August 8, 2011

"Remember the prisoners"

At least three different times in recent weeks – in a couple of sermons (here and here), and in last week’s article – I have drawn your attention to the persecuted church. Let me do so again today. Why? Not to depress you, or even to frighten you as to what may come our own way someday … but rather because the Bible mandates that I do so. Did you know that? The Bible actually commands that we keep in our hearts the plight of those who suffer for the sake of Jesus. Where? In Hebrews 13.3: “Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated.”

Now, while it is important that Christians reach out to all sorts of prisoners, and not forget them as they languish … the author of Hebrews has in mind, particularly, those who are “prisoners” for Jesus’ sake; those who are “ill-treated” because of their faith. After all, there were a number of such people in the early days of the church. But even more today. Yes, in spite of all the horrific persecution that we read of during the times of the Roman Empire, the number of Jesus’ sufferers is greatly multiplied in our own era – especially in the Muslim North Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. And, even though they are so many and so far away, the Bible tells us not to forget them! Even though we have never met them face-to-face, we are to “remember” them. How so? Let me make four suggestions:

1. Know them. How hard is it to remember someone you’ve never met? Quite! And so how can we, who probably do not know many persecuted believers, remember such people? By learning their stories! By signing up, perhaps, for the free monthly newsletter published by The Voice of the Martyrs. In it you will find a half-a-dozen or so stories every month – stories of real live people who have been threatened, arrested, beaten, tortured, widowed, or orphaned simply for being Christian. It’s not upbeat news. But it is uplifting to read of these wonderful believers and their faith in our good, wise, merciful God. I cannot recommend too highly that you subscribe! Doing so will help you know these dear men and women, which will help you “remember” them in these next three ways …

2. Pray for them. Perhaps there is no better way to “remember the prisoners … and those who are ill-treated” than to remember them in prayer. I want and need to do better at this myself. I hope you do, too. If so, you could get the aforementioned newsletter, and pray as you finish each article; or pick a certain day of the week on which you will consistently pray for the persecuted believers you’ve been reading about. But, however you do it, do it! Remember them in prayer!

3. Support them. What would we need if radicals burned down our church building this week? Or if several of our families became widowed and orphaned by mob violence against our church leaders? Or if one of our members was hospitalized for three months, recovering from burns or broken bones received from those who hate our Lord? What would we need in these situations … especially if we lived in the third world where insurance is only a dream? You get the picture, I think. O how many of our brothers and sisters need rebuilt buildings and homes! How many widows need a stipend and job training to help them get back on their feet! How many brothers in the Lord would clap for joy if their enormous hospital bill came back with “paid” stamped in red on the front! How many orphaned children need food and clothing that their murdered fathers are no longer there to provide!

And what a privilege if we had the opportunity to chip in! Indeed, we do! Again, I point you to The Voice of the Martyrs. They are constantly on the ground in various persecuted regions – paying bills, rebuilding buildings, supporting widows, caring for orphans … and providing gospel materials so that these intrepid saints can keep reaching out to their communities! And I urge you to pitch in! There are few, if any, better causes that meeting the needs of those who suffer for Jesus!

4. Join them. Paul has taught us that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3.12). Maybe it won’t always be to the extent of burnings, beatings, and so on. But, if we are godly, people will oppose us just like the opposed our Lord. And so, in this last segment, let me just urge you to be that kind of godly. I’m not suggesting you go out looking for persecution. Just encouraging you to live in such a way that the enemies of the cross will take notice! The rest will take care of itself. “Remember the prisoners … and those who are ill-treated” by not being afraid to join them!

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