At Calvary – Ep 7 – Religious Persecution Across the Globe

The State Department most recently made Country of Particular Concern designations in November 2018, naming 10 countries: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. At the same time, the State Department named three countries—Comoros, Russia, and Uzbekistan—to its Special Watch List. Persecution is real. Are we aware? How do we pray?

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Walking in the Valley

Mountains and valleys. We seem, as spiritual beings, to desire the mountain top experience with God.  In Acts chapter 10, Peter has quite a mountain top experience with God. His vision of 3 sheets of animals shows him that all people can receive the gospel. This vision profoundly clarifies Peter’s understanding of the gospel message.  That’s quite a mountain top!  Then comes chapter 11.  He is questioned about his actions and has to defend them.  The displaced Christians of chapter 9 are moving to new places.  There is even a famine for which the new Christians have to prepare.  Talk about valleys!

Our lives are like that, aren’t they?  We crave the mountain top and dread the valley.  Yet, just like the new believers in the book of Acts, we learn much in those valleys. Isn’t that where the true test of faithfulness lies?  It lies in the valley.  It lies in whatever may follow the mountain top.  A few years ago I had a mountain top.  I went to an excellent conference on the pastor’s life of prayer.  I learned much about my own prayer life and the prayer life that God’s Word challenges me to have.  It was great!

Then, I came home.  I had daily responsibilities.  I had crunched schedules.  I faced sleepiness, sick kids, and sermon deadlines, and the like.  I must admit it – it was easier to pray when I was on the mountain.  My faithfulness was tested (and is still being tested) here in the valley.  It is being tested as I live in what comes next.

5 My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips. 6 When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches, 7 For You have been my help, And in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy. 8 My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.

Psalms 63:5-8

This Psalm helps us understand what the valleys can mean in our lives. These verses sound like a mountaintop. How does he describe his soul? He is “satisfied”. He is content. So, he offers praise. He remembers God, and he praises God with joy. He knows that God is his help. The Psalmist clings to God and knows that he is being upheld. Sounds good, right? However, this is a psalm of David. The Psalm’s prelude declares that it is, “a Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.” Not a mountaintop. A valley. He is in exile in the wilderness. He is without his kingdom, alone, and scared. Yet, his closeness with God is not threatened. David is still walking close to Him. David knows that God has not abandoned him. He is still saying yes to God.

How about you?  Are you saying yes to Jesus in the valley like you would on the mountain?  Think about the disciples in Acts again for a minute. The disciples made the most of their opportunities when they weren’t where they wanted to be.  They were kicked out of their homes.  They were exiles due to persecution.  Some of them had experienced imprisonment and even death just because they were living for Jesus. Yet, they used even the persecution to proclaim the glory of Jesus.  A gentile Pentecost ensued in Antioch. How? It happened all because a group of persecuted Jewish Christians saw how God could use their sorrow to His glory.  Are you and I ready to live for Jesus in the valley too?  Oh, how I want to see the opportunities all around me, especially when I am in the valley!

Something to think about,

Pastor John

First posted in February 2001

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At Calvary – Ep 6 – Meditation is NOT for wimps

Meditation is a word commonly associated with emptying our minds. Would it surprise you that the word in the Bible is connected instead with filling them? Think deeply with us about filling your mind with that which is eternally useful this week.

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Love First

Last Sunday we looked at what experiencing God’s love should do in us. This part of 1 John 4 stuck out at me:

10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

1 John 4:10

Think about that. This is love. It isn’t that we loved God and so He loved us. He loved us first! Of all the differences between human love and God’s love, this may be the foundational difference for us. As humans, we love those who love us… (example… how children love their parents) OR – We grow to love those who are also growing to love us. (example… how most friendships and healthy romantic relationships develop) It is rare for the total commitment that God-like love has to exist without being loved in return. (obvious exception… parent to new-born)

Yet, John asks us to love like this. He asks us to love first. He also asks that love to be of the same type: sacrificial. This is consistent in the New Testament. How Jesus loved is supposed to be the pattern of our love for one another. Think about what Paul tells the church in Rome their love should look like. He calls us to love without hypocrisy.  He calls us to commit to loving in a profound way.  Love is different from being nice.  Love is real.  Love is committed. Love rejoices with those who rejoice. Love weeps with those who weep. Love seeks good always. Love values people no matter what they can give us. Real love even blesses enemies!

9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12  rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13  contributing to the needs of the saints,  practicing hospitality.

