Monday, May 25, 2009

‘.. with persecutions 2’

Part 1 focused on how we need God’s perspective on life’s whole picture. We need to see what and how God sees: the overall view first and then the details. Often we do not see the forest for the trees; we get lost, hung up on the details and miss the whole point. Life seems a mysterious puzzle without any picture on the box. We grope about, trying to connect pieces that won’t fit, sometimes not even sure they belong to our picture! That’s what happened to Eve in the Garden. She got distracted, took her eyes off the centre Tree and lost her focus. Ever since, nothing really fit, but man has been still trying to pick up the pieces. We’ve been eating from the other Tree: out of focus, off balance, blurry-eyed, never satisfied and never able to come to the knowledge of the whole until…
Jesus Christ came and restored the Tree of Life!
In His Light, we can now discern what the enemy means for evil, and work with God to turn it rather for good. When we are ‘looking unto Jesus’, everything else comes into focus and finds its true, full image. Everything must ultimately find its place in Him: either in glory or judgment. When exposed, it must be either changed or consumed, developed or destroyed.
Reveal your whole picture, Lord: a forest of Trees of Life, your kingdom filling us and all the earth!

We can be confident that whatever is centred on Jesus will stand. He builds His Church securely, but not always comfortably, on the Rock. The only Foundation that will stand forever was laid at The Cross: Jesus Christ and Him crucified, who He is and what He has done. True apostles and prophets testify to this alone, build according to His true plumbline (The Word) and do not stray from His clear testimony (The Spirit). Anything more or less will be exposed as such when testing comes and the fires of suffering and persecution reveal the building’s true nature. Wood, hay and stubble are consumed; gold, silver and living stones manifest His Temple’s glory. Wise masterbuilders build accordingly. They do not fear or deny the tests, sufferings and persecutions which come. They welcome them as bringing the whole picture into clearer testimony, touching others, even entire nations, for the faith. True apostles with such vision are rare these days.

But we had such a man stay with us in our home about 20 years ago: a true apostle, not an ego-tripping, looking-for-position-to-validate-his-identity-wannabe. Prem Pradhan was the real thing and having him in our church and home felt like having the Apostle Paul right with us. Prem came from Nepal, a strictly Hindu-Buddhist kingdom tucked in the Himalaya Mountains between India and China. A generation ago, Nepal had no known Christians. Prem served in the Indian army during WWII with the British Air Force and was shot down and wounded. He walked with a noticeable limp from that injury for the rest of his life. In early 1950’s northern India, Prem, about 30 years old, heard a disciple of Bakht Singh proclaim, “It is appointed unto man once to die, and after that the judgment.” (Heb 9:27) It was a strange message for his Hindu understanding and he wondered how he could avoid that judgment. He asked the street preacher, who then challenged him to read the New Testament – 6 times! Prem did. During his reading, he gave his life to Jesus and God called him to go back to his country and preach the gospel that had saved him. Like Moses, Prem at first objected.
“I am a cripple,” he argued, “how can I walk up and down mountains?
And I don’t know all the different languages to reach all those isolated villages!
I can’t hike and I can’t speak. Call someone else.” But God would not relent.

One more problem: in Nepal at that time, it was illegal to not only preach, but merely to be a Christian! An automatic 1-year prison sentence if a person changed religions, especially if they became Christian. For the more extreme: 3 yrs in jail for preaching, 6 if you were caught baptizing converts! Sure enough, after he returned to his country, it only took a short time and Prem was in trouble with the authorities. A paralyzed woman was healed when Prem prayed for her and the miracle so stirred the town that many turned to Christ, even the local Buddhist lama! Prem wrote and invited the local authorities to the new believers’ open baptism. “Jesus suffered openly for us,” he taught. “We must be willing to suffer openly for Him.” The enraged authorities arrested the believers and threw Prem in jail. But they murdered the lama.
Prem languished in a dungeon of death. No ventilation in summer, no heat in winter. Sanitation facilities were non-existent, biting insects everywhere! Rehabilitation was not the goal of Nepalese jails. Prisoners were given bare survival rations of only one cup of rice per day to cook over their own little fires. Without help from relatives, many soon died.
He had done no harm; he was there just for who he was!

