"Pastor Nadarkhani has done nothing more than maintain his devout faith, which is a universal right for all people," the statement released by the White House read. "That the Iranian authorities would try to force him to renounce that faith violates the religious values they claim to defend, crosses all bounds of decency, and breaches Iran's own international obligations. A decision to impose the death penalty would further demonstrate the Iranian authorities' utter disregard for religious freedom, and highlight Iran's continuing violation of the universal rights of its citizens. We call upon the Iranian authorities to release Pastor Nadarkhani, and demonstrate a commitment to basic, universal human rights, including freedom of religion."
Nadarkhani is currently the most notorious Christian facing hate-driven persecution, but he is not the only one. Worldwide, brothers and sisters in Christ die for their faith every day! They risk their lives, their families and their homes, yet cling to their convictions. They gather for worship in spite of death threats. They share their faith, knowing it may cost them everything. Four times, Nadarkhani has been pressured to renounce his faith. Four times he defended the cross of Jesus Christ and refused to deny God's saving power in his life.
Could you do it? Would you do it? Christians who live in the “land of the free and the home of the brave” cave under far less duress. Why, we won't say God bless you if somebody sneezes for fear it's not politically correct. Employers at certain retail stores will forbid staff to wish customers Merry Christmas in the days ahead lest some shopper complains. And choose to go to church on Sunday morning? Half of those who profess Christianity won't darken the doors. Not because there is threat to life and limb. Inconvenience or indifference is usually the excuse non-persecuted believers use, as humorously depicted in the following announcement:
To make it possible for everyone to attend church this Sunday, we are going to have a special "No Excuse Sunday": Cots will be placed in the foyer for those who say, "Sunday is my only day to sleep in." There will be a special section with lounge chairs for those who feel that our pews are too hard. Eye drops will be available for those with tired eyes from watching TV late Saturday night. We will have steel helmets for those who say, "The roof would cave in if I ever came to church." Blankets will be furnished for those who think the church is too cold, and fans for those who say it is too hot. Scorecards will be available for those who wish to list the hypocrites present. Relatives and friends will be in attendance for those who can't go to church and cook dinner, too. We will distribute "Stamp Out Stewardship" buttons for those that feel the church is always asking for money. One section will be devoted to trees and grass for those who like to seek God in nature. Doctors and nurses will be in attendance for those who plan to be sick on Sunday. The sanctuary will be decorated with both Christmas poinsettias and Easter lilies for those who never have seen the church without them. We will provide hearing aids for those who can't hear the preacher and cotton wool for those who think he's too loud! Hope to see you there!
The ludicrous hoops the church must jump through to awaken its slumbering body is truly insane! People are dying to know Jesus across this planet and walk for miles to hear the Word preached! People are dying to defend their faith and smuggle the Word in scraps of paper past guarded borders to impart the Truth! People are dying while sharing the message of the cross with hungry, searching souls and count it all loss except for knowing Christ! And we can't get our behinds out of bed into a padded pew for a couple of hours once a week to just let God know we give a hoot! We won't leave our comfortable homes, get in our climate-controlled cars and enter a chapel to worship the One who made every stick and brick and every tire and tank and every steeple and stained glass window possible in our safe, little neighborhoods.
What will it take to awaken our souls? Must we be faced with death that we might express devotion. Though my heart aches for those who endure such abuse for the cause of Christ, I have to wonder if they aren't far and ahead more blessed and more fulfilled than me on any given day I live. For they are closer to God in their trial than I will ever be in tranquility. They are in the company of the saints and martyrs like Stephen, who “full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:55)
Lord, forgive our complacency. Forgive our selfish, misplaced priorities. God help us to risk it all for Your sake and fall before You in worship! May we care enough to gather and praise, to go and tell, to never deny you no matter the risk. God save us from ourselves and awaken our souls.
A good place to wake up is in the Lord's house. Don't wait until your freedom to worship is threatened. Worship now!