More than likely, Psalm 46 takes us back to the days of Hezekiah, the king of Judah. The Assyrian army led by the evil king Sennacherib was ready to come against Judah to destroy them. In 2nd Kings 18, we find Sennacherib trying to intimidate Hezekiah and the people with filthy lies about God. However, the end result was that God not only continued to protect His people, but He provided for them as well….miraculously! Just one chapter later in 2nd Kings 19, God completely wiped out that entire Assyrian army in just one night.
The true reality for us right now is that God takes care of us in the same way. Psalm 46 talks about the truth of God’s presence, peace, and promises to His children even in the midst of our world being flipped upside down. Christ is always our strength and our refuge.
On Sunday we concluded our sermon series about Responding to Persecution with a message about “The Persecution of Our Faith”. This is by no means an easy subject to deal with, but Christ made no secret of the fact that these kinds of things would happen to His followers. We do in fact see some level of persecution even in the United States, but it has been steadily growing. Christian beliefs are increasingly being considered outdated, backwards, foolish, and even hateful by our secular society. The question becomes this: How will I respond when someone is being completely unjust and unfair?
Thankfully Jesus gives us some very clear direction in this regard from Matthew 5 and Luke 6. In these passages Jesus describes many unjust scenarios and how to respond…
Luke 6:27-30, 35-36 (NASB)
27 “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 “Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. 30 “Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back.
35 “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. 36 “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
The easy thing to do when persecuted is to take up offense with our persecutors, to become resentful, and to take on the victim role. But that isn’t the picture Jesus paints, nor the example He gives us when He is unjustly persecuted. The picture Jesus paints and instructs us to walk in is one of peaceful resistance to evil and always responding in love. It is walking in His strength so that we can joyfully bear the cost of following Him. While we prepare ourselves mentally to do this in big ways, we also have opportunity to practice love and forgiveness every day as we refuse to pick up offense in even the minor things.
Chinese Pastor Wang Yi has walked this out and outlined his thoughts in several letters to His congregation. He was taken into custody in December and has not yet been heard from. I encourage you to read some of the things He has said and to be encouraged that it is possible to stand firm in love while being persecuted, without picking up offense (see links below). Let’s remember to pray for him and his church. If you’d like to sign a petition requesting their release you can do that here.
What a mission we’ve been given and what spiritual freedom there is in following Christ!!!
There is no denying the fact that Christians around the world are facing incredible persecution for their faith, especially in communist and Islamic countries. If you doubt that for a second, please check out the work being done by Voice of the Martyrs at www.persecution.com.
So how do we who have so much more freedom respond to stories of persecution like that? We probably find ourselves hoping and praying for them to get an easier path. But when we look at scripture we may quickly discover that the path they are on much more closely resembles the path Jesus lays out for his followers.
In Matthew 10:5-22 Jesus called his followers to a path that looks like this:
- Christ followers are sent out into the world (sheep among wolves).
- Whatever a Christian receives they are to give to others.
- A Christian remains dependent on God and avoids getting comfortable or complacent.
- A Christian holds no offense, even when rejected.
- A Christian enters hostile territory, but is never hostile.
- A Christian is meant to reach their persecutors with the gospel.
- In this path a Christian walks out their salvation.
So, maybe just maybe the response we should have to the persecuted church is one of INSPIRATION to take advantage of our freedom.
Here’s the problem I see…
It is impossible to be both faithful and comfortable.
It is impossible to be both obedient and safe.
The church abroad has largely counted the cost of being a disciple…have we? What step would Christ call you to take in living boldly for Him?
We just began our new 3 week sermon series on “Responding to Persecution.” Sunday’s message focused on the sanctity of human life for the unborn and how we need to be ready for opposition and persecution on this. At its core, abortion is not a political issue or argument. It’s a heart and soul issue. It’s where we stand and act in relation to God’s truth!
Make no mistake about it, abortion is a complicated and complex issue. The decisions regarding abortion are many and it can be heart wrenching for the people involved. There are so many hard decisions and questions that come up, along with so much emotion, pain, and hurt. This sermon will address some questions that speak to the value of life for the unborn. And then we will take these questions to Scripture to get the answer. These answers help us to process this ourselves, and then lovingly share this with the people in our lives and in our community.
On Sunday, our very own Chaplain Judy Williams shared a message with us about “Relationships.” It was full of great reminders that we need to keep loving those people God has put in our life and may yet bring across our path. Maybe there are people you avoid because you think they make you look bad or because you don’t think you have anything in common, yet they are still people that Jesus wants to reach with His love. If we’re full of Him, then we can share His love everywhere we go…even if it is in what might be considered very small ways. Judy had some great examples of getting to share God’s love even though she felt unworthy, in sufficient, or too different to be able to connect. The great news is God’s love bridges all of those things. It is universally needed, it has been freely given to us, and we can freely share it. How are you sharing God’s love with those around you?
