Preparing for Persecution

This morning our Sunday school lesson was about Daniel in the lion’s den. It was a one-off study. We just got through studying the life of Joseph, and next week we begin a new series on Isaiah and Jeremiah.

Instead of actually studying the lesson, I elected to play a recording of an interview that Focus on the Family did with Naghmeh Abedini, the wife of Christian pastor Saeed Abedini, who is currently serving an eight year prison sentence in Iran because of his Christian faith. You can hear the broadcast here:

http://www.focusonthefamily.com/media/daily-broadcast/trusting-god-in-the-midst-of-persecution

After listening to this broadcast, the question comes to mind: How can I personally prepare myself and my family for persecution?

Here are some thoughts in answer to that question. Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments. Continue reading

God the Pursuer

One of the amazing things about God is that he seeks out and pursues sinful people. Adam and Eve committed high treason against him in the garden, and yet God came pursuing them–wanting to mend the broken relationship. The entire Bible is the story of God seeking man. The very last book of the Bible has Jesus knocking on the heart doors of individual Laodiceans seeking entrance and fellowship. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and sup with him, and he with me.”

A. W. Tozer mentioned that even when we think we are seeking God, it’s really more accurate to say that God is seeking us and what we think is our seeking is really just our response to him. Theologians call this “prevenient grace.” Continue reading

Jesus, Our Man in Heaven

How wonderful that God became man in the person of Jesus Christ. What amazing condescension! He came alongside us and lifted us up, just as he lifted Peter out of the water in the midst of the storm when his faith began to fail.

Not only did Jesus become a man and live on earth and die to redeem us, but he sits in heaven at the right hand of the Father as one of us. He didn’t somehow get absorbed back into the Godhead and lose his humanity. No! When Jesus entered the human race 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem, he took humanity into the Godhead for all eternity. There is now, and always will be, a man in heaven who is also God.

The Athanasian Creed is one of the early creeds that established the doctrine of the Trinity, that God is three in one: Father, Son and Holy Spirit; that there are three persons but one substance. Part of that creed says this about Jesus Christ–he is:

Equal to the Father as touching his Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching his manhood.
Who, although he is God and man, yet he is not two, but one Christ.
One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of that manhood into God.

Jesus Christ will always be one of us. And because He was—and still is—part of the human race, He understands us completely. He sympathizes with us perfectly. He has been through everything that we go through.

“Let us THEREFORE come boldly unto the throne of grace.” Why? Because there is a man in heaven who is also God. There is someone there who listens to our prayers and sympathizes with us because he understands our weaknesses, he knows our frame, he knows what it’s like to be tempted.

Come boldly.

Finishing Well

The Bible uses a number of different pictures to illustrate the Christian life. Sometimes it talks about the Christian life as a battle—a battle against all the forces that would try to hinder us on our way to heaven. Other times it likens the Christian life to a building: laying the foundation, and then going on and continuing to build the superstructure of our lives on the foundation of Jesus Christ.

Other times the Bible talks about the Christian life as a race. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews tells us to “run with patience the race that is set before us.” The word patience here indicates that the Christian race is not a 100 yard dash or a sprint, but rather a marathon. When we start out in the Christian race, we must make every effort to stay in the race.

Starting something is generally much easier than continuing in it. If you’ve ever started a diet you know how true that is. You start out with great enthusiasm. You have a goal to lose so many pounds in a certain length of time and the first 5 or 10 pounds just drop off pretty easily and there’s excitement and a sense of achievement. But then as the weeks go by and the newness wears off and the enthusiasm dies down, it becomes harder to stay the course. Your body metabolism gets into a routine with the new diet and it becomes more difficult to lose each pound. Eventually you give up and go back to your old eating habits. It’s much easier to start well than it is to finish well.

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But I Know Whom I Have Believed!

“But I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.”

These words are familiar to us as the words of the chorus of a popular hymn as well as a verse of Scripture: 2 Tim. 1:12. But what do you think of when you hear them? What’s the “that” that God is able to keep? It might not be what you think. Or put another way, what comes to your mind may not be what was in Paul’s mind when he wrote them. Let me explain.