Prem was discouraged. “Lord, you saved me with a purpose: to preach the gospel to my nation. How can I do this when I’m stuck here in this filthy prison?” He first saw only filthy prisoners, but as he looked around, he noted that many were from outside his local area. He saw that the Lord had brought his mountain mission field to him! One by one, he started to minister to them naturally and spiritually, showing Christ’s love in this inside-the-prison Training Centre and one by one, he led them to Jesus. Eventually, on their release, they returned to their homes filled with Christ, shared their new faith and love with their families and friends, and started churches in their villages. God’s plan for evangelizing Nepal was different from what Prem had first envisioned: prison ministry with a twist! Soon churches began to spring up over the entire nation, more quickly and effectively than Prem could have ever done in his own way!
Then Satan’s persecution tactics changed. The prison warden grew very angry with Prem.
“Prem,” he said, “you must stop sharing your faith. After all, that’s why you’re here in prison! You must obey me!”
Prem responded like the early apostles: “I must first obey God in my life, in prison or out.”
The warden gave up in frustration and moved Prem to another prison. Prem saw the hand of God in this too: he had already finished evangelizing this prison; he was now ready for a new field to sow more gospel seed in other needy hearts!
Between 1960 and 1975, Prem spent 10 years in 14 different prisons!
Once his sentence was 20,000 days – 54 years! and his release came only when Western friends intervened and paid a ransom of 1 rupee per day, equivalent to $2000.

The only charge they could find against Prem was being a Christian. I wonder: if you were arrested for being a Christian, would the authorities find enough evidence to convict you?

At one point, Maoist political prisoners overcame the guards and ran for freedom. The gates were open, everyone was running and Prem found himself also running with them, caught up in the excitement. However, when he reached the gate, an invisible wall suddenly prevented him from running further.
He heard Holy Spirit say, “If you cross through that gate and run for your freedom, you will have to keep running all the way to India and you will never be able to return to your country. Then you will never be free to fulfill your destiny and my call on your life.”
Prem stopped immediately, transfixed at an invisible line, unable to move.
Other prisoners rushed past him, shouting, ‘Come! This is our chance!’
But Prem stood there.
Still others shouted, “Hurry, Prem! Don’t lose this opportunity. Be free! Don’t be a fool!”
Incredibly, he remained standing. All the others escaped and within a few minutes, army reinforcements arrived to restore order. All the prisoners were gone, except one: Prem. The soldiers stared at their lone prisoner, standing in the courtyard all by himself, freedom’s gate still open before him.
“Why are you still here?” they wondered in amazement. “Why didn’t you go with the others when you had your chance?”
Prem replied, “Do you really want to know?”
Little did they know what they were in for when they responded, “Yes, why?” and Prem proceeded to share Christ with them all. He had earned the right to share ‘the reason for the hope that was in him’ and now also reaped the harvest.

God eventually opened many doors for this man who would not just run through any.
He knew that when God opened a door, no man could shut it, but when man tries to open what God has shut, his efforts are in vain. During different interludes between prison sentences, Prem returned to his home village, where he continued sharing his faith and love for Jesus. Problems plagued Nepal: sickness, poverty and ignorance were rife and the traditional Hindu-Buddhist religions were unable to bring healing, life or light. The Light of Christ shone in thick darkness, and many were touched, even without their full understanding.
His village Hindu + Buddhist leaders could not agree on their local government council; the two sides were always fighting. So rather than choose a leader from either camp whom neither could trust, they asked Prem the Christian to serve as their mayor! They knew they could trust Prem. God has an ironic sense of humour: an illegal Christian became mayor of a Hindu/Buddhist town! God’s favour shone through Prem and he served in this capacity for many years, also founding orphanages and schools to care for his people. Even the King of Nepal heard of his humanitarian and educational work and presented him with a special Social Service Medal of Honour!

However, others became envious and conspired all the more against Prem. He found himself again in prison, under the watch of a very evil warden who hated him with a passion. He determined to do away with Prem and put him in an unimaginably horrible situation: a dungeon filled with prisoners’ dead bodies awaiting their families’ retrieval for cremation. No room to stand up or lie down, no food, no water, no light, but lots of lice! Chained hand and foot, in complete darkness with only the company of rats and disease-infested, rotting corpses! Imagine being in such a hell-hole! He survived only by scraping what little moisture he could from the dank walls and bread crumbs that other prisoners generously snuck through the cracks between the massive door and stone floor. Days passed into weeks, but Prem’s courage grew. When he closed his eyes, he could envision pages of his Nepali New Testament. That’s how he read and prayed.
One day the guard outside heard him praying out loud.
“Who are you talking to?” the guard asked.
“Jesus,” Prem replied.
“I’m on guard. No one gets by me! How’d he get in there?”
“Well, He’s here.”
The guard opened the door and shined in his light.’ “I don’t see Jesus,” he said.
“You won’t find Him that way,” Prem said. “Let me tell you how you can find Him.”
The guard squatted on the threshold and Prem led him to the Lord.

