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Monday, October 1, 2012
Feast of Harvest display at a local Russian Church.
All the produce on the wagon is real including the loaf of bread with "Harvest 2012" on it. (Click here to enlarge.)
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"A Message On Persecution"
"You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings--what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:10-17).
Yesterday we sure had an interesting experience. Yelena, a friend from one of the companies we serve as chaplains, invited us to a harvest festival at her Russian church. The service had several different Russian congregations who joined them for their celebration of the Feast of Harvest, one church visiting as far away as Massachusetts. The service was entirely in Russian but we were provided a a device in which the service was translated (I suppose kind of like they use at the U.N.). The service lasted from 10:00 to about 1:30, a tad longer than services we are accustomed to!
The worship was characterized by beautiful singing and my did they ever sing out! When the congregation sang few of them had books but they still sang each verse by memory. Rather than one main sermon several ministers shared brief messages throughout the service. The orchestra played 15 or more special numbers and the choir along with special groupings of women, men, children and teens sang an equal number of songs. We haven't caught up with Yelena since our visit yesterday to ask, but there were probably about 35 songs including several congregational songs. That's a lot of music!! Yelena is orchestra director in her church and it was of special blessing to see her direct the orchestra and choir. The musicians were outstanding, whether vocal or instrumental. We will share more about the service in our footnotes along with the photos.
Speakers shared about experiencing persecution or more often spoke about the persecution of their father's and grandfather's generations. In other words the experiences were still fresh and each story was quite moving; an important reminder to the packed church of the persecution their families endured in recent generations. It is part of our heritage as well. In the long line of the faithful, many have suffered persecution.
One brother shared a story about a wedding in the "old country" where, due to persecution, attendees were not permitted to sing in the church lest they draw attention from the officials. But one man expressed, "It's a wedding, we must share our joy" and proceeded to sing out. He was arrested and taken to a jail where they burned his hands and feet before releasing him. He crawled the seven kilometers back to his home on his elbows and knees due to his severe burns.
Today's Scripture selection is longer than usual. I want to highlight just one phrase but felt the surrounding context is especially important to fill our hearts. I encourage you to read it slowly, perhaps aloud, if you are in a place where you can.
We regularly count our blessings as a Christian family. God has indeed blessed me with a supportive, loving wife and family. I enjoy a very good life on this earth and yet, as I write this message, I consider how different my life is from a similar aged male in a place like Sudan. How dramatically different our lives are and yet God's love is identical for both of us. His eternal provision is the same for each of us though His plan for our life's journey is vastly different.
Several years ago James Bridges wrote an article titled, "Critical questions we must ask ourselves." (I have included that message below.) Essentially he calls believers to consider what may very well be coming in regard to the current direction civilization is going. He points out that the World Christian Encyclopedia has indicated that from A.D. 33 to 2000 there were an estimated 70 million martyrs. However from A.D. 33-1900 there were 25 million and 45 million in the last century alone. WOW!
Most reading this material just can't grasp that. Our lives have been so free from persecution of any type. We may even suppose we have an entitlement to live out our lives in freedom and prosperity. The portion of the daily text that again grips my heart as I share this is, "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."
I frankly struggle with the meaning of this verse based on my own personal experience and observation. Clearly many millions of believers have faced very little persecution in their lifetime, apart from ridicule and scorn, but a change is crossing our land. Believers in the U.S. are now being forced by our government to go against their spiritual convictions in several key areas. We are also seeing the increase of physical persecution, even martyrdom throughout the world.
Bridges' article issues a powerful challenge that I want to conclude with today; "The church must arouse out of its intoxication with the Laodicean spirit (Revelation 3:16,17). The church must not be like King Belshazzar who celebrated in his banquet hall while the enemy was conquering his capital and his kingdom (Daniel 5:30, 31). These are times when the church must be like 'the sons of Issachar who had understanding of the times to know what Israel ought to do'" (1 Chronicles 12:32).
Be encouraged and strong in the Lord today,
Stephen & Brooksyne Weber
Daily prayer: Father, we pray that we will not be fearful or ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that Christ will be exalted through us, whether by life or by death. Whatever happens, help us to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ so that we honor Your name and bring strength to the Christian body. It is in the name of Jesus that we pray. Amen.
