Tag Archives: Persecution

Don’t Ever Stop Clapping for the LGBTQ Community

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a Russian author and critic of Soviet totalitarianism.  He had great reason to be a detractor given his years of imprisonment in Soviet gulags and forced work camps after being charged with writing anti-Soviet propaganda during Stalin’s reign.  Later in life, Solzhenitsyn captured what it was like to live in those times in a book called The Gulag Archipelago.  Those were very dangerous days when anybody at any time could be arrested and sentenced or murdered for basically nothing.  Here’s one haunting story

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Jesus or Your Children?

A few nights ago I was up late going through some mp3 songs to put on my phone. I’m sure you know how songs so easily take you down Memory Lane. I was well on my way when I ran across Phil Vassar’s song from back in 2000 called “Just Another Day in Paradise.” The song is all about how crazy life can be with a spouse and some kids, bills piling up, things breaking, schedules calling, juggling work and home, sour milk, but then the chorus kicks in with the following words that share the truth that although life is frustrating and crazy at times, it’s blessed:

Well, it’s ok; It’s so nice
It’s just another day in paradise
Well, there’s no place that I’d rather be
Well, it’s two hearts and one dream
I wouldn’t trade it for anything
And I ask the Lord every night
For just another day in paradise

At that point, I went from Memory Lane to rejoicing. The song just hit home in my heart because it was like Vassar was singing about my life. Life is crazy right now with three young’uns and one on the way, but man, am I blessed! I began to thank God for my wife and kids and eventually went to bed, but as I was lying there, this question came to my mind: Ben, do you love Jesus more than your children?

That’s just how the Holy Spirit works, isn’t it? And immediately the following true story from the 1999 book by dc Talk and The Voice of the Martyrs called Jesus Freaks came to mind.  I had read it years ago and had really been impacted by it, and the Lord there in my bed brought it back to mind.

The story comes from North Korea in the 1950s and is called “More Love to Thee.”

For years, Pastor Kim and 27 of his flock of Korean saints had hand-dug tunnels beneath the earth. Then, as the Communists were building a road, they discovered the Christians living underground.

The officials brought them out before a crowd of 30,000 in the village of Gok San for a public trial and execution. They were told, “Deny Christ, or you will die.” But they refused.

At this point the head Communist officer ordered four children from the group seized and had them prepared for hanging. With ropes tied around their small necks, the officer again commanded the parents to deny Christ.

Not one of the believers would deny their faith. They told the children, “We will soon see you in heaven.” The children died quietly.

The officer then called for a steamroller to be brought in. He forced the Christians to lie on the ground in its path. As its engine revved, they were given one last chance to recant their faith in Jesus. Again they refused.

As the steamroller began to inch forward, the Christians began to sing a song they had often sung together. As their bones and bodies were crushed under the pressure of the massive rollers, their lips utter the words:

“More love to Thee, O Christ, more love to Thee
Thee alone I seek, more love to Thee
Let sorrow do its work, more love to Thee
Then shall my latest breath whisper Thy praise
This be the parting cry my heart shall raise;
More love, O Christ, to Thee,” (p124-5).

What an astounding and radical demonstration of love for Jesus! Do I love Jesus more than my children? Do you? Would I, in order to save their lives from persecutors, deny my Savior and Lord? Would you?

Jesus’ words ring so clearly in my ears, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it,” (Matthew 10:37-39).

So, will it be Jesus or your children? Oh how I pray that you or I would never be put in the situation to choose like those Korean Christians had to choose, but if it were to come to be, I pray my answer would be “Jesus.” I pray the same for you as well.

But dear one, let me go a step further. The choice is really not between loving Jesus or loving your children. The truth is that you can do both. You see, in these Korean Christians choosing to love Jesus more than their children, they were actually doing the most loving thing they could for their children. They demonstrated to their children by their choice of faithfulness to Jesus that Jesus is more prized than anything else. That is the most loving thing a father or a mother can do for their children. So, it’s not an either/or. It’s a both/and. Love your children by loving Jesus more!

And more importantly, this truth is not just relevant to life and death situations. It’s relevant to every aspect of your parenting life. In all phases of your children’s lives and in all interactions, be most loving to your children by loving Jesus more than you love them.

