Last week's debate among MPs which discussed the 'Persecuted and Forgotten?' report by Catholic charity Aid to the Church In Need highlighted two shocking facts:
• Every hour a Christian is tortured and murdered for his or her faith. That's 24 Christians every single day – over 8,700 annually.
• Christians are persecuted in 130 countries around the world. This is persecution in the real sense of the word; the type which results in harsh or extreme suffering. The sentence of 80 lashes given to Christians in Iran for taking Communion wine is a stark example of this worrying trend.
Compare that to the perceived 'persecution' of UK Christians; employees refused permission to visibly wear a crucifix in their working environment or those asked to work on Sundays. We are fortunate to live in a democracy where we are free to attend church, live out our faith and discuss our religious beliefs openly – but who among us makes the most of that opportunity?
While millions of Christians live in fear of persecution, it seems our greatest threat is our own passivity when it comes to our faith. The cross separates us from the world and we should not be ashamed of that fact. When our brothers and sisters in Christ risk death by the simple act of attending a church service, surely we can be bolder.
I'm not suggesting alienating the people around us by becoming overnight zealots but in living out our faith through our actions.
"For God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline," reads 2 Timothy 1:7.
We can be bolder about our faith in simple yet effective ways:-
Talk about church: Tell colleagues and friends you'll be at church on Sunday when they ask about your weekend plans. Several of my friends have accompanied me out of pure curiosity over what gets me out of bed before 9am on a Sunday. Without exception, they have all been pleasantly surprised – and some have even returned.
Be Christlike: Go the extra mile for people, at work and in your personal life. Let others see you are the kind of person others can trust. Genuine care for others is difficult to find in today's world. When they ask about your life, don't hesitate to be open about what sustains you through difficult times.
Be an ambassador for God: Our world is crying out for spiritual connection. Follow-up, show you care, walk alongside those who are suffering.
Stop judging others: We are commanded not to judge yet Christians can sometimes be the first to judge others and this reflects poorly on our faith. Christianity is about love, not judgement.
Get involved: Help out with foodbanks, volunteer to work with the homeless. Christmas is a difficult time for many yet hospitality is one of the great traditions of the Christian faith. How many of us would open up our homes to a stranger or colleague we didn't know very well?
Undoubtedly there will still be those who respond with ridicule but why should we be afraid of ridicule? The apostle Peter urges us to stand '…firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.' (1 Peter 5:9) .
In our case, thankfully, we are not remotely sharing in the same kind of sufferings of the 'family of believers' throughout the world. Let us keep that in mind during these turbulent times and be a witness for Christ in all we do.
Will you be bolder in your faith?