Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What Peter Says in Response to Persecution

This morning, while reading 1 Peter, I realized something about myself. Later in the day, when Barbara sent me the link to a great blog, "Far East Russia for God's Glory", I realized it anew.

I don't deal well with persecution.

What I mean is this: I care deeply about the persecuted church. I am bothered by apathy in the Body about it, and I burn with anger when I read of Christians being mutilated in Turkey, burned to death in India, or being tortured with power drills in Pakistan. I am consistently dismayed by the deliberate lack of coverage this receives in the media, which attempts to portray Christians as bigots and buffoons at every turn.

Apart from these cases of overt, barbaric, physical persecution, closer to home, the more subtle oppression of Christians in Eastern Europe is a pet peeve of mine. I have written about society and governmental perception of Bible-believing Christians in Bulgaria and the more hard-line regime against them in Belarus here before.
Widely considered cultists, loonies and heretics, the Church in Eastern Europe experiences a uniquely passive-aggressive form of persecution which is the result of smear campaigns, media propaganda and jealousy from the Eastern Orthodox Church. In the 19th century, this took the form of Orthodox-led riots, pogroms and burnings of Protestant property; nowadays registration permits are denied, rumors are spread, and the mass media are used to publicly discredit evangelicals.

This infuriates me.

But here's the interesting thing: it seems to bug the Christians caught in the fray far less than it does me.

When I was in Bulgaria again last summer, the elderly congregants at the Baptist church were the most joyful, contented individuals I noticed the entire time we were there. Half of the 2.5 million people in Sofia look angry; the other half look clinically depressed. But not the Christians. They don't seem to give a rat's patootie that they are still a maligned minority; they've got Jesus, and He's all they need to be joyful.

When I spent time interviewing my former pastor, he passionately said his years in prison were the best gift God could have given him. Most of his books center around the theme that as disciples of Christ, we must expect persecution and be ready at all times to make sacrifices for our faith. He related anecdotes of recent media attempts to cast Christians in a bad light - most of them instigated by the Orthodox Synod (itself the center of a political controversy). Despite the slander, he held not a hint of animosity.

Recently, I posted a review of an earlier Bulgarian pastor's 13-year ordeal at the hands of the Communists. When I read details of how deranged men tortured, beat and starved Christ-followers within an inch of their lives, I seethe. My anger is all the more intense knowing how this evil, godless ideology has sucked in naive people. People who are close to me, and are thoroughly brain washed. Pastor Popov prayed for and warned against hating the Communists. But you know what? I hate the Communists. HATE them. I hate extremists in India who slice open pregnant women and pour kerosene on Christians, just to watch them burn. Two years ago, when I read of the attack on the Australian missionary family whose father and sons were burned to death, I felt rage.

And then the widow forgave the killers. The Indian believers continue to praise God, knowing each service might be their last. The Belarussian Christians hold their illegal meetings surreptitiously, and the Bulgarian evangelicals doggedly continue to feed the hungry and counsel the prisoners.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:6-7)

They get it. I struggle to rejoice, because according to my human logic, it's just so wrong.

Even closer to home, I do not do well with the even smaller, also annoying barbs that come from my parents for my being a Christian. Part of the reason I am so well-versed in Scripture and apologetics is to be able to give a ready response to the attacks my father makes on my faith. (Oh, he likes to be sneaky about it - I call it back-door antagonism). To be sure, as Beth Moore once wrote, "I'm not sure we can really relate to religious persecution in this country, and it's rather nauseating when we try." (That's the one and only time I'll quote Beth Moore on this blog. In this case, though, her point happened to be well-taken.)

I keep a calm demeanor and a rational tone when countering attacks, but inwardly

I want to slap the snot out of I am a bit irritated. Why don't people open their idiot eyes already and just believe on Christ? The Bible's authenticity has been proven many times over; how hard is it to get a library book on apologetics?!?

Here's Peter's advice (I dearly love the apostle Peter; especially that sword episode with Malchus' ear):

Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. 9Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened." 15But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:8-9; 14-17).

Lord, change my heart. Somewhere deep down inside, there's a quiet and gentle spirit just dying to get out.

Yeah, I just am finding the balance between righteous anger and the acceptance of suffering with joy (especially other people's suffering, when they don't deserve it) hard to find. Amazing that those in the midst of it handle it with so much more grace and acceptance than I can find possible.

