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Tuesday, August 14, 2007
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"In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know" (1 Thessalonians 3:4).
The Lord has opened up an interesting door of ministry for us in the last several months. We visit a company as chaplains here in Lancaster County PA that has quite a few immigrants from many nations. One by one they are opening up to us and sharing their personal stories. Some have limited English but we have learned that a universal language fluently understood by all are tangible expressions of interest and concern.
One of the ways Brooksyne does this is by sharing small flower arrangements she gathers from her flower garden such as the one pictured above and taking them to the women in the various locations we visit. She not only enjoys doing this but it also an expression of her own personal interests and opens avenues for further communication.
Interestingly we are encountering people who have actually experienced persecution for their faith in Jesus Christ. Several weeks ago as I walked through I engaged in conversation with a man who has been in the states about 17 years. He shared that he had grown up and lived in an Asian country. He owned a bakery but in his mid-thirties the Islamists forced the Christians to move from his area. He moved, along with his wife and children, to the capital city of his country and then to America.
Most reading this have thus far not experienced persecution. We may have faced some minor ridicule or been told to back off in our witness, or perhaps have been ostracized. But as far as issues like imprisonment, torture, separation from our family or forced exile from our homes and death these injustices have just not been our experience. Of course that could change very quickly.
As I type I listen to a news update over the airwaves concerning a group of South Korean missionaries being held hostage in Afghanistan and thus far two have been slain.
Persecution is a familiar theme in the Bible. Jesus warned of it and the early church experienced it. Stephen and James were two early church leaders who died for their faith. Stephen is one of my favorite preachers. Though only one of his sermons is recorded in the Bible, it was likely his first and certainly was his last. The message in Acts 7 & 8 that Stephen boldly proclaimed to the Sanhedrin is one of the best portions of Scripture that summarizes the entire Gospel message from the time of Abraham being called by God to the time of Christ's crucifixion. Stephen shared this even as he faced his angry accusers.
Generally specific physical persecution will end when an individual renounces his faith in Christ. I try to imagine the array of emotions Stephen must have felt as he faced the first volley of stones. What unyielding faith he exemplified. CS Lewis wrote, "You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you." John Piper observes, "God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him, in the midst of loss not prosperity."
The daily Scripture portion indicates the reality of persecution that Paul faced frequently in his ministry. When he was personally ministering to the Thessalonian believers he repeatedly warned them about persecution that was to come and then he reminded them that they actually did see "it turn out that way" (Acts 17:1-9).
Today most of us still live in a season of peace and prosperity. But persecution has been a reality all through the ages of the church and is the experience this very day for many of our fellow followers of Christ.
1) Let us remember in prayer our many brothers and sisters who are now facing persecution.
2) Let us spiritually prepare ourselves for increasing persecution that I earnestly believe is coming.
I ask myself this question. Can I stand, like Stephen, in the face of horrendous death and hold on to my faith?
Be encouraged today,
Stephen & Brooksyne Weber
Daily prayer: Father, how grateful I am that I stand not in my own strength but in the strength of the Lord! If I am spared persecution and ridicule in this life may it not be a result of compromise or cowardice. If I am called to endure mistreatment I want to stand firm as I fully shield my heart and mind in the protective armor You provide for the day of evil. Help me to pray in the Spirit and to fearlessly make known the mystery of the Gospel to all who will hear, most especially my accusers. Amen.
Watch this video for a thought-provoking perspective on persecution
In preparing for today's message I also came across this video that offers an incredible perspective. (10 minutes)
Today's suggested music:
"Because of Who You Are" (listen) Extremely intense!
"Indescribable" (Video1 Video2)
Humorous note: The language barrier can result in some humorous moments. Last week Brooksyne distributed her small flower arrangements with some Asian women with limited English skills. They beamed a smile from ear to ear when she gave them each one. I helped her carry the flowers to the location in the plant where they worked. I then handed them all to Brooksyne in what appeared to be one large arrangement from a distant glance. (I didn't care to be seen carrying flowers through the plant!) The supervisor, who speaks better English, saw Brooksyne with the flowers and then asked me, "What did you do wrong that you would give her all those flowers?" I kidded with him and said "O, I am really in the doghouse at home" to which he knowingly smiled at the expression as the women looked on. Later I passed through again and he told me the ladies were very confused about what being "in the doghouse" meant and he had to further explain this expression to them!
Another large photo of an arrangement Brooksyne prepared.
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Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: New International Version. © 1984 by International Bible Society; NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission; and the King James Version.
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