I thank the Lord so much for my children. What blessings they are to me! But if I am to love them properly, I must love Jesus more than I love them. More love to Thee, O Christ!

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Faith under Fire

We love music around the Simpson house, and in our opinion, it doesn’t get much better than The Isaacs. One of our favorite songs by them testifies joyfully in the chorus, “He’s taking care of me; in ways that I cannot see; He’s working it for my good just like He said He would, and He’s taking care of me.” What a glorious thought that the God of the universe, the one and only true God, is working for my good in all things! That’s the exact sentiment that pours out of 1 Peter 1:1-12:

  • Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look.

God’s primary goal through the Apostle Peter’s letter is to spur us on to greater and greater Christlikeness in the face of difficult and fiery days. Therefore, suffering is a major concept in this epistle (1 Pet 1:6; 1 Pet 2:19-21, 23; 1 Pet 3:14, 17; 1 Pet 4:1, 15-16, 19; 1 Pet 5:9-10). Of course, we need little encouragement to persevere during the easy, breezy moments of life, but oh how we need it when the fires come!

Indeed, when the fires come, God takes care of us in unseen ways. He is our living hope. You see, our faith is not in faith, as if faith is some force we can wield to protect and provide. The force, the power is found in the object of our faith, namely Almighty God who is jealous for His glory and our good. My goodness, He’s a big God, and oh how He loves us!

These realities push God to graciously work for us. Just look at what all He has done for us according to our text:

  1. He has chosen us to obey Jesus and be sprinkled with His blood (1 Pet 1:1-2).
  2. He has caused us to be born again to a living hope in Jesus (1 Pet 1:3).
  3. He has provided for us an incorruptible, undefiled, never-fading inheritance through Jesus (1 Pet 1:4).
  4. He protects us through faith in Jesus for salvation (1 Pet 1:5).

With all these massive, God-wrought things in mind, Peter prays in 1 Pet 1:2 that grace and peace would be multiplied to us unto the fullest measure. In fact, I would argue that it’s these four graces that lead to our peace — both with God and within our souls. Paul contends in Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”. The implied answer is: of course, God will freely give us all things if He has given us Christ. You see, God has gone to such great and gracious lengths for us that we should peacefully rest in Him, even in the midst of trials.

What’s more, have you ever thought that that fiery trial is itself a grace from God? You’d better believe it is! Friend, it’s through that crucible, according to Peter, that your faith is proven and your heart is prepared to praise the coming of Jesus (1 Pet 1:7). It’s for these reasons that Paul rejoiced and gloried in the tribulations that came his way, “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us,” (Romans 5:3-5). You see, you come out the other side knowing that you are not a fake and longing to see Jesus. What a blessing!

Friend, even in the midst of terrible trials, may peace abound in you because God is graciously taking care of you.

-This article first appeared in the March 2 edition of the Baptist and Reflector, the official newspaper of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, as a commentary on the March 6, 2011 LifeWay Sunday School curriculum Bible Studies for Life, and can be accessed through the B&R website at http://www.tnbaptist.org/BRARticle.asp?ID=3726.  The article has been slightly edited here for westmainbaptist.com.

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Through the Fire: 10 Truths to Help in the Face of Persecution

Ben Franklin once said, “In this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes.”  While I appreciate his wit and agree that those two things are an unfortunate mainstay, there are, of course, many more certainties we can expect in this age.  For the Christian, one certainty, I’m sad to say, is persecution.  Suffering of this type is particularly commonplace for Christians in this fallen world.  The Bible declares that we’ll face it, and experience has shown the Bible to be true.

Fortunately, Scripture has provided for us in 1 Peter 4 a wonderful primer aimed at helping us when the inevitable persecution comes.  Peter lays out for us 10 truths to help us endure.

#1 – You should expect to suffer because Jesus did.
Peter tells us, Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose (1 Pet 4:1).  Undoubtedly, Jesus suffered greatly, and if they treated Him in that way, you can surely expect the same.  That’s why Peter tells us to “arm yourselves also with the same purpose.”  That doesn’t mean that we go looking for ways to be persecuted and martyred like some did in the early church.  Caught up in the zeal of watching faithful brothers like Polycarp and Ignatius refuse to deny Christ even in the face of torturous death, some Christians actually turned themselves in to the authorities to be put to death.  These men were looking for trouble, but that’s not the spirit in which Peter is writing.  When he tells us to “arm yourselves also with the same purpose,” he means for us to prepare ourselves to be persecuted.

