Tag Archives: persecution


“We’re in a tight spot!”  The barn where they were hiding was on fire. Cops with machine guns were perforating the place and George Clooney, in his role in “O Brother Where Art Thou?”,  looked like he was having the time of his life, thrilled to be in a “tight spot.”   Appealing, that.  Like skiers who enjoy the black slopes, whooping with excitement, even when they wipe out.  They are doing better than those who agonize over every turn with grim anxiety.

I got thinking about the look in George Clooney’s eye when I read this simple verse from 1 Thessalonians:

Rejoice always…”  (1Thessalonians 5:16)

In our day, that reads like mental pablum, advice from a timid Sunday School teacher who can’t handle life.  But the guy that wrote that advice had been in more than a few tight spots.  He’d been beaten, starved, shipwrecked, imprisoned and pursued by mobs of vicious killers.  And, he was writing to people facing violent persecution.  Paul had a gleam in his eye on the black slopes.  He knew the power of enjoying the thrill of the hills and spills, no matter what.

But it’s not that he was a reckless adrenalin junkie.  Paul knew God had sent him into those tight spots because they were ripe with opportunity.  He knew God knew.  When tempted to complain and feel sorry for himself, he knew how much better it was to rejoice.

Next time you are in a tight spot, call to mind the look in George Clooney’s eye, and the powerful advice from Paul.  Rejoice.  Always.

Urgent Prayer

ISIS continues to slaughter, enslave or exile thousands of Christians.  Last night’s “60 Minutes” broadcast featured interviews with some Christians from Mosul, Iraq, who can trace their local churches back almost 2000 years.  Now, all signs of Christian faith there are being destroyed by ISIS thugs.  It is horrifying and heart-wrenching.

This morning, as I was reading Psalm 69, I began to pray its phrases back to the Lord on behalf of my brothers and sisters in that region.  David, who was no stranger to violent opposition, used the imagery of flood waters as a metaphor.  Here is a brief sample:

“Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God. Those who hate me without reason outnumber the hairs of my head; many are my enemies without cause, those who seek to destroy me…” (Psalm 69:1-4a)

Would you please also pray?  I find it helpful to use psalms as prayers, especially when I am so stunned by events, as I am by these, that it is hard to find the words.  We are invited to join in the conflict through prayer.  The plight of the Middle Eastern Christians is severe but I am certain their suffering is being used by God.  He is not surprised and will not be defeated by evil.  Even in persecution and death, these faithful ones bear witness to God’s salvation and grace.

Pray for them as David prayed:

“May those who hope in you not be disgraced because of me, O Lord, the Lord Almighty; may those who seek you not be put to shame because of me, O God of Israel.” (Psalm 69:6)

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Here is the link for the 60 Minutes story  –   http://www.cbsnews.com/news/iraq-christians-persecuted-by-isis-60-minutes/

Clobbered for Good

It’s all the rage to be outraged by bullying, in the classroom and on the internet. But we see the essence of bullying played out in boardrooms, churches, truckstops, home owner associations, newsrooms and countless other adult social situations. Bullying is pervasive. At its root, it grows out of the strong pull we humans feel to conform. Non-conformists get ostracized. Others participate in various forms of ostracism (a form of bullying) to make themselves feel accepted. That’s why Bob Dylan got booed at Newport, why you see “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service” and why most churches and clubs have a dress code (even if it is unwritten).

Jesus understood that His followers would be bullied and worse. He knew social rejection had always been the fate of those who lived by the upside-down principles of the kingdom of heaven. That’s why He said:

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12)

No question about it, getting in step with Jesus puts you out of step with most of the rest of the world. Don’t be surprised by what the world does to people who play by different rules. Later on, Jesus explained it further to His followers:

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. (John 15:18-19)

Why would anyone knowingly sign up for such treatment? You play football, you are going to get clobbered. But its worth it. Those who play hard are rewarded. So it is with those who play on Jesus’ team. His game plan is for those who have received His Spirit to be noticeably different, to be “salt and light” in the world and to thereby attract others to Him for eternal life. You will get clobbered, but it will be worth it.

Keep the Faith – Part 5

Sneaking out of North Korea is so demanding and dangerous, it is only attempted by a tiny percentage of people.  After one leaves family and friends behind, the route involves perilous travel through China, avoiding detection at constant identity checks, tramping through thick jungles in Laos and then enduring 2 months of detention in Thailand before being allowed to apply for refugee status in South Korea.  There are so many potential obstacles, so many ways to get caught and sent back for torture and possible death, that the odds are stacked heavily against those who attempt it.  That is also why there are former escapees who serve as guides (sometimes, but not always for a fee) to show new escapees which routes and techniques are safe.  More than that, they serve as living evidence that the path to freedom is possible and definitely worth it!  Imagine how encouraging those guides must be to the confused and frightened souls who are on the run to freedom.

The author of Hebrews has been exhorting people of faith, teaching us ways to keep our faith in times of severe testing.  One of his teachings says:

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

Jesus went first.  He showed us the way and how it is done.  He came back and said, “Don’t be afraid; it’s really worth it!”  He did it “for the joy set before Him.”

There is no joy in being crucified.  Crucifixion remains as one of the most painful and horrific ways to die.  The “joy set before Him” was not the cross but lay on the far side of the cross.  The “joy” was in the triumph over sin that was accomplished on the cross.

Some of you are enduring the pain of chemotherapy, scorning the “shame” of losing your hair, for the joy of being cancer-free.  Some of you are enduring the financial hardship and stress of working two or three jobs for the joy of seeing your children graduate.  Jesus invites us to “pick up our cross,” figuratively speaking, and follow Him.  He invites us to follow Him despite how tough or painful, or even shameful it may seem to be, for the joy of being “raised up on the last day” to live with Him in His new and perfect “garden.”  He said:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.”  (John 14:1-4)

When they asked Him where He was going and what was the way, He said:

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 14:6)

Following Jesus is nothing less than a desperate escape from the world’s system of slavery.  Don’t be surprised or confused by how tough and scary it seems.  Keep your eye on your Guide.  He’s been there, “done that” and has returned to demonstrate that following Him is really worth it.