As with any other verse in the Bible, in order to understand what’s being said we must investigate and understand the context. When writing this passage Paul was in prison on death row in Rome. He knew that his days were numbered. In this letter he is passing on the baton to Timothy. His heart is torn by the fact that many of the people he had led to Christ in Asia (Ephesus and surrounding areas) had turned against him. He’s encouraging Timothy that now more than ever he must hold on to the truths of the gospel handed to him by Paul.

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A New Beginning

A new beginning always brings fresh hope, new energy, new plans and purposes. This new beginning is no different. I feel energized, encouraged, ready to start afresh—out with the old and in with the new.

One of the new things: I’ve started a new Bible reading plan with the YouVersion iPad app (www.youversion.com). It’s pretty awesome. There are other ways to read the Bible in a year, but this one seems really good, especially for those who enjoy using technology.

The new year is also an opportunity to brush up on some of the things we’re already doing…like family devotions for instance. Revamp. Improve. Tonight we began memorizing a new Bible passage as a family: Psalm 91:1-6. We’ve already memorized a number of passages, and recite them on set nights of the week to keep from forgetting them: The Lord’s Prayer (every night), The Apostles’ Creed and Eph. 6:10-18 (Monday), the Beatitudes (Tuesday), the Ten Commandments (Wednesday), Psalm 1 (Thursday), Psalm 23 (Friday), and Psalm 100 (Saturday). Once we’ve memorized Psalm 91, we’ll add it to the Tuesday night recitation.

By the way, if you’re not having family devotions in your home—especially if there are children in the home—you’re missing a huge opportunity to make a difference in your world. People look at tragedies like the Newtown massacre and blame the removal of prayer from schools; but when was the last time you gathered the members of your household for united prayer? Don’t blame the schools for not doing something you won’t do in your own home. In actual fact, the removal of prayer from schools is a symptom of what’s wrong with our country—not the cause. And if you’re not having family devotions, you’re part of the problem, not part of the solution. The family is the basic building block of society, and all societal change begins there.

Today is a great opportunity for all of us to begin again for the glory of God.

 

Where Was Jesus Born?

Stable? Cave? House?

It’s amazing how much “information” can be added to a couple of Bible verses. Luke 2:6-7 for instance. You’ve heard these verses and read them scores of times, and you’re about to read them again:

“And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”

Let’s look at the word “inn” for a moment.

The underlying Greek word for “inn” is “kataluma.” This word kataluma is only used one other time in the Bible, and that is in Luke 22:11 where it is translated “guest chamber” or “guest room.” You ask me why the King James translators chose to translate the word as “inn” here in Luke 2 and “guest chamber” in Luke 22? I have no idea.

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Erasing Hell by Francis Chan

I recently finished reading Francis Chan’s book Erasing Hell. As with any serious book on the subject of hell, it was not an easy read. One thing I appreciated about Chan’s approach was that he was very up-front about his own feelings on the subject. I also appreciated his sensitivity. He continually emphasized the fact that when we talk about hell, we must not let it just be a doctrine that is divorced from reality; in other words, if we believe what the Bible says about hell, people are going to be there. People we know. People we love. It’s not just an idea, it’s an actual destiny–and a destiny that’s eternal.

In chapter one he gives a brief survey of the different types of universalism–i.e. the belief that all will eventually be saved and go to heaven. He examines the Scriptures upon which the theories of universalism are based and answers them with other Scriptures.

In the second chapter, Chan looks at the views of the Jewish contemporaries of Jesus. What did the people of Jesus’ day believe about the afterlife, and more specifically, about hell? Surprisingly, their views were not much different from our Lord’s–i.e. that hell is a place of never-ending punishment after judgment. He gives a number of quotes from first century Jewish writers to back up his assertion. In this chapter he also debunks Rob Bell’s view that hell is a “garbage dump.”

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Touch Not the Lord’s Anointed

Does “touch not the Lord’s anointed” from the Old Testament equal “don’t criticize the preacher” in the New? Read on to find out.

