By Guest Contributor Bradley Lacey
I was recently called upon to deliver lunches and dinners, courtesy of Meals-on-Wheels, to some elderly ladies who might otherwise go without a decently-prepared meal. A clergy meeting had been canceled, thereby freeing me to help, upon being made aware of the problem.
Claudia was a lovely woman. She received me warmly. We chatted. I learned of her recent loss. I took her hand and we prayed together. I shared some scripture material, courtesy of the Philadelphia Bible Society. I took my leave, having been blessed to have been so well-received.
That was a Monday. I learned on the following Sunday that Claudia had made it known that she had been “desperate” that day for someone to take time with her and not simply drop off a meal. She needed to know that someone cared, along with prayer.
I had no idea! God in His mercy had providentially orchestrated our time together. He knew that the lady needed encouragement and He also knew that I had a lesson to be learned. You see; the lady didn’t need pity or even compassion (no mean or bad thing; assuredly!) – She needed fellowship; honest-to-God fellowship.
Fellowship is what our persecuted brethren need from us in the ostensibly freer West. They don’t need our pity, an attitudinal commodity that means well enough, yet accomplishes little or nothing. They aren’t looking for our compassion, notwithstanding the fact that compassion is a Christian virtue, one that decidedly brings forth blessings. They desperately long for meaningful fellowship with God’s people who live, labor, and love on the other side of this great existential divide that separates the so-called 10/40 Window from the seemingly freer, more prosperous world known as the West.
A pastor from the side where persecution hangs over our brethren like a pall visited a number of years ago and shared that he didn’t so much want our money as our awareness, prayer, and fellowship. He and his congregants needed to know that we genuinely cared, cared enough to be mindful of them in our hearts and in our prayers. Didn’t the Apostle Paul voice something similar?
“I thank my God every time I remember you, in all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the Gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:3-8 NIV).
We are, by the standard of Pauline theology and practice, partners in the Gospel. Like Paul at the time of this writing, our brethren are in chains and we are called to have a deep and abiding place for them in our hearts (including our prayers and pockets), hearts that yearn with Christ-like affection.
It has only been within the last 30 years that the western Church has been made aware of the plight of Christians elsewhere in the world; specifically, behind iron, bamboo, and Muslim “curtains.” It shocks, saddens and emotionally moves us, at least in the moment. However, like so much else, we become easily inured to the distressing realities that play out all around us. Like so much else, these atrocities easily settle as abstractions in our heads and find no place in our hearts, just as there was no room at the inn for the Holy Family.
Our persecuted brethren are entitled to a place in our hearts, far more than our favorite baseball team or television show, and just as much as our immediate families, our respective church fellowships and denominational (or non-denominational) colleagues. They need us. They don’t need our pity, they don’t want only our money, and, while they undoubtedly value our prayer, they want us.
They warrant our attention. They need to know that we care. They value our fellowship.
Our persecuted brethren count it joy to suffer for Jesus. It should be nothing less than comparable joy for us on this side of the spiritual ledger to be their friends, fellow believers, cohorts-in-Christ, and fellow sufferers, as we make time to travail in prayer and advocacy for them, even as they endure travail in time for Him.
I love how Dr. Bowie has described reality for them: one that, on its surface, is dreadful, but, upon closer inspection, is blessed. Dr. Bowie even he utilizes the motif of fire to articulate the resultant blessing of this reality (Pardon; please, as I applied this extract to an index card some time ago can’t find the reference – I assure you of its veracity!):
“It would be a fire of affliction in which their courage would be tested, as gold in the furnace is tried; a fire on the altar of sacrifice where fear and selfishness could be burned away. It would also be like the light of a lamp to illumine their minds and consciences; and a flame within their hearts to burn as unquenchable devotion.”
Perhaps a light may be cast upon our need for a comparable furnace, within which our devotion will be similarly fostered. We need it, having our own sin that needs to be purged and our own call to courage and “unquenchable devotion.”
We must be utterly disdainful of the sin of presumption (as we encounter it in ourselves), the sins of complacency and apathy (the likes of which fill and flood many a western congregation), as also the sin of flippancy, for how can western Christians speak substantively of the quality of life for those on the other side of the “Window?”
