Thursday, May 28, 2009

Persecution in America--We Should All Live as to be Counted Worthy

Today on facebook, two friends posted a news clip about a couple in San Diego who were questioned about the ligitimacy of a home Bible study, and instructed to go apply for a costly permit. I am busy today so I will not take long to post this, but I have to express my thoughts; they burst within me. I am struck by the indignation that seems to the usual response from Americans who are attacked for their faith--have they not read 1 Peter 4:12-13? It says, Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. I hope that I live in such a way that people who reject Christ will know that I believe, and that they will view me as they view Christ...that they come to view Christ more accurately and favorably, but if not, that I would encounter the privilege of being likewise rejected for His sake, for my identity in Him--and that I not react in indignation but glad to know that I share in His sufferings.
The founding fathers no doubt meant well when they gave us our first amendment rights for freedom of expression. For the most part, I'm thankful for those rights; I don't know what it is to live without their protection. But perhaps those men did us a disservice, in that we American Christians stay immature, thinking more that we are entitled to freedom of expression than that we should count it all joy when we find that freedom squelched.
It seems that our citizenship is in America, not in Heaven. Our heavenly citizenship means that we are just sojourners here, it is not our home, we are aliens to those around us. If we feel comfortable here, at ease, not challenged, then we have to question whether we are living for Christ, whether we are strong enough to endure when real persecution should arise.
Bible verses such as 2 Thessalonians 1:3-5 and Philippians 1:27-28 regarding persecution would indicate that persecutors are gathering judgment upon themselves, so we can know that when we are mistreated it isn't being ignored. When the expression of our faith brings on persecution, knowing that we have lived in such a way as to we should count it all joy as in Matthew 5:11-12, because we are counted worthy to be considered such. We have joined in the persecutions that our Lord Jesus suffered as in Hebrews 12:2, enduring the cross, despising its shame...for us. That is a believer's privilege!
And so I resolve today to live, with God's help, as one who is primarily heaven-bound, forsaking my American rights if necessary for obedience to Christ, not bound to an American citizenship and its rights, as much as looking forward to seeing Jesus face to face. Hallelujah! Amen!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

How we View Affliction Makes all the Difference

I don't remember how many times I've heard people reflect on the bad hands they've been dealt in the past that make it hard for them to process the present. No doubt I've done it myself (no doubt I sometimes still do it), and when I'm aware of it, I shy away from behaving such any more. It's too easy to use the past as an excuse for not responding biblically, for not growing in Christ, for shying away from relationships, and for whining and complaining about what should have been, when none of this is what makes for healthy interaction in the body of Christ. We sometimes use past victimizations as a crutch; we continue to use the crutch long after the injury should have fully healed. Christians of all people should not consider ourselves victims--I don't care what nasty experience we've had that would seem to say otherwise. Probably most of us have been persecuted, mistreated, misled to some degree...but God in His sovereign wisdom orchestrates our lives and has knowingly and lovingly allowed all these things for our good and for His glory.
One of my hallmark verses is Psalm 119:71, because it validates every difficulty that ever entered my life: It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes. I am pretty sure I would still be a lost sinner without hope if it hadn't been for the crucible of affliction, so I am eternally grateful for those things that I found intolerable in the days before I came to know Christ. I am pretty sure I would be a weak, shallow and unsympathetic Christian if I never had affliction from the day I came to know Christ, so I am grateful for those things that challenge my faith ever since becoming a Christian. I'm not saying that I am continually victorious in my view of these things, but if I continually bemoan them, I have not realized their value, and still have a great deal to learn in that aspect of my life.

Every difficulty I endure has the capacity to do me good, in that it should send me to the cross, to put every offense at the foot of the cross and seek His help in learning forgiveness, in learning healing, in learning to understand others, to have empathy, to sympathize with others in their weakness, to reach out to the hurting and the lost, to help the helpless, to heal others' wounds. Affliction should bring me to prayer and Bible study, seeking God's word on every act that confuses me or causes me to stumble. Affliction should bring me to seek counsel when I can't put the pieces together myself. Affliction should cause me to turn to the Scriptures and prayer rather than my own wisdom in resolution of conflict, in anxiety, in trusting God's wisdom and His will, and in setting my own priorities. It should make me more careful that I don't leave a wake of damage behind me which would hurt others like I may have been hurt.
Every difficulty I endure has the capacity also to bring glory to God, in that those who see how I respond might realize that it is only by God's strength that I can respond rightly. My response as a Christian should not be the same as that of an unbeliever, lashing out, attacking, gossiping, and complaining to everyone who will listen. If it is, I am not walking in the light but am walking in darkness.
So those difficulties that would seem to be designed by Satan to damage me can be turned to God's glory in bringing attention to His goodness and His healing power, to His capacity to bring believers through these things and when they have come through, to be better than they were before. If we use these difficulties as excuses for why we can't function well in the present day, for why we don't have a good understanding of biblical truth, for why we are staying where we are and not growing, then that's what they are: excuses. They are not valid reasons to spiritually flounder and wallow in our self-pity. Those things should change us for the better, not for the worse. They should not weaken us, but strengthen us, making us more fit for God's service, better able to glorify Him in the things we think, say, and do, and in who we are becoming. We should become better aware of just what the Bible says regarding our experiences, equipping us to discern truth from error and to comfort and counsel others. We should increasingly use all the experiences that God puts in our lives to better reflect Him, not the world. The past is something that God has given us, it is still ours, and we can use it for good or for evil. Even if we've responded wrongly about something in the past, we can change how we respond about it in the present, and we can use it for His glory in the future.

