Is Your Body Suffering?

Today I went to church.  I walked from my car in a public parking lot with my Bible in my hand and never once felt afraid.  Entering the foyer of my church, I visited with fellow worshipers in front of large windows without once looking to see if anyone was watching us.  When it was time for the service to start I joined with others as we sang loudly and our musicians played loudly without worrying that someone might hear us and report us to the police.  My pastor stood up and gave a sermon reading from the Bible without any fear of being dragged out of the church and off to jail.

For me the worst persecution I might face because of my beliefs is hearing some comedian make fun of Christians.  But I really know nothing about real persecution

Today was the National Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.  I wonder how many churches actually took time to pray for their brothers and sisters who face real difficulties because of their belief in Jesus Christ.

The book of 1 Corinthians compared the church to a body.  In that chapter it states:

“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it…”

One group who documents persecution in other countries has listed North Korea as the country with the worst persecution of Christians.  To be a Christian in North Korea is to be seen as an enemy of the state.  If someone is found to be a Christian they are treated as a criminal and sent to labor camps or even killed.  Their family also faces harsh treatment.  They cannot meet openly and it is very dangerous for them to gather in more than groups of two or three.  Because being a Christian is so dangerous, it is even hard to know if someone you meet is also a believer as everyone has to remain secretive about their faith.

In Afghanistan no expression of faith except Islam is permitted.  To become a Christian is seen as betrayal of the family, the tribe and country.  Anyone who becomes a Christian is exposing themselves to death even by the hands of their own family.  They are considered to have brought shame on the family and the family honor must be protected at any cost.

In India it is the radical Hindu nationalists who view Christianity as alien to their way of life.  Christians are often physically attacked and churches burned or bombed.

In Myanmar persecution of Christians (and other ethnic minorities) is backed by the army which leans toward Communism.  More than 100,000 Christians live in camps for displaced persons, deprived of access to food and health care.  Buddhist monks have taken over churches and made shrines to Buddha on the church property.

These are only a few of the places where the body of Christ is suffering.  The causes range from corrupt government to the various other religions of the world.

But today as fellow Christians are suffering, I have to ask myself if the body of Christians in America share in any way in their suffering.  Where are the prayers?  Where is the concern?

I believe a large part of the problem is we simply do not know how we can help.  Here are a few suggestions:

  •  Become informed.  There are several organizations that can help you gain more understanding of the persecution taking place around the world.
  • Pray.  We often under estimate the power of prayer.
  • Write letters to those who are in prison.   Many who have been released from prison have testified how much getting letters meant to them, giving them courage to endure.
  • Become a spokesman for helping the persecuted church.

The writer of Hebrews tells us to “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”

Here are a few organizations that work with the persecuted church.  Check them out and learn what you can do to help.

  1. OpenDoors: One of the most well-known ministries advocating for the persecuted church. (Write, Pray, Donate, Advocate, Learn)
  2. Voice of the Martyrs: Another well-known ministry that raises awareness and provides support for the persecuted church. (Write, Pray, Donate, Advocate, Learn)
  3. Samaritan’s Purse: Their ministry focuses on providing physical and spiritual aid to people around the world. They also provide opportunities to donate to the persecuted church. (Donate)
  4. PrisonAlert: Prison Alert is part of Voice of the Martyrs. (Advocate, Write, Donate, Pray)
  5. Be-a-Voice: Part of Voice of the Martyrs as well. It focuses on providing prayer points and writing letters to the persecuted church. (Pray, Write)
  6. icommittopray.com  (Pray)

Part of the body of Christ is suffering?  How does it effect you?  Are you suffering with them?

 

 

Two Questions – Two Different Perspectives

Reading the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke today I noticed the two questions in the story.

The first set of questions was from a young man who asked Jesus what were the requirements of obtaining eternal life.   Jesus said you could summarize the entire Law and Prophets with two basic commandments.

  1.  Love the Lord with all your heart, your soul, your strength and your mind.
  2. Love your neighbor as yourself.

At that, the young man then asked “Who is my neighbor?”

