This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled Extreme Devotion, compiled by the Voice Of the Martyrs. In the following passage, an American Christian provides us with fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
Such confidence is ours through Christ before God. (2 Corinthians 3:4)
If American Christians were more active in evangelism, would the United States see an increase in persecution within its borders? Metro Ministries, an evangelistic ministry that reaches out to the most difficult areas in New York City, has seen this effect in their own ministry. As their evangelism penetrates deeper into the city, they have faced more resistance. Certain staff members have been beaten, stabbed, and raped while carrying out their mission. One staff member was even killed.
Their director, Pastor Bill Wilson, has been stabbed and beaten on a number of occasions. Yet, the threat of evil has not kept him at arm's length from the people he loves. He also contracted tuberculosis from ministering to homeless people.
Debbie, a fifteen-year-old in one of the poorer neighborhoods of Brooklyn, New York, speaks for many young people who have experienced persecution within the states. She says, "It is very hard to openly be a Christian in my school. I am constantly harassed and pressured to join one of the gangs."
A moment of consideration: In the musical, "Annie", the theme song of "Tomorrow" includes a lyric that says, "Just thinkin' about tomorrow clears away the cobwebs and the sorrow 'til there's none!" But merely thinking about tomorrow may not clear away our sorrows completely. For Christians, God's Word goes on to say, in Matthew 6:34, "... do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." Annie's song looks back to the sorrows of the past and, as the world would have Believers think, our trials and tribulations are a thing of the past, if we only believe that "The sun will come out tomorrow; bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there'll be sun." Unfortunately, the world continues to have an impact on Christian views, today. Someone once said that the difference between American Christianity and Christianity as it is practiced in the rest of the world has to do with how each views suffering. In America, Christians pray for the burden of suffering to be lifted from our backs. In the rest of the world, Christians pray for stronger backs so they can bear their suffering. That's why we look away from the bag lady on the street and look to the displays in store windows. That's why we prefer going to movies instead of to hospitals and nursing homes. So, how do we view suffering? J.C. Penney, the great merchant, was once asked, "What were the two greatest motivators in his life?" Without hesitation he said, "I can tell you in four words: Jesus Christ and adversity." He went on to explain that adversity taught him never to give up, always start over again, keep his faith [in Christ] strong, and realize that adversity makes a person strong. May we likewise see suffering in the same light.
As scientists work arduously to control the weather today (as exemplified in the recent "steering" of hurricane Ian), striving to deprive the world of needed rainwater, and working continuously on transhumanism experiments, new and deadlier viruses are being developed in colleges and overseas laboratories for mass dissemination, etc., today, many Believers and pagans have a certain degree of angst about the future. Yet Christians have a wealth of biblical resources to help in times of trouble. In Revelation 2:10, we read that suffering may (and probably will) come, but we are to have no fear of such adversity. We are asked to be faithful no matter what comes--even to the point of death. If we do, God's Word promises a Crown of Life. If we remain steadfast in faith in the Lord, despite the looming misfortunes, we will reap Christ's rewards.
The Dictionary of Bible Themes provides a compendium of scriptural resources that will guide us through the coming hard times:
Christian attitudes toward persecution: Scripture outlines the attitudes which believers should adopt in the face of persecution, laying particular emphasis upon the faithfulness of God, the example of Jesus Christ and the need for patience and hope by believers.
The call to endure in the face of persecution
Attitudes believers are to adopt in facing persecution
Living holy and forgiving lives
Rejoicing in suffering
Relying on the promise of God's grace to endure
Trusting in the promise of God's presence
The certain prospect of victory over persecution
The triumph of Jesus Christ
The vindication of the saints
Believers are to take heart from the example of Jesus Christ in facing persecution
The persecution of Jesus Christ was predicted in the OT
The fulfilment of these predictions
The relevance of Jesus Christ's innocent suffering to believers
1 Peter 4:13-14 (rejoicing at sharing in Christ's sufferings)
As Christians, we know the words of the Savior, "Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you." (John 15:20) In America, we Believers tend to pay lip service to this verse. Yet suffering and persecution are here, and do not bode well for 2023 and beyond. Consider the reports, as described above (in New York City), and illustrated via a breaking account of a California pastor who has been locked up in Florida for no reason, etc. In Australia, Christians may now have to choose between their church and their job; this may well come to America, too. Voice Of the Martyrs poses a further thought regarding our faith in action: "In many restricted nations, Christians are not persecuted because they believe in Jesus, but because they tell others about Him. In these nations, evangelism produces persecution, which often produces stronger witnesses for Christ. What was meant to destroy them actually makes them more determined. Similarly, evangelism in America and other open nations is not always safe. Yet should this reality dampen our enthusiasm for the task? A nation such as America, founded on religious freedom, is wholly unaccustomed to suffering and persecution. Instead of using this principle as a buffer to keep us safe, we should rely on it to make us bolder. As a person living in a free democracy, we have even more reason to share our faith with boldness and confidence. Will we speak up today?"
We've no reason to fear what tomorrow brings--whether we be granted peace or problems. If peace, will we prepare for the persecution? If trials and tribulation, we have the biblical resources we need to bear up well under the adversity. Boldness, not fear, is the order of the day. Let us agree together, that adversity makes us stronger, and look forward to God's strength and courage as our assets, and the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18) as God's gift to us for the battle. Because Christ lives, we do indeed have the confidence to face tomorrow and whatever it brings.
* Note on Colossians 1:24: Our sufferings do not add up to the atoning worth of Jesus' sufferings. Rather, His sufferings are not known to the world and so we suffer to bring that news to those His sufferings were meant to save.