Run For It!

“God blesses those who patiently endure testing” James 1:12

It had been ten years since their freedom of worship had been taken away. At first it was for economic reasons, so they, the government, said. “We must cut back on all nonessential expenses. Since there are so many partially full churches that worship the same God, we’ve decided it would be more economical to combine your meetings into local buildings. Not only will this save expenses, it will save in travel as well, therefore using less fuel.”

All pastors and priests were gathered together to facilitate this combining effort. Those opposed were told they must attend special classes where they would better understand these economic sanctions. “You select few have been chosen to attend a series of intense classes whereby the government’s top secret decision-making processes regarding  religious-diversity and economic betterment will be explained in detail.” Many of the pastors felt honored. The few who resisted were transferred to government schools. Within a year, those who agreed with these church combining measures returned to their homes. A few seemed to require more training. Some never returned home.

By the sixth year of government imposed sanctions of various sorts, public religious meetings became illegal except for government controlled varieties which allowed for a mixture of meetings that seemed to express biblical teachings. By then, most of those attending had become content with the seeker-friendly messages and social activities. New parents especially appreciated the youth-schools where their children were happier and content.

Inch by inch and step by step, religious freedom had become a thing of the past. And illegal. There were patrols assigned the task of infiltrating neighborhoods with an aim at squelching any attempts at secret Christian meetings. When asked why such patrols were necessary, the government’s answer was, “In an effort to eliminate those rebels who refuse to align themselves with our public welfare policies, we find it necessary to segregate such people who bring dissension and fear. Once found, they are sent to retraining camps.”

By the tenth year, public worship was a distant memory, replaced by a very similar brand of meetings that satisfied the itching ears of those who attended. Rather than wrestling with the strict, biblical God of old, these new services focused on a feel-good, non-invasive god. One who wanted everyone to be understood and appreciated. Under the new regime, church attendance was actually up.

Not everyone attended these new era church meetings. Some were still driven by an unquenched desire to secretly meet with others who gave their allegiance to the God of the Bible; who followed their Savior, Jesus Christ. At the literal risk of their lives, many small groups met in vacant rooms, remote parks, and abandoned buildings to share their faith.

Once such group met in a garage every week for prayer and Scripture readings. It was a cool Spring evening as the eight were kneeling in prayer when the door crashed open and three rifle-toting soldiers barged in. No one moved. The Christians barely breathed. The soldiers pointed their rifles at them.

“You have 30 seconds to leave or you will be executed!” shouted the officer in charge.”

Instantly people reacted and fled for their lives. Three remained, huddled together.

“Ten seconds remain!” shouted the soldier. No one moved.

Ten seconds later, the officer in charge nodded at the soldier closest to the door. He quickly locked the door. The men set their rifles against the wall.

“We have been hearing of this Jesus you follow and wanted to know if we could find any who were willing to give their lives for their faith. Tell us about the God you are willing to die for.”

What about me? Would I have run through the chairs like an Olympic sprinter to save my life? Of course I would like to say, No way. Not me. I would have remained like those steadfast men of faith, willing to face certain death. But…the truth is, I may have fled for my life just like the others. Which does not make me bad or a man of no faith. It makes me human and not ready for that ultimate sacrifice. We cannot say until we are forced to make such a decision. Our faith in Christ is not validated by a willingness to be ultimately strong. Quite the contrary. What does the Apostle Paul say in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Let Go!

“I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” Phil. 4:13 

Daniel was frustrated with his Christianity. He attended a huge church with about 12,000 members. Each Sunday service (three of them) had room for 3,000 people. In addition, there was a Saturday evening service.  

He had always loved to be around other believers as they shared their faith, sang songs of worship and shared meals. He loved songs of worship, praising God and this place had an orchestra and professional quality singers that rocked the house (if you found the music too loud, ear plugs were provided)! 

Over the past several months Daniel realized his experience in this church was not feeding his spirit, it was massaging his flesh, attempting to make him feel good and entertain him. It was empty of substance. It had become Jesus Light…using the Bible as their source yet glossing over any challenging texts. God loves you was the theme but how did that play out in real life?  

Sharing his feelings with a Christian friend, his friend replied, “God holds you accountable for your actions, not your church. If you aren’t getting fed at church, feed yourself and and meet with just a few like-minded Christians. The Bible is a self-study book, Dan. The Spirit of God has given us all we need for a walk with the Lord. He wants to use us but we have to do something. There’s nothing new about ineffective churches or people. For that matter, there’s nothing new about complaining instead of doing something about your situation. You and I can be church if that’s what you need for now. There are no limits with God.” 

Phil. 4:10-13  In my life in union with the Lord it is a great joy to me that after so long a time you once more had the chance of showing that you care for me. I don’t mean that you had stopped caring for me—you just had no chance to show it. 11 And I am not saying this because I feel neglected, for I have learned to be satisfied with what I have. 12 I know what it is to be in need and what it is to have more than enough. I have learned this secret, so that anywhere, at any time, I am content, whether I am full or hungry, whether I have too much or too little. 13 I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me. GNT 

Eph. 3:16-21  I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, 17 and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, 18 so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love. 19 Yes, may you come to know his love—although it can never be fully known—and so be completely filled with the very nature of God. 20 To him who by means of his power working in us is able to do so much more than we can ever ask for, or even think of:21 to God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus for all time, forever and ever! Amen.  GNT 

2 Cor. 12:7-10  So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.8 Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away.9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. NLT 

And then Daniel saw it, the light shining through the darkness, penetrating into his heart; God is all about love but His love is powerful, even confrontational at times, so we can walk with Him, proclaiming that love. God’s love contains elements necessary to purify us, to heat up the cauldron so the dross may be scraped off the top, rather than a gentle warming of the pot of our lives which does not separate us from the world. 

