As I was contemplating the different things to include in today’s update, I reread Revelation 6, paying special attention to the fifth seal which is found in verses 9-11. It reads like this:
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood? Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.”
Jesus warned the disciples as well as all the rest of His followers still to be born in the next two millennia that they would be hated for His Name’s sake and many of them would be killed. There is the story of Stephen and his being stoned to death in chapter 7 of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. There are a number of other stories in the book of Acts telling of the murder of followers of Christ. James (brother of John and son of Zebedee, not the brother of Jesus) was actually the first of the Apostles to be killed, being beheaded by King Herod Agrippa 1. Tens of millions have been added to those souls ever since–and still are today. More people have been martyred for their Christian faith in the last century than during the entire 2,000 years earlier!
I read Hebrews 11 again, going through the long list of people who lived lives of faith, many of them losing their lives violently because of their faith in their Master, Jesus Christ. The NIV translation of verse 13 describes them as aliens and strangers on this earth. There was really nothing here that they wanted or needed more than their anticipated union with Jesus in heaven. How many of us can say this today? Am I so heavily invested in this temporary life that the thought of Heaven means too little?
After a list of some of the Old Testament people who had died and gone on into eternity, verse 32 reads:
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign enemies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned, they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated–the world was not worthy of them. they wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. (NIV)
Reading passages like this is difficult because most of us have a strong aversion towards violence. For many Christian people, maybe more in the West than anywhere else, this distaste has become a loathing to even read many portions in the Bible because they are disturbing to us. Apparently God saw that we would need to be “disturbed” in order to walk the narrow way that has been laid out for us. Just something to think about.
As I contemplated these things this morning I pulled a book from my library shelves I’ve read several times. It’s called “Foxe’s Christian Martyrs of the World”. I started reading some of the testimonies and didn’t put the book down until I had again read nearly half of the book. There is something about reading the stories of people who had such a love and commitment to their Lord and Master Jesus Christ that they would willingly be killed in the most gruesome, brutal ways, that you cannot be unmoved or unchanged by it.
As I have said before, the Book of Acts is technically still being written today. This last week I received another call from Syria. House of Blessing had nine missionaries that were killed when one of them stepped on a buried bomb. In the same week, thirteen of their missionaries were crucified not far from Mosul, Iraq by ISIS. I am aware of the news reports that say no Christians are in the area anymore, but the underground Church continues to function and preach the Gospel about Jesus Christ, the Messiah. There is no mercy for these people when they are caught. They are brutalized and killed in the worst possible ways imaginable. Why do they stay in areas like this where they don’t know from one day to the next if they will live or die? Could it be that their love for their LORD and those around them that are lost is so great that they are willing to die if need be in order to fulfill what God is asking of them? I believe this is exactly why!
Story after story is coming out of the Middle East of the atrocities being done to anyone that does not accept Islam–especially the “people of the Book”. These are of course the Jews and the Christians. ISIS however, as well as other terrorist groups, move from place to place killing anyone and everyone they can. According to the news I pulled up yesterday, ISIS has overrun over 60 villages in northern Syria alone. Tens of thousands are running for their lives. Most of those that get caught are murdered, with thousands of women and girls being raped. The UN volunteers vacate these areas long before ISIS gets there and leave the people on their own. Accounts are coming out of the area of ISIS terrorists going from house to house looking for Christians. When they find them, the children are separated from the adults and given the opportunity to recant their commitment to Jesus Christ. When they refuse, they are killed right in front of their parents, many of them by beheading, or worse. To this point, there are apparently no testimonies of children giving in in order to save their own lives! Could I do the same? Could you?
Those that have read these updates undoubtedly have read about Mofida and her group of widows. The testimonies coming from these women are nothing short of amazing. The Bible speaks of signs and wonders following those who believe in the miraculous work of God’s Spirit. These women are living it. I find it interesting that not many of these miracles are seen in the West where life is still relatively comfortable. Yet, where people are living under the most desperate circumstances, the most amazing miracles are happening! Could it be that there is a level of faith that comes to those who don’t have a “Plan B” available that the rest of Christendom does not often reach?
Mofida and her “Widow Sisterhood” as we’ve started calling them, were near the Turkish border this last week and noticed a small goat going into a hole in the ground. When they went to see where the goat went, Mofida found that the hole in the ground led to a large cave. As I understand the story, some of the women went to investigate and found well over 200 people living in this cave. It turned out that these people were believers and had managed to survive with the few animals they had for milk and meat. The women described these people as pretty scary to look at. The people were very unkempt and many of them quite ill due to lack of sunlight. They had skin diseases as well as many other maladies. The men had not had haircuts, nor had their beards been trimmed the entire 18+ months they had been hiding in the cave..
Mofida questioned why they were in this cave and she was told that they were hiding in order to survive but were praying and interceding for those in the outside world. Mofida decided, as was her custom, to go to the Lord in prayer about this situation and find out how to handle it. She knew there had to be a reason that they spotted the little goat entering the hole in the ground.
