New Hope for Asia Bibi?


Christmas is over. The new year has begun. For me, my wife, and my family, Christmas was a wonderful retreat. For the only time during the year, our family is complete at Christmas. All siblings are nestled in one place for this one week of the year.

Salmaan Taseer Assassinated for helping Asia Bibi in Pakistan

Salmaan Taseer
Assassinated for helping Asia Bibi in Pakistan

What presents did the little ones get? I might remember one or two of them, but for me, the presents aren’t that important. It’s the presence of my children all together—that is the true treasure to me. It’s sad when the older children must go their ways back to college, back to their homes in other states. So, I’m sad, yet satisfied with the great joy of having had time together as a family.

This satisfying joy of having family all together has been denied to Asia Bibi. Asia, our sister in Christ, has not enjoyed the presence of her family—her husband and five children—for more than 5 years now. For more than 1,800 days in a row, she has been in prison in Pakistan. Imagine what it must be like to suffer alone day after day, night after night.

When I take trips for my job—complete with comfortable hotels—I long to be with my wife, to be in the presence of my children. I can’t wait to get back home, especially if I have been away for three, four, or five straight days. Asia Bibi (Aasiya Noreen) has been alone—without her family—for more than one thousand, eight-hundred days.

Is there any hope for her sanity? Is there any hope for her escape or release? Sadly, even if there were, she would not be safe. Just two weeks ago, a man was released in Pakistan after spending a couple of years in jail on a blasphemy charge (like the charge against Asia). He was shot multiple times. An angry mob surrounded his body and would not allow the family to bury him in the local cemetery.

Other Christians in Pakistan have been killed on the mere accusation that they “blasphemed” the prophet Muhammad.  Pakistan is not a safe place for Christians.

Lately, a new angle of hope has emerged for Christians in Pakistan. Oddly enough, lawyers are looking to Sharia Law for help to defend Christians against the death penalty in blasphemy cases. In Sharia law, there is a principle called Tazkiyah al Shuhood.  This principle insists that witnesses must be highly credible if their evidence is used in a crime that is punishable by death. Asia Bibi’s lawyer appealed to this principle in an effort to raise the bar of evidence against her. Because her case was punishable by death, her lawyer argued from the principle of Tazkiyah al Shuhood that the witnesses needed to meet a higher standard of credibility than mere accusation before their testimony could be used against Asia.

Pakistan Persecution Christian

Shahbaz Bhatti
Assassinated for opposing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

To this point, his argument has not prevailed. However, there is a glimmer of hope in this strategy because it appeals to Sharia law.  Unfortunately, the majority of Pakistani Muslims support the blasphemy laws and the death penalty for those whom they believe has transgressed it. Thus nothing has changed for Asia Bibi so far. But maybe this new legal strategy will prevail.

Ultimately, her real hope is found solely in Jesus Christ,

24but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. 25Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:24-25, NASB).

Why Did the Pope Cry?


Once a bouncer in a night club, Pope Francis might not be known generally as a “crier.”  On a recent trip to Albania, however, he was seen weeping visibly. Why the emotional outburst from such a high-ranking Catholic official? It seems that Pope Francis was overcome by emotion because of the lowliness of an Albanian priest:

Pope speaks against Christian persecution Albania communism

Creative Commons (by Alfredo Borba)

Fr. Ernesto Simoni Troshani, an 84 year old diocesan priest, recalled when the Communist party came to power and began detaining and murdering priests, some he said who died saying “Long live Christ the King”. He also said that his diocesan superiors were killed by firing squad.

Fr. Troshani was himself imprisoned for 18 years during the Communist takeover of Albania. On his cell wall, Troshani etched the phrase, “Jesus is my life.” Troshani was sentenced to forced labor, where he stayed until he became so weak the Communists assumed he would die. He was released and lived the rest of his life as a priest. When this lowly priest knelt before the pope, the pope was overcome by the beauty of his humility, and, thus, he wept.

As I have said before, I am not Roman Catholic. I don’t recognize Pope Francis as my leader on earth. However, I do recognize that he has been a reliable advocate on behalf of persecuted Christians around the world. His comments on persecution make perfectly good (and biblical) sense to me. He says,

When I hear that so many Christians in the world are suffering, am I indifferent, or is it as if a member of my own family is suffering? Am I open to that brother or that sister in my family who’s giving his or her life for Jesus Christ? (Pope Francis)[348]

Some Simple Ways to Pray for Asia This Week


Praise the Lord! A number of folks have changed their profile pics to the “Pray for Asia Bibi” reminder seen here. As I pointed out, that is a great way to remind ourselves and others to pray for Asia Bibi between now and October 15th. Her judge in Pakistan has said that he will delay no more, and the next meeting date is final: It is life or death.

We can help her through our prayers. Remember Paul’s words to the Corinthians. They helped him when he thought he was going to die:

Asia Bibi Persecution Pakistan PrayFor we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; 10 who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, 11 you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many. (2 Corinthians 1:8-11)

Here are a few ways we can be praying for Asia Bibi in her current distress:

  • Pray for her faith not to fail, that God would strengthen her soul to faithful endurance.
  • Pray for her husband to trust Christ and stay fixed on Him clearly, especially in this next month.
  • Pray for her children to see Christ and the Holy Spirit at work through the faith displayed by their parents throughout this ordeal (She has 5 children).
  • Pray for her judge to have the courage to execute justice (rather than executing Asia Bibi).
  • Pray for this judge to do what is right, even though his life will then be in danger, as radicals would likely try to kill him if he allows Asia Bibi to go free.
  • Pray for those who have persecuted Asia and caused her 5 years of imprisonment, that they will be broken by the beauty of her faith and the holiness of her suffering for Christ’s sake. Pray they will be convicted of sin and converted to Christ.
  • Pray for the church in Pakistan to be strengthened through Asia’s faith, even as Paul says that the church was strengthened by seeing how God worked through his suffering.
  • Pray that the gospel would increase in Pakistan in the same way that it increased when Stephen was martyred and Paul was imprisoned.

My wife made the picture above her iPhone wallpaper so that every time she turns on her phone she gets a reminder to pray. Get creative!

I’m sure that you can think of many other ways to be praying during these last few weeks. Please feel free to share how you are praying for Asia. That will likely help all of us to pray with focus and intensity. Please continue to pray and continue to share these prayer requests with others. We have a genuine opportunity to see how the fervent, faithful prayers of the righteous can accomplish much on behalf of Asia Bibi.

