Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Persecution On The Rise

In 2 Timothy 3:1, the Apostle Paul wrote, "But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come." Then in the following few verses he listed some of the many characteristics that would be displayed when this awful time in human history finally arrived. He revealed how many would become blasphemers, unholy, unloving, without self-control, brutal, and despisers of good.

It can be rightly said that life in a fallen world has always been accompanied by sin and evil – at times horrific evil. But this new century is seeing a rise in something exceptionally brutal. It is being seen worldwide through the mind-numbing actions of a specific religious group. They are now commonly referred to as "Militant Islam". And while the vast majority of those who adhere to this huge religion are not a part of this extreme and violent sect, those who are seem to be growing at an alarming rate, and their persecution of others is beyond frightening – especially for Christians of any brand.

This has been seen in two major stories from the last few months. One was the ordeal of Meriam Ibrahim. The wife, mom and physician was arrested in the Sudan and sentenced to receive 100 lashes and then later to be hanged to death. Her offense was simple. Despite being raised a Christian by her mom, her absentee father was a Muslim. This meant that her marriage to a Christian man was not allowed by Muslim law and she was thus committing adultery and blasphemy. Her captors keep her chained in prison with her young son even though she was pregnant. She would eventually give birth in chains before finally being released due to worldwide pressure. Her ordeal is over, and she is free and living in the United States. But the hatred that fueled it all still exists and gives an idea of the mindset of those that perpetrated the terrible act.

Then too, and on a larger scale, Christians in the Middle-East are being hunted, tortured and executed at a ferocious rate. This was brought to the forefront when a group of Christians were chased into a mountainous region in Iraq and persecuted in ways that defy the imagination. Some were beheaded, others crucified and families literally buried alive before the U.S. military intervened to stop the genocide. It is estimated that there are some 2 million refugees from that dangerous country who have done nothing but be and remain Christians. It is being fueled primarily by a terrorist group by the name of ISIS. Experts claim that this bunch is more radical, more powerful, better organized and financed than was al-Qaeda at its best. They make no apologies for their brutally and for their global goals – one of which is to put their flag upon America’s Capitol!

Hatred, violence and persecution is not new. But it is growing at an alarming rate in these "perilous last days". So what is at the core of the issue? Simply put, it is the cross of Jesus Christ and what that represents. In Galatians 5:11, Paul wrote about persecution and about the crucifixion being the foundational reason. “And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased.” In that day, it was his fellow Jews joining the attack because the message of the cross irritated them because it required something radical of them – something they detested and rejected. But the foundation for the hatred back then is the exact same as it is today when Islam is involved. The names, faces and times are different, but the crime and its root cause are the equivalent. The message of the cross is exclusive, and therefore it is offensive! (Acts 4:12, 1 John 5:12, John 14:6)

In 2 Timothy 3:11-13, the Apostle Paul again spoke of being mistreated for his faith. But here he shared how any that followed Christ outwardly should expect like-wise. Speaking of the constant attacks leveled against him for his faith he wrote, “And out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse.”

Then we also see Jesus’ own words on the subject in John 15:18-20. "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.”

Being persecuted may be painful, brutal and unjust. But it is also normal and can be a sign of a believer living fully and outwardly for his or her Lord. And those who never ever feel any resistance along these lines should take spiritual inventory as to whether or not they ever display their Savior in any public meaningful way.

The days are indeed "perilous" and more for some than for others, of course. Satan seems to be moving full-throttle against God and His redeemed people. He has found his army of choice and provided them with an ancient hatred that causes them to do anything to hinder and destroy the church of Christ in these "last days". Pray for those of the faith that are suffering beyond we can really grasp. And be thankful that you have been spared this unimaginable fate – for now. And ponder the possibility that we may stand before God someday and give an account of what we did on behalf of our blood-bought spiritual family members who stood firm in the face of an agony from which we were graciously spared.

As far as the wicked, who now inflict pain and misery on God’s people, do not repay evil with evil. (Romans 12:21) Instead, pray for their hearts to be changed through the One they now curse and seek to destroy. And, as hard as it might be when evil seems to triumph, remember the chilling words of Hebrews 10:30 & 31. "'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. ... It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."

Bill Breckenridge

Friday, August 1, 2014

Immigration Issues: Now and Forever

Illegal immigration has always been a difficult issue. Now it’s worse. The rising influx of illegal immigrants to the United States has burdened a system that is already overwhelmed financially, in manpower and in the courts.

Thousands of unaccompanied children from Central American countries are illegally crossing America’s southern border adding to an already existing illegal immigration problem. A number of the children have been placed in temporary housing with a parent or relative who will care for them until their cases are heard, but many remain in facilities without even an adequate number of beds.

There is endless debate about whether this is an immigration crisis or a humanitarian one, and the issue does not look like it will be resolved any time soon. Congress and the President have both vowed to take action, but the process is slowed by partisan bickering.

Whatever the outcome, the immigration crisis highlights some spiritual parallels.

Every one of us is on earth temporarily. This world is not our final home, and we are all travelers seeking an eternal residence with the hope of something better beyond this life. For those who have accepted Christ as Savior, that home is Heaven, which is reached when a believer dies or when Christ returns to take His church to be with Himself. For those who don’t know Christ, the border is closed and there is no entrance.

The proper documents allow immigrants to enter a country legally and afford them the opportunity to make a new life there. Illegal aliens live with the constant fear of deportation and rarely have the opportunity to make a better life. Likewise, having the proper “paperwork” is the only way to obtain eternal life. Only those whose names are found in the Lamb’s Book of Life gain entrance to Heaven and enjoy its benefits forever.

John described the scene that will take place when the official spiritual documents are examined. “And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life … there shall be no means enter [heaven] anything that defiles…but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” (Revelation 20:12; 21:27)

Many immigrants become U.S. citizens after coming to America. Citizenship offers advantages including the right to vote, financial aid, federal benefits, and permanent residency. In Christ, believers are citizens of the heavenly kingdom even before we arrive there. The Apostle Paul wrote of believers, “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” (Ephesians 2:19) Because of this citizenship, believers enjoy benefits in addition to eternal life that are not available to non-citizens including God’s presence (Hebrews 13:5), God’s care (Luke 12:22-31), answered prayer (John 16:23), and, most importantly, permanent citizen status (John 10:28, 29).

For most illegal immigrants, nothing short of amnesty will allow them to stay in the U.S. legally. In His death on the cross, Jesus Christ provided the “amnesty” that allows our permanent residence in Heaven. Forgiveness of the sin that separates us from God is available to any who accept it (Romans 10:13).

While the President, Congress and political pundits debate the pros and cons of immigration legislation, deportation and amnesty, there is no debate on residency status in Heaven. Scripture is quite clear. “And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire (hell, eternal punishment)” (Rev. 20:15).

A person who is truly born again can never be “deported” from God’s kingdom. Christ said, “…the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37). Accept Christ now so that your eternal home is secure.

Gayle Virkler

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