Is Jesus Happy?

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A few years ago, Pat and I kept our three-year-old grandson, Nathan. One day we were having a war of wills, and I was losing. Nathan was getting the best of me. It came to a frustrating point with a seemingly easy task: get his slip-on tennis shoes to stay on his little feet. I would put them on, and he would kick them off and laugh about it. After the third round, I tried a new tactic—bribery: “If you will keep these shoes on, I’ll take you to eat pancakes for breakfast.” Before he answered, he looked up at me and in all seriousness, asked: “Will it make Jesus happy?”

“Will it make Jesus happy?” What a question! I had not thought about that, but after a few seconds of reflection, I told him it would make Jesus happy if he kept his shoes on his feet. I was hoping Dr. Martin Canavan, my Systematic Theology teacher, never heard about my answer. I don’t remember covering “what makes Jesus happy” in the chapter on Christology. However, as I thought about it, maybe we should have covered that subject in theology. “Making Jesus happy” would certainly be a major subject in a three-year-olds’ theology book. I was glad Nathan’s parents and Sunday School teachers taught him it was important to make Jesus happy by his actions.

So, this got me to thinking: Am I making Jesus happy? Are you making Jesus happy in what you do? Is Jesus pleased with our thoughts, choices and activities? After all, that is really what living for Christ and eternity is all about—doing what pleases the Lord! And, from a child’s view, it is about making Jesus happy.

Jesus Himself lived with the goal of pleasing the Father, making His Father happy. He said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work” (John 4:34). For our Lord Jesus, His whole purpose in life was to do God’s will and finish God’s work. Jesus meant that doing God’s will and pleasing His heavenly Father was as important to His spiritual life as literal food was to His physical life. If we love, follow and serve Jesus, pleasing the Father should be just as important to us.

Pleasing the Father by doing His will was so imperative that Jesus said it was the very reason He came: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38). Doing God’s will was always Christ’s aim in life. It was why He came from glory, was born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death, and was raised to new life again. Jesus summed up His purpose in life, in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before His great sacrifice, as He prayed: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

So, what makes Jesus happy?

Receiving Him—as your Savior, pleases Him, for it is the reason He came. “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). It pleases the Lord when people repent of their sins and trust Him to save them. “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12).

Following Him—as your Lord, pleases Him. After receiving Christ as your Savior, you should follow Him in water baptism and join a church that preaches Him and follows His Word. This pleases the Father, just as the Lord’s baptism by John caused God to proclaim: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Water baptism did not make Jesus God’s Son, but proclaimed Him to be God’s Son. Water baptism does not make you His child, but publicly proclaims you to be His child. As Paul wrote, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27). Faith in Him makes you His child—Baptism like Him announces it to others.

Serving Him—as Master of your life, pleases Him. After announcing that we are saved by grace through faith, by the “gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8), Paul writes, that then, “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (verse 10). After salvation comes service. It pleases God when you, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

So, are you making Jesus happy? You only have a short time—Are you seeking to please Him? Doing God’s will may call for sacrifice and could result in pain, trials and discomfort. But that is a small cost for the privilege of serving your great Savior who paid the ultimate price for you.

Think about Nathan’s question: “Will it make Jesus happy?” We could do nothing better than seek to make Him happy! Paul wrote, “Therefore also we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Corinthians 5:9). Pleasing the Lord with our lives is what it is all about!

P.S. I am taking a short hiatus from writing this weekly blog. Along with two other pastors, I am co-writing a theology book that will require my focused writing attention for a while. Hopefully, I will write more Devo-blogs after the end of this year. THANK you for reading!

Investing in Things that Last

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“Everlast” is the leading manufacturer of boxing and fitness related sporting goods, equipment, apparel, footwear and accessories. In almost every boxing match you see, the contestants will be wearing “Everlast” gloves. Even in training, they will be punching an “Everlast” bag. Although I understand the intent of the label—their equipment, no matter how good, will really not last forever.

However, I guess I would rather have a product labeled “Everlast” than something called “Neverlast.” But even with a great label, you know that somewhere down the line, the best product will tear, rip open or wear out. It is inevitable. It is life. A thing will only last so long. No matter what its name, it will come to an end. And that is true of everything, right? Well, not everything. Some things that seem everlasting are not—while some things that seem short-lived are eternal.

