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Saturday, November 3, 2012

What a Blood-stained Bible Opened To Me.


In the November, 2012 issue of Voice of the Martyrs magazine, an edited excerpt from a 1995 VOM article quoted founder Rev. Richard Wurmbrand:

"A person will endure suffering of some kind in the USA, too, if he works for God's kingdom. Instead of posing the vain question of why suffering is needed, embrace it passionately ... Jesus asked on the cross why He was abandoned. He was given no reply in words. His resurrection was the answer ... trust in the value of any suffering for the kingdom. At times you may need to abandon vain human reason to rely only on trust. Then God, the Beloved, "will rejoice over with singing" (Zeph.3:17). Invite God's silence to surround and fill you. Then you will hear this song. We hear it."

On the cover of this issue is a closeup of a very bloodstained Bible. It's graphic and hard to look at.Underneath the picture are the headlines: "Nigeria's Red Letter Bible." The article inside begins with, "The blood-spattered Bible on the cover of this newsletter is a graphic symbol of the reality that our Christian brethren are suffering and being persecuted or martyred in other parts of the world."

Would it be fair to say the horrific reality of it happening to others today feels somewhat surreal to us? We know it goes on because we hear the reports in the news occasionally, or we read Christian publications such as VOM, or we have missionaries sent out from our churches who return reporting varying degrees of hardship in Christian communities overseas.

Maybe we even shudder a bit thinking violence like this would never happen to me, would it? Such atrocities only happen in Africa, or North Korea, or the Middle East -- certainly never in our more "civilized" western countries, particularly America where we enjoy religious freedom and little or no life-threatening persecution. Organized religious extremists or family members are not blowing up our churches, or assassinating us with regularity. We are tolerated for the most part.

Striking me, though, as I read the stories of ordinary Christians in dangerous places around the world, is an acute sense they seem to have a different view of suffering for Christ than we do because of what they experience as increasingly commonplace. While they know real fear and deep sorrow in the midst of it, they seem to understand suffering for Christ is not the exception, but a likelihood. Many appear to embrace it as a privilege without sugar-coating the pain or loss which will occur. I also notice a depth of trust they hold fast to because of the vulnerability with which they live and a faith born of supernatural encounter with the God Who Is Alive. They know Jesus will be with them in their travails. As I said, for the most part, we don't think much about car bombs or attacks on a Sunday morning by heavily-armed men driven by a lust for ridding the neighborhood of us.

Wurmbrand notes in the excerpt above that if we truly work for the Kingdom we will experience suffering here in our country. Has or does your experience as a Christian substantiate his claim? He goes on to say we should not question it's reality, but we must embrace it with passion! Would you agree? Do you do so? In fact, we are to "trust in the value of any suffering for the Kingdom." What might that look like in our current spiritual lives? I don't remember over the years many of my Christian brethren talking about linking their Kingdom-related suffering to being valuable and trusting it as such, or even noticing when their suffering was Kingdom-related. I don't know I did that much either.

Maybe I was not paying attention. But I know it was nothing like what Wurmbrand and others have experienced merely because they were/are Christ-followers. Do most of us believe in a strong likelihood we will die because of our faith? Are we trained from the pulpit, in Bible-study or Sunday School as to how to deal with, prepare for and comport ourselves it should we be "put to the sword/" because it is a reality, or an eventuality? I bet not.

But, when he links our suffering to Jesus's suffering on the cross and God's answer in the Resurrection, then I'm able to catch a glimpse of what it looks like. Jesus cried out in agony at the reality he was separated for the first time in eternity from his Father. As far as we are told in the Scriptures, he would die not hearing from him, or knowing his closeness. Yet, he did not deny his Father before men in his prolonged agony and God's silence. He stayed the course anyway, knowing it was what he'd come to do. Perhaps, if you or I will have to die for our faith we can find strength that Jesus knew such pain, and he will be with you and I in it, even if we don't sense his Presence in our suffering, or at the moment of our death.

The suffering of the Nigerian Church at the hands of horrifically misguided killers is because they are related to Christ. Their accusers hate them as Jesus' accusers hated him. He says in John 15:18, "“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you." These folks are hated because they are Christian. Martyrdom is a very real possibility because they've seen it; they've known martyr's, and they recognize death for his name could happen at any time to them or someone they love. Yet they persevere despite danger and persecution all around them.

They and others like them in parts of the world where being a Jesus-follower is a vile thing to the dominant people groups, need the American Churches' prayer, our solidarity, and material support. Some of us perhaps must join them physically in their trials showing the world we are one no matter geography, culture or race. In this way, we join the Church in its suffering, and thus embrace with passion the cause of the Kingdom witness to the world that Christ has come. When one believer suffers for his or her faith we all suffer because we are one people. He is our Lord of all. He tears down walls and unites peoples separated by continents, culture and language, so they can become united by a common faith, shared hope and life in the Spirit. His love animates and reveals us. The world knows nothing similar to it.

The blood-stained Bible and the Suleiman Abdul's story of conversion, and the suffering he endured because of it, opened me in a new way to the suffering my brothers and sisters embrace regularly in strife-torn parts of the world. For years, I've been mostly overwhelmed by the suffering of Christians internationally. I would pray briefly; sometimes give money, and then detach. I'm not sure how I'll respond now, but I'm freshly drawn to the plight of persecuted brethren. I also have an abiding sense I will see increased persecution in America because I am Christian. There are signs of a deepening anger toward us as a whole. If persecution comes, including violence, may I/we endure graciously, full of peace, hope and love so that Christ is glorified by our gentle witness to the One who has overcome the world and opened the way to its healing..
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