Sunday, June 28, 2015

Martyrdom: Devotion's ultimate expression.

Martyrdom is overwhelming the Church in places such as Pakistan, Syria, Egypt, parts of Africa and many, many other countries. Especially, though not exclusively by any measure, pastors and missionaries are targeted. The testimony of these faithful people of Christ Jesus reaches around the globe and becomes a challenge with conviction leading to conversions. It has been well said that the growth of the Church flows from the blood it sheds under persecution. Surely, we cannot be unmoved by their willingness to die for the Name of Christ and His glory.

The New Testament Greek language contains interesting ‘pictures’ which gives insights into the hope which empowers believers. To gaze upon these pictures give some wonderful glimpses into the hope disciples have because of Christ. This is far, far different to the so called reason for Islamic martyrdom. It is love's response to Christ Jesus and His love for us expressed in His coming to fulfil Scripture. It is faith in what Jesus as the crucified and risen Saviour promised to those who claim Him as the Son of God, their Saviour and Lord.

The apostle Paul epitomised this when in a Roman prison under sentence of death. His ‘crime’ was that he called Jesus, ‘Lord.’ This was a direct threat to Caesar’s claim to be lord and worthy of worship. Christians would only call Jesus ‘Lord.’ This was considered subversive. As such it was considered a threat to Caesar and the Roman Empire. Today, believers are confronted with a similar challenge. Renounce Jesus as the Son of God, Saviour and Lord and obey Mohammed, or die. In a more subtle manner, Christians are being
seduced to compromise Biblical morality and lifestyle or be ostracised in christianized countries. Once again we will be faced with a test of our faith and love and for Jesus.        

In writing to Timothy, Paul saw his execution as an act of devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. In 2 Timothy 4:6 he likens what he will undergo as a ‘drink offering.’ In the Jewish sacrificial system this was the finale to the sacrifice of a lamb at the time of First Fruits and the Feast of Weeks. It was for the Lord’s honour alone.
As the apostle contemplated leaving this life he used a word applied to a ship being loosed from its moorings. It’s also used for soldiers breaking up an encampment. Within the framework of Paul’s ministry both have meaning. However the ‘picture’ which best suits the situation would be the military one. This is in the light of his confidence that he had completed the good fight. Christians must always bear in mind that we live in a conflict zone. The World is under the dominion of the Devil and his wickedness. We live in the midst of passive or very active opponents to Christ, His Church and His cross. Those involved in the Christian ministry are in a front line role. This requires us to be constantly on guard against the enemy’s strategies aimed at destroying us.
The Scriptures reveal various conflicts we will face in the service of the Lord. Sure, none of us will face them all or to the same degree. Unfortunately we will have times of ‘hand to hand’ conflict with at least some. Our Commander in Chief has made sure these things are recorded so we will not be taken by surprise or imagine things out of the ordinary have befallen us. The Lord Jesus has listed them to serve as a warning as well as to encourage us that He is with us in the ‘fight of Faith.’
Switching metaphors Paul goes on to liken the ministry to a marathon. He is about to ‘breast the tape’ and appear before the Judge. Being told in advance about certain aspects of the course he had to run, Paul was under no illusions to what was ahead. (Acts 9:15, 16.  26:12–19) Not many of us ‘run’ under such clear guidelines. We are more like ‘running’ under the principles of Proverbs 3:5–6 ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.’
After all of Paul’s experiences, mistakes, opposition and disappointments, he could lift his hand in a winners salute. His cry is ‘I’ve kept the faith!’ He wasn’t boasting of his own prowess. He was acknowledging the grace and goodness of the Son of God who had brought him this victory. What he looked forward to was the garland bestowed by the Judge of the world for running the race. This garland of victory is ‘Righteousness.’ Never will it fade, rust or disappear. It is the righteousness of Jesus without which we could never enjoy His glory. We enjoy it by faith now but then it will be in its fullness. This is what awaits us as we breast the tape and leave this arena. We will see our Lord face to face. All the conflict, all the sacrifice, all the tears, all the frustrations will evaporate when we kneel before the Lord. What a privilege we will then enjoy as we understand more fully about being His servants.

Reflection: Now we know that if our earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Corinthians 5:1.
Request: Lord, be to my spirit ‘faith drink’ through the dry times; be my ‘bread’ for strength in the lean times; be my joy and hope in the disappointing times. My Lord and Saviour, may I breast the ‘tape’ with praise to you for your faithfulness to me across the years of my ‘race.’ Amen! 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

tale of two runners.

The battle was won. The usurper slain. The victory must now be told to the king. The message had to be taken by a runner. There was two from whom to choose. One was keen but not chosen this time. The other man was commissioned and sent. However the first man wanted to run but had no message and pleaded to run also. It was granted but he had no news. The account is in 2 Samuel 18:19-32.

