This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Forever Young: Living and Dying for Christ (VOM). In the following short account, there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)
An eyewitness report was received about the deaths of several Christians in a Communist labor camp.
In one instance, a young girl's hands and feet were bound and she was forced to kneel in the center of a circle of people. They were commanded to stone her or they would be shot. Several Christians refused, and were immediately executed. But the girl died under a hail of stones--her face shining like that of Stephen in the book of Acts. (Acts 6:8-15, esp. verse 15) Later, one of those who threw the stones broke down and received Jesus as his Lord and Savior.
In another account, a young man was hung on a cross like Jesus. During the six days before he died, he prayed constantly out loud that his persecutors would be forgiven and receive Jesus.
Another story tells of five students who were made to dig five deep holes. They were then put in the holes and other prisoners threw dirt on them. As they were buried alive, they sang Christian hymns.
Faith in Jesus Christ is very strong in the Christians in China!
A moment of introspection: In today's world, the "thief" (Satan) has come into believers' lives to steal hope and faith, to kill believers' lives, to destroy what God has accomplished through His Spirit, His will, His presence, and His Word in Christians--the abundant life that Jesus Christ has come to provide. (John 10:10; context - John 10:7-18) In Romans 8:36 (context - Romans 8:31-19), the apostle Paul acknowledged to the church in Rome, As it is written: "For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." Foxe Voices of The Martyrs (Voice of the Martyrs) recounts the work of the opposer (the thief) in today's world, Foxe's Book of Martyrs does so for years gone past. In the present time, Satan is active and desperate to overturn that which is God's. Genocide in Africa, beatings of pastors and congregations in India and elsewhere (along with burning of churches in a number of countries, including the United States), incarceration and elimination of whole family generations in North Korea, kidnappings and murder of pastors and believers in Central and South America, vicious attacks on Christian refugees within United Nations refugee camps and within Asian and European countries, erosion of Christian liberty around the globe, and the work of the Deceiver and thief continues at an alarmingly rapid pace.
Yet, in the face of death, of torture, of suffering, faith... An Iranian pastor at the funeral service of a murdered Christian leader, Rev. Haik Hovsepian Mehr, said, "Just as at the stoning of Stephen, for every stone that is being thrown, another Paul will rise." Echoed by a Chinese evangelist, he observed that "Many Christians have been killed for their faith. But because of this, more people have been raised up by the Lord." G.K. Chesterton wrote that, "Christianity has died many times and risen again, because it has a God who knows the way out of the grave."
Pastor John Piper reported in 1992, "I would like to mention another story of Tahir Iqbal, a Christian who was partially paralyzed and had been in prison in Lahore since December 1990. He was charged under section 295B of the Penal Code, that is with desecrating the Qur'an Sharif. However, he was the object of much animosity because of his apostasy from Islam and the free lessons he gave to Muslim children. He was detained in prison for his own safety, but was beaten and ill-treated there. He died there in mysterious circumstances on January 20, 1992. This is a story of a handicapped individual." John Piper continued: "There is something very powerful about a testimony from prison where your life is at stake.
That's the power Paul wants to put behind these words. The power we feel when we hear Richard Wurmbrand tell us of Tahir Iqbal, a Muslim convert to Christianity who was imprisoned ... in Lahore, Pakistan, and died in prison ... He was a paraplegic and confined to a wheelchair. When asked about the possibility of being hanged he said, 'I will kiss my rope, but will never deny my faith.'" That kind of talk from prison is like a stiff, wakening winter wind in the face of our drowsy, television-soaked, self-pitying kind of Christianity. It wakes us up and makes us dress spiritually for the winter battles. That's what Paul wants to happen when we read his testimony from prison.
If our turn, our opportunity comes for faith to be exclaimed while the tumult rages around us, while the hangman's rope is about our neck may we, as Christ himself did, say "Father forgive them, for they don't know what they're doing." May we, as Tahir Iqbal boldly stated, say "I will kiss my rope, but I will never deny my faith." May we as the apostle Paul expressed, agree that, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing." (2 Timothy 4:7-8) May we agree with the apostle Paul in his letter to the church at Corinth, and say "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:55)
Until that time, as Elizabeth Kendal exhorts us in her book, Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today, we have the opportunity to stand firm as Christians, devoting ourselves to turn around the seemingly unstoppable wave of the enemy's attacks. We have the opportunity to contact our congressional representatives, advocate for our suffering brothers and sisters of the faith via petitions and letters, encourage those who have shared in Christ’s suffering, share the plight of persecution of Christians with others (to spread the news of the pain and the victory, the suffering and the faith that sustains), intercede in partnership with other believers, and in establishing Houses of Prayer (everywhere).