Where Many Have Gone Before

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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).

Be The Church

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They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.  (Acts 2:42–47, NIV 1987).

My Musings – While these are clearly challenging times as the world comes to grip with this global pandemic, (perhaps unprecedented to most of the world’s population living today), they pale in comparison (at least to date) to challenges that previous generations have endured.  Our grandparents sent an entire generation of young men off to fight fascism and aggression in Europe, North Africa and the South Pacific.  This came just a few short years after the great depression, where U. S. unemployment peaked at nearly 25% (probably much greater in other countries).  The Spanish Flu (probably not a politically correct name by today’s standards) infected an estimated 500 million people and claimed the lives of an estimated 50 million (some estimates go as high as 199 million) souls.  This was when the world population was around 1.8 billion.  During the 14th century, it is estimated that 30% to 60% of the world population of 450 million died from the Black Plague.

One might ask, how does the Church respond to the crisis facing the world we live in today?

I would propose that it should have very little to do with how we “dochurch and very much to do with how we “be” the Church.

In certain respects, the above text gives many a overly romanticized impression of the first century Church.  “Why can’t we be more like the first century Chuch?”  But we must remember, as persecution spread, the Church in Rome was driven underground into the catacombs beneath the city.  Then, of course, there was persecution in the middle ages where people like Wycliffe, Hus, Zwingli, More and Tyndale were put to death, not to mention the religious persecution the led to settlement in the “new world.”  Even today, in certain communist and Islamic countries, Christians constantly face persecution and death.

In light of all this, how we “do” church (worship style, time of service, length of sermon, systematic versus topical versus textual preaching, color of carpet, etc.) is fairly trivial compared to how those mentioned above were committed to being the Church.  As we reflect on the crisis facing the world today, our focus as well should be on how to be the Church in a world that needs the hope that only Christ offers.  Especially if we are just beginning (much worse to come) to experience the “birth pains” that Christ warned about in His Olivet Discourse and the tribulation to follow that the Apostle John recorded in Revelation.

My Advice – Be the Church.  What are some practical ways we can put into practice some of the following ways of being the Church to our neighborhoods and communities?

Love One Another – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  (John 13:34–35, NIV 1984).

Do Unto Others – “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”  (Matthew 7:12, NIV 1984).

Live At Peace With Everyone –   “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”  (Romans 12:18, NIV 1984).

Be A Servant – “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”   (Matthew 20:25–28, NIV 1984).

Do For The Least Of These – “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.  “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”    (Matthew 25:35–40, NIV 1984).

Practice Pure and Faultless ReligionReligion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.  (James 1:27, NIV 1984).

Be A Witness – “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  (Acts 1:8, NIV 1984).

Be Prepared With Your Reason For Hope Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  (1 Peter 3:15–16, NIV 1984).

What Remains? – “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”  (1 Corinthians 13:13, NIV 1984).

Here are some suggestions from my local church: (https://www.fbcsycamore.com/)

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Shall Not Prevail

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Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”  (Acts 5:38–39, NIV 1984).

My Musings – Two thousand years and the Gospel has not been stopped.  It is hard to imagine any doctrine or philosophy of human origin could possibly withstand this test of time.  But Christianity has.  Throughout Church history, mankind has fought against it but the light still shines. It may have dimmed from time to time, but it has never gone out.  Because it is from God. God the Father conceived it, Jesus built it, and the Holy Spirit has sustained it.  When you fight against the Church, you are fighting against God.

My Advice – If you are not already, you need to get on the winning side.  See my blog series “The Born Again Experience” to find out how.

 

Sent Into The World

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I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.  My prayer is not for them alone.  My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.”  (John 17:9, 15–18, 20, NIV 1984).

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33, NIV 1984).

My Musings – It is a human trait that we often say things with equal passion and deep conviction that are contradictory.  A first impression of the two passages above, quotes from the lips and heart of Jesus, that they are also contradictory.  We might dismiss this as merely a manifestation of His fully human nature but not a reflection of His fully divine nature (perhaps we’ll discuss this apparent contradiction in a future musing).  But we would be missing the point altogether.

In the first instance, Jesus speaks about protecting us from (insulated in) the evil one, while not praying that we be taken from (isolated from) the world.  He is, in fact, intentionally sending us out into (included within) the world while not being part of (integrated into) the world.  In sending us out as “aliens” into the world, He us sending out into hostile territory.  There we will encounter natural dangers (curses of a fallen world) and be confronted by supernatural dangers (curses from a fallen angel).

