Unto Death

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The life of a Christian is not for the faint of heart. We are outcasts in a fallen world. We are counter-cultural no matter what culture we are surrounded by. We are a minority in the world and always will be. We don’t drift with the ever-changing tide of society. Because of that, we are shunned, rejected, disliked, and even hated and killed. According to a worldwide ministry called Open Doors, every month around the world 345 Christians are killed for faith-related reasons, 105 Churches and Christian buildings are burned or attacked, 219 Christians are detained without trial, arrested, sentenced and imprisoned. That amounts to an average of at least 11 Christians being killed every single day. Even in the wake of all of that hate and discrimination, there are still over 2.3 billion people in the world who identify as a follower of Christ. It is the largest and fastest growing faith in the world.

Here in the United States, we are being labeled as bigots because we stand for sexual purity and the God-given identities of every human being. We are called misogynistic because we value the life of every pre-born child and stand against abortions. But even in the face of the rise in discrimination, we have not had to claim Christ even unto death. It is always important for believers who are outside of the shadow of death, to pray for those who constantly live there. Our brothers and sisters around the world need us to link arms with them and wage spiritual warfare alongside them. One day, it may be you and me who are in the shadows. Will we stand firm, even unto death?

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

Ephesians 6:18 NIV

The following is a story from Voice of the Martyrs:

In Albania, the first self-declared atheist state in the world, a young Christian by the name of Valerii Nasaruk was arrested for boldly tattooing a cross on his hand. He wanted everyone to know from the first handshake that he stuck to his faith in God. Valerii was frustrated, however, by not being allowed to verbally tell others about God’s love.

At the trial, the judge told Valerii’s mother, “Tell your son to change his ways so he can go free.” She thought for a while before responding through tearful eyes, “Valerii, my advice to you is to stand firm and not deny Christ, even if it means your death.” In a subsequent letter to the underground church, she wrote, “I attended the trial, which was so hard on me. I wished I could have taken his place. The hardest thing was when they asked me in court to advise Valerii to change his ways, but I could not do it. The world accuses us, his parents, for his being sentenced, saying it is the result of our influence. Even some Christians can’t understand why I did what I did, but then I remember that Jesus was misunderstood. When I struggle with depression, I am reminded that Peter advised Jesus about saving his own life. God gives me the power to bear everything. Please pray for me.”

Can you imagine being Valerii’s mother and making that statement to your child? Can you imagine facing death simply for what you believe? All too many people around the world can.

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Galatians 6:14 NIV

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The Message Can’t be Stopped

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“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:10-11 ESV

ISIS swept through the Near East like a wildfire leaving havoc in their wake. But just like a fire, they burnt out. The ideology still persists among the radical Islamic populous, but movements are not sustainable. Even though that is the case, one cannot ignore the impact they had. But persecution and hate don’t have the final say. In a recent article, I read, the hot spot of death during the peak of ISIS has seen a rapid rise in followers of Jesus. Kobani was once in the spotlight for horrific reasons. Now, its making headlines because lives are being transformed and God is sweeping through the region with a revival and message of hope.

Kobani is just one example of how the word of God pervades all generations and all obstacles. As the western world becomes more hostile towards Christians, it is only skimming the surface of persecution that Jesus followers have faced around the world. But no amount of threats or violence have been able to extinguish the message of the Gospel. Check out these statistics below:

Africa: Home to many Islamic terrorist cells, Christians have long been the target of hate crimes. But the numbers of Christians are exploding. In 1900 there were around 9 million Christians. Today, there are over 600 million. Polls suggest that Africa will be home to the largest number of Christians by 2050. Nigeria, for example, just surpassed Russia, is way higher than former Christendom (European nations), and are estimated to catch the United States (highest Christian population) in the next couple of decades. Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania are seeing similar rises in believers.

Asia: This continent has a long history of religious struggles. It’s a broad mix of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and more. The rising faith, however, is Christianity. In Nepal, the world’s only Hindu kingdom, there are more than 500,000 Christians. This is amazing considering that the first modern church was planted in 1959. In Mongolia, the four Christians of 1989 have exploded to over 20,000 today. Cambodia is equally fascinating. In the late ’70s, there were around 2,000 believers. Today it’s approaching 250,000. What makes that even more incredible is that the communist wave swept through the country between 1975-1977 killing around 2 million people, many of whom were Christians. The most inspiring, in my opinion, is China. The introduction of communist persecution in 1949 caused a tidal wave in conversions and a burgeoning underground church. The Christian population went from just over 1 million in 1949 to over 100 million today.

