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.

  

 

Testing

 "See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction." (Isaiah 48:10)
"Blessed is the one you discipline, Lord, the one you teach from your law. . ."
(Psalm 94:12)

Should we welcome the testing and discipline of God? My wise and wonderful bride loves the cliche', "There is no testimony without a test."

I know of a man, a faithful believer, who for many years shared with his friends about how God seemed to daily empty his basket of blessings on him and his family. It seemed no distress, no trial, no bad thing came their way. He even felt guilty that so many of his church family were oppressed by financial, health, and relationship problems. He was certainly not wealthy, at least not by American standards, but his family was financially comfortable. They enjoyed good health and his children and grandchildren all knew the Lord as their savior. He was surrounded by many friends and – well – life was just good.

And so, as he continued to grow in his faith he wondered why the Lord had not tested him. Somewhere along the line he had heard that if you're not having occasional journeys into a valley then perhaps your faith is too weak to be tested. Similarly he heard that Satan doesn't bother with those who aren't a threat to him. So, while not looking for cloudy skies, he did wonder.

You see the greatest test of our trust in God is when we have no-one else to turn to. As long as we're on the mountain top we give God the glory, we vocally praise and thank Him for His abundant ongoing providence. But mountain tops don't drive us to our knees in despair, crying out for relief, praying for mercy, begging for a cure, or employment, or forgiveness.

Its much harder to praise God when life gets hard, when you have an unfaithful spouse or a rebellious and delinquent child, when the job you thought would go on indefinitely suddenly disappears, and you wonder how you'll pay the rent and how you will feed your children; or when a loved one is stricken with an illness that may take them from you and additionally drive you into unbelievable indebtedness. That's when many would look up, perhaps shake a fist, and say "Why me Lord?" – "I don't deserve this!" But our God says "When you are weak, them I am strong"- "My grace is sufficient".

Though it may be hard, I would urge you to look at your affliction from a different viewpoint.

Let us first take another reading of our opening verse  – Isaiah 48:10. I typically use the NIV as a default interpretation because it is much easier to read than the King James. In some cases the interpretations are just as reliable but then, in some cases, as here, the rendering leaves us with an incomplete understanding. Reading from the KJV, "Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction."   Note the difference in the second part of the verse – the word 'chosen' verses 'tested'. The difference here is that the Hebrew word, bachar, is from a root – to try; such as, "I will try you out on my softball team – I choose you for  a trial run" Thus the KJV 'chosen' is far closer in interpretation than the NIV or ESV or NKJV 'tested'.

What the Lord is trying to get across is that He has chosen you to be tested. In His great love for you He has chosen you for a test of your faith, and in that sense we should indeed rejoice in that test. God has chosen me. . .

Let affliction come – God has chosen me. Poverty may intrude at my door, but God is already in the house. Sickness may invade, but we have a Salve ready – God has chosen me! Whatever might bring me to tears, I know that He has "chosen" me. Even in the valley of the shadow of death He says, "Fear no evil; for I am with you".

As for the 'man I knew' and what became of his life on the mountain top – that man was your author and he was indeed tested. He not only survived his journey into the valley – he was, I was, by God's good grace, victorious. I was surrounded by the family of God who bolstered my faith, showed me His face, and through them I knew His faithfulness –  that He was walking me, guiding me through the valley. Not only would I not walk the valley alone, but I would come through victorious. So I praise Him for loving me enough to choose me for a test. I pray you are chosen, for by so you may draw nearer to God than you would you ever know.

Trust Him and be blessed. . .

  

Storms of Life

Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. (Psalm 107:28-29 NIV)

Wouldn't it be wonderful if every time we find ourselves in the midst of the storms of life that we could know as we cry out to God that He would still the storm? Scripture says He can, (Psalm 65:7). . .and He does (Psalm 89:9). Why then does it seem our storms rage on?

Storms come at us unexpectedly. . .like a sneaky little pick-pocket stealing our joy. Sometimes they are big – really big. Like the unexpected loss of a loved one, or the doctor drops the "C" word on you. A good friend recently was blind sided by an unforeseen divorce suit – his storm went on and on and on, and may yet still be raging.

Some storms are not so big – perhaps confusing – perhaps bothersome – like a pesky mosquito when he bites, and you must scratch and scratch. An argument with your spouse – over nothing really – but its stealing your joy. The air is tense – home isn't peaceful. A child is failing at school, a parent has fallen and will need your time, your employer has cut back your hours – small storms – joy robbers.

What to do – what to do?? I pray but my storm remains. How should I react? Do I shout out at God or do I humbly ask, "What is the lesson Lord?" This thorn in my flesh – why? Why have You taken me into this valley? What is it that You would teach me?" There's a favorite old saying that goes something like, "Things grow best in the valleys". Is God trying to 'grow' me?

