In the past several weeks, I have shared lessons of gratitude from the persecuted church: The persecuted church is thankful for the Gospel and knows its power—so they share it with others, often at great risk to themselves. The persecuted church is thankful and desperate for Jesus’s presence—so they seek Him daily, they love what He loves, and they obey His commands.
This third lesson in this series is about having gratitude for something the persecuted church has very little of: freedom.
We are free in the West. Many of us use that freedom to indulge ourselves in a self-centered life seeking pleasure, comfort, and entertainment. But we are called to be different. We are called to be in this world but not of the world (John 17:14–18). Unfortunately, we Christians have become “one of them,” and living as “one of them” has become so normal for us that we do not even recognize it.
We are so used to our freedom that we no longer value it. We take it for granted, assuming incorrectly that the whole world is “just like us.”
We must know that much of the world does not enjoy our freedom. In addition to dictatorships in China (1.4 billion people), Russia (143 million), and North Korea (25 million), most of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims live under the bondage of Islamic regimes and the dark spirit of Islam.
We have over 2 million brothers and sisters in Iran. Most of them have come to Christ in the past 10 years. Yet 98 percent of them have never been to a church of any kind (neither building churches nor house
churches) even once. They do not have freedom. They do not have our resources. Yet they are living for Jesus. They are sharing the Gospel despite the high price of persecution (losing jobs, arrest, torture, jail time).
They desperately need our support. We must stand with them and help them transform Iran into a Christian nation. They are ready to live and die for Jesus, but they need our help.
What should we do? First we must change our mind about Muslims:
- We must decide to love people who are Muslims. “God so loved the world…” (John 3:16). God loves Muslims. Therefore, we must love them. If we hate Muslims or fear them, we are not loving them and we are clearly out of sync with God’s heart that loves them.
- We must see Muslims as victims and not as terrorists. Almost all Islamic people are Muslims not because they choose it, but because they are born into a Muslim family.
They are captives. They have all the characteristics of a captive: they have no choice, they are forced to stay in captivity and do the will of their captors, and they will be shot in the back if they walk away.
We must have compassion for Muslims. Millions of Muslims are recognizing that they are in captivity and are asking, “Is there a savior?” and “Does anybody care?”
- We must seek God’s plan for Muslims. The world does not have an answer to Islam advancing in Europe and America. Islam is not just a religion but a political system as well, and western governments do not know how to counter this. Islam demands more than the religious goal of converting the world to Islam. It also has political and militaristic goals. By Allah’s command in Quran, Muslims are to take over the political system of the world—by force if needed.
The world does not have a workable plan, but the Lord does.
If we ask God, “What is your plan for saving Muslims?” I am sure He will not be shocked or unnerved with that question. On the contrary, He will show us His plan for saving Muslim, and He will open our eyes to see what He is doing to make that happen.
I can imagine that after explaining His plans and what He is doing, He will confront us by asking, “Will you join me? Will you have my heart and mind for Muslims? Will you obey my commandment to go?”
America is the wealthiest and most powerful country in the history of the world. We must use our freedom and power to do God’s will and not to pursue a narcissistic life style. “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48, NIV). According to the Bible, one thing is clear, one day we shall stand before the Lord and give an account of the resources and the freedom He has given us in the U.S. (Rom. 14:12; 2 Cor. 5:10).
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (Gal. 5:13, NIV).
We live in a free and wealthy country. Let us use our freedom and wealth to do His will. Let us ask Him where He is working and invest our God-given resources to advance His Kingdom.
Christians spend 98 percent of their income on themselves. American Christians spend 95 percent of offerings on home-based ministry, 4.5 percent on cross-cultural efforts in already reached people groups, and .5 percent to reach the unreached. We can do better. Let us start today.
I recently was amazed by the deep faith of a lady in Iran who allowed Jesus to help her love the woman who stole her husband. She might be unique in her devotion to love her enemy, but she is not alone in her suffering. Many women in Iran are trapped by marriage laws that turn their homes into prisons.
Before the revolution in 1979, the minimum age for marriage was 18 for women and 20 for men. Restrictions against polygamy meant men with special circumstances had to get judicial permission to take a second wife—or face jail time. The first wife also had to give her husband legal written permission before he could take another wife.
What does the law in Iran say now regarding marriage?
After the revolution, these protective laws were largely repealed or set aside. The minimum age for marriage fell to 13 (sometimes 9) for girls and 15 for boys. The religious regime, in accordance with the Quran, also abandoned restrictions on polygamy.
A man now has a legal and religious right to permanent marriage with up to four wives. He has no need to establish cause for taking another wife or solicit judicial or spousal permission. Therefore, even the requirement that a man establish financial ability to maintain his wives has no review or oversight. He alone can decide what is right for himself.
