Category Archives: Persecuted Church
The Bible is full of promises for those who honor God and follow Christ. Christians are urged to cling to those promises – eternal life, an abundant life, peace, love and forgiveness are among the favorites.
Yet there is one promise that is now being fulfilled that few of us are eager to cling to – being hated.
All four Gospels record Jesus’ promise that the world will hate us for following him. Here are a few examples:
Matt. 24:9: “Then they will hand you over for persecution, and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of My name.”
Mark 13:13: “And you will be hated by everyone because of My name. But the one who endures to the end will be delivered.”
John 15:19: “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you.”
We don’t cling to those promises because no one wants to be hated. It’s human nature to want to be loved and admired. And until the past few years, we as American Christians didn’t worry much about that.
For most of our country’s history, strong adherence to Christian beliefs was admired and pointed to as a positive example.
Sure, we knew hate and persecution were taking place in other countries – China, for example. Muslim nations. Most recently in Nigeria. But here in the USA, we could count on indifference as the worst consequence. In fact, for most of our country’s history, strong adherence to Christian beliefs was admired and pointed to as a positive example.
All that is changing, though. Hate has been the common theme of those on the left of the political spectrum the past two years, primarily directed at President Trump and those associated with him. But increasingly in the past year, Christians are becoming the targets.
Evangelical Christians (the world’s definition of evangelical is a bit murky, but generally means those who believe the Bible is true and that God is a part of daily life) are castigated if they voted for Trump, accused of lacking compassion if they support only legal immigration and vilified if they believe that killing unborn babies is wrong. We are accused of being a hate group when we don’t agree with and support ideologies that go against our beliefs.
It looks as if Jesus’ promise of 2,000 years ago is finally coming true here.
John, in 1 John 3:13, says we shouldn’t be surprised that the world hates us. As true followers of Christ, we shine light and the world loves darkness to hide its deeds.
So how are we to respond to all this hate? The knee-jerk reaction is first a vigorous defense or to give back as good as we get. After all, it’s easy to recognize the hypocrisy in the hateful actions and hateful words in those accusing us of hate.
Yes, the world’s hate is a blessing.
First of all, we need to recognize the blessing we’re receiving in the hate. Yes, I said the world’s hate is a blessing. I say that because Jesus said it first. At the end of the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus utters this line: “You are blessed when they insult and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
So our first response is to be glad and rejoice in this persecution because we’ll receive great heavenly rewards.
A bit later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus adds this about those who persecute us. “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:44)
So our second response is to pray for those who are saying all these awful lies about us. While we’d much rather call for their destruction, as David frequently did in Psalms, Jesus calls on us to respond in love to them and pray for their salvation.
We don’t compromise our beliefs just to escape the persecution.
And thirdly, we endure. When Jesus said in Mark 13:13 and other places that the world would hate us, he also told us to endure to the end. That means we don’t compromise our beliefs just to escape the persecution.
Some Christian groups and denominations are already doing this. They are changing the gender of God, allowing gays and transsexuals to lead the congregation and even joining in on the hateful speech against those who don’t compromise their values.
Enduring the hate is harder than rejoicing in it or praying for our enemies. The hate wears us down emotionally and physically, and eventually spiritually. It not only doesn’t stop, it often gets worse. But Jesus promises deliverance and, in Revelation 2 and 3, promises great eternal rewards for those who endure to the end.
Fortunately, Jesus gives us another promise that we can cling to in these hate-filled times: “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33)
This is how we rejoice, how we pray and how we endure – resting in the peace that Jesus has already conquered the world. Enduring the world’s hate cannot compare to the abundance of Christ’s love for us, a love so great that he endured the horrible fate of our sins so that we can have eternal life and eternal peace.
The world hates us and will express that hate even more strenuously in the days to come. But for those who follow Christ that only means more blessing and peace. Those are promises worth clinging to.
If you were creating a brochure to attract people to your church, which of the following phrases would you include?
“Join our church and …
… you will endure suffering.”
… people will hate you.”
… your family may become your enemy.”
… gruesome death is a real possibility.”
… your life will no longer be your own.”
It’s doubtful that you’d include any of those phrases in a church brochure, and even more doubtful that you’d visit a church that featured any of those sentences on their brochure. It would seem like an awful place to attend.
