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Keeping It in Perspective 7/26/2014

We must pray for the Ukrainian Church:

Churchmen were tortured and murdered the day after they were captured.

Four members of the Transfiguration Evangelical church murdered by pro-Russian terrorists for ‘sectarianism and treason’ against the Russian people were buried in Sloviansk.

Read the rest here . . . .

Perspective 05/15/2014

Here is yet another chilling account of persecution against Christians.  Keeps things in perspective.

A Christian woman in Sudan reportedly has until Thursday to either recant her faith or face a possible sentence of death.

Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, 27, was convicted by a Khartoum court this week of apostasy, or the renunciation of faith, Amnesty International said Wednesday, a day before the expected ruling. The court considers her to be Muslim.

According to the rights group, she was also convicted of adultery because her marriage to a Christian man was considered void under Sharia law.

You can read the rest here . . . .

The Reality of Suffering for The Faith

I am teaching through the books of 1 and 2 Timothy at my church and one point is constantly being made–the Christian life involves persecution and suffering.  There is no way around it and there is no way to truly avoid it and stay faithful to the faith.  I have told my congregation over the last few weeks that they must understand that now is the time to store up for themselves the wisdom of the Lord so that when that time comes to suffer they are prepared in heart and soul to do so.

I am not convinced that everyone in my church believes this, but I am convinced that it is true nonetheless.  Well, an important article was written that shows how close the time of persecution is for American Christians.  It starts with the military, here is a key snippet:

The statement, released to Fox News, follows a Breitbart News report on Obama administration Pentagon appointees meeting with anti-Christian extremist Mikey Weinstein to develop court-martial procedures to punish Christians in the military who express or share their faith.

(From our earlier report: Weinstein is the head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and says Christians–including chaplains–sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ in the military are guilty of “treason,” and of committing an act of “spiritual rape” as serious a crime as “sexual assault.” He also asserted that Christians sharing their faith in the military are “enemies of the Constitution.”)

Being convicted in a court martial means that a soldier has committed a crime under federal military law. Punishment for a court martial can include imprisonment and being dishonorably discharged from the military.

Read the rest here.

I leave you with the words of Paul to Timothy which we have been considering for several weeks (emphasis mine):

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel,
for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal;
but the word of God is not imprisoned. 
For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen,
so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.
It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; 
If we endure, we will also reign with Him;
If we deny Him, He also will deny us
(2Timothy 2:8-12 NASB)

Pastoral Prayer from Psalm 11

Summary of this Psalm: David is in danger of his life; and fearful and faint-hearted counselors are trying to get him to flee and find safety by running away.  But David is full of unshaken faith in God.  The result is that he rejects the counsel of the friends, believes that the Lord is still the sovereign King and speaks accordingly.  He knows that God may try and test His servants, but He shall never forsake them.  Therefore, David understands that it is not the righteous, but the wicked who truly should fear. (from The Book of Psalms, Perowne, p. 171)

Father, You are my refuge

A fortress that cannot be shaken

A stronghold that cannot be breached.

A hiding place that is truly hidden

From the searching eyes of my enemies.

But,

I find that there are so many voices

Innumerable whispers

To flee and not run

To wander and not focus my eyes upon Jesus

To trust in man, when man always fails

To give up when I know my Lord has won the battle.

So,

Silence these calls to flee

Let your unfailing promises ring in my ears

And the glory of the bloody Cross stand before me

As I contemplate my Risen King.

Father, the foundations of our land are failing,

We stand on the precipice of failure

Good is now bad and bad is now good.

Lips are loosened that should be silent

While, mouths are closed that should be crying out as one in the wilderness

Father, may your Spirit open our eyes to your settled gaze

You who sit above the vain murmurings of man

You who test the hearts of man

Knowing what they don’t even know themselves

Seeing what only the Creator can see.

Let your wrath be kindled in due time

That judgment and justice might flow like a river

Sweeping all who love wickedness in the lake of your wrath.

Finally Father, cause your face to shine up your children

Let our sorrow be turned back to joy

Our burdens be fully lifted,

Our tears be wiped away.

Until that time, let us continue to proclaim in life and deed

That our Lord reigns

In righteousness

In mercy

In faithfulness

And in love.

Suffering & Glory pt 2

I finish up my prior post on suffering.  As a pastor I spend much of my time talking to people who suffer in various ways.  Over a meal a few days ago I told one person that I am convinced that all Christians enter into eternity bearing many scars–both within and without. Thankfully God does not leave us without instruction on how to deal with suffering. Even more wonderful is how He uses suffering in wonderful ways for our good and His glory.  This second part is dealing with Romans 8.

Argument #2, The glory must be worth the suffering because all believers long for it (23-25).   By saying  “And not only this. . .”  Paul shows that there is a progression in his argumentation.  Not only is creation groaning, but we too!  The new creation and the glory that shall come must be amazing because even we, ourselves are groaning for that day.  In fact, I can say that a key mark of a true believer is that there is a desire to be finally free of this body that is dead through sin.  But the groaning that we do here is not a groaning under sin, but rather it is like creation in the pangs of childbirth.

