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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Persecuted Church in Nigeria

Boko Haram was founded as a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist sect in Nigeria in 2002 with the goal of establishing an Islamic state there that would function under strict sharia law.  Initially, they had a religious center with a school for poor children that served as a recruiting tool for the organization. Over the years, the sect has become increasing militant and, by 2009, there were clear acts of violence against those who did not follow the tenets of Islam.  As the years passed, violence, acts of terror, and outright persecution have increased.  Boko Haram became a household name of terror with the abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls from Chibok earlier this year, but their reign of terror was in full swing well before the girls were taken.

One village in northern Nigeria was attacked by Boko Haram forces eleven times over a period of twenty-one months, beginning in January 2012.  Villagers were attacked and forced to flee their homes.  Christians were threatened and killed.  That same year, Boko Haram raided and attacked a village where a young man was pastor.  When he refused to recant his faith and accept Islam, he was shot in the face and left for dead while his wife and young son stood helplessly by, watching in horror.  That day, Boko Haram forces went to the homes of more than thirty of his church members. Every person was offered the chance to recant their faith and accept Islam or be killed.  Every one refused to deny Christ and every one was killed for their faith.  Every single one.  

Every single person refused to deny their faith and was killed.
Every single one.

As I read those words, I thought, "I wish I were a part of that church."  Imagine being a part of a church where everyone understood that nothing can separate them from the love of God, including the AK-47 of a terrorist, and that to die, as the apostle Paul said, is gain.  That is a church where God's Spirit can reign and rule!


Today, consider what your response would be to terrorists armed with AK-47's as they burst into your home. Would you stand firm for your faith or would you deny Christ for a chance to survive?  We may, or may not, encounter that situation, but our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world live with that possibility every day of their lives.  We cannot sit idly by and do nothing for our brothers and sisters in such grave peril.  We cannot fail to help while thousands die in Nigeria every year at the hands of Boko Haram.  We can give, we can go, but most of all we can pray, and pray we must!  Pray that those who are persecuted can hold to their faith, that those who grieve will be comforted, and that those who have lost so much will find that our Lord restores the years the locusts have stolen, but do not fail to pray that the God who changed a Saul into a Paul would do the same in the hearts and lives of the Boko Haram militants who have fought against Him so viciously and for so long.

Material about Boko Haram drawn from Wikipedia.  Information about the young pastor from multiple internet sources.  For more information about the persecuted church in Nigeria, see Voice of the Martyrs.  


The Journey, part 10: The Rejection

And as for those who do not receive you, as you go out from that city, shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them." (Luke 9:5 NASB)

As the twelve assembled for their instructions, they were likely filled with anticipation. Jesus was sending them out with power and authority. They were going to do the things Jesus had done, and everyone knew that what Jesus did was very exciting. Perhaps they felt as if they were on the brink of fame, of becoming first century "superstar" evangelists. People were going to receive them and provide for them, just like they did for Jesus. This journey business was going to be fun!

Everything sounded good until Jesus added a little postscript. "And about those who reject you..." He said. Reject us? What happened to those receiving us? "About those who do not receive you," Jesus went on to explain. It turned out that not everyone would embrace the twelve, nor the truth they hoped to share. Some people would actually reject them. Considering what happened to first century people labeled as heretics, they probably thought, "This might not go so well." 

The response Jesus recommended to rejection was a little surprising. They were not to stay and argue with the rejecters. They were to leave that town and shake the dust off their feet as they left in symbolic testimony against them. Jesus had given them power over demons but not every battle, not even every spiritual battle, was theirs to fight. Sometimes, they were to walk away. 

There is a tendency to feel a sense of relief that the twelve were not required to stay and suffer through the rejection and humiliation it could bring. It gives us hope for avoiding similar situations, doesn't it? If we aren't careful, though, our relief will cause us to overlook a tragic fact. The rejecters were costly to their town. When the twelve encountered those who rejected them, they were to leave. When they left, no one else in the town would hear them preach the truth of Jesus. No one else would experience the healing they had come to give. They might find His truth elsewhere, but it would not be from the messengers Jesus had sent. 

When you consider the implications, the price of their rejection of Jesus is heartbreaking! We see this and are appalled that a few could cost the rest such an important gift, but do we stop to consider what our own rejection of truth costs us? What it costs those around us?  When we embrace the truth of Christ, it changes us and makes us more like Him. When we reject His truth, even portions of it, it changes us, too. Forgiving your enemies is not optional for believers, but it is a principle that is often rejected. When we live a life of unforgiveness, it affects everyone around us. 

