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Thursday, April 25, 2013

"Remember my chains."

"For you have been given not only the privilege
of trusting in Christ,
but also the privilege of suffering for Him."
   (Philippians 1:29)

 The Apostle Paul admonished the church in Colossians 4:18 to "Remember my chains."
 Persecution, hardships, distress and intense suffering characterized the life and ministry of Paul. Most of his epistles were written during his dark times of suffering in a lonely Roman prison cell, at times chained to the guard as he wrote.
 Paul understood what Jesus meant when he explained the cost of discipleship as "Taking up the cross daily to follow him."
 In his letter to the church at Philipi, Paul explained to believers the way of the Christian life by saying, "For you have not only been given the privilege of trusting Christ, but also the privilege of suffering for Him." (Philippians 1:29)
 All over the world, Christians are enduring intense persecution in the crucible of suffering for their faith in Jesus. 
One such example is Iranian Christian Pastor, Saeed Abedini. During a ministry trip to build orphanages in Iran in 2012, Saeed was arrested by the Revolutionary guard.
His crime? According to the Iranian government, Saeed was guilty of associating with the house churches and acting against security. Translation: Leaving Islam and converting to Christianity. In Iran, if a Muslim leaves Islam and converts to any other religion, he or she is guilty of committing the sin of apostasy and is subject to death by hanging. There is no real freedom of religion in Iran, especially if a Muslim turns from Mohammed to embrace Christ.
 The court sentenced Saeed to 8 years in Evin Prison, one of Iran's most brutal prisons where prisoners are subjected to beatings and torture on a daily basis.
Since his imprisonment, Saeed has endured brutal torture and beatings aimed at getting him to recant his faith and return to Islam. The beatings have been so severe that it has cause internal bleeding, a severe medical condition, that has gone untreated for several months.
On Sunday, May 19, A special, "national day of prayer" will be observed for Saeed and all other Christians around the world who are suffering for their faith. Naghmeh, Saeed's beautiful wife, has been busy texting and tweeting the event on Facebook and twitter. She is urging churches to come together in a time of prayer for her husband and the persecuted church. It is a special occasion to "remember the chains and sufferings" of Christians who are the front lines for their faith in countries that are hostile to Christianity.
 In a letter, smuggled out of Evin prison, Saeed writes a powerful message to the church on how to deal with the poison of unforgiveness. As he faces continuous beatings every day with no prospect of adequate medical care, instead of being bitter and angry, Saeed chooses to respond in forgiveness.
He writes, "When we forgive, we become free and we become messengers of peace and reconciliation and goodness.
 And in this dark and evil time, we can live full of love and full of peace and full of joy and shine like the stars."
Saeed refuses to hate and instead explains that he has forgiven the doctor that didn't treat him and the interrogators who continue to torture and beat him. Instead of revolting, he forgives, just like his Lord and master Jesus, who prayed for his executioners while hanging on a wooden cross and dying for our sins.
In the midst of hatred and brutality, Saeed has been a true example of Christ-like love by overcoming. He has overcame the hatred and insults, responding with love and forgiveness, just like Jesus did.
Jeremy Camp wrote an incredible worship song entitled, "Overcome."
Just two weeks before he left for Iran, Saeed recalled how this powerful song with its lyrics  and meaning, had drove him to tears, as he reflected on how Jesus overcame death and sin for us.
The chorus of the song glorifies the majesty and worth of Christ in what he endured and suffered to provide a perfect salvation.
 "Savior, worthy of honor and glory, worthy of all of our praise. You overcame.
 Jesus, awesome in power forever, awesome and great is your name. You overcame.

 We will overcome, by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony.
 Everyone overcome."
 As I reflect on these incredible lyrics, rich and meaning and praise, I find myself like Saeed, worshiping in tears and praising Jesus for the victory that he won for each one of us.
 In the midst of tremendous suffering and pain, Saeed, like Jesus, has overcome. He has overcome by the blood of the precious lamb and by the powerful word of his testimony. He has filled Evin Prison with the blazing light of the glory of Christ, overcoming all of the darkness and hatred. Saeed reminds us in a very powerful way that each of us is called to suffer for Christ and in our individual sufferings, we can light up the world with a flame of glory, shining into the darkness of evil.
 On Sunday, May 19, let us pause and remember Saeed's chains, and in doing that, we are also remembering the millions of other chains of suffering Christians all over the world.
"Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies."
       (Hebrews 13:3)