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.

  

 

“Bring it on!”

 

There are only a few verses in the Bible that use the term hero, and the title is not always complimentary. Of the few renderings found in the NIV (none in the KJV, and only two in the NKJV) the Hebrew gibbôr is interpreted "mighty men", and the occasion refers mostly to  pompousness or worldly recognition of self. 

The characters we typically think of as Biblical heroes and heroines are never labeled as such. The great King David, Moses, Gideon, Joshua, Paul, Rahab, John the Baptizer, Esther, Daniel and his young friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – these are just a few of whom we most often envision as heroes and heroines. These are the people who looked death – and most often a cruel and painful death – in the face and said 'bring it on, I'll not deny my God'. We do not find that even Jesus is ever referred to as a 'hero'. Certainly in our vernacular He was a Hero.

What makes someone a hero for the faith? I would say it is that person who knowingly and purposefully put his or her life in harm's way in their dedication to glorifying God. I think the two qualifiers are essential for such an identity. First of all they know their actions and their words will offend someone so grievously that they must be quieted by any means, and then with this knowledge they go forward anyway. "Bring it on!"

A wonderful thing about heroes of the faith – be they Biblical or of a later date – is that they were men and women just like you and me. People with aches and pains, people suffering financial burdens, people with up-side-down relationships, people with addictions, all of them – all of us weak – in many ways.

Look at Jonah – what a loser this guy was. Not only did he disobey God when he was called, he ran away. Then when God finally gets Jonah on the right track he reluctantly goes to Nineveh and by his God given message brings the city to salvation. But the concluding chapter of the book relates that Jonah is angry at God for their salvation. What kind of hero is that?? I have wondered why God would have inspired the author of this book to document such a reluctant servant of the Lord.  

I think it is a message to show all of us who read these words that God is declaring that He can use anyone, regardless of their attitude, their self-assessment, or their own personal agenda, to His glory. Paul wrote to the church at Philippi that God can bring His message of salvation even through a heretic or false prophet. (Phil. 1:15-18)

Outside the Bible we look at Wilberforce who took on all the courts of England in defense of the abolition of slavery, Bonhoeffer who defied the Third Reich with his message of freedom for the church in Nazi Germany, and Luther who stood up to the Vatican with their religion of salvation by works and monetary installment.

My point in this is to say that you and I are as able and desired by God to serve in His kingdom as was David, Esther, or any other of our favorite Biblical heroes. We have all heard the axiom that God will not bring you to it unless He will bring you through it. Paul tells us that those whom God calls to His work He 'justifies' (Romans 8:29-30).

How would we have the fortitude to strike out for the kingdom of God if all the 'heroic' examples were of unfailing and perfect character? How could I relate to Elijah being such a Godly hero if I did not also see his fear of worldly threats and stating that he would prefer to just lay down in the desert and die than face his adversaries? How might I have the courage today to stand against contemporary morality, knowing my sinfulness, without also knowing that God used people with a sinful and rebelliousness character, much as mine, to glorify Himself.

Can we not see that God, in using our weakness to better His kingdom and proclaim His gospel, proves His might and majesty? If Moses was indeed as depicted by Charleston Heston a strong and mighty man, rather than the weak willed, tongue-tied wimp as scripture chronicles, would God have been glorified or would Moses?

Our Father God uses us only as we are weak in our selves. (1 Cor. 1:27-31). Any strengths we claim is worldly in nature – born of self and not of God. 

One of the most often recurring themes of Oswald Chambers' "My Utmost for His Highest" is submission, surrender, and obedience. It is only as we do these things – submit, surrender, and obey – that we become powerful and productive in God's kingdom. Not my will be done, but thine. Even Jesus recognized as He prepared Himself for Calvary that He too must surrender to God's will and in doing so became the HERO of all time and circumstance.

I thank God today for His wonderful examples of Biblical heroism. Rahab, who had to know that if her secret were to be found out would suffer terribly; Stephen who had no illusions of the horror he faced, and Paul who endured so very many rejections, beatings, stonings, whippings – all for the message of Christ – these heroes/heroines of the Bible have left an indelible image for us – but so many, so very many unnamed more went to their death in the most excruciatingly painful manner rather than surrender their life to anything other than Christ. They were eaten alive by bears, lions, wild dogs and who knows what more. They were covered in tar and set ablaze as torches for the Roman Emperor's entertainment.

