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Posts Tagged ‘Hope’

Dear brothers and sisters,

You are not forgotten. We see the horrible, graphic pictures on the Internet of those among your ranks who have been slaughtered because they chose to follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior. And we know that you, who remain in areas controlled by Islamist extremists, live under daily threat of being beheaded or raped. Even your little children are victims of these horrors.

I write to remind you of Jesus’ encouragement to all who would follow him:

Don’t be afraid, but be glad and rejoice

“Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill you. They can only kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt. 10:28)

So when your persecutors demand that you renounce Jesus Christ or you die, remember that your physical death pales in significance to the eternal consequence of denying Christ in this life (Matt. 10:32-33). If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give it up for Christ, you will find it (Matt. 10:39).

Jesus assures you that even in the midst of danger and in death, your Father in heaven is aware of you and everything that is happening to you. So don’t be afraid, you are more valuable to him than even a single sparrow that dies in his care (Matt. 10:31).

Moreover, Jesus encourages you to be glad and rejoice in the midst of your persecution, for not only is he blessing you with his blissful presence that fills you with joy and peace as you face your persecutors, he assures you that your reward will be great in heaven. So, yes, rejoice! God’s kingdom is yours—now in this life and in eternity! (Matt. 5:10-12)

Be wary and wise as snakes and harmless as doves

In this current climate of Islamist terrorists of a variety of stripes—ISIS, IS, ISIL, Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda, and others—you are as vulnerable as lambs in the midst of wolves (Matt. 10:16a), so Jesus offers you these specific ways of conducting yourselves:

• Be wary and wise as snakes (Matt. 10:16b)—Be alert and observant about what is happening around you, and don’t be impulsive and gullible. Avoid premature martyrdom, and flee to safety when possible. Don’t be afraid to speak in defense of your faith in Christ, for the Spirit of the Lord will tell you what to speak. (Matt: 10:19, 20, 23).

• Be harmless as doves (Matt. 10:16c)—Like Jesus, you are to be nonviolent, peaceful, and harmless. It is Jesus’ deliberate will for us to live in weakness so that we might flourish in his strength (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

While Jesus does not forbid his followers from having weapons, presumably for defense (Luke 22:36), in almost every other instance he tells us not to resist when persecuted. For example, when Peter used a sword to defend Jesus, Jesus told him, “Put away your sword. Those who use the sword will be killed by the sword.” (Matt. 26:52; Luke 22:47-51; John 18:10-11)

So when they bomb your churches, you are not to bomb their mosques; when they invade your homes and chop off the heads of your children, do not attack their homes to do likewise to their children, nor should you render evil for evil. Vengeance belongs to God alone (Rom. 12:19).

Love your persecutors and pray for them

You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you. In that way you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:43-45, NLT)

Loving your enemies, especially those who seek to harm and kill you, is not something that is a natural human ability, but Jesus gives you the divine ability to love your enemies, even your persecutors. How?

By praying for them—As followers of Jesus, you are instructed to seek the welfare of your enemies through prayer and forgiveness. Follow the examples of Jesus and Stephen who, as they were being killed, prayed that God would forgive their killers (Luke 23:34; Acts 7:59-60).

By blessing them—If people persecute you because you are a Christian, don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them (Rom. 12:14).

By heeding the warning about forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer—Jesus taught us that when we ask our heavenly Father to forgive our sins, we must also forgive those who sin against us, and if we refuse to forgive others, God will not forgive our sins (Matt. 6:14-15).

Take heart, Jesus has overcome the world

The mission of Islamist terrorists is to use hate, violence, fear, and murder to intimidate peoples and nations into submission, and make the entire world into an Islamic State. However, God will not allow this to happen.