As she and her group of 40 or so widows prayed, the Lord instructed them to minister to them and teach them how to overcome their fear so that they could leave the cave and share the love of God with others instead of holing up as they had. The women then began to wash these people from head to toe, treat their wounds, meet their physical needs as best they could, and then pray for them. As they prayed for these people, God did amazing things and healed nearly every sickness, disease, malady, or injury represented amongst all these 200+ people! They then baptized them all again.
Mofida then, with the help of the other widows, began ministering to them with God’s Word. They taught them and helped them to see that they did not need to live in fear of anything happening in the world above them. Mofida used 2 Timothy 1:7 as a basis for what she had to say. Most of us are familiar with this passage:
God did not give us a spirit of timidity (or fear), but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline (or sound mind).
A thought comes to mind when I read a Scripture like this. It is difficult to teach someone else the true meaning of this Scripture unless it is being lived by the teacher! How effective would Mofida be teaching this principle if she herself was not living it? How could Pastor R**** or the volunteer missionaries of H.O.B. teach others about sharing this wonderful Gospel in such a dangerous area if they didn’t practice it themselves? It would certainly not be convincing.
This brings me to a Scripture in Jeremiah that I would like to mention in wrapping up this update. The prophet Jeremiah was a man who lived a difficult life. God had called on him when he was still a teenager and expected things of him that most adults would not be able to fulfill. Jeremiah however took the challenge and followed through on everything God asked of him for the rest of his life. God had him deliver message after message of judgment, gloom and doom. There were few messages for the people that were encouraging or positive! We might think that the great prophets of the Old Testament never had doubts or complaints about the terrible messages they were told to deliver. But they struggled with it just like the true prophets do today. They ask questions like these: “God, don’t You hear what they say? Don’t You see their attitudes? Don’t You see the injustice in their actions? Don’t You see how they scoff at what YOU are saying?? Where are You in all this, GOD? Jeremiah questioned God more than once in his difficult lifetime. One of these times is found in Jeremiah 12:1-4:
“You are always righteous, O Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease? You have planted them, and they have taken root; they grow and bear fruit. You are always on their lips but far from their hearts. Yet you know me, O LORD; you see me and test my thoughts about you. Drag them off like sheep to be butchered! Set them apart for the day of slaughter! How long will the land like parched and the grass in every field be withered? Because those who live in it are wicked, the animals and birds have perished. Moreover, the people are saying, “He will not see what happens to us.”
Some of us might look at what Jeremiah said in this passage and criticize. We might be tempted to point out how judgmental he was and how God’s love seems to have taken a vacation in his thinking process at that moment. How could the prophet be asking God to have them butchered like sheep? How could he act so self-righteous?
It is always easy to criticize someone else. We never know everything about any story or anyone else’s experience. God understood everything Jeremiah was going through, but He did have an answer for him. Let’s take a look at that answer:
“If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?”
As I read God’s answer to Jeremiah, I don’t find a criticism of what he said, although his attitude was obviously not entirely “godly”. What I do notice here though is God showing the prophet that he was unprepared for the greater challenges he was going to face. If he was not able to face the verbal criticism and ridicule of those that did not like his message–even though it was from GOD, how was he going to be able to handle worse things still to come?
As history shows us, Jeremiah’s life became much, much more difficult in the days ahead. He was not prepared at the time when God confronted him, but he didgetprepared. Jeremiah, of all the prophets, had one of the most depressing lives–if you can describe it that way. He saw nothing but bad things come about in his nation. His messages from God seemed never to be good ones. He was not received by his king; what he had to say was discarded by the priesthood, and the people for the most part thought of him as an extremist. Jeremiah, of all the prophets, probably saw the least amount of positive results from his obedience as prophet for his GOD.
The application of this Scripture for us today in short is this. Most of those who claim to be Christ-followers who have a difficult time serving God with the smallest of obstacles being thrown in their paths will not be able to handle things when they really do become difficult! If our world falls apart for us because someone says something bad about us, how are we going to survive in our faith if something much worse happens? If we are mistreated by our neighbor, friend,or relative and it throws us to where we can’t hardly even pray, how are we going to deal with much worse? If we can’t handle a cross word said about us–or maybe even something unjust said, and it causes us to consider leaving our church or dismissing our family ties, what are we going to do with “real” persecution? If we come a day or two short of meeting our household needs for food and we think that God has forsaken us, what are we going to do if the power grid go down? If we can’t stand up to someone who laughs at the fact that we claim to be Christians, how are we going to handle it when someone threatens to behead us if we don’t deny Christ?
The point is this. We need to have a relationship with our LORD that is not based on things around us–not anything in this world at all! This world is going to pass away, and everything that we have become accustomed to, but God’s Word will never pass away. We need to grab onto Jesus and our relationship with Him AT ALL COSTS! And, we need to do it today! “Tomorrow” will be much different than today, guaranteed…