Below is a September 2008 posting from the Russian Christians in Siberia:

Dear brothers and sisters! We ask you to pray for our ministry to the Far East Russia.

«With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel…" Eph. 6:18-19

1. Following a week September 18th in our city will the big Christian concert.Please pray, that the government our city to open their hearts to cooperation and to not interfere in carrying out of a concert.Also that it is a lot of people which not know the God could to come on this concert and to hear the gospel.

2. In the begun October Nika will organize regional Christian conference for women .Please pray, that the God to give her a wisdom and Holy Spirit to change a life many women through this conference.

3. In connection with event in Georgia and South Ossetia the government has changed attitudes to Christians. The main religion Russia - Orthodoxy. Many Christians Protestants cannot spend public a meeting and cannot openly preach the Gospel.Please pray, that the government has changed the attitude and has opened a door for the sermon of the Gospel.

4. Pray, that the God has given new work (jab) for Zhenya that he had more time for our ministry in Birobidzhan. Time for personal preparation a pray and reading the Bible, also for a meeting with people for the Bible studying. That the God has filled our financial need.

5. Pray for greater Christmas meeting that much our friends have come to our house and to learn about love the God who was given His son for them.

6. Pray, that the God has given us a building for church.

Your in Christ Zhenya and Nika Aksutin


Barbara said...

On preview, it seems I must apologize for the length but most of it is quotes....

Why don't people open their idiot eyes already and just believe on Christ? The Bible's authenticity has been proven many times over; how hard is it to get a library book on apologetics?!?

Because, and I know you know this and I understand your frustration, but it still bears saying - because apologetics/argument is the world's answer. The Holy Spirit is God's answer. It is a gospel not of human strength or human wisdom; but of the glory, sufficiency, and beauty of Christ - who is the author and finisher of our faith. As hard and painful as it can be to do, we have to defer to Christ's perfect wisdom and timing and just pray for them in earnest. I, for one, am grateful that my children did that for me. And now I join them in doing the same for their father and members of my own family - several of whom I exasperate and anger with my insistence on sticking to the beauty of the biblical Gospel.

I'd like to recommend a movie to you, one I hadn't seen in years until I happened to notice it in a bookstore not too long ago and brought it home. I have watched it several times since: The Hiding Place, about Corrie and Betsie Ten Boom, who went to Ravensbruck prison for hiding the Jews from the Nazis in Holland. Betsie died there, starved to death; Corrie was released a little over a week later and spent the rest of her days proclaiming the Gospel of the Christ she had always known of and talked about, but only truly met in that concentration camp. The family had a beautiful, simple faith leading up to their imprisonment and it grew stronger through the horrors of the holocaust. Jesus is like that. Many lines from that movie stick with me, including this one: No pit is so deep that He is not deeper still. And, "We can't be anything other than what we are. Only Jesus can save us from ourselves." That last thought has been profound for me as I look at and relate to those who are lost: "They can't be anything other than what they are. Only Jesus can save them. I used to be like that. They need prayer and love and we all need Christ's grace." And it is through such things that we grow and come to know Him in even more beautiful ways.

And if you get the two-disc set, the second disc has wonderful extras with her talks about her life and about Christ and having to learn to forgive through the Holy Spirit, and a couple of tributes to her life.

The presentation based on DC Talk's book, Jesus Freaks (and the book itself), also makes this point when discussing Richard Wurmbrand's imprisonment and torture for preaching the gospel in Romania in the 60s:

"And then the miracle happened. When it was at the worst, when we were tortured as never before, we began to love those who tortured us. Just as a flower, when you bruise it under your foot, rewards you with its perfume, the more we were mocked and tortured, the more we pitied and loved our looking at men...not as they are, but as they will be....I could also see in our persecutors a Saul of Tarsus - a future apostle Paul. Many officers of the secret police to whom we witnessed became Christians and were happy to later suffer in prison for having found our Christ. Although we were whipped, as Paul was, in our jailers we saw the potential of the jailer in Philippi to become a convert. We dreamed that soon they would ask, "What must I do to be saved?"

It was in prison that we found the hope of salvation for the Communists. It was there that we developed a sense of responsibility toward them. In Communist prisons the idea of a Christian mission to the Communists was born. We asked ourselves, "What can we do to win these men to Christ?"

The gates of heaven are not closed for the Communists. Neither is the light quenched for them. They can repent like everyone else. And we must call them to repentance. Only love can change the Communist and the terrorist."

