Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 22 January 2020

But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me. Philippians 2:17-18. (EHV).

Building on yesterday’s thoughts, we should be glad when one of us is poured out, spent, sacrificed for God’s greater kingdom.   Yes, you read that right.   You and me:   we should celebrate when a fellow believer is poured out, spent, persecuted, tortured, even murdered (and martyred) for faith in God.   Again, yes, you read that right.  Read it again because, as things go in our world, some day soon it might be you or me being martyred.  And if you think about it, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.   Yes, I’m being serious.

Years ago, I read one of the Left Behind books, which aren’t my usual taste.   It was the one in which non-believers accepted the mark of the devil, and those who didn’t have the mark (believers) were rounded up and marched to the guillotine.   One of the main characters was awaiting her own beheading when she saw a group of other believers marching toward their execution, and they were joyful.   They were singing, joyful to be going to die.   By the end of the book, the main character joined them.   She, too, went joyfully.

I think about the people who are sentenced to die in Iran and Saudi Arabia and China and Cuba for being followers of Jesus.   Do they know they are heroes of the faith?   Are they happy to be dying?  Surely their families aren’t happy about it…are they?  Do the families or the persecuted realize that there are people all over the world who are both praying for their release while celebrating their defiant courage?   I love reading stories of their quiet dignity, their iron resolve to not renounce Jesus.   Those people – women and men both – are being poured out like Paul was.   They’re doing a courageous thing; something we, ourselves, may one day be called to do.   When they die, we can celebrate that their mission is complete, that they accomplished what God sent them here to do.   They’re enjoying eternity with Christ, enjoying their reward.   That’s something to celebrate.

When Peter and John were flogged and imprisoned, they sang.  Paul encouraged his friends to celebrate as approached death.  But should we be happy about it when our turn comes against the wall?   Yes:  yes, we should.   We’re each going to die; unless Jesus returns first; that’s a certainty.   When it happens to us, we can either face it with courage and be an example for others to celebrate or we can choose differently.   And when it happens to someone else, we have those same choices.   How we die matters.   Let’s make ours count.

For further reading:   Acts 5, Philippians 2:19

Lord Jesus, encourage me to celebrate the heroic faith of others and to demonstrate it myself today.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 17 December 2019

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him. Philippians 1:29. (EHV).

A scene from a particular movie has stuck with me since childhood.  It’s a scene from a movie called “A Man Called Horse” with Richard Harris starring as an Englishman who lived with an Indian tribe. In it, the man, known to the Sioux as “Horse,” is initiated into the tribe.   His chest is pierced, eagle talons are inserted in the pierce holes and then attached to long straps that are also attached to a center pole.   The man then hangs from these straps until the talons rip out of his chest, proving that his suffering becomes enough to purify him as a warrior for his new people.  The first sequel to this movie contains a similar scene.

Pretty gruesome stuff, eh?   Now think about crucifixion.   If you haven’t read up on just what happens during a crucifixion, go do it.  Or watch “The Passion of the Christ.”   Go watch the kind of thing that the Lord endured on our behalf.  Or go watch “A Man Called Horse.”  There.   That’s what’s in store for you as a believer.   It’s the kind of thing that Jesus had to endure, so if He can do it you or I can, right?

Don’t take it too lightly because I’m actually being serious here.   Saying “I believe in Jesus” may some day take you to that level of physical agony.   Just this past weekend I saw pictures of a woman who was whipped in Iran for professing her belief in Christ.   I’ve read accounts of people in China and Indonesia and Saudi Arabia being executed for believing in Jesus; usually that comes after they have been tortured.

But to live is Christ and to die is gain, right?   Yes, actually it is.  The actual risk of death – or likelihood of it – is part of the reward.   We live to share Him as heaven on earth, being part of heaven right now, here.   It is a privilege to stand for the Most High.  And when we die, we get to spend forever on adventure with Him in the fullest lives possible.   The torture or circumstances of our passing won’t matter.   Indeed, we’ll be thankful for them.

Until then, we may really be made to suffer here for our people.  Whether it’s having our chests pierced to hang from a pole or, like Jesus, have our hands and feet pierced to hang from a tree, we may actually suffer real agony, real torture, real persecution in the name of Jesus.   It would be for His glory, you see.  And our gain.

For further reading:  Matthew 5:11, Acts 5:41, Acts 14:22, Philippians 1:21, Philippians 1:30.

Lord Jesus, let it be Your good will if I am to suffer here for You.   Thank You for the privilege.   Abide with me through the pain into Your glory.

