The Depths of your Loyalty

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A couple of weeks ago, I was reading an article from Voice of the Martyrs, and as it almost always does, the article tested my faith. Many of you reading this may be familiar with Pastor Richard Wurmbrand. Voice of the Martyrs stems from his work and devotion to spreading the gospel in hostile places. He spent his life discipling others to do the same. Much of his time was spent in Eastern Europe in what was known as the Soviet Block. Communism had taken the area by storm following the end of World War II and faith was starved by the new atheistic regimes. One evil, nazism, had been replaced with another. But faith outlasts fear and hatred. No manner of method used by the enemies of Christ has ever been successful in defeating the devoted. That is a lesson that Mr. Wurmbrand tried to teach his young patrons in this excerpt from the article I read.

The twelve students stood with their pastor along the fence. On the other side was a large ditch, beyond which was an opening to a manmade cave. A large lion paced back and forth in front of the cave’s opening. Their pastor said, “Your forefathers were thrown before such wild beasts for their faith. Know that you also will have to suffer. You will not be thrown before lions, but you will have to suffer at the hands of men who would be much worse than these animals. Decide here and now whether you wish to pledge allegiance to Christ.” The students looked at each other. Before them stood their pastor, Richard Wurmbrand, a man who had spent fourteen years in prison for his work in the underground church. This was the pastor’s last week in Romania, for he and his family had been ransomed from their homeland and would be leaving within a few days. Richard didn’t know if his Sunday school students would suffer under the brutal hand of atheistic Communists, but he wanted to implant a faith that would survive the harshest trials. So he had brought the students to the local zoo to see the lions. Although young, the students fully understood what their pastor meant. With tears, they answered resolutely, “We pledge our allegiance to Christ.”

Decide here and now whether you wish to pledge allegiance to Christ. Wow. I have never been confronted with that proposal in such a way. When I was a child deciding to give my life to Jesus, it wasn’t a matter of life or death. No one ever explained to me that there was so much hate in the world and that people might actually want me in prison, tortured, or killed because of what I believe in. Those are realities I’ve had to learn as I’ve grown up and grown in the faith. I use to have dreams where I was tied up and threatened to renounce my faith or die. I always woke up before the dream played itself out. What I was left with was wondering about just how deep my loyalties are. My life matters less to me than my allegiance to Christ. But what about my wife’s life? Or my children? I have been so privileged to grow up in a nation that acknowledges the right of every human being to choose their beliefs. That is a God-given right of free will. But what if that wasn’t the case any longer? As the world grows more hostile towards Jesus and towards set truth, difficult choices will probably have to be made. For the follower of Jesus, nothing can take precedent over their allegiance to their Savior. It is best to do the hard reflecting now for we may all have to face the day of decision. We need to teach our children to do the same. Jesus over everything!

*This is dedicated to all our brothers and sisters around the world who wage the spiritual war every day. We stand with you in prayer and acknowledge your great courage. You inspire us all.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Colossians 3:1-4 ESV

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Jesus’ Burden is ours

*image from Mosaic church

I recently read an article through Voice of the Martyrs about the burdens we carry. Some we put on ourselves. Most we were never meant to carry. Many of us feel weighed down and find ourselves without the strength to do what really matters in life…to love others well and share the message of Jesus with them. Check out the following excerpt from VoM and see if you’re convicted as I was.

Neither drugs nor civil war can stop the spread of the gospel in Colombia. Juan and his wife, Maria, are missionaries among the indigenous people north of Cali, Colombia. Cali is controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a leftist guerilla group. Many Colombian pastors and missionaries have faced opposition from FARC and have fled the area. When Juan met with a group of fifty FARC guerrillas three years ago, however, twenty of them received Christ. As he says, “We exchange pistols for epistles.” Now, the National Liberation Army has been attacking Christian churches in the region. Recently, more than twenty churches were shut down, and many pastors fled for their lives. Guerrillas often come and demand all the tithes and offerings or take the pastor’s life. Now Juan is the only pastor left in the area, and he receives no outside aid. Still, Juan and his wife made a decision to stay and continue ministering to the people. They say, “If we are to die because we preach the Word of God, we would rather die than leave the church.” Juan does not condemn those who have left, nor does he talk about the difficulties they have faced. He prefers to share what God is doing and his burden for ministry. His mind is preoccupied, not with danger, but with reaching Colombia’s people for Christ.

Being burdened with the gospel is not the same as being weighed down with earthly concerns. Most of what we carry are earthly concerns. My wife and I joke about all the “first world problems” that we or others allow to get to them. But it’s no joke. Jesus called us to pursue what really mattered and allow Him to care for the rest.