To be a Christian is to be persecuted.  It’s been that way from the beginning.  Just look at the disciples.  After Jesus was crucified, nearly all of His disciples suffered martyrdom for His sake during the first century.  Fox’s Book of Martyrs tells us that:

  • James the son of Zebedee was beheaded in approximately A.D. 44
  • Philip was crucified in A.D. 54
  • Matthew was killed with a halberd, an ax-like weapon
  • James, who is thought to be the brother of Jesus, was beaten to death in A.D. 60
  • Matthias (who replaced Judas) was beheaded
  • Andrew was crucified
  • Mark was torn to pieces
  • Peter was crucified upside down
  • Jude, Bartholomew, and Thomas were also martyred
  • Paul suffered martyrdom in Rome where he was beheaded
  • Luke, Barnabas, Timothy, and Simon were also killed for the sake of Christ
  • John was the only apostle to escape a violent death, but even he was put in exile on the Isle of Patmos.

Every generation from Christ until now has seen great persecution.  By and large over the centuries, the persecution has come at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church, which put to death many Christians.  Fortunately, that’s no longer the case, but in the last century, we’ve seen a rise in Christians being persecuted by Communist and Socialist regimes and by people of other religions such as Islam and Hinduism.

As for the world today, North Korea is the worst perpetrator of persecution against Christians in the world, according to The Voice of the Martyrs website.  There, Christians must practice their faith in deep secrecy and are in constant danger, but many continue to stand strong under relentless persecution.  Because the government considers Christians to be a stability threat, they are hunted all over the country, and if caught, being a Christian carries a more severe punishment than being a spy.  Sadly, the largest number of Christian worshipers in North Korea exists in concentration camps, and one out of four Christian prisoners are sent to political prison camps where prisoners almost never leave.

While you may never face that sort of persecution in your lifetime, you will nevertheless face persecution.  You see, persecution isn’t just physical.  It can come in the form of insult, false accusation, or slander.  You might be passed over for a promotion or demoted to a lesser position.  You can certainly bet that the world is going to think that you are stupid and idiotic and make fun of you.  So, you should be ready.  But you should also know that suffering does have a silver lining, in that…

#2 – Suffering cleanses us of sin.
God has a purpose for the fiery trial that is coming upon us.  Peter tells us that we should arm ourselves to suffer persecution because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God (1 Pet 4:1-2).  You see, suffering is one of the ways that God cleanses us from sin.  When believers are willing to suffer, the nerve center of sin is severed in their lives. Although believers will never be totally free from sin in this life, when believers endure suffering for the sake of Christ, they show that their purpose in life is not to live for their own pleasures but according to the will of God and for his glory.

You see, the new, born-again you wants to live for God.  Peter underlines this reality when he says, For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries (1 Pet 4:3). The old, unregenerate you wanted to live for the pleasures of the flesh, but that’s who you used to be.  You used to like to do whatever you flesh wanted to do, but you’re changing, and one of the ways that God changes us is by taking us through persecution.

This change is a good thing, but the world won’t agree.  Instead…

#3 – The world will hate you because you’re being cleansed.
Your buddies won’t really understand what’s happened to you.  In fact, they’ll be amazed that you don’t do the things you used to do.  Peter says it this way, In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation (1 Pet 4:4).  A drunk hates to drink alone, but their surprise soon turns to anger, and they malign you (1 Pet 4:4).  The Bible is clear that darkness hates the light (John 3:20).  Your very life is an attack on sin, and so people have only two options:  convert or persecute.  In their wickedness, they usually persecute.  John Piper puts it this way,

  • “If you cherish chastity, your life will be an attack on people’s love for free sex.
  • If you embrace temperance, your life will be a statement against the love of alcohol.
  • If you pursue self-control, your life will indict excess eating.
  • If you live simply and happily, you will show the folly of luxury.
  • If you walk humbly with your God, you will expose the evil of pride.
  • If you are punctual and thorough in your dealings, you will lay open the inferiority of laziness and negligence.
  • If you speak with compassion, you will throw callousness into sharp relief.
  • If you are earnest, you will make the flippant look flippant instead of clever.
  • And if you are spiritually minded, you will expose the worldly-mindedness of those around you.”