Practical Proverbial, from Philippians, 25 November 2019

And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. Philippians 1:14. (EHV).

Here’s that why behind the what again.   In the previous verses, Paul said that his bad thing – being imprisoned, in chains, for the gospel – turned out to be a good thing because the Gospel spread.  The reason why that’s a good thing is that people see what true believers are willing to endure for faith in Jesus and then they, themselves, become more confident in their own faith and bold to share it without fear.

Have you considered that the biggest Christian nation on earth – the nation with the most believers in Jesus by population – is the United States?   And that the one place where it should NOT grow (because the government there is atheist, Communist, and hostile to God in all ways) is the People’s Republic of China?   According to Pew Research, in the USA there are 248 million Christians; that’s approximately 75% of the population.   In the USA, for the moment, people are mostly free to exercise any religion they want, especially Christianity.   There are dozens of denominations; there are services and practices for any comfort level in the faith.   Think of that:  248 million people saying they believe in Christ crucified.   And yet that number is actually declining.

Then consider the People’s Republic where, according to billionbibles.org, there may be as many as 234 million Christians.   Out of a current estimated population of 1.435 billion Chinese, this means that 16% of the Chinese population professes to believe in Jesus Christ.   If their faith is discovered, Christians in China are likely to be persecuted in one way or another, either by forced silence or actual imprisonment.   Untold thousands have been sent to Chinese gulags and no accurate number is really known how many have been executed for being Christian.   Yet the faith is growing.

In North Korea, Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen it is a death penalty offense to say you believe in Jesus Christ.   And people do it anyway.   Just in those countries, thousands of people do it anyway.

Because watching someone be persecuted, lightly or harshly, may just spur you to think more about your own faith.   It may spur you to profess truths you hadn’t seriously considered.   It might just make you think in different ways.  The same “why” that explains why first century believers were strengthened by Paul’s persecution explains the things happening in our world today.   The Gospel can’t be contained by puny human methods, and where it is actively denied in the dark a tiny light can shine all that much brighter.

For further reading:  Acts 4:29, Acts 21:33, Philippians 1:15

Lord Jesus, where I’m stumbling in dark failure to share You where I am, teach me to shine so that others may benefit.

Practical Proverbial, from 2 Timothy, 27 June 2019

The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you all.  2 Timothy 4:22 (NIV).

Here we are again, at another ending, at the end of another book.   If you’re a ten-year reader of this blog, thank you!   I hope it’s a blessing to you.   You’ll remember we’ve reached endings together of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Ruth, Mark, Hebrews, James, 1/2/3 John, 1/2 Thessalonians and now 1/2 Timothy, as well as the topics of the Ten Commandments and Santa Claus.  That’s thirteen books of the Bible and 15 topics overall; well over a million words.   We’ve spent some time together.   God-willing, we’ll keep doing that.

And if He isn’t willing, if this is the last of these posts, then the Lord be with your spirit.   Grace be with you all.   I mean that.   We’ve (hopefully) learned from Paul to end our conversations genuinely, to infuse our parting with the same Spirit and love that we (hopefully, again) brought into our meeting.   As Paul closed out his letters with greetings from and to friends, he also closed them out by praying the Lord over the recipient.

That’s a bold thing to do, you know.   Paul understood these letters would be widely-read.   He probably didn’t envision they’d ever be part of canon Scripture, but he probably did imagine many people hearing them (or hearing about them).  He put down on paper both his personal affections for the reader as well as his prayers for the same.   In a time when that could get you killed, that’s bold.

And you know that time is now.   Praying Jesus Christ in public today can get you arrested or killed in North Korea, China, Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, and many nations in Africa.   In the US, it can get you fired.  Putting those prayers on paper can have the same effect because then you involve those recipients.   Yet, if we really believe in Jesus, then we’re compelled to do it.   The heart of the Gospel is agape love:   undeserved gracious love that goes out without any expectation of anything in return.   No matter the consequences.

It’s that love that nailed Jesus to the cross.   It’s that love that kept Him there, that rolled back the Easter stone.   It’s that love that called Paul on a road into Syria.   And it’s that love Paul wanted shared with his friends no matter what it would cost him.   Not long after writing the letter, it cost Paul his life.   Praise to God that He inspired Paul to be willing to do that.

So, at another ending, let us each be inspired to have that same faith and courage.   To wish Christ’s love infuse our souls and bring grace and peace to each other.   Grace and His love to you until the next time.

