“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Persecution is the mantel of the Christian life. There are two facts which are indisputable in our generation: Christians have been persecuted for their faith, or they willbe persecuted for their faith.
Persecution comes when least expected. It is a favorite tool of the enemy because it strikes at the heart and soul of the victim. It knocks us to our knees, then holds its ugly foot on the back of our necks and laughs hideously at the conquest. It hurts because it comes in the night, sneaking through the darkness from unsuspected sources.
Slander and insults are the prolific darts hurled at Christians today. They come from family, co-workers, next-door neighbors, church members and strangers. People we admire, people we love, people we must see every day of our lives knock the wind out of us with nasty remarks, filthy garbage, and unsupported lies. That familiar sick feeling grips our stomachs, tears flood our eyes, and we fight against the anger welling up within our hearts. We want to strike back, retaliate, or defend ourselves against the unjust criticism.
The assault against our godly character leaves us feeling powerless, unloved, forgotten and raped of dignity. “God, where are You? Why don’t You do something about this?”
If you are presently in this valley of persecution, you are walking in the company of the committed: Isaiah was sawn asunder with a wooden saw. Jeremiah, mistreated most of his life by those to whom he ministered, was stoned to death in Egypt after being taken there against his will. Ezekiel was verbally brutalized for his preaching; Amos had to take his prophecies elsewhere; Zechariah was unappreciated. And Jesus, well, you know what happened to Him!
In the movie “Dead Poets Society,” the teacher of a literature class instructs his students to rip pages from their books which he considered outdated. There are times when I wish I could disregard a Bible passage, rip it out, and ignore its message. A good example is something from Paul in his writing to the church at Corinth: “…When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly.” I Cor. 4:6.
Not only do we suffer these indignities because we are part of the heritage of committed martyrs, we also are called upon to endure unfair treatment out of loyalty to Jesus. What is our crime? Our crime is Christ. Once we step foot into His kingdom we cannot hold back with one foot in the world. It is all or nothing. And that commitment to Him must be reflected in our response toward our accusers. We cannot turn back when it seems that our Christianity is about to cost us something. Jesus said it is the moment to “leap for joy,” a time of unprecedented privilege to stand against the enemy.
Finally, we will never be called upon to suffer persecution alone. Remember the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who were thrown into the fiery furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar? The king leaped to his feet and saw, not three, but four men walking around in the fire, “and the fourth looks like a son of the gods,” he said. Afterward, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego walked away from that furnace untouched by the flames.
Are you walking in the fire of persecution right now? Look up and see the hand of the Righteous God reaching through to rescue you. He will never leave you alone!
GospeLines Prayer:Help me, God! Since I was a child I have heard that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” As an adult, I know how untrue that is and that pain of the spirit can be worse than physical pain. It still feels like more of a curse than a blessing when others “say all manner of evil against me falsely.” Father, I am weak in this area of my walk. Please teach me how to turn the other cheek and really mean it, how to leap for joy when I am included in the company of the committed, and not shirk from the privilege of suffering for Your Name’s sake. Amen and amen.
“When they reached the Valley of Eshcol, they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs.”
The Valley of Decision is surrounded by the slippery slopes of self-doubt. It is the place where we have been challenged to move forward but we are trapped by our inability to make the right choice. Fears of past mistakes, memories of failures lure us back into a bad decision-making process. But the fault isn’t really in the process at all; it lies in the hearts and souls of the ones making the decision.
A few years after Jehovah had led Israel from their Egyptian captivity, He told Moses to explore the land of Canaan (Numbers 13:1) by sending twelve men, one from each tribe, to spy out the land. They brought grapes from the Valley of Eschol, a symbol of the wealth of their new home. When the committee gave their report, they said: “But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.”Caleb, a member of the minority report, represented by only he and Joshua, said “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”
But he was too late. The majority had spoken eloquently and already influenced the hearts of the Israelites, who then raised their voices against Moses, Caleb and Joshua. The decision was made that Canaan was out of the question, so Jehovah punished them with forty years of wandering in the desert.
