Chariots of Fire

Screenshot (1511)

When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” the servant asked.  “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.  (2 Kings 6:15–17, NIV 1984).

My Musings – How many times in our lives have the angelic hosts protected us from harm?  We clearly have no idea.  But if His eye is on the sparrow, I am certain that nothing escapes His attention when it comes to us.  And if when troubles do come (“in this world you will have trouble“), they need not dishearten us (“take heart, I have overcome the world“).  We can learn from them.  We grow character during them.  We can be witnesses through them.  Because nothing touches us that does not first pass through His hands, and which His grace is not sufficient to sustain us through.  And when “the time has come for [our] departure,” may we be able to say that we have “fought the good fight, [we] have finished the race, [we] have kept the faith.”  (2 Timothy 4:6–7, NIV 1984).

My Advice – It may seem at times that “those who are with them,” or that which is against us, are more than “those who are with us,” or that which is for us.  But it just “ain’t” so.  We may be tempted to say “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?”  But we should open our spiritual eyes and not “be afraid.”  For “if God is for us, who can be against us?”  (Romans 8:31, NIV 1984).

Saddle Up!

Screenshot (1502)

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”  (Joshua 1:9, NIV 1984).

My Musings – This is a charge given specifically to Joshua.  What could he possibly have to fear?

  • He Succeeded Moses, the only person that God spoke with face-to-face.  Talk about a tough act to follow.
  • But because Moses messed up, God did not allow Moses to lead the Israelites into the promised land.  Something that Moses had been anticipating for over forty years.  Better not mess up, Joshua.
  • And now Joshua was being told to cross over the Jordan to lead these “obstinate, stiff-necked” people to battle multiple kingdoms (Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites), drive them out, and take possession of the land.  No small task for a group of wandering nomads.

Yet Joshua “saddled up anyway.”  Why wouldn’t he have wanted to run the other way?  Not because of the subject of his  faith (capability of accomplishing the task at hand), but because of the object of his faith (capability of the One commissioning him for the task at hand). “No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  (Joshua 1:5, NIV 1984).

My Advice – Do you have a tough act to follow?  Are you afraid of messing up?  Do feel inadequate for the task you face?  I know this charge was given specifically to Joshua, but I believe we can appropriate it for ourselves.  “Have I not commanded you?”  If God calls you to it, He will see you through it.  So, “be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged.”  Because “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”  (2 Timothy 1:7, NIV 1984).  If God has indeed called you to it, you don’t have to scared to death. Saddle up. Ride to victory, not retreat.  He “will never leave you nor forsake you.

Where Many Have Gone Before

Screenshot (1479)

Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!”  (Matthew 10:17–25, NIV 1984).

My Musings – “The Road to Coronavirus Hell Was Paved by Evangelicals” is the title of an op-ed penned by Katherine Stewart and published by the New York Times on March 27, 2020.  In it she writes, “Donald Trump rose to power with the determined assistance of a movement that denies science, bashes government and prioritized loyalty over professional expertise. In the current crisis, we are all reaping what that movement has sown.”  Later she adds, “by all accounts, President Trump’s tendency to trust his gut over the experts on issues like vaccines and climate change does not come from any deep-seated religious conviction…But he is perfectly in tune with the religious nationalists who form the core of his base.”

This reminds me of another story — the burning of Rome in 64 AD. “Despite the well-known stories, there is no evidence that the Roman emperor, Nero, either started the fire or played the fiddle [had not been invented yet] while it burned. Still, he did use the disaster to further his political agenda. Nero did not like the aesthetics of the city and used the devastation of the fire in order to change much of it and institute new building codes throughout the city. Nero also used the fire to clamp down on the growing influence of Christians in Rome. He arrested, tortured and executed hundreds of Christians on the pretext that they had something to do with the fire.”  (https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/neros-rome-burns).  “The persecution of Christians because of the fire started about 250 years of Roman persecution of Christians, a practice finally ended in 313 AD when Emperor Constantine legalized the Christian religion with the Edict of Milan.” (https://www.historyandheadlines.com/july-18-64-ad-great-fire-rome-nero-blames-christians/).

These stories differ in that the Roman Emperor blamed the Christians for burning Rome, whereas one media story is blaming a certain segment of Evangelical Christians (referred to as “religious nationalists” and the “Christian nationalist movement”) for “fanning the flames” of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.  We do not know what “spark” will ignite the widespread persecution of the Church that Jesus spoke of in His Olivet Discourse. Perhaps “inflammatory” rhetoric, such as that used in the above referenced article, and which casts dispersions on all evangelical Christians in particular, will eventually spread to “engulf” all true followers of Christ in general.  When I say “true followers” I do not mean this as either a commendation or a condemnation of the any of the people or groups that are criticized in the article.  I do not know enough about any of them to pass any kind of judgment.  What I take issue with is how wide the net is cast in her criticisms.

We do know for certain that a day is coming when a “pandemic” of Church persecution will ultimately rise from the “ashes” left over from the persecution of early Christendom.  It many respects, it already has begun.  It may only be a “brush fire” now (at least in the United States — much worse in other countries), but soon enough it will become a “blazing inferno.”

