Being Hated For God

In his book, Taste and See, Pastor John Piper relates a true story of a conversation with a lady (call her Mary) who shared with him a most significant event in her life. Seems a dear friend of hers (Rachel) had married a Muslim man (Ahmed) who had converted to Christianity. Ahmed had made a return trip to his native country in Africa to visit with family and also to smuggle in copies of the Bible. He was caught and imprisoned and at Mary’s telling of the story was due to be executed.

Fast forward – the man was not executed but was ordered to leave the country and never return. Piper said that it wasn’t the danger of the mission, not even the threat of execution that impressed Mary. The significance of the event, for her, was that Ahmed took on the mission knowing almost certain exposure and the consequences that would bring. Additionally, Rachel had waited patiently for some indeterminable, though surely not short, time for news of her husband’s judgment. Both Rachel and Ahmed might as well have screamed, “God is sovereign, I will trust Him”.

Mary’s point was that Rachel was a living example of faith in God’s sovereign care as she waited to hear the outcome of her husband’s trial from three thousand miles away. Mary told Piper that through observing Rachel’s calm and patient trust she is being changed by God’s grace. Mary comments, “[God] is changing me so that I can glorify Him through the trials He has for me and my family to go through.”

Most of us live in relatively secure communities where we are protected by laws against such threats against our lives. But I wonder who of us would truly answer “Here I am Lord, send me” were we given a mission to one of the many places in this world where Christians are hated.

Oh God, give us men and women who count everything as loss for the surpassing value of spreading a message of salvation to a world of unreached peoples. Lord, raise up radical disciples who know the “dark side of missions” and count it all joy.

What do we mean “dark side”? Well, take the phrase “all the nations”. We usually think of this phrase in connection with the great commission in Matthew 28:19, “Go and make disciples of all the nations”. But there’s another use of the phrase in Matthew 24:9, “You will be hated by all the nations because of My name”. That’s the dark side of missions. The hatred will be as widespread as the harvest.

We must determine to be willing not only to love the nations, but also to be hated by the nations. That’s how Jesus accomplished His mission. He said, “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.  The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. (John 15:18-19 NIV)

Pray with me that thousands would embrace the call to be hated for the sake of loving others. If your driving motive in life is to be liked and loved, you will find it almost impossible to be a Christian missionary. Missionaries are people who have decided that being loved by God is enough to enable love. We don’t need to be loved by others. Yes, it feels good. But it is not essential.

Loving, not being loved, is essential.

  

 

Intentional Christians

It’s hot…really hot…and humid. The six o’clock weather reporter will tell us the heat index was 105 degrees that afternoon. I sit in my air conditioned car at the intersection, sitting in judgment of a panhandler. I question his sincerity – his honesty. Is he really hungry – is he really homeless? And then up ahead a car window opens and a lady’s hand is extended with a large cold drink from some fast food place.

This was no accidental show of charity or compassion; this was intentional. The lady had purposefully, willfully gone to Wendy’s or McDonald’s – someplace – and purchased this cold drink. I don’t know if the lady was a Christian, but she certainly exhibited the Christian attitude of love – not judging the man’s heart as I was, but feeding the Lord’s sheep.

I was immediately reminded of the passage in Matthew 25 (Matt. 25:41-45), where Jesus talks about the sheep and the goats and sadly I had to count myself among the goats on that day.

Judy and I have been attending a Nazarene Church in Palm City for some months now and several of the recent sermons have been on Intentional Christian Living. Much of the teaching has included Bible study, prayer, and Christian fellowship, but what has struck me most is the word INTENTIONAL.

Intentionality is the flip side of accidentally. We choose a lifestyle of love on purpose. We join a Bible study group knowingly, purposefully – not accidentally. We choose not to watch worldly and unholy TV programs and internet sites intentionally – deliberately – by design. We choose to forgive when worldly persuasions would have us hold onto the hurts and sorrows inflicted on us and our forgiveness is by design – intentional. We determine to follow Christ consciously – willfully – premeditatedly. It’s no accident.

Having stated all this we acknowledge the hand of the Holy Spirit in our choices. He is our guide to righteousness and also the source of conviction when we stray or stumble – yet we remain responsible for the choices we make and the consequences thereof.

Being an intentional Christian means you have considered all options in a given circumstance or situation and decided to act or respond as you believe Jesus would. That decision can sometimes be a bit daunting and uncomfortable; even challenging and costly.

It means you have established practices to deny the temptations of some addiction. It means you have purposefully harvested words from Scripture to employ when Satan comes calling. It means you pray for someone who you really don’t want to succeed or to heal, and to forgive when your sinful nature says, “retaliate”. It means you get up out of the easy chair and go and serve in your church or community, even when that serving is painful – either physically or financially or emotionally.

God will often call us to most uncomfortable and challenging ministries; ministries that we are sure are beyond our abilities, detrimental to our lifestyle, and contrary to our plans and purposes. Being an intentional Christian means we say “Yes Lord, send me.”