What happened? Why didn’t Israel accept the challenge and move forward? The problem was that they were anchored in their past. When the committee spoke about the giants they would face in Canaan, it reminded them of when they were slaves in Egypt. All the bad memories of the beatings, hard labor, and unjust treatment of their past came pouring back into their minds and they were defeated all over again. Their instinct was to stick with what they knew best. Even if it was the desert, manna and quail wasn’t so bad in comparison with the fierce Amalekites and Canaanites which were awaiting them if they dared cross the Jordan River.
It could have been different for Israel. And, it could be different for you the next time you are facing a critical decision in your life. Ponder these thoughts:
When faced with a decision, look backward at your journey, not your defeats. Israel had been miraculously delivered from Egypt, but all they could remember were the bad times.
What has God been doing in your past to prepare you for this moment of decision in your life right now? Life is a journey of preparation for tomorrow, and God has a way of getting us ready for the next big step by helping us to take such small steps right now that we may not even see our own progress, but He does. And He knows when we are ready.
Look inward. Jehovah had planted the Law inside the hearts of His children, and His Shekinah Glory led them on their way. He was not asking anything from them which would contradict His covenant.
Look within your heart. Does the decision you face ask anything of you that is contrary to the Word of God? If the Bible is your “rule book,” and you are certain that what you are being asked to do is within the Truth of God’s Word, then maybe that is your answer.
Look forward. There is no way that Israel could have defeated Canaan without the hand of Jehovah to go before them. It would require a miracle! The enemy was too big, the territory was unfamiliar, and they were going to have to depend upon a new leader (Joshua).
Will your new task require something from you that borders on the impossible? When I have groaned over a major decision in my life, it is usually because it will take me way out of my comfort zone. A decision which will cause you to stretch beyond the capacity you have now is often the one which God has planned for you. When that happens, my thoughts are, “Hallelujah, and hang on!”
The Valley of Decision is not a place to linger. To choose NOT do make a decision is to make a decision. Like the Valley of Eschol, our place of decision can become comfortable, a place of contentment and joy because it is there that we dream big dreams for the future. The enemy will tempt us to spend far more time “dreaming” about tomorrow than we ought. Even if the answer from God is to wait, seek His answer and it will come, for He is a God who “knows the plans He has for you,” and will not leave you clueless about your future.
GospeLines Prayer:Father, forbid that I allow my time in the Valley of Eschol to become a valley of indecision. Make me careful, not careless; courageous, not cautious; and consecrated, not complacent. Deliver me from haste, and set my feet in motion the very moment I hear from You. Amen and amen.
“Now the Valley of Siddim was full of tar pits, and when the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some of the men fell into them and the rest fled to the hills.”
Genesis 14: 10
Sodom and Gomorrah. Ask a dozen people on a crowded bus if they have ever heard of these twin cities and most will say yes, Christian or not. These ancient places are historically associated with humanity’s evil actions and God’s judgment.
The Bible says the herds of Abraham and his nephew, Lot, grew so large that the land would no longer support them together. When the herdsmen began to argue among themselves for grazing rights, Abraham decided to separate from Lot by giving him a choice. “If you go right, I will go left. If you go to the left, I will go to the right,” he said. So Lot chose the plush green valleys near the Jordan River, a perfect place for raising his herds. Later he decided the wicked city of Sodom would be his home. This place, as its name suggests, was a city of perversion and wickedness of all kinds.
When God said that He was going to destroy Sodom, Abraham bargained with Him to change his mind if ten righteous people could be found there. But there were only four, Lot, the nephew of Abraham, his wife and two daughters. Only Lot’s family would be saved, except for his wife, who turned back for one final glimpse of the life she had enjoyed, and God destroyed her, too.
Pulpits today speak less and less of sin. In the New Testament, sin is most often translated from the word hamartia, which means “to miss the mark.” The vivid picture is created from an archer who may hit the target time after time, and then suddenly the arrow flies away from its mark. There are consequences when the target is missed.
In the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, the cities were destroyed by fire.
