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.

  

 

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!

The Aroma of Christ

"But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing." (2 Corinthians 2:14-15 NIV)

There's a 'not so kind' saying that goes, "Old fishermen never die, they just smell that way." Well, your author is an old fisherman, and I suppose on some  successful trips I have smelled that way. Of course, I do try to remedy that condition at the earliest opportunity.

Science tells us that the sense of smell is more acute than any of our other senses. A single whiff of apple pie, fresh mowed grass, orange blossoms, or an approaching rain shower is immediately recognized, even to the unseeing eye. Age old memories are brought forth clear and distinct by a momentary breath of an aroma from our past. I still remember the smell of my mother, her passing some 24 years ago. I don't have to see my wife to know she is near; her fragrance is sweet, magnetic, and a joy for me to inhale. So it is with genuine Christianity. Those who love the Lord Jesus emit a lovely aroma.

The Greeks in Corinth would have been very aware of the significance of Paul's reference to 'fragrances'. Whenever the Romans won a major military victory they would celebrate with a spectacular parade. Preceding the victorious company of soldiers would be heralds and priests swinging their censers with sweet smelling incense. The commanding general would lead the procession in a magnificent chariot, followed by his soldiers, musicians, and other officials. Then, soldiers would lead the defeated enemies through the city in bondage. All along the parade route you could smell the sweet aroma of the spices people were burning.As a part of the celebration, the Romans would burn fragrances on altars, filling the entire city with a pleasant aroma. Even those who could not witness the triumphal procession could hear the victory music and smell the pleasing incense. Everyone would know that their army had been victorious. The special fragrance came to symbolize victory to anyone who smelled it.To the conquered victims the incense has the stench of death lingering all about them.

Paul goes on to say in verse 16, "To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life." To those who are perishing we are the smell of death. At least we should be. Our righteous walk with the Lord should be evident for all to see and as such bring a sense of guilt and remorsefulness to our unsaved brothers. We wear this smell of death not haughtily or in false piety, but remembering always that we once walked the same path as they. As for the fragrance of life; "We are to God the aroma of Christ…". We wear that fragrance only by the grace of God; "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast." (Eph. 2:8-9 NIV)

Another aspect of having the 'aroma of Christ', and the more important one, is the aroma sensed by our Father in Heaven. There is a TV commercial presently depicting some people sitting around a garbage can blindfolded. Hanging over the stinking garbage is a deodorizer that has supposedly masked the stench and when the blindfolds are removed the people are amazed that they could not smell what they now can see.

Going back to Leviticus (chapters 1-5), where the LORD established the method and manner for each of the five sacrificial offerings, the text states that each offering would be "an aroma pleasing to the LORD" . Such is the aroma of Christ's death on the cross to our Father God. The stench of our sin nature, our unholiness is masked by Christ's sacrifice at Calvary. Through Christ Jesus we exude the aroma of His sacrifice.

We who were God's former enemies (Rom. 5:10) have been conquered by the sovereign saving grace of God (Eph. 2:5), and taken captive by Him, and as His bond slaves are led and displayed by Him before a watching world (v. 7). It is my prayer that as we daily walk with our Lord, His sweet fragrance fills the air of our passing and all those we encounter would breath in the sweetness of Jesus.

May the Lord abundantly bless you and yours, and may you be a blessing to others.

Life With the Unbeliever

There are two passages in the New Testament that, on the surface, appear to be contradictory. Well truthfully I find more than two, but for this issue we'll deal with just two. We must know that any verses or passages we think are in conflict with each other is only due to our misunderstanding. The Bible promises that the Word of God is perfect (Psalm 19:7), flawless, (Ps. 12:6), and trustworthy, (Ps. 33:4). So we must acknowledge our misconceptions of scripture are just that – misconceptions –  wrong-understanding.

The two passages which we will address are; 2 Corinthians 6:14-17, "Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said: “I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord. Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you." (2 Cor. 6:14-17 NLT)

And, "When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people. It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.” (1 Cor. 5:9-13 NLT)

It would seem as if Paul is clarifying a passage from his second letter with a passage from the first. Verse 9 presupposes there had been previous correspondence, of which we have no record, addressing this matter.

The NIV and NKJV renders the opening verse in our first passage as, "Do not be 'yoked' together with unbelievers". An understanding of the concept of being yoked really puts a brighter light on the teaching. When two draft animals are yoked together they have no options to separate leanings. They are in lock-step with each other – where one goes, so must the other, regardless of the incentive. Their incentive may be the greener grass at the side of the road or the sting of the master's whip. Our incentive to follow may be promise of greener grass, or a misguided commitment to be the whip that draws our unbeliever back onto the right track.

One verse seems to say that we must be very vigilant lest we become involved with unbelievers in wrong ways, and the other seems to say that you shouldn't take that approach to extremes. So the question may be asked, "What sorts of being yoked together with unbelievers is wrong? What sorts are encouraged or necessary or right?" Who am I to avoid – to separate myself from?