It is also a groaning that comes because we have the Holy Spirit within us.  Note that phrase, “first fruits of the Spirit.”  The firstfruits refers to the Jewish custom of bringing the first of the harvest to the temple and offering it to God.  This consecrated the whole harvest, and it carries with it the thought that there will be later fruits.  But this is also different in that in the Old Testament the word ‘firstfruits’ referred to what we would give to God, with the understanding that God would give us the rest of the harvest.  But Paul is saying that God has given us the Spirit and it is a foretaste of what is to come.  It is similar to the idea in Ephesians 1:13-14 “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation– having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise,  who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.”

Paul closes up his argument in verses 24-25.  God has not let us enjoy these blessing right now.  Therefore, beloved, we need to be content with that reality.  We have, at times, little tastes of the glory to come, but it is never in its fulness.   We were saved (vs 24), past tense, but this salvation involves a forward looking aspect.  For though by faith we believe we are saved, the fulness is not ours to enjoy at this time.  We still suffer under the effects of a fallen world.  And therefore we live with an expectant hope in that day that is to come. It is only as we grow in looking toward the New Creation that we will endure well in the here and now.  May God enlarge our hearts and minds in anticipation to that day.

 

Unless A Grain of Wheat Falls into The Earth and Dies…

“. . . unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies. . .”

I have done much thinking on the issue of suffering and discipline over these last few weeks and even months.  I have watched many in our church go through one or both of these events and have endured some myself.  This was seen very clearly when I preached through Psalm 30 where David’s sin resulted in the turning away of the face of the Lord.  Life hurts and I am more convinced that life hurts the most when it is clung to.  We are sheep being led to the slaughter.  We lay down our life to gain our life.  We are aliens and strangers.  We are in this world but not of this world.

We are called to live for our Lord.  It is as simple as that and we are called to suffer in His name.  We are expected to fill up that which is lacking in Christ’s sufferings (Col. 1:24) and we to have a fellowship in His sufferings if we are to expect to be heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:16-17).  On top of that we have the reality of a Father in heaven who diligently disciplines all His children, as Hebrews 12:5ff makes abundantly clear.  And all of these texts we have looked at and studied in detail in several of my sermons.

Yet, in spite of this, there is a tremendous reluctance to enter into suffering that we naturally have.  Pain and suffering is not the delight of humans.  It runs contrary to our nature.  But the avoidance of suffering is simply sin.  It is making comfort and pleasure gods to worship, and some people frankly pant after those gods.  The slightest hardship, the smallest call to endure, the tiniest expectation to show diligence in the midst of adversity and they fall.

Add to that the fact that the typical American Christian’s sense of what is to be the lot for Christians.  We have so psychologized the Christian faith that God has become the great Caregiver rather than Creator and Lord.  We present the faith as a faith that is to fix your ills and struggles and to make you feel whole again.  Over and over people reject biblical instruction that is designed to make them wise and faithful servants because it threatens that comfort zone that they have established.  Repeatedly the commands of our Lord, which the church is commanded to teach all who profess Christ to obey (cf. Matt. 28:18-19), are simply ignored, or compared to worldly standards and found to be too harsh.

All of this is written to direct you to a link to read a fascinating account of a man who is preparing to be killed for his faith.  Allow me to introduce you to a man who shamed me in the span of the 3 minutes it took to read his letter to the Roman church.  His name is Ignatius and he was the bishop of Syria and lived from 30 AD to 107 AD.  Here is a quote from the link:

His final letter from Smyrna, Ignatius writes to the church of Rome. Unlike his other letters, this one is not concerned with questions of heresy and Church unity. Rather is it an intensely personal document. In it he reveals most clearly the spirit of the Oriental martyr; and in a double way it is a letter to prepare his martyrdom. It is, on the one hand, a plea to the Romans not to interfere with the fate in store for him; and on the other hand it is, as it were, a letter to himself to brace him for the coming ordeal. It betrays an excess of zeal which is strange to most of us, and even repugnant to some. It must, however, be read in the light of the fact that Ignatius was tormented by the brutality of his Roman guards (his “ten leopards” as he calls them, ch. 5:1), and reacted with the intemperance of a man who had already given his life away. Some will find in the letter a perverted masochism; others will discern in it all the splendor of the martyr spirit. No one, however, will miss its burning sincerity or the courageous zeal of a disciple to suffer with his Lord.

Here is a man who has been truly brought to the end of himself.  He sees himself as already dead and is eager to see that come to pass!  He has embraced his suffering and even in the midst of grossly unrighteous treatment by his captors, seeks to give them a blessing rather than an act of resistance.  We need more in the American church to be like this man.

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