One of the websites I often follow is www.opendoorsuk.org
. Open Doors is an international organisation founded by ‘God’s smuggler’ Brother Andrew in 1955 that serves the persecuted church (see the website for more details). It calls for prayer from the global church, supplies Bibles to churches in places of need, delivers leadership training programmes and leads Scripture-based literacy programmes.
At the time of writing, Open Doors is sharing concerns for Christians in Sudan, where churches are being demolished without any warning by the government; for Nigeria, where nineteen Christians have recently been killed in church by gunmen; and Iran, where Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani is awaiting a retrial and a likely death sentence for apostasy.
We desperately need to be praying for our Christian brothers and sisters in these places: for God’s protection, for new government regimes, for tolerance from (and, even better, conversion of!) Islamic and Hindu religious extremists.
We also need to be learning from our persecuted brothers and sisters. Paradoxically, the church seems to grow most rapidly where persecution is greatest, whilst here in Western Europe where we are generally pretty comfortable, the church seems stuck in a long, slow decline.
Very often, we do not share our faith for fear of our friends’ disapproval. We make trivial excuses for not coming to church when it doesn’t suit us. We see church and faith as something that we should receive from, rather than something we should give our all to for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
Only this week, somebody told me that they wouldn’t go to their church on certain Sundays because those services “did nothing for them.” I was left wondering: when did church become all about us?
So often I have been guilty of saying, or hear others saying, “the worship wasn’t very good” after a service or event. Has our warped culture so infected us that ‘church’ is just another product we consume? What must Jesus think of us as Christians in Sudan, Nigeria, Iran, China, India and Pakistan risk their very lives – risk everything from a worldly perspective
– to proclaim that “Jesus is Lord!”?
I have come to believe that the biggest threats to the church and the Kingdom of God are not persecution and poverty, but apathy and consumerism. Jesus’ words to the Laodiceans in Revelation 3 could easily be words to parts of the church in Norfolk:
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (vv.15-17)
The Laodiceans knew how disgusting lukewarm water was because as a city they could not access the hot water from nearby springs or the cold water from the nearby mountains. Their water was lukewarm because it had to be brought in via pipes and aqueduct, and they complained that it was too cold for bathing and too warm for drinking. Now Jesus is saying they are like their water – about to be spat out of his mouth.
Thankfully, there is still hope! It is not too late to repent:
“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me”
Are we letting Jesus fully into our lives? Into every part? 100%? Totally? Absolutely? No doubt?
Earlier in the Gospels, Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25). Are we losing our lives to find them in Christ, or are we trying to save them and missing the whole point of the Christian faith? Is faith a leisure pursuit, or is it an all-consuming love and passion that takes over our whole lives?
My prayer for the Christian community in Norfolk is that may we commit and recommit ourselves to the cause of Christ and stand boldly with our suffering Christian brothers and sisters around the world.
Rev Matt Stone is a minister in the Norwich group of United Reformed Churches, with particular responsibility for Ipswich Road URC in Norwich and Wroxham & Hoveton URC.
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