When you look up at the sky on a clear night, you may think, that moon and those billion stars will last forever. If you consider “terra firma”—the solid earth beneath your feet—you think, nothing will remove that. You yourself may feel young, strong, great, fit, and indestructible. It may seem the world is at your command, but in all three cases, you would be wrong.

The Bible states: “Lift up your eyes to the sky, then look to the earth beneath; For the sky will vanish like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants will die in like manner; But My Salvation will be forever, and My righteousness will not wane” (Isaiah 51:6).

In the grand scheme of things, the sky that seems unending will come to an end. The earth that seems immovable will wear out. And the inhabitants that seem so strong will eventually die. But God says His salvation will be “forever” and His righteousness will not fade.

From the human standpoint, it is hard to imagine anything that is everlasting. Everything we see is passing, but the Bible says there are things, unseen by human eyes that are eternal, everlasting, that will never end. And, though we live in a temporal world, Christians are to focus on things eternal.

So, how can Christians focus their lives on eternal things? Paul tells us what is required in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:

It takes Persistence—to daily renew the eternal, inward, spiritual man. Paul wrote, “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day” (verse 16). The physical body is in process of decay, but the spirit within is renewed every day. This is why Christian men and women can be aged, ill, and weak physically, but strong warriors for Christ spiritually. Through Scripture, prayer, fellowship and service, they are being renewed daily.

It takes Perspective—to rightly evaluate affliction and hardship. Paul wrote, “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (verse 17). When God’s people endure suffering, pain, persecution or affliction, they need to focus, not on the pain or loss, but on the reward or gain that will result. If our perspective—the way we see things—is from God’s view, we will realize that affliction here equals glory there. We will see that afflictions here are temporary, while the results there are eternal. And with God’s perspective, we will see that the afflictions here that are light, will produce glory there that is heavy—“an eternal weight of glory.”

It takes Perception—to constantly focus your life on the eternal instead of the temporary. Paul wrote, “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (verse 18). To live a fruitful life for Christ, you need to see the unseen—you need to aim at the eternal. Paul’s word for “look” in this verse is not the normal Greek word, “bleppo,” but the word “skopeo,” the origin of our word for “scope.” When a deer hunter puts a scope on his rifle, it is so that he can see the target better, and improve his aim. Paul said we need to aim at the eternal, not the temporal. We need to look at life with perception of the eternal.

If we persistently renew our spiritual side, and put our afflictions into perspective, and improve our perception of the eternal, how will that change us? What can we do that is eternal?

One—We can seek to give glory to God in all we do. His glory is eternal—it will not fade. Paul told Timothy: “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (1Ti 1:17)

Two—We can spend time reading and studying God’s Word. “Forever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89). The Word of God is eternal.

Three—We can share the gospel with people. People are eternal beings who will each spend eternity in Heaven or Hell. John calls the message of Christ’s salvation, “the everlasting gospel” (Revelation 14:6). We need to see that people all around us need Jesus.

Four—We can serve the Lord with our gifts, to establish His kingdom. When we do that, the promise made by the apostle Peter will belong to you: “For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:11). His Kingdom will never end!

Our time is short—eternity is long—and our contribution is limited—so do your best to invest in things that last!

Ambassadors for Christ

 

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Most people know that Benjamin Franklin played a major role in the founding of our nation. He was a statesman, author, publisher, inventor and diplomat. He was one of the five men who drafted the Declaration of Independence. In 1776 Franklin became the first U. S. ambassador to France, where he was instrumental in negotiating the Treaty of Paris, which officially ended the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). It also resulted in universal recognition of the U. S. A. as an independent nation.

His energetic work made him a hero among his peers, and an example for others. When the American icon and author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, succeeded Franklin as Ambassador to France in 1785, he was asked, “Is it you who replace Dr. Franklin?” Jefferson replied, “No one can replace him, Sir; I am only his successor.”

Since then many people have successfully served as Ambassadors of the United States. It is noteworthy that the apostle Paul used this word: “Ambassador”—as a metaphor to challenge Christians—in their duty to serve Christ.

In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul stated that everyone who trusts in Christ as Savior “is a new creature” (verse 17). This new creature in Christ also has a new work—the “ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (verses 18-19).