What follows is a story told by Jesus that has been retold over the years.  Anyone who has attended church for any length of time has heard about the “Good Samaritan.”  This story has been shared as a lesson to show us who our neighbor really is.  The idea is anyone we come into contact with that needs help is our neighbor.  Our neighbor is more than just the people who live next door to us.

While that is all well and good today I compared that young man’s question to the one Jesus asked him after He finished telling the story.  When we look at Jesus’ question I think we might get a different take on the point of the story.

Jesus asked the young man “Which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?”  When he answered it was the one who actually took the time and spent of his own finances to help the man, Jesus told him to “go and do the same.”

From the young man’s perspective, the question was:

Who is my neighbor?

From Jesus’ perspective, the question was:

What kind of person do you want to be?

Have you ever stopped to think about that?  What kind of person do you want to be?

It’s not just about acknowledging that everyone is my neighbor, but actually taking time to determine just what kind of person we desire to be.

 

How Do I Pray For My Family?

In my small group at church this week we talked a little about how we pray.  One of the members of our group mentioned reading Paul’s prayers for the church.

Knowing what to pray for my family has always been a topic of concern for me.

I confess most of my prayers are for their needs for the “here and now.”

  • Help this grandchild to find a good job
  • Provide the finances for this grandchild to pay for college
  • Heal this son/daughter
  • Take care of this difficult situation this child is experiencing right now

Looking at the ministry of Jesus on earth I do not think praying for their physical and financial needs in this life is wrong.  While on earth Jesus often spend time meeting the needs of those who followed Him.

  • He fed the hungry
  • He opened the eyes of the blind
  • He reached out and healed the leper
  • His very first miracle was actually supplying wine for a wedding party

Clearly He was and is concerned about all our needs, not just the “spiritual” ones.

Still, when I look at the prayers the early church prayed and the prayers of Peter and Paul in their writings it is clear that their main concern was not for the “here and now.” They were not so concerned for their own needs but for God’s kingdom to be advanced, for “eternal” things.

I say as a Christian I believe  there is life after this one on earth.  I say it is my desire that my children and grandchildren know and serve the Lord.  But do my prayers really reflect that?  Am I more concerned about the “here and now” than I am with the “eternal”?

One prayer the early church prayed which I think really reflects their focus on the kingdom of God rather than their own needs, is the one found in Acts 4.  Here, Peter and John had been in prison for preaching about Jesus.  Upon being released, they were warned to stop sharing the story of Jesus and threats were made if they did not refrain from doing so.

They immediately gathered with the other believers.  Now, today if this happened to our pastor, I believe our prayers would probably be for God to protect us or to change the hearts of the religious leaders.  But I love their prayer.

“And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word.  Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

To help me focus my prayers more in line with the early church, I have been praying one of Paul’s prayers for my children and grandchildren.  It is found in Colossians 1.

“We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding.  Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.  We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light.”

Truly I want all the best for my children and grandchildren.  It is my desire that they have great marriages, successful careers and good health.  But most of all, my greatest desire is that they will grow to know God better and better.

How do you pray for your family?

Where is the Evidence?

This past Sunday I missed the service at my own church filling in at another local church for the organist that was out of town.  The pastor’s sermon really spoke to me and reminded me of a song I heard years ago.

Since that time I have seen one line from that song on church’s signs, in church bulletins and even on Pinterest.

If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

The pastor spoke about the need to be more than a “churchy Christian.”

He shared the story where Jesus had fed a multiple on a few fish and bread.  He was drawing large crowds and the people were ready to make him their leader.   If a poll had been taken then his popularity rating would have been high.  Now was the time to begin setting himself up as a great rabbi.

But Jesus did something that in the natural really seems illogical.  He began talking about his body and blood being the source of eternal life.  (I will not try to get into any theological discussion about the meaning of all this.)  The point is – what he did was unreasonable to the natural mind.  If you were wanting to increase your following, this was not the way to do it.

At that point many of his followers turned away.  Jesus even questioned his twelve closest followers if they too would leave him.

