Saturday, February 24, 2018

Purification Leads to Service

Our daily Bible reading included Numbers 8 this morning. There we find this passage, followed by instructions about how to carry it out:

CSB Numbers 8:6-7a “Take the Levites from among the Israelites and ceremonially cleanse them. This is what you must do to them for their purification . . .”

This is one of many passages which teach us that purification from sins prepares us for service to God.

For the Levites, this purification included various types of animal sacrifices which symbolized how God cleanses us from our sin. Praise God, we now have the fulfilment of all those symbols. Jesus died as the sacrifice for our sins. This connection between the Old Testament sacrifices and the death of Christ is explicitly explained in the book of Hebrews (see, for example, Hebrews 10:1-10).

For the Levites, there was both a onetime purification ceremony and also ongoing sacrifices to cleanse them from their sins. Likewise, our sins are forgiven when we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, which is a onetime event. Yet, we continue to sin and that sin interferes with our relationship with God and others. So Jesus taught us to pray daily “Forgive us our sins” (Luke 11:4).

God purified the Levites, yet they also had responsibility to purify themselves:

NIV Numbers 8:21 The Levites purified themselves and washed their clothes.

Likewise, our sins are washed away by the blood of Christ, and yet we are also called to purify ourselves:

NIV 2 Corinthians 7:1 Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

In terms of receiving forgiveness for our sins, we simply believe God’s promises and trust in Jesus and what He has done. But we are called to work hard, with God’s Holy Spirit power and guidance, to get sin out of our lives.

As we are purified, like the Levites we will be prepared to serve God and serve His people. We can see this principle applied in the biblical qualifications for church leadership (1 Timothy 3:2-12 and Titus 1:6-9). These qualifications are almost entirely related to moral character and integrity. Also, it is those who are living by the Spirit who are prepared to help others when they stumble:

NIV Galatians 6:1 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.

In general, as we purify ourselves, we will be prepared for God to use us in many ways:

CSB 2 Timothy 2:21 So if anyone purifies himself from anything dishonorable, he will be a special instrument, set apart, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.

King David understood this principle. After his terrible sin, he knew he needed God’s forgiveness and cleansing. He understood that only after his own sins were cleansed would God use him to help others turn to Him:

CSB17 Psalm 51:1 For the choir director. A psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him after he had gone to Bathsheba. Be gracious to me, God, according to your faithful love; according to your abundant compassion, blot out my rebellion.
 2 Completely wash away my guilt and cleanse me from my sin.
 3 For I am conscious of my rebellion, and my sin is always before me.
 4 Against you-- you alone-- I have sinned and done this evil in your sight. So you are right when you pass sentence; you are blameless when you judge.
 5 Indeed, I was guilty when I was born; I was sinful when my mother conceived me.
 6 Surely you desire integrity in the inner self, and you teach me wisdom deep within.
 7 Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
 8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
 9 Turn your face away from my sins and blot out all my guilt.
 10 God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
 11 Do not banish me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
 12 Restore the joy of your salvation to me, and sustain me by giving me a willing spirit.
 13 Then I will teach the rebellious your ways, and sinners will return to you.

A Prayer:  Lord, please purify from all our sins. We thank You for the great sacrifice of Christ which makes our purification possible. Lord, help us to do our part in purifying ourselves. And as we are purified, please use us to minister Your love, truth, and power to many others so that sinners will return to you.

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Stephen’s Test of Faith, A Movie that Helps Us Relate to Persecution

"Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.”
- Jesus (Matt. 24:9 NIV)

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, - Paul (2 Tim. 3:12 NIV)

The Bible warns us that we will be persecuted for following Jesus. Because the types of persecution we usually face in countries like the US is usually relatively mild, we can have a hard time relating to this important truth. Yet, all throughout the last 2,000 years of history and all around the world today, Christians often face violent persecution.