In Sunday school this morning we studied the incident in 1 Samuel 26 where David passed up the opportunity to take Saul’s life. (For those who don’t know, I’m not the teacher this year.) A deep sleep from the Lord was upon Saul and his men. David’s colleagues encouraged David to use this seemingly “open door” to snuff out Saul’s life and be rid of this troublesome enemy. However, David strongly objects to–even recoils from–this idea. His reason? He will not touch “the Lord’s anointed.” How is Saul God’s anointed when he has already forfeited the kingdom through disobedience and David has long ago been anointed king in his stead? David clearly believes that even though Saul is not currently “anointed” in the sense of enjoying the blessing and hand of God on his life, he is still anointed in the sense that he is still the king of Israel–he still holds the office for which he had been anointed years ago by Samuel.

So why do modern day preachers think “touch not the Lord’s anointed” means “don’t criticize the preacher” or “don’t disagree with the preacher”? I’m not sure, but the idea doesn’t get any support from this Scripture, not from the similar one in 1 Samuel 24 or the one in Psalm 105:15. In all of these Scriptures, the context demands that “touch” means “physically harm” or “do violence to” or even “kill.” When David said he would not touch the Lord’s anointed, he meant that he would not kill him. That’s a far cry from disagreeing with the preacher or challenging erroneous teaching. Remember that the Bereans in Acts were commended for checking out the Bible to see if the things being taught were Scriptural. Remember also that Paul openly rebuked Peter at Antioch for his wrong conduct. Yes we should respect the preacher and obey the truth preached when it lines up with God’s Word, but we are not to sit there and unquestioningly swallow everything just because the preacher said it. Trust me, I’ve done that before, and it’s not good for your spiritual health. We need to be good Bereans, making sure that what we are taught lines up with God’s Word.

Further, it’s important to note that the New Testament regards ALL believers as being “anointed.” Read 1 John 2. Look at verse 20: “But ye [all Christians] have an unction [anointing] from the Holy One, and ye know all things.” Then look at verse 27: “But the anointing which ye [all Christians] have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.” One of the great New Testament truths the Reformers of the 16th century recovered was that all Christians are priests–the priesthood of all believers. No one person is more anointed than another. Yes, God has placed authority figures in the church to guide and instruct us, but these should never be regarded as infallible. We should respect the overseers that God has placed over our local flocks, but at the same time, we should search the Scriptures to see whether these things are so. And the overseers (pastors, elders, whatever your particular flock calls them) should not hide behind “touch not the Lord’s anointed” as a cop out when someone disagrees or points out a potential point of error.

Prayer and Exercise

Strange title you say? Yes, I thought so too. A couple of months ago or so, I did a breakout study in our adult Sunday school class on the importance of personal devotions or having a daily “quiet time.” We take it for granted that healthy bodies require regular food, exercise and sleep but too often we neglect any kind of regular maintenance for our spiritual lives. I ended the series with an illustration using a jar with rocks and pebbles that showed very graphically that if we get the important things into our life jar first we actually get more in. Translation: you can’t beat having your quiet time in the early morning. No phones. No kids. No distractions. Your time with God then becomes the organizing principle around which the rest of your day revolves and you actually get more done and end up being happier and less stressed out in the long run. One of the best illustrations in Scripture is the manna in the wilderness. It always fell in the early morning, and if you didn’t get up and about and collect your manna, it disappeared with the rising sun. I’d like to write a book about it some time, but when will I get time for that?

Now to the exercise part. This evening I was doing some internet research (don’t you love Google!) on the question of whether it’s more beneficial to exercise in the morning or the evening. What I found was that it doesn’t really matter all that much as far as weight loss, etc., BUT studies do show that those who exercise early in the morning are more CONSISTENT. In other words, of those people who begin a new exercise program, those who chose the early morning for this activity were more likely to still be doing it a year later. Why? Because it’s easier to establish and maintain a consistent habit early in the day. Those who chose the afternoon or evening were more prone to allowing other activities to crowd out their exercise time. Which is exactly why the early morning is the best time of the day for establishing a regular, consistent devotional life. I was especially impressed with posters on a certain internet message board who reported regularly rising at 5:00 in the morning to exercise! Talk about commitment! I remember once reading one of the old time Puritans or early Methodists who said he was ashamed whenever he awoke to the sound of workers on their way to their daily labors in the early morning hours and he had not yet started his quiet time with God. The early morning exercisers ought to shame us into keeping an early morning appointment with God.