When Jesus was about to return to heaven, he told his disciples to expect hardship, trials, and persecution because of their allegiance to him, but he assured them that he has already won the ultimate victory over those who would oppose him:

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NLT)

“Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean that he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or are hungry or cold or in danger or threatened with death? (Even the Scriptures say, ‘For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.’) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.” (Rom. 8:36-37, NLT)

From Genesis to Revelation, our Scriptures tell us that Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God who died to take away our sins, will return as the Conquering Lion of God and defeat Satan and his evil forces.

So brothers and sisters in Christ, you who are being persecuted because of your faith in Jesus Christ, take courage and be strengthened in the knowledge that God is about to destroy ISIS and the myriads of similar Satanic forces that seek to persecute the body of Christ. Their days are numbered, and God will defeat and destroy them as surely as he destroyed Hitler’s murderous Nazi regime and other tyrannical forces throughout history.

May you be encouraged in the knowledge that millions of Christian believers throughout our planet are praying for you that, whether you live or die, your faith and witness remain strong and unmovable, and that the Lord will be pleased with your life of worship, praise, and sacrifice.

And may our Father’s grace, love, and peace bless and sustain you. Amen.

****

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I was visiting the Getty Museum in Los Angeles recently when I saw the Jean-Francois Millet oil painting, “Man with a Hoe,” painted during 1860-62. As I gazed at the painting, I began to sense what Millet intended to convey—the utter exhaustion of a peasant as he pauses from the backbreaking toil of plowing a rocky plot of land filled with thistles, weeds, and dry grass.

The expression on the man’s face, along with his wearied posture, suggest not only a hard day’s labor but one of a lifetime of endless toil with little progress to show. And yet, the green, productive fields of his neighbors in the background suggest that there might be hope for this man and this bleak plot of land.

But I saw more.

In that moment I saw in him the countless numbers of individuals whose lives today are mired in seemingly hopeless situations—beaten down, exhausted, depressed, caught between life’s proverbial rock and a hard place, with little or no relief or hope in sight. And in my heart I saw their despair and I heard their anguished cry to God for help.

I know what these people are going through—for I’ve been there myself.

I’ve been there through life’s deserts—long periods of unemployment, eking out a living in dead-end jobs, facing failure after failure, set back after set back, struggling with depression, and screaming at a seemingly silent God.

But always, in the midst of those harsh, lonely, desert places, I would experience God’s mercy, peace, comfort, and joy. And with those blessings, I would find renewed hope and strength to keep on the journey through life.

It is in such deserts that I experienced the reality of Jesus’ Beatitudes recorded in Matthew 5:3-6:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”

In Mathew’s version of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt, 5,6,7), Jesus teaches about the characteristics of being a disciple in the Kingdom of God, and in verses 3-6 of chapter 5, he blesses the worn-down, broken, and powerless people who recognize their need for him and seek him.

He blesses them in their present state—here and now!

Those who are poor in spirit—who are utterly helpless to meet life’s challenges but seek God in their poverty of spirit—are blessed to be part of God’s kingdom here and now!

Those who mourn—who are in spiritual crisis, sadness, pain, sorrow, grief, and loss, and who earnestly seek God—are comforted with his peace, joy, and strength, here and now, for the journey still ahead.

Those who are meek—who in humility know their own ignorance, weaknesses, and needs, and who turn control and discipline of their lives to God—are blessed here and now with God’s assurance that when Christ returns on Judgment Day to destroy the earth, they will receive new eternal bodies and inherit a place in Christ’s kingdom that he will establish on the newly created earth (2 Pet. 3:7-13;  Rom. 8: 18-26; Rev. 21:1).

And those who hunger and thirst for righteousness—who yearn desperately for a right relationship with God and with people, who care about justice for all, and who earnestly seek God out of their awareness of their own urgent need to be right with him and with people—are blessed here and now with God’s forgiveness and covered with Jesus’ own righteousness (Rom. 3:22; 2 Cor. 5:21).

These four beatitudes are a complete reversal of the world’s value systems. The world admires and envies only those who are strong, rich, famous, successful, and powerful. The world cares nothing about the nobodies, the materially or spiritually poor, those who mourn, the meek, or those who seek righteousness and justice.

