Sunday, October 31, 2010

All Saints Day

Back in the 600's, the Church began to remember and celebrate the lives of Christian martyrs from the first 300 years of the Church.  Reading Foxe's book of Martyrs is a vivid reminder of the price that was paid for us to hear the Gospel.  The blood of these men and women have been the ink on which the story of the Gospel has been written. 

November 1st has been set aside by the Church as a day to recall the price which has been paid for us to hear the Gospel.  We should reflect on the sacrifices that have been made over the years.  Dedicated Christians like Cyril, bishop of Gortyna(On the island of Crete) give testimony to us.  In the late 200's, Cyril was seized by the order of Lucius, the governor.  He as advised to perform sacrifices to other gods to save his life.  He could not agree to any such requirement, especially since he had long taught others to save their souls and not throw away their own salvation.  He was sentenced to be burned alive since he would not offer sacrifices to the gods.  He heard his sentence without fear, walked to his place of execution and bore his sufferings with great courage.

Today, Christians in other lands face a death sentence because of their faith.  The Baptist Press released a story on Friday on Youcel Nadakhani, a pastor in Northern Iran, who is facing the death penalty for speaking out about his faith.  He questioned whether his children should be forced to be taught Islamic doctrines at school since he is a Christian.  He was arrested in October of 2009 and once his charges are written in a statement, he will have only a few months to recant of be killed.

I have only known one man who was an outlaw because of his faith.  I met him in 1987 when I was playing basketball with Athletes In Action in the Philippines.  His name was "Art" and he was barely twenty-one years old.  We met him in Manila where he was now living.  He had lived in one of the provinces, but it had become unsafe for him.  The communists in that area had threatened him with death because many of their number were turning to the Christian faith.  If he dared show himself in that province, he would be assassinated. 

It is not over 20 years later and I often wonder what happened to Art.  My most vivid reminder of Art is a conversation that we had late one night when everyone else had gone to sleep.  He had such peace about his situation and passion for Jesus.  I asked him if he were afraid to die and he told me, "Ted, I already died on the day I gave my life to Jesus.  I trust Him for my protection.  If my death will win others to Christ, I am ready to die."  It reminded me of the Apostles in Acts 5:41.  After they had been flogged, the Bible says, "The apostles left the San Hedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy to suffer disgrace for the Name." 

I wonder how I will handle such persecution.  How about you?

Would you take this day to research on-line, read and reflect on the martyrs of the Christian faith?  Would you thank God for their faithfulness, dedication and testimony?  Would you ask God to encourage you so that you could face such persecution.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Running the steps

This morning after I had been in the office a little while, I went upstairs to the sanctuary.  I always enjoy spending time in the sanctuary praying, which is my usual routine for a Monday morning.  When I went out the back doors, I saw a middle-aged woman jogging the stairs which lead down to the street.  We were both a little surprised to see each other but I smiled and asked if she were running the steps.  Through her panting, she said she was and I wished her good luck in her exercise.  It was a brief exchange, but one which set the tone for my day.

Those of you who come to Hillcrest know how steep the front steps are.  Running up and down those steps a couple of times would definitely tire the average person out.  Yet this woman was committed to her exercise.  She was sweating and huffing and puffing, but kept going up and down the stairs.  She ran the stairs for at least ten minutes because I could hear her from my office.  What makes a person put themselves through such physical stress?  Is she wanting to lose weight?  Is she trying to get in shape for a race?  Is she training to play the female version of "Rocky"?  Is she just a glutton for punishment?  Whatever the case may be, she was dedicated to getting up and down those stairs.

As I pondered the pounding of the steps, I began to think about how often I get sidetracked in the things God has put before me.  I always enjoy the beginning of that work, but when it isn't as enjoyable or no one encourages me, it becomes easy to quit.  I think about Paul's words to the church at Philippi when he said, "Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do; forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."  So even Paul was tempted to give up or quick when life got a little too difficult.  Yet he continued to strain and go forward, not spending his time on the past.

So my desire today is to run the fix my eyes on the prize ahead of me.  Let me encourage you to keep moving forward.  Oh, you may barely be moving forward not able to sprint, but keep moving forward.  Remain faithful to God's calling in your life.  You will eventually get to the top of the stairs and see the fruit of your diligence.  By the way, running is easier when you have a partner.  How about calling a brother or sister today and praying with them about your race!