Summary: We should pray for those around the world who are persecuted for their faith.
"I Saw The Tears of The Oppressed..."
When we woke up this morning we made a decision that we were going to go to church. Our decision was based upon ruling out the other options that presented themselves to us. Some of us struggled with whether or not to sleep in since it has been a long week, a grueling week. Others of us struggled with whether or not to work in the yard or get some things done around the house. Still others of us had to decide if we were going to go to worship or attend a function going on in some other part of the city or state. There is one thing that none of us had to struggle with that many of our brothers and sisters around the world had to confront: "What will happen to me or my family if I am found worshipping Jesus my Savior?"
Today, we are taking a break from our study of the book of Colossians so that we can pray for the oppressed Christians around the world. Today, on this National Day of Prayer for Persecuted Christians Sunday, you and I are joining with approximately 150,000 churches in 121 countries around the world in seeking God's strength and protection for those who are risking their lives for the sake of the Gospel. You may be thinking to yourself, "What oppressed Christians around world? I thought all of that suffering for Jesus stuff was over when the final book of the Bible was written." You are not alone in thinking that oppression is a thing of the past. Tragically, many of our nation's spiritual leaders are not convinced that persecution is even taking place today. One year ago, a Washington staffer for the National Council of Churches, Albert Pennybacker, denied that a problem even exists. He said, "I wouldn't say persecution is raging around the world." (The Tennessean, September 28, 1996) In testimony before a House Subcommittee meeting, he has also stated, "What may appear as persecution and indeed resistance may in fact be the wish to preserve authentic religious and cultural traditions." Victor Hsu, another National Council of Churches staffer, said that religious persecution in China was simply the "overzealousness of local cadres." It is not difficult to understand why these spiritual leaders are making such statements when you consider that they live in a land where they are free to attend worship, pray in public, and read their Bible at will.
Those who are living in foreign lands where persecution is raging will paint for you a very different picture, a bloody picture of torture, rape, murder, and oppression that the world has not known. David Barrett has written in The International Bulletin of Missionary Research that "more than an estimated 160,000 believers were martyred in 1996, and countless others were subjected to unimaginable horrors. And the persecution appears to be escalating exponentially." (David C. Barrett, "Annual Statistical Table on Global Mission: 1997 "International Bulletin of Missionary Research." January 1997, p. 25.) Also, members of Congress, hardly considered a biased Christian group, are becoming alarmed about reports of brutality and murder on foreign soil. A House resolution passed the fourth week of September 1996, stated that more Christians have been martyred in the 20th century than in the past nineteen centuries combined. The draft of the resolution also noted that China's Communist leaders have called underground evangelical and Catholic congregations "a principal threat to political stability."
In light of such evidence, how it is that so many American Christians are so apathetic and nonchalant about those who are dying on a daily basis for the cause of Christ? I am convinced that there are a number of reasons: First, you and I have been unaware to a large degree because we live in such comfort and freedom. Second, there are many that simply don't believe that such a thing could be taking place in the twentieth century. Lastly, there are simply those who do not care. As long as they are doing fine then all is well. I have a feeling that for most of us here this morning we would fall into the first category. I will assure you that if you will prayerfully listen to what the Lord has laid on my heart to share with you today, you will be broken to the depths of your being and this brokenness will lead to change in your life and mine.
I want us to read God's Word before we get started so won't you turn with me to Ecclesiastes 4:1.
Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed-- and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors-- and they have no comforter. (Eccl 4:1 NIV)