Christianity 201

July 5, 2017

When the Flood Waters Run High

Just two months ago, we introduced you to the website Dust off the Bible, which contains news, reviews, quizzes and a daily devotional. We thought we’d give you another opportunity to explore this excellent website. Click the title below to read this at source. (Often the passages are covered by two writers, which is the case today.)

Daily Bible Reading Devotional [Psalm 69:7-18]-June 28, 2017

Psalm 69:7-18

69:7 It is for your sake that I have borne reproach, that shame has covered my face.

69:8 I have become a stranger to my kindred, an alien to my mother’s children.

69:9 It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.

69:10 When I humbled my soul with fasting, they insulted me for doing so.

69:11 When I made sackcloth my clothing, I became a byword to them.

69:12 I am the subject of gossip for those who sit in the gate, and the drunkards make songs about me.

69:13 But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me. With your faithful help

69:14 rescue me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters.

69:15 Do not let the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the Pit close its mouth over me.

69:16 Answer me, O LORD, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.

69:17 Do not hide your face from your servant, for I am in distress–make haste to answer me.

69:18 Draw near to me, redeem me, set me free because of my enemies.


Much like yesterday’s reading, this passage calls for the Christian to stand up for the name of Christ. This however, is a prayer that God would give strength to those who are enduring persecution and mocking for the sake of following after God. We cannot live this Christian life alone and we are not meant to. Jesus is always there to give us peace and strength, especially when are facing hard times.

The Psalmist here is recognizing that yes, there has been some very hard times for being a follower of Christ. He names how family no longer cares for him, the people around him gossip, even those who are at the lowest form of the social ladder, are making fun of him. The sacrifice to follow after Christ is great and costly. Yet, there is no cry about frustration and bitterness. There is a cry for strength and a means of being sustained as he goes through this.

Whenever we are mocked and questioned about our faith, let us remember that Jesus Christ endured the greatest form of mockery in spreading the Gospel. He was beaten, humiliated, spit upon, mocked and killed. Our strength comes from the one who has endured it all and we can rest assured that He will answer us during times of persecution and hardships. He gives strength to the weary, peace to the anxious heart and joy to the sad.


Sometimes, the storms are what make us seek God the most. They are times where we need to seek something outside of ourselves and our surroundings. We need a supernatural event. While we should encourage others to call on God daily, know that it’s normal to call on the Lord more in our times of need. In fact, this is what King David often did and that is why so many Psalms are written from a place of despair. However, there is no need to despair. God is listening to us already. He is listening before we even speak.

If you are in a place of need at this moment, go find a quiet place and pray the words of King David;

With your faithful help rescue me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters.

Do not let the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the Pit close its mouth over me.

Answer me, O LORD, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.

Do not hide your face from your servant, for I am in distress–make haste to answer me.

Draw near to me, redeem me.

 

 

January 26, 2017

Keep Calm and Carry On: The Letter to Smyrna

by Clarke Dixon

Convert to another religion, pay a heavy tax, or die? Which would you choose? This is a choice which many Christians have had to make as ISIS spread its evil. We do not face that kind of pressure in North America, but we do face subtle pressures that can gnaw away at our passion for Jesus. There is the pressure to choose materialism as a worldview. This is not materialism meaning a love of things, but a way of looking at the world that will not admit the supernatural. And if we will not be materialists, well then there is a pressure to affirm every religion as equally valid. Such pressures are subtle, but they are there.

Pressure on Christians is nothing new. In fact in our second letter of Revelation chapter two we read of a Christian community under pressure.

8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life:
9 “I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death. Revelation 2:8-11

What pressures are the Christians in Smyrna under? In the Roman way of doing things, emperor worship was expected, as was fitting into a society which had many beliefs and practices that went against the Christian way of life. Stick to your, or rather Christ’s, principles, and you could find yourself estranged from the majority, shunned as odd and stupid, and your business boycotted. This may be behind the reference to the Christians in Smyrna being in poverty in verse 9. As an aside, whenever we Christians are the majority, we do well to remember the “Golden Rule” of Jesus in the area of economic opportunities.

Due to some wise decisions from Rome, some religions could get a pass and be lawfully different, as happened at times for the Jews. But here is another side from which there is pressure against the Christians. The Roman officials often thought of Christians as being a sect of Judaism, and hence Christians could also enjoy some peace. However, if the Jews turned on the Christians, they could be out in the cold and would need to fend for themselves. That will not be easy when they consistently claim that “Jesus is Lord,” which means of course that Caesar is not. You can think of it this way; it is as if the Jews are travelling through Roman territory on a bus. They are allowed to do this safely so long as they remain on the bus and don’t disturb the locals. Some of the Jews on the bus realize that the driver of this bus is, and has been all along, Jesus, and so become Christ followers. Some don’t like that and throw the Christ followers off the bus. Actually they throw the Christ followers under the bus. This explains why at least some of the Jews in Smyrna are referred to in a not-so-nice way in verse 9: “I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” These particular Jews are actively working against the God they profess to love and serve. So with pressure from Jews and Romans alike, what are the Christians to do? What are we to do with the pressures we might face today?