Why You Should Change Your Profile Pic for the Next Month


Asia Bibi (aka Aasiya Noreen or Asia Noreen) is married, a mother of 5 children. She has not been at home with her husband or children since the summer of 2009 (what was your family like in 2009? Where were you?)

More than 5 years have passed since her family last lived together because Asia has been in prison since June 19, 2009, for defending Christ against the slanderous charges made by her Muslim coworkers. You can read the whole story here at Prisoner Alert.

Asia Bibi Persecution Pakistan PrayIn the meantime, you should change your profile pic on Facebook, Twitter, etc., to something like what I have pictured to the left for two simple reasons. First, change your profile pic so that you will be reminded to pray for Asia for the next month. This is a very important and strategic plan because in one month (October 15th) a judge has promised to declare his final verdict: Asia has been convicted in Pakistan of insulting the prophet Muhammad, and she has been sentenced to death. In one month, she may die.

Pray every day for one month. Changing your profile picture may remind you to pray for this woman and her family. Pray for the judge to set her free, but realize that he, too, would need more prayers from us, as other high-ranking officials have been murdered in Pakistan for helping Christians (see here). It will take courage for him to issue a favorable verdict for Asia. This situation appears to be in its final days, and our prayers are needed.

Second, changing your profile picture does raise awareness and it does keep an important issue floating around the internet for weeks–and weeks may be all that Asia has left! It’s easy to be cynical about “do-nothing” activism on social media. I have heard comedians mock the simplicity and easiness of thinking a tweet or post is the same as “real” activism—some call it “Slack-tivism.”

I would not worry about being mocked for being so simple. Jesus’s first followers were mocked for being unschooled fishermen. And whatever one wishes to say about “slack-tivism,” there is no doubt that social media keeps certain issues alive for weeks and months–which is why advertisers pay to publish their posts!

This wife and mother of 5 needs us to keep her situation alive for the next month so that, possibly, a judge will end up keeping her alive beyond October 15th.  In other words, this is life or death.

I will post soon a list of ways to pray for Asia Bibi over the next month.  In the meantime, why not change your profile picture (or take some other measures to keep this situation out front for the next month)? It really could mean life or death for Asia Bibi.

While praying remember Proverbs 16:9. We don’t pray in vain because

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.

Should Christians Stage Protests Against Persecution


So, in part one of this post, we saw that prayer was the first response of the Italian Bishops to the crisis of Christian persecution in Iraq and Nigeria. While not exactly endorsing their view of invoking the Virgin Mary in their prayers (I’m Protestant!), I still commend the bishops for a biblical recourse to prayer. The Apostle Paul constantly cried for Christians to help him through his suffering by joining with him in prayer (Eph 6:19, Col 4:3, 2 Thess 3:1ff).

Christians Protest PersecutionPrayer is no small part of our aiding our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ. Prayer is effective (James 5:16).  And yet, we always feel that we should do something more. So the question rises, can we do more? More specifically, we must ask, Is it good for Christians to protest Christian persecution? All around us, folks in our democratic republic have determined to protest publicly, thereby raising awareness and calling for government action on behalf of their special political concerns.

In America especially, protesting has been employed as an instrument of righteousness, calling both the government and the country at large to notice injustices like inequality for blacks and women. Of course, some—like the misguided Westboro Baptist family—abuse the privilege of protesting. But protesting is not altogether unbiblical.

While the New Testament did not arise from the context of 21st century America and, thus, does not have recourse to staged protests on Capitol Hill—the New Testament does offer a small dose of the spirit of government protest. For example, Paul and Silas were thrown into prison unlawfully in Philippi. While there, they were beaten without having first been tried. So, when their release orders came, rather than celebrating their release and taking off to preach the gospel (or just getting the heck out of town), Paul and Silas staged a protest instead.

“Paul said to the officers: ‘They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison.  And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out’” (Acts 16:37, NIV).

More recently, in response to the slaughter of Christians in Iraq, displaced Iraqi Christians in Australia and Canada have begun staging protests, calling on government and citizens to take action, leveraging the power of the state in favor of aiding desperate Christians. I think we can support the actions of these brothers and sisters of faith. While our primary thrust must always be to avoid trusting in Australian chariots and Canadian horses, we are stillChristian persecution Mosul Iraq a part of those democratic governments. As citizens ourselves, we are still salt and light and should make use of every instrument available to us to endorse righteousness before God and man.

Christians ought to write letters to prisoners, write letters to congressmen and senators and governors. Christians ought to protest as they feel led. Christians ought to write songs, make movies, write books and articles, and stage events which remind the church and the culture at large that our king has come and will return, bringing with him great rewards for those who embrace the life He came to give.

Protesting, while neither the first nor the best response to persecution, is a legitimate biblical response. Just as John the Baptist held Herod accountable for his unrighteous deeds, so, too, Christians can graciously and prophetically call leaders to correct their unrighteous behavior—especially when that unrighteous behavior is directed specifically against the body of Christ. So, we can be thankful that Christians in Australia and Canada are speaking out. And we Christians in America may want to think about what more we can do in addition to our prayers.

Christians Can’t Trust Chariots or Horses


The people of God seem always to struggle with exactly how to relate to powerful governments. Israel hated her slavery in Egypt under Pharaoh, but promptly wanted to go back to Egypt after landing in the wilderness. At least in Egypt she could have melons. This longing to go back to Egypt and trust in her chariots and horses haunted Israel of old. Thus, the prophet Isaiah later warned (Isaiah 30),

Christians Under Pressure Persecution1“Woe to the rebellious children,” declares the LORD,

            “Who execute a plan, but not Mine,

            And make an alliance, but not of My Spirit,

            In order to add sin to sin;

      2Who proceed down to Egypt

            Without consulting Me,

            To take refuge in the safety of Pharaoh

            And to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!

      3“Therefore the safety of Pharaoh will be your shame

            And the shelter in the shadow of Egypt, your humiliation.

When the cultural vessel of our existence becomes pressurized by the heat of persecution or political oppression, faith will rise like the steam of boiling water seeking the quickest, most natural outlet. The question for us is what is most natural? Where does our faith rise? What is our outlet under pressure? Two recent responses to the crisis in Mosul, Iraq have me thinking about this question.

