*Warning- This post contains content that is brutally violent.
In countries across the world, simple actions of faith- from reading the Bible to humming the tune of a Christian song- can mean beatings, years in prison, or even death for a Christian.
These countries, which can be found from South America to Eastern Europe, from Africa and the Middle East to Asia, these countries where Christians risk their freedom and their lives to share the name of Christ, there we find the persecuted church.
If you listen to a member of the persecuted church speak, you will most likely discover that they find it an honor to suffer for the name of Christ. In the face of suffering, they count themselves blessed.
Among the persecuted church, there is no such thing as casual Christianity. Claiming to be a Christian, or even uttering the name of Christ, means being willing to sacrifice everything to share the gospel.
When I say everything, you may imagine homes being destroyed, churches being burned, imprisonment, and maybe even death. These things are hard enough to fathom on their own. But there is more to everything.
Now, take into account men being forced to watch their wives be brutally beaten and raped over and over again.
Pregnant women being cut open in front of crowds as a warning to what will happen if a Christian creates life.
Take into account your son being burried alive because you preach the gospel.
Consider not the death, but the days, weeks, months, and years of torture that often precede death: Being forced to live life standing in a narrow way surrounded by nails. The slightest weakening of the muscles resulting in skin being pierced repeatedly, until it is raw and torn; Being skinned alive; Or, by accepting Christ, volunteering yourself for Frankensteinian medicine. Your legs and arms being cut off, only to have your arms replace your legs and your legs to be placed into your shoulder sockets. Just as a means of experiment and entertainment.
Consider even, a Christin being served a hot meal, and after finishing being informed that they were just served their brother or sister in Christ, or even their own child.
These things are reality, and they are happening today- right now- to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
But the amazing part...the miraculous part...is that in these countries, among the persecuted church, droves of people are being saved. And just like Paul, they find it an honor to be persecuted for the name of Christ.
In these countries the Holy Spirit is moving in real and undeniable ways.
It has been calculated through testimony and in-country sources, that in the Middle East 70% of Muslims who are converting to Christianity- risking their lives to claim the name of Christ- are doing so through dreams and visions.
Just as Stephen before he was martyred, men and women (many never before hearing of Christ) are seeing the heavens open up, and they are having real encounters with Jesus.
A woman named Darcie spoke about some of her experiences going into these closed countries and encouraging the persecuted church. She opened by giving a few moments for us to ask ourselves if these churches are growing because of the persecution, and if we, in America, are seeing a lack of genuine growth because of our lack of physical persecution. Her response was this:
Persecution is not the good thing that causes the church to multiply. Freedom is not the bad thing that hinders the church from multiplying. It is our response to persecution and our response to freedom that causes growth.
You see, in the United States, our perception of blessing has been skewed over time. In our comfortable churches we see blessing as a roof over our heads, never going hungry, a job, a car, having our needs met.
The difference between us and the persecuted church- the multiplying church- is that they find their definition of blessing straight from the Word they are dying for.
I will leave you with a passage, that if you have been a believer for any significant amount of time, you have probably read repeatedly. In fact, I would guess that many of you may have it memorized.
I ask that as you read this scripture, taking into account the information you have just read, that you would write these words on your heart. Wrap your mind around what they really mean. And carry them with you.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.