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Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

In my last post, I reported that Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, a pregnant 27-year-old Christian Sudanese mother, is awaiting execution because she has steadfastly refused to deny her faith in Jesus Christ.

But Meriam is not alone in her willingness to remain faithful to Jesus Christ, even if it means being killed. Recently I saw gruesome online videos showing Muslim extremists slaughtering men who had left the Muslim religion to follow Jesus Christ—scenes captured succinctly by Hebrews 11:35b-37a:

But others trusted God and were tortured, preferring to die rather than turn from God and be free. They placed their hope in the resurrection to a better life. Some were mocked and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in dungeons. Some died by stoning, and some were sawed in half; others were killed by the sword.” (NLT)

How do we account for the fact that these former Muslims—living in “closed” countries where the Christian Gospel is forbidden and not known—are willing to die for Jesus Christ?

As I reported in a previous post (http://wp.me/p1fMZH-dI), Jesus has been appearing to many of these Muslim men and women in dreams and visions in such undeniable and powerful ways that once they accept him as their Savior, their faith in him becomes unshakeable—for they experience him as real, living, and encouraging amidst the persecution.

Would you and I—we who live in “open” and free societies where the Christian Gospel is preached and followed—deny our allegiance to Jesus in order to save our lives?

It is easy for us to say that we’d never deny our Lord, but until we are faced with the actual threat of death, we really don’t know how we would respond.

While the vast majority of us will never face such extreme situations and life-or-death decisions, are we denying Jesus in other ways?

Are we denying him by hiding our Christian faith at work…at school…from people…or in the way we operate our businesses?

Are we denying him by giving more importance to people and things over him—to our love of money and material things…to building financial security…to seeking popularity and fame…to getting ahead in our careers…to putting our families before him…and to chasing our dreams at all cost?

While our faith in Jesus Christ has not been tested so far by the threat of death as have our Christian brothers and sisters in Muslim societies, many of us take our faith lightly or for granted, and we chip away at that faith in countless, seemingly benign ways through compromises here and there.

Is our faith genuine? Has it taken root in the good soil mentioned in Jesus’ parable of the four soils (Matthew 13:1-23)?

Or is it rooted in the rocky soil that “represents those who hear the message and receive it with joy. But like young plants in such soil, their roots don’t go very deep. At first they get along fine, but they wilt as soon as they have problems or are persecuted because they believe the word.”? (13:20-21)

Or is it in the thorny ground that “represents those who hear and accept the Good News, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares of this life and the lure of wealth, so no crop is produced.”? (13:22)

I pray that none of us will ever be forced to make a life-or-death decision over our allegiance to Jesus Christ. But if we find ourselves in such a position, I pray that we will trust him to sustain and empower us to remain faithful in life and in death.

In the meantime, may we remember our Christian sisters and brothers around the world, some of them at this very moment offering the ultimate gift—their lives—to express their allegiance to Jesus their Lord.

Pray for them daily, especially for Meriam who gave birth to a baby girl in a Khartoum prison hospital wing on May 29.

And thanks to those of you who are among the more than 849,000 who have so far signed the petition to the Sudanese Government to free Meriam.

Grace and peace.

 

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I recently watched with fascination as Nik Wallenda walked across a high wire 1,500 feet above the Grand Canyon floor without a safety harness. And as he inched his way across the empty span of nearly five football fields, he constantly thanked and praised Jesus.

Nik, a Christian, is a seventh generation member of the Wallenda family of high-wire performers, and began walking the wire at age four.

But could you or I accomplish such a feat? After all, have we not believed or quoted Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”? (King James Version, KJV)

When the Apostle Paul penned those words to the Philippians, did he mean that Jesus Christ would grant us superhuman abilities to accomplish anything we imagine?

Could we use that verse to affirm our way to earthly riches, as proponents of the “prosperity” gospel try to do?

Many believers quote Philippians 4:13 and try to apply it to their lives without fully understanding the context in which the Apostle Paul wrote it.

He was imprisoned in Rome and was writing to Christians at the church in Philippi to encourage them to be joyful and contented in every circumstance because of their faith in Jesus Christ, even when things went badly for them. He also wrote to thank them for their financial gift to him in prison, and added:

“Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to get along happily whether I have much or little. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need. But even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty.” (Phil.4: 11-14, New Living Translation, NLT)

The “everything” or “all things” refers specifically to Paul’s ability to be contented and joyful in all circumstances that life threw at him. Because he relied on Christ to strengthen him and supply his needs, he could be thankful and joyful:

• Whether in times of plenty or times of great need, in feast or famine
• Whether preaching the Good News in prison or on the outside (Phil. 1: 3-7; 12-14)
• Whether living and suffering for Christ or dying for him (Phil. 1: 20-24; 27-30)

His was a joyful acceptance of Christ’s will and provision for him in every aspect of life.

And that should be our attitude in our journey with Christ—finding in his will equal contentment and joy whether in wealth or poverty, sickness or health, fame or obscurity, failure or success, marriage or singleness.

Can we do all things? Only those things that are within Christ’s will and plan for us, in which case he will give us the strength and resources to do them. He does not give us superhuman abilities to accomplish anything we want if they do not serve his purpose or are not in his best interest for us.