Your increasing righteousness will cause the world around you to increasingly malign you, but take heart because…

#4 – God will deal with persecutors.
Peter is very clear, but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead (1 Pet 4:5).  When we are maligned and persecuted, we don’t have to take matters into our own hands.  As the old saying goes, two wrongs don’t make a right.  Revenge is sin, no matter how much they deserve it.  Therefore, we must keep in mind that God has not turned a blind eye to what’s going on.  In fact, God promises that vengeance is His and that He will repay evildoers for their deeds (Heb 10:30).

But even more important than vengeance being meted out in their lives, we should be hoping that mercy is poured out.  In the spirit of Christ, we should pray for our persecutors (Luke 23:34) and hope that they repent and trust Christ.  Even in the midst of persecution, we preach the gospel, For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God (1 Pet 4:6).  Our hope is that God’s wrath meant for them will have actually been poured out on Jesus instead of being poured out them someday.  We’ll know this to be the case when they repent of their sin and trust Christ.

Nevertheless, we can rest in knowing that either through vengeance or redemption, God will deal with persecutors.  Of course, this news is great comfort, but Peter gives us more by pointing out that…

#5 – The end of the age is near.
Peter is very clear, The end of all things is near (1 Pet 4:7).  Friend, it won’t be long before our Lord and Savior returns to set up His earthly Kingdom, bringing along with Him the end of the age and the New Heaven and New Earth.  This news is especially good to those in the midst of persecution.  And so, Peter gives instructions to us in light of the imminence of Jesus’ return:

  • therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Pet 4:7-11)

Christian, God has graced you beyond measure in the face of persecution by giving you a church family to lean on.  We’ve got enough problems outside of the church.  Therefore, Peter encourages us to fervently love one another inside the church.  What a blessed refuge indeed!

In light of all of this,…

#6 – You shouldn’t be surprised by persecution.
For those of us in the Bible Belt, we have become accustomed to a majority Christian population, but the demographics and ideologies are changing.  Even so, if serious persecution were to break out today in Alexandria, I have to admit that I’d probably be stupefied.  But according to Peter, I shouldn’t be, Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you…as though some strange thing were happening to you (1 Pet 4:12).  Every generation before me has endured such things, and brothers and sisters in Christ are at this very moment enduring such things.  What’s more, Satan would love for me to face serious persecution right now.  I guess what Peter is trying to say is that it’s actually strange or weird to not experience persecution.  So, instead of being surprised, Peter says…

#7 – You should rejoice in the face of persecution.
That seems to be naturally antithetical, but we’re not naturally minded.  We are a people of biblical revelation and not of natural theology.  With that said, God has revealed to us that He allows us to be persecuted for two purposes.  First, persecution tests us (1 Pet 4:12).  He desires to see where we really stand.  Is He really more valuable to us than anything else?  And if He’s not, the test will show our faults and impurities.  This test sounds bad, but God means it for good.  Think of how Peter was galvanized for Christ after he failed Christ and denied Him three times (Matt 26:69-75).  Satan meant that for evil, but God meant it for good, and God is always triumphant.  It’s the same in our testing.  God means it for good, and ultimately it is good.  Therefore, testing is for our good and should cause us to rejoice.

Second, persecution intensifies our rejoicing.  Peter tells us, but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation (1 Pet 4:13).  In other words, rejoice because persecution will increase your rejoicing.  And that’s true!  When life is easy, we don’t really long for the return of Christ and heaven, but when even slight persecution breaks out, we quickly cry, “Maranatha!” and long for heaven.  Therefore, persecution increases our rejoicing, and when Jesus splits that eastern sky, you won’t just rejoice.  You’ll rejoice with exultation because your Deliverer has come!

In fact, Peter says that those who are persecuted are blessed, If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you (1 Pet 4:14).  Jesus said the same thing, Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:10).  To be blessed is to be in God’s favor, and that’s especially shown in the face of persecution.  I’d say that’s plenty reason to rejoice!

However, we should keep in mind that…

#8 – Not all suffering is blessed.
Peter takes a moment to offer some clarity.  Certainly suffering abounds in the world, but not all of it is for the sake of Christ.  Some of it is just punishment for sin.  Therefore, Peter warns us, Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler (1 Pet 4:15).  We should avoid this sort of sin and its consequences at all cost because there is great public shame in it, but…

#9 – There’s no shame in suffering for Christ.
Peter is emphatic, but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name (1 Pet 4:16).  The world will often punish criminals and the righteous in the same way, but there’s a difference.  If you go to prison for the sake of Christ, you can hold your head high.  If you are insulted and mocked for the sake of Christ, you can hold your head high.  If you are tortured and disfigured for the sake of Christ, you can hold your head high.  Don’t you dare be ashamed because it’s actually the glory of God on you!

Even more, there’s no shame because God means the fiery ordeal for your good.  Peter tells us, For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God (1 Pet 4:17).  The judgment of persecution that a Christian faces isn’t condemnation from God but is actually discipline.  The Bible clearly tells us that those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives (Heb 12:6).  Jesus himself tells us, Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline (Rev 3:19).  There’s no shame in discipline because it’s done for your good and out of love.  Yes, it still hurts, but all discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Heb 12:11).

But for those who are rebels against God, for those who persecute Christ and His body (Acts 9:4), it’s going to be much more severe.  Peter goes on to tell us:

  • and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? AND IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER? (1 Pet 4:17-18).

Figuratively speaking, we’re just getting a spanking, but they’ll be getting eternal destruction.  Therefore, child of God, hold your head high because your Daddy loves you, and…

#10 – You can trust your most excellent God.
After everything that Peter has said in this chapter, he applies it in this way, Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right (1 Pet 4:19).  Friend, God is going to take care of you.  He’s your loving Creator who knit you together in your mother’s womb (Ps 139:13).  He’ll never leave you or forsake you (Heb 13:5).  In fact, He’s going to see you through to the end and bring you into perfect conformity to Christ (Phil 1:6).  Therefore, if it is God’s will that you suffer persecution, you can safely put your life in His secure hands.  He always does what is ultimately right, loving, and wise.  Hallelujah!

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Deny Christ or Die: What Would You Choose?

I read the following story yesterday and cannot get it out of my mind, especially the first and last sentences of Dibaj’s words to this evil court. What profound, earth-shaking statements! What an awesome defense of the reason for faith and perseverance! I pray that God would grant me a measure of faith to stand before accusation and threats of this extreme nature and never deny Christ. Christ is more precious than life. I praise God for this man’s words and faith!

“Men choose a religion, but a Christian is chosen by Jesus Christ. To be a Christian means to belong to Christ. Jesus asked me to renounce even my life, to follow Him faithfully, not to fear the world even if my body must perish. I prefer to know that God, the Almighty, is with me, even if it means that the whole world is against me.

“I am in God’s hands. For 45 years now I have walked with the God of miracles, and His goodness is for me a shadow that protects me in His love.

“The God of Daniel, who protected his friends, protected me during my nine years in prison, and all torments changed to my good, so that I have the fullness of love and gratitude.

“Of all the prophets, Jesus alone was resurrected from the dead, and He remains our living Mediator forever. I gave my life into His hands. For me, life is an opportunity to serve Him, and death is the privilege of getting to be with Him.”

Pastor Mehdi Dibaj of Iran was on trial for his life, and these words were the defense he gave in court. An upper-class Muslim, he and his family had converted to Christianity. He had dared to translate Christian radio programs and books into the Farsi language. He was arrested in 1985 and accused of apostasy, denying the Muslim Faith. For this, he faced the death penalty.

In Iran, social and political pressure is sometimes used to force Christians to recant their new-found faith in Jesus Christ. Some are even tortured. Dibaj was imprisoned alone for two years in a cramped hole with no room to stretch his legs. While he was in prison, his wife, Azizeh, left Dibaj and was forced to marry a Muslim.

When Dibaj steadfastly refused to deny his faith, the court condemned him to death. But after one month he was set free because of international attention that had been brought to his case. Soon after this, however, he was found dead in a park. It is believed by some that Islamic leaders had called for his execution.

Despite losing their father, his four children remain faithful to Jesus Christ.

(Taken from “Jesus Freaks” written by dc Talk and The Voice of the Martyrs, 133-4)

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