On the one hand, there has been a call from the Italian Bishops Conference to pray for the persecuted church.  And, on the other hand, there has been a sizable protest in Australia specifically on behalf of Christians in Iraq. Without being critical or cynical, we might clarify what is our faithful response to the crisis of Christian persecution in Iraq and around the world.

In Italy, the bishops have drafted a plea for the Church throughout Europe to pray on behalf of suffering saints around the world. The statement is powerful in its indictment of slothfulness concerning our suffering sisters and brothers:

‘If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him ‘(Rom 6:8). These are words that we should also shake the conscience of our Europe, which has become distracted and indifferent, blind and dumb to the persecution which today has claimed hundreds of thousands of Christian victims”.

While the document rightly focuses attention on Christians in Iraq and Nigeria—two of the absolute worst places for Christians right now—it perhaps wrongly appeals for Christian action on the basis of human rights, history, and culture.  From the Italian bishops,

Faced with such an attack on the foundations of civilization, human dignity and human rights, “we cannot remain silent. The West cannot continue to look the other way, under the illusion of being able to ignore a humanitarian tragedy that destroys the values ​​that have shaped it…

This statement is not at all false. In fact, Christians must engage culture and improve (like salt and light) the civilization in which it exists. Yet, Christians must own as first priority the fame of Christ and the spread of His kingdom. Our appeals, then, should first be for Christ’s reputation instead of western values. While we can and should join as cobelligerents with the Italian bishops advocating for aid on the basis of a “humanitarian tragedy,” we must pray for Christ to be exalted through the witness of His faithful saints. We must pray that our suffering sisters and brothers would hold fast to that which has been given to them because Christ is coming quickly and bringing his reward to those whose garments are not stained with the sin of the surrounding society.

While Christians should advocate politically for religious freedom for all, we should also remind each other to recognize the difference between Christian persecution Mosul Iraqreligious freedom and persecution. The Constitution speaks of religious freedom; the New Testament speaks of persecution. One is a human right, the other a divine blessing.

As Christians continue to feel the pressure of persecution in Nigeria and Iraq, the steam of faith should rise up through the prayers of believers to Christ in heaven.  Our hope is anchored there, in Him—not in America’s chariots or the U.N.’s horses—not in Europe’s civilized past nor in the present “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” We must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who lives to make intercession for us.

(To be continued…)

3 Ways to Stand for Religious Liberty without Falling for a Political Agenda 

The Difference Between Religious Freedom and Persecution

Why Christians Must Fight for Religious Liberty

Timeline of How Christians Were Eliminated in Mosul, Iraq


I don’t remember what I was doing on June 10th.  It was a regular work week for me. Since then, I have done some planning for the Fall 2014 semester,Christian persecution Mosul Iraq and I have made a couple of trips to the airport so my kids could travel to see family. All in all, nothing much has changed for me and my family since June 10th.  But we don’t live in Mosul, Iraq.

Below, I have copied a letter from the Jubilee Campaign, along with a sobering timeline produced by the Assyrian International News Agency.  This timeline surveys the diabolical work of ISIS since June 10th.  In six weeks, the tangible signs of Christian presence have been eliminated: Church buildings, homes, actual Christians, and even a Christian cemetery—all gone.

(From Jubilee Campaign)

Courage is needed now to stop the genocide of Christians in Iraq.  Congressman Frank Wolf gave a floor speech declaring the expunging of Christians from Iraq as Genocide.  Please listen to him.  You can find his speech here.  Meanwhile, the Assyrian International News Agency reports that All 45 Christian Institutions in Mosul Destroyed or Occupied By ISIS.

TIMELINE OF ISIS’ ATTEMPT TO ELIMINATE CHRISTIANS FROM MOSUL

(From Assyrian International News Agency)

Timeline of ISIS in Mosul

Posted 2014-07-29 15:57 GMT

The Arabic letter “n” (inside red circle), signifying “Nasarah” (Christian), on a Christian home in Mosul.(AINA) — The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) captured the city of Mosul, Iraq on June 10. Almost immediately thereafter it began to drive Assyrians out of Mosul and destroy Christian and non-Sunni institutions. Here is the status as of July 29:

  • There are no Assyrians/Christians remaining in Mosul, all have fled to the north, to Alqosh, Dohuk and other Assyrian villages.
  • All Christian institutions in Mosul (churches, monasteries and cemeteries), numbering 45, have been destroyed, occupied, converted to mosques, converted to ISIS headquarters or shuttered (story).
  • All non-Sunni Muslim groups in Mosul — Shabaks, Yazidis and Turkmen — have been targeted by ISIS. Most have fled.
  • Water and electricity have been cut off by ISIS. The water shortage in the areas surrounding Mosul is now a full-blown crisis. Residents have been forced to dig wells for drinking water. Water tankers are providing some relief.
  • Mosul is now governed under Sharia law.
  • 50,000 Assyrian residents of Baghdede (Qaraqosh) fled from fighting between ISIS and Kurds. Nearly 80% have returned.

The following is a summary of the events that have unfolded in Mosul.

