Sunday, March 9, 2014

Are you ready to die for Him?

A few days ago, I read an article in the Washington Post that greatly disturbed me. The article explained that the North Korean president, Kim Jong un, had ordered 33 Christians to be executed. These Christians had been accused of the crime of trying to overthrow the government but in actuality, their only crime was their desire to spread the gospel of Christ by helping to establish underground churches.

In 2009, I had the opportunity to travel to China as a missionary. Webster's dictionary defines missionary in this way: "a person sent on a religious mission,  one sent to promote Christianity in a foreign country." I left the USA headed to China with the intention of sharing my faith with those I met along the way. Upon arrival in China, I faced a huge shock as I witnessed armed guards throughout the airport. Although we'd been forewarned, I'd never traveled to another country and had no idea what it would be like to be in a Communist country. It was hard to grasp that our every move was being watched, that our conversations were being overheard, but we pressed on...I didn't face real persecution while there other than the ordinary surveillance that the Chinese government gave tourists, however I came to realize how little religious freedom really existed in China.

One afternoon, while working with high school and college students in a tiny apartment, several of our group decided to take students outdoors and talk with them. I grabbed my Bible and headed to the elevator ready to share the gospel with my students in a casual setting. As the door to the elevator opened, our missionary host stood in the doorway and gently removed my Bible from my hands. With a puzzled look on my face, he knew that I didn't understand why he was taking my most prized possession from me. He explained in a hushed whisper, "you cannot take your Bible out in public. Guards are everywhere and you could be imprisoned." The stark reality of being in a Communist country hit me square in the face and although I was very hurt that my Bible had been taken away from me; I was also grateful that God had timed perfectly for the missionary host to be at the foot of the elevator.

When I became a Christian at the tender age of 8, I made my profession of faith in Jesus at a small, Southern Baptist church. I went boldly before the church body and presented myself as a firm believer. Through the years, as my faith deepened and I have grown to know more of the personhood of Christ, my boldness has grown as well. I have learned that no matter what, I will never be ashamed of the gospel of Christ.  Even without my Bible in hand, I knew the Scriptures well for I had hidden them in my heart through years and years of Bible study.

My students and I walked across a grassy knoll and into a nearby pagoda. As we sat down, I whispered a quick pray asking God to give me the words to say. I wanted my students to understand that God is love and that He knows them by name. I wanted them to know that Christ died for them so that they might have eternal life. We sat and talked for hours as the guards with their machine guns walked the perimeter around us. I never felt afraid because I knew that God was with me and would protect me, but I was forced to ask myself if I was willing to die for the cause of Christ and my answer was emphatically YES!

I was able to see first hand that religious freedom isn't widely accepted in China. In fact, the Chinese people are encouraged to attend "Three Self churches" run by the Communist party. The three ‘Self’s are Self-governance, Self-support, Self-propagation, and respectively reject foreigners' influence on the church leadership, foreign financing and foreign missionaries, while “Patriotic” indicates the church's loyalty to China. Underground churches exist and many brave Christian converts do all they can to help spread the gospel without being caught and punished. They know that their punishment can be either imprisonment or death.

All over the world, missionaries are working to share the good news. In many countries, their crime is punishable by death. Does this deter the one who loves Christ? No! We, as Christians, are commanded to go into all the world and share the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Our obedience to this command brings great blessing. So why, you may wonder, aren't people willingly working to propagate the gospel in our own country? It could be because many have "waxed cold", they've chosen to turn away from Christ and go their own way...the way of the world. They have learned to accept and tolerate ungodly behaviors instead of standing for the truth but woe unto them! God will not allow this to continue forever! He has given us a season...a season of choosing...choosing to be obedient or choosing to be disobedient.

The faithful 33 who have been sentenced to death in North Korea may soon be leaving this earth at the hands of an evil ruler via a trumped up charge; but their reward in heaven will be more than they could ever imagine. It will come at the hands of the God of love who will pronounce a new sentence upon each of them..."well done, thou good and faithful servant! Now you will reign with me forever!" They will never fear again...they will never hide again...they will worship freely 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at the feet of the one who died for them, Jesus Christ...and they will be truly free!

Will you say a pray for those 33 today? Will you ask God to give them the strength they need to endure what lies ahead? It isn't a surprise that God is allowing them to walk this path...He has ordained it, but please pray that they will be surrounded by His love and they will stand firm. Are you ready to die for Him? Would you be willing to face imprisonment or death for Jesus? Think about it...that day may be just around the corner....

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