Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
August 30, 2020
The high cost of identifying with Christ
While Republicans and Democrats struggle for control in America, I remind myself that my primary business is to live a genuine Christian life. Whatever my political persuasion, I have no greater obligation than to honor Jesus in every way possible. And the truth is, in America I have great freedom to do that.
There are many countries where practicing the Christian faith is risky business. A ministry called “Open Doors” releases annually a list of the top 50 countries where Christian persecution is most severe and the level of persecution is increasing. Open Doors reports that more than 260 million Christians “experience high, very high or extreme persecution for following Jesus.” One of every 8 Christians in the world lives in a culture where Christianity is illegal, forbidden or punished.
Last year 2,983 Christians were killed for their faith, 9,488 churches and Christian buildings were attacked, and 3,711 believers were detained without trial, arrested, and sentenced or imprisoned.
Not surprisingly, North Korea and Afghanistan top of the list of nations with the worst persecution of Christians. In North Korea there are some 50,000 Christians in prison or labor camps today. The Kim family controls every aspect of life in North Korea. Islamic extremism remains the dominant global driver of persecution,
How is persecution defined? The answer: Hostility experienced as a result of identifying with Christ. This can mean torture, imprisonment, loss of home and possessions, losing custody of children, beheadings, rape and even death. More vulnerable than men, women risk sexual violence, torture, forced marriage and much more.
These statistics may be boring but I mention them because each of these numbers represents a brother or sister who is a member of the global family of Christians. The believers who died for their faith last year, and every year, are “family.” And while it has never been a “big day” for us in America, the first Sunday in November is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.
Were Saint Paul, who was severely persecuted for his faith in Jesus, alive, he would no doubt encourage us pray for our persecuted brethren every day and not just in November. It was Paul who said to the Corinthians, “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.”
More Christians died for their faith during the 20th Century than in all the previous 19 centuries combined. This disturbing fact reminds me to thank God for the freedom of worship we enjoy in America. In China thousands of Christians are not permitted to gather for worship. Believers meet in homes, often in secret, for fear of being arrested and persecuted. Though the deadly coronavirus has come to us from China, inspiring stories have also come from that nation.
One Chinese pastor was sentenced to 12 years in jail for refusing to stop preaching the gospel to his small congregation. He was forced to wade daily into the filthy waste system of his town. That was his “work” station. Every day the pastor went about his work with faith that stunned his captors. They would hear him singing while in the cesspool, “And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own, and the joy we share, as we tarry there, none other has ever known.” What a witness! And from a stinking cesspool!
By the time the pastor was released, and resumed preaching, his church had tripled in size. God was at work in that pastor’s suffering, working for good as He always does with those who love Him.
While we in America may not be severely persecuted for practicing our faith, there is still a price to be paid for identifying with Christ. We do well to remember that though we shall suffer, God permits suffering and often uses it to advance the gospel and to test and refine our faith. Every trial we face can become an opportunity to honor Christ with authentic faith.
I am inspired by people who remain strong and steady disciples of Jesus despite their trials and heartaches. My sisters Neva Williams and Margie Flomer are two such disciples who have remained winsome and positive believers despite the loss of their husbands. Neither has ever allowed self-pity in the door. Margie lost John some 30 years ago and has inspired our family by “living for others” rather than lamenting her loss. Her children and grandchildren adore her for her untiring self-giving. Margie taught students with special needs in the public school for 32 years.
When Neva’s husband, Gene, learned he had incurable cancer, he wrote this inspiring letter to all who were praying for him: “The joy of God’s love is so marvelous that the hard things in this life become manageable. I am in His wonderful hands and I am at perfect peace. Thank you for your love and prayers.” His faith did not flinch in the face of death.
Neva has inspired our family by demonstrating that same positive faith in God. Though she had buried both her sons, as the result of accidents, and a little later her husband, Neva chose to spend the last 20 years, not as a grieving mother and widow, but a servant of others. How? By serving as a volunteer at the Montgomery Cancer Center where Gene received his final treatments. Like Margie, she has a servant heart.
When you say your prayers tonight, pray for all who suffer because of violence and persecution in our world. Ask the Lord Jesus to fill you with the joy that will give you a happy face as you move through the trials of your journey. Your face, and your faith, can inspire others to identify with the Christ who alone can help us end the persecution that exists in our fallen world. + + +