  • June 10: ISIS captures Mosul, occupies the Assyrian village of Qaraqosh, enters the St. Behnam Monastery, bombs an Armenian church (story).
  • June 12: ISIS issues Islamic rules for Mosul (story).
  • June 14: Assyrian, Yezidi and Shabak Villages come under Kurdish Control (story).
  • June 15: Kurds attempt to remove an Assyrian council leader in Alqosh and replace him with a Kurd (story).
  • June 18: ISIS Cuts Off Water, Electricity, Destroys Churches (story).
  • June 19: ISIS destroys statue of the famous Arab poet Abu Tammam (story).
  • June 21: ISIS begins imposing a poll tax (jizya) on Assyrians in Mosul (story), orders unmarried women to ‘Jihad by sex’ (story), destroys the statue of the Virgin Mary at the Immaculate Church of the Highest in the neighborhood of AlShafa in Mosul, as well as the statue of Mullah Osman Al-Musali. Shiite Turkmen in the villages of AlKibba and Shraikhan flee after receiving threats from ISIS. ISIS arrests 25 village elders and young men who are Turkmen in the village of AlShamsiyat; their whereabouts is still unknown. (story) ISIS orders Christian, Yazidis and Shiite government employees not to report for work in Mosul (story).
  • June 23: ISIS Rape Christian Mother and Daughter, Kill 4 Christian Women for Not Wearing Veil (story).
  • June 25: ISIS limits water from the plants in Mosul to one hour per day. Residents in surrounding areas are forced to dig wells (story).
  • June 26: Kurds Clash With ISIS Near Assyrian Town East of Mosul, forcing nearly 50,000 Assyrians to flee (story).
  • ISIS begins confiscating the homes of Christians and non-Sunni Muslims. ISIS rounds up many of the security agency members of the police and army in Sabrine Mosque and asks them to declare “repentance” and surrender their weapons and other military equipment. After doing so, all of the prisoners are tried and sentenced according to Sharia law and executed. ISIS has prevented delivery of government food rations to Tel Kepe and other areas not under their control (story).
  • June 28: ISIS kidnaps two nuns and three Assyrian orphans. They are eventually released (story).
  • July 3: ISIS seizes the house of the Chaldean Patriarchate and the house of Dr. Tobia, a member of Hammurabi Human Rights Organization and an Advisor to the Governor of Nineveh on Minority Affairs and General Coordinator with International Organizations (story).
  • July 8: ISIS Removes Cross From Church in Mosul (story).
  • July 10: ISIS bars women from walking the streets unless accompanied by a male. Nearly all barber shops and womens’ salons are closed (story).
  • July 15: ISIS Stops Rations for Christians and Shiites in Mosul (story).
  • July 17: ISIS issues statement ordering Christians to convert or die (story).
  • July 18: ISIS in Mosul marks Christian homes with the Arabic letter “N” (for the word Nasrani, which means Christian) (story).
  • July 19: ISIS plunders Assyrians as they Flee Mosul; families march 42 miles (story).
  • July 22: ISIS and Kurds clash near Assyrian town, 2000 Assyrian families driven from Mosul (story).
  • July 25: ISIS destroys the tomb of the Prophet Jonah (story).

© 2014, Assyrian International News Agency. All Rights Reserved.

How to Pray for Christians in Iraq (4 Ways)


Thank you all so much for your willingness to stand with our brothers and sisters in Iraq. Many of you have been using the Arabic “N” symbol below on your Facebook or Twitter profile to show your concern for Christians being targeted for extortion and/or extinction by soldiers of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  God bless you for identifying with our brothers and sisters under attack.

Christian persecution mosul IraqOthers are understandably cynical about simply changing a profile pic as a reminder to pray. You think it’s too small of a gesture—that we must do more. And of course you are right! We all share some of that same attitude, I think.  Our American “can-do” mentality begs for a place to direct our anguish. We want to “do” something about the situation.  I spoke with a zealous young man today who graciously—yet excitedly—challenged me to “do something.” “We have to do something. Tell me what to do!” He cried.

My first response was to embrace his angst wholeheartedly. We really must do something. Our Christian brothers and sisters have been marked for death.  Their wages have been stolen.  Their homes and their homeland is now instantly closed to them. If they stay, they will be killed. If they leave, they will lose everything they once relied upon—houses, cars, money, jobs, friends. The situation is brutal.  Surely we can do more than pray!

And yet, upon further reflection, I reminded my young friend that prayer is no small thing. We ought not too quickly dismiss its potential for saving our fellow saints.  As James reminds us, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16).  James uses the example of Elijah whose prayers both caused and cured a drought in Israel which lasted 3 ½ years.  Imagine—a man with a nature like ours altering meteorological phenomena for more than 1,000 days in a row!  (Talk about man-made global warming!) James could have chosen many other examples such as the prayers by Israel which brought about her Exodus from Egypt and Egypt’s destruction:

Christianity Today Mosul Christian Persecution #WeAreN

Mosul Christian Home (source: Christianity Today)

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help.  Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God.  And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.  God saw the people of Israel—and God knew” Ex 2:23-25 (ESV).

God knew! Are we to wonder whether God—now that Jesus and the Holy Spirit have been more clearly revealed—is still near and dear to His people? May it never be! Jesus Himself swore that He would never leave nor forsake His people (Hbrws 13:5) and that He would be with them even to the end of the age (Matt 28:20).  And so the all-powerful, all-knowing God of infinite love remains faithfully concerned for His people and capable of accomplishing great things on their behalf. With that in mind, we can (and must?) pray in at least these four ways:

Fervently from the heart.  Our prayers must be urgent, zealous, fearful, yet fully-fired with faith. Think of it this way: What would you do if you came home from work this evening only to discover that a gang had captured your sister and informed her that she had 24 hours to pay a ransom or die?  Would that not be a fiery trial that would cause you to cry out to God on her behalf? Would you not shriek with horror and beg for mercy? Fiery trials no doubt beget fiery prayers. There is a sword at the throat of our family. Pray!

Second, Despairingly—from a position of weakness. This may sound odd, but I take my cue from the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:8-11,

For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; 10 who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, 11 you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.

Notice how Paul admitted being excessively burdened—beyond any human strength. Is that not the burden our brothers and sisters are under now in Iraq?  What earthly power is (a) willing to save them and (b) able to save them?  Some (like the U.S. Military) seem able but not willing.  Others perhaps are willing but not really able.  So, where are Christians to turn?  As we pray for our brothers and sisters, we should pray from the position of complete and utter despair of human deliverance.  In that position, Paul says, we find our sure hope of trusting not in ourselves but in God who raises the dead!

Third, Victoriously—as though Christ has truly been raised from the dead. Who could ever have imagined that eternal life would spring from the humiliating execution of a stricken, smitten Jewish carpenter?  And yet, our Christ has been raised from the dead!  The Apostle Paul took courage and believed in his own deliverance from the mouth of death because of the Resurrection life of Christ.  Pray for our brothers and sisters to move from the Christian persecution Mosul Iraqdespair of their current situation to the victory of Christ’s Resurrection.  God is no less able to deliver today than he was when Paul was preaching the gospel in Asia (and the Middle East). So pray to God that he would raise the dead to new life in Mosul, Iraq. Pray for the current loss to be made gain.  After Stephen was martyred (Acts 7), the early church was scattered on account of the increasing persecution. Nevertheless, the gospel went forth with power everywhere the Christians fled.  Even so, God’s gospel will triumph somehow. Pray for His people in Iraq to trust God’s purposes by faith.