In addition to these permanent marriages, since Iran is a Shiite state, a man can contractually enter an unlimited number of temporary marriages (called Sigheh). The length of these temporary marriages can be from 15 minutes to 99 years. Yes, many view this as merely legalized prostitution sanctioned and supported by Islamic law.
In contrast, a wife must obey her husband in everything, and since his marital desire may arise at any time, she may not even leave the home without his permission. If a couple does divorce, the custody of her children is automatically given to her husband. I know many women who are suffering from physical and emotional abuse and have to endure and even quietly serve their abusive husbands because they do not want to be separated from their beloved children—the only source of meaning and joy in their lives. These laws reduce women to property and enslave them sexually while giving men free rein to sidestep moral obligations of faithfulness and love within a relationship.
What does the God of the Bible say?
Although these women are trapped in loveless and abusive marriages with no legal recourse, they are not unloved. Jesus loves them. And as each woman begins to understand that only Jesus’s love and presence can truly fill her heart—and as she receives that love—she is able to endure the rejection and even forgive her husband. We have many testimonies where the wife’s forgiveness and a heart filled with the joy of Jesus have caused the husband to take notice and also seek salvation in Jesus. The love revolution that begins in the hearts of these rejected women plays a significant part in transforming Iran into a Christian nation in this generation.
Did you know that Iran Alive takes special care to broadcast several satellite television programs addressed specifically to women so that they can hear the Gospel within the safety—and sometimes the prison—of their own homes? Please keep praying for the millions of Persian women who do not yet know the love of Jesus.
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A couple weeks ago I asked if you were ashamed of the Gospel. Today I have another question: If you truly appreciate what Jesus has done for you, you will love what He loves. If not, you may be taking Him for granted.
- For many in the West, experiencing Jesus daily is not a desperate need but a mere option.
For the persecuted church, walking with Jesus and experiencing Him daily is not an option but a desperate need. Their lives are so empty of hope and joy that Jesus is the only source and strength they have.
In the West, we have many resources for comfort—something that most of the world only dreams about. We live with abundance and rarely feel a desperate need to spend our waking moments in Jesus’s presence. Yes, sometimes in our troubles we cry out to Him, but this is rarely a daily thing.
- Our relationship with Jesus is often based just on need, not true love for Him.
The persecuted church not only has a continuous need to experience Jesus, but also it has a deep love for Him. Coming from darkness, they appreciate light. Coming from the depths of hopelessness, desperation, and loneliness, they value His constant presence. Understanding well what He has done for them, they are ready to live and even to die for Him. Someone has said, “You don’t know Jesus is all you need until He is all you have.”
I don’t want to put down the faith of my brothers and sisters in the West. But this is a reality we must face: The persecuted church desperately needs Him and continuously seeks His presence; we don’t think we need Him as much and continuously do not seek His presence.
That is why for us walking with Jesus must be intentional. We must make a conscious decision to read His word, obey Him, and walk in the Spirit. We must choose to be faithful to His Church. We must decide to love what He loves and who He loves.
- The Church in the West is experiencing Jesus less and less because it is obeying His command to “Go” less and less.
In Matthew 28:19–20, Jesus promises His continuous presence when we obey His commandment to go: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…And surely I am with you always.” It is in the going that His presence goes with us. In the comfort of us staying and focusing on our lives—to make them a little more comfortable—it is hard to experience deeply the presence of Jesus. The Church in the West is experiencing Jesus less and less because it is “going” less and less. The persecuted Christians have a zeal to share their faith even when they know they may end up in jail or be killed for it.
We are moving toward worldwide chaos and violence. The Islamic State (ISIS) and militant Islam will not fade away. Muslims have a mandate by Quran to take over the world by violence. ISIS is actively doing it, and more and more Muslims are waking up to that call. Members of ISIS are not fanatic Muslims but committed and obedient Muslims.
The disturbing point is that ISIS is obeying its mandate more vigorously than most Christians do. They are commanded to “go,” and they are ready to kill and die to obey that mandate.
We Christians also have a “go” mandate. How are we obeying the mandate of our Lord in Matthew 28? As ISIS brings death and the bad news, we must bring life, love, and the good news. The Gospel is much more powerful than the message of the Quran (obey or die)—but only if we share it. We have the Holy Spirit and the power of God’s word. We can defeat any dark spirit and theology of death—but only if we go and get into the action.
Will you decide today to walk with Jesus? Will you love what He loves? God has prepared Iran for a major transformation. The people of Iran are ready.
“And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” —2 Cor 5:15, NIV
As fallout from recent Islamic State (ISIS) attacks in Paris continues, more than half of the United State’s governors have said they will bar Syrian refugees from coming to their states because they pose a great risk to national security. New Jersey governor and presidential candidate Chris Christie declared his state would not take in any refugees—“not even orphans under the age of five.”