Romans 12:9-13

Think about the profound power such love has.  Such love would walk with the hurting.  Such love would give those who long for connection a place to connect with real people.  Such love would woo an enemy until the enemy was won over. Such love would show the world that Jesus means it when He says that He loves. Such love would look like Jesus.

Does our love look like Jesus? Does it look like Him when we are hearing the pain of others? Does it look like Jesus when we see a brother or sister in need? Does it look like Jesus when an enemy is struggling? Does our love look like Jesus when the lost persecutes us?

It is hard sometimes to remember that the standard of our love is not what we see around us in our friendships and families. It is not even that nice neighbor who always seems to have a smile for others.  Even though those around us can be good examples, our real standard of love is Jesus.  His commitment, His fervency, and His steadfastness is our calling.  Let as, as Paul encouraged, “love without hypocrisy.” Let us love like Jesus. And as John encouraged us, let us love first.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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At Calvary – Ep 5 – A Treasure Beyond Measure

Over this past year, God has taught us much about the treasure that is Jesus. For this sacrifice, Jesus is worth our all.

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At Calvary – Ep 4 – How do we find hope anew as a people?

In October our U.S. Senate released a report on gun suicides in America. As background to the focus of the study (suicide by firearm) the study gave a synopsis of the rate of suicide and violent death in the U.S. This study tells a story of a nation that is losing its hope. How do we find hope again? Listener advisory: This episode is of a serious and adult nature. It may not be suitable for children or those who have had a recent loss due to suicide.

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Trust… The Foundation of Peace

At this time of year we hear a lot of talk about peace. We have sung Silent Night. We have thought of the baby in the manger and the stillness of Christmas morning. Yet, even in these scenes there is the reminder that all is not still. The animals would have made noise. The visit of the shepherds was certainly quite a ruckus! And overshadowing it all is the constant threat of violence. There is the threat of incidental violence as the holy family travels: first to Bethlehem and then to Egypt. Then there is the specific threat from Herod after the visit of the Wise Men. So if our vision of peace is based upon circumstances, that coming of our Lord Jesus was a mixed bag. Some peace (like when Jesus was sleeping) and some struggles (like when trying to travel with a new born over hundreds of miles.

Is this the type of peace Jesus offers?  Is it simply the absence of hurt or struggles?  No. He offers more. It is a peace of the soul that surpasses struggles.  It is also a life of peace that we must choose.

What is peace? Peace is a heart that lives in and trusts the promises of God. Jesus is the giver of promises. It is in trusting those promises that we find His peace. The key of peace is trust. It is a trust deeper than mental acceptance or understanding. It is a personal understanding of those promises that affects how we see the circumstances of our life.

Let me use a human illustration… Think about a person you trust. When they say they are going to pick you up at 7 and they are late what do you think? Remember, you trust them… Isn’t your first thought, “I wonder what is holding them up?” Your second thought is this wish, “I hope nothing bad has happened to them.” It is only if they are really late or if they don’t call that you begin to suspect that they have forgotten you. Why is that? It is because you trust them. So instead of attributing their lateness thoughtlessness or cruelty, you assume they have been held up. Consider the situation if it was someone you didn’t trust. If they are late your first thought might be, “Here they are letting me down again.” Or your second thought would be, “Why don’t they ever call when they can’t make it!” How we trust someone affects how we understand the bumps we have with them. How we trust someone changes whether we believe those bumps are just unfortunate circumstances or a pattern of thoughtlessness and carelessness.

The prophet Isaiah describes this relationship between trust and peace as he describes the kingdom of Christ. He says,

“The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You.”  

Isaiah 26:3

As we trust His promises, Jesus gives us a real peace that never needs to be returned nor ever expire. He said to the disciples,

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”

John 14:26-27

The world expects peace to be fleeting. The world expects peace to be something that ebbs and flows according to our circumstances. Why is that? It is because the world treats God like a friend it can’t trust. When circumstances are rough, the world assumes the worst of God. When the world doesn’t get what it wants, it assumes that God has let it down.

What about you and me? How do we approach trusting God? This isn’t just about believing God is right or even powerful. Trusting God isn’t just about walking in faith either. It is about how do we see our relationship with this God that in whom we have faith. This trust of God’s promises in Jesus is the foundation of peace. The issue of trust is at the heart of experiencing peace. It is the foundation of living in peace regardless of circumstances. So, identifying which way we trust God is very important. We all want peace. Do we see God as One in whom we can trust our present? It is here that we find peace. We find peace in trusting our promise making God.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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