There are no 'accidental' Christians. Though we cannot take credit for our walk with Christ we do have a hand in how we walk by the choices we make in our daily life. Simply going to church on Sunday no more makes you a Christian than sitting in an airplane makes you a pilot. James taught us "…be doers of the word, and not hearers only". (James 1:22 NKJV)

There is intentional, purposeful, deliberate work to be done on a daily basis if we are to be all God has designed and called us to be and do. Our salvation did not come complete with all the tools and attitudes of righteousness necessary for Kingdom work.

There is faith to be increased; love, joy, and peace to be spread, the Holy Word to be learned and shared, charity, kindness and compassion to give, and prayers to offer – Everyday, Everywhere, and with Everyone.

When Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the temple He responded to their queries, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”  (Luke 2:49 NKJV)

I pray we are all about our Father's business!!

Be blessed.

Friends With God

Some of what I propose in this devotional is obvious. The problem with the obvious is that it gets overlooked and taken for granted; it becomes mundane and unexciting. So how do we take the emotions and conduct of being a friend and having a friend back to exciting? What was it about Abraham that God would name this man, and this man alone in all Scripture, "Abraham, my friend"? (Isaiah 41:8)

Before we address being a friend of God lets take the more elementary steps of being a friend to anyone. Typically we choose our human friends based on like-mindedness and reliability. We have common interests and we know we can count on each other. Friendship is most definitely a two-way street. I find that if I substitute the word 'friendship' for 'love' in Paul's definition of love in his first epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 13:4-7), I now have a well-founded pathway to being a friend. Old cliches and common sense insist that "to have a friend we must be a friend".

As friends we allow ourselves to be accountable to one another and we honor our responsibility as our friend bares their soul and becomes accountable to us. When a friend is victorious we celebrate with them and when they stumble we hold their hand and seek a way to get them back on their feet. When our friend confesses their shortcomings – their trespasses – even against us, we embrace their honesty, we salute their contriteness, and we forgive, and when our friend calls out for a need we set our own agendas aside and come to the rescue where possible. Sometimes we can only offer a shoulder, but how often I can recall that shoulder being all I needed at the time. Being a friend is developing that relationship where nothing is off limits, where we keep our promises, and where love is the order of the day.

So what was it about Abraham that God would call him 'friend'? Surely we are aware of some of his mis-steps such as the journey to Egypt, where Sarah would acquire Hagar and that ill fated consequence. When I read the story of Joseph I wonder why God didn't call him friend. Scripture doesn't reveal any wrongdoing by him. Though nothing of the sort is found in scripture, it has been suggested by scholars that perhaps Joseph participated in idol worship as a member of the Egyptian elite. We read in Acts that David was "a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do."  (Acts 13:22), yet God did not call David 'friend'. The question remains – what was it about Abraham that caused God to call him friend?

We find the answer in Genesis. Isaac has gone to the land of the Philistines because of a famine. God speaks to Isaac telling him not to go to Egypt and promises him that He will keep the promise He made to Abraham "because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws." (Gen. 26:1-5)

Is it that simple? Obedience? Surely there must be more than that. Does all God ask of us to be called His friend is that we obey?

I find that obedience is the natural product of faith. In Hebrews, chapter eleven, we read of the OT faithful elite and it says of Abraham that when God called him to leave his family and home to go to a place where he did not know, "he obeyed". (Heb. 11:8)

Fast forward to the New Testament and the testimony of Jesus as related in John. Our Lord Jesus speaking to the apostles tells them, "You are my friends if you do what I command" (see the whole passage – John 15:9-17) Once again the prerequisite for friendship with God, whether the Father or Son, is obedience.

As a child I remember being bullied and pushed around in school. I recall wishing I had a big strong friend to rescue me, but that never came to be. Today we are bullied by any number of adversaries – Satan tempts us and our sinful nature gives in. This fallen world brings bullies in the way of sickness, heathen employers, and calamities and maladies by the score. Yet God has promised to rescue us from our storms – whatever their source – if we are obedient to His commands. (Exodus 23:22)

What comfort it is to know the Mighty, Majestic, Omnipotent, Creator God stands with us, desiring to be our friend if we will only obey.

Be blessed.

Burning Your Candle

“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”
 Edith Wharton (American Novelist and short-story writer, 1862-1937)

I would rethink that quote to, "As we mirror the light of our Lord, His light is multiplied". In Proverbs we read: "The spirit of a man is the lamp of the Lord. . ." (Prov. 20:27 NKJV)

In speaking to His disciples Jesus said that we are the 'light of the world', (Matt. 5:14-16), and yet He proclaimed that He is 'the light of the world'. (John 8:12) How do we reconcile the two verses?

I think we must first recognize that Jesus wasn't speaking to His small select group of apostles, but to a crowd of people (see Matt. 7:28). So it wasn't an anointed group He referred to as light of the world but all those in attendance. Secondly we would understand that the entire crowd had to be believers, for to be asked to abide by all He was demanding in His Sermon on the Mount would have been folly and foolishness to an unbeliever – just as it is today.