First, do not fear: “Do not fear what you are about to suffer” (verse 10). Fear has its tightest grip on us when we do not know what to expect. But we know what to expect.

“Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you. . .” John 15:20

“Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 2 Tim3:12

It should never surprise a Jesus follower when pressures come. It does not surprise God. He knows about it: “I know your affliction and your poverty” (verse 9)

Second, remain faithful: “Be faithful until death” (verse 10). Jesus gives us the example:

5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.  Philippians 2:5-8

Third, look to Jesus. He is described as “the first and the last” (verse 8). What a contrast between He who has all eternity in His hands and those who have their hands on the Christians for only “ten days” (verse 10). Whether we are to take those as being ten literal days or as symbolic of a set time, it is a limited, and very short time in comparison to eternity.

Looking to Jesus, we are also to know that He “was dead and came to life” (verse 8). If the Christians in Smyrna face death, they can know that Jesus faced it first. And remember how that turned out in the end!

Fourth, look to what lasts into eternity. “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (verse 10). This is not the crown of a king or queen here, but the crown given in ancient times to victors in athletic games. Being killed for following Jesus is not the end of life, but the completion of a race. Celebrations come next.

Further: “Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death” (verse 11). The second death refers to complete removal from the presence of God and the removal of all the blessings that come from His presence. While the Christians in Smyrna ought to be full of hope, their persecutors ought to be full of fear. We are reminded of the words of Jesus:

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28 

Fifth, be ready to die, not kill. While this is not stated explicitly, we should note that there is not a hint in this letter to Smyrna of “you will face incredible pressure, so get ready to fight.” In fact there is not a hint of this attitude anywhere in the New Testament. Being faithful to Jesus means dying, not killing. You might justify killing in the name of a nation; for example, killing for the common defence of people who could happen to be from all kinds of religious backgrounds. But violence in the name of Jesus, or for the sake of Christianity is not an option for the follower of Jesus. Where it has happened, there have been complexities around the forces of history and confusion around the separation of Church and State, or lack thereof. Jesus carried a cross and not a sword. He encourages the Christians in Smyrna to do likewise.

Is there an increasing pressure on Christians in Canada to be less passionate about Jesus? It is not the first time Christians have faced pressure. May we not fear, but instead remain faithful, looking to Jesus, looking to what lasts into eternity, and resisting every urge toward violence.

(Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)


Weekly C201 contributor Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Read today’s and other sermon summaries at his blog, or go directly to this article via this link.

November 23, 2015

The Suffering Church

Today’s thoughts are from a North Carolina author who came recommended to us. Matt Capps posted this sermon excerpt in September, but it seems even more timely with each passing day. There is a link to watch the sermon in full; click the image to read at source. (This is one of a series on The Church in Exile.)

Matt CappsThe Suffering of the Church (1 Peter 3:13-4:6)

This is an excerpt from a sermon I recently preached at Fairview Baptist Church. You can watch the whole thing online.

In John 17, Jesus prayed that the Father would protect his own from the evil one. But, he did not pray that we would be removed from this world, and by implication – the suffering of this world.

We will suffer in this life. Suffering is comprehensive, and is a no respecter of persons. While the Bible covers various ways to suffer in this life, this passage is specifically concerned with distinctively Christian suffering. In other words, suffering that may come to us precisely because we are Christians.

Suffering will drive us to our knees, and at the same time it can be a powerful reminder that Jesus is King. Through suffering God brings us to Himself. Consider the words of 1 Peter 3:13-15

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…”

Peter is preparing the church, not just to endure suffering – but to find in their suffering an opportunity for witness.

You can imagine that some of the Christians in which this letter was first directed to had seen the suffering of their fellow believers, and fear of that suffering had the potential of halting their desire to publicly live out their faith.

But Peter responds with strange wording – “suffering brings about blessing”. When the world sees that you are – to use the words of 2 Corinthians 4:8-9:

  • Afflicted in every way, but not crushed.
  • Perplexed, but not driven to despair.
  • Persecuted, but not forsaken.
  • Struck down, but not destroyed.

They think, what is it with these people? What is this hope that is within them? This hope is a frame of mind achieved by setting apart – literally, sanctifying – Christ as Lord.