But God cares about such people, and he wants us as disciples of Jesus Christ to not only care for them with his heart of love, grace, and compassion, but also to reflect in our hearts an awareness of our own poverty of spirit, brokenness, humility, and hunger for righteousness.

For only then can he bless us—here and now!

*****

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A blogger, whose 16-year-old daughter recently lost a young friend to suicide, commented, “I asked God to help me understand why they [who take their lives] go to Hell. I am no one to question God, but I need an answer. I can’t find one—yet.”

Although the Bible doesn’t use the word “suicide,” it provides four incidents of individuals taking their lives—I Sam. 31:4-5; II Sam. 17:23; I Kings 16:18; and Matt. 27:5.

However, the Bible does not address the eternal future of those who commit suicide, nor does it specifically prohibit or condemn the act.

What the Bible provides are inferences regarding the high value of the human life. These include Acts 16: 27-28 where Paul stops his prison guard from killing himself, and such verses as:

Do not murder.” –Exodus 20:13

For we are not our own master when we live or when we die. While we live, we live to please the Lord. And when we die, we go to be with the Lord. So in life and in death, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and rose again for this very purpose, so that he might be Lord of those who are alive and of those who have died.” –Rom. 14:7-9

Or don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.” –I Cor. 6:19-20

No one hates his own body but lovingly cares for it, just as Christ cares for his body, which is the church. And we are his body.” –Eph. 5:30

Along with the grief and emotional devastation experienced by family and friends when their loved one commits suicide, there is usually a variety of difficult and troubling questions, including the one about hell.

As someone who lost a family member to suicide, and knows of two Christian leaders who ended their own lives, I have found hope and encouragement about their eternal future from Scripture, though I am careful to not apply this to all suicides.

First, these were suicides that occurred while these individuals were suffering from chronic and debilitating bouts of sadness, pain, and depression. The causes ranged from life-shattering events, medication problems, illnesses, diseases, and severe mood disorders such as bipolar disorder. Such bouts sometimes lasted for years and were so severe that the individuals lost hope and finally gave up on life.

Second, I don’t believe that they were rational or in their right minds when they ended their lives. They were in mental, emotional, and spiritual breakdown and bankruptcy—totally crushed in their inner beings—and in such a state, Jesus’ pronouncement of blessings can be applied to them when he said:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” –Matt. 5:3-4 (New International Version, NIV)

Based on these verses, I believe that the kingdom of God is a gift of grace, mercy, hope, and comfort to those who are destitute in spirit and who mourn from within the depths of their despair—even to those of his children who commit suicide.

Third, Scripture assures us that our salvation in Jesus Christ can never be broken or taken away from us:

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or are hungry or cold or in danger or threatened with death?

“No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Jesus Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels can’t, and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away. Whether we are high in the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” –Rom. 8: 35, 37-39

And what of those who never acknowledged or accepted God or Jesus Christ into their lives before their suicides? There is no such assurance of their place in his heavenly kingdom or that they will be comforted.

Still, there is the possibility that some of them might have cried out to God from within their death throes. Might God, in his compassion, grace, love, and mercy have forgiven them?

I believe he might have, for just as he expressed through Jesus his compassion, forgiveness, and healing for the sick, the crippled in body and mind, the tormented, and sinners—even the dying thief on the cross—so he might have had compassion and forgiveness for such ones who realized their need for him at the last moment.

And I believe that we might be surprised to see who will be—and who won’t be—in his kingdom on Judgment Day (Matt. 25:31-46).

*****

All Bible references are from the New Living Translation (NLT), except the noted NIV reference.

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Having not been hit by a personal tragedy in my life so far, such as the tragic death of one of my children or grandchildren, I cannot say for sure how I would handle it. I would surely grieve deeply, for I love each of them, but would I find a way to deal with my grief and eventually move on with life in a healthy way?