The Apostle James warns about self-confidence and rushing ahead with our own plans and desires without regard for God’s will:

“Look here, you people who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.’ How do you know what will happen tomorrow? For your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, ‘If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.’ Otherwise you will be boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil.” (James 4:13-16, NLT)

Solomon expressed this succinctly when he wrote in Proverbs 17:9, “We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.” (NLT)

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 8.01.04 PMOn Sunday, June 23, 2013 I saw Philippians 4:13 and Proverbs 17:9 lived out over the Grand Canyon as Nik’s years of training and planning proved successful when the Lord guided his steps safely across that high-wire.

Nik became the first human to tightrope across the Grand Canyon, and a worldwide television audience of millions saw and heard him thank and praise Jesus Christ.

Can I accomplish that same feat? As of now, no, because so far it doesn’t seem to be in God’s plan, training, or mission for me. And I am certainly okay with that.

 

 

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I was reading Numbers 13-14—the story of the twelve scouts whom Moses sent into Canaan to explore the land that God promised to give the nation of Israel—when I wondered, “Would I be among the ten scouts who came back fearful to occupy Canaan because they saw themselves like grasshoppers next to giants?”

That image of themselves as grasshoppers next to giants led ten of the twelve scouts to incite rebellion among the Israelites who were persuaded that it was too dangerous to try to conquer Canaan.

As a result, countless numbers of Israelites lost the opportunity to settle in Canaan, and, instead, spent the next 40 years wandering the desert until they all died.

Only two scouts—Joshua and Caleb—along with every youth age 19 and under would live to enter Canaan after the forty years were up.

Would I—and would you—have been among those ten scouts going against Joshua, Caleb, and God?

It might be easy for each of us to quickly reply, “No way would I be among the ten scouts! I would be on the side of Joshua and Caleb!”

But let’s ask ourselves the following. When making decisions with others in our jobs, organizations, businesses, churches, ministries, corporate boards, or in our families, do we tend to:

• be overly cautious; always avoid risks; want guarantees; take a wait-and-see approach…
• be skeptical; criticize; resist new ideas and approaches…
• discourage others; or cause dissent when things don’t go our way?

If we find ourselves doing any of those things or having similar attitudes, we might have been among the ten if we lived back then.

It was understandable that the scouts were afraid to go ahead with a highly risky and dangerous war against the Canaanites. After all, the Israelites were average height men who were dwarfed by powerful nine-feet-tall giants living in large fortified towns and cities.

And common sense would insist there was no way that a rag-tag army with no previous war experience had a chance of conquering the Canaanites in their highly fortified cities.

But the ten scouts were wrong when they spread bad and discouraging reports among the Israelites and stirred up dissent and rebellion against Moses and God.

And, most significant, they were wrong in not trusting God that he would give them the victory over the Canaanites, for it was only three years before that they saw how God:

• dealt with the mighty Pharaoh and led them out of slavery from Egypt
• held back the waters of the Red Sea
• led them to safety to the opposite shore
• destroyed the Egyptian army and charioteers with the collapsing walls of water, and
• provided food and water for them during those three years in the desert

The tragic failure of the ten scouts was that despite all of God’s evidence that he was capable of giving them the victory, they did not trust their future to him, and they incited rebellion against him. As a result, they were struck dead with a plague. (Numbers 14:36-37)

To make matters worse, when the rebellious followers heard how and why the scouts died, they tried to appease God by invading Canaan without God being with them. The giants slaughtered every single one of them! (Numbers 14:39-45)

So as we face the coming months in 2012, a year in which we will undoubtedly face giants of our own, how is our faith? How is our trust in God?

Some of us will be facing giant challenges of unemployment, illness, cancer, financial failure, broken relationships, betrayal, loss of loved ones, and more. Will our faith and trust in God be strong enough to sustain us through those ordeals and leave us stronger and loving him more deeply—no matter the outcome?

Others of us will be facing major opportunities that involve gigantic challenges, great risks, enormous potential rewards, but offer no guarantees of success. Will we be overly cautious? Timid? Afraid to move ahead?

Most important, will God be with us in those opportunities? And if God is not with us, will we still move ahead in our own strength and abilities?

From where we now stand in early 2012, we don’t know how we will react to those giants. But here are two things for us to consider and guide us:

First, “Is this opportunity from the Lord?”

Unless the Lord builds a house,
the work of the builders is useless.
Unless the Lord protects a city,
guarding it with sentries will do no good.
(Psalm 127:1, New Living Translation, NLT)

Second, “Do I believe in the Lord enough to trust him?”

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will direct your paths.
(Proverbs 3:5-6, NLT)

The Israelites believed in God, but they didn’t trust him to lead them to victory in Canaan. They were depending on their own understanding of the situation, an understanding that failed to trust God’s promises and capabilities!

Many of us believe in God, but do we trust him when we face our giants?

Will we rely on our own understanding and insist on doing things our own way, or will we seek God’s will in all we do, trusting that he will direct our paths and see us through our challenges?

Remember—if we are in God’s will, we will be able to do everything with the help of Christ who gives us the strength we need, for God promises to supply all our needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus! (Philippians 4:13, 19)

The good news is that when we grasshoppers entrust our lives to God’s care and commit to fulfill his will and purpose—giants fall!

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