Friday, May 08, 2009

They are all Vitally Important!

Well, this is the companion piece to the blog entry previous to this. In pondering how to rate the contact with various type of people that are beneficial to one's sanity, I had to start in what seemed a logical place, by placing God first and separately, because He cannot be put into numerical value--not that humanity can be so placed, but at least with humanity, it's a bit more credible. The premise that prompted this blog was the idea that a person needs to be in contact with an average of six people per day to keep a balanced and sane approach to life. When a person acknowledges God as a foundational aspect of this mix, I can't see that six mere humans would be necessary, but for the sake of just having a number that works, let's keep it there for now. There are various types of people with whom any average person will come into contact, and I will have the audacity to score how important they are in my life, on a scale of one to ten, ten being the best and most vital.
1.) Believers who will keep me accountable or at least point me to God should score a 10 because they will knowingly help me in my faith and growth, and make me think about things I wouldn't otherwise, and help me with my weaknesses and attitudes, and love me even though I know they know my faults.
2.) Believers who won't keep me accountable and who might just trip me up, whether knowingly or not, should score a 10, because if I am not staying alert to the hazards they provide, then it is my fault and I need to learn to avoid those stumbling blocks that emerge from their existence in my life.
3.) Believers whom I feel inclined to redirect toward God deserve a 10, because they keep me analyzing how to relate His truths to someone who seems receptive, and I have to stay sharp (as iron sharpening iron) for their sake.
4.) People who seem sweet and kind and wise and desirable to be around deserve a 10, because I should be aware that they may just be appealing to my pride, and I need practice making sure that I see through these tendencies and can practice recognizing any flimsiness in any flattering assertions I receive; also they may think that being nice gets them to heaven, and I need to be alert for ways to share the truth of the gospel with them, that it's not by being nice, not by works of righteousness that we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us. They also deserve a 10 because there also are times when I need their encouragement.
5.) People who are needy and demand my patience and help deserve a 10, because they help me exercise God's charity and kindness and patience and love and I will hopefully realize my need for God's help and grace in dealing with them rightly. They might very well see the goodness and charity of God, and His hope, delivered through me, if I respond with God's help. This is vital, as it might well pave the way for sharing the gospel with them.
6.) People who are negative, taxing, and whom I don't desire to be around deserve a 10, because they also demand my exercise of patience and love and self-control, and I will all the more hopefully realize my need for God's help and grace, not practicing revenge but leaving room for God's wrath, and also hoping for a great witness of His goodness through me to them, when perhaps all others they encounter might have been mean and cutting or otherwise impatient in return.
7.) There are people who serve me professionally who deserve a 10, because most people would realize that since these people are subservient, that service should meet their expectations. However, if these people serve me wrong, I hope they will help me practice God's self-control, especially of my tongue; I will have to remember not to practice revenge, but to overcome evil with good, and forgive. And I will hopefully realize that this can only be done realistically with God's powerful help and grace. And perhaps they will recognize the goodness of God through me, because perhaps nine people before me have gotten them fired for such shoddy work.
8.) Then there may be those whom I serve professionally, who deserve a 10, because they realize that I am subservient to them and whether they treat me well or not, that I should treat them rightly. However, if I serve them poorly, they might exercise their wrath upon me, and in any case I may need to exercise self-control (relying on God all the while), and not revenge, and to forgive--in hopes that they will see this strange attitude and wonder, and come to realize that it is Christ in me that made me any different from the 20 people they chewed out that day before me.
9.) Then there are the little children, those who call me Mom, and they deserve a 10 as well, because I will see them at their best, and at their worst, and they will do more than anyone to polish my rugged, crackled, rough spots to shiny newness. I will have to exercise servanthood with them like with no other, and patience, and kindness, and self-control...and I don't have as much of it as I need at the start, but with God's help and grace, it will grow as they grow. I need to correct them and point them to God, and I may be the primary one doing it, so in turn, they will willingly and compulsively point out my inconsistencies and hypocrisies and have every right to do so. And they will love me in spite of my faults. And they are precious to God because He has a special place in His heart for children, and their character and spiritual growth will likely be impacted strongly by how I treat them, how much I teach them, how much I point them to God and His all the more I need to be careful to obey Him in how I lead them.
10.) Then there are the little children who don't call me Mom, who deserve a 10 as well, because they are freer with their comments than adults and will tell me things as they see them, and because their behavior hasn't yet become so fully socialized and may try my patience and self-control. They are precious to God because they are not so cynical as adults, they'll believe what they are told, they are more likely to receive the truth of the gospel than any other portion of the population, and because they are the kind of people, He says, of which the Kingdom of Heaven is made. They deserve a 10 because I need to be all the more alert to how I represent Christ to them, depending on Him all the while.
11.) Then there is my spouse, who started out seeming so perfect, and now so many things I used to think were cute I may now find he deserves a 10 too, because, living close-up like my children, he will do very many things that wear down my rough and ragged spots, and with God's grace here also, he will finally get to my more shiny spots that develop underneath. And I will say and do things that hurt him, and he will say and do things that hurt me, and he and I will learn forgiveness and patience and how to overlook things, and so he will help me grow like no one else can. He will also pick me up and encourage me, hopefully, when I need it, and correct me, and tell me things I need to know, that no other human being knows I need to know. And there will be times that he needs the same, and I need to be alert to those things and kind and sensitive with how I deliver them. And he will love me even though he knows my worst traits.
The funny thing is that when I started writing this blog post, I really did intend for some types of people to be rated more highly than others; but when I pondered why they were important, it was clear that they are individually and corporately important in my life, and I shouldn't shun or downplay the importance of any one of them. God in His sovereign wisdom has placed each one there with good reason, and my response may well be part of why He orchestrated that particular mix, and He is watching to see what good things might result from it. The children are precious to God, but so all of them are--He tends to refer to His disciples as children, in fact; He died for the sins of humanity, and it is not His will that any should perish. Without His help, I could not respond properly to even one person in this mix, not even once; and still so much of the time I do not. So it is a lifelong learning for me; I must be glad that He remains patient to teach me still.
Philippians 2:3-16 "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind, regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.
Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain."
New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

