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Trials, Tribulation, Persecution and Love

“We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer.”
-2 Thessalonians 1:3-5

We started studying 2 Thessalonians last night in our fellowship/bible study group, when one of our members started on how he was saddened by what he sees in the church today regarding the lack of love displayed among the believers. There was some discussion about the lack of persecution we suffer. The thought from the one discouraged is that the manifestation of love should just be something we strive for, and that is an obvious thing to me as well, yet still we find ourselves lacking. If we love Jesus we will obey his commandments, and He also prayed that we would love each other. So in our love for Jesus are we loving each other as we should? I haven’t felt much love from the brethren here, but what have I given out? Another thought was that our love is in not leaving each other over trivial matters, or divorcing as the word that was used. Would we, as a group that had been together for two years be strong enough to see each other through the next 10 years, or 20?

As I listened to the group I pondered my connection to these people. We started being with these people 2 years after we moved here. It was still a very difficult time for us, not only in the things we had left, but in seeing some of the ways Christians treat each other. It was a powerfully rough time. This group formed through some of this hardship and depression I was suffering. I was glad we decided to have it at our house, because it is a rare excuse I can come up with in not coming. Many a time there was that I would sit in silence most of the night, not wanting to share my thoughts of feelings. My belief in my lack of importance contrived itself to shut me up. It was noticed, but not pushed. Eventually I would give myself over to opening up, denying the feelings of not trusting people, and it was rewarding. The culmination was two Emergency room visits last year that allowed me to be myself, open up and start loving these people.

I shared that the way I feel about these people would keep them in my hearts for years to come, no matter where I end up. But it was only through the tribulation I went through that I felt this way. Even in the verses above it seems that their love, in some way, grew from the trials and persecutions suffered.

The other thing I shared is the idea that we aren’t really holding onto the idea that we are part of a way bigger thing than just living and dying. We have a grand hope and a kingdom to share. Our lives are truly supernatural and that makes us realize that what happens here and now is just so stinking temporary. Our goal is not in being happy here, but looking forward to the grand green pastures of being with our Lord and Creator forever!

One of the things I ask the children here, when I get the opportunity to hang out, is, “Does God want us to be happy and never have a hard time in this life?” All of these kids would say that God wants us to be happy and never suffer. Eventually, when we grow up, and if we remain in the faith, we are given the idea that suffering is for our good. That only the loving parent will discipline their children. We don’t get the idea that tribulation brings perseverance brings character bringing hope until we are “ready” for it. We may understand this concept, but the teaching or perhaps hope as a child that everything will be easy stays with us, and we don’t give ourselves to each other because dealing with other people is hard.

I also brought this up to some guests we have and she said that when going through a hymnal that was about 150 years old, she found in the topical index, “hymns for when a child has died”. Can you imagine that being in our hymnal today? How much is death such a common thing when we are doing hip replacements to 85 year-old people today? We hear in other cultures that when you are ready to die, you take your mat away from the village, lay on it and wait for death. We know that where love and hope and faith grows is where death can be just around the corner. We do not suffer in this country if we are not facing hardship and disease and death on a daily basis. We may believe we are, but in contrast, are we really?

Lately, to me, it seems that we are losing a lot of ground, culturally, to the amoralist society. I wonder about how much we fight these issues and wonder if we should. Especially when we should be looking at people changing on an individual basis and not an entire culture. The fight is right, but is it worth it? I ended up hoping to run into more sinners (of whom do not know Jesus), so that I can share the kingdom I am looking forward to. I pray that God gives me the words, but I have a life I lived in sin and now I am a child of God, and this is what I need to share. It’s not me who changes people, a culture, but God who changes lives. I still sin, why should I try and stop sin when some segments of my life is defined by it? Our world is turning upside-down and we are all here for a purpose, for this time, to this generation. May we grow in love and hope and faith through the trials now and the tribulations of the future.

~Stranger

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Sunday Scrutinization: Thankfulness for Today’s Sermon

I usually don’t write about Christian living, Christian doctrine or any type of Bible study or prophecy per se, although it does involve itself in some ways in my writings, usually as something I’ve gained through my experiences as a side or end note. Anyway, there are so many others who do it so much better than I. This blog is dedicated to introspection, relationships, humor and pop-culture as it relates to the Christian experience more than anything, but I’d know there would be side trails as well.

