Midweek Meditations

The Persecuted Church

Read: Acts 16: 16-40; Hebrews 13:1-3

Last week in my midweek meditation I wrote about the call and the need for comfort. This week I share an article by John Stonestreet from breakpoint.org that speaks of the many Christians around the world that are facing persecution and death for simply believing in the truth of Jesus Christ. Just like Paul and Silas experienced in Acts 16 and Jesus warned us about in the Gospels, following Jesus can sometimes be a life that others do not accept and at times will even persecute against. As John shares at the end of this blog we need to pray for them and do what we can to support those who are suffering for their faith in Christ. Here is what he writes……

“While the civilized world rightly expressed outrage over the slaughter of 12 cartoonists, the plight of 100 million persecuted Christians is largely ignored. While in 2014 the days of throwing Christians to wild beasts in the arena may be behind us, the persecution of Christians around the world isn’t. In fact, the number of our brothers and sisters subjected to imprisonment, torture, and death for their faith in just the last twelve months dwarfs the number who suffered during the entire tenure of Nero.

As a new report from a leading ministry to the persecuted church shows, last year was one of the most violent on record for believers worldwide—and 2015 could be worse. Open Doors International released its World Watch list earlier this month, ranking the top 50 most dangerous and difficult countries for Christians to live in. Here are the results: For the 13th year in a row, North Korea ranked as the worst persecutor of Christians. Amid executing relatives and presiding over the disappearances of his political rivals, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has reserved his special wrath for Christians.

Open Door estimates that 70,000 believers are currently imprisoned for their faith in this hermit kingdom. And considering North Koreans outside of jail live in a state of semi-starvation, I shudder to think what it’s like behind bars. Executions for crimes of owning Bibles or evangelizing are commonplace. News agencies reported last year that Kim Jong-un personally sentenced 33 church planters to death.

“Christians,” explains Open Doors president David Curry, “are the No. 1 enemy of the state in North Korea.” And that’s just one frontier in the battle between the Gospel and modern Neros. In west-central Africa, the Islamist group Boko Haram has just leveled several towns, with Christians as their new target of choice. Militants have ambushed worshipers in at least a half a dozen churches on Sunday Mornings, and human rights groups report a Christian body count of over 3,000 in Nigeria alone.

And then there’s the Middle East. From Iraq and Syria to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Christians are suffering for their faith on a scale not seen in living memory. Some of the world’s most ancient church communities have been wiped out or displaced by the rise of ISIS, and tens of thousands of Christians have fled the Islamic State’s onslaught—most likely never to return home.

“We have seen the sharpest jump in violent attacks against Christians in the modern era,” says Curry, estimating that upwards of 100 million Christians worldwide are suffering persecution as we speak. “[And] while the year 2014 will go down in history for having the highest level of global persecution of Christians in the modern era,” Open Doors elaborated, “current conditions suggest the worst is yet to come.”

Now I know it’s easy to shrug and say, “Well, what can I do about this?” But we’re not helpless—not by a long shot. Christians in America have options for extending help to our hard-pressed brethren by supporting organizations devoted to serving the persecuted church and pleading her cause—organizations like Open Doors, Voice of the Martyrs, and International Christian Concern. So please, get involved. We’ll link you to all of these ministries at BreakPoint.org.

And of course, we need to pray—all the harder as the situation worsens. And while you’re praying, remember this: The same Gospel that Nero thought he could extinguish went on to conquer his empire. His fires died—but the Holy Spirit’s fire did not. And as the Apostle John wrote, very likely in the context of Nero’s persecution, Christians who confessed their Lord despite the cost “triumphed…by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” So take action with me. And folks, don’t despair. If the gates of Hell and Rome can’t prevail against the Church, modern persecutors don’t stand a chance.”

Make it personal: First and foremost we must pray for those in North Korea, the Middle East, Nigeria, and other places where this persecution is taking place. Second, we must find ways to speak out and support those who are trying to help them in what is a very difficult situation. As Hebrews 13:3 says, “Continue to remember those in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves are suffering.”

Have a blessed week, Glen Rhodes, Arthur Mennonite Church



Comfort

Read: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

I recently read a funny but inspiring story that a young mother was sharing. It had been a terrible day in which nothing had gone right. The washing machine broke down, she had a terrible headache, a large bill showed up in the mail in which she knew they had no money to pay, she had received some very difficult news about a family member, and her cell phone kept ringing off of the wall.

Almost to the breaking point she lifted her one year old son into his highchair, leaned her head against the tray, and began to cry. Seeing her in this state of mind, without a word or sound made her son took the pacifier out of his mouth and stuck it in hers. It was the one and maybe only way he knew of to try and bring comfort to his mother.

Scripture is full of the ways in which God comforts us during difficult days, hard circumstances, or excruciating times of trial in our lives. We turn to God because we know that he is always there and will always be there for us in those times of greatest need. The Psalms are full of these type of requests for comfort and fulfillment of comfort that comes from above.