A careful Holy-Spirit-powered inspection  of our lives is in order. Let us carefully consider the ways in which we reject truth, the ways in which we fail to live as Christ would live. As we consider our own rejections, let us not lose sight of the price those rejections of truth will exact for the ones most dear to us. May we embrace the truth of our Lord and demonstrate it by the purity of our lives so that all those who know us will be drawn to Him. 

Let us live "the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth, so help me, God."

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Hay-Nibbler Effect

Of the three horses in the barn, Cali is definitely the slowest mover.  That is a great advantage for a Western Pleasure horse in the show ring, so it seems unwise to rush her, but some mornings, a little quicker pace would be nice.  The delay is caused by Cali's attention to the hay that has dropped on the floor of the barn on the way to the paddock.  She wants both the big bundle of hay outside the door and the little scattered hay along the floor.  (You may have read about Cali and her nibbling-ways a few weeks ago.)  

Recently, our lovely Quarter Horse mare has taken note of Cali's delay.  A few days ago, Belle headed out the barn door, just like always.  Half-way through, she looked back, realized Cali was busy with something, and backed up to get a better look.  On reentering the barn, Belle realized that Cali was eating the hay that had dropped off the flake in their rack.  As quietly as could be, Belle stepped alongside Cali and started eating.  

Usually, Belle is content with the "easy pickings" hay just outside the door.  I've never seen her pause to get every morsel.  She wouldn't have, even now, if she had not seen Cali doing it first.  She hasn't paused to nibble every day, but, more days than not, she is joining Cali in getting all she can.  

Cali set the example and Belle has followed right along.  It's a good thing the example was one worth following.  What about the example we set, though?  Is it one worth following? How many people are making a choice or taking an action based on what they have seen us do?  Let's be sure our example is one that can be followed with the confidence that our actions were right actions.  In fact, if we are looking at examples, we need to look at more than actions.  We need to look at our words and attitudes, too.  Are yours worth emulating?
Would life be better for those you love if they acted, spoke, and felt just like you?  Would they be more like Jesus?

Oh dear ones, what a different place this world would be if those of us who know Jesus actually acted as He would act, spoke as He would speak, felt as He felt.  We could make such a difference.  We could, if we would.  Will you be the example someone longs to follow?  




  

The Journey, part 9: Lodging

 FWhatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that city. (Luke 9:4 NASB)

If the twelve were to go forth with no money in their pockets and nothing with which to barter (and they were), then they would either sleep outdoors or depend upon the generosity of strangers for their lodging. In this verse, it becomes apparent that Jesus expected indoor sleeping facilities, and He expected those facilities to be in homes. The way I imagine it, the twelve, traveling two by two, would enter a town, go to the central gathering place, and start chatting  with the people there. Before long, someone might say, "I'd like to hear more about this Jesus. Where are you staying?" The disciples would admit they didn't yet have plans, and their new-found friend might say, "I've got room. You can stay at my house."  When that happened, and it would, they were to go. If it were a palace, they were to stay there. If it were a hovel, they were to stay there. The palace would be wonderfully inviting, and they were welcome to stay there, but only if it were the first place they stayed. They were not to shop the proffered hospitality to find the most comfortable resting place. Sometimes, a hovel just might be the divine appointment God had planned. 

Hovels are not our favorite dwelling, are they? Sometimes, we look at the meagerness of a home and fail to see the beauty of the God who abides within. That hovel may be nothing more than the refining fire of God in the life of His beloved or simply a matter of priority. Regardless, if they were placed in less-than-ideal housing, they were to remain until they moved to another town. There was to be no swapping around. 

You can well imagine what could happen. The two disciples would enter a town, preach the Good News, heal a few people, and become instant celebrities. Suddenly, everyone would want the honor of hosting them. The temptation to go to the biggest house, the nicest accomodations, would be very real. Jesus dealt with that temptation right away. Don't do it. Stay at the first place you go. No swapping around. 

One of the things this allowed was the development of relationships. Moving around might increase exposure to more people, but staying put would allow more intimate times and encourage greater growth in Christ for their host. When the disciples moved to the next town, their host would remain, equipped with the truth they had learned from their guests, able to continue what they had begun. 

The disciples were just passing through. Anywhere they stayed was temporary housing. The truth of the matter is that we are also "just passing through", heading toward our heavenly home. One day, we will live in our eternal home and it will be our ideal place. Until then, it is all simply temporary housing. Along the way, we, like the disciples, need to abide in the place where God places us, sharing the Good News of Jesus until He moves us along. 

For the disciples, the going, the staying, and the moving on were all part of the journey. There was specific obedience for every part, and specific blessings, too. The destination, however, was neither the first place they stayed, nor the last. The destination was the return to Jesus when they would share with Him the joy they had found in the journey He had planned. 