Today, as you may read this Christians are standing up for Jesus at their sure peril in China, India, Nigeria, Egypt, and dozens of other countries around us. Some of these are heroes with a capital H; some without the capital are heroes and heroines just the same. 

My present hero is my wife who faces a dark valley that neither she nor I anticipated. But she is sure that God is going to see her through this valley and from and through her faith I am inspired to support her walk through the valley.

Our heroes of the faith don't wear a form-fitting Superman or Wonderwoman suit, they don't wear a white hat, and they don't stand out from the crowd. They are often fearful, in doubt, and failing in their walk with Christ. We are human, we are frail, we are trespassers. But we are also called by God as saints, disciples, and heirs to His kingdom. He says we are His friend and for us He has given His precious and perfect Son, and to lead and guide us He has implanted His Holy Spirit within us. We are God's earthly heroes and heroines if we will only allow His work to be done through us. Surrender and be glorified in His kingdom.

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.


The Sovereign God

Our Bible study group finished up a study of the book of Job with a looming question to which we found no answer. The question was, as Job asked, and as is the theme of the book, "Why me Lord?  "What have I done to deserve the Lord God's wrath?"

Job's friends Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu, each in his own manner, variously blame Job's suffering on his own sinful actions.  Job's tribulations were, they said, God's punishment for wrongdoings.  Eliphaz tells Job "Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty." (Job 5:17)

Bildad picks up where Eliphaz left off with the same theme that Job's suffering is punishment – even to saying that Job's children were struck dead for their sin. (8:4)  Zophar is the least sympathetic of the first three friends saying that God knows Job is a 'secret sinner'. (11:2-12)  And finally Job hears from Elihu, the youngest and self-proclaimed 'wise' counselor who accuses him of arrogance, (chap. 34), saying he cannot be as pure and righteous as he has claimed.

In the forty two chapters of the book we find the only sure and unarguable declaration is that God is sovereign and He answers to no one.  God speaks of His authority at some length in this book.  Who has the audacity to challenge Him, His justice, or His wisdom?

Speaking of His sovereignty the apostle Paul quoted God's words to Moses, "What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (Romans 9:14-15)

In Isaiah, chapter 55, God said of Himself,

8“ For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.

9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."

When we seek to understand the miseries and maladies we face we often overlook God's sovereignty.  We mimic Job and ask, "why me?", and God could answer, "why not you?"  Why does my sweet grandmother suffer?  Why was my baby born with such an insufferable disease.  Why is an entire continent dying of AIDS?  Why are an entire generation of young children being forced into slave labor in Asia?  Job claimed he was innocent and that God was unjust in bringing about his suffering and likewise we claim that we're 'good' people, that we're underserving of these trials and tribulations.

As we endeavor to make sense of our dilemma d'jour, we should lean on God's promised faithfulness.  He says we should expect troubles to befall us, (John 16:33, James 1:2, 1 Peter 1:6), that our trials are not unique, nor does He abandon us in those times of trouble. (1 Cor 10:13, Psalm 34:19)

If you believe that God has taken you into a valley from which you see no escape, that is the time you need to trust His wisdom.  God is not spiteful, nor do I believe He takes us into the valley for no good reason. I am reminded of the story of Joseph, how he was almost murdered by his brothers, sold into slavery by them, was unjustly imprisoned for years, and yet through it all he never faltered in his faith in God.  Only God knew how Joseph's story would end and only God knows how your story ends.  We trust the well known verse in Romans 8:28; "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." Obviously we may not see the 'good' alluded to here and that is where faith comes in.  He does not take us into that valley and leave us alone.  Matthew 28:20, John 14:17-18

From an old Bill Gaither favorite – "The God of the mountain is still God in the valley; the God of the good times is still God when they're hard…"

The Cost of Grace

When the Allied forces stormed ashore at Normandy on D-Day, charging into deadly German fire and land mines, General Dwight Eisenhower said, “There are no victories at discount prices.”  It was true at Normandy.  It is true in following Jesus.  Beginning at the cross, it has always been expensive.

Some years ago when authoring a small group study on the Sermon on the Mount I was led to read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s, The Cost of Discipleship.  The book is a goldmine for a deeper understanding of the Sermon, but an unexpected nugget found at the beginning of the book is the premise of “cheap grace verses costly grace”.  Bonhoeffer, in his opposition to the ‘German Christian’ church, taught and lectured on their practice of ‘advocating and promulgating an unrepentant version of salvation, justification, forgiveness, and the sacraments’.