Fourth, Effectively—as though you expect your prayers to affect much. The prayers of saints saved Paul’s life. Why not now? Why not the lives of those in Mosul, Iraq?  If, as we see in 2 Cor 1:11, the churches were able to secure Paul’s release from certain death, then why would not be possible today for our prayers to be the very means God uses to deliver Iraqi Christians from what appears a certain death? Is our God no longer able to deliver? Surely, God is no less powerful now than He was on the day He delivered Daniel or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego!

My friend and I talked about how we would love to help others learn to pray for the persecuted church. We will continue thinking about our prayers for the persecuted, and we hope to be providing much more helps in the future, Lord willing. So, stay tuned…

Why that Odd Facebook Symbol Is So Important


Christian persecution Iraq Maybe you have seen this little wine-cup looking symbol on your friend’s Facebook page and wondered what it means.  It means Christians are being targeted for death in Mosul, Iraq.  I am so thankful that someone thought to create symbol sent through Social Media to call attention to the plight of Christians suffering genocide in Iraq.

The symbol apparently started circulating in Lebanon and has caught on around the world. The symbol is actually an Arabic “n,” which is what ISIS soldiers in Mosul have used to abbreviate Nazara, a term for Christians in the Middle East.  Basically, those whose homes are thus marked are subject to death, unless they (a) convert to Islam or (b) pay an oppressive tax to stay alive (all explained here).  Here is how one report details the horror:

On Monday, which was normally pay day for municipal workers in Mosul, state workers were ordered not to pay the Christian employees. ISIS also forbid food to be distributed to Christian or Shiite families.

One state employee told the Arabic news outlet Ankawa that he was “warned that if he gives rations to Christians and Shiites, he will be charged and prosecuted according to Sharia law.”

The pressure continued later in the week, when ISIS cut off electricity to homes owned by Christians. The following day ISIS soldiers Christian persecution Mosul Iraqreportedly painted “N” on the doors of Christians to signify that they are “Nazara,” the word for Christian. Shiite homes were painted with the letter “R” for “Rwafidh,” meaning rejectors or protestants.

As a result, nearly the entire population of Christians in Mosul have fled, leaders say.

While I feel for the Shiites, too, and hope that we will advocate for them as well as for the Christians who are suffering, I feel compelled to join the movement to put an arabic “n” on my Facebook profile for a little while. It will remind me to pray if nothing else. But it will also keep the symbol out there for the world to ask and answer gravely serious questions.

By the way, I changed the symbol to red because the doors in Mosul are reportedly marked with red (perhaps to symbolize blood, “death to this house”–kind of a morbid reversal of the Passover markings!)

What Happens When a 1,600 Year Tradition Ends?


Persecution Iraq Christians ISISThere are two traditions that have recently ended.  The contrast between them is astounding.

Traditions are interesting things. Our traditions anchor us to the past while guiding us toward the future. They act as handrails along our paths, offering us both security and a sense of affirmation as we continue walking life’s road. Too often, in fact, we are so comfortable in this walk that we forget—or simply fail to realize—the presence of tradition.

And then something happens. The tradition is threatened, or taken away. Our senses are shocked, as we experience the full, paralyzing thud of a tradition ended.

A couple of years ago at Auburn University, a tradition was threatened when Harvey Updike, a rabid Alabama fan, poisoned the live oak trees at Toomer’s Corner. The tradition of rolling the oak trees at Toomer’s Corner after an Auburn football victory moved from “threatened” to “altogether lost,” as the Spike 80DF poison which Updike used did its work, leeching the life from the root system of the trees.

Before the trees were completely dead and taken away, the university along with the city of Auburn—indeed most of central Alabama—held one last rally to roll the oaks at Toomer’s Corner.  You can see the spectacle of this tradition ending by watching the video below. (I believe my daughter, an Auburn student, is somewhere in the mass of humanity captured by the robotic camera.)

No one knows when or exactly how the tradition of rolling the oak trees began, but how it ended is now obvious to all. And most folks—even the Auburn Football Traditionsmajority of Alabama fans—understand that something precious was lost when the live oak trees at Toomer’s Corner finally died.

Yet, it must be said (despite the images in the video) that throwing toilet paper into oak trees in central Alabama is a small tradition. The tour guide who introduced me to the trees (when they were still alive) suggested the tradition was at most 100 years old (probably less). And the tradition had to do with football, which, contrary to the primitive emotional purgations of Saturday afternoons in the fall, is not a life or death matter.

The tradition of ringing church bells in Mosul, Iraq, on the other hand is a life or death matter. It has to do with the life and death of Christ.  This tradition has been incalculably more significant than rolling oak trees with toilet paper.

First, the tradition of ringing the bells signals the serving of Mass—an Orthodox Christian tradition—in a predominately Muslim culture. At the very least such service is courageous. At its best, the service is an offering of Christ to those who understand their need for an atoning sacrifice.[1]

So, second, because the tradition concerns the gospel of Christ, it is a matter of life and death—eternally speaking. The church tradition also represents a heritage and a way of life for thousands and thousands of Orthodox Christians who have inhabited the Middle East for more than a millennium.

Third, the tradition of ringing the church bells for Mass in Mosul, Iraq, has been a more significant tradition because of its age and endurance.  The tradition began closer to Paul’s ministry than to ours. There was no hint of a USA or a Soviet Union or France or even England when this tradition began. Week after week, the bells have rung.  Week after week the Mass has been served.  These church bells have been ringing for one thousand, six-hundred years–that’s 83,200 weeks. And now they’ve stopped.

As of June 15, church bells ring no more in the ISIS-controlled[2] area of Mosul, Iraq. Violence against Christians there has almost ensured that the Orthodox Christian tradition will soon no longer be found in that ancient place. Over the last decade, approximately 90% of Christians have fled from their homes, business, and church buildings in Iraq as a result of the intense persecution they’ve suffered.

And yet, the bells went quiet so silently. There was no last hurrah to say good-bye.  Indeed, the scene in Mosul was the exact opposite of that found at Auburn. At Auburn, people swarmed in masses to make the final TP offering. In Mosul, people ran away by the thousands.  At Auburn, TV crews parked with satellite towers and provided aerial coverage. In Mosul, like the church bells, everything got very quiet. No one seemed to notice. But the Orthodox Christian tradition ended.

The Chaldean Catholic Church’s Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, in Kurdish-governed northern Iraq, is reported as saying that for the first time in 1,600 years there was no Mass said in Mosul on Sunday June 15.   