For the most part we must know that God is not the cause of our storms. He certainly knows about your storm; and if He has caused your storm, it is most definitely intended for your benefit. (Romans 8:28-30)

As we read Romans 8:28, let's not stop there. . .read on to verses 29 and 30. These three verses tell me that if God has brought me to some malady – some affliction, it is because He has a lesson – a message for me. This suffering – this adversity is "for the good of those who love Him" (me), and it's purpose is that I would "be conformed to the likeness of His Son. . .that [I] am called and [I] might be justified and glorified" 

Often our storms are brought about by choices we made – self inflicted consequences. We do still retain that sinful nature don't we. But then again the storm may be just a part of living in this fallen world. Mosquitoes, cancer, tornadoes, and all the turmoil and heartache they may represent, are products of the fall of man – none of us are exempt.

And yet we stand on His promise that "He has overcome the world" (John 16:33b NIV) While God may not be the cause of our suffering, He is the answer. It is in Him and by Him our answers lie. When we say "Why me?", we must acknowledge His just reply of "Why not you? You are a sinner, living in a perverse and rebellious world" Still as Paul promised, "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)

The storms of life can only take you where you allow them to, or to take from you what you allow them to take. They cannot take your joy unless you allow it. They cannot take away your faith unless you allow it. Our response to the storms of life is by our own determination – not by Satan's choice, not by your mother's, your brother's, nor your neighbor's choice. They may all whisper in our ears – but we choose our paths.

The storms come into all our lives – some greater than others – sometimes more than what seems bearable. But the Lord has promised He won't overburden us, "No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he'll never let you be pushed past your limit; he'll always be there to help you come through it." (1 Cor. 10:13 MSG)

I pray the Lord God's abundant blessings on you and yours, and may you be a blessing to those around you.

If Only!

“You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country.  The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.  Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed.  You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.  The LORD will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven.” Deuteronomy 28:3-7 NIV

“The eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.” 2 Chronicles 16:9 NIV

“Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” Malachi 3:10 NIV

The Bible is replete with promises of God’s desire to bless us, to fulfill our dreams and those of our nation. We could fill many pages with scriptural promises of our Lord’s goodness, faithfulness, and provision. . He wants to fight our battles – whether those battles are with conquering nations or conquering addictions. He wants to cure our ailments, whether they are heart attacks or broken hearts. If only. . .

That’s the rub – we don’t, won’t abide with the ‘if only’. It’s as we’re shouting back at God, “NO, I don’t want your blessings, I don’t want you to fight my battles, don’t restore my relationship with my daughter – I’ll just go on being angry with her. Don’t cure my addictions – I enjoy overeating – drinking to excess – being angry with the world, judging, being intolerant, greedy, or (fill in your slave master).

NO God, don’t show me a life of peace, love, and joy. . .I’d rather be sullen, critical, and jealous, a burden on my family and my community. Don’t pour out the abundance of your love, grace, and mercy on me – I’d rather just carp and complain about how my plans have gone amiss. We say we want His blessings but we want them on our terms, as if they are owed to us. We say, “I want God’s help, but I don’t want God to tell me what to do.”

And what is the ‘if only’? To obey. The preface to the abundance of God’s storehouse of blessings that He promises in Deuteronomy 28 is repeated twice in the first two verses – “If you obey”. As He entered Jerusalem for His divine appointment on Calvary, the book of Luke relates Jesus mourning over that great city, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace. . .” (Luke 19:42) ‘If only’. . .

Continuing from our opening, Moses relays more of God’s promises, if only we will obey in Deuteronomy 28:8-13, The LORD will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The LORD your God will bless you in the land He is giving you. The LORD will establish you as His holy people, as He promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the LORD your God and walk in obedience to Him.  Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they will fear you.  The LORD will grant you abundant prosperity—in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your ground—in the land He swore to your ancestors to give you. The LORD will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none.  The LORD will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the LORD your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom.

God has a heavenly storehouse of such abundance that is simply unimaginable. Paraphrasing Isaiah 64:4, Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Cor. 2:9) God’s blessings are like a runner in the starting blocks, or a race horse held back by the jockey, each waiting for the starting pistol to be fired. You, my friend, hold the pistol. You, my friend, are the only obstacle to receiving all that God has for you, all He has promised you. You, my friend, are like the young man in the picture; your hand is held out, saying “Stop the blessings machine!”


Suffering For Christ

We’re delving into a subject we would all rather avoid, and that is the issue of suffering. The Bible teaches us that we all should expect to suffer, and not only expect, but we should rejoice in suffering. Now I can’t speak for you but I don’t recall a time when I ever looked forward to suffering.