Our courage is born out of a belief that Christ is king even when things look hopeless. Moreover, in Christ we have a sure hope in the coming blessing. Hope is not wishful thinking, but true faith under pressure. Assurance of our future resurrection in Christ will not only give us courage and comfort, but will also put those who revile us to shame.

When you suffer, suffer with hope. This is the Blessing of Suffering for Christ. In suffering, we can find an opportunity for witness. In suffering, we also realize that God is bringing you to himself.

November 9, 2014

Rejoicing in Persecution

 NIV I Peter 4:12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

This morning at church we observed the International Day of Persecution. When we think of some of the news stories we’ve been tracking in the last few years, even more so the last few months, and especially even in the last few weeks, it may seem odd that IDOP organizers chose the theme “Rejoicing in Hope.”  Rejoicing?  Here’s an explanation:

Rejoicing in Hope

Romans 5:1 – 5 

Through him, we have also obtained access by faith
into this grace in which we stand,
and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings,
knowing that suffering produces endurance,
and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
and hope does not put us to shame,
because God’s love has been poured into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Today, Christians in regions of the world face some of the worst persecution in history. It is difficult for Canadians to imagine the day-to-day sufferings of those who live in countries where religious freedom is not regarded by their governments or neighbours. Imagine facing threats of false accusation and imprisonment, injury and harm to you or your family, attacks on businesses and homes, and even threats of death–all because of your faith in Christ?

Rejoicing in Hope IDOPHow do our brothers and sisters cope with such conditions? How can their faith remain strong when it costs them so much? God alone empowers them to do so. We are humbled and encouraged as we witness their courage and obedience.

Often we ask, “What can we do to help them?” What does God call us to do? We can be the tool He uses to encourage them through our prayers. Many are the testimonies from persecuted believers who say they find hope knowing that their brothers and sisters in Christ around the world raise a voice of prayer for them—praying that God give them strength and protect them. They find hope knowing that we have not forgotten them.

This year’s theme for the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church is: Rejoicing in Hope based on Romans 5:1-5.

“… We rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

For every Christian, regardless of our circumstances, hope is found in the promise that one day we shall see Christ face-to-face. Knowing that death will not be the final word gives us great “Hope.” Ultimately, we shall see suffering replaced with rejoicing, and receive our greatest reward when Christ ushers us into eternal life with Him and says “Welcome home, my faithful servant.” For many of our persecuted brothers and sisters who are imprisoned or who constantly live under the threat of death this is their one focus—this is their “Hope.”

“… We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame.”

The world does not understand suffering the way a Christian believer does. “How can you rejoice?” they ask when faced with difficulty, hardship and persecution. We know that it is through our suffering that Christ promises to create in us his likeness—his traits of endurance, character and hope through the work of the Holy Spirit. Hearts honed and refined in the fire of suffering are deeply imprinted with his likeness, and understand how suffering is used in its development.

“… Because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

The persecuted often ask that we pray for one thing specifically: that their hearts be filled with love for their persecutors. Loving our enemy as Christ loved us leaves a lasting testimony with those who hate the Christ in us and seek to harm us. Many have come to Christ in the face of this kind of inexplicable, undeniable, selfless Love. It is the stamp of the Holy Spirit on the heart of a believer, to love those who hate us, just as Christ loved us.

This year, we remember and identify with our brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering because of their devotion to him. We ask God to protect them and give them courage and perseverance in the face of harm or attack. And we open our hearts and dedicate ourselves to follow their example—to “Rejoice in Hope” in the midst of suffering. We ask that God’s Holy Spirit will do his work in the hearts of his children, to make us more like Christ.

John 16:33 “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.”

 

September 22, 2012

Pray For Them, Yes; But Pray What Specifically?

NLT II Tim 3: 12 Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

It was one of those big outdoor festivals in the late ’70s. The speaker was Larry Tomczak, and for the purpose of making a point that day he was deliberately misquoting scripture:

“Yes, and some who endeavor to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” 

Some?

No, it doesn’t say that. And people started yelling up what it does say from the crowd: “All, all, it says ‘all.'”

I never forgot that day, even to this day when I watched this

I had to be somewhere, but I had a few minutes in the car, and I immediately fell into a familiar pattern, “Lord, I pray for the people suffering under religious oppression right now that you would deliver — “

And then I stopped.

Deliver them? That’s the typical North American or Western European response. Get me the heck out of here.

But when you talk to people who have dealt with religious persecution that can mean torture, imprisonment or death, they never ask that we pray for deliverance, but that God would give them the grace to endure it and the presence of His Holy Spirit in the middle of it.

Psalm 23 talks about going through tough circumstances:

MSG Ps. 23: 4a Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.

Our interpretation is “Even though I walk around the valley of the shadow of death…” 

To which the crowd should yell out, “Through, through, it says ‘go through.’