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.

  

 

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.


On Persecution

I have often wondered how I would stand up to real persecution for the Lord.  I’ve never been in a position where I was pressed to defend my belief in God in the face of real personal injury, or arrest and incarceration.  I have met a few who have and was just so very impressed with their faith.

I was in a Bible study some years back with a young Ukrainian girl whose name was Luba,  She shared with our small group of the persecution she and her family faced daily, both before and after their country was freed from Communist Russia’s oppression.  The small village where she lived was like any small town, everyone knew everyone and knew their business as well. You can’t keep too many secrets in a small town.  Worship to the One God was unlawful before the fall of communism and then not tolerated after.  Simply owning a Bible was sufficient cause for the government to send the parents to prison, or a work camp, and the children would have all been farmed out to foster homes for re-indoctrination and a life of virtual slave labor.  Luba’s family did not try to hide their belief in God and were severely persecuted for it.  Decent employment was denied, Luba and her siblings were ostracized in school, and they were generally treated as outcasts by their neighbors.  Yet they persevered in their faith and worship.  Surely they will find their reward in heaven.  How many of us would be as courageous.

I know of a brother and a sister in our church, who because of verbal abuse, intimidation, and generally making their work places totally unbearable, were forced to leave that employment.  Not quite the same as Luba and family, but persecuted none the less.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matt. 5:10-12  Before Stephen was ultimately martyred for his faithfulness, he was brought before the council (another kangaroo court), where he also spoke of how the prophets had all been persecuted. (Acts 7:51-53)

I suppose the question should be, “Why should we not be persecuted?”  When Jesus sent out the Twelve on their first evangelistic mission He warned them that they would not always be well received – that they would be “as sheep in the midst of wolves” and they would be brought before councils and would be beaten. (Matt. 11)  He told them they would be hated. (John 15:18)  Why then should we expect anything less?

Most of you probably know the names of evangelists and missionaries who have made the ultimate sacrifice.  Two latter day saints come immediately to my mind, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Corrie ten Boom – two World War II saints who refused to deny their faith much as Stephen did – carrying the Word of God into the prisons where they brought God’s message of salvation to non believers, both prisoners and guards alike.  Bonhoeffer paid with his life, mercifully Ten Boom was spared.

Though persecution is to be expected, there is room to rejoice in God’s faithfulness for our obedience.  Acts 23 relates Paul’s confrontation with a Roman commander and his (Paul’s) accusers in the Sanhedrin.  Paul had to be rescued by the commander as he had caused such an argument between the Sadducees and the Pharisees.  But Paul knew he was not alone. Look at how God exhorted Paul in verse 11: “The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” THE FOLLOWING NIGHT!  Paul has just escaped with his life (once again).  God now gives Paul encouragement and. . .and let him know he would be exposed to more persecution for his testimony in Rome.  Rome, where the hatred for Christians was the worst in all of Paul’s world.  And yet Paul did not flinch in his determination.  Could you?  Could I?  I know I do not have the strength within me but I also know that with God nothing is impossible if I lean on His strength, and His faithfulness.

Jesus promised us “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33b

In conclusion allow me to quote from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest.

“Hugh waves that would frighten an ordinary swimmer produce a tremendous thrill for the surfer who has ridden them.  Let’s apply that to our own circumstances.  The things we try to avoid and fight against – tribulation, suffering, and persecution – are the very things that produce abundant joy in us.  ‘We are more than conquerors through Him’ ‘in all these things’; not in spite of them, but in the midst of them.  A saint doesn’t know the joy of the Lord in spite of tribulation, but because of it…..the experiences of life, whether they are everyday events or terrifying ones, are powerless to ‘separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ Romans 8:39

Until next time, may God bless you and yours and may you be a blessing to someone else.

 

I AM WHO I AM

A few years ago I offered a discussion on how God, in his love for each of us individually, made deliberate effort to design each of us to His purposes.  I quoted Psalm 139, verses 13 and 14 where David proclaimed, “For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made “.

I realized that I was leaving a lot unsaid regarding the end product we find in ourselves and the rest of humanity, but too often I find these weekly offerings longer than what is advisable to keep your interest. Grist for another mill.