Every Christian’s work is to seek to bring people to saving faith in Jesus Christ, thereby reconciling them to God. This ministry is to proclaim “the word of reconciliation” to the world. This “word” is the message of the gospel—that God saves people by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Because believers are new creatures, with a new ministry of proclaiming the message of the gospel that God will save if people will believe—Paul wrote that God considers His messengers, “ambassadors for Christ” (verse 20).

WHAT is an ambassador? He or she is an accredited diplomat sent by his or her home country as its official representative to a foreign country. Ambassadors have five primary responsibilities:

ONE—Ambassadors are sent by their sovereign or nation to represent their country in a foreign land. Though living abroad, they characterize their homeland, its leaders, its values and native people.

So, the Christian ambassador lives on this earth, wherever God has placed him or her, treating this world as a foreign land while representing Jesus and Heaven’s values. Peter urged believers, “as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles” (1 Peter 2:11-12).

TWO—Ambassadors, though living abroad, maintain citizenship in their homeland. They may vote and possess the rights of every other citizen. Though residing for a time in a different country they are responsible to its obey its laws.

Every Christian is first and foremost, a citizen of Heaven—“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). Heaven is our home country, and though we live, breathe and will die here—Heaven is our home.

THREE—Ambassadors are protected by the laws and power of their homeland sovereign. Though they live under the laws of their host country, they are also to act in accord with the laws of their homeland.

This is why the Bible commands Christ-followers to “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent my him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right” (1 Peter 2:13-14). Their leader offers protection, direction and guidance while they serve on their mission.

However, though they are under the laws of their host country, ambassadors are responsible to obey their home Sovereign, above all. So, when the earthly authority commanded the apostles to stop teaching in the name of Jesus, Peter said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

FOUR—Ambassadors are directly accountable to their sovereign for their attitude, behavior and message. They have the right to speak on behalf of their sovereign, but only his words, at his direction, are authoritative.

Followers of Christ, living in this world, while citizens of heaven, are accountable to their Sovereign and Homeland, for their behavior—“Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that…they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12). The Christian’s attitude and actions should reflect his spiritual homeland, not his physical residence. Our actions should mirror Heaven’s standards, not the world’s values. The Christian is to communicate the gospel—the message of heaven’s King. We are to speak His words.

FIVE—Ambassadors must instantly return to their homeland at the request of their sovereign. They should not become so infatuated with their host country that their allegiance to their homeland wanes. They must be ready to depart on a moment’s notice.

So it is with the Christian ambassador. At any time your Sovereign may call you home, or come for you. You must live ready to go. We must say with Paul, “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand” (2 Timothy 4:6). Jesus said, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me” (Revelation 22:12).

If you are a Christian—You ARE an ambassador for Christ!

What kind of ambassador are you?

Warning Signs

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The mindboggling images from the news media on Christmas Day, 2004, can never be forgotten. At 7:59 P.M., December 25, in Arkansas, as our family celebrated the birth of our Savior, a 9.1 magnitude earthquake struck the northern tip of Sumatra in Indonesia. This quake resulted in the deadliest tsunami in history. More than 230,000 people died as gigantic waves swept onto the coastlands of 14 countries around the Indian Ocean from Africa on the northwest, across India to the north, on to Thailand on the northeast.

Seismologists estimate the earthquake, that lasted 10 minutes, produced the energy of 23,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs. As a result of the quake, trillions of tons of rock moved, causing an upheaval on the ocean floor, displacing hundreds of miles of seawater. When the earthquake shifted the seabed vertically, the tsunami was formed, producing some waves over 90 feet high, which moved away from the quake epicenter at nearly 500 miles per hour.

In Indonesia, 168,000 people were killed when walls of water smashed inland on Sumatra and smaller islands in the Aceh province. It took two hours for the massive waves to reach Sri Lanka, India and Thailand. One would think that would be time enough to heed the warning, but 61,000 people were killed by the tsunami in those three countries. Though eight hours elapsed between the earthquake and the tsunami striking South Africa, two people were killed there.