My Advice – “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.”  Will you be prepared to follow in His steps? The cost of following Him may be high.  It was high for Polycarp, and others like him.  “86 years have I have served him,” Polycarp declared, “and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior? You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and is then extinguished, but you know nothing of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.”  (Polycarp of Smyrna, Christian martyr and a disciple of the Apostle John, circa 160 AD).

Be prepared to “boldly go where [many have] gone before!” Just make sure that it is “on [His] account” you are persecuted and not on account any political agenda of this world that is not firmly established by the Gospel of Truth.  For our Kingdom is not of this world.

Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.‘”  (Acts 4:18–20, NIV 1984).

Our Good Neighbor Sam

Screenshot (1458)

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends [neighbor].”  (John 15:13, NIV 1984).

[Wanting] to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”  (Luke 10:29–37, NIV 1984).

My Musings – Know anybody named Sam?  You may not think so, but you probably do.  In some respects, they are ordinary people, just like you and me.  In other respects, they are quite extraordinary.  Selflessly they go about their daily “routines,” just like you and me.  But unlike you and me, each and every day they may be called upon to lay down their lives so people like you and me can go on with our routines.  Each and every day, many do just that.  We see their faces on the news and in the newspapers after they have made that “no greater love” sacrifice.   We pause for a moment and grieve.  Then we return to our routine, all because they broke their “routine” for neighbors they never met before.

My Advice – And who is our neighbor?  Maybe we ought to cast the net a bit wider?

Straining Toward What Is Ahead

Screenshot (1370)

I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”  (Philippians 3:8–9, NIV 1984).

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 3:12–14).

My Musings – “I consider everything a loss” and “I have lost all things” may sound like hyperbole to some, but not to Paul.  Upon his dramatic conversion he did lose a lot of what may be considered of great value in this world – power, postion, privilege, to name just a few.  And it takes a mature spiritual perspective to consider such things as “rubbish” that they “may gain Christ and be found in him,” and have a “righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”  If you doubt Paul’s sincerity in saying this, consider the following:

Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” (2 Corinthians 11:23–28, NIV 1984).

How would you like that on your spiritual resume?  From persecutor to persecuted.  But “forgetting what [was] behind and straining toward what [was] ahead, [he] press[ed] on toward the goal to win the prize for which God [had] called [him] heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  And when he got that final call (imprisoned in Rome and ordered beheaded by Emperor Nero) he finally obtained all that he had “strained” for all those years and claimed his “prize.

My Advice – What are you pursuing in your live?  When all is said and done, will it be considered “rubbish” and “loss?”  Have you heeded Christ’s Heavenward call?  If so, are you pressing on?

______________________

Want to become a Christian (that Heavenward call)? See my blog series “The Born Again Experience.”

Want a closer walk with Christ (the pressing on)? See my blog series “Got Spiritual Milk?”

 

 

Do Not Turn From It

Screenshot (249)

Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”  (Proverbs 22:6, NIV 1984).

My Musings – Thanks Dad, for the Godly training that you provided.  I hope I am a good reflection of you, and the Lord you served.  I’ll do my best to not turn from it.

In memory of my Dad, who would have been 88 years old today.  I miss you.

Odds Are

Screenshot (1794)

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”  (Luke 12:6–7, NIV 1984).

My Musings – Chance. Something that happens unpredictably without discernible intention or observable cause.  Coincidence. A remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection.  Random. Made, done, happening, or chosen without method or conscious decision.  Odds. The probability that one thing is so or will happen rather than another.

I heard the muffled pop as I turned onto the entrance ramp to the interstate highway.  The thought immediately occurred to me that I had blown a tire.  But then nothing happened.  So I thought nothing of it and continued on my way to work, driving “every bit” the 70 mph speed limit.  It wasn’t until I was about fifteen miles on my way that the warning light flashed on indicating low pressure in my rear left tire. Pulling off the interstate and into a service station I exited the car and saw the screw protruding form the tire.  Yep, that’s it in the picture above.  Still being closer to home than I was to work, I re-inflated the tire, turned around and headed back to my car dealership, stopping once more to re-inflate the tire before reaching the dealership safely.

Well, that’s how my day started yesterday.  So what do you think the odds are that my great big  car would find that little bitty screw on that wide road?  Chance?  Coincidence?  Random?  Not likely.  Inconvenient?  For sure.  Late for work, putting me behind.  Costly?  You bet.  That little bitty screw will cost me over $170 to replace the tire. End of the world?  Not even close.  But if even the very hairs on my head are numbered, why didn’t my tire miss the screw?  I haven’t a clue.  Could God have prevented it?  Certainly.  Why didn’t he?  Again, I haven’t a clue.  What I am pretty sure of is that it wasn’t chance, coincidence or random.  Odds had nothing to do with it.  There was a reason for it.  Was it a test of how I would respond?  Maybe.  How we respond to little things, and believe me this was a little thing, prepares us to respond to bigger things.

My Advice – Take things in stride and trust God in the little things.  There are bound to be bigger things that we will need to be trained to respond to.