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.

Into the Valley

 

1. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.

3. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

4. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

5. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.

6. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.

(Psalm 23 NKJV)

Walking hand in hand with God is such a wonderful experience. You know that you know that you know. . .that His Holy Spirit, who is alive – no, more than just alive – He is living, working, leading in and through you. You are so very aware of His teaching, His rebukes and His gentle push when temptation would steer you off that narrow path. He opens your eyes to the wonders of God's Holy Word – that most precious of possessions. He takes this Word and burns it into your mind and then He tenderly places it on your heart, so that it becomes so much part of you that it is as another vital organ without which you cannot survive.

You are so deeply grieved by your sinful contribution to our Savior's death – death on a cross; I may have just as well driven home the nails myself. Could I, could you, look my murderer in the face and say "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do"? All these things are integral to that wonderful experience of a Christian walk.

I have opened this devotional with the 23rd Psalm, a most beloved passage we learned as a child in Sunday School and repeated often in Vacation Bible School. Of the whole of the psalter the 23rd is probably known by more people than any other. Perhaps initially because it is short and therefore easy to memorize, but I think as the words grow within us, even as we physically and mentally mature, they become a cherished crutch to call upon when days grow dark – when we find ourselves in 'the valley of the shadow of death'. If we back up one Psalm to the 22nd we can hear the anguish and distress David is experiencing and perhaps one song led to the next.

It is curious to me that the 23rd Psalm was the first passage that came to my mind when I found myself tumbling off a mountain top recently. I have known myself to be living a mountain top experience for a number of years now. I have shared that cognizance with most of my friends. I have even prayerfully questioned God why I was so blessed, while I was surrounded by so much suffering by those I love. They say you shouldn't look a gift-horse in the mouth. Maybe they were right.

Over the past few weeks I found my footing on the mountain top slipping just a little and midweek this week I came falling, tumbling, sliding off that mountain top, right into the valley of the shadow of death. A doctor's visit jerked the rug right out from under our feet. You see, the doctor says my bride, my love, my best friend has cancer and it is an ugly cancer. I suppose all cancers are ugly, but for Judy and me this one seemed more ugly than what we were ready to face.

We made a few phone calls and send a couple of emails to ask our friends and family for prayer. I so very distinctly remember how distant God seemed from me. That wonderful, hand in hand experience I described above seemed now so far away. In one email I noted that although I knew the Lord was with us, I just could not at the moment see where He was in our picture.

I stayed up very late that evening, much of the night on my knees. Not only praying for a miracle for Judy, but that I would know His presence – that He would show His face. I so desperately missed knowing His nearness to me.

God answered my prayers – in spades. He showed His face in ways I had not expected. He sent His angels – earth angels. Some of the angels had titles, like Pastor and Doctor; most were those of His faithful – our friends and family. Judy and I were inundated with phone calls, email and text messages, flowers, and knocks at our door. It was in these of our loved ones, as they circled the wagons around us, that I saw the face of God – this was the hand of God telling me that He will indeed lead us beside still waters to lie down in green pastures. This was God assuring me that we should fear no evil for He is with us.

Our walk through the valley of the shadow of death is far from over – it has really only begun. But as wonderful as was the mountain top, so too now is this valley, as I know He is with us on the journey. Surely and indeed my cup runneth over.

Trusting God when all is well is such an easy thing. I think it also can be a time we may take His blessings too much for granted. I don't think I had done so – perhaps He thought differently. But I thank Him for this 'valley', as I am more sure today than yesterday that I know that I know that I know He loves me and He will never leave me nor forsake me.

I would never wish ill for anyone, but I do pray God will take you into some valley, that you may come to know Him in a way you'll never know from the mountain top.

God bless

 

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.

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.