For a long time I’ve felt that the short (26 minutes) movie Stephen’s Test of Faith does an excellent job helping us relate to the important Biblical truth about persecution. Although the movie is made so that children and youth can watch it and relate to it, in my opinion it is just as effective for adults. In the form of a dream that a young boy has, the movie reviews examples of persecution throughout history. The movie was made in 1998, and is now available free on YouTube. The YouTube version is not HD, and looks better on a small computer screen. The story is so well told that the lack of HD quality does not really distract from the message. Here it is:

One More Story

In addition to the true stories we see in Stephen’s dream in the movie, I would like to add one more  true story. This story took place while we were living in a Muslim majority nation. We had friendly, good relations with many of our Muslim neighbors during the fourteen years we lived there. But there were radical Islamic groups which brought persecution to Christians living in our city and province.

We always had nationals living in our house with us, which was a blessing for many reasons. One of these nationals had a good Christian friend whom I’ll call Mary. Mary was from a Christian family. Mary lived outside the city, so when she visited our home she would take public transportation into the city. The most popular form of public transportation was mini-vans which had been turned into mini-buses. There were thousands of these.

One day when Mary arrived at our home, she was visibly shaken. In fact, she appeared to be in shock. She immediately entered the room of her Christian Indonesian lady friend who was living in our home at that time. After a couple of hours she came out. She then told us what had happened on the way to our house.

Mary was on a mini-van bus heading into the city. Her bus stopped and a young man got on whom she did not know. Based on the books that he was carrying and the fact that he got on at a stop near a small Christian college, she guessed that he was a Christian.

As the mini-van bus entered the city they encountered a massive traffic jam.  The young Christian man said, “I can see that something is going to happen here.” Eventually they got to the source of the traffic jam. A group of radicals had set up a roadblock.

When the mini-bus reached the roadblock, radical Muslim students forced it to stop.  They requested the citizen ID cards (which include a person’s religion) from all the male passengers on the bus.  The young Christian man explained that he had lost  his ID card. The radical students then demanded that he recite the Islamic Creed, "There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his prophet."  The young Christian man calmly said, "I'm sorry, I can't do that, I'm not a Muslim, I'm a follower of Jesus."

The Muslim students then forced the young man off the bus.  They held him down and severely beat him.  They then placed his head under another vehicle behind the mini bus and told the driver to go forward.

The driver of the other vehicle was almost certainly Muslim, but he refused to drive forward. This made the radical students angry, and they beat the young Christian man again.  As Mary's mini-bus pulled away, the last thing she saw was the Muslim students throwing the body of the young Christian man into a large sewage canal.  She assumed he was dead.

The next day a local newspaper confirmed Mary’s story reporting the five Christians had been hospitalized as a result of being beaten at this roadblock. Setting up a roadblock and checking for Christians was not a one time thing in our city. It was called “sweeping” and occurred multiple times.

Although Mary was from a Christian family and identified herself as a Christian, it was not clear that she really had accepted the Lord yet when she witnessed this terrible event. Almost exactly a year to the day after this event, we were blessed to witness Mary’s baptism after she wholeheartedly committed her life to Christ.

Mary lived in a setting where Christians were often persecuted. She witnessed firsthand a traumatic case of violent persecution. But this didn’t prevent her from choosing to follow the Lord.

We knew other Christians who experienced persecution during our years living in a Muslim nation. I’ve shared two of their stories in blog posts here and here.

Two Applications

What should we do in light of the Bible’s teaching about persecution and these stories which verify that this teaching still applies in the world today?  Here are some ways we should respond:

1.  We should be encouraged to stand firm in the Lord when we are threatened with or experience persecution for following Him and living by His Word. Persecution takes many forms: slander, lost relationships, and lost income are not as severe as being beaten, imprisoned, or killed. Yet, we should not underestimate how painful and costly these less severe forms of persecution can be. When you face these, remember Jesus and stories of others who have stood firm, stories in the Bible and stories throughout history, and with God’s help stand firm.

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
(Eph. 6:13 NIV)

2. We should pray, work, and give for the continued spread of the gospel in spite of strong opposition.

We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition.
(1 Thess. 2:2 NIV)

3. We should remember those who are suffering severe persecution. Prayer is powerful. We can pray for the persecuted. We can also give financially to support gospel ministry and Christian work in areas where there is severe persecution. Finally, we should be prepared to go if God calls us and to support others who are sent by God.

Remember the prisoners, as though you were in prison with them, and the mistreated, as though you yourselves were suffering bodily.
(Hebrews 13:3 CSB)

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .