Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

A well known pastor in China has died. You can read the story here .

Christians like Pastor Lam make me think of the little phrase at the end of Hebrews 11, the Christian Hall of Fame chapter –   “of whom the world was not worthy” (Hebrews 11:38). He believed, rightly, that the persecution of the church in China would lead to growth. Like Ezekiel, he lost his wife and was not allowed to mourn as he wanted. He was imprisoned for over twenty years and now the illegal church he started has not been tormented for several years and it numbers in the thousands.

I would like a church numbering in the thousands. But my slogan is different from Pastor Lam’s. His slogan was “more persecution, more growth”. Mine has more whine and cheese in it. Our church actually has a pretty good slogan. You see it at the top of this page – “becoming like Christ, by His grace, for His glory”. A man like Pastor Lam makes me wonder if we really mean it. Do we want to be conformed to the image of Christ as he was? Jesus said “follow me” and went to the cross.  That is where He calls us now. One cannot be a disciple without it. Paul knew that. Paul wanted that:

Philippians 3:8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Paul desired to be conformed to Christ in His sufferings. Today in the west we would likely diagnose him with a psychological disorder and try to avoid having such a persecution complex. It is very easy to put a verse at the top of a web page.  I just want both me, and my church, to really mean it. It is a great verse. Out of it grew what I think is a great church vision statement. But we need to be aware that included in conformity to Jesus Christ is suffering because of the faith. God has predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son. That is a great hope. Those who trust and follow Jesus will one day be like Him for we shall see Him as He is. We will be sinless. Our desires will be sinless. Our temptations will be gone. It is a tremendous goal to keep our sights set on. But in the meantime we are called to be conformed to Christ in His sufferings as well as His attitude, heart and actions. Pastor Lam did. And thousands of believers around the world today are being called to all kinds of sufferings for the sake of Jesus Christ. The church in the West is too. Our church is. It is a different kind of suffering, more subtle, better disguised and for that reason, more deadly to the soul. What concerns me is that we react to it without near the understanding and expectation that we should. We write our authorities screaming about our rights and blame governments and schools and moral decay for our lack of commitment to the Gospel.

Pastor Lam makes me pause to consider if I have the right attitude in my own personal Christian life. Do I have my bags packed in any sense, as he did, because I need to be ready to be taken away because of my faith? Does his life shame me because of how little it takes for me to grumble and be filled with self pity over the horrible lot that I sometimes make my life out to be? Do I want more people to come to faith in Christ and be truly strong, even if the means God uses is my suffering and the suffering of my church? Do I believe “more persecution, more growth”?

I never knew Pastor Lam. I don’t even know if I ever heard of him. But I am glad that God got this news to me today. Today, I am surrounded by a great witness. Therefore I should run my race with perseverance and keep my sights set on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of my faith.