Through all of this devastation, an amazing story of survival came to light a few months after the disaster. One small piece of inhabited land, 93 miles off the west coast of Sumatra, was hit by the tsunami within 30 minutes of the earthquake. However, Simeulue Island, inhabited by 75,000 people, only lost 6 residents. By the time the gigantic waves struck the island shoreline, nearly all the inhabitants had already fled to higher ground.

History revealed that thousands of Simeulue inhabitants had been killed there by a tsunami in 1907. For decades, the stories of that disaster had been passed from one generation to the next. The native people of Simeulue had heard stories by their grandparents, of giant waves that drowned thousands. So, on that day in 2004, when the ground shook and the sea retreated from the shore, the islanders remembered their grandparents’ warnings and sought safe places.

Warnings work only if heeded. On the highway, “Stop” and “Yield” signs may save your life. “When Flooded Turn Around Don’t Drown” is great advice. “Don’t Text and Drive” is a valid warning to our generation.

However, warnings do not work if ignored. If you snub the burn ban warnings, or the signs of a stroke, or the “Wrong Way” sign by the freeway onramp—you are headed for disaster.

The same is true with God’s warnings. Paul encouraged the Corinthians to heed cautions about evil behavior. Referring to some of the failures of their forefathers, he wrote: “Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved” (1 Corinthians 10:6).

We have warning signs about:

ONE—Idolatry. “Do not be idolaters, as some of them were” (verse 7). Israel fell into idolatry just a few days after agreeing with God—“You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath” (Exodus 20:3-4). Though we may not practice falling before a golden calf, we may idolize other things in the place of God.

TWO—Immorality. “Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did” (verse 8). Because of their sexual immorality, 3,000 were killed (Exodus 32:28), and 20,000 died in the plague (Exodus 32:35).  Immoral lifestyles always lead to sadness, sorrow, and judgment.

THREE—Testing God. “Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did” (verse 9). Many of the people of Israel were constantly questioning the goodness and plan of God, who led, provided and carried them through 40 years of wilderness wandering. Instead of simple obedience, they would put God to the test by demanding their own way.

FOUR—Grumbling. “Nor grumble, as some of them did” (verse 10). Many Israelites continually murmured and complained against God, never satisfied with what God provided, while always wanting things that were outside His will for them. They accused God of not caring for them, “The people spoke against God and Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?’” (Numbers 21:5).

Paul wrote that “these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction” (1 Corinthians 10:11). We also need to heed the warnings of God against this type of behavior, for our good and His glory.

Though many in Israel followed self-indulgence and its results, Paul shared this great promise—“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (verse 13). God will help you overcome temptation if you ask Him.

The story of Israel’s failure has been preserved so we can avoid the same disaster of disobedience. We can heed God’s warnings—and avoid catastrophe—if we choose to obey and walk with Him.

Labor Day—YAY!

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Monday is Labor Day, so naturally we try not to labor. Labor Day is celebrated annually on the first Monday of September, by millions of workers across the United States. It is meant to show appreciation for their contributions to the prosperity, strength and health of our nation. It is a way of saying thank you to those who help make our nation strong through their labor and productivity.

In the United States, Labor Day originated in the labor union movement during the latter 1800’s. Thirty states already celebrated it by the time it became a federal holiday in 1894. Violent clashes between workers and owners occurred as the labor movement grew. In Chicago, during 1886, there were massive protests against 18-hour workdays and unfair labor practices. Thousands of workers demonstrated and walked off their jobs. What followed was a crackdown that resulted in the deaths of 6 workers on May 6, and more than a dozen a few days later. The strengthening labor union movement forced municipalities and businesses across America to recognize that workers had rights and needed to be treated fairly.

Some of the benefits of the labor movement in America are the 8-hour workday; weekends off work; paid vacations; lunch breaks; better wages; and paid holidays. Here is what the United States Department of Labor adopted to pay tribute to American Workers on Labor Day:

The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known, and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pays tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.”

It may surprise you to know the Bible has much to say about labor, the benefit of work, and the value of industry and wholesome employment. Even God worked for six days and rested on the seventh. As He looked at the result of His work—all of creation—“God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Since we are created in His image, He designed us to experience similar fulfillment through hard work.

What does God expect of His people, in their work?