"Critical Questions We Must Ask Ourselves" By James K. Bridges
Render to Caesar
As Christians, we know that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20, NKJV) and that we have an allegiance to Christ as Savior and Lord, yet this does not contradict, nor does it require that we totally disengage from any responsibility to our earthly citizenship. Jesus taught us to pay taxes, show respect to authority, and to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Mark 12:17). Among those things we should render to our government is a willingness to volunteer to help at anytime we have the chance to relieve the suffering of fellow human beings. Another vital way to fulfill our responsibility as citizens is to register and vote in all elections. This is a valuable duty and a freedom which many Christians are ignoring, and the result has been the election of local, state, and national representatives who do not hold to Christian values or respect Judeo-Christian ethics. The fallout of this has been the appointment of judges who no longer respect the Constitution, the Congress, or the wishes of the majority of the people. An example of this is the three federal judges who have recently ruled to strike down the ban on partial birth abortion.
Stand up for Values
Christians must not allow their right to vote and to voice their beliefs to be lost. In the news media today, there is a growing effort to intimidate Christians from expressing their views. An attempt to intimidate pastors and churches from standing up for their faith is mounting. Threats of removing the tax-exempt status of a Baptist church in Arkansas, because of their July 4 Freedom Rally, have surfaced in the news. This church did not endorse political candidates, but simply declared their stand on the moral and ethical issues which are facing our nation. It is interesting that some liberal political candidates are openly attending churches and are being endorsed by the pastors and nothing is being said by the news media. However, the enemies of the gospel will do everything possible to frighten the church into silence. This must not happen! Pastors must know what the law allows and properly educate their people as to their rights. Dr. James Kennedy has gone so far as to say that in light of the command of our Lord to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” for a Christian to fail to exercise their right to vote is tantamount to committing sin. To avoid committing such a sin, let every believer register and vote, and let every pastor take the responsibility to assist his parishioners in getting registered to vote. In some states the opportunity to register has almost, if not already passed. This is a citizen’s responsibility, so act now!
What are Christians to Expect?
I knew it was coming, I just didn’t expect it so soon. I thought it would happen first in Canada, but to my surprise, it was Sweden. “A Swedish court sentenced a Pentecostal pastor to one month in prison after finding him guilty of offending homosexuals in a sermon” (Christianity Today, September 2004). We have warned ministers and congregations throughout our Fellowship that, if the deterioration of morals continues in our country, the time will come when we will be imprisoned for preaching against homosexuality. Oh, but it won’t happen here we are told. Famous last words! We didn’t think prayer could be removed from our schools; we didn’t think that the Ten Commandments would be removed from our public institutions; we didn’t think that the Supreme Court would block the Child Online Protection Act to protect our children against pornography; or that the definition of marriage being one man and one woman would come under such attack in our country — but all these have happened.
Christ, the focal Point
We are reminded of the words of Paul to Timothy: “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). Jesus said, “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Followers of Jesus must face the reality that persecution is inevitable if we live godly in Christ Jesus. We will be viewed as intolerant, bigoted, ignorant, extreme, without compassion, and unfit to be in leadership or have a voice in government. But Jesus has pronounced a blessing on all who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake and for His name’s sake, assuring them of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:10,11). Persecution in this country has been limited to verbal attacks, for the most part, due to the protection of the laws governing our society. However, we are seeing a hatred such as has not been known in this country over moral and ethical issues. It is imperative that Christ’s church understands that we are engaged in a spiritual warfare between the forces of righteousness and evil, truth and error. The enemies of Christ are bold, but so must be His followers.
What are my responsibilities as a Christian?
Render to God
Jesus not only commanded us to render to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar, He also commanded us to render “to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17). Jesus was holding a coin with the image of Caesar on it when He made this statement. He was teaching, by comparison, that those who are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) should render to God that which belongs to Him. We belong to God by creation and by recreation having been purchased by the “precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18,19). Believers who will use their time, talent, and treasure to serve Christ, His Church, and His purpose to reach the nations, will truly be rendering to God that which belongs to Him.