Congress has also joined in, voting on November 26 to make the process for Syrian and Iraqi refugees coming to the U.S. more difficult.
The issue is far from simple, and I respect that even Christians will have varied opinions on the right course of action. Yet this is what is on my heart:
- As Christ-followers we must have compassion for those who suffer.
The parable of the Good Samaritan instructs us to be sensitive even to the needs of our enemies (Luke 10:25–27). Many Old and New Testament verses teach us to serve strangers and refugees (Lev. 19:33–34, Heb. 13:2). So as Christ-followers, we must help these refugees. Thank God many Christian organizations are already helping the Syrian refugee camps in Turkey and Europe and because of them, many refugees are becoming Christ followers. Let us also not forget that the United States was founded by refugees.
In terms of mission opportunities, refugees are right now the most open Muslim group to the Gospel. We Christians should share God’s love and the Gospel with them. Many will respond to that. The American Church should step out of its comfort zone and take advantage of this great mission opportunity. Moreover, a good number of these refugees are already Christians. Are we not called at least to help our brothers and sisters in Christ?
- Yet we must be wise and alert.
The Lord admonishes us in Matthew 10:16 to be as wise and alert as serpents, understanding the cunning of our enemies. ISIS sends people pretending to be refugees to infiltrate western countries such as the U.S. They come with the mission to start hidden cells for ISIS and to recruit American youth.
I know from experience that some of Iran’s “Christian” refugees have been Islamic government agents trying to infiltrate western countries and Iranian Christian communities worldwide. Iran’s government boasts that they have spies and agents in every western country who are supported by the host country because they entered as a refugee. Not surprisingly, these pretend refugees are usually supplied with false but compelling evidence documenting their torture while many Christians who have truly suffered for their faith have little documentation to verify their stories.
So we must extend compassion with our eyes wide open.
- We are already conquered if we let fear rule us.
I think that maybe especially due to the recent events in France, many in Congress and some governors have acted out of fear. A priority goal for ISIS is to spread fear (terror) worldwide. This is how they gain power. If we act out of fear, they have accomplished their objective.
Please pray with me that more and more refugees will hear the Gospel and discover and embrace God’s perfect love.
“Perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn 4:18).
Recommended Reading: “Syrian Refugees in America: Separating Fact from Fiction in the Debate”
Lessons of Gratitude from the Persecuted Church
As we transition from Thanksgiving to preparing for Christmas, the birth of our Savior, let us ponder about the great things God has given us that sometimes we take for granted.
It is just at this time of tradition and comfort and abundance—even overabundance—that we in the West should ask ourselves:
Am I thankful for my salvation? Am I sure?
People who are thankful share their gratitude with others. When was the last time you shared the Gospel with someone?
We hear the Gospel so often in the West that we have gradually forgotten its true meaning and power. We are so familiar with it that it fails to move us anymore. We take the Gospel for granted.
Does this shock or surprise you?
When I, as a student at the University of Southern California, began comparing Christianity and Islam, I had many questions. The more I compared, the more questions I had because I came to realize that both couldn’t be true. Then when I heard the simple message of the Gospel, it changed my life dramatically.
The Gospel has power.
The simple Gospel has three simple truths:
1) God created you, and He loves you.
2) He is perfect, but you are not. To reach Him, you must be perfect because He is perfect. You can never be perfect; therefore, you can never reach Him on your own.
3) Because He loves you, He did for you what you could not do for yourself. That is what Love does. You could not reach Him so He reached out to you. He came on earth to meet you and save you.
It’s that simple.
In the persecuted church, we see how this simple Gospel has the power to transform individuals, families, and even societies and nations. We see drug addicts being set free; hopeless, desperate people at the verge of suicide change into persons with joy and love for others. They discover not just a reason to live but find a mission to live for: to love God and to share this life-changing Gospel with others.
The apostle Paul also endured beatings and imprisonment, death threats, and even martyrdom. He travelled far and wide to share the simple truth of God’s gift of salvation. Yes, he saw God’s power transforming lives! So on his third missionary journey, Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16, ESV).
In the West, if we are honest, most of us are ashamed of the Gospel. We may not call it “ashamed,” but we are shy about it. And if we are shy and ashamed of the message we have to share, why would God show us its power? We must be confident that the Gospel is THE ANSWER to personal, family, and society problems. I am not saying we must be rude, but we must be bold.
If you are thankful for your salvation, show it by sharing the Gospel with love and humility—but also with confidence—during this Christmas season.
Over the next few weeks, I want to share with you more lessons of gratitude we can learn from the persecuted church—from the people who must live their faith on the front lines of spiritual battle.
In the meantime, give thanks for the Gospel and pray for the persecuted church everywhere, especially in Iran.