When Is A Prison Not A Prison? When There’s A Christian Inside Of It

Rembrandt_st__peter_in_prisionWhen preachers exposit the story of Joseph they often aptly title their messages something like “From the Prison to the Palace.”

But when we look at the testimonies of imprisoned believers we find that the palace fashioned from prison walls is almost preferable to the palace built by human hands.

Perpetua

The reality is that at first, prison seemed like a terrible place to the famous martyr from the third century.  She spoke openly of being terrified and being overwhelmed by the gloomy darkness. Admittedly she had other concerns, such as her nursing, infant son.  But later Perpetua said,

Once my distress and concern for my child had eased up, I recovered my health right away.  All of a sudden the prison become like a palace to me.  I wanted to be there more than anywhere else! (Early Christian Martyr Stories, 94).

Mr. Bae – These are the Generations

Mr. Bae also recognized the unpleasant nature of prison, and you can watch this short video where he describes the difficulties of physical suffering.

But he had a similar conclusion to Perpetua.  He said,

In prison, even amidst the torture and unspeakable deprivations, there is seemingly endless time to pray, as the days slip by into months and years. You can remember the story of your life and repent of your sins.  You can sing the hymns of faith and recite the Scriptures of the Bible in your head.  And you can experience Christ’s visitation and grace in so many ways.

Rev. Richard Wurmbrand

After Rev. Wurmbrand had been released from prison, he wrote

The tortures were sometimes horrible.  I prefer not to speak too much about those through which I have passed; it is too painful.  When I do, I cannot sleep at night. (Tortured for Christ, 34)

And yet he also wrote,

When I look back on my fourteen years in prison, it was occasionally a very happy time.  Other prisoners and even the guards very often wondered at how happy Christians could be under the most terrible circumstances.  Christians in prison danced for joy.  How could they be so happy under tragic conditions? (Tortured for Christ, 57).

Tertullian – Prison Theology

Tertullian wrote a prison theology of sorts to encourage imprisoned believers.  It is believed by many that he wrote to Perpetua and her fellow Christians awaiting execution.  Tertullian fully admitted that prison was an unpleasant place, even to Christians.  But he also compared prison to what the “desert used to provide to the prophets.”  He said,

The Lord himself often went to a remote place so he could pray without interruption and withdraw from public life.  So let’s drop the name “prison” and start calling it a spiritual retreat.  Though your body is shut inside a building and your flesh is restrained, the whole world is open to your spirit (Early Christian Martyr Stories, 113).

Tertullian went a step further and called for imprisoned Christians to consider the prison a sanctuary.  He said,

Yes, it’s dark in jail – but you are the light.  You may be in chains, yet you’re free before God.  Though the place exudes a foul stench, you are a sweet odor there.  In prison you may await the judge, but the reality is, you will pass sentence on those very judges. (Early Christian Martyr Stories, 113).

In all of these stories, there is no attempt to hide the atrocities and horrors of being imprisoned for faith in Jesus.  And yet at the same time, there is a strong theme of God’s presence not only making the prison bearable, but also a place of prosperity and joy.

As we read stories about North Korean Christians being killed for their faith and Christians being imprisoned and beheaded by ISIS, we will do well to remember that as terrible as prison can be, it can also be a place of worship (like a sanctuary), spiritual growth (like the desert), and a place where the presence of God reigns (like a palace).

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Three Religious Leaders, Three Very Different Words In Response To Persecution

Logo 071414Recognizing that how we speak as Christians matters profoundly–we serve a living Word–let’s give some thought to three very different words in response to persecution from three very different religious leaders:

1. Archbishop Bashar Warda, Catholic Chaldean Church in Kurdistan, speaking on the situation of the decimation of the Christian population of Iraq.

We don’t have much time left as Christians in this region… As a Catholic I find it hard to say, but I want military action, there is no other way now.

2. Mordecai, a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, who had been carried into exile from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, speaking to Esther on the event of the discovery of a plot by Haman the Agagite to exterminate the Jewish population.

The fact is, even if you remain silent now, someone else will help and rescue the Jews, but you and your relatives will die.

3. Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, issuing a statement on the ISIS execution of  21 Coptic Christians in Libya.

While it may seem illogical or incomprehensible, we also pray for those who have carried out these horrific crimes, that the value of God’s creation and human life may become more evident to them, and in this realisation, that the wider effects of pain brought by this and other acts of brutality may be realised and avoided….
In the midst of this sorrow however, we must continue to dig deeper for the joy that comes from an understanding that this life is but a “vapour that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14), and that true glory and joy are found in an eternal life prepared for all those who live in and for love and peace.
It is only through this understanding that we can continue to live according to the words of 1 Peter 3:15 as demonstrated in the life and witness of the Coptic Church and her children over centuries, “…always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you…”

Posted in Forgiving and Reconciling, Healing and Comforting, Making Disciples, persecution | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s Not A Platitude To Say That Prayer Is Key For North Korean Ministry

2014-12-06_18-150-0301_UU_Graduation_Ceremony_02Post by Pastor Tim – We asked many of you to pray for our first Underground University class of the year.  Here is what I e-mailed many of you,

I am on my way to Korea for the start of Underground University and Underground Technology.  Please pray for all of the new students this year.  Becoming a part of these programs is a huge undertaking of faith for them and along the way they experience the attack of the enemy – join with me in covering our brothers and sisters in prayer!

Please know that when we ask you to pray for something . . . it is not simply an obligatory, token North Korea prayer request. We ask for prayer . . . because it is something extremely important about which we know we need our brothers and sisters all over the world to pray. 

We saw this need so clearly on Saturday with two of our students.  One of our younger students was corrected during the class by an older student. But this younger UU student was terribly hurt and offended–so much so that she basically told us she was leaving UU. She couldn’t bear the shame and humiliation of being corrected by this older lady.

Do you understand what happened?  Before we’d even finished the first class, one of our students was ready to give up her missionary training.  A well-placed attack from the enemy had already beaten her up and left her feeling useless, hurt and shamed.  She was ready to throw in the towel.

Because of the disturbing background that defectors have, they are often much more emotionally sensitive than you or I might be, and they possess next to no skills for dealing with conflict. They almost always respond to conflict with anger and shouting.  And, as in the case of the younger UU student, they would rather run away, than respond to conflict in a Scriptural manner.

That’s why we ask you to pray. Because every week, we deal with students who are ready to give up, even though they have a strong calling to go into the ministry.

So, what happened on Saturday?

We were able to meet with both women. We helped the younger woman understand that God was using this experience to grow her.  If she simply ran away from UU, then God wouldn’t be able to teach her what she needed to learn.  We also helped her to understand that this was an attack from the enemy, in other words, she shouldn’t look to blame the other woman but understand that spiritual forces are at work.

We also helped her to understand that instead of only complaining to us, she need to humbly share her feelings with the older UU student who offended her.  Admittedly, this could be a little problematic, because it would not be far-fetched to envision a shouting match between these two ladies in the middle of our UU day. But when she shared her feelings with the older woman, the older woman humbly asked for her forgiveness.

Maybe it doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it’s a huge deal in NK ministry.  The Lord was at work in the heart of the older woman even before the younger woman approached her. Why?  Because the Lord is sovereign? Yes. And because we helped the younger woman to respond to conflict in a Biblical manner? Yes. But also because faithful men and women were praying for brand new UU students who were beginning their missionary training last week . . .

Posted in Forgiving and Reconciling, North Korea | Tagged , , | 7 Comments