From the August 2014 St. John’s Prairie Preacher
Matt. 16 24 Then Jesus told his disciples,“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (ESV)
Last week, I saw a post on Facebook by a Christian organization which had an image I would rather have not seen. It was a picture of four human heads placed next to one another. They were the heads of four Christians who had been beheaded by ISIS in Iraq. The Christian community in Mosul is one of the longest running Christian communities in the world, dating to the second century A.D. These Christians are no strangers to persecution since much of that part of the world has been Islamic for some time now. But the current persecution is definitely much hotter than it had been.
We American Christians are often shielded from this sort of persecution. The news media isn’t reporting this very loudly. Many have suggested that the reason is that it is Christians that are dying and it is true that the media here in America has not been friendly to Christianity for a long time now. The flip side of the matter is that the media often knows what we don’t want to know too, so they don’t report it. Ignorance is bliss.
But these are our brothers and sisters in Christ who are dying. Indeed, Christians are facing severe persecution around the world in what journalist Mollie Ziegler Hemingway (an LCMS Lutheran) calls a worldwide movement against Christianity.
Yup. Worldwide. And it’s starting to matter more every day here in America as well as Christians are being forced to comply with regulations that go against Biblical teachings and are being dragged into courts for reasons that only 25 years ago would never have been questioned. This persecution may be low-level by comparison to what’s going on in places like Iraq and China, but make no mistake about it, it is still a form of persecution. When articles of faith have to be set aside in order to be in compliance with the government and avoid punishment in any form, you have persecution.
The picture I saw on Facebook puts a lot of things into perspective for me personally. I asked a lot of questions about myself and I will mention them here because they are good ones for all of us to ask.
Am I more outraged by inconsequential things than by the deaths of these Christians?
Have I been guilty of “not really wanting to know” about the plights of suffering Christians in other parts of the world?
Have I failed to appreciate the freedoms I have here, especially religious freedom?
Do I fail to trust that God will still work good out of the persecution of His Christians?
So what can we do about it? Sometimes Christians give up too easily in matters like this. We have one of the most powerful tools at our disposal. James writes that “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful” (James 5:16). LC-MS President Matt Harrison recently sent out this prayer for the persecuted Christians of the world. I would ask you to consider making such prayers part of your daily devotions.
All-merciful Father, You gave Your Son into the flesh to experience hatred and violence and to conquer them with His unfailing love. Remember in compassion Your children, our sisters and brothers in Iraq and elsewhere, who suffer now for the sake of Christ. Strengthen them for a good confession, and give them grace to entrust themselves entirely into Your loving care, knowing that You will never leave them or forsake them and that death is no match for the life that You have given in Your Son and Spirit. According to Your wisdom, bring an end to the bloodshed and violence. Open the hearts of Your people in all places to stand with these hurting members of Christ’s body and provide any earthly aid we can to them. We ask it all in the name of Him whose cross is the triumph over all hatred, violence and death and whose resurrection is our everlasting hope, even Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Lord, have mercy on these our brothers and sisters and give us grace and strength to fight the good fight in these grey and latter days before Christ’s return.
Praying with all of you,