it - particularly as youth/teens, maybe even went to some as adults. Remember the exilaration? Coming home fired up for God. Gonna make those changes, gonna read that Word daily, pray an hour daily, be that light at school/work/etc. No fear. Bold. Joy and courage flooding the heart. Truly the epitome of the mountain top experience. Did you stay there? Hopefully some alteration in your path did actually occur. Hopefully some change in the way you were living did truly happen. I have lost track of the number of times that for me, it did not. I cannot recall how many of those experiences I've encountered God only years later to look back on with vague rememberence. Memories of "wow, I was really on fire for God back then", wondering what happened. Wondering how I grew "lukewarm" or even cold.
Yesterday was not a "mountaintop". It was more like staring into the chasm of my own innaction, one that afforded me a poor night's sleep and kept me tossing and turning and prompted my early awakening to pray. I attended the Voice of Martyrs Conference and left repentant and challenged. Repentant to have been complacently sluggish for so many years, innactive in the body of Christ, coasting. Challenged to become a viable and alive member of this body, this faith, this church that exceeds the building I weekly attend but rather is comprised of people around this globe, many of them risking abuses and injury willfully to gather together to simply praise our Savior, to spread word of his love to their neighbor, the very ones who seek to harm them.
Yesterday I gained a true sense of this "body of Christ" like I've never had before, and it is hurting. There is so much hurt in the body and we cannot sit idly by, content to engage only our own families and work weeks and home church activities. We are called to more than a passing gift to the missionary who speaks in our churches once every few months. Hebrews 13:3 says "Remember those in prison as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated as if you felt their pain in your own bodies." This obviously speaks of the persecuted church in Paul's day and I'm sure many of us are aware that somewhere out there, around the world in distant nations, someone is imprisoned for their faith, for handing out biblical literature, for witnessing. But that's the problem, in our minds, it's out there - away from us - half a globe away.
This scripture is telling us to remember these saints as if it were US! If you were beaten by a metal cable such that your back was bloodied and bruised, would you pray once or twice month or even a year for deliverance? If your spouse and children were murdered by locals while you were away because you witnessed to a family who's father did not approve, would you be content to accept a one time prayer of support or would you ache for daily strength through the uplifting of others? We don't seem to get it here in the U.S. that we are ONE BODY with those who are suffering these things. We have tremendous freedoms that everyone around this globe can only dream of but we do nothing with them except enjoy them. We have at our fingertips tremendous technologies and resources and we are/will be held accountable for our use of those gifts.
This is obviously a very condemning statement and I believe there are a very good number of precious people who God is rising up to make a difference, who are answering the call to make the difference, to stand in the gap and to meet the needs through prayer, support, finance, and getting the Word into the hands of the people. I am so grateful for organizations such as Voice of Martyrs, Children's Hope Chest and locally the work of Known to Me as those who have orchestrated these projects/efforts have answered the call to do more, to stand in the gap, to bring awareness, to call the wake-up alarm. There are brothers and sisters in the Lord in these and a few other organizations that I am just starting to know that I feel so blessed to have come across because they have heard this call and they are broken by it. Broken enough to to be moved to action and to work to bring others to this awareness.
For me, however, I find myself having not done enough. I certainly have not lived out Hebrews 13:3. To be honest, I've ignored my brothers and sisters in prison. You can't change the whole world, right? You can't take on all of the problems. I subscribed to VOM email alerts about a year ago and I am ashamed to say that when they have come, some of them I've given a coursory scan with good intent to further study, good intent to further pursue, further write to encourage but never gotten around to it. Sometimes, two or three will come a week and I simply have too much email the way it is so "sorry, I don't have time for this now"....delete. That was person being beaten who needed encouragement...delete....or a family in which the father/pastor was just killed for his faith...delete...
We don't like to think of a persecuted church because we don't like to think about persecution period. But persecution is on our doorstep. We have no concept of it here and I think if we all honestly thought about this we'd agree. If we'd spend time with these men and women who have been shot at, had their churches bombed, been hauled off to unknown darkened locations in the night and beaten, watched their own newly converted, newly baptized congregations slaughtered while praising the whole time...we'd all agree we don't even know what persecution is. To us, persecution is worrying if someone will "not like us" or if we will be "uncomfortable". But persecution is coming to America. This nation is becoming increasingly God-less in its leadership, laws, and direction and furthermore - here's the big one - JESUS PROMISED IT!
We don't like this but we cannot ignore what Jesus said in John 15:20 "if they persecuted me they will also persecute you". Paul in 2 Timothy 3:12 states that everyone who wants to live a godly life will be persecuted. Again - it is promised to each of us. I don't think he was referring to the rude "snicker" behind your back because that's not where it stopped for him. This does not mean that I need to go out and foolishly seek martyrdom, but neither should I be surprised when as my walk and my witness become more ferverent and outspoken, so too will resistance to the light within me. This is such a foreign concept to the American believer because we have never suffered for our faith, truly suffered. And why is suffering for our faith desirable? Because it purifies our intents and desires for God. It causes tremendous growth and brings tremendous reward to our lives. Jesus also said in Matthew 5 that those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, their's is the kingdom, great is their reward.
I had the privilege to speak to a pastor from Ethiopia and another from Pakistan, both speakers at the conference. On the stage they were amazing speakers and captivating to behold. Certainly their testamonies were enthralling and many around were drawn to tears as they recounted not only the horrors they had witnessed but the profound joys of serving our Lord in the midst of such unspeakable hatred against His Name. When face to face with them however, I felt their spirits, I felt their radiance, their peace, their joy. Truly, fear had no hold on these men and they could rejoice in the face of whatever the devil threw at them. Their lives could be taken the next minute and they walked in the knowledge of a God so loving they would willingly and gladly give everything they had, their lives, their children's lives, if just one more person could come to know him.
I think many people left the conference staring at the same "chasm" I was - the chasm of shame. Shame at our own innaction, but also repentant for that innaction and thankful for the Word they had received and motivated by it. For it is the Word that lays our path and we cannot afford to ignore any part of it. We cannot afford to fail to share any part of it. Our next breath may be our last. So many around the world are purposefully placing themselves in harm's way to spread this Word, this life, knowing that their next breath may be their last, may actually be taken from them in hatred against what they are trying to do in love. Hebrews 13:3 cannot be forgotten, it is the very least we can do for we are one body, one church and we are bound with them.