For our many years of walking in the world we were an unlit candle – complete with wick. But God in His wisdom and grace has now touched our wick with the flame of His light and our candle now burns. Certainly not all candles burn equally bright – Paul teaches us that God has granted us a 'measure of faith', (Romans 12:3 NKJV), and that we must grow that faith, (1 Cor. 13:11; 14:20; Col 1:9-11; 2:6-7). So too some of our candles burn brighter than others.

In summation we may then conclude that as we surrender to our Lord Jesus and are supernaturally filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit, we also supernaturally, become salt and light.

Jesus went on to say that we are not to hide our light – in fact He says our light cannot be hidden – just as you cannot block out the lights of a city on a hill. If we are truly committed Christians our light cannot be hidden – it is as visible as the nose on our face.

Speaking of John the Baptist's light, Jesus noted  that his "was a lamp that burned and gave light. . ." (John 5:35). So let us now address the burning of our light.

Burning is not an option. The ambition to be a shining light is universal, but not everyone is ready to suffer the consequences of being a burning light. I think of Stephen who faced his accusers with God's truth, of Paul who suffered relentless beatings and jailing as he founded churches across Asia and Europe, and of latter day saints like Martin Luther, Madam Guyon, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

In the western world we seldom are threatened by having our light shine. But there are readers here among our subscribers in China, India, Liberia and elsewhere that are surely braver than I, who shine their lights in an oh-so-dark world. Would I, could I be so brave? Surely, I confess, such is not near the top of my prayers.

There is a price to pay for the right to give the true light of life. That price is yourself. All of your ambition, all of your resources, all of your intellect, and your passion must be directed to a brighter burning lamp.

But just as there is a price there is also a reward for being that brighter lamp. From my own experiences – my years of teaching and discipling men in the church, counseling those in distress, and authoring these pages – I am rewarded by the knowledge that in my weakness, in my incompetence, and my ignorance, God has chosen to use my meager lamp to bring His Light of the World message of forgiveness and salvation. And that my friends, is no small reward.

May I challenge you to be a brighter light. Our God has touched your wick with His mighty flame. What will you do with that light you now emit? Not all are called to be Paul or Stephen or Billy Graham. Sometimes our light seems so dim as if it struggles to brighten a foggy night. Those lights may serve in a soup kitchen or visit the old and infirm. They may teach a children's Sunday School class or volunteer in any number of roles for their church and their community. Scripture does not reveal that a brighter light is more honored or rewarded by God, only that we burn as brightly as we can, that we might to aspire to emit a 'Moses-glow', and as we burn our candles down to the very wick's end, God's Holy light surely shines all the brighter and He is glorified!

Barnabus and Timothy

I have heard it said that each of us needs to have both a Barnabus and a Timothy in our lives. The premise conveys the idea that we have someone mentoring us, one on one,  in our Christian walk even as we would mentor someone less mature in their walk. It has been my privilege to have that Barnabus who gently, but firmly, guided me out of a life of selfishness and despair into one of surrender; into a life of joy and peace. Whether or not I have paid the deed forward to a Timothy is not for me to say. I can only attest to making myself available to be used by God.

I recently commemorated the anniversary of my Barnabus' going home to his final reward. It came upon me unexpectedly as anniversaries sometimes do. I still miss him terribly; his honesty, his kindness, and his unrelenting passion for Christ. His name was A.J. and I learned early in our relationship that A.J. loved me when I was unlovable. He cared, really cared about my soul, and he was not going to be denied by my stubbornness. There was never a day when he didn't have time to bend his ear to this floundering Timothy.

A.J. spent many weeks and months leading me, guiding me deeper and deeper into the arms of Christ. He was not the most educated man but he knew his Bible. Scripture verses and passages that I had known for many years he would now explain to me, for you see, "The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit." (1 Cor. 2:14) I had known the words but without the Holy Spirit in my life they had no meaning. These same verses and passages now became clear and understandable – from black and white TV to Cinemascope and Technicolor with surround-sound, God's holy word came alive.

The Lord has not seen fit to replace my Barnabus yet – I say 'yet' as I feel that I need, as we all need, that stabilizing, affirming presence as we struggle with weaknesses and temptation.

Oswald Chambers' devotional theme on A.J.'s anniversary date focuses on moving ahead without your Elijah. I quote the opening paragraph – "It is not wrong for you to depend on your "Elijah" for as long as God gives him to you. But remember that the time will come when he must leave and will no longer be your guide and your leader, because God does not intend for him to stay. Even the thought of that causes you to say, "I cannot continue without my Elijah", yet God says you must continue." (My Utmost For His Highest, Oswald Chambers)

Could we have a dichotomy of beliefs here? I think not. I think God provides that Barnabus to a Paul (or Elijah to Elisha), as a mentor or guide as He sees is our need. I did 'continue on' as Chambers counsels after A.J. passed away, but that doesn't mean I don't occasionally feel the need for a similar presence in my life.

I pray that you have that Barnabus to guide you, and that you have made yourself available to the Timothys in your church. May the Lord bless you and yours, and may you be a blessing to others.