Looking back through history, it was persecution that drove the spread of the faith. As psychotic Roman Emperors cracked down on followers of Jesus, the faith ignited into a world-shattering movement that eventually overtook the Empire itself. No ruler, ideology, or armed hate group can ever put down the Gospel. The message of Jesus transcends time. Its power is far greater than anything this earth has ever seen. Hope is rising in this world of darkness. The Gospel has prevailed and always will!

Don’t forget to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world who are choosing Jesus ahead of comfort and conformity. Their bravery is a beacon of hope and courage for the world to pursue.

I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

Job 42:2 ESV

Peace brothers and sisters. The victory is His!

Disaster Averted

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I had this old water heater in my last house. One night I noticed a tiny droplet of water on the bottom the expansion tank. Close by was a spot that looked rusted over. Directly below, at the bottom of the heater itself was another rust spot. Around that was a water spot on the platform that the water heater sat on. My assumption was that the drip from the expansion tank had been leaking onto the base of the water heater and causing it to rust. So I shut the water off and ran to the store to buy a new tank. Once I got that replaced I felt confident that the problem was resolved. A couple weeks later the water spot around the tank looked larger. I examined the tank that I replaced and all seemed well. I made a plan to come back and look at things in another day or two. But…it didn’t make it that long! The next day I get a call from my wife telling me how the garage is flooding. The water heater had ruptured. I told her how to shut off the water until I could get there to clean up the mess. My awesome father in law and along with one of my friends came to the rescue and helped switch out the tank for us before I even got there.

A slow drip had turned into a disastrous leak. Just like sin in our lives. There are things that are hurting us and are slowly showing signs of concern. Some allow anger to build and it slowly alters the way they treat others until one day they explode. Some allow lustful thoughts to creep in until one day they are wrapped up in an affair. Some pour themselves into their careers more and more year after year until one day they are so distant from their families. We have a choice to address those signs early and correct the problem before the flood happens. We can’t be negligent with sin. We can’t put it off for another day. Our motto cannot be, “I’ll just get through this and tomorrow I’ll do it differently.” Tomorrow will be too late.

I can’t say that I blew off the water heater issue. But I was not diligent in discovering the entirety of the problem so only part of it was solved. Partially dealing with our sin amounts to doing nothing. The disastrous flood is coming unless the sin is wholely addressed. We need to figure out why this is part of our lives. Why do I put such a high priority on work? Why do I lust after others? Why am I angry? There’s always a root and it’s not always easy to find. That’s why we need to be surrounded by safe people who we allow to speak into our lives. That’s why we need to abide in the Lord and devote ourselves to being connected to Him. That’s why we need to spend time consistently reflecting on our lives and motives. None of us are leakproof but we can all be patched up and made whole by the One who made us.

Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed;
    save me, and I shall be saved,
    for you are my praise.

Jeremiah 17:14 ESV

Sloppy Christians

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The Christian is the partaker of the greatest gift in human history – God’s grace. A sad byproduct of grace can sometimes be sloppiness on the part of the recipient. People can get lax, neglectful, and take their faith in a very casual manner. Those are three words that are never found in the Bible and never meant to describe the follower of Jesus. Instead, it says:

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.

Romans 10:9-11 ESV

Our faith is not a competition but it should be something that is propelling us forward. Progress is never casual, lax, or neglectful. The key contrast in the above quotation is between slothful and zeal. The Believer should be extremely zealous for the Lord and the mission we’ve been placed here for. We should be growing love for God and for others. We should be more about others and less about ourselves every year we get closer to the Lord. To have zeal is to have great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective. Our cause is to know Christ and to make Him known to the world. Our objective is humanity set free from the bondage of sin and death through a relationship with Jesus.

…and so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy…

Colossians 1:9-11 ESV

We need to be growing in knowledge and wisdom. We need to be bearing fruit. We need to be experiencing His Holy Spirit power working in us. This is not the description of a sloppy Christian, this is someone who is in love with their Savior.