A similar situation exists today within the Church scene. There are many, apparently, in a race as far as the un-churched can see. Sad to say many of the runners have no message, no commission, no good-news to tell. They look good, have strong egos and get the attention of those looking for a messenger with a word from the Lord. What is delivered is vague and without authority. Those who wait for the Truth are disappointed. Fortunately, in the above account the man with the message arrived. I wonder if that is always true today. Counterfeits have also infiltrated the Christian Faith and are determined to confuse the people. It is also the aim of the false runners to put stumbling block in the path of the commissioned runners.

There are a number of strong and specific words used to describe the Christian life and ministry. Watchman Nee gave good insight into three of these in his book on Ephesians ‘Sit, Walk, Stand.’ These are our constant faith requirement for a fulfilled Christian lifestyle and relationships.  One he didn’t include, because Ephesians doesn’t highlight it so much, is ‘to run.’ As you look at the various contexts where ‘to run’ is used it has specific purposes and outcomes. Zacchaeus ran and climbed a tree, Philip ran up to the Ethiopian’s carriage, the women ran to tell the disciples that Jesus had risen. Paul used the concept ‘to run’ in 1 Corinthians 9:19-27 in reference to ministry.

God has at least one race (and more than likely more) in mind for each and everyone who claim Jesus as Lord and Saviour. What is the difference between our ‘walk and our call to run?’ A race has an end in sight. Whether it is a short sharp dash or a long distant marathon a finishing line is crossed. Paul urged those commissioned to run in a worthy manner before the gaze of onlookers so that when the message was delivered the runner would also be crowned. Runners, when that contest is over, remain in training for when the next race is to be run.

Lest some imagine that age, infirmity, family and other circumstances preclude them from being commissioned to run, think again. In fact your circumstances may well be the circuit or terrain the Lord needs covered. Was Paul out of the race when he was in prison? His record in Philippians and other prison letters reveal he was still ‘running.’ The testimony of many is how the Holy Spirit used their life’s situations to ‘run into the life’ of others with a message of hope, peace or warning.

When we receive our call-up to the starting line we may or may not know how long the race will be. To begin is easy but the energy levels can ebb as circumstances or opposition makes the going hard. Hebrews 12:2 tells us to ‘look away to Jesus’ as weariness and impatience nags us. To look away requires a conscious effort for we are easily hypnotised by what confronts us. How do we ‘look away to Jesus?’ By knowing His word, talking to Him as we run, and being supported by the encouragement of others. It is this ‘looking away to Jesus’ which enables us to ‘hit the proverbial wall’ and breakthrough to keep going even though the body, soul and spirit is weary. It is here we discover the truth of Isaiah 40:31: ‘they shall run and not be weary…’

As we mature in our Christian life and discipleship it becomes apparent it has many facets. Each of us face the unchanging and universal call of Ephesians to ‘Sit, Walk, Stand.’ This is the way to appreciate the fulfilment of our calling in our everyday experiences. Then there are our battles to fight and wrestling matches with issues and values and spiritual forces. Victory is ours as we contest them in the grace and wisdom of our Lord. God’s calling on our lives is also an entrance to the starting line of at least one race. That means we are to run with the message of the cross and its testimony within our life’s scene. Various are the crowns God has in mind for His people as revealed in the Scriptures. Runners have the promise of receiving at least one and maybe more, from fulfilling the race or races in which the Lord put them. How do we know if we are on the right track and carrying the good-news? By running according to the Lord’s coaching manual and faithful to His voice. The only other factor is, don’t faint or get distracted.


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Husband and Wife in Mutual Ministry

A prudent wife is from the Lord. Proverbs 19:14b.

When asked what has been my greatest asset in ministry I unhesitatingly reply, ‘My wife!’ Mary has been my help-mate in every area of my life and ministry. From a human perspective without her I could not have had as fulfilled and successful ministries.

In 1 Corinthians 9:5 there is a snippet concerning the Apostle Peter in regards to the unsung role of an apostle’s wife. The Apostle Paul wrote, ‘Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?’ Why would Peter have Mrs. ‘Peter’ accompany him on at least some of his ministry ventures? Once again the silence of Scripture intrigues and teases the imagination. The macho apostle in a male chauvinistic world was uninhibited and unashamed to have his wife by his side. When Peter wrote about wives and husbands in 1 Peter 3:1-7 was it out of personal experience. Could he have been showing appreciation of a ‘one flesh’ relationship within ministry? It must have motivated him (with her encouragement?) to see converts separated by their faith woo and win their spouses to the Lord. His advice is still relevant.

There is another couple within Scripture about whom we know a little more and yet not enough. Aquila and Priscilla stand out as a wonderful, faithful, energetic couple. Something which has aroused some commentary responses are the occasions when Priscilla is given precedence over her husband. Again we do not know much about their relationship or up-bringing. We do however gain insights about their team ministry. It wouldn’t be far from the mark to say they were comfortable with each other’s role. Neither would have felt threatened when the other was mentioned first in despatches. How different it has been with some others in the ministry.