--Richard Wurmbrand, founder of Voice of the Martyrs

Milady, you are sitting on the edge of one of the greatest truths of all time: that the Gospel is such that its persecution only exposes its rare beauty and its perfect truth and encourages its spread. After all, look at what was accomplished through the torture, death, and resurrection of the Sinless One - the ultimate victory over evil.

Don Kimrey said...

I really respect the stand you've taken and the efforts you make to focus light in dark places! I pray often and earnestly for those about whom you write and for whom you care. I also pray that good will come of what you do and that you'll be protected from any harm as you try to address some really difficult situations. Let's pray for each other. Stay close to Christ! Keep up your good, courageous work!

Marie said...

Thanks guys!

Barbara, we watched "The Hiding Place" last spring (just the movie disc from Netflix) and YES, I got the same thing out of it. Actually I felt very convicted first for worrying about my own comfort (things like running water) and Bessie's comment after being beaten by a Nazi: "Don't hate, Corrie." Oh my. Incredible endurance for the Savior!

I read Wurmbrand's book right about the same time I read Popov's (One was "Tortured for Christ", the other was "Tortured for His Faith") and the similarities were striking (not too surprisingly, as the circumstances were extremely similar).

Interesting how the two pastors, independently of one another, drew the same exact Spirit-led conclusion re: hate vs. love in regards to their tormentors. Just amazing. And while I know all this, and what the Bible says, still I go nuts over much less dramatic persecution -- in my own life and in others'. I need to pray that God will cultivate a heart of joyful submission and peace in this area within me.

Happy New Year everybody!

Zhenya and Nika Aksutin said...

My dear sister! What pleasure that in Jesus we one family, not looking at different language, culture and traditions. Unfortunately I badly know English, but for our service so prayful support and I to try to write you on English with the request a pray about our ministry in Russia is important. In Russia is the present believer very difficultly, the majority of people consider itself as believers, but their life speaks opposite. The big influence the Orthodox church has all the others church - are considered as sect though officially it do not speak. Protestant churches there are not enough 10-12 %, to the Gospel people are adjusted negatively, but the God in the sovereignty all the same reaches the purpose, Glory to It! And how in America? Usually in Russia we to have Christmas January, 7th, it is orthodox church tradition. And we is very glad, because is usual we to make Christmas for family and friends December, 25th and to do the big concert for all January, 7th. Thus we to have 2 Christmas in Russia! We speak that Russia is - the country of miracles! I will glad be your friend!!! Your sister Nika

Marie said...

Здравствуйте Ника и Женя,

С Рождеством!

If only my Russian were as good as your English!

I'm so glad to have access to your blog, and to read about the wonderful work you are doing to glorify our Lord in Siberia. Happy New Year to you and yours!

Hadassah said...

This is a great post, Marie. And I have enjoyed reading the comments almost as much as the original post. You have covered some things that I have been thinking about lately, too. There are SO MANY things in Christianity that run contrary to our initial reactions and attitudes.

?Greatness through serving?
?Life through death?
?Beauty through pain?
?Love for enemies?

And the growth and life of the church through persecution is another one in a long list of things that make no sense to the human eye.

I am constantly challenged to remember that the gates of hell will not prevail against Christ's bride, the church.

The Piper's Wife said...

This is my first time reading of your blog. Thank you for your efforts. Praise God! for His name is being glorified!

Your quote below is profound. How great our God is!

"When I was in Bulgaria again last summer, the elderly congregants at the Baptist church were the most joyful, contented individuals I noticed the entire time we were there. Half of the 2.5 million people in Sofia look angry; the other half look clinically depressed. But not the Christians. They don't seem to give a rat's patootie that they are still a maligned minority; they've got Jesus, and He's all they need to be joyful."

From my own experience of just a "normal" USA tragedy I can say that the LORD lifts, strengthens, binds wounds, and gives His beautiful peace....even when humanly we have been pressed beyond limits by pernicious evil, in Him we can continue in a life for His glory. I can unbelievably find joy and continue to live because of His balm. Yes, I still seethe, and despise my enemies, but then the LORD covers over me and I realize again that I am yet a sinner and very capable to do any evil also. I can then begin to pity the perpetrators and actually pray for them. This has led me to feel great compassion for the lost, even the very ugly lost. Because of Him, my outrage comes, anger dissipates, pity begins, ending with beseeching the LORD for their souls'....until the process begins again. Thankful for His amazing grace that saved even me.