 

 

[1] I am neither Roman Catholic nor Eastern Orthodox. Thus I do not ascribe to the presentation of the Mass. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the Mass is—in one sense or another—a presentation of Christ (either in offering or, as in my tradition, a remembrance).  It is a weighty matter of eternal significance.

[2] ISIS stands for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Why Persecution Is a Social Justice Priority


Persecution Social JusticeBrooke Parks at Persecutionblog asks an excellent question: Is Christian Persecution a Social Justice Issue? I believe that it is. At least, I believe that persecution is a justice issue. Parks is correct to note the limits of social justice. Parks points out that the goal of ministry to the persecuted is not to remove inequality. The goal is not simply to make the persecution go away. The goal, according to Parks, is “for the church to be the body of Christ to them and with them.” I completely agree. From the New Testament perspective, “Being the body of Christ to them and with them” is primarily an action of justice.  Caring for the persecuted is a fundamental expression of biblical justice. Perhaps the term “social” can be abandoned, but the idea of justice cannot. And here is why.

In the Old Testament, God Himself proved to be the one who would always “execute justice” and “love” the strangers and aliens among Israel (Deuteronomy 10). The revelation of God as the source of justice and love was supposed to govern Israel. Israel was expected to be like God, executing justice in her own midst, making sure that the poor, the orphans, the widows, and the powerless were not forgotten.  In addition, Israel was supposed to show love to those who came into her midst from the nations around. In this way, Israel, like God, was supposed to model justice and love.

When the time came for Israel to adopt a king, the Lord gave specific instructions for the king: (1) That the king should first read, study, meditate upon, and obey carefully God’s law (Deut 17:18-20); (2) Then, second, that the king would execute justice and righteousness. This function of the king was on splendid display when the Queen of Sheba came to call upon Solomon. She proclaimed,

because the LORD loved Israel forever, therefore He made you king, to do justice and righteousness.” (1 Kings 10:9)

According to God, the king’s task was first to be just and, next, to execute laws of justice and righteousness for all of Israel.

When Christ came to establish His kingdom, He did so in righteousness. Christ was, of course, just. As He announced to John the Baptist, Christ also fulfilled all righteousness (Matthew 3:15).  Christ would later explain that basic discipleship—that is, a basic knowledge of what it means to follow Him—includes learning to be obedient to all His commands (Matthew 28:18-20, commonly called the Great Commission). Being obedient to Christ’s commands is essentially putting God’s justice and righteousness into action.

Christ came as a righteous king to establish God’s righteous kingdom. Consequently, Christ taught His followers that they must pursue righteousnessRighteousness Persecution and the kingdom as matters of first importance (Matthew 6:33).  Christ also taught His followers that their pursuit of justice/righteousness would lead them to be persecuted (see Matthew 5:10-12).

What all of this means is that to live the Christian life is to display God’s justice. Such a display will provoke persecution now just as it did when Christ and the Apostles ministered on earth. When Christ’s followers suffer persecution, they do so on account of righteousness (justice). They suffer for doing what is right in His name. It is His authority and His presence in His people which provokes the persecution.

So, in the New Testament, the first priority for social justice—that is, for feeding the poor, caring for widows, providing for orphans, and showing mercy to prisoners—is to minister to the persecuted and oppressed church. To use a common metaphor applied to the people of God in the New Testament, the first priority is to care for one’s own family—the family of God.

The idea of family first is evident in Paul’s instructions to Timothy regarding the care of widows:

But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Christians are to do good to all people, but, especially, we are to do good to those who are of the household of faith, according to the Apostle Paul (Galatians 6:10). Not surprisingly, the New Testament is replete with examples of Christians doing good for fellow saints who are suffering.

Most references in the New Testament concerning feeding the poor actually understand the poor to be persecuted and suffering Christians. The offering Paul took from the churches was collected to care for needy, suffering saints in Jerusalem (see 1 Cor 16:1-4, Rom. 15:25). Paul Himself was partly responsible for the persecution which put these saints in such a needy state (see Acts 9:1-13). Little wonder, then, that after his conversion he felt responsible for their care.

When Paul went before Peter, James, and John to validate his commission to preach to the Gentiles, they gave him the right hand of fellowship and encouraged him to continue caring for the poor believers as he had been doing in Jerusalem (see Galatians 2:1-10).[1] Likewise, the admonitions in the book of James concerning the poor also are references to the brother or sister among you, that is, to the poor and needy Christians.

Further, the care of widows and orphans—which is called by James a “pure and undefiled religion”—is care for widows and orphans in the household of faith. These issues—typically called issues of social justice—are primarily issues of Christians acting rightly toward fellow brothers and sisters of the faith. They are issues of justice within the household of faith.

When the New Testament speaks of visiting prisoners, it means that Christians are responsible to remember (Hebrews 13:3) and care for fellow Christians who have been thrown into prison on account of Christ (cf. Hebrews 10:34). In fact, Peter made sure the early church held to an important distinction in categorizing imprisonment:

Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name (1 Peter 4:15-16; cf. 1 Peter 3:17).

John love persecutionIn the New Testament, issues of justice begin with the household of faith. As the household of faith learns to love one another rightly and, thus, executes the justice of God rightly so that God’s righteousness is on display, the world begins to see what justice and love actually are like. The whole world begins to know that Jesus Christ is present because of the way the Church loves one another (John 13:35). In this way, the Church witnesses to the world of Christ’s love.

So, it is important that the church exercises “justice” in caring for the poor and suffering Christians. In this way, ministry to the persecuted is the first order of “social justice” business. Our love for one another is crucial to our witness before the watching world.

Brooke Parks’ question has to be answered affirmatively: “Yes!” Persecution ministry is the foremost and primary act of social justice. Parks answered the question negatively, but only with regard to the non-biblical idea that justice concerns equality. Parks is correct to say that the goal of persecution ministry is not to bring society back into some arbitrary notion of balance or equity.  Rather, the goal of persecution ministry is to display the righteousness of God in the face of world’s unrighteous desire to be rid of Christ by executing His people.

See also:

http://www.heritage.org/research/commentary/2014/5/christian-persecution-an-injustice-for-all

 

[1] For fuller discussion, see Thomas Schreiner, Galatians, in the Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, published by Zondervan.

Voice of the Martyrs Helps Two Nigerian Girls Escape


Voice of the Martyrs has helped to rescue two young women from captivity in Nigeria. You can read the full story below. More information is available on their website. I publish this story from Voice of the Martyrs here to get the word out and offer support for the care VOM is giving to the persecuted church.

