It’s Time for Revival
Have you been paying attention to the news?
The major networks are not carrying the real plight of many of the people of the Middle East and Africa—especially concerning Christians. The people of northern Iraq in the area of ancient Nineveh have practiced Christianity for centuries. This area has been spiritually awakened since they were visited by Jonah. You can learn more about these Christians at www.iraqichristianrelief.org.
Modern-day Iraqi Christians are descendants of Assyria and Babylonia. They rose to power and prosperity in the seventh and six centuries B.C. However, the Assyrian Empire fell in 612 B.C. and the inhabitants were reduced to a small nation living at the mercy of their overlords in the scattered lands in the Middle East. The history of this people spans the entirety of human history. Ethnically they are not Arabs, they are not Kurds, nor are they Islamic. Their faith is grounded in the emergence of Christianity.
But in recent years, the Christians of this area have undergone tremendous persecution. It is hard for us to understand all of what is going on in Iraq. In August 28, a report on North Iraq by a human rights organization made the following points regarding the situation in North Iraq:
- Many homeless children have begun to appear in Mosul. A four-month-old infant was found in a garbage dump.
- ISIS seized all homes in Mosul belonging to Nineveh province judges and some of these homes were granted to ISIS leaders for housing, others were closed and marked with “reserved for the State of the Islamic Caliphate.”
- Seven people were kidnapped by ISIS in Baghdede, among whom were young girls.
- There are daily, organized robberies taking place in Baghdede, including looting of all auto-parts stores, vehicles, tires, batteries, as well as large-scale looting of home furniture.
- The majority of refugees have now spent their money and they are now begging in the streets, particularly women.
- The risk of disease and epidemic is extremely high in refugee camps, especially in halls and houses that are packed overcapacity with refugees. Overcrowding is seen in church halls, schools, and other areas.
Many Assyrians were forced to flee from their villages in the Nineveh Plain for fear of ISIS. One of these villages, Telesqof, located north of Mosul, was completely deserted. ISIS moved into this village and others like it, and began looting and plundering. Yet, this is only a small inkling of the incredible persecution that is plaguing this people.
The Assyrian Christians are attempting to follow Jesus. The result of such a lifestyle is resulting in great persecution.
Persecution for the sake of Christ
The only reason for this pain-and-suffering is that these people call themselves followers of Jesus. We should not be surprised that the world hates Christians. Jesus said,
““If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.” (John 15:18–21)
This passage tells us that the world will hate us, not because of who we are, but because of who He is. The world hates us because it first hated Him. The world isn’t out against everybody. If Christians live the way the world expects them, then we will be part of the world and the world will not hate us. But as Christians, we are to live differently— we are not to be of the world. Christ is chosen us out of the world. Therefore, since they persecuted him, they will persecute us. They do this because they do not know Him—God the Father—who sent Him (Jesus, the Christ).
Times of persecution in the past
Persecution is not new to the Christians of the world. Persecution began soon after the early Christians left Judaism. We read about this persecution in the letters to the Jewish Christians. These books of the Bible include 1 and 2 Peter, James, and Hebrews. These early Christians were under tremendous persecution, but that persecution did not stop for quite some time.
I’m thinking of two great times of persecution. The first was from the New Testament era up until about 300 A.D. persecution of Christians was very intense during this time. We read of the tremendous onslaught of the Roman Empire against Christianity. But the Christians remained loyal to their calling. They continued in the faith. In the end, the Roman Empire accepted Christianity. Christianity became the dominant faith in most of the world. So we see that when Christianity was at its lowest, it ended up conquering the world.
Christians had a peaceful interlude before persecution again came up upon the faithful. Just before the death of theologian Augustine, the world was intensely against Christianity. Again incredible persecution occurred but the faithful remained faithful. After an intense period of persecution, Christianity again prevailed and it regained its stature within the world.
We are now at another turning point in the history of Christianity. The world is bent upon destroying our faith. No other faith on earth is attacked as much as Christianity. Islamic world has pronounced an edict upon the church–they want to destroy anything associated with Christianity and Western thought.
This is an ongoing war and in the Middle East and in Africa the persecution of Christians is intended to drive Christians out of their countries and their homes or to kill them. Even our country Christianity is being attacked on all sides. Our response to this persecution can be either to run and hide or to stand up for Christ.
There is a fundamental difference between the world and Christianity. In 1 Peter 4:4 we read, “In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you.” The world sees Christians as being strange because we do not do the same evil things they do. Rather we are transformed into a new way of life (Romans 12:2). The world cannot accept us for that and therefore they persecute us. How then do we live our lives?
I believe our response is evident.
Our necessary response
We must understand that the world as considered in John’s Gospel is the system of organized society which is hostile to God and is ultimately under Satan’s power (John 14:30). The hostility against Christianity might be of surprise to us [Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” (1 Peter 4:12–13)]. But, what should really surprise us is that we are commanded to rejoice to the extent that we partake in the sufferings of Christ. It seems unusual to think that persecution should cause us to rejoice. But we rejoice because we are in Christ and through our suffering, His glory is being revealed.
Jesus was born to die. At His birth, Herod the Great sought to kill Him. Then at the appropriate time, Jesus voluntarily went to the cross. He did this out of his great love for us (Romans 5:8).
Either we can cower away from our responsibility of living for Christ or we can stand firm in our faith, knowing that we are His. I suggest that as Christians begin to speak out for Christ in the ways our predecessors did when they were under severe persecution. We as followers of Christ must make our stand. We must prepare ourselves to give a defense to everyone who asks us for the reason for the hope that we have (1 Peter 3:15). Our defense of the faith can come in several ways.
- We can pray for those undergoing intense persecution. Peter tells us in 1 Peter 3:12, “For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their prayers; But the face of the LORD is against those who do evil.”” God pays very special attention to the needs of His people. Our prayers can have a tremendous impact.
- We can give to those who are undergoing intense persecution. We have tremendous resources in our country. Those in the Middle East and in Africa have very little to offer. We need to be willing to give to help those Christians who are so greatly in need. A place to start is with the Iraqi Christian Relief Council. I gave their Internet address above. As the people of these areas suffer, the whole body of Christ suffers. We have an obligation to help them.
- We can share the story of those who are undergoing intense persecution. The world is largely ignoring what is happening to Christians around the world. We’ve mentioned the Middle East and Africa, but intense persecution is also happening in China and other Eastern countries. Many of those in the old Soviet bloc countries have lost any freedom to worship Christ. In Europe, Christians are being persecuted because of their faith in Christ. Even in our country, people are not allowed to freely represent their Christian beliefs (e.g. same-sex marriage, abortion, freedom in business, etc.). We need to stand up and tell the world that we are Christians and we will follow the truth of the Bible.
- We can live our lives as if we really believe that what the Bible teaches is true. So often, it seems to me that we as Christians live One Life on Sundays but entirely secular life the rest of the week. This is not representative of what Christ wants from us. We need to follow Christ every hour of every day. We need to live our lives the way we are instructed in the Bible. We need to come to a point where we really live as if we think the Bible is true. It is so sad to see so many Christians in so many churches are no different from the world around them. We need to stand firm for Christ.
One of my favorite verses is 1 Corinthians 15:58.
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”
I have found this to be one of the most practical directives in the Bible. The Corinthians were urged to stand firm in the apostles teaching—they were to be unmoved by the denials of the world around them. This should propel our faithful service for Jesus Christ. Our labor will not be in vain. The Lord is risen.
Are you willing to take a stand for Jesus?