Scripture text for Wednesday, April 14th, 2010: Acts 6:8-8:8
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“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria . . .Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” Acts 8:1 and 4
Chapters 6 and 7 of Acts describe Stephen, the first Christian martyr, to us. He was “a man full of God’s grace and power” and “did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people,” (Acts 6: 8). Men tried to argue with him, but “they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke,” (6:10). Stephen was a mighty Christian force empowered by the Holy Spirit!! One might wonder why God allowed this Spirit-filled man to be slandered and put in the hands of His enemies to die an early death.
Verses 1 and 4 of chapter 8 tell all: persecution caused the believers to scatter and the Good News scattered with them! They “preached the word wherever they went” (verse 4). Persecution pushed the believers out of Jerusalem and out of their comfort zones. Persecution brought the Good News of Jesus to Judea and Samaria, thereby fulfilling the second part of Jesus’ command in Acts 1:8. Persecution grows the Kingdom! It causes the spread of the Gospel, and it grows believers up in Christ.
We know little of persecution in this country as we freely gather together for worship and Bible study, as we even own Bibles. Yet, millions of Christians in more than 40 nations face persecution in their daily lives. I think of the Indian pastors and believers I recently read about in the latest Voice of the Martyrs news magazine (April 2010). One pastor, after being attacked, has been “emboldened” and shares the Gospel with a minimum of three families in his region after he gets off work. “In two years, he has personally witnessed to 3,000 people, all Hindus. Now he is a pastor of a church with 150 members, all formerly Hindus.” Praise the Lord! Another pastor was “dragged nearly a mile to the police station while the radicals beat him with sticks.” He was hurt, yet he became more excited about Christ and exclaimed, “Such persecution increases faith.” Indian Christians know that persecution is a blessing.
For a while, after reading Tortured for Christ, I struggled with “why am I so blessed to be an American and not facing severe persecution?” This stressed me out for weeks. I finally found peace when I understood that God uses persecution for His Kingdom and His glory, yet it is not what He wants for His children. God wants us, who do not endure persecution, to “remember those in bonds as if bound with them” (Hebrews 13:3). We should remember them through prayer and giving. If the whole body of Christ were persecuted, we would be in a dire state, but we are not. Since we are not, we have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters who are. They are as much our Christian family as we are to each other here at Riverside. They need us. We can write letters to them (www.Prisoneralert.com). We can send Bibles to them (through Bibles Unbound, a ministry of Voice of the Martyrs). We can give in many ways to support them (through Voice of the Martyrs and Open Doors to name a couple). They need us to help when possible, but most of all they need our prayers. Will you join in me in standing in the gap for our hurting brothers and sisters around the world?
O Lord, please help the hurting, displaced, endangered and imprisoned Christians around the world. Provide for their every need according to love and abundance.
Devotion prepared by Diane Kelley