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Saturday, August 09, 2014


Last night I went for a walk.  This is not ground breaking news!  But it was a ground breaking time.

I went to one of my favourite places.  I love it, because when I'm there I don't feel like I'm in the middle of a city...I feel like I'm in the middle of nowhere.  I love that no matter how many times I go there, I spot something different each time.  I love that it changes and looks so different in different seasons.  I love that it's so peaceful.  I love that I can walk for over an hour without seeing anyone else.  I love that I can hear birds instead of cars.  I love that I can get some space from a busy and pressured day and use that time and space to reflect, to pray, to just let my mind wander.

Last night, my mind wandered to Iraq.  It should have wandered there long before.  But if I'm honest, I hadn't let it.  

But as I'm walking round such a peaceful place, thanking God for it and enjoying it, I'm struck by how stark a contrast this is to what people in Iraq are seeing and experiencing.  People who, by nature of their faith and membership of the global church, are my brothers and sisters.  People who, regardless of their faith and worldview, are fellow human beings.

I've seen some horrific photos this week.  Gruesome, graphic, haunting.  I don't want to share them on Facebook, I don't want to see them ever again, I don't want to accept that they're real.  

In the context of a country which proclaims its democracy, is remembering WW1 and is proud to have learned lessons it can be hard to accept that such situations are really happening.

And so as I'm walking around in the evening sun enjoying some peace and quiet, I think, "Shame on me".  Shame on me for the times when I am scared to 'admit' (as if it's something to be ashamed of) that I'm a Christian because what? Because someone might tease me?  Because they might think I'm stupid?  Because people I like might ostracise me?  Shame on me for not acknowledging the news, for offering half hearted prayers.  There is an extent to which, simply to survive and avoid spending our days in a curled up ball of sobbing mess, we need to carry on as normal.  But we need to balance this against an awareness of what is happening beyond our little bubble.

People are dying.  They're not 'just' dying - they're being slaughtered.  Worse, I think, they are being forced to witness the brutal murder of their friends, family members - CHILDREN - because they are holding fast to the name of Christ.  Or because they simply will not lie by proclaiming the viewpoints of a religion they do not accept.

What would I do?

If I was forced from my home and stripped of my possessions.  If I had a gun at my head or a knife at my throat and I was asked to renounce my faith - what would I do?  If, worse, the weapon was hovering over a loved one - what would I do?

I do not welcome persecution and I wholeheartedly pray against it and for protection from it.  This is right.  But I must accept the possibility.  

Because, if I am not prepared to stand firm in my faith in those circumstances - then I may as well give it up now.  I didn't become a Christian because it is a nice way of life, because it helps me have good morals, because it opens up a new social group.  I became a Christian for no other reason than the fact that I recognise Jesus Christ as a real person in history who is also God, who died to save me from the sin I so clearly know is inherent in me, and who promises not only forgiveness, but an eternity with Him.  I became a Christian, and I remain a Christian, because I know and experience even in the hardest of times that life lived for and with Jesus is life lived to its absolute fullest (even though that's often not how it may seem).  

In fact, I became and remain a Christian purely by His grace - not by anything I do.

If God is who the Bible proclaims Him to be, and if He is who I've experienced in my life, then following Him is not dependent on circumstance.  It's dependent on who He is.  And if my circumstances don't change who He is...then my response should remain the same.  

And if He's not worth following in the face of intense persecution, then He's not worth following at all.

My dear brothers and sisters in Iraq know this in a deeper and more intense and frightening way than I have ever experienced - and still I pray I never will.  But I pray with all my might that if I ever do - I will have the courage and grace to stand.

And so as I'm walking, I'm also weeping.  I'm praying with words that are insufficient and sentences that are incomplete. 

"The Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express."

I pray for deliverance for all who are suffering in Iraq and across the world (because, heartbreakingly, this may be the most extreme case but it's certainly not the only instance of persecution worldwide).  I pray that evil will be stopped.  I pray that if people are tortured or killed that by some extra special miraculous gift of grace they would not feel intense pain - especially children.  I pray that they would be given grace, and courage, and be reminded of the joyful, pain free eternity which awaits them.  I pray that they would keep their eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of their faith.  I pray that they might even have the courage to love their enemies.  

And I pray that we British Christians would do the same.  I pray that we would be moved and stirred with compassion.  I pray that we would pray.

I pray that my sovereign God would move in works of definitive power at the right time to demonstrate His might and bring an end to injustice, pain, persecution, suffering and evil.  I give thanks that one day, one glorious day, there will be a new heavens and a new earth.  

I pray, then, that Jesus would return. And that until He does, He would enable us to stand firm.  And that, until He does, our gracious God would continue to have mercy and might even continue to save a people capable of such atrocity - and those who are not.


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