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Monday, May 19, 2014
"Facing Murderous Threats"
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"Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem" (Acts 9:1,2).
As our pastor stood up to begin our service yesterday the church folks grew quiet as he gave the announcements. Suddenly we heard a thunderous clattering from the back. I thought it sounded like the rat-a-tat-tat of a machine gun, others thought it was an earthquake, since the adult Sunday School class is studying the Book of Revelation and that very morning had discussed the great earthquake that is a part of endtime prophecy. Just about everyone turned around, fearing the worst.
In reality, an usher had opened a large accordion type folding door, unaware as he opened it how LOUD it would be. We all chuckled in relief and the service resumed in peace, something we typically take for granted here in America.
But our brethren in many parts of the world have had disruptions that are deadly. Consider the awful plight of Christian believers in northeastern Nigeria. The recent horrific kidnappings have rightly caused international outrage but for many years believers in that region have faced similar horrors from the Muslim terror group, Boko Haram.
Sometimes our well intentioned ideas have unintended consequences. About 30 years ago we had a Christmas program in our church in northern Pennsylvania and wanted to demonstrate that the Lord cares and wants to save all kinds of people. I was forewarned of a particular skit that three men were going to use to illustrate this point, but the rest of the congregation was not.
Not realizing how intense this skit would be I didn't think through the possible consequences of a frightened group of people. Lou, a visitor in our church service, stood up, grabbed a chair and prepared to bravely meet the intruders as they were making their way into the sanctuary. I managed to stop him before he hit anyone and we called off the skit! We also made our apologies (more than once)!
Yet the lesson had another unplanned teaching moment which we will always remember. It reminded us of how our Christian brethren around the world gather from Sunday to Sunday in places of danger. For many of them the difference is that it isn't a staged attack and it's not necessarily a surprise element of their gathering. They attend a service knowing that a very real attack could very well take place before their meeting is over. Many of them have family members or friends who have been imprisoned, attacked or killed for their faith.
At the present time millions of Christians worldwide are subject to intense persecution for their faith. They meet secretly in their homes while being oppressed by government forces, violent mobs and Islamic terrorists. Their towns and homes are attacked and burned. Christian children and women are sold into slavery and raped. Christians are brutally tortured and brainwashed in an effort to force them to recant their faith. They spend year after year in solitary prison cells and hard labor camps. They fear for their lives. And they die for their faith. Tens of thousands of Christians are martyred each year. Millions of Christians in every land face discrimination in their daily lives. Their education is restricted. They are forced to take the lowest jobs in their societies. They are frozen out of the political and judicial processes. They are ridiculed.
Today's verse describes Saul (who became Paul) immediately before his dramatic conversion to Christ. He who had persecuted of course later became persecuted when he lived for Christ.
"Breathing out murderous threats" describes his preconversion outlook. I wonder who may have been praying for him at this time yet never imagining how he would change and be a great apostle for Christ! Today let us pray for both those who face murderous threats and also for those who are uttering murderous threats!
Be encouraged today,
Stephen & Brooksyne Weber
Daily prayer: Father, as the vast majority of our readers joined together in worship on Sunday, we were undisturbed by the governing authorities. We thought nothing of opening the Scriptures or reciting them aloud as a congregation. We sang jubilantly without fear of being overheard by opposing forces who may be lurking in the shadows or those in our midst who are actually wolves disguised in sheep's clothing. But there are others spread throughout the world who face these kinds of dangers and oppressive conditions every Sunday, and for that matter everyday. We pray for the visitation of the Holy Spirit to strengthen the persecuted believers. May their resolve to be followers of The Way remain firm and unyielding in their stand for Christ. We pray for those who lash out, act as spies, and torment the redeemed. May they come to faith just as Saul did, and become devoted followers of Christ, in great part due to the character witness of the persecuted believers. Grant a deep sense of peace to family members whose loved ones are undergoing persecution. May they find You to be their all in all, providing for their spiritual, emotional, and material needs. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
Concerning the skit in our church in northern PA:
The plan was that the three "hoodlums" were three modern wise guys who would hear the message of salvation and accept Christ. But we never got to that part due to the fear that had resulted in the parishioners and the need to calm everyone down.