What I left unsaid was that although some of us are content with how God has designed us, many are not.  Along with the physical makeup of our bodies, our good looks or the lack thereof, our personality, artistic abilities, level of intelligence, emotional stability, and everything else that defines us, were all part of the knitting God did.

We might ask how is it that God would knit a person who becomes a despotic dictator, a murderer, or a child molester.  God did not design anyone to prey on or to oppress their neighbor.  God is love – pure love – eternal love.  If we could insert a picture of God in the dictionary beside the word love all the text could be deleted.  He is the ultimate and complete definition of love, and He not only would not, but He could not be true to Himself and design one of His creation with anything but love; the same degree and level of love that He knit you and me.  Those who prey on people are that way because of choices they made, not that God made them that way.  Such is the curse of ‘free will’.

Another obvious question from some might be, “If God took such great pains to ‘knit’ each person how is it that we have children born with physical and mental disabilities?”  My friends I wish I could give a wise and insightful answer to that question.  My best understanding of that issue is that when sin entered into the world with the transgressions of Adam and Eve, part of that sin includes the physical, mental, and emotional maladies we face today.

What I do know is that God does not make mistakes. We say that a child born with mental or physical disabilities is less than what we term as whole.  Perhaps our terminology needs revamping. Let me say again, God does not make mistakes! They are whole to Him and designed for His glory.  Perhaps the challenged child is that ‘thorn in the side’ to keep grounded a parent who may have been inclined otherwise, or a magnet to draw us closer to Him, knowing that of and by ourselves we cannot deal with such tragedy.  We must run to Him for solace and comfort, we must trust Him for the answers we cannot find on our own.

Here the often quoted verse, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28), may be the only answer we will get this side of Glory.

What is hard for many of us who claim to walk in faith is that the God who created us, and called us to Himself, is the same God who created those we consider inferior, substandard, and contrary to our preconceived notions of what is beautiful, or normal, or whole, or even acceptable.  Too often we choose to reject God’s workmanship.  Too often we propose to ‘make more beautiful’ what He intended in His design.

To wish you were brave (as did Gideon and Isaiah), or eloquent (Moses and Paul) is to desire to upstage God’s design.  To wish you were less aggressive or more bold, to wish you were blond or redheaded (or even had hair), to wish you were glib and articulate of speech, is to usurp the sovereignty of God and His Kingdom plans.  Not to say we cannot and should not present ourselves and train ourselves to be the very best representative of Christ that we can, but if red hair or articulate speech does not translate to furthering His message – to Kingdom business…..then whom do we idolize?

I don’t like ending this devotional on a down note so allow me to quote some of the 33rd Psalm.

13. The LORD looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men.
14. From the place of His dwelling He looks on all the inhabitants of the earth;
15. He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works.

He considers our works.  He knows our hearts.  We won’t hear “Well done, good and faithful servant!” in response to anything other than Kingdom business.  Revel in what God has made in you.  Stand tall and be filled with joy at who you are in Christ, knowing you are the way you are because God wanted it that way.

When Moses asked God who he should tell the Israelites had sent him to them, God said, “I AM WHO I AM.” We should be as bold.  I am who I am because is suited my King for me to be this way.

Until next time, may God bless you and yours and may you be a blessing to someone else.

 

Victory Over Pain

“Consider it pure joy, my brother, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  James 1:2-4  How important this issue must have seemed to James for him to open his epistle with these words.

Suffering is real, as real as pleasure.  Sickness, loneliness, humiliation, frustration, temptation to sin – all rain on us like bricks falling out of a dump truck – sometimes singularly – sometimes in bunches.  And they all are painful – often more so than if we had been physically bruised by a brick.  Murphy’s Law laments, “If anything can go wrong, it will”, I have also heard adjuncts of “…at the worst possible time, under the worst possible conditions”, and that “Murphy was an optimist.”

There is another law – we might call it James’ Dictum or James’ Edict; the law of our suffering, its purpose, and how we respond to it.  Pain and suffering is not an obstacle to our spiritual growth, but in fact is the condition of it.  They are the means by which we gain the graces and virtues we aspire to and that which we pray for. It is the way we become mature and complete.  Without it we would never make the most of our lives.  If you’ve never felt the pain of suffering how can you sympathize with those who do?  And what of that thing you’re suffering – is it unique – has no one before you lived through such an ordeal?  The Bible tells us not.

Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “No temptation (test, affliction, trial, ordeal) has seized you except what is common to man, but God is faithful.  He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can endure, and when (not if) you are tempted He will provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”  (2 Cor. 10:13 NIV emphases added)  This tells me that God knows how much a burden I can bear.  He knows my breaking point and He will not allow that burden to be more than I can handle – SO LONG AS I PUT MY TRUST AND MY FAITH IN HIM, AND LEAN NOT ON MY OWN UNDERSTANDING.

James defines our trials as “the test of [our] faith.”  The Greek word here “dokimion” means “tested and approved.” The word is found on the bottoms of ancient clay vessels that had been formed, fired, inspected, and found flawless.  It was the Greek “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval”

“Faith”, the other word James uses, is reliance on God and on His unfailing providence for us; that He will see us through the trials of this world.  It is unyielding belief in Romans 8:28; “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”  It is more than mere belief; it is a focused, conscious determination that by the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence and power, we will turn what we believe into godly behavior.  Suffering is the means by which that perfect end is accomplished.  Here’s how it works:

When we are beset with a malady, a heartbreak, a temptation – whatever the test – we have the God-given ability to choose how we will respond.  We can look inward and commence our pity party, or we can look to God and ask Him what He is trying to teach us.  You might retort, “That’s easy for you to say…you haven’t walked in my shoes these last months/years”; and you would be right…certainly I haven’t carried a burden such as yours.   But my friend it does become easy to say as we decide to trust those words, “all things work together for good to those who love God”.  It’s an attitude, a determination that God is not vengeful, cruel, or cold-hearted.

Let me give you an example.  Sometime ago I spent an inordinately long and painful afternoon and evening with my dentist. The planned procedure went extraordinarily long – much longer than I anticipated, and I know it was longer than the dentist planned.  Without going into detail, suffice it to say there were several complications and I ended up in the chair for over eight hours.  Extra anesthetics were required over the long procedure so the additional injections (I estimate 25-30) added to my discomfort.  In addition to that, I missed a lay counsel training session that night, and it was raining, and I, and I, and I, and oh, poor, poor me.  Do you see how I might have been inclined to have a real pity party?  But I promise you my first thought was to thank God for the patience and diligence of my dentist and his assistant, for their expertise, and the sacrifice of their time (it was 9:15 PM before I left and they still had to clean the office).  I thanked God that the procedure had been completed, not only successfully, but had been done with such loving care and concern for my wellbeing.  If I was to endure such a session I would thank God for placing me in such dedicated, caring, and competent hands.

Now I’m no hero and certainly no saint, and I don’t claim that ordeal was intended by God to be a learning experience for me – it could have been.  What it did was to reinforce for me how God has changed my thought pattern.  Once I would have railed to all who I could corner on what a terrible ordeal I had endured.  The choice I now make is to look for the “good” that Paul promises in Romans 8:28 and be quick to thank God for His providence.  When we lose a loved one, when we lose employment, when we or a loved one suffer with disease or impairments, when life seem just to overwhelm, God is giving you a chance to turn to Him, to trust only in Him and “lean not on your own understanding.”  He knows better than we do what our torments and troubles are.  Babies do not learn to walk without first falling down a few times.

Without trials and temptations in our lives we would just stagnate – we would never know the joy of victory.  I firmly believe that however we find ourselves in the valley; be it from bad choices or just stumbling into the ‘unfair door’ of life, there is a lesson to be learned and if we will trust that God is still God in the valley, that He still cares about our wellbeing, and loves us, we will come out of the valley stronger in our faith in Him, and a better witness to His goodness.

Oswald Chambers wrote, “To choose suffering makes no sense at all; to choose God’s will in the midst of our suffering makes all the sense in the world.”

Corrie ten Boom wrote, “God uses our problems as building material for His miracles.”

Until next week, may God bless you and yours, and may you be a blessing to someone else.