For further reading:  Galatians 6:18, Colossians 4:18, Titus 1:1

Lord Jesus, thank You for endings and beginnings, for Your grace and love being in both.   Thank You for lettings us have these times together.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 26 January 2018

We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition.  1 Thessalonians 1 Thessalonians 2:2.

We the people tend to remember daring acts of bravery.   Remember the Alamo; remember Pearl Harbor.   We remember times when people do heroic things worthy of memory.  You’ve (hopefully) heard the accounts of people in our world today who are being persecuted for believing in Jesus.  That may seem like something from our distant past, like we of the ‘modern’ world have learned to live beyond such savagery.   But the fact is that we haven’t.   Just last week I read a story about how the communist government in China tore down a large church.  The people who worshipped there are under surveillance, and it’s a good thing to assume quite a few have been questioned or arrested.   Just for believing in Jesus.

And did you know that it is a crime that carries a death sentence to publicly declare or preach faith in Jesus in Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Pakistan?   In Mauritania, Libya, Morocco, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Bangladesh it is illegal to declare yourself as a Christian.   In the workplace in many cities and states of America it is officially frowned upon to minister to others or even profess your faith (to be fair, not just faith in Jesus, yet faith in Jesus seems to be tolerated least of all).

Outrageous treatment?   To be sure.   Suffering for the faith?   In many places in our world today, yes, this happens.   Stand up for Jesus?   No, that isn’t tough at all…

Those who dare to share the gospel in the face of this treatment are heroes.   Indeed, it is energizing and invigorating to stand up for Jesus in the face of people who oppress you.  It demonstrates courage and a belief in human dignity to act in ways that show the fruit of His Spirit, then to stand up and tell just why you do what you do.   People remember that kind of thing, and I dare say most of them remember it with respect.

Read through Scripture to the end and you know that the end of all things is already foretold.  Evil will be vanquished.   God will once and for all destroy evil and relegate Satan and all who reject God to the terror of everlasting existence away from Him.  Yet before all that happens we are told things will get even tougher for believers.   Tough times are coming; you can even feel it in the air, and people are watching.   What will they see you do?   How will you be remembered?

For further reading: Acts 14:19, Acts 16:22, Philippians 1:30, 1 Thessalonians 2:3

Lord, thank You for preserving me through oppression and persecution.   Be the steel in my spine and put Your words in my mouth when people challenge me to deny you.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 29 August 2017

Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.  Hebrews 11, verses 35-38.

Read through these verses again and you get a, well, Biblical feeling about them (pun intended).   Then read through them again and consider that, somewhere in the world today, there are people who are being mistreated, persecuted, and tortured for believing in Jesus just like these church forebears thousands of years ago.

You and I read about that on the Internet, but it’s true.   In Sudan, people are tortured for being Christian, for denying anyone but Allah.   In Iran, you can be executed for being a Christian.   Ditto in North Korea (or any communist country for all that matter).   In Cuba you can still be thrown in prison for saying you believe in Jesus (but, then again, Cuba is still a communist dictatorship).   Same in the People’s Republic of China (also still a communist dictatorship).   In Saudi Arabia, if you’re a Christian (or any non-Muslim for all that matter), you can be punished with instant death for trying to enter the holy mosque near the Kaaba.

Being tortured and dying for what you believe goes a long way back.   But look at the benefits.   Indeed, consider ONLY the benefits of believing.  Jesus or the world?   Jesus wins.

Only Jesus can bring you back from death because only He has done that.   Only Jesus can give you true peace inside, true calmness of your Spirit.  That’s here and not, not just some day.  Only Jesus can steel your spine to face down agonizing death because only in Jesus can you have full assurance that physical death is only a tiny passage into eternal life.

That’s not to say that living your faith is rosy or even easy.  I wonder if that’s not a disappointment for many folks who say they believe.   They are looking for something that takes away the hurt, the difficulty, even the pain of things that happen in life and when Christianity doesn’t instantly do that, they walk away disappointed.  Who knows when we got away from the idea that following Jesus could be tough?  Somewhere along the way, (especially) we in America began to serve up a Christianity that was light and easy, an egg-white omelette of faith if you will.

That isn’t the faith Jesus advertised.   He said that, if we wanted to follow Him, we would have to take up our cross and walk with Him daily.   That means we would, every day of our lives, have to stand against the world, against our nature, against even those who love us but don’t love Him.   That means we would have to carry our instrument of death with us everywhere we go until, at the end of all things, we are nailed to it.    When Jesus taught from the Scriptures, he taught from the accounts of the Old Testament heroes who died for their faith but died IN their faith.  For them, there was no death at all, but only that passage to something far better in paradise.  Death in the service of the Lord was an honor, maybe even a duty, but not a burden.