FIRST—God created humans with a desire to work and accomplish things. “God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed” (Genesis 2:8). Later Scripture reveals, “the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it” (verse 15). For the Christian, work offers an opportunity to serve God, earn a living, and with perseverance and patience, meet the needs of others with a Christ-like attitude. Working enables Christian people to support their church, help the truly needy, and enable missionaries to go around the world with the saving gospel of Christ.

SECOND—Work is to be done with a positive attitude, because you are actually working for the Lord on your job: “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Colossians 3:23).

THIRD—Christians are to work to provide for their own needs—Paul the missionary, supported himself and his team by manual labor to set the example for others. He said, “You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:34-35).

FOURTH—God commands Christians to work and provide for the needs of others. “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need” (Ephesians 4:28).

FIFTH—God blesses the lives of those who labor and honor Him—“Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward. Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 5:18-19).

SIXTH—Jesus is our perfect example of diligent work. He worked hard to honor His Father. His work was essential. Jesus said: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work” (John 4:34).

SEVENTH—Diligent work brings great reward—“Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, But the hand of the diligent makes rich” (Proverbs 10:4). “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before obscure men” (Proverbs 22:29).

I hope you enjoy your work—and your time off on Labor Day. Most of all, I pray your work will benefit you, bless others, and honor God!

The Persecuted Church

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During the height of the Cold War, it was largely illegal for anyone behind the Iron Curtain to own a Bible. A Dutchman named Andrew van der Bijl, or Brother Andrew, became burdened for people in communist nations who had no access to Scripture, so he decided to do something about it.

Andrew had come to trust Christ during rehabilitation from a war injury during World War II. With time on his hands, he began to read the Bible, and could not put it down. Eventually his reading of Scripture led him to trust the Savior, and later into the ministry.

After training in a Bible school, he began traveling from Holland to visit underground churches in communist countries. He was especially drawn to those nations where religious belief was actively persecuted and Bibles were illegal.

Brother Andrew was at an underground church in Czechoslovakia when he noticed that only the pastor and a couple of other people had Bibles. He thought it odd that those who had Bibles would hold them up very high with both hands. Then it struck him that they held the Bible up, so that others in pews behind and around them could read the Scriptures!

With godly commitment and determination, in 1957, Brother Andrew drove his Volkswagen Beetle, packed with Scripture and Christian literature, to Moscow. With God’s blessing, he distributed Scriptures in communist countries all over Europe for decades.

Once as he approached the border of Romania, his VW packed with illegal Bibles, he prayed: “Lord, in my luggage I have Scripture that I want to take to Your children across this border. When You were on earth, You made blind eyes see. Now, I pray, make seeing eyes blind. Do not let the guards see those things You do not want them to see.” So, armed with this prayer, he drove to the guard post. The guard asked, “Do you have anything to declare?” Brother Andrew said, “Just a few small things” (the tracts and Bibles were small). As the guard looked into a suitcase full of Bibles, tracts and clothes, he said, “We won’t bother with them” and waved him through. This happened time after time, in country after country, year after year.

Thankfully, the Iron Curtain came down, and believers across Eastern Europe began to enjoy true religious freedom. Now, in those same countries, it is legal to own Bibles and meet openly in church buildings with other believers.

Though the persecution of Christians under communism has lessened, other terrorist states and governments intolerant to Christ, Christians, Bibles and the gospel, have risen to take their place. We now have brothers and sisters in Christ all across the globe, who every day make the dangerous choice to believe in, trust and follow Jesus.

Open Doors (www.opendoorsusa.org) reports that during 2018 a total of 245 million Christians experienced high levels of persecution for their choice to follow Christ. That means 1 in 9 Christians worldwide are suffering greatly for the cause of Christ. During that year there was an amazing 14% rise in the persecution of Christians from the previous year. Over 4,000 Christians were killed for their faith, over 2,000 were arrested and imprisoned without trial, and 1,266 church buildings were attacked. That means—every day during 2018, 11 Christians were killed for their faith—and every month 105 churches were attacked, burned or vandalized.

What can we do for these, our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ? Hebrews 13:3 commands: “Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.” Don’t forget them! Pray for them as if you were in the same family, because—in Christ You are!

Here is what we can do:

ONE—Pray for God’s boldness for them that they may wisely share the gospel, despite threats. Paul asked the Ephesians to “Pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:19-20). Only the gospel can make a difference because “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

TWO—Pray they have access to Scripture. God’s Word can touch and change lives. The promises of Scripture can strengthen purpose, and direct action. “This is my comfort in my affliction, that Your word has revived me” (Psalm 119:50). “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).