We are, in light of our persecuted brethren and the spiritual pandemic that besets them, humbled, and (if we are honest) more than a wee bit ashamed. We all-too-often apply our preferences to church engagement, “shopping” for the church that best suits our needs or temperaments, rather than discerning where we are most needed. We allow ourselves to be motivated by what we like or want, rather than the love of Jesus.
This is not so for those who know Christianity’s trial and travail. Having been captivated by Christ, all else pales in significance amidst the pall, but also in the face of the One they have to come to know, to love, and to trust. It is not about what they like or want, but Who they love!
We are encouraged and (if we are open) gratified. Our day is coming; it must be obvious to all. The pall, if not of outright persecution then of legal harassments and social distemper, has already amassed over our heads and begun to adversely affect Christians here on American soil and under constitutional order. But we have been given such a blessed example! Men, women, and children who hold fast in love for Christ are such an example, from whom we can learn, grow, and make ready. They have a special anointing, a powerful witness, and a fabulous future, as is available to us as well!
We are ennobled and (if we are earnest) emboldened. To be uncouthly blunt, if they can do it, then so can we! We have the same Spirit of the living God inhabiting, directing, instructing, compelling, and anointing us. “Brothers; what shall we do?” was the cry of the Jewish brethren in response to the Apostle Peter’s first recorded sermon, to which the answer was an emphatic, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37, 38 ESV).
There is dignity imbued within the mindset of humility and the act of repentance, and nobility to those who seek after and surrender to God. The Bereans were characterized as being of “more noble character” than the Thessalonicans, for they daily examined the Scriptures to see if what the Apostle Paul was saying was true (Acts 17:11).
“Brothers & sisters; what shall we do?” is our cry in direct response to the plight and the witness of our persecuted brethren, to which the answer, hard upon the heels of our own self-humbling and repentance, is an emphatic, “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe, as you hold out the word of life!” (Philippians 2:14-16 NIV).
It helps to remember who we are, with our persecuted brethren lending an eminently capable and experienced hand to this question. We are, as are they, though perhaps not as adept nor as sharp in the embodiment of the definition: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness and into His wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9 NIV).
It must be obvious by now that the darkness that permeates the air throughout the 10/40 Window, penetrated by countless millions of points of light, human candles peeping through the haze and the fog and the spiritual abyss of a world that is otherwise without God, is the same world in which we live. The circumstances may be different. But the problem is fundamentally the same, as is the answer. We are one in disseminating and sharing and testifying that His Name is Jesus!
We are discerning and discovering afresh the salient truth of that great doctrine of the communion of saints. Even now, courtesy of the novel practice of social distancing, we foster and develop the art of spiritual intimacy with God, in concentrated and ardent devotion, with one another, in sincere and increasingly creative ways, and also with our persecuted brethren, both devotedly, prayerfully, creatively, and practically.
I know first-hand that my beleaguered brethren pray for us. They well appreciate their need for our awareness of their plight, as we must well appreciate the example they set for us. We are brethren. We share fellowship with Christ and with one another in a world that long ago went virally amuck with sin.
We all come to the Cross on the same footing. It is the great leveler of humanity and of life. We all are called to carry our cross. We all long for our own resurrection, as predicated upon the glorious Resurrection of Jesus. We all await that glorious Day when we all see, worship, and serve Jesus ad infinitum, but never ad nauseum. We all confront the pall and pain of living in a fallen world, whether our foe is that of governing authority, cultural attitudes, community disdain, or our own fallen and sin-infested flesh.
It will be a pleasure and privilege to so share and serve with such noble and precious souls, the very ones for whom their sin has been thrown away, even as it is being burned off by the agonizing fires of persecution, as these precious souls are the very ones of whom the scripture says that “the world was not worthy” (Hebrews 11:38 NIV).
We have come together, both western and 10/40 Christians. No amount or degree of attack from the powers of hell can prevail against us. We are on this path, running this race and fighting this battle – Together! As the illustrious Lady Julian of Norwich from the medieval era has so exquisitely articulated: “And all shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be exceedingly well.”
Pastor Brad Lacey teaches at First Baptist Church at Conshohocken, where he has served since 1988. He is also the President of the Philadelphia Bible Society, and host of The Great Message on Philadephia’s Talk Radio 1210 WPHT. He is a graduate of Gordon College and Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of International Christian Concern or any of its affiliates.