But as God’s people who are called to follow his Son Jesus Christ we also have a responsibility to comfort those around us. In 1 Thessalonians 5 Paul is talking about the Day of the Lord when Jesus will come to take the believers home to heaven to be with him. He says that we are children of the day and children of light, not children of darkness. Because of that we have hope and we should not despair when the world seems to be turning on us or against us.

In the last verse then he says, “Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up.” As Christians that is a specific call upon our lives. We are to be observant to whom needs a word or act of comfort extended to them. Who needs a visit, a card, a call, a text, or an email of encouragement? We are to extend the love of God to them and the promise that he will never leave us or forsake us when we call on him.

When we think of Jesus we think of how he comforted so many people who were outcasts or who were going through very difficult things in their life. Sometimes he said very little to them but his actions conveyed his love and his concern to them. Sounds similar to a story I read recently about a one year old boy. May the love of God and the comfort of Jesus Christ flow through us to the people he has placed around us.

Make it personal: Pray about who might need these words of comfort this week. Sometimes they are obvious because of the loss of a loved one or other difficult circumstances that people are facing. But sometimes we also need to be aware of those people who may need comfort in less obvious situations. Who might that be this week?

Blessings and Comfort in your week, Glen Rhodes, Arthur Mennonite Church



Unbroken & Changed

Read: 2 Corinthians 5:11-21

Over the Christmas holiday our family went to see the powerful movie “Unbroken.”  This week I read an article by Ron and Linda Nelson that not only talked about the movie and book but shared more of the story about how Louis Zamperini became truly changed by Christ after a visit with his wife to a Billy Graham crusade.  This story relates well to the 2 Corinthians 5 passage that speaks about the ministry of reconciliation.  Here is what was shared.

“The movie was based on a book about Louis Zamperini, an Olympic athlete as well as a World War II hero. The movie shows Zamperini’s strong will to live and his courage and valor. It is a story of miraculous survival.  Paul Harvey had a program on the radio for many years prior to his death entitled “The Rest of the Story.” The movie unfortunately only shows the first part of Zamperini’s life. The rest of his story is also miraculous. In fact he would consistently state that the biggest and greatest miracles took place after his return from World War II.

Franklin Graham recently wrote about the rest of Zamperini’s life as follows: He had been brutally tortured in Japanese prison camps and, when he was finally freed, came home filled with bitterness toward life and rage toward his captors. He experienced constant nightmares, became a heavy drinker, had a violent temper, and nearly destroyed everything that mattered to him, including his marriage. His wife, who feared for her own safety and that of their little daughter, began preparing divorce papers.

Then a neighbor invited the couple to come to nearby Los Angeles to hear a young, little-known evangelist named Billy Graham. It was 1949, and my father was preaching in a huge tent downtown at the corner of Washington and Hill streets. Louis wanted nothing to do with any evangelist, but his wife went anyway and her heart was changed by the power of the Gospel. She tore up the divorce papers and persuaded her husband to go with her a few days later. He did-then walked out during the meeting. She begged him to return another day. That time, while my father preached, Zamperini knew the Holy Spirit was working within him, and he resisted.

The moment the invitation began, he grabbed his wife’s hand and headed toward the exit. But in the aisle, overwhelmed by the realization of how broken his life had become, he turned around and gave his life to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith. He left the tent with God’s complete forgiveness.  From that day forward, everything changed. He started reading the Bible. His nightmares disappeared, he gave up drinking, his hatred and violent anger melted away, and he began to live for Christ.

To his own amazement, he soon found himself desiring reconciliation with his Japanese tormentors. He traveled to Japan, visited prisons that held war criminals, shared the Good News of Jesus Christ with many, and expressed forgiveness personally to any of his wartime captors that he could find. These extraordinary acts of reconciliation were widely reported in the media across Japan and the United States, and God used the stories to touch many hearts and bring the power of forgiveness and reconciliation into many more lives. Right up to his death this past July at age 97, Zamperini never tired of telling people about the Savior.”

I found this story to be truly amazing and a wonderful example of the transformation that Christ can bring to peoples lives.  I wish the movie would have shared more about this part of his life.  Here is a picture of Louie with a young Billy Graham and I am also including an 8 minute video with an interview that CBS news did with Louie.  He recently passed away at the age of 97.

Here is a link to the video interview with Louie
 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyhFPqRZE9c

 

 
 

Make it personal:  If you have not seen this movie or read this book I would encourage you to do so.  It is an inspiration of courage, strength, will, and in the end of the book at least, the ability of Christ to transform a life that is committed to him.  The unbelievable trials of Louie can definitely give us inspiration to face our own in this year ahead.

Have a great week, Glen Rhodes, Arthur Mennonite Church



Forward Vision

Read: Proverbs 29

In 1980 Ted Turner had a vision for something that seemed unbelievable at the time. A television channel that would broadcast news 24 hours a day. In that time this was unheard of because most channels would still sign off every night and sign back on the next morning. But the vision went forward and David Walker and Lois Hart anchored the first newscast on June 1, 1980.

Other concepts like this are often started with disapproval and skepticism. I remember when Fox Sports started to leave the score and time on the screen during the various sports they were broadcasting. Some people just could not stand that obtrusive box distorting their vision, I think I was one of them. Now most sports fans have a fit if the game is shown without that box.