Nigeria: Kidnapped Girls Escape
 

VOM is providing assistance to two sisters who recently escaped captivity from Boko Haram.

Two sisters, Kamka, 19, and Naya, 16, were sleeping when radical Muslims invaded their home. The armed terrorists entered their brother’s room and shot him in the hand before demanding to know where the girls’ father was. When they realized the two sisters were not married and their father was not home, they took the girls by force.

The Boko Haram terrorist group has declared war on Christians in Nigeria, frequently attacking Christian villages, burning Christians’ houses and murdering indiscriminately. They also kidnap teenage girls and force them to convert and marry Boko Haram members.

After forcing Kamka and Naya to walk through the woods at gunpoint, the terrorists immediately put them to work fetching water and cooking. A few days later, the girls were told that both of them were to be married. “We’re too young,” Naya protested. But the leader then showed them his daughter, a girl of 7 or 8, who was already married.

“If we refused to cooperate, we would be killed,” Naya told a VOM worker. “The man whom I was forced to marry took me. He picked up his gun and a knife and threatened to murder me if I continued to resist.”

The sisters cried and prayed together, unsure of what would become of them. But after two weeks, a Muslim woman took pity on them. While fetching water with the girls, she showed them an escape route and told them to run away.

The girls escaped under cover of darkness. They knocked on the door of the first house they came to, praying the owner would be friendly. Although he was Muslim, the man took pity on the girls. He allowed them to bathe and eat, and then had his sister take them to a nearby Christian village.

The girls were traumatized by their experience but are now doing reasonably well. Since it is unsafe for them to return to their home, VOM is providing care for them at a safe house through one of our project partners.

“I thank God that He has saved us from the hands of these bad people,” Naya said. “Everything is now behind me and I’m not afraid anymore. I only want to look forward now.”

And Kamka is also thankful for God’s protection. “I am very grateful that many Christians pray for me,” she said. “Despite what I’ve been through, I still have faith in God.”

The Voice of the Martyrs invites you to support our work in Nigeria. Your contributions help believers like Naya and Kamka as well as providing support to families of martyrs and medical assistance to victims of extremist attacks.

Make a Contribution to VOM’s Work in Nigeria

Please remember to pray for those kidnapped by Boko Haram and for all our brothers and sisters in Nigeria who are under attack. Share this e-mail with your Christian friends so they can join us in prayer.

Does Persecution Create Strange Bedfellows?


In William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a drunken jester named Trinculo declares, “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.”  This familiar expression has oft been adapted to the political arena: “Politics makes for strange bedfellows.”  Indeed, the twisted manipulations of political warfare can lead former enemies into convenient beds of agreement.

Yet Trinculo’s statement is not meant to highlight the peculiarity of such sleeping arrangements as much as it is intended to focus their necessity. Misery made it impossible for Trinculo to survive a terrible tempest without snuggling up to a monster for security. Necessity called him to action.

Christian persecution middle eastPerhaps necessity has raised a spiritual tempest of misery to such a degree for Christians suffering persecution that strange bedfellows are beginning to emerge once again. Hundreds of Christian leaders have joined together to sign a pledge of solidarity and call to action on behalf of Christians suffering persecution in the Middle East (particularly in Syria, Egypt, and Iraq).

As Nina Shea points out, this pledge was signed by a host of Christians across both the lines of denomination and lines of doctrinal conviction:

Some 200 Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox leaders have signed on — from Catholic Cardinal Wuerl, to National Association of Evangelicals’ chair Leith Anderson, to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the Episcopal Church to Armenian Orthodox Archbishop Oshagan Cholayan.

The pledge describes some of the atrocities Christians face in these countries:

  • Christians, including some clergy, after being identified as such by their names, identity cards, or some other means, have been beheaded, shot execution-style or otherwise brutally murdered. Clergy have also been killed for their peace-making efforts or simply as personifications of the Christian faith.
  • Untold numbers of Christians, including bishops, priests, pastors, and nuns, have been kidnapped and held for ransom.

    Nina Shea Hudson Christian Persecution

    Nina Shea

  • Young women have been abducted and forced to convert to Islam and marry their captors.
  • In some instances, Christians have been told to convert to Islam or be killed; some have been forced to pay protection money.
  • Muslim apostasy and blasphemy codes and standards for dress, occupation and social behavior are being enforced for Christians, as well as for Muslims, in some communities.

I agree that Christians and all people of “good will” ought to voice their concerns and call others to action. Government leaders and concerned citizens alike ought to care for oppressed and suffering people. Christians in particular have an obligation before God to care “especially” for the household of faith (Galatians 6:10). Our own faith family is suffering these atrocities; thus we must not remain unconcerned.

There are other concerns, too, that must not be forgotten. The list of signatories seems short on theologically-minded evangelicals. Evangelicals rightly hesitate locking arms with those (like Katharine Jefferts Schori) who advocate for doctrine and ethics contrary to the Scriptures. Some on the list of signatories advocate for abortion rights, gay marriage, and errant ideas related to the doctrine of justification by faith alone. These are matters of utmost importance.

Somehow, evangelicals must find a way to act on matters of utmost urgency without compromising doctrines of utmost importance.  The severity of Christian persecution pushes unity and action on behalf of Christ’s followers into the urgent need category.  Our brothers and sisters urgently need our prayer, support, advocacy, and physical care. They need for us to advocate on their behalf with one voice against the horrific crimes of persecution.

If evangelicals of good will cannot join with liberal professing Christians (or vice versa), then, by all means, let them advocate separately. But advocate we must. We must pledge our support. We must minister. We must call other professing Christians to action. We must obey the command of Hebrews 13:3: Remember the persecuted.

I, for one, am not comfortable with an Orthodox vision for icons and intercession of the saints. I’m uncomfortable with Roman Catholic instructions on justification and congruent merit. I reject liberal Christianity’s capitulation to the sexual revolution. Yet, I am very glad that these groups are speaking out against the atrocities of persecution being perpetrated against the body of Christ around the world.

As the tempest of persecution rages against Christ’s flock, let us be sure—whatever our doctrinal convictions—that we are found very near to our fellow Christian soldiers, regardless of who else may have drawn near to help. Our obligation is first and foremost to Christ Himself. And He is present with His suffering sheep. Are we?

