260 Million Christians persecuted

Christians, from the beginning, have been persecuted. Jesus did not promise a persecution-free life either for all of his would-be followers. Rather, he let everyone know what they are getting into: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23) If that isn’t enough, Jesus goes further in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:44, he teaches us: “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

According to the Open Doors organisation, who monitor the persecution of Christians and compile a world wide list every year of those nations that persecute Christians; in 2019 there were about 260 million Christians highly or severely persecuted, up from 245 million the previous year. Jihadism spreading in African nations; a movement towards Hindu theocracy in India; and a growing lack of religious tolerance towards Christians in China are all contributing factors in the increase of persecuted Christians last year.

Truth to tell, most Christians likely do not want to be persecuted; nor do they find it easy to love enemies and pray for persecutors. However, that is our calling, and only by the grace of God, with the help of the Holy Spirit are we able to follow our calling in this regard.

Perhaps one’s most important prayer would be for enemies and persecutors to have the same destiny as the apostle Paul—who by an encounter with Jesus on his way to persecute Christians in Damascus was given a new calling and orientation in life to become a follower of Jesus; a zealous missionary to the Gentile world; and one of the most accomplished theologians of all time.

For more details on the 260 million persecuted Christians, read the following article in Christianity Today here.

Stephen Deacon and Martyr

Image credit: bibleencyclopedia.com

Centuries before Boxing Day ever existed, and the shop-til-you-drop, three-ring-circus, mass hysteria consumerism dominated humankind; Christians remembered—and some still remember—Stephen on December 26.

You can read about him and his martyrdom in The Acts of the Apostles 6:1-7:60. Long story short, he was stoned to death based on false charges of blasphemy. His final words were similar to those of Jesus on the cross; words of forgiveness and love for his executioners spoken as a prayer: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:60)

Today as I remember Stephen and his martyrdom, I’m also mindful of my sisters and brothers in Christ particularly in Muslim-majority and communist nations. They are far too often persecuted and falsely charged of blasphemy and imprisoned or worse, wrongfully executed for their faith.

So, in solidarity with these persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ, I invite you to pray with me today the following prayers in remembrance of Stephen and those imprisoned or on death-row solely because they are faithful Christians.

We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of Stephen the first martyr, who looked to heaven and prayed for his persecutors. Grant that we also may pray for our enemies and seek forgiveness for those who hurt us, through Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now forever. Amen. (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 54)

Lord Jesus, you experienced in person torture and death as a prisoner of conscience. You were beaten and flogged and sentenced to an agonizing death though you had done no wrong. Be now with prisoners of conscience throughout the world. Be with them in their fear and loneliness, in the agony of physical and mental torture, and in the face of execution and death. Stretch out your hands in power to break their chains. Be merciful to the oppressor and the torturer, and place a new heart within them. Forgive all injustice in our lives, and transform us to be instruments of your peace, for by your wounds we are healed. Amen.

(Amnesty International, Prayer for Prisoners, Prayers for Peace)

Nelson Mandela: A brief tribute

Receiving Doctor of Laws Degree at Ryerson University, Toronto

Receiving Doctor of Laws Degree at Ryerson University, Toronto

Yesterday, December 5, 2013, Nelson Mandela died at the ripe old age of 95 years. What an incredible life he lived! He started out in a rural area of South Africa as a humble animal herder. He then moved to one of the nation’s urban centres to eventually become a lawyer and begin his long fight for freedom and democracy against the South African Apartheid regime. His fight for freedom and democracy landed him in jail for 27 years. His time in prison however gave him an opportunity to grow richer and stronger in character as a human being. After his release from prison in 1990, he continued his long struggle as South Africa’s most gifted and inspirational political leaders, and eventually was elected as the nation’s first black President in 1994. A year earlier, he and President deKlerk were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

 

Mandela has been described, among other things as: The African Lincoln, noble yet humble, Father of the nation [i.e. South Africa and/or of the whole continent], prophet, brilliant leader, courageous peacemaker, and so forth. We Canadians awarded Mandela an honourary citizenship and made him a member of the Order of Canada, we also named a school after him. Of course, in many respects Mandela was also not only a citizen of his own nation, but a citizen of every nation-especially regarded as such, I think, because of his political wisdom and compassion for humankind.

 

Without question, he was an inspirational exemplar and hero of the black citizens of his nation, and of blacks in general in all of Africa and around the globe. Yet, he had feet of clay like the rest of us, and he at times was the first to admit it. He had, in his earlier years, intimidated and bullied an East Indian leader, removing him off the stage at a public gathering. In humility that bespeaks repentance, he admitted on one occasion publicly that he had failed as, and had been a poor husband to his first wife. He also publicly spoke words of compassion rather than condemnation regarding his second wife, when he was asked about an alleged adulterous relationship with another man.

 

Yet his charisma and sense of doing the right thing at the right time in a symbolic way, earned him the respect of even his worst enemies-including P.W. Botha’s wife, whom he visited shortly after her husband’s death.

 

I think the most significant thing we as Christians can learn from the life of Nelson Mandela is his brilliant capacity to forgive and work for reconciliation with his enemies. In this regard, he was extremely successful, and deserved winning the Nobel Peace Prize. South Africa could have devolved into a brutal civil war, however against all the odds, Mandela’s brilliant leadership led the nation into a state of forgiveness, peace, justice and reconciliation. In this way, most likely he was influenced by such non-violent peacemakers as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Mohandas K. Gandhi, [and, most of all, I would like to think, Jesus himself our Saviour and Messiah].

 

May this legacy of Nelson Mandela live on in the history of South Africa, as well as the history of humankind! In closing, I would like to let Nelson Mandela speak for himself, I believe the following quotation epitomises the man and his life: “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” REST ETERNAL GRANT NELSON MANDELA, O LORD; AND LET LIGHT PERPETUAL SHINE UPON HIM.