This, you may think, is why you leave the advertising to the professionals. What you want to emphasize when following Jesus is the cool worship music (an amazing lead singer, a killer drummer and two bass guitars), the amazing children’s department (filled with crafts, games and a tender, loving staff), the amazing facilities (complete with shuttle service from the parking lot and a coffee bar that would make Starbucks envious) and, of course, a dynamic preacher (when he’s not out speaking at some event with exciting names like Catalyst or Passion or Momentum). Above all, we love everyone – everyone is welcome to come and be whoever they are.
That’s what a church brochure should be about, not crazy phrases like suffering and hate and enemies. Certainly nothing about giving up your life or dying a gruesome death.
You might be thinking, that’s not the brochure I read. That’s not the Jesus I signed up for.
It’s true that Jesus didn’t use one of those phrases as an advertisement for following him – he used all of them!
Surely that can’t be true, can it? You might be thinking, that’s not the brochure I read. That’s not the Jesus I signed up for.
Let’s take a look at just a few examples of what Jesus told his disciples and followers.
Matt. 10:34-36: “Don’t assume that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.”
Mark 10:34-35: “If anyone wants to be My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me and the gospel will save it.
John 15:19: “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you.”
John 16:33: “You will have suffering in the world.”
Matt. 5:11-12: “You are blessed when they insult and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven.”
In all likelihood, if you’re part a large nondenominational evangelical church or a denominational mainstream church, the only time you’ve ever heard words like hate, suffering, enemies, persecution and gruesome death were during Easter services – and they only applied to what Jesus went through.
Those just aren’t good selling points for a church, so why would Jesus include them in his “brochure?”
Well, for starters, Jesus told the truth and he knew this would happen. And he knew that people who truly followed him, who chose to live in the kingdom of God, would no longer be subject to the whims and desires of the world – the world run by the Prince of Darkness. Satan will do whatever he can to stop Christ followers in their tracks, and suffering, persecution and the threat of a horrible death are good ways to do that.
He wants people who are totally sold out to his way of doing things.
And finally, Jesus isn’t messing around. He wants people who are totally sold out to his way of doing things, who will follow him no matter where he takes them, who love him above everything – and everyone – else in the world.
Fortunately, Jesus also added plenty of positive phrases to his brochure for those who repent and follow him. He says we’ll be blessed when we endure these things. In John 16:33 he tells us, “Take courage! I have overcome the world.” He says that no one can snatch us out of his hands. He promises us eternal life, starting now. “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly,” he said in John 10:10. He promises that his Holy Spirit will live in us, to guide and comfort us. We will have 24/7 instant access to the Father.
The negative and positive thoughts meet up in Jesus’ illustration of the kingdom of God being like a priceless treasure in a field, or a priceless pearl in the market. The kingdom of God, he said, is a treasure worth giving up everything we own, including our lives, to obtain.
Priceless treasure. Peace. Abundant life. Comfort and guidance. Now that sounds more like it.
But we can’t separate those words from the others. Christ promises that we’ll have both.
The question for most of us is, Am I willing to endure the negatives in order to gain the positives?
Want to find out what Princess Kate is wearing or the latest outrageous thing Miley Cyrus has said or done? Chances are good you’ll find out on the evening news or as a top internet story. On the other hand, if you want to find out about Boko Haram slaughtering Christians and kidnapping adolescent and teenage girls to use as servants, sex slaves and suicide bombers, you’ll probably have to search a little harder.
In fact, you may not even know what I’m talking about when I say Boko Haram. They are a militant Islamic terrorist group in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country. For the past several years they have been trying to overthrow the Nigerian government to turn the entire country into a militant state. They have killed thousands – it has been estimated they killed more than 4,000 in just 2014 alone, and they’ve murdered many more since.
They have openly declared war on Nigerian Christians and hundreds, if not thousands, of Christians are among those they’ve killed. But they have also targeted Muslims who do not go along with their violent outlook and anything else they consider marks of Western civilization (in a local language, Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden”).
Perhaps most disturbing is that they are now using these young girls as suicide bombers.
Along the way, Boko Haram has kidnapped hundreds of girls, some as young as 7, to serve as cooks, servants and “wives” for their soldiers. Perhaps most disturbing, though, is that they are now using these young girls as suicide bombers. They strap explosive-filled vests on them and send them into a targeted area – sometimes the girls know what they’re doing, other times not. So far at least 145 girls have been used in this way – probably a low estimate – and have taken the lives of hundreds more. Targets have included government centers, Christian centers, even a mosque. It also included a wedding, although a dog heroically stopped the girl before she could enter the ceremony and detonate the explosives.