Christ’s Heart for the Persecuted: A Simple Explanation with Current Illustrations


I know a woman whose life was very hard through no fault of her own. She and her husband had 8 children together when he was murdered, leaving her a widow with very little means to survive. Family members offered to take the younger children so she could try to survive with the older ones. She told them they might as well have asked for her arms, or legs, or her very heart. She could not part with any of her children.

Christ love persecuted churchHer children remained poor, but they were loved. This simple, widowed mother was asked one time which child she loved the best. That question would shock some of us, as we might wrestle within ourselves with guilt over the tension and frustration we feel toward some of our own kids. I mean, I could see wrestling with the question and having to ask myself, “Oh, no! Is there a chance I love one child more than another?” –I don’t, mind you, but my emotional weakness would cause me a little anxiety.

But the question did not cause this woman even the slightest angst. She was not flummoxed by it a bit. Her answer was simple and to the point. When asked which child she loved the most, she quickly and calmly replied, “Whichever one is hurt.” The child who is hurting is the one most in need of a mother’s love and, thus, the one to whom her love must be directed. It’s a simple, profoundly true concept.

I know it is not appropriate to take our own illustrations and project them upward, onto God. Yet, the truth of love and its direction toward the needy must correlate to some extent. It might be better to say it this way. The reason a mother (or father) knows instinctively to love the child in need is that we have a heavenly Father whose heart is toward the needy, the suffering, and, especially, the persecuted–those who suffer explicitly because they belong to Him.

When Christ’s martyr Stephen was stoned, Christ was standing there to receive him (Acts 7). When Christians are called on by governors and authorities to answer for their faith in Christ, they are instructed by Him not to prepare what to say because His very Spirit would speak through them in that hour:

they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. 13“It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. 14“So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; 15for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute. (Luke 21:12-15, NASB)

We could continue on–Christ identifies Himself as the object of persecution when He calls Saul to account (Acts 9). He takes it personally: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”  And, Christ is pictured in Revelation as holding all time at bay until the full number of his saints are martyred, then the reckoning will follow, and his angels of vengeance will reap full justice on the earth (Revelation 6…). The principle seems sound to me. Christ is particularly present with his saints who are suffering on account of Him.

So, below, I have listed a few examples of Christians who may be the objects of Christ’s particular love and affections–where He may be particularly present in this hour of need. Let us, too, draw near to Him and offer prayers for these suffering saints since we ourselves are in the body.

From Back to JerusalemMuslims in Syria recently crucified two Christian teenagers for refusing to convert to Islam. The story was crosses persecution Christian syriareported on a Croatian Catholic website by Sister Raghida, former head nun at the Christian School in Damascus who witnessed the atrocity.  (This story is graphic. Villages were stormed and Christians killed mercilessly. Some were beheaded, and the killers “played soccer” with their heads).

Lela Gilbert reminds us of the plight of Asia Bibi: Nonetheless, since 2009, this falsely accused woman has been on death row in a filthy prison cell, wondering if and when her death sentence will enforced. She longs for husband and five children. Day and night, in squalid surroundings, she fights off her fears, endures physical illness and prays.

And from Nigeria: Muslim herdsmen armed with guns and machetes on Friday night (March 14) launched attacks on three villages in Kaduna state, killing more than 100 Christians and destroying homes, sources said. 

May the Lord indeed be present with His people in their darkest hours, as we help them through our prayers (see 2 Corinthians 1:5-11).

Should We Pray for the Persecuted?


It is a curious thing that the New Testament does not command us to pray for the persecuted church. Before asking for food, shelter, safety, deliverance, or even a copy of the Scriptures, most persecuted believers ask first for prayer. Praying for those suffering persecution is as natural to the Christian as praying for loved ones as they are heading into surgery. We really don’t have to be taught to do it. We just know that it’s right.

Christian persecution pray for the persecutedWe do need to be commanded to pray for our enemies, however. As Jesus points out in the Sermon on the Mount, we have already heard that we should love our neighbors and hate our enemies. What we need to hear by way of divine command is “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” Isn’t this strange?

We are not commanded to pray for the persecuted in the Sermon on the Mount. We are told to pray for the persecutors! What is Jesus thinking? What could possibly be the reason for such a seemingly impossible command?

We might think the reason would be to pray for the conversion of the persecutor. That way, a double victory is won, both with a victory for the persecutor in moving from an anti-Christian rebel, headed for destruction, to becoming a saint with all the privileges of a child of God, including eternal life. The double victory portion would be found in the fact that the converted persecutor would stop persecuting—it’s a win-win. And a win-win would be good, right?

Maybe such an outcome would be terrific for all involved, but it is not the reason Jesus gives for praying for the persecutors. Why pray for the persecutors?  Jesus gives the reason in Matthew 5:45,

so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

The idea found in Matthew 5:45 is simply this: Reflect the glory of God with your life. God pours out love on us who are naturally unloving and unlovable. So, why would we refuse to offer it to others? Because we have the spirit of Christ, we, too, can reflect the glory of God by showing His love to our enemies. Show the world the grace God has bestowed upon you. We are to be like God, extending love aggressively in the face of hostility.

Now let’s step back to our original dilemma. We are commanded to do the difficult (almost impossible) task of praying for those who persecute us, but we are not commanded to pray for the persecuted—even though they are asking for us to pray for them. How do we make sense of this biblically? We turn to Paul and 2 Corinthians 1:8-11,

For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, Christians Praying for the Persecutedbeyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; 10 who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, 11 you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.

Notice, first, how desperate the situation was for Paul and his companions. Second, notice the role of prayers in Paul’s deliverance. And, third, notice the reason Paul thinks God will deliver him and his persecuted companions through the prayers of other saints.

Paul reached his physical and emotional limits. But God helped him and saved him through it all. The prayers of other saints were crucial in this process according to Paul. The situation was so bad that only God could provide deliverance. And God did so in accordance with the way the saints were praying. The reason God orchestrated the events of Paul’s severe persecution the way He did was so that the whole church could celebrate the goodness and power of God when God provided a miraculous deliverance in accordance with the prayers of the saints.

Today, when we pray for our brothers and sisters in need, we, too, become instruments through whom God is bringing deliverance to His people. Part of our reward is celebrating in the Thanksgiving of answered prayers offered to the Father on behalf of Christ’s people. We don’t have to be commanded to do what we know God wants us to do. We know more than God’s commands. We know God Himself. And we know how He works in and through His people.