They understood that the God of their fathers was loving, just and true.   That He kept His promises.   That He was all He said He was.   They understood that, even in a century-long life, time here on earth is short.   The men and women of ancient days who died for Christ in their faith seemed to know something we have misplaced.

Here’s the hard part:  what are you willing to do to get it back?

For further reading:  1 Kings 17:22-23, 2 Kings:4:36-37, Jeremiah 20:2, genesis 39:20, 1 Kings 19:10, Jeremiah 26:23, 1 Kings 1:8, 1 Kings 18:4, Luke 9:23.

My Lord, forgive me when I fail You.  Thank You for the blessings of enduring hardship in service to You, in faith in You.   Let my sufferings be a good witness to others and strengthen them.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 24 August 2017

By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.  Hebrews 11, verse 30.

After yesterday’s entry, let’s fast forward a few generations.   In the space of a few months, Moses went from a shepherd, to renegade troublemaker, to general and judge, to leader of a nation.   In the space of a few months, Moses followed God through the Red Sea, then led the Israelites into the desert of Sinai (likely in today’s Saudi Arabia).   Not long after, Moses disappears onto Mount Sinai (to receive the Ten Commandments), the Israelites rebel, Moses loses his temper, and God punishes Israel for its disobedience by making them wander in the deserts of Midian for forty years until all the rebels died out.  When that generation is gone, Moses dies and Joshua, Moses’ lieutenant, takes over as leader.   God then commands the Israelites to march around the Canaanite city of Jericho for six days, praising God each time and blowing their trumpets behind the Ark of the Covenant (minus Indiana Jones).  On the seventh day, they marched around Jericho seven times, and on the seventh time, they screamed out in praise of God that God had delivered Jericho to them.

Which He had.  On that seventh march, the walls of Jericho that had protected it for decades, maybe even centuries, tumbled down and the Israelites took the city.   Jericho had been a military, economic and political threat to Israel.   More than that, they were a city full of pagan’s who gave the collective Canaanite finger to the great I AM.   I AM brought justice and the threat was removed.

Great story, eh?

It is great, and it’s history, not just a story.   It really happened.   Excavations at Jericho confirm a cataclysmic destruction of an ancient city there:   an account that lines up with the book of Joshua.  All if it happened because the Israelites believed that God would deliver the city to them.   If it doesn’t make much sense to you, then you’re probably in good company.   The story seems illogical to us today because we focus on the improbability of it.   Marching around the city, blowing trumpets, no conventional military attack to achieve a military objective:   it all seems preposterous.

Thee focus of the story isn’t on the unconventional (though effective) military tactics.  The focus of the story is on the faith the people had that God would do what He said He would do.  God had told Joshua to lead his people to do these things and then the city walls would collapse so Israel could take the city.  That’s exactly what happened.  Imagine the curiosity, then anxiety, then terror felt by the pagan ‘haters’ who lived in Jericho as they watched this foreign army surround their city.   Imagine watching thousands of these marchers, coming back day after day.   How would you have felt?   Would you have laughed at first but, by the end of that sixth day, been thankful for the stone walls that kept the invaders out?   And how would you have felt when the walls came down?

What is Jesus saying with the account of what the Israelites did after Jericho fell?   If you don’t know, they killed every living thing there.  How can God be merciful in that?   Before you get all judgy, remember that God asks for faith, invites us to faith, proves the worth of faith.   Jericho had heard about these Israelites.   They knew what had happened since the time of Abraham.  They knew and ignored it.   More than ignoring it, they flaunted God.   How could God spare them?  Friend, it isn’t our place to judge God but to heed Him and obey His Word.

Tell me, my friend:   what walls have you built that need to come down?   Have you walled off parts of your heart?   Have you walled off your emotions, your feelings, your past, your dreams?   More than this, have you walled out God from your life, thinking there’s no way He could love you, forgive you, want you?   Do you hate yourself and your life this much?

Perhaps its time to march around your heart a few times and then blow the horns.   The purpose of the account of Jericho is, for you, to do what God asks of you and open your heart to change.  Watch what happens when God keeps His word.

For further reading:  Joshua 6: 12-20.

Lord, thank You for what happened at Jericho.   Thank You for the faith of the Israelites, and for the promises You make.