Weeks passed in this chamber and eventually Prem despaired for his life. He could not see how God would call him to preach to his nation, but have it end in this dungeon of death. It seemed all hope was gone and both the natural and spiritual darkness were overwhelming him. But just when Prem was at the end of his rope, suddenly a supernatural light appeared on the wall:
a glowing Cross radiated Christ’s presence, power and life.
Prem heard His Saviour’s voice, “Don’t be afraid, Prem! Don’t lose hope! You will preach the gospel in your own nation, and beyond, to other nations around the world!”
Shortly thereafter, the warden opened the door, fully expecting to find only Prem’s collapsed, wasted corpse. However, to his complete amazement, Prem walked out of the darkness and stood before him: a testimony of perfect health!
“But… how can this be?” he stammered. “I threw you among all those rotting bodies, without food or water for all these days, and now, rather than dead, you look more alive than when I threw you in! How can this be?”
“Do you really want to know?” Prem coolly replied.

About 10 years ago, we heard that Prem went home to be with Jesus. He fought the good fight, ran his course and passed the baton to his Timothy, Sundar Thapa. Sundar, who now leads this growing fellowship of over 400 churches, a Bible Training Centre, schools and orphanages, has also visited us since. Nepal has gone through revolution: both political and spiritual. One of their princes massacred 10 of his own royal family a few years ago, sending shock waves through a once invincible traditional ruling hierarchy. Today, Maoist communists control a parliament trying to govern a bitterly divided nation. The traditional religions have lost much of their respect and control, but Christ’s Church has multiplied throughout the land. Where there were once no known Christians 60 years ago, now hundreds of thousands (some estimate up to 1 million!) follow Christ and fill the streets of Kathmandu in Jesus Marches, witnessing and proclaiming the gospel!

How can this be? In such a short time!
We in the West find it difficult to recognize, let alone, experience true revival.
The Western Church is caught in a snare of competing forms, programs and experiences, enticed by distractions, building our own ministries, churches and kingdoms to the detriment of His. Self-centred materialism, entertainment, endtimes fallacies, politics and other fleshly pursuits have taken our focus off Jesus.
We have lost His power to do what He has called us to do because we are no longer what He has called us to be! We have chosen to go to church rather than be it!
We’ve read and interpreted the Scripture according to our own comfort zones, taken the popular parts like ‘they overcame by the blood + word of testimony’ but deleted the equally important ‘loved not their lives to the death’.
We’ve cut out the uncomfortable parts like ‘suffering’ and ‘with persecutions’ because our self-centred focus does not comprehend ‘for my sake and the gospel’.
Our Western church has lived off a legacy from previous generations, but the time has come for our generation to ‘fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ’ (Col 1:24).
We don’t have to pray for persecution: live truly godly and persecution will come.
The emerging 3rd World Church does not need what we have; we need who they are!
We’ve been spoiled! We need to return to our roots in the simplicity of Christ. (2Cor 11:3-4)
We need to repent of our fabrications of new, improved gospels; they are nothing more than hyped-up manipulations!
The true gospel is simple and it works! Christ died, buried, resurrected, seated on the throne, ruling and reigning NOW! His kingdom filling the earth…first to hungry and thirsty individuals, then to the fields around us….multitudes!

I sense the frustration and questions out there: you are tired of old forms, regurgitated Old Testament theology dressed in empty New Testament terms, programs lacking the life and power of the Living God!
How did we ever get so far away from that simple experience of Christ’s faith and love in action that first won our hearts?
‘Having begun in the Spirit are you now going to be made perfect by the flesh?’ (Gal 3:3)
How can this be?
Like Prem standing before both the astonished guards and warden, I see the body of Christ rising up, overcoming …even ‘with persecutions,’ challenging those yet in darkness,
“Do you really want to know?”

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