We all desperately need love. Even the person who acts like they have it all together has insecurities that make them doubt that they are truly loved. We need a love that we can depend on, that won’t ever grow tired of us, that won’t ever feel we’ve asked too much, and that won’t walk away.
God offers that kind of love to us…a 1 Corinthians 13 kind of love, but He also instructs us to be changels of His love to the world around us (Matthew 5:43-48 and Ephesians 5:1-2).
There are places in scripture like 1 John 4 that seem to provide a way of measuring that love in us. “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” In response to that sometimes we feel pressure to love better, but that will never be the way to pass the test. As you unpack 1 John 4 we find that this deficiency isn’t our lack of effort, but our lack of experience with God’s love coupled with our inability to ABIDE there.
In the end cultivating an ability to ABIDE in Christ’s love may be the answer we’ve been looking for. Without it we will not be transformed and neither will our church or community.
How do you ABIDE? That becomes a very important question. If you’re full of God’s love it will change you and it will spill out of you everywhere you go.
Rebellion comes from a desire to be independent from God and to let our fleshly impulses drive our decisions. At the core of our flesh, we all have our own story of rebellion. This past Sunday, we studied this exact point in our sermon which comes from Luke 15 – the parable of the prodigal sons.
Over and over again we have willingly been deceived by sin and we have rebelled against the loving restraints of God. The truth is, we are all prodigals! Like the younger rebellious sibling, our heavenly Father will treat us as if we’d never been away when we return and truly repent. And like the older rebellious sibling, Christ will make our attitudes new and transform and sanctify us when we humble ourselves before Him. We can all come back to God and find not only that His arms are wide open, but that He is running to receive us!
The story of Hosea and Gomer looks like a train wreck from the start. But Hosea doesn’t write this prophecy like a journal where he doesn’t know what’s about to happen. He clues his audience in right away on what is about to unfold.
In some ways this story could easily be told today, because the same kind of thing has happened to thousands of people all over the world. Maybe it has even happened to you. It is the story of a broken home, a broken life, a broken heart and a broken vow.
But in other ways this story is very different. What makes it unique also makes it one of the most remarkable stories in all of literature. In fact, it is so outrageous that some people have struggle to believe that it actually happened.
Hosea is a prophet to the nation of Israel and God instructs him to marry a woman who cannot be faithful to him. At one point he even questions if their 3 children are all his. Eventually Gomer runs off to the arms of other men, but it doesn’t go well for her. They don’t love her. They don’t appreciate her. Eventually one of them even values money more than her, so he sells her as a slave. But Hosea hasn’t given up on Gomer. Outbidding everyone else, Hosea filled with love for his bride, buys her back in an attempt to rebuild their relationship.
Hosea is a model of Christ’s love for us. Gomer is an illustration of how our hearts can wander and how our brokenness can cause us to run from love.
We continued our sermon series “Chased By God” by studying Psalm 139. Our God is speaking to us directly in Psalm 139 in that He is calling us out of our hiding. He knows our insecurities, fears, thoughts, motives, dreams and frustrations – He knows everything! But rest assured, God knows it all…..and He still loves us! We must never doubt that. However, many times like King David here, we just want to run and hide from it all because of the fear of total exposure.
The fact is, we all have things we are hiding from. We hide from other people by avoiding them. We hide by skipping and omitting situations in our lives. We hide by refusing tasks and plans that God clearly has for us. We must remember something important about that. By doing these things, we might very well be trying to hide from God.
God will not let us run away because we are wanted by Him and He is determined to show us His grace. God is ready and waiting to walk through this with us today.
This Sunday we began our series about being “Chased by God” with the parable about the shepherd who upon losing 1 sheep leaves the 99 to go search for it.
Some of the awesome things we see about Jesus our Good Shephard include:
- Jesus values each one of us. We aren’t just a number or 1% of the flock.
- Jesus is the one doing the searching. The sheep didn’t wander home, it was lost.
- Jesus wants to be close even when you’ve gone far. His first action is to put the sheep on His shoulders. He doesn’t strike it.
- Jesus will always celebrate finding. It doesn’t matter how many times you come home it will always be a celebration. In shame we have a tendency to want to hide our wandering, but Jesus shines light and love on us by celebrating the return. We should as well.