Would I be like Eric Clapton, the award-winning musician?

On March 20, 1991, Eric’s four-year old son, Conor, opened the latch of the window of a family friend’s 53rd-floor apartment in New York and fell through the window to his death. Eric arrived at the scene shortly after the accident and was understandably distraught, so much so that he went into seclusion and mourning for several months.

One of the things that ultimately helped him to deal with the tragedy was that he was able to channel his pain and loss into his song writing, especially his song, “Tears in Heaven”:

Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
If I saw you in heaven?

I must be strong, and carry on
Cause I know I don’t belong
Here in heaven.

Would you hold my hand
If I saw you in heaven?
Would you help me stand
If I saw you in heaven?

I’ll find my way, through night and day
Cause I know I just can’t stay
Here in heaven.

Time can bring you down,
Time can bend your knee,
Time can break your heart,
Have you begging please…
Begging please…

(instrumental)

Beyond the door
There’s peace I’m sure.
And I know there’ll be no more
Tears in heaven.

Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
If I saw you in heaven?

I must be strong, and carry on
Cause I know I don’t belong
Here in heaven…

Lord, I know I don’t belong
Here in heaven .

Although the song won several music awards in 1992 and 1993, Eric stopped singing it in 2004, saying, “I didn’t feel the loss anymore, which is so much a part of performing those songs. I really have to connect with the feelings that were there when I wrote them. They’re kind of gone and I really don’t want them to come back, particularly. My life is different now. They probably just need a rest and maybe I’ll introduce them for a much more detached point of view.”

If I didn’t handle my tragedy like Eric Clapton, would I be like Horatio G. Spafford?

Horatio was a Christian and a successful attorney in Chicago during the mid 1800s, but was hit by three calamities in close succession:

  • The Chicago Fire of 1871 wiped out his extensive real estate holdings and investments.
  • His young son died of scarlet fever.
  • His four daughters—Tanetta, Maggie, Annie, and Bessie—were killed in 1873 when the ship on which they were sailing to England with their mother was hit by another vessel in the Atlantic and sank quickly, taking the lives of 226 passengers and crew.

Horatio was supposed to be on the ship with them, but a last-minute crisis in his business delayed him and he sent his family ahead, with plans to join them soon after. When he heard the news, he took the next available ship to join his wife, who survived the sinking, in England.

On the voyage over to England, he spent most of his time on deck, staring at the waves and praying. When his ship passed the approximate area where his daughters lost their lives, Horatio was aware of God’s sustaining and comforting presence, and the words “When sorrows like sea billows roll…it is well with soul” imprinted themselves in his mind.

With those words guiding him, he then went on to pen six verses of a hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul,” with four of the following verses becoming well known, loved, and sung by churches for over the past 138 years:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

(Refrain)
It is well with my soul,
it is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control,
that Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
and hath shed his own blood for my soul.

(Refrain)

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

(Refrain)

And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
the clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
the trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
even so, it is well with my soul.

(Refrain)

As beautiful as “Tears in Heaven” is, it does not answer Eric’s soul-searching questions, and it reveals a father whose only recourse is to dig deep within himself and move ahead with the hope of someday finding peace through his own effort. Even then he is not even sure that he will make it to heaven to be united with his son!

Horatio, on the other hand, finds immediate peace and consolation in the midst of his tragedy, and attributes that peace and assurance to the love, grace, and redeeming sacrifice of Christ on his behalf.

It is my deepest desire that when the time comes for me to face my own tragedies, that my grief will be tempered by my faith, trust, and reliance on my Savior, Jesus Christ, who assures us, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14: 27, RSV)

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She dropped in midway through our church’s 12-week workshop, “EXPERIENCING GOD: Knowing and Doing the Will of God,” and sat beside me at our table.  She had never been to our church before and had been invited to the workshop by one of our members to learn about the will of God.