Making Christ Known
To make Christ known is the primary mission of the born again, Spirit-baptized believer. We must express Christ to our society, bringing the resurrection life and lifestyle of Christ to bear on our neighbor, our nation and the world. We owe our country the best the church can offer. John Adams stated that our constitution was designed for a religious people, and it will not work for atheists and unbelievers. The separation of church and state, as it is being promoted today, was not what the founders of our nation believed, nor was it the way they intended the constitution to be interpreted. Opponents of Christianity have twisted the meaning of our national documents in order to establish a secular state. Christians owe it to their country to stand for the Judeo-Christian morals and ethics upon which this country was founded. We have only to visit countries with secular and atheistic governments, and to talk to those who have migrated to the U.S. from these countries, to realize how great the loss will be if the U.S. is allowed to become a secular or pagan country. The cost to prevent such a deformation, which is now in progress, may be great. It certainly will require that the church become militant in prayer, aggressive in witness, and involved in the voting process of our country.
Be Aware of the Times
Freedom to serve Christ as conscience dictates and as the Word of God declares, has been costly down through the centuries. The World Christian Encyclopedia has indicated that from A.D. 33 to 2000 there have been an estimated 70 million martyrs. Twenty-five million martyrs were estimated from A.D. 33 to 1900, while 45 million martyrs were estimated from 1900 to 2000. There were more Christians martyred in the 20th century than in all the preceding centuries. Persecution and martyrdom surface in different parts of the world at different times. The church in the U.S. must arouse out of its intoxication with the Laodicean spirit (Revelation 3:16,17). The church must not be like King Belshazzar who celebrated in his banquet hall while the enemy was conquering his capital and his kingdom (Daniel 5:30,31). These are times when the church must be like “the sons of Issachar who had understanding of the times to know what Israel ought to do” (1 Chronicles 12:32).
Attending a Russian Church Service
Harvest Festival based on Exodus 23:16
Brooksyne with Yelena, pictured beside her husband Peter, invited us to the service. Afterward we took a photo on a very windy afternoon.
All the songs were in Russian so, apart from the translator who gave us the gist of the lyrics, we were unable to understand the message though each had a harvest theme. Nevertheless we were blessed by the beauty and sincerity of their voices in worship.
A young couple playing a beautiful violin duet.
The children had an opportunity to share.
What precious innocent faces of these children being raised in the fear and admonition of the Lord!
The church had both a brass section (left) and stringed orchestra (right). The music was outstanding. We recognized one song that the instrumentalists played, "Amazing Grace". As we departed the service, we also recognized the tune to "Bringing in The Sheaves" although they sang in Russian. Admittedly, the service got long, especially since we couldn't understand the language. I (Brooksyne) was getting a bit weary of yet "another song" when I suddenly remembered the brother's message about the wedding in Russia where they were not allowed to sing out. It completely changed my attitude. We need to hear stories like that to change our perspective and grow our appreciation for the everyday blessings we take for granted.
Ester managed to take a close-up.
The service, though orderly, also had a wholesome family-friendly atmosphere with lots of little children. As I recall this little boy walked up as his mother began to sing in this choral group. She just picked him up and kept singing.
A teen choir from Philadelphia.
We left the service during the final song due to a Memorial Service we were in charge of at 2:00 about 1/2 hour away. The church was having dinner on the grounds, and to our surprise, Yelena hurried out of the church and thoughtfully gathered us food to take home in the styrofoam containers Brooksyne is carrying. We had an abundance of Russian foods to enjoy on the way to our afternoon service and leftovers for supper last night.
An online Russian Scripture quiz: The above photos reveal that there were three Scripture texts on the walls at the front of the church building. I believe I have identified one. Can any of our readers identify all three verses and translate them? We will send a jar of Brooksyne's home-made jam to the first person who identifies all three verses correctly. If you're out of the country as our last two were who won our contests we'll send a book instead. Send your answer here. We will share the correct answer on Wednesday.
Today's Suggested Music and Supplemental Resources
"Russian song" Video I have no idea what the words are but it sure is beautiful and a reminder of our setting yesterday when the lovely voices joined together in worship.
Friday I shared this photo:
larger photo identifying Mike. Congratulations to our readers who properly identified the photo! Here's an article we wrote about Mike.
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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, New King James Version (NKJV) Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. and the King James Version.
Personal Mission Statement: "I am created by God to bring Him glory. Through God's Son Jesus Christ I have been redeemed and I make it my life's goal to please the Lord. My mission in life is to honor God through my faith and obedience and to prepare myself and all whom I may influence for eternity."
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