First let us differentiate suffering for Christ, and that suffering which is just part of life. A headache brought about from a night of drinking is not suffering for Christ. The headache you got from hours of pouring over a Bible study so as to be prepared for your Sunday School class is suffering for Christ. The blister you got on your foot from walking the golf course in new shoes is not suffering for Christ; the blister you got from walking the halls of the hospital to visit the sick is suffering for Christ. Few of us are challenged today with the level of suffering endured by the apostles, the Christians of the first few centuries after Christ, or even that which most of our missionaries experience today. But if you have been ostracized by coworkers or family, if you have lost or been refused a job, if you have contracted some disease as you ministered to the unbelievers, all that is indeed suffering for Christ.

Which suffering is by God, what is by Satan, by man, by self? Suffering is not always by the hand of God (though we acknowledge His supreme sovereignty). Sometimes our suffering can be of our own choices in life, sometimes a byproduct of our neighbor’s actions, and sometimes by Satan. Ultimately we must understand that whatever the source of our malady or catastrophe, it has come upon us by God’s permission – most often not by His design. Even then He can use this unplanned (by God) tribulation for His glory, our personal enlightenment, and growth in our faith in Him.

The lung cancer we are afflicted with was most likely brought about by a choice we made to smoke – our incarceration in the local bastille resulted from unlawful deeds. Those kinds of suffering which we bring upon ourselves are not God honoring, but He can still use them to His glory. Once we have surrendered to Him, our past, including our mistakes, becomes part of our testimony as to His goodness, grace, and mercy. God then uses that testimony to reach others who have suffered similarly.

Likewise the suffering we endure at the hands of our neighbors is not always part of God’s plan for our life, but as we suffer, and hopefully overcome, that too becomes part of our testimony to God’s redeeming love for us. I would add to this category what is often referred to as “acts of God”, such as weather related disasters. Also diseases, war, and all that resulting from the ‘fall’ of man from grace.

Even when we don’t overcome or outlive these calamities, I would say that for the believer, God can and does use them for His glory.That is a hard premise to sell to those who are suffering. To say that God would use an earthquake, or a child afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis, or the violent death of a loved one to the furtherance of His Kingdom doesn’t sound much like the loving God we have been promised.

The fact is though, that man and woman, are by nature prideful, self centered, and rebellious. We don’t naturally take discipline and conviction without some level of resistance. Paul wrote that, by nature we were objects of wrath [of God]”. (Eph. 2:3 emphasis added) Sometimes God has to ‘break’ us before we will submit to Him – sometimes His breaking is spurned, disregarded, and ignored.

Sometimes we can’t see the object lesson God has for us. Certainly Joseph did not immediately see God at work in his young life as he was first thrown into a cistern and then sold as a slave by his own brothers, and later jailed in a foreign land. Joseph could not see the end of his story – God did; we cannot see the end of our story – God does – and He promises it will be a glorious ending if we trust Him.

Suffering by the hand of Satan is real, though I think he gets blame/credit for many of our own choices. For most of us Satan only whispers in our ear – enticing us, tempting us, seducing us to follow his lead. Satan’s powers on this earth, his realm, are limited, but he is not without abilities to indwell certain weak souls. We read of the limits God placed on Satan in the book of Job where he had to get God’s permission to afflict Job, and even that affliction was limited by God (Job 1:9-12). Yet we find in the New Testament where even the Archangel Michael would not confront Satan by his own strength, but by the strength of God. (Jude 1:9) Paul advised the Ephesians to “Put on the armor of God so you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes”. He noted that our battle was “…against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil…” (Eph. 16:10-13) We should never think we can battle the evil one on our own – we must seek God’s power for such a battle.

And then we come to that suffering originated, generated, and ordained by God. This is often the hardest for us to understand. We want to think of our Father as a loving, forgiving, merciful God; and He is all that, praise be. But He is also a jealous and wrathful God and He warns us of His jealousy and wrath in His Word. (Ex. 20:5; 34:14; Deut. 5:9; Rom. 1:18). The Old Testament is replete with occasions of God’s wrath, and Revelation alerts us of His wrath to come. (Rev. 14:10,12; 16:1)

Personally I choose to believe that God seldom inflicts us with whatever malady we may be facing. There is enough pain and malaise brought about by our own choices in life and by living in this fallen world to go around. I am also confident that God reroutes the vast majority of those maladies, calamities, and catastrophes that come knocking at our door.

And come knocking they will. Suffering for Christ is promised; John. 15:20; 16:33 – so why would we not anticipate it, expect it? 1 Pet. 4:12-13 – Paul says we should rejoice in suffering – Col. 1:24 – Jesus said suffering for Him is a privilege – Matt. 5:11-12; Jn. 15:18-20- and finally we find consolation as we reap the benefits and rewards of suffering for Christ – 2 Tim. 2:12; 1 Pet. 4:13; 5:10.

There is no sharing in Christ’s glory unless there is sharing in His suffering.