The pastor then pointed out that truly being a follower of Jesus Christ may often require us to do things that seem unreasonable, things that go against all that our culture tell us is the right thing to do.

Is it really reasonable to love your enemies?  To pray for those persecuting you?  Is it really reasonable to put others before yourself?

He then asked the congregation if we are more than “churchy Christians.”  People who go to church, support the church with our finances, even do “good” deeds to others.  But when it comes to being passionate about our faith, when our commitment to God calls us to do the unreasonable, where do we stand?

Got me thinking today.

If I were arrested for being a Christian and my neighbors, family, friends were called as witnesses, what would they say about me?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Can Only Imagine!

In the fall of 2002 I was diagnosed with an advanced and very aggressive cancer.  Hearing my doctors words, “The odds are not in your favor,” I realized I was heading into the battle of my life.

Would I live or would I die?

Facing your own mortality changes the way you look at the world.  Some things that seemed so important no longer matter.

  • What difference does it make if I do not get that promotion I wanted.
  • Who cares if the windows need washed?

Other things take on a new importance.

  • Reading a book to my granddaughter.
  • Taking a walk with my husband.

During that long year as I lost my hair and my strength became less and less, I thought about the very real possibility that I would never see another birthday.

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We took a picture of me with my Dad and we laughed at how much I looked like him with my bald head.

Throughout it all I had a deep assurance that whatever the end result, it would be fine.  When I first heard those terrible words from my doctor, I immediately thought of the scripture that says:

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me.

Feeling at that moment God had given me that scripture for this battle, I did not know if it meant I would walk through the valley and come out on the other side alive and well.  Or, did it mean I would walk through the valley into death?

For me, it did not matter which it meant.  What comforted me was the assurance no matter what the outcome, God would be with me.

As the treatment continued and my strength got less and less, I began to think perhaps it meant I was walking through the valley into death.  Thoughts of exactly what that would mean kept running through my head.

Then, I heard a song that had been released just the year before.  It had become the most played Christian single in 2002 and you could not listen to any Christian radio station without hearing it.  In fact, it became a main stream hit in 2003 hitting the top 40, adult top 40 and country radio lists.

In the song the writer talks about trying to imagine what he would do when he stands before God in heaven.  He questions:

  • Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still?
  • Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall?
  • Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all?

Listening to that song over and over, I tried to imagine what I would do when I stood before Jesus?  Slowly in my mind a picture began to take place.  I saw myself standing with my hands raised in the air and dancing round and round the throne of God.

Wanting to live for my family, yet there were moments I wanted to see that vision fulfilled and to dance for Jesus.

I did not share this thought with my family.  For them, I continued to maintain a strong belief that I would live.

When all my treatment was finally over, my youngest daughter took me to lunch to celebrate.  She arrived with a gift for me.  It was a Willow Tree angel.

When I saw it, I almost cried with joy.  The angel she gave me was the exact vision I had of me with hands raised dancing around the throne of God.

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So grateful that I survived that battle and God has given me many years beyond what the doctor said I would have.  Still, as I age I know before many more years pass, I will be facing my eternal destiny.  I have no idea what I will do on that day when I see Jesus, but I hope I can dance for Him.

A movie has been made about the life of the young man who wrote this song.  If you have not seen the movie, I highly recommend it.  It is an inspiring story of what God can do to change a monster into a good father.  The move has the same title as the song, “I Can Only Imagine.”

What do you imagine you will do when you stand before the throne of God?

 

 

Depends on Where You Stand

Walking with Jesus as my friend and redeemer for many years, I found Him faithful in every circumstance.  Yet, I must confess, sometimes when things get difficult I seem to forget His faithfulness and start worrying.

Recently, thinking about this I thought my reaction really depends on where I stand in my relationship to Him.

Looking up into the sky I can see an airplane flying miles up in the sky.  The airplane looks very small.  In fact, I can hold up my hand and completely block out of my view.  If that was the only time I ever saw an airplane I would think airplanes were small like a child’s toy.

However, the first time I stepped up to board a 747 on a flight to the Philippines, I was amazed at the size of that plane.  Clearly I could never block it our of my view – even if I held up both my hands.