But we were not far into that evening’s session when our visitor became agitated and began to mutter in disagreement with what was being said about Terry, one of our congregation’s outstanding Bible teachers and leaders, who had died the week before at the age of 57, less than four months after doctors discovered that he had a brain tumor.

Terry had been very successful in business, including the founding and operating of a very profitable sportswear company.  He lived an affluent life and was a highly respected and effective Bible teacher and leader at our church.

But in the 1990s, Terry suffered financial setbacks and lost his business.  For several years he was unable to find work and eventually lost his beautiful home.  Throughout his years of financial setbacks and ordeals, Terry continued to witness and teach about God’s faithfulness, love, and amazing grace – even after his brain tumor was discovered in July 2000, and even after he knew that he was going to die.  Despite our fervent prayers for Terry’s healing, he died within months, leaving behind a wife and two young children.

This discussion disturbed our visitor.  She had become a Christian nearly two years before, with the expectation that not only would Christ save her soul but that he would bless her abundantly in all aspects of life – including her finances, love life, health, and with long life.

When we started to discuss the possibility that the premature death – and not the healing of Terry – might have been God’s will, she became so disturbed that she got up from the table and left the workshop.

As I watched her leave, I suddenly thought of the words and tune of a 1970s pop song by Joe South:

I beg your pardon,
I never promised you a rose garden,
Along with the sunshine
There’s gotta be a little rain sometime.

Our visitor expected her new faith in Jesus to be the key to life’s rose garden, but she was unwilling to accept the possibility that along with the beauty of roses could come thorns, storms, droughts, setbacks, failures, and things that kill.

She had apparently embraced the “prosperity gospel” brand of Christianity but couldn’t handle the reality that “s – – t happens” to even those who follow Christ.

And even more significant, she freaked out at the idea that God would allow such things to happen to his followers!

So she ran.

As we begin 2011 and look forward to the coming months, we naturally hope and pray that it will be a great year in which we’ll enjoy the good things of life – health, financial stability and success, happiness, pleasure, and loving relationships, all part of achieving the desires of our heart.

But what if bad things were to intrude into our carefully planned lives?  How do we, as Christians, deal with life in crisis?

There are several principles in Romans 8 that our brother Paul lays out to help us face life’s difficulties:

First, remember who we are and to whom we belong.

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. For the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you through Christ Jesus from the power of sin that leads to death. (vv. 1, 2; these and the following verses quoted are from the New Living Translation)

The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you.  And just as he raised Christ from the dead, he will give life to your mortal body by the same Spirit living within you. (v. 11)

So you should not be like cowering, fearful slaves. You should behave instead like God’s very own children, adopted into his family – calling him “father, dear Father.” For his Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we are God’s children. (vv. 15, 16)

Second, we share God’s glorious treasures – as well as his suffering.

And since we are his children, we will share his treasures – for everything God gives to his Son, Christ, is ours, too. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will give us later. (vv. 17, 18)

For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And even we Christians, although we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, also groan to be released from pain and suffering. (vv. 22, 23a)

Third, the Holy Spirit sustains us and intercedes for us in the midst of our hardships and sufferings.

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our distress. For we don’t even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. (vv. 26, 27)

Fourth, God works in every circumstance – even the bad ones – for our long-range good and to fulfill his purpose for us.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (v. 28)

Fifth, nothing can separate us from God’s love – so live with confidence and joy.

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or are hungry or cold or in danger or threatened with death? (Even the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ who loved us.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t and life can’t. The angels can’t, and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away. Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (vv. 35-39)

I sometimes think about our visitor who walked away from our workshop that night, and I’ve prayed that she has since come to a deeper understanding of her relationship with God and Jesus Christ.

No, God did not promise her a rose garden, but something far better – himself, with all the richness and fullness of his indwelling presence that enables her to live life powerfully, confidently, and joyfully because of his gift of Jesus Christ.

And he promises that, too, to all of us who believe, trust, and follow Christ.

******

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