As we go through our day, remember that we are pilgrims heading toward an eternal destination. Be patient with every stop along the way, for our Lord has a plan for each part of the journey.  One day, we will understand it all, see the purpose in it all. For now, we are not called to understanding but to faithfulness. If we obey and trust His provision, what Joy we will find at the end of the road! 

Enjoy the journey!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Haiku


Morning stars the same
Forever unchangeable
Fashioned by Your Hand

The Journey, part 8: The Absence of Money

And He said to them, "Take nothing for your journey, neither a staff, nor a bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not even have two tunics apiece. (Luke 9:3 NASB)

It is one thing to travel without a bag, bread, or change of clothes. It is another thing all together to travel without money. Traveling without money means that you cannot purchase replacements for the things you have left behind, food along the way, or safe housing for the night. Going without a supply of money means that you are utterly, completely dependent upon God for your daily needs. 

The problem with no money is that God may not see our needs the same way we see them. What if God prefers that I drink water? That cup of Nespresso I enjoy in the morning may seem essential to me. What if your luxury vehicle is not a need in God's eyes? Except for His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus walked everywhere He went.  What if the variety and type of food you enjoy is a want instead of a need in God's eyes?  The Israelites ate manna in the wilderness for decades, and God was clearly satisfied with His provision. Sometimes He places us in a palace, but sometimes He does not. 

There is another problem with no money. We not only have to depend upon God for provision, we cannot depend upon ourselves. There is a vast difference between walking the path of abandon with a few hundred dollars tucked back "just in case" and walking the path of abandon with nothing but the favor of God. In the first instance, there is the possibility of "treating" ourselves or rescuing ourselves. In the latter, the only treats or rescues will come by the hand of God. 

As the disciples followed Jesus, they watched Him feed the multitudes with a meager supply of fish and bread. They knew He could feed them because they had seen Him do it. When they headed out on this new adventure, what they had seen before reassured them that He could provide. It was only because of the relationship with Him that knowing He could became knowing He would. 

There are millions of believers around the world who live in this penniless (or nearly penniless) state. It is not because they will not work or because they would not enjoy something "nicer".  Many live in difficult situations because they were born there and they do not have the power or ability to change their situation, because circumstances have changed due to persecution, or because they willingly sacrifice for the cause of Christ. Even in their suffering, they can find joy in the journey and a ready Helper along the way. 

What does this mean for those of us living in affluence? We would do well to take a look at our lives, recognize our indulgences, and offer them to Jesus. Willingly sacrificing those non-essential  things we enjoy, at least for a time, can be a kind of fast, and will help us to see the faithfulness of God. 

When we are blessed with abundance, we are expected to help those without. Look for opportunities to help those in need, and ask God to allow us to see the needs around us through His eyes.  

We may never be called to be penniless, even for a time, but we are all called to the journey of utter abandon to God, depending upon Him not only for our daily bread but also for every need along the way. When we walk this path of abandon, we, too, will find that knowing He can provide soon becomes knowing He will provide. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Top seven Countdown: #1 Tragedy in Tupelo

This was the most viewed post in our first year. It's a good reminder for us, even now. 

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Just a few days ago, a policeman was killed in a neighboring town while making a routine traffic stop. Today, Tupelo had a bank robbery and two police officers were shot point blank. One of those officers has died. This man who had sworn to protect his community gave his life doing that very thing, and a second officer is in critical condition.  It breaks my heart, for we have a policeman of our own in Blue Springs.


I spoke with him briefly last night. He was patrolling and I stopped to chat. We discussed a situation with a newcomer to our town. There is obviously a problem and a need. He was quick to say that he planned to try to clarify exactly what the need is today and see what we can do to meet it. We take care of each other in Blue Springs, and Officer Anderson helps us do it. As we discussed his schedule, he told me his plans for working over the holidays. He is sacrificing prime family time to patrol and assure the safety of our citizens and their homes. Criminals beware. Our policeman is on the job. What horrifies me is the thought that criminals might not care. They might come "heavily armed" into our town and have no regard for this good man. 


What I want to say is, "Don't you dare.  Don't you dare put our fine officer at risk."  Realistically, it's not a demand I can back up. I want to say, "Hurt him and you will have to contend with me," but I would be no good against a heavily armed thug. There is a feeling of helplessness that I don't like, yet I am not helpless. What comes to mind is "My help comes from The Lord."  We are not helpless and the battle against evil, at least for my part, must be fought on our knees. That's where I've been on this tragic December evening... praying for the safety of our police force of one, as well as for those in the northeast Mississippi area. 


It is time for the people of God to tackle this entire issue of evil running rampant in the streets. Take a stand and hit your knees. Fear not. God is still on the throne.