THREE—Pray that God would surround them with a loving church family. This is especially important if they have sacrificed their literal family and been rejected by their friends because of their devotion to Christ.

FOUR—Pray for God to increase their faith and trust in Him. Pray their faith in Him holds strong. To the persecuted, Peter wrote, “if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:14-15).

To learn more about how you can help persecuted Christians worldwide, check out persecution.com – the Voice of the Martyrs. Meanwhile, the best thing to do is REMEMBER them and PRAY for them!

Darkest Just Before Dawn

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The phrase, “It is always darkest just before dawn” means that things always seem worse right before they improve. The phrase, written by Thomas Fuller, an English theologian and historian, first appeared in 1650.

So, is that true? Is it always darkest just before dawn? It may not be true literally. During the two weeks following the full moon, when it appears after sunset, and not before sunrise, it may seem to be darkest before the dawn, but it most often is not the darkest part of the night. And it may not be true figuratively either. Sometimes, in life, just when it seems it cannot get worse—it does.

However, it is true biblically. The Bible teaches that end time events will become tragically worse before the Lord’s second coming. In Bible prophecy, the darkest hour for humanity is just before the dawn of Christ’s return in dazzling light.

When you look around today, it can be very depressing. I won’t sour your day with disturbing facts of failures, like the lack of spiritual direction in our country, the ineptitude of our political leaders, our deep national division, chemical dependencies with all kinds of addictions, regular mass shootings, or evidence of declining morals across the land. Every day the news media documents the dark times we are in. Most begin their report with some story illustrating how far we have gone in the wrong direction as a nation.

But this is also a very exciting time to be alive, because the Bible teaches this is exactly the way it will be in the last days before Christ returns. Remember these words? “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come” (2 Timothy 3:1).

Paul follows this announcement with a list of 17 characteristics of people who will be living in the “last days.” He writes: “For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (verses 2-4). Every day events reveal the presence of these kind of people.

He goes on to write that people will also be “holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power” (verse 5). It is not uncommon that supposedly religious people live this way, but their religion is man-made and not God-empowered. In this day, even religious leaders may be hypocrites, appearing as saints, but living ungodly. Only God, through faith in Jesus Christ, has the power to make a person godly.

The “perilous times” Paul wrote about is another way of saying things will be very difficult in the last days. While Christians look forward to the rapture and the return of Christ in glory, they also realize that tough times must come first. According to Scripture, there will be terrible degeneration and degradation in this world. It must happen.

Think about Paul’s description of society in the “last days.” In these verses, each one typifies the age in which we live. People will be self-centered, money-hungry, abusive, loveless, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, treacherous, rash and conceited. They will love pleasure more than anything else and their “godliness” will only be in appearance—not in reality.

Now you may say, “How is that exciting?” Well, because we are seeing Scripture fulfilled before our very eyes. Biblically, it is darkest just before the dawn. Warren Wiersbe was referring to this when he said, “In the life of Christ, as in the life of the Christian, it is always—first the cross—then the crown.” It seems, in our day, we are seeing signs of the end, according to God’s clock.

Five centuries before Christ was born, the prophet Daniel wrote about the coming Kingdom of God that will take place in this world. These are encouraging words and we need to think about the tremendous promise the future holds for all who know Christ:

Daniel 2:44, “And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever.”

Daniel 7:27, “Then the sovereignty, the dominion, and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him.”

Because of this great biblical truth, we can take heart, rejoice and share the gospel with people, no matter what is happening around us. David Crowder used a quote from Thomas Moore to write and sing:

“Come out of sadness, From wherever you’ve been,

Come broken hearted, Let rescue begin

Come find your mercy, Oh sinner come kneel

Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal

So lay down your burdens, Lay down your pain

All who are broken, Lift up your face

Oh wanderer come home, You’re not too far

So lay down your hurt, lay down your heart, come as you are.

There’s hope for the hopeless, And all those who’ve strayed

Come sit at the table, Come taste of His grace

There’s rest for the weary, A Rest that endures

Earth has no sorrow, That heaven can’t cure.”