In light of the brutal murder of 21 Christians in Egypt this weekend, I received a good question yesterday about suffering: “How do we apply the passages on persecution when we in the West don’t have much of it?”
Here are some examples of passages that are commonly referred to:
“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,” (Philippians 1:29)
“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (2 Timothy 3:12)
““Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12)
“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:21)
We will always get in trouble when we think too highly of ourselves and too lowly of our sin.
One way we do this is to weigh our attitudes and actions on the scale of a fallen world. So the reasoning follows, “A little frustration is normal….Who doesn’t feel lazy?…Sharing with a friend isn’t the same as gossip…Looking isn’t bad–as long as I’m not touching…I have “it” under control.
Our family recently moved to a new home in a new neighborhood. We lived in our previous home for over 10 years. During those years our family saw four children born, major medical trials, a church planted, and a plethora of daily events that produce a range of reactions. Whatever the situation I would always tend to find myself in the same place, leaning against a wall in the family room looking out our back window. This spot proved to be extremely versatile. It was there that I wept for fear, excitement, regret, answered prayer, and joy. Now we live in a new home, in a new space. My familiar wall and view are not there. Sometimes I catch myself roaming about the house like Noah’s raven looking for a place to land. I’m sure the time and space will come.
As a believer do you have a place in the Bible that you return to for particular gospel encouragement? Is there a Scripture that is so versatile that it is able to meet and greet you in every one of life’s events?
“You can learn a lot about a man by the way he shakes your hand.” This advice came from my grandfather to me while I was very young. It made sense to my young ears coming from this gritty, World-War II vet who was still hobbled by war injury, but nevertheless always shook your hand with the intensity of a first meeting. What he said further surprised me, “Not just how he shakes your hand but how his hand feels. Is it smooth or calloused? Hard-workers have callouses.”
His point seemed clear enough: a man’s work ethic is revealed in his grip.
What is the dumbest thing you have ever said? You probably don’t want to repeat it. Since, I think it is edifying, I’ll reset my moment. I was a new Christian and was talking to my wife one Sunday afternoon when I dropped this gem on her: “Christianity is so easy. I don’t see what the big deal is.” But, I wasn’t finished– “I read my Bible, pray and talk to people about Jesus. Then, we go to church on Sunday and hear someone preach. What is so hard about it?”
God would show me what was so hard about it within 18 months. We began attending a church that emphasized fellowship and the “one anothers”. In no time I was getting on people’s nerves and they were returning the favor. Life in community with sinners doesn’t fit on in a Hallmark Card. It’s messy and pride exposing. It is anything but easy.
In his design of the Christian experience, God has created very simple ways for experiencing his grace. Particularly in the gathered church, we have prayer, Bible reading, preaching, singing, the Lord’s table, baptism, and fellowship. These ordinary activities don’t lend themselves to off-the-chart experiences but rather they are, steady, compounding and shaping. Over time one can look back with some surprise and say, “God has been so gracious, he has changed my life.”
As a result of both the ordinariness and God’s faithfulness, we may slouch into a posture of passivity and presumption. Neither are helpful. Let me explain.
I was thinking today about the connection of zeal to hope. Hope is the ballast in the soul of the Christian that keeps him from being tossed about by the winds of uncertainty. It is also the basis for our zeal. When we say that we are hopeful we are saying that our faith is in God and all that he promises. Zeal then is the response to resting in God’s promise. You might say that resting produces a flurry (zeal) of activity. When our zeal is low we can be sure that we are not truly hoping in God (or at least wilting in it).
This brought me to the following quote from J.C. Ryle in Practical Religion on the subject of zeal. I find it instructive in line with the connection between hope and zeal. As you read it remember that Jesus was the most hopeful person of all time, little wonder he was also the most zealous (Jn. 2.13-17).
Previously God had promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation (Gen.12.1-3). This after, as Paul eloquently put it, Abraham was as good as dead (Rom. 4.19). The promise would not come through Eliezer, his present heir (Gen. 15.1-4) but his own son. Nearing 100 years of age Isaac is born and the word of the promise is confirmed. However, now, several years later, God tells Abraham to go and sacrifice his son on the mountain.
We know how the story ends. God mercifully stops Abraham and provides the ram. The promise does indeed come through Isaac. God is faithful.
Many years ago I was driving across the country to visit my future wife. As you can imagine I was eager to arrive so I minimized stops and attempted to make the 26-hour drive all at once. Going nearly a full day without sleep and in spite of being fueled on more Mountain Dew than is advisable, I began to nod off. I soon meandered over into the other lane and was startled by an 18-wheeler’s lights and horn! I awoke and swerved back in my lane. That shook me. My pulse went through the roof. I lost my breath. I contemplated what would have happened if I didn’t wake up. I was good for another 5 hours. No problems. After my pulse descended to reasonable levels I remember getting mad at myself. “How could I be so careless?”
The Book of Hebrews often functions like the headlights of an 18-wheeler. With pastoral clarity it provides a number of warnings as well as reassurances. We are told do not neglect so great a salvation then we are told that we have an anchor of hope within the veil. We are warned about the danger of hardening our hearts through unbelief while also being reminded that Jesus has delivered his people from the bondage of death (cf chapters 2, 4, 6, 10, & 12 for warning passages).
If you are connected in any way to mainline (particularly American) evangelicalism then you have probably said or heard the following said countless times in the last two years:
“I need to get back in the Word.”
“My prayer life has been kinda dry lately.”
Often times these “confessions” come in the midst of small groups or in response to some eager, well-meaning brother or sister. How do we respond?
Most often it is with the super-spiritual, muppet-faced grimacing sigh: “Hmm. Hmm. I will pray for you that God would help you get back in the Word.”
Is this helpful?