Quoting from page 42, “Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits.  Grace without price; grace without cost!  And the essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing.  Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite.  What would grace be, if it were not cheap?  . . .  In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. . .
“Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner.  Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before.
“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, (it is) baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”  (pg. 43-4)
“Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has.  It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods.  It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake of one will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
Such grace is costly. . . because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.  It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.  It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.  Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.” (pg 45)

A visitor to Rome once commented on his experience of touring the Catacombs, the caverns that wind beneath the streets of that ancient city.  Here were the caverns where many of the first Christians hid from the Roman soldiers who would take them to their execution for believing in Christ.  Here they carved in the walls the ancient symbols of their faith – like the cross and the sign of the fish. Those symbols are still there as silent testimony to their faithfulness.  In the walls of these caverns they buried countless loved ones who’d been torn to pieces by a pack of starving wild dogs, or bears,  or lions in the Coliseum all because they would not renounce Christ for Caesar.  Emerging from the catacombs the visitor was asked what was his impression.  All he could say was, “Our faith is very expensive.”

The way of Jesus that we claim to walk today was indeed very expensive for those first Christians; and has continued so for the millions who have suffered and died for the name of Jesus in every succeeding generation, including our own.  So who am I,  who are we, that we should get off so cheap?
Jesus made it clear that there would be no discount disciples; no room for those who would suggest a commitment to Him that didn’t cost too much. (Matt. 19:16-30)
Jesus put the cost of following Him right up front in Luke 14:27, “Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple.” In Luke 9:23, He made clear that joining Jesus in carrying your cross was not a once-for-all decision, but one that must be renewed every day. He said, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”

Notice, He didn’t say, “Take up your golf bag or big screen TV and follow Me.” Some who claim a Christian walk have gotten the twisted idea that following Jesus just means going to some of His meetings, throwing a little money His way, maybe taking on a couple of jobs for Him, and maybe even being called a couple of names because we’re His.  If the price tag gets much higher, we start to complain, to feel sorry for ourselves, and think about quitting.  What an insult to Him for whom it cost everything!  What an insult to brothers and sisters across the generations who have paid such a high price for following our Savior.

Our Christian faith is alive today because of some real disciples who refused to quit, no matter what the cost; because of a Savior who refused to quit, even as He anticipated the agony and humiliation of the cross.  Bonhoeffer was himself executed, martyred for his refusal to bend to the Nazi takeover of the German church.

Those who experience Jesus most deeply, most sweetly, are those who walk the way of the cross with Him.  Don’t be afraid to make the choices for Him that may cost you something.
When David was told by the prophet Gad to build an altar to God on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, and Araunah offered the threshing floor, plus the oxen freely, David insisted on paying for it.  David said, “I insist on paying you for it.  I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God offerings that cost me nothing.” 2 Sam. 24:24.
That’s what taking up a cross means – expensive choices.  Jesus is worth any price you pay for following Him, because as much as it may cost to follow Him, it costs a whole lot more not to follow Him.

The Bible is replete with verses on the persecution and suffering we should expect, and we should indeed revel in being so blessed as to follow the examples of Jesus and His Apostles.  Sadly, much, maybe most, of our great nation no longer shares our love of God, and in fact would deny our right to speak of Him.

In our Top Gun classes we have discussed whether we are commanded to endure unlimited persecution and suffering in our daily intercourse with the unbelievers of our world.  How much mocking and ridicule are we to bear?  I guess Jesus set the table for us in His Sermon on the Mount.  The last of the beatitudes tells us “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. 5:11-12)

God expects us to introduce Him to the unbelievers of this world – all of them.  Not just some – not just when it’s convenient or when we have little else to do.  Not just now and then, or when we’re pretty sure our advances will not be denied.  But we are not commanded to continue an exercise in futility.  In the story of the rich young ruler Jesus told him what he must do to follow him.  He could not or would not do as he was told and Jesus did not pursue him any further.

I quoted Luke 14:27 earlier and there is so much more Jesus had to say there; that we should put Him ahead of our families and even our own lives.  The lines following the previously quoted Luke 9:23 are pretty explicit: 9:24-26 – “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self; If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels”

Father we pray for the courage to take up your cross every day, to do it with joy in our hearts, and to follow you all our days on earth.

You know dear friend, it’s not that we have to. . . it’s that we get to.

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