God's Influence is Foundational

A while back I heard that a person needs to be in contact with an average of six people per day to have a healthy, balanced outlook in life. We need people to help us avoid the little hangups and the foibles and vain imaginations that tend to build when we are continually alone. I can see the wisdom in that; being a homeschooling mom, I need further input than just my 11-year-old son or I start thinking in sillier, wierder terms than are normal for a woman my age (which can already be a tendency of mine). If I'm not around enough people, I start pondering my own self, pitying myself for my hurts, priding myself in my strengths, championing my "rights," and thinking any number of unhealthy things that have mostly to do You can see the effects of extreme isolation in the typical hermit, who becomes more antisocial and strange the longer he is alone.
In any case, I think the scale of interaction works a little differently for Christians (well, for all of us, but only Christians will fully comprehend what I'm saying here). We can't live by that same secular scale, though the general concept is basically sound. We are able to round ourselves out only by a whole level of input which the unbelieving world does not access. I was going to blog about all of these things in one entry, but it is too big for one; the element that makes it too big is...God. I was thinking of making a somewhat arbitrary or subjective point system for how much benefit various people give us, but God is beyond a point system. His attributes are all infinite; the only thing that pares down how to score His importance is that we are finite and can only receive so much--or His input would likely destroy us. It's something like when God hid Moses in the cleft of the rock in Exodus 33 and went by, and Moses could only grasp so much of who He was, or when Moses came off of Mount Sinai in Exodus 34 and had to wear a veil because his face reflected the glory of God to the alarm of the people.
One means that Christians recognize (and might not take into account to apply to that 6-person theory) as a method for keeping themselves on track, sane, level-headed, is the power of prayer and Bible reading. They are closely intertwined, in that prayer is talking with God, and the Bible is also God's word, breathed into humanity through the power of the Holy Spirit. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." It's useful in influencing others, but firstly in being influenced ourselves. It has a way of reaching and operating where no uninspired word or thought can approach: Hebrews 4:12-14 says, "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do." I expect that if a believer were isolated, even in a prison cell, with no outside human contact, if he had the Scriptures either before him or memorized, he could stay sane and functional by continual dependence on the Scripture he has been given and the ever-available power of prayer. The Scriptures are something of a two-fold influence, where the reader is reached by God through His Holy Spirit, but also by the writer through whom the word was written.
All the more than a believer isolated in a prison cell, we believers in more average circumstances have every ability to lead a fruitful, functional life reflecting God's glory, if only we stay in prayer and His word and apply it daily in our lives, whether in guiding our own thoughts or interacting with others. We may do great things, if we were so equipped; Johann Kepler was inspired by God's word in his life such that he called it "thinking God's thoughts after Him." The way he applied God's inspiration led him to make useful discoveries foundational to science, based on His word. Interaction with others, I believe, is also desirable and healthy, but God's input is the essential basis, the foundation. Without it, the way we live our lives will be far less than optimum. If we don't access His glory, how can we reflect it in the way we live? We can only think God's thoughts after Him if we have learned what He is thinking!
New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.