Jesus does not pray that we be protected from natural dangers.  Some He will prevent and some He will permit, according to His divine will. But not without eternal purposes.  But He does pray for protection from supernatural dangers though a new divine nature (“if anyone is in Christ He is a new creation” – 2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV 1984) and indwelling by the Holy Spirit (“I will not leave you orphans” – John 14:18).  This does not mean we will never give in or bow down to supernatural confrontations (temptation, persecution), but it does mean that we do not have to give in (“for the grace of God teaches us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live upright and Godly lives in this present age” – Titus 2:12, NIV 1984).

My Advice – Just say no (by the grace of God).

Worthy of Disgrace

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They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.”  (Acts 5:40–42, NIV 1984).

My Musings – Imagine being flogged and ordered not to speak in the name of Jesus.  Many people around the world today, and throughout history, have not had to imagine this (and even worse things).  For people like me, who have yet to face this, it is humbling.  At least it should be.  For what we face is mere inconvenience (ridicule, rejection, disrespect) in comparison.

Next, imagine not only continuing to teach and proclaim the good news that Jesus is the Christ but also rejoicing (feeling or showing  great joy or delight) for being counted worthy (important enough) to suffer such disgrace (strongly and generally disapproved of) for the name.  All the while knowing that even more (or worse) is to come.  Also humbling, as all too often we grumble over our “inconveniences.”

My Advice – Be worthy of disgrace for His name.  Because it is the name before all other names.

This Little Light of Mine

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Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.”  (Acts 11:19–21, NIV 1984).

My Musings – The Western world has largely been spared of such persecution, but it is interesting to note that while the devil intended to obliterate the Church, his devices were thwarted by God and actually served to grow the Church.

What are some of the things we encounter in the Western world that can also serve to spread the Gospel of Christ?  Have you ever lost your job?  Did you ever consider that God might be moving you to a new one to serve such a purpose?  Has your family ever had to relocate causing you to enroll in a new school, forcing you to make new friends?  Did you ever consider that these new friends might need to hear the Gospel and God has chosen you to be His herald?  Did your first choice for college not work out and you had to “settle” for another?  Did you ever consider that there might be those there that might only be receptive to the Gospel from someone like you?

My Advice – Persecution like that experienced in the 1st century is breaking out around the world at an increasing rate.  It may soon be where you live, if it is not there already.  Light is more noticeable the darker it gets.  Don’t hide it.  But even if it is not yet quite that dark where you live (where God may have moved you), does not mean that you cannot shine for the Master.  You have the best news that anyone could possibly share with another.

Given From Above

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The Jews insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”  When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”  (John 19:7–11, NIV 1984).

My Musings – “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.”  The power given is not from Rome.  It is not from the Sanhedrin.  It is not from the High Priest.  Not even from the crowd that would later yell “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”  The power over Jesus was given by God.  Without it, no one could touch Him.  And since Jesus and the Father are one, the power in essence is coming from Jesus.  He is willingly granting it.  “I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:17–18, NIV 1984).  But why?  Because the good work of redemption could not be accomplished in any other way.

So what does this mean to us as followers of Christ?  When we encounter persecution or suffering, we have the tendency to cry out “why me?!”  Rather we should be crying out “why not me?!”  Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33a, NIV 1984).  And why not?  Are we any better than Him?  Certainly not!  But I think, that the power of persecution over us is also granted from above.  Nothing touches us, without the permissive will of the Father.  I am convinced, that when this is the case, it is because something good is being accomplished in us or through us that could not be accomplished in any other way.  Because,  “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  If it could be accomplished in any other way I am convinced that the “cup” would pass from us.

My Advice – Going through a tough patch?  Hang in there.  “Take heart! I [Jesus] have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33b, NIV 1984).  It’s okay to pray “Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.”  (Matthew 26:39a, NIV 1984).  But also be prepared to pray “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39a, NIV 1984).  Because, if it is possible, the cup will pass.  If there is no other way to accomplish what is necessary and good “do not lose heart. Though outwardly [you may be] wasting away, yet inwardly [you] are being renewed day by day. For [your] light and momentary troubles are achieving for [you] an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So fix [your] eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18, NIV 1984).  Take heart!  You too are an overcomer.

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Want to become a Christian? See my blog series “The Born Again Experience.”
Want a closer walk with Christ? See my blog series “Got Spiritual Milk?”