The male ego is often fragile while at the same time lapping up the ‘crumbs’ of public applause. Sometimes an immature personality is unsettled or jealous when his wife receives accolades for her exercising gifts and abilities. The attitude of Diotrephes (3 John) can be rampant within the minister’s house as well as with a local congregation. Where, O where, is the beautiful Biblical incentive of ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interest of others’ Philippians 2:3, 4. In the context of a minister’s relationship with his wife and her expressions of ministry surely the same rule applies.

Proverbs 4:5-9 is about Wisdom. This information can be so easily applied to a minister’s wife by her husband. There is great benefit to him personally and therefore to his ministry in treating his wife as Proverbs explained Wisdom. The word ‘Wisdom’ has been changed in the following passage to ‘wife.’

‘Do not forsake your wife, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you… Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honour you. She will set a garland of grace on your head and present you with a crown of splendour.’ Such an outlook releases the wife to express her gifts and abilities with the husband’s encouragement and pride. The consequences of all this trust is to enrich her life and expands her love, respect and admiration for her man. The testimony of such a mutual ministry and relationship is a wonderful attraction and a strong challenge. 

When Adam was created God gave Eve to him to be the man’s help mate. There wasn’t any intention of competition or inferiority. God’s principle inherent in that relationship still exists and should be best expressed within the marriage of a minister and his wife.

Reflection:  How well do I release my wife to fulfil the Lord’s calling upon her life? Do I have any idea what it may be?

Request:  I love my wife and I thank you for her role in our mutual ministry. May I be sensitive to her needs and help her to fulfil your gifts and abilities. Amen!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Wolves versus the Good Shepherd

Animals are used to depict certain aspects of human behaviour or characteristics. Such metaphors are easily understood. Psalm 22 is a brilliant illustration of this. It is a prophetic insight written a thousand years before the crucifixion of Christ. The psalmist used such animals as, bulls, lion, dogs and wild oxen. You can see their human counterparts around the cross in the Gospels.

Jesus used animal terms on a number of occasions. Two of them I want to emphasise , they are Wolves and Sheep. We understand that because Jesus is the Good Shepherd the sheep are His people. Matthew 7:15 ‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.’ Jesus, in His great message about the events preceding His return, highlighted the fact of false prophets proliferating. Matthew 24:24.

It seems to me that we are living in their ‘breeding and marauding season.’ The Church is being mauled by the Devil’s brood. Sadly, the non-churched community think these ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ are part of the ‘sheep’ community. This results in people cursing the Church and rejecting Christ because of the evil actions of the false prophets. There are seven species of wolves and they roam in specific areas. There’s the gray wolf and the artic, the red wolf and Himalayan, an India one plus an Ethiopian and Eastern breed. Within our Church and Society scene it is a good reminder to be on ‘red alert’ for their human counterparts.

Within the pages of the Bible the term wolves is applied to men in official positions (Ezekiel 22:27) intent on dishonest gain. Zephaniah 3:3 applies it to Judges who use their position for personal gain and revenge. It is an amazing fact that so many of the wolves in religious sheep covering strut the world’s stage. Television and the internet make them sound so plausible and personable as they promise much whilst stripping your soul and bank balance.

In an article on wolves was the following quote: ‘The majority of victims of predatory wolf attacks are children under age of 18 and, in the rare cases where adults are killed, the victims are almost always women.’ As I read the New Testament I find something very similar. The writers of the New Testament letters give strong warnings about this danger. Paul warned the Ephesian Elders that such predatory wolves were prowling even as he was talking. His warning was their call to be on guard and not be a mere hireling who runs away from protecting the flock. (John 10:12). I’m left with the impression that the majority of these mangy mongrels are males (I wouldn’t call them men).

How is this being played out today? Child abuse in Church run institutions and parish churches are under the spotlight. The predators in cleric garb have ripped out the faith and innocence of children many of whom are wrecks of what they were meant to be. Those who knew and did nothing are mere hirelings, not shepherds.  Christ Jesus speaks of a greater judgement which will fall upon such wolves (and I think it will fall on those who neglected their shepherd’s calling). I believe Christ holds such victims in a special section of His heart and affections. May they discover it, though they have to struggle through a lot of emotional and spiritual rubble!

What then is our best defence in dealing with these spiritual and moral predators? How are we able to develop an inner alarm system which gives out warning vibrations? Paul’s words to the Elders in Acts 20:32 is a good commencement place. ‘I commend you to God and to the message of His grace, a message that is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified.’ His words to Timothy also undergird the importance of knowing Biblical teaching. ‘Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching, continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.’ (1 Timothy 24:16)

The strange thing about Christ Jesus as the Shepherd is His command to His sheep. ‘I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them…’ Matthew 10:16-42. We are not to be cowered by the wolves but to take the message of transforming grace to the society in which they prowl. Jesus says it is nerve-wracking and dangerous but that the wolves are actually afraid of sheep with a message of the cross. He also promised personal recognition and reward for His people rising up to the challenge.