First off, I’m am so glad of the change we have made recently to go back to the church we had visited several months back. It is a bit hard for our girls but for the most part, I believe in the long run, we’ve made the right choice. Already it seems, that we have found a niche for ourselves there. We have felt needed and we have needed them. I listen to our pastor and I am grateful that he does not fit the type described in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires,because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” This man, as he said last week, “is through playing around!” This congregation is facing many wonderful works of God and He is moving to us and through us: Praise Him! This is not to say our former pastor was the type from 2 Timothy, it was just on a different level. It was never beyond me, but apparently it was beyond some, as that is the reason the congregation has shrunk, so I’ve been told. However, it is much different here. It is smaller for one: as a good friend who goes there told me, “he has driven away the traditionalists,” which seems to be prevalent in the Bible belt congregations. It has made the majority, at least all I have met, very dedicated to the Lord and what He would have planned for us not only on an individual basis, but for the congregation as well. They are very dedicated to community but not in the way we have seen. You know what I mean, “Bring them to church on Sunday, and we’ll get them saved for ya!” No, this is not the way it’s done where we are now. I’m very excited to see what is going to go on in future days.

Joe, our pastor, has been going through Romans, and today we looked at how we, as Christians, are to look at the world; more specifically, our enemies. The verses we looked at were chapter 12:14-21:

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

So first he gave us a list of opposites, and had us choose what side we believed we were on: uneducated/educated, moral/immoral, urban/rural, logical/emotional, internal/external, fit/unfit, pessimist/optimist, young/old, type a/type b, rich/poor, conservative/liberal. Then he had us think of three specific people or groups who were on the opposite side of us, who we have had some trouble with previously; who we might, perhaps, think of as our enemy.

He then spoke of how in the Old Testament it was “blessing for blessing, curse for curse, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.” Because that was God’s system of justice. But because justice was dealt with on the cross, once and for all, it’s now justice and mercy; equally balanced, perfect, because He is perfect. Now we are to bless those who persecute us and not curse. So different from what the world is all about. So, how do we know what that means. How do we know we are blessing those and not cursing. We find that out from these verses.

  1. Identify: We need to identify with those we see as enemies by rejoicing with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. What is our natural inclination when our enemies rejoice? We want what they have, we want to see them fail. And we rejoice when they do. This is an intentional choice we have to make. Knowing this is what God wants us to do, doesn’t make it easier, but on a day-by-day intentional choice, in prayer and being a living sacrifice to God, we can gain this attitude. Identifying with our enemy.
  2. Be Humble: We accomplish this by realizing we are all the same; that we are all human, all sinners all created and loved by the Lord. Keep your mind down, on the humble things, associate with the lowly, realizing that every good and perfect gift comes from above. Knowing that there is no one wiser than our God. Keep yourself of the mindset that He knows all sees all and has created every thing, through the power of His word. This keeps us of the mind we need to be. Humbled. We are not better or worse than anyone else, and we are all loved the same.
  3. Respond Instead of React: Again, this is an intentional, conscientious thing to keep at the forefront of our mind. We want to crush people when they hurt us, when they deal out… evil to us. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Remember that we need not look upon these “attacks” on us as necessarily personal, however much we want to, but keep in mind that the Lord wants us to grow and realizing that these temporary trials are for our own good and the evil we receive comes from the dark forces of the power of this age in this world at this time, and if we are humbled and in the word, we will be slower to react and quicker to listen to His small voice, giving us the time we need to keep the head God wants us to display: Christ. Remember the good things, and the good things are all from God. Amen!
  4. Bring Wholeness: “Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore, ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.'” It seems that this would follow naturally from the first three. We identify, we humble ourselves, we keep our head, then we keep peace. We know that whatever may befall us will be taken care of by Him who brought us to salvation. It has all been taken care of, and will be, and has been. Praise be to God! We have no reason to take it upon ourselves for He took it all, all to Him we owe. Blessed be the Rock of our salvation! This world needs no more conflict as you can mightily see. Bring peace, He calls us to, bring peace. Blessed are we who bring peace. Is not that motivation enough? Bring peace my brothers.

So, we have intentional decisions to make here. To follow all that we want, or to follow Him. Are you a fan, or are you a follower? It’s time to get out on the field. Do you want to go out on the attack? Well, great! Just do it in the right way. Do you walk away from a conflict inspired by evil? Aggressiveness forgets about the love of God, forgets the good. Passivity leads to enabling. We are called to take up our swords! We are called to be the light! There is a darkness overcoming this land. Overcome this with good. Overcome this with good. It may not be overcome in this world, in this whole, but in our hearts, in the place and position God have given us, good will overcome.

He ended up with reminding us that we need to absolutely, positively abhor evil. Do we do that? Can we really look at our lives and say we hate evil with all our being? Absolutely HATE it? For those of us with children we can love them more. The more we love our children, the more we hate evil. Is it not true? I see that. The times I have a tendency to give in to my sin, I am mentally far away from my wife, my children. The love is gone, the sadness comes, I give in to sin. Love. Show God’s love to those close to you and evil will be far from you. God is love, and He has overcome.

I praise You, I praise You, my Lord and my God.

~Stranger

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