Are you missing the mark? Is your life in turmoil now because you have failed to live up to the standards set by God? Paul writes in the book of Romans that “the wages of sin is death!” (6:23) I plead with you to leave your Sodom and Gomorrah lifestyle and seek the grace of Almighty God. Turn aside from those things in your life which cripple, maim, and finally destroy your soul.
Mercifully, God sent two messengers to the home of Lot to lead his family away from the tar pit of sin into a place of safety. Time and time again, Jesus has sent you a messenger to lead you back into the way of righteousness. Until now you have rebelled. Yet the God of mercy has given you another and another and another chance to heed His warning. If at last you allow some messenger of God to lead you toward the Kingdom, do not hesitate, and do not look back! Lest you be destroyed as was the wife of Lot.
But there is more to that scripture from Paul’s letter to Rome: “The wages of sin is death… BUT… BUT… BUT… the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) Hallelujah! Be lifted out of the valley of sin today, and accept the gift of everlasting life from Jesus Christ, the Savior, Lord, and Redeemer of your soul.
GospeLines Prayer:Righteous Father, will you withhold your judgment for just a moment longer? There is someone, now, who has just read these words and wants to give their life to You. Oh, God, give them time…just a moment, or a day, or a week to come to You. Spare your judgment for awhile, Lord Jesus, until this sinner becomes a saint, by placing their trust in You, the only hope for salvation. Amen and amen.
The following quote is credited to Billy Graham.Although I cannot verify that he actually said these words, they nonetheless should be taken to heart by every Christian.
“Let's take the things that set us apart, that make us different, that cause us to disagree, and make them an occasion to compliment each other and be thankful for each other.”
We are frequently so fixated on our differences that we totally overlook our common interests; and, in the process, fail to work together to spread the name of Jesus.Perhaps we've forgotten that “God causes everything to work together” for the good of those who love Him... if we'll let Him.
The world is bombarded with the details of how we're different... we love to talk about our disagreements.The Baptists disagree with the Lutherans; the Lutherans disagree with the Catholics; and the Catholics disagree with the Pentecostals.Everywhere we look, our differences are paramount.But, if we could learn to spend as much time focusing on our similarities as we do on our differences, the Gospel of the Kingdom would preached throughout the whole world and all nations would have the opportunity to hear.
GospeLines Prayer:Father, in the precious name of Jesus, we humbly ask that you open our eyes to those things that are of You and help us to look beyond those things that are of men.Help us to honor and respect our traditions; but to never place them above Your Word.Father, keep our eyes on the prize through Your Holy Spirit.Amen.
“…I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father,but byMe.”
- John 14:6 (KJV)
≈ Devotional for Friday, May 1, 2009
"Dealing with Depression"
Depression strikes people of all ages, backgrounds, and ethnic groups. It is estimated that about 20 million adults in the U.S. suffer from depression each year, and about 1 out of 6 American adults have depression during their lifetimes.
Depression is not a sign of weakness or a character flaw. It is a medical condition.
Perhaps you have been there. Maybe you have lived for a while behind closed doors. Many good people have. I was reading recently about a young lawyer who descended into the valley of despondency. Things were going so poorly for him that his friends thought it best to keep all knives and razors away from him for fear of a suicide attempt. In fact, during this time he wrote in his memoirs, "I am now the most miserable man living. Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell. I fear I shall not." The young lawyer who unleashed these desperate feelings of utter hopelessness? His name was Abraham Lincoln.
Beloved, this ministry was begun, in part, as a response to restoring hope to depressed Christians. If you, or someone you know, is living in this darkness now, I encourage you to continue seeking medical help when needed. And, I want you to know that you are not alone. Others have walked through this valley, but with the help of a loving God, they have emerged victorious. And so shall you.
GospeLines Prayer:Father, do not hide your face from me when I am depressed. I confess that it is in those times I need you the most but seek you the least. I am afraid to admit my humanity, but it is in my admission of frailty that I grow. Embrace my lonely heart and pull me near to You, so that I will feel Your presence even in the darkness. Ignite my soul with assurance, and my mind with Hope. Fill me with your Holy Spirit, the Comforter of all creation. Amen and amen.