Boko Haram recently sent out a request to Muslims who are in agreement with their way of thinking: Donate your young girls to use on suicide bombing missions. Yes, they want parents to willing sacrifice their daughters in this way.
Tragic, you may say, but why should we be concerned about some tiny little country half-a-world away?
Well, Nigeria isn’t exactly tiny. At 357,669 square miles, it is larger than Texas and nearly the size of the combination of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia. Nigeria has a population of 193.5 million, ranked seventh in the world, which is more than half of the United States population (the population for the seven states mentioned above is a combined 47.3 million, so it has four times as many people as that area). Nigeria has a GDP (the nation’s contribution to world wealth) of $1.125 billion, which ranks it in the top 25 in the world.
Still not convinced of the need? Consider that we have been involved in helping straighten out Iraq and Afghanistan for more than 15 years, and are still sending troops there on a regular basis. Nigeria is far larger than either of those countries, more than twice the size of Iraq – in fact, it has nearly the land size of the two countries combined (it is 85 percent the size of those two).
When it comes to population, Afghanistan and Iraq combined have a third as many people as Nigeria. Their GDP combined is barely half of Nigeria’s. You might suspect oil has a lot to do with why we’re more interested in Iraq and Afghanistan, but Nigeria ranks 11th in oil reserves, right behind the United States (Afghanistan has no known oil reserves).
As Christians, we should be especially concerned. At least 40 percent of the country is identified as Christian, about equal to the number of Muslims.
We certainly can communicate with people in Nigeria – the country’s official language is English.
And as Christians, we should be especially concerned. At least 40 percent of the country is identified as Christian, about equal to the number of Muslims, compared to just 3 percent in Iraq and less than 1 percent in Afghanistan. This isn’t too surprising since the area of West Africa where Nigeria is located is experiencing some of the fastest growth in Christianity in the world.
So these are our brothers and sisters who are suffering torture and death simply because they have chosen to follow Christ as their Lord. They are already crying out to the Lord to avenge their blood. Rev. 6:9-10 says, “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the people slaughtered because of God’s word and the testimony they had. They cried out with a loud voice: ‘Lord, the One who is holy and true, how long until You judge and avenge our blood from those who live on the earth?’” God gives them white robes and urges them to be patient until the end of this world, but that doesn’t mean He isn’t calling us into action now.
What can we do as Christians to help our brothers and sisters in Nigeria?
Pray. First of all, pray. Not just praying for the persecution to stop, but for God to raise up laborers – based on the growth in the neighboring countries, many people in that area of Africa are interested in Christianity, despite the threat of persecution.
Donate. Then consider donating to those who are already helping the persecuted. A list of some of those groups appears at the end of the blog. I have not vetted them for their effectiveness in getting mission dollars to where they’re needed most, so check them out, as you should with any organization, before donating.
Write. On the political front, urge your senators and representatives to consider what actions can be taken to help the Nigerians. While I don’t believe the United States should be the world’s police officer, it does seem like our resources could be more wisely allocated in a country like Nigeria than in the Middle East.
Action. Be open to taking action. Whether through advocacy here in the United States or in ministering in Nigeria itself, be open to God’s call to action in your life.
Left untreated, even a small cut can lead to an infection that threatens the entire body.
In 1 Cor. 12:26, Paul tells us that if one member of the body suffers, then all members suffer. Sometimes that’s hard to remember, if the cut is small. But left untreated, even a small cut can lead to an infection that threatens the entire body. Right now, to Christians in the United States the persecution in Nigeria may seem like a small cut to the body, but how long before it becomes an infection that threatens us all? And I guarantee to the Christians in Nigeria and its neighboring countries, this is far more than a cut. It’s a major wound. They are suffering; we must help.
Groups Supporting Persecuted Christians
The Voice of Martyrs (persecution.com)
Open Doors (opendoorsusa.org)
Christian Aid Mission (christianaid.org)
Frontline Missions International (frontlinemissions.info)
Rescue Christians (rescuechristians.org)
I Commit to Pray (icommittopray.com)