We despise weakness and loss of control but those are qualities in us that God values most. Like the man who got too close to the edge of the cliff and fell off. Plummeting down he managed to grasp a bush protruding out. He called out to God and God answered him. The man was relieved and said, “Help me!” God said, “Let go.” After a pause the man replied, “Is there anyone else up there?” 

1 John 4:7-10  Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.9 God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him.10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. 

And that is it…through Him, all things are possible in our lives, but these are not necessarily things of pleasure and comfort, they are things of sacrifice and servanthood, things of humility and sacrificial love—as He loved us. 

Global Warming

“The heavens will disappear with a roar!” ~2 Peter 3:10

The Bible study group settled in for the weekly meeting. It was a diverse group, ages ranging from 22-82; men, women, married and single. Politically they were mostly Republicans, except for two young closet Democrats. As such, talk radio and TV were quite popular, with the exception of the teacher, Craig. He didn’t subscribe to regular TV nor did he listen to talk radio. When asked why, Craig was fond of replying, “I have enough of a problem overcoming my own skewed ideas, let alone listening to hours and hours of purely slanted opinions. Besides, it gets my blood pressure up!”

So it was with great surprise when, after opening prayer, Craig opened the study with, “How many of you believe in this idea of global warming?”

Silence and puzzled looks. After a few seconds, the group erupted into the latest viewpoints bandied about by the mostly conservative political opinions. Craig brought them back to order before emotions soared too high. “Ok. Ok. I guess I took you by surprise with that question. Now, without quoting any of the popular conservative opinions, would you say that most of us do not believe in what is taught as global warming?” They agreed.

“Well, I have a big surprise for you, then. The Bible teaches the opposite. Some day in the future, the world will experience the most cataclysmic global warming that the current heavens and earth will burn with a fervent heat. The entire earth will perish in flames!”

Once again, silence in the room. Finally Bob Jensen said, “I am stunned, Craig. In the political furor, taking sides with whichever party I consider the most balanced, I’ve lost track of what the Bible says about that very scary subject.” 

Craig brought them back to God’s Word; “Let’s look at 2 Peter 3:10-13: “But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment.

Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. On that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames. But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness.”

A sense of soberness filled the room. Political opinions had faded, replaced by thoughts of the end of the world and what that really meant to them. “When will all this destruction take place, Craig?” asked Bob. 

“There are many ideas and books written about that subject, Bob. My stand on when it will all take place comes from Matthew 24:36-44:

“However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.”

“I want to bring our attention to that section in 2 Peter where it says, “Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God.” 

“Since we believe the Bible is God’s Word, that means the world is going to be destroyed. This will happen someday. But, more importantly, we are instructed to live holy and godly lives, looking forward to the end of the world as we know it.

“Jesus died for us, to transform and redeem us. And then He asked God to fill us with His Holy Spirit. That happened. It is a fact, more factual and trustworthy than any human endeavor or political party. We owe total allegiance to our Heavenly Father who spared nothing to give us hope in this life and the one to come. 

“So yes, global warming is on God’s list of things to come. As surely as we live and breathe, God’s scheduled events will never be thwarted. In His time and His way, the current earth and the heavenly bodies will all pass away to make room for the new heavens and earth. Praise His name!

The Lord’s Prayer

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive” Matthew 6:12

We’ve seen it in movies, read it in the Bible as well as other books. And we have recited it from memory over and over again. We’ve learned what has come to be known as The Lord’s Prayer. Reciting these few verses can bring comfort and take away fear. However, reciting the Lord’s Prayer over and over can become a meaningless repetition we send up to God hoping He hears and will rescue us from our desperate situation.

Without doubt, the most commonly spoken version of this prayer is as follows:

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.”

This model prayer was given by Jesus to his disciples as he taught them how to pray, warning them against uttering vain repetitions, “Don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do.” He then reminds them that, “Your Father in heaven knows exactly what you need even before you ask Him. Pray like this:”

If you are like many people, you may worry about how to pray, what to say because you’ve heard impressive prayers spoken by well known pastors and teachers. Regarding this concern, we simply have to read Romans 8, verses 26-28.

Notice now that Jesus includes forgiveness in His model prayer. Verse 12 says, “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Then, immediately following the prayer, He continues in verses 14 and 15, “If you forgive those who sin (modern word for trespasses) against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

Is your head spinning? Are you concerned about those who’ve sinned against you that you have not forgiven? Perhaps you’re holding a tiny little grudge. After all, they were completely in the wrong (as we forgive those who sinned against us). How did the Lord answer Peter?

Matthew 18:21 ~”Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times? No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!”

Luke 17:4 ~”If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive. Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.”

Jesus died for our forgiveness. It is essential we extend that forgiveness to any who sin against us.