The size of the airplane did not change.  It was always a huge flying machine.  What changed was where I stood in relation to the airplane.

So I think my relation to Jesus Christ may often determines if I see Him as able to walk with me through my tough times and give me strength.

When my prayer life and God’s Word is neglected, He can seem smaller than my problems.  But when I stay grounded in God’s Word and keep that time with Him, I realize how big and mighty He is.

All depends on where I stand.

 

Abram! Are You Serious?

Growing up in church many times I heard the story of Abraham as told in Genesis.  This man who is referred to as “the friend of God” is also held up as a great example of faith.

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Regarded by the Jewish people as their forefather through his son Isaac, he is also revered by the Arab nations who count him as their forefather through his son Ishmael.

Any who has heard the story of Abraham knows that his name was first Abram which means “exalted father.”   When he was 99 years old God appeared to him and repeated the promise He had made years before telling Abram

As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations.  No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.  I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.

As a child I did not think too much of Abram making this name change.  I know he is pointed out as a man of faith because he obeyed God and left his home and country to go to a new place that God would show him.  Also his willingness to obey God and sacrifice his son, Isaac, trusting God to restore him to life is another example used by those who point him as our example of faith.

But as I read this week of this change of name I think this might have been the greatest example of his faith.

Think about it.

You are a rich man with lots of cattle and servants.  Many people look to you as their employer, their master, the one who supplies their daily needs.  You are now 99 years and your wife is also very old – clearly past the time to bear children.

You suddenly proclaim that from now on they are not to call you by your name Abram  but rather to call you by a new name Abraham which means “father of a multitude.”

I can almost imagine the comments made by the servants that night in their tents.

Father of a multitude?  Right!  He has not been able to have any children with his wife all these years – and now at 99 he’s going to have a multitude of children!  What does he plan to do – take a dozen wives?  

Yeah – even if he takes a dozen wives – a man his age – is he really capable of fathering a multitude?  Maybe he is losing his mind – old people do get crazy sometimes.

Yet Abraham believed God and made that change.

And how did that turn out?

  • Today there are about 14.5 million Jews in the world.
  • Statistics I could find show there are between 407 – 402 Arabs in the world.
  • There are 22 Arabs states in the world and Israel – what an amazing story there – is once again a nation after being destroyed by Rome in AD 70.
  • Abraham is also revered as the forefather of the Arab nations and Islam, as he was also the father of Ishmael, his son through Hagar, Sara’s Egyptian princess handmaiden. The Koran reports that Abraham and Ishmael raised the foundations of the Kaaba, the cube-shaped black stone structure in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, which is Islam’s holiest shrine. During the annual Haj pilgrimage, Moslems from all over the world circle the Kaaba, reinforcing the central role of Abraham and Ishmael in Islamic faith.
  • On Rosh Hashanah, the Jews recalled the story of Isaac’s near-sacrifice, which Jewish tradition states occurred on the first of Tishri and honor Abraham’s faith and obedience to God.
  • In Christians circles he is the acknowledged father of monotheism, progenitor of Western religion.  So many little children have sung that song

Father Abraham had many sons, many sons had Father Abrham.  And I am one of them and so are you, so let’s just praise the Lord.

Thinking of the faith Abraham had to declare he was to be called, at age 99, “Father of a miultitude” makes me wonder how many times God speaks to us about something in our lives and we are afraid to share it.  Afraid others will think we are crazy, or maybe even being prideful.

I remember when God called my husband and I to sell our home and possessions and go to the Philippines to teach.  I thought my co-workers might think I was crazy but I was amazed at the response of my fellow Christians.

Some thought we were fools to sell everything and step out by faith.  Others thought we were boasting when we said God had called us to this.  Then, there were those who wondered how we could do that to our family.  Leave them alone and journey to the other side of the world.

Has God ever called you to a task that you were afraid to share?

Has God ever asked you to do something that others would consider foolish?

Always trust God and like Abraham declare that which seems foolish and impossible.