For almost eight years I have had the blessing of writing this blog for VOM and I can tell you that for me it's been one of the most wonderful journeys I have taken. Next week will be my last week updating this blog and so I thought I would share with you a few thoughts today since we'll be taking Monday and Tuesday off.
I actually found it rather ironic when I was asked by my friend Paul to do this job for him because when I first came to Christ I had to read my bible in secret and I was banned from going to church because my mother was so hostile to the gospel. I remember I would often get up before dawn to read the bible my friend had smuggled to me, before my mom would awake and bust me with my bible. What I didn't know then, when I was a teenager, is something that I learned blogging all of these years and that is that Christians worldwide in restricted nations, had to endure similar things...except often way worse and often leading to death.
Being a voice of a martyr is basically being a witness. It's as if you see things that are happening and then you are testifying as a witness to the behaviors that have taken place. Once you understand that all Christians are martyrs, it makes identifying with suffering brothers and sisters easier.
One of the biggest misconceptions that I've learned American Christians have of the suffering church is that there is no joy. The reality is that the complete opposite is true. In fact, if you've ever experienced the thrill of sharing the gospel with someone (because you've 'witnessed' to them) and then you've been rejected, you have most likely taken part in that joy. The word of God is true when He said that you are blessed when you are persecuted for His name. The word of God is also true when He said that if you desire to live godly in Christ Jesus, you will be persecuted. Persecution is a gift from God and how we respond to it is our gift back to Him.
One of the beliefs that I know some people have about the persecuted church is that all Christians stand firm and never cower. That's not true and just as the Apostle Peter cowered in fear when he was asked if he knew Jesus, there are still Christians today who are afraid and they back down when threatened with persecution. This is to be expected because contrary to the super human status I've seen some Christians make about the persecuted church, the truth is that persecuted Christians are human just like you an I are and they have to resist the temptation to cave under fear and pressure.
I have to say that I have been inspired because I have seen men and women of faith endure beatings, imprisonment, torture and death because they believe in the same Jesus that I do. Sometime I grieve because so many in the American church just do not get it. Yet, it's amazing to know that the persecuted church prays for the American church because our burdens are different. Here in America we are filthy rich by world standards. We have money competing with faith and it's easy to put our faith in things we see, which are often easily accessible, and not depend on the word of God for our every need. The persecuted church understands that and yet we often pity them for the physical pressures and torture they have to endure. I think this is an idicator again, that the scripture is true, when we can embrace that when one part of the body suffers, we all suffer.
Another thing I have learned is the power of the pen in regards to raising our voices for the persecuted church. I love the Prisoner Alert program that VOM has set up and I love that they have made it so easy to write a prisoner. Before I did this blog, I had never written a prisoner but now I do because I know for a fact that our letters matter. There is nothing more satisfying to me than knowing that my letter, which takes a mere moment to write and send, can encourage and inspire my family who is in prison for the same Jesus I serve.
I have also seen the power of the pen in signing petitions. The one petition I have seen thousands sign is the Call for Mercy for Asia Bibi. I have to admit that I've been surprised that the one million signatures desired for this petition haven't yet been met, but I am thankful for those who have signed their name to support this sister of courage.
Another way that I have grown, as a result of this ministry, is by learning that I should never take my bible for granted. When I was a teenager and had to literally beg to go to church and have a bible, I thought at that time that I would never take for granted having the opportunity to go to church or have a bible, but the truth is that once I was on my own and out from under my parents house, I fell into the same complacency that most Christians do. I took my bible for granted and I took going to church for granted. Now, many years later, I have to admit that I do not do that any more because I see the increasing hostility toward Christianity in America, so if I were to exhort you in any way, I would say - memorize the scripture and make sure that you are in a solid fellowship with other real Christians. Never take for granted your copy of the bible and do all you can to hide the Word in your heart. Don't forget you can also join Bibles Unbound and give the gift of bibles to those in need around the world who can't just go to a store and buy one.
In closing, this year as you consider Christmas and the persecuted church, never forget to pray for believers today who are paying the ultimate cost for their faith. However, even more important than that never forget that Jesus, Himself, was the target of persecution from Herod who called for the slaughter of the innocents under two years old. Then, as we know, Jesus willingly laid down His life for us on the cross and died for the sins of all mankind, so that we could be reconciled to Him and be at peace.
As you look at your Christmas tree this year, consider the branches that stick out in the form of a cross. To me, that tree is the Christmas tree. The cross that Jesus died on, because man hated him. The cross that led to your freedom and then the resurrection of Christ just a few days later that proved to the whole world that the words of Jesus are true. If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me.
I would like to thank my friends at VOM for their friendship, love and support and encouragement. Todd Nettleton, David, Dory and many others who contribute in ways that often go unseen. Merry Christmas everyone.
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. - Isaiah 9:6
Stacy Lynn Harp