Wednesday, 17 June 2015

A time to serve - Fully and truthfully

I write as the wind and rain lashes our snug cabin. I shudder and our youngest son tells me that he is cold. With him wrapped up and cosy under a blanket, I also relax. They are still so much like a part of me, that I can often feel their discomfort, pain and anxiety as if it where my own.

Over the last few days I have come to realise that the the last blog I posted - A time to serve - was not quite complete.

Just to glimpse back: In Christ we have the perfect example of servanthood both in his sacrifice and as He rules over all things for the benefit of the church. The mystery of being part of the body of Christ opens up the beautiful reality of having the fullness and power of the "Godhead" rest in me. Having every spiritual gift available as He longs to lavish it on me and I long to receive it. I have been raised with Him from death through faith. I am also part of the bride of Christ (the church), whom he cares for and loves passionately. We may serve Him and each other in love, according to His perfect will and pleasure.

But I realised that I left out a crucial aspect of why we serve each other. As the church, the bride is one body made up of many members, and essentially one with the body of Christ.

If one part of a physical body hurts, doesn't the rest of the body suffer also?

The truth is, there is a large part of the spiritual body of Christ, which is hurting and suffering deeply. There are Christians world-wide who are being persecuted for their faith. I hear the word "persecuted" and too often it brings up images of martyrs of Biblical and ancient times, who suffered and where put to death for loving and serving Jesus.

persecute: to treat (someone) cruelly or unfairly especially because of race or religious or political beliefs.

The FACTS that I have had to face are:

Christians are the most persecuted religious group worldwide. An average of at least 180 Christians around the world are killed each month for their faith. Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbours simply because of their belief in Christ.

  • More Christians were martyred in the 20th century than in all other centuries combined.
  • It is claimed that 105,000 Christians are martyred for their faith each year.
  • Currently over 100 million Christians are being persecuted worldwide.
  • 70 percent of the world's population lives in a religiously intolerant environment.
  • North Korea: In 2014 it continues to be the worst country in the world for persecution.
  • Nigeria: In 2010 Christians suffered terror from Muslim extremists. Whole villages were massacred.
  • Iran: Its parliament believes Muslims who change their faith should be put to death.
  • India: up to 70,000 in Orissa have been forced to flee their homes in riots against Christians.
  • Indonesia: Between 2000-2002 Muslims slaughtered 10,000 Christians.
  • Iraq: half of Iraq's Christians have fled the country since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
  • Egypt: Under Islamist pressure, Coptic Christians are being forced from their homes.
  • Syria: By 2012, most of the 80,000 Christians in Homs had been 'cleansed' from their homes.
  • Europe: persecution is coming in by stealth through EU equality directives.
  • Many Christians in Israel today live free of persecution. But those who share their faith and witness on the front lines of the nation's spiritual battleground face an altogether different experience.
Photographs of students killed in Kenya

These are certainly not the most recent or complete statistics. Persecution of Christians is also increasing in Africa. Recently 140 students at a university in Kenya were shot in cold blood by an Islamic terrorist group from Somalia, while attending a prayer meeting. 2014 will go down in history for having the highest level of global persecution of Christians in the modern era, and current conditions suggest the worst is yet to come.

Religious persecution can be defined as the systematic mistreatment of an individual or group simply because of their belief. In other words, the persecution is unwarranted. Christians have been persecuted from earliest times (e.g. Acts 8.1) and believers were told to expect it:

'If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you ...' (Jn 15.20)

'All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted' (2 Tim 3.12)

Why persecution?

The root cause of persecution is spiritual, not ideological. Satan hates and wages war upon both God's chosen people Israel, as well as Gentile believers whom have been taken in as a part of the bride of Christ through faith. (Rev 12.17). Since he is still ruler of this world (until Christ comes, Jn 12.31) he uses the world e.g. humanistic law in Europe, or extremists of other faiths, to carry out his aims.

But Jesus saw such hatred as an opportunity. Just as His undeserved death on the cross is still a powerful witness of love, truth and grace today, so it is and will be when believers are persecuted. In Jesus' words:

"It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony." (Lk 21.13)

Like Christ, a person who suffers unwarranted mistreatment for their faith gives a powerful message that their belief is worth suffering for. It is solid. It is true. It is reality. This will be evidenced when believers are brought before Councils and Courts; at these times they will be given supernatural speech and wisdom which will confound their accusers (Lk 21.15).

We still have relative freedom in our faith, which is not to be taken for granted. For it may not be this way always. The body hurts. And if I am truly part of that body, I will hurt also.

But then I thought, what is there that I can do, if Jesus himself said that persecution is inevitable?

I found this quote from a Christian on line publication relevant and encouraging:

While others compromise, the remnant (the true church) remain separated; while others are polluting themselves with the world, the remnant remain unstained by the world; while others give lip service to God, the remnant have their lives bathed in prayer and in God’s Word, and are anointed by the Holy Spirit. While others are clamouring for change and a new direction, the remnant cry for the unchanging God, the unchanging truth, and the unchanging way of the biblical Christ. While others are trying to conform to the world in order to alleviate persecution and defamation, the remnant still believe they are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. They know that persecution awaits them.

May God help us to be part of the true church at this time in history. If we don't see this truth about the remnant, we will get discouraged. He will always keep to Himself a true people of God, amidst the professing people of God.

Paul, as messenger of God wrote:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Eph 4:11-13)

We cant all be physically active in serving the church, but I can go on my knees in prayer for His bride, as a whole and for individual members. And especially for the part which is suffering beyond our worst imagination. Prayer is not passive. I am convinced that if we could have a glimpse into the spiritual realm to see what happens when children of the living God lift their hearts in prayer and call on the name of Jesus on behalf of others, we would be astounded and never doubt it's power again. 

Philippians 4:1-9 is helpful to know how to pray for the church and yourself as part of it, when you do not have words.

To be able to:

1) Stand fast in the faith, 2) Be of the same mind, 3) Labour in the gospel, 4) Rejoice in the Lord,
5) Be gentle, 6) Be anxious for nothing, 7) Guard our minds, 8) Meditate on the Word of God, 9) Be an example and witness.

To try and summarise what is in my heart, and looking back over what it means to serve truthfully:

True leadership is servanthood, and the greatest leader of all time is Jesus Christ. Servanthood is an attitude exemplified by Christ “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:6-7). The five words in the New Testament translated to “ministry” generally refer to servanthood or service given in love.

Serving others is the very essence of ministry. Living is giving, in whichever way God asks of us; all else is self-centeredness and boredom.

Jesus hurts when I hurt and He hurts for the part of the body which is being treated so cruelly. But as His suffering, death and resurrection was the most glorious witness of God's grace and mercy, power and omnipotence, the suffering of the church can also be a testimony of this. He rejoices in the unity of His bride (the church) and our compassion (and service) towards each other.

To serve truthfully, I have to embrace what it means to be part of the true church - God's remnant.

How can we demonstrate love for God? Our love for God will be expressed in our love for others.

“For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor 4:5).

I know this is all quite a mouthful (or an earful), which I can only hope to live out. But being convicted of not living it out is a start. One small step in faith and love at a time, one prayer at a time, that is all Jesus asks of us now.

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