- - Friday, November 27, 2015

Faith-oriented people often hear the oft-repeated phrase: “Faith without works is dead.” This phrase, taken from the New Testament book of St. James, basically says, If someone believes something, i.e. faith, if that someone does not act on said belief, then that person’s faith belief is said to be dead or non-existent. A tough phrase, granted, but one that can be imminently corrected.

Think about this scenario about the church, writ large, and persecuted Christian believers in the Middle East — many concerns, much ecclesiastical consternation. Yet how often is that concern for the persecuted actually put into action? We hear, say, the plight of Pastor Saeed Abedini who has been imprisoned upwards of three years in an Iranian prison in Tehran — and has four more years to go in his unjust sentence, if he survives the regular beatings and the threats from fellow prisoners who do not share his viewpoint of Jesus being the Messiah and Savior of the world.

In an online petition at beheardproject.com, more than 1.1 million people have added their names to a list advocating for and demanding that Saeed be released. Is this a faith action “with works?”

This season of thanks, giving and holidays, our “Faith under Fire” humbly offers suggestions to assist persecuted believers which require efforts that go beyond on line petition signing.
1. You can pray. Pray daily for the Persecuted Church. Be aware of who is being persecuted and pray specifically.
2. You can fast. Fasting is a lost “faith action” that requires a believer to deny themselves. (Think St. Matthew 16:24 and St. Luke 9:23.) The abstention from food reminds the hungry believer of those who are being persecuted, not having enough to eat and perhaps in prison for their faith — and it allows the “faster” to identify with the one being persecuted. Does your pastor/church leaders encourage biblical fasting for the persecuted? (See “God’s Chosen Fast by Arthur Wallis.”)
3. You can give money. There are several organizations worldwide that advocate for those being killed and persecuted for their faith.
4. You can go. This is the call that Jesus Christ gives to his followers in Matthew 28: “Go…” A simple two-letter word that some claim needs to be accompanied by “a calling.” But Jesus adds no further comment other than to “go.”

The going troubles many and it has troubled this columnist. In a personal way two years ago, I juxtaposed the “going” with the “dead faith” axiom and I thought, “What am I doing?” with an emphasis on the “doing.”

I thought of Saeed, his wife and children: “If I was Saeed, what would I want someone to do?” For me, the answer was simple: I would want someone to come and rescue me — or at least make an attempt to rescue me. That introspective God-thought led me to apply for an Iranian visa, and after waiting 11 months, the visa was granted by the Iranian authorities and I booked a flight to Tehran. After eight days of meetings and connecting with several high-profile leaders both within and outside the Iranian government, my efforts to obtain the release of Saeed evaporated like dust in the wind.

Failure? I wouldn’t call this attempt a failure but rather an “effort to put my own personal faith into action.”

And there’s a sidebar. To one Iranian authority, I offered this: “If you will release Saeed, I will offer myself as his replacement in the prison. If you release him, I will serve out the remaining years of his sentence.” This official rejected my plea and, sadly, I left Iran without a freed Saeed.

The night before I left, my wife and I were praying and upon concluding our prayers for Saeed and his family, our five kids and four grandchildren, she asked, “So what is the plan?” I replied, “You’ll either see me in two weeks or five years.”

For this pastor, faith without works is really dead.

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