Wait for the first raindrop

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At a hospital near where I live, they’ve been building a large two-story add-on wing. They’ve been working on it for months and they’ve had large crews of trained construction workers, as well as the luxury of all the modern day equipment. It seems like weeks go by and it doesn’t look like much progress is being made. Several months in the project is nowhere near completion. That brings me to another large building project. In Genesis chapter 6, Noah was given an incredible task…to build an ark in preparation for a disastrous event, unlike anything that had ever occurred in human history. This ark was far larger than the hospital wing in my home town. It was even many times the size of a famous landmark that has made headlines recently…the Cathedral of Notre Dame. It’s one of the most famous buildings in all of Europe. Construction of the massive church began in 1163, during the reign of King Louis VII, and was completed in 1345. That’s nearly two hundred years for one building. Noah had a work crew that consisted of his family and no modern building equipment. That’s a monumental task!

Have you ever been asked to do something extremely difficult? How about being prompted by God to do something that would cost you big? Noah’s entire life was dictated by this project. It was his future. It was his calling. As if this wasn’t hard enough, the Bible also tells us that he spent those years preaching about the impending judgment and the path of redemption that God had provided. So now, Noah has to build a giant boat, that would house multiples of every animal on Earth, and in addition, he is tasked with sharing a difficult message to a world that had rejected God. I imagine that there would have been plenty of opportunities for doubt and weariness to set in.

If you find yourself involved in circumstances that don’t exactly make sense, take heart. Keep moving forward. Learn from Noah, who continued on the path God had set him on, regardless of the hostility he faced. Regardless of the length of his efforts, Noah persisted. Keep in mind, Noah worked on the ark longer than any of us have been alive. That’s perseverance. That’s commitment. That’s faith. For Noah, it was all about being faithful while waiting for that first raindrop to fall. The reward, for Noah and for us, is in staying the course regardless of the cost. If you were asked to build a giant boat for an apocalyptic event that had never happened before, you wouldn’t think it made sense. I’m sure Noah had his questions too. It was, after all, human. But he weathered the uncertain because he loved the God who was certain. Don’t lose heart brothers and sisters. That same God is certain in your life too.

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
    and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
    and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:28-31 ESV

You’re Being Read

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Very few people in the world today actually read the Bible. The above image was taken from Christians….CHRISTIANS! More than 50% of Christians are not familiar with the Bible. Only 20% have actually read the entire thing. This is God’s story. This is the story of humanity. It’s the story of redemption, past, present, and future. It’s the most valuable information we could ever gain. It’s universal in application. It’s faultless. Yet, for so many, it’s collecting dust on people’s shelves or sitting as an unused app on their phones. If this is the case among Christians, you know that far fewer non-believers are reading it. But do you know what they are reading? You and me. If people aren’t reading about who Jesus is, we need to show them. We may be the only image of Jesus they get. What message are the people in your life getting? The message of Christ is not contained when it lives in and through His followers. Let’s show the world the contents of the Bible by how we live and love and the truth that is the banner of our lives.

Don’t Look at the cup, look at what’s inside

 

My two little girls are obsessed with what color plate or bowl they get whenever I make them something to eat. The other day I brought home some yummy buttery popcorn as a treat and my wife poured it out in a couple bowls for them. In less than two seconds they started arguing over which bowl they got. Talk about first world problems. It made me so sad, and if I’m being honest, a little upset too. I took the opportunity for a teaching moment. I told them they need to stop focusing on the bowl and focus on what’s in the bowl. They were missing their treat for the sake of having a Wonder Woman bowl or Noah’s Ark bowl. The container was more important to them than the contents. I know my kids will outgrow this as they mature and learn the true values of life. Unfortunately, so many don’t. I’ve met them. You’ve met them. They’re everywhere. They can’t see the value of what’s inside a person because all they look at is the outside. Our physical bodies are only a container for the most important aspects of who we truly are.

The Bible is full of object lessons on this very topic. God has been wanting us to look at the world through this lens from the very beginning. Think about it. The Garden was just place. What made it special was the presence of God there. Same can be said about the tabernacle and the temple. They were all empty shells without the treasure of God’s presence dwelling there. The Ark of the covenant was only a fancy box. What made it special was the contents. Noah’s ark was merely a boat without the precious cargo inside. Jesus Himself was simply flesh without the fullness of God being embodied in Him. Even the new heaven and earth that awaits is simply a beautiful new world but would be pointless without the glory of God radiating there for all eternity.

We are all but flesh and bones apart from the true beauty within. In the first pages of the Bible it states that we are made in the image of God. That image does not consist of our outward appearance, but our ordained purpose, great desire for love, our longing for relationship, and the fact that we are intimately designed by the Creator of everything in existence. The real treasure is on the inside. Don’t miss out on it.