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew‬ ‭6:33‬ ‭ESV‬‬

The burden of the gospel simply means an awareness of others’ spiritual needs. I think that comes from a very real understanding of our own spiritual need. Juan has a “burden,” but his burden is light. In following Christ’s example, and Juan’s example, we must be burdened for lost people. It’s a light load because we are always giving it away. We are not supposed to keep the good news to ourselves. Let’s allow Jesus’ burden for the lost motivate us to hang in there one more day and to share with one more person. Let’s release what was never ours to carry and pick up the message of hope to take to the nations.

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11:30

Unto Death

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The life of a Christian is not for the faint of heart. We are outcasts in a fallen world. We are counter-cultural no matter what culture we are surrounded by. We are a minority in the world and always will be. We don’t drift with the ever-changing tide of society. Because of that, we are shunned, rejected, disliked, and even hated and killed. According to a worldwide ministry called Open Doors, every month around the world 345 Christians are killed for faith-related reasons, 105 Churches and Christian buildings are burned or attacked, 219 Christians are detained without trial, arrested, sentenced and imprisoned. That amounts to an average of at least 11 Christians being killed every single day. Even in the wake of all of that hate and discrimination, there are still over 2.3 billion people in the world who identify as a follower of Christ. It is the largest and fastest growing faith in the world.

Here in the United States, we are being labeled as bigots because we stand for sexual purity and the God-given identities of every human being. We are called misogynistic because we value the life of every pre-born child and stand against abortions. But even in the face of the rise in discrimination, we have not had to claim Christ even unto death. It is always important for believers who are outside of the shadow of death, to pray for those who constantly live there. Our brothers and sisters around the world need us to link arms with them and wage spiritual warfare alongside them. One day, it may be you and me who are in the shadows. Will we stand firm, even unto death?

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

Ephesians 6:18 NIV

The following is a story from Voice of the Martyrs:

In Albania, the first self-declared atheist state in the world, a young Christian by the name of Valerii Nasaruk was arrested for boldly tattooing a cross on his hand. He wanted everyone to know from the first handshake that he stuck to his faith in God. Valerii was frustrated, however, by not being allowed to verbally tell others about God’s love.

At the trial, the judge told Valerii’s mother, “Tell your son to change his ways so he can go free.” She thought for a while before responding through tearful eyes, “Valerii, my advice to you is to stand firm and not deny Christ, even if it means your death.” In a subsequent letter to the underground church, she wrote, “I attended the trial, which was so hard on me. I wished I could have taken his place. The hardest thing was when they asked me in court to advise Valerii to change his ways, but I could not do it. The world accuses us, his parents, for his being sentenced, saying it is the result of our influence. Even some Christians can’t understand why I did what I did, but then I remember that Jesus was misunderstood. When I struggle with depression, I am reminded that Peter advised Jesus about saving his own life. God gives me the power to bear everything. Please pray for me.”

Can you imagine being Valerii’s mother and making that statement to your child? Can you imagine facing death simply for what you believe? All too many people around the world can.

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Galatians 6:14 NIV

An Extreme Question all Christians Must Answer

This is reposted from Voice of the Martyrs

TURKEY: ERCAN SENGUL

Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Ephesians 6:19–20

When Ercan Sengul committed his life to Christ in the Muslim nation of Turkey, some saw it as turning his back on his heritage and nation. When he said that he would do anything for God, he had meant it then. But what about now?

Ercan sat in a dark, dank prison cell surrounded by cell mates. He had been arrested by local police who said that he’d “insulted Islam” by distributing books for a Christian publisher. Ercan cried out to God, begging to be rescued. He knew that he’d done nothing wrong and didn’t deserve to be there. “You said you’d do anything for me,” God whispered to Ercan’s heart. “Did you mean it?” Broken before God, Ercan wept and worshipped. He told God in his heart, “I really meant it.” Ercan began to preach three hours each day in prison. He learned that God allowed him to be imprisoned to give him a new mission field! Ercan was in prison for thirty days until witnesses admitted that police had pressured them to sign statements, and the judge found no evidence of any crime. The arrest has furthered Ercan’s witness. Since his release, many who shared his cell have visited his church, asking about the God who gave him peace while locked in prison. Ercan still joyfully gives out Christian books, knowing he could be arrested.

Most Christians would admit that suffering is not exactly what we have in mind when we say we want to be used by God. Sure, we want to live out our faith—but not to the point of persecution. We resent being overlooked for promotions at work or excluded from social events. We feel slighted. Cheated. Ripped off. However, we must be willing to prayerfully seek God in the midst of our desperation. The moment we do, we find prayer changes our perspective. We begin to see opportunities for growth. We receive hope. We find promise amid pain. Eventually we begin to discover our current situation, however unfair and undeserved, may be part of God’s plan after all. When we pray for God’s perspective on persecution, we find the courage to be obedient at all costs.