1 Corinthians 7:39 makes marriage clear, but what about a business partnership or a bowling team? What about a neighborhood HOA?  Do I ostracize myself from my co-workers, my next door neighbor? How then am I to be obedient to the Great Commission? (Matt. 28:19)

Paul is not promoting a separation from the world here. The people described in our first passage may include the posers who claim a relationship with Christ yet live a life contrary to Biblical teaching. But the crux of the message is the danger of an ongoing relationship with a person steeped in a sinful life and uninterested in repentance, redemption, or reconciliation. We should avoid relationships with unbelievers in which your relations may endorse the unbelief or consequent sins, and avoid the kinds of relationships with them that involve the interweaving of deep personal values (like marriage).

As for those who profess to be believers yet live in blatant sin or teach serious false doctrine Paul seems to promote a more vigorous ostracism. Beyond the warning to not associate with them he says we are not even to eat with them. "You must remove the evil person from among you" (vs 13). That seems a little harsh, even unmerciful given today's bent toward universal tolerance. But God is not universally tolerant nor does His Holy Word teach us to be. We are to be loving yet discerning, forgiving but wise in our relational choices, tolerant yet not blind to worldly (secular) alibis.

He says, "…separate yourselves from them…Don't touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you". I take this to mean that if a person has been disciplined in the appropriate way and yet chooses to continue living a sinful life, then we are not to continue socializing with him as if nothing were wrong.

The whole premise of both passages as I can determine is that Satan is alive and well and ruling this world we live in. If we permit an ongoing relationship with one of his minions we are at risk of being drawn along just as if we were yoked to the unrepentant sinner. Our commitment and obligation to the Great Commission not withstanding He says "Be Holy as I am Holy". Keep yourself 'set apart' as God is set apart.

Be Blessed.

The Cost of Discipleship

Today we'll look at that portion of Luke 10:57ff and Matthew 8:19-22 where  it seems Jesus discourages, and even dissuades potential disciples from 'taking up their cross' to follow Him.

Read with me from Luke. "Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go. And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Then He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father. ”Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God. ”And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62 NKJV)

So in reading this we find that Jesus warns the first volunteer that he has no clue as to what he's getting himself into. Matthew's version of this event says the first man was a 'teacher of the law'. Our Lord had been rejected in so many places, from Jerusalem to Galilee and back again. Judea rejects Him (John 5:18), Galilee casts Him out (John 6:66), Gadara pleaded with Him to leave their region, and Samaria refuses Him lodging (Luke 9:53). Jesus knows what awaits the true disciple.

Previously in the chapter we learn that Jesus is now on His way to Jerusalem; on His way to the Cross of Calvary. He knows the hearts of all men (Jn. 2:24f.), so He must have seen that this 'teacher of the law' was not prepared to give his all. Though we aren't privy to Jesus' discernment here, we must conclude there was a hidden agenda; maybe deeply hidden, but not hidden from our Lord. And as He demands in the very first of His Ten Commandments, "You shall have no other gods before Me." (Exodus 20:3)

Jesus' statement that “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” was a clear warning that discipleship is not a walk in the park. True disciples are often 'persona-non-grata'. More than rejected, disciples are vilified, ridiculed, and made sport of. If we are to take up our cross daily to follow Jesus there can be no distractions, no hindrance to our mission for His kingdom. No 'ifs, no ands, and no buts '.

Jesus  invites the second man to "follow me". And it appears the man is willing to do so, "but" he want to make conditions. Jesus says there are no conditions – "forget about the law" (burying his father). Bonhoeffer suggests the burying of the father was a law related issue, and in cases where abiding by a law separates you from following Christ, then we must become law-breakers. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship; Pg. 60-61)

Similarly a third volunteer suggests he would follow, again with conditions. Jesus says "forget about your family".

So what is wrong with wanting to bury your father – or saying goodbye to your family? The message Jesus has delivered is that no personal agenda, no matter how seemingly necessary or desirable, is to come ahead of Him. We miss the point of being disciples if we put abiding by the law or attending to our family ahead of following Christ. These things are complimentary to discipleship, not commanded. Taking care of our family and obeying the law have become 'sacred cows' in our economy. The Bible teaches us to do these things; rightly so,  and even non-believers follow these basic ideals. But Jesus minces no words as to what is more important.

This is a hard message and many will find fault with it. Seldom is Luke 9:57ff a subject for a Sunday morning sermon. It is much too caustic, too bitter for our appetite. However the Hebrews author declares "…let us throw off everything that hinders…" (Heb. 12:1), and Paul reminds us,   ". . . do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…" (Romans 12:2).

May the good Lord abundantly bless you and yours, and may you be a blessing to others.