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Thursday, January 26, 2017

"Remember The Persecuted"

Message summary:
Let us pray and "remember". We are called to identify with these believers, "as if you were together with them in prison" and "as if you yourselves were suffering." As I seek to identify I consider the unwavering faith required if I were to face persecution and even execution as I persevere in my profession of faith in Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord.

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"Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering" (Hebrews 13:3).

Bubble wrap
The other day we parked in a company parking lot to make a visit to the employees in the course of our chaplaincy ministry. When we backed out of the parking spot to leave I was alarmed when I heard what sounded like rifle shots in rapid succession sort of like a machine gun. I quickly scanned our surroundings prior to learning from Brooksyne that the source of our "terrorist attack" was nothing more than a small strip of bubble wrap we had run over! I hadn't seen it but she had, from the passenger side of the car. I think she enjoyed seeing me sweat a bit, since she waited a few seconds before calming me with the news that it was only bubble wrap!

We live out in the country and periodically hear distant gunshots from hunters and target practice. Neither of us have ever heard malicious gunshots in our entire lives but many cannot say that. Some, living in otherwise peaceful areas, have heard gunshots only to find out later it was from a crime that had been committed. And then some live in areas, particularly urban, where the sound of violent gunfire is a reality of life. I recall speaking to a pastor in New England years ago who shared how they frequently heard gunshots from their city church in Brockton, Massachusetts.

But today we want to especially consider scores of people who live in areas torn by the strife of war and terrorism. Recently we ordered a book titled "Hearts of Fire". It's about eight women who have stood the test of persecution and endured family martyrdom. Their stories are riveting beyond belief since their persecutors are full of hatred and find "pleasure" in just how much they can make their captives suffer. 

Earlier this month we met a young man named Muhammad who is a refugee from Somalia. When we first met him, during the course of his work, we didn't know his background so we were sensitive to his thoughts regarding a Christian chaplain. To make small conversation I commented on how different the weather must be in our area from his native country which lies on the equator. He spoke fairly good English and responded, "The biggest difference is not the weather but the extremely difficult living conditions in my country". I saw him a few more times but the last time we visited the company where he worked he was no longer there so we are praying for him. He has our business card and contact info. Perhaps he'll read our daily encouragement message or make contact with us in the future. Less than .1% of the people in Somalia identify as Christian. An astounding 99.8% are Muslim.

Most of you, like us, have rarely been exposed to violence, though we know some of our readers are exposed to it on a regular basis. We often take our personal freedoms and peace for granted but we do well to stay mindful of the violent world we live in so that we pray for those who must endure such unsettling and fearful circumstances. This might include those who deal with domestic violence, who live in areas with wars and lots of violence and those who dwell in places of persecution. Today let us especially consider persecution.

When the letter to the Hebrews was written very likely the recipients actually knew someone undergoing persecution. Perhaps they could put a family member's face on the suffering or had even suffered themselves. Few of us reading this Scripture passage can identify with this, but the early church surely could. Paul wrote many of his letters from prison. He recounts his sufferings in some detail in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28. The early church watched and wept as the budding preacher Stephen was stoned (See Acts 8:2). They surely grieved when James was put to death with the sword. Persecution did not stop with the closing of the apostolic age. It actually intensified at times and one of the most severe times was early in the fourth century.

All throughout the church's history our fellow believers have endured persecution. The 20th century is considered the most severe in terms of sheer numbers.  And now, early into the 21st century, it seems that this persecution is intensifying even more.

Let us pray and "remember". We are called to identify with these believers, "as if you were together with them in prison" and "as if you yourselves were suffering." As I seek to identify I consider the unwavering faith required if I were to face persecution and even execution as I persevere in my profession of faith in Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord. I think that's something we all do well to consider regardless of how painful the thought.

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Praying manDaily prayer: Father, help us to be moved by the plight of those who are suffering and even laying down their lives for the sake of Christ. We remember them in our prayers and remember them as warriors of the faith, who for the joy set before them endured the suffering, shame and agony of their tormentors. As they endured the humiliation they also overcame their horrendous plight by the blood of the Lamb. Many of them have received the crown of life in heaven that is rewarded to those martyred for their faith. On Coronation Day when we all gather in heaven we look forward to enjoying earnest fellowship with these tried and true saints of our faith who did not give up meeting together to worship You.  Keep us faithful when tested by fire, we pray in Jesus' name.  Amen.

Home improvement opera singer 1/25/17
Home Improvement store opera singer: We had an interesting experience yesterday. But first some background. In the course of our chaplain visits we visit with a worker named Ron, whose daughter has long aspired to be an opera singer. I've told Ron a number of times that I've never met an opera singer or a father to an opera singer! He's played a video of her singing, and though I can't understand opera, I do recognize she has a beautiful voice.

Yesterday I stopped by a large home improvement store to pick up some brackets for my deck railing. A friendly young man came over to help out and after assisting me we conversed for a few minutes. I am always pleased to see a young man with knowledge and ambition. In the course of our conversation he told me he was an opera singer. I asked him for a mini concert to which he happily obliged. I am sure his operatic voice could be heard throughout the huge store. He was a bit reluctant to identify the store so we'll just say it was a home improvement store somewhere in the lower 48 states. However I think the store would be pleased to have him not only as a store worker but also as an opera singer. Here's a video of his impromptu opera performance! (22 seconds).

Today's Suggested Music and Supplemental Resources

"Song For The Persecuted Church"  Video 

Forty Brave Soldiers For Jesus"  Video  Tom Green  This is a powerful ballad concerning an event that happened in Armenia in 320AD and will touch you!

‘Worst Year Yet’: The Top 50 Countries Where It’s Hardest to Be a Christian  This article published 1/17/17 begins "For the third year in a row, the modern persecution of Christians worldwide has hit another record high." and includes a very informative but not at all surprising map.

The findings and trends noted by Open Doors are stark:
  • Approximately 215 million Christians experience high, very high, or extreme persecution.
  • North Korea remains the most dangerous place to be a Christian (for 14 straight years).
  • Islamic extremism remains the global dominant driver of persecution, responsible for initiating oppression and conflict in 35 out of the 50 countries on the 2017 list.
  • Ethnic nationalism is fast becoming a major driver of persecution. “While this took an anti-establishment form in the West, in Asia it took an anti-minorities form, fueled by dramatic religious nationalism and government insecurity. It is common—and easy—for tottering governments to gain quick support by scapegoating Christians.”
  • The total number of persecution incidents in the top 50 most dangerous countries increased, revealing the persecution of Christians worldwide as a rising trend.
  • The most violent: Pakistan, which rose to No. 4 on the list for a level of violence “exceeding even northern Nigeria.”
  • The killings of Christians in Nigeria saw an increase of more than 62 percent.
  • The killings of Christians were more geographically dispersed than in most time periods studied. “Hitting closer to home, 23 Christian leaders in Mexico and four in Colombia were killed specifically for their faith,” said Open Doors of the “rare” event.
  • The worst increase: Mali, which moved up the most places on the list from No. 44 to No. 32.
  • Asia is a new center of concern, with persecution rising sharply in Bangladesh, Laos, and Bhutan, and Sri Lanka joining the list for the first time.​

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Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: New International Version. © 1984 by International Bible Society; NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, New King James Version (NKJV) Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. and the King James Version.

Personal Mission Statement: "I am created by God to bring Him glory. Through God's Son Jesus Christ I have been redeemed and make it my life's goal to please the Lord. My mission in life is to honor God through my faith and obedience and prepare myself and all whom I may influence for eternity."

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