I would never do this again! I was in my twenties at the time and we had a young church. Several years ago in our area a youth pastor tried a similar stunt, (but far more graphic and with a specific intent to simulate a church attack and was in a great deal of legal trouble over the matter).
Today's lesson prompts a pastoral memory. Many years ago we had a mentally unstable man in our church. One evening I was in my office providing counseling to him when he snapped and reached over the desk and began to pummel me. He was much larger than I was and I was rather pinned and defenseless. I don't know how far he would have gone but thankfully Brooksyne was in the building and heard the commotion and came to my rescue. She belted out a holy rebuke which shattered his violent stupor. He stopped hitting and stormed out of the building. The only damage was my glasses that were thrown across the room.
Saturday evening we went to Gaither Vocal Band concert at the American Music Theater in Lancaster with our friends, Walter and Randi Waldvogel. Prior to the concert we shared a meal together. We became acquainted with the Waldvogels through Daily Encouragement. They moved down to Lancaster County several years ago from Long Island. As we were visiting together they mentioned they had lived in Cheltenham, PA many years ago. I recalled friends who lived there, a pastor and his wife who were a great blessing early in our ministry; Stephen and Florence Bogdan. Walter had a quizzical look on his face and thought the name Bogdan sounded familiar. Stephen passed away about 12 years ago but Florence is still living so I called her before the show. She immediately recalled Al Waldvogel who was a good friend to her husband, Stephen. I told Walter and turns out that Al is Walter's father! As my mom always said, "You never know if you don't ask!" (FYI, I'm not fasting; my meal hadn't yet arrived).
The latest rendition of the Gaither Vocal Band which they joke about as the latest "Rat Pack". The original Vocal Band (at the time called the New Gaither Vocal Band) was formed spontaneously, backstage at a Gaither Trio concert. It consisted of Bill Gaither and Gary McSpadden of the trio, along with two of the trio's backup singers, Steve Green and Lee Young. The quartet sang "Your First Day in Heaven" on stage that night. Their 1st album, the self-titled The New Gaither Vocal Band, debuted in 1981. Bill is 78 years old and I would imagine many of the singers in his group are half his age. It was an uplifting concert and as they concluded with the beautiful song, "Worthy is the Lamb That Was Slain" it seemed as though we had been transferred into heaven or that heaven was visiting us. All stood to their feet singing and praising God." Folks, someday that's going to take place for all the redeemed but until then it's greatly inspiring to have a taste of it here on earth.
A first for us: On the way to the concert we passed this British car with the driver on the right side. He even looked British (from what we've seen on TV anyway).
Today's Suggested Music and Supplemental Resources
"When I Cry" Video Gaither Vocal Band We devote this song to those who may be brokenhearted. Since we began our Christian journey we have appreciated the ministry of Bill and Gloria Gaither who have blessed the Church with many, many songs. They began as a trio and I recall hearing them in the early seventies at the old Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City (the same building where I had received Christ a year or two before) While in Bible College we heard them together as a dating couple at Central Assembly in Springfield. For many years now they have been the Gaither Vocal Band with a variety of singers. This song especially touches our hearts and we consider readers today that may have a broken heart.
"Worthy the Lamb" Video Gaither Vocal Band I, Brooksyne, was so uplifted at the concert especially as they concluded with the worship song, "Worthy is the Lamb". It seemed as though we had been transferred into heaven or that heaven was visiting us. All stood to their feet singing and praising God. Friends, someday that's going to take place for all the redeemed but until then it's greatly inspiring to have a taste of it here on earth. (The two new Vocal members are so new there isn't a recording of them singing, but we provide a video of the previous singers with the same arrangement.)
Due to today's topic we also want to share a variety of resources you can look into when remembering persecuted Christians. We really need to make this an ongoing matter of prayer and interest, personally, and as a church body.
Not All Local Churches Look Like Ours A thoughtful blog article by Ruth Wilkinson. I enjoy her cut and paste analogy!
Door Of Hope International We mentioned this ministry in our message today
Persecution.com is a website purposefully calling attention to this matter. It is the US website for Voice of the Martyrs.
Open Doors Another ministry with a focus on the persecuted
"Persecuted Christians Need Your Prayer" Video A touching presentation with song and images.
"The Martyr's Oath" A daily encouragement message on this topic.
"Praise You In