As we begin a New Year these type of examples give us reason to think big in the New Year that is ahead of us. What can I do different this year that will make me a better follower of Christ? What can I try that has maybe not been tried before? Who can I help that has maybe been overlooked in the past? How can I and we make a difference for the Kingdom of God?

In Proverbs 29:18 it says, “Where there is no vision [no redemptive revelation of God], the people perish; but he who keeps the law [of God, which includes that of man]–blessed (happy, fortunate, and enviable) is he.” As Christians a part of our vision is to look and see what God is doing and how Jesus is calling us to participate. Sometimes it may require us to take a risk, but great things often do not happen without at least some risk involved.

I like the way the Message Bible paraphrases that verse, it says, “If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble over themselves, but when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed.” Let us be attentive to what the Lord reveals to us and lays on our hearts this year. Let us look for what God is doing so that we can avoid stumbling over ourselves.

Make it personal: Along with your secular New Years resolution this year make a spiritual New Years resolution as well. Losing weight and things like that are often popular this time of the year, but growing in our spiritual walk with God can be the most beneficial. As it says above. When we attend to those things we are most blessed.

Happy New Year, Glen Rhodes, Arthur Mennonite Church



The Christmas Story

 

Read: Luke 1-2

I don’t know if it is a tradition in your home to read the Christmas Story each year before dinner or before opening presents but if not I hope you will take the time to do that.  Read the first two chapters if you are reading on your own or read Luke 2:1-20 if you are reading it as a family or group.  If you do this each year you might want to choose a different version or a paraphrase to bring a new perspective to this wonderful well known account of Jesus’ birth.

For this weeks meditation I would like to share a 10 minute video that is well worth your time.  It is by well known Pastor Andy Stanley and is entitled “The Story of Christmas.”  He does an excellent job of setting the stage on which Christ came into this world over 2,000 years ago. It is both educational and inspirational.  Here is the link.
 
 

 

 

Make it personal:

 Take some of what Andy Stanley shared and look into it further.  There is much to the Christmas Story that can be learned from studying scripture, searching online resources (as long as they are credible), and other books and commentaries.  Another good book is by Lee Strobel entitled “The Case for Christ.”  May the Lord bless you, encourage you, and inspire you with the truth of Christ’s birth into this world.

Merry Christmas,  Glen Rhodes, Arthur Mennonite Church



What’s in a Name?

Read:  Luke 1:26-33
Merry Christmas Christ is Born

I have not done a lot of Christmas shopping yet but the few times I have been in the stores I have noticed their reluctance to wish me a Merry Christmas.  The standard greeting is “Have a happy holiday!”  Now, I realize this is no new issue or conversation, our culture has been headed down this road for some time now, but as Christians and followers of Jesus we need to celebrate and make known why this season is truly Christmas and not just another holiday.

This is how Wikipedia defines the word or name Christmas….  “Christmas or Christmas Day (also known as Christ’s Mass) is an annual festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, observed generally on December 25th as a religious and cultural celebration among billions of people around the world.  A feast central to the Christian liturgical year, it closes the Advent season and initiates the twelve days of Christmastide, which ends after the twelfth night.  Christmas is a public holiday in many of the worlds nations and is celebrated culturally by a large number of non-Christian people, and is an integral part of the Christmas and holiday season.”

Some people assume that the name Christmas has been around since that night in Bethlehem when Jesus was born.  However, most people realize it was a name given to the day at a later date.  Most historians believe that date to be around 1038 A.D.. Sometimes the history of words and names can be interesting.  Did you know that the word or term “teenager” was first used in Popular Science magazine article in 1941?  That word or term is so common now that we just assume that it has always been.

In Luke 1 Mary is given instructions by the angel to name her son “Jesus.”  That name is very important because it means “Savior.”  Right after the angel tells Mary that he says, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”  Names do matter!  Words do matter!

As we approach another Christmas Day I would like to encourage us all to take this name “Christmas” to heart.  If you are a Christian this is the day that your Savior was born, that is more than reason to celebrate.  If you are not a Christian my prayer is that this day will encourage you to receive Jesus as your Savior and celebrate what making Him the Lord of your life can truly do for your life.

Notice in the description above that it says Billions of people will celebrate this day.  That is both humbling and incredible at the same time.  Christmas is truly a reason for the world to celebrate!  It is only a “holiday” because many people get off of work, it is truly Christmas because Jesus, God’s Son, came to the world and offered salvation, forgiveness, grace, and eternal life in heaven to all who will believe.

Make it personal:  When you hear the greeting “Have a happy holiday” this week or next I would like to encourage you to respond by wishing them a Merry Christmas in return.  Be friendly, happy, and keep the greeting simple.  It is bound to make an impact.  Also remember that many of those who work retail are required to say that, it may not be their desired greeting.  In fact, some may respond back to you and say, “And Merry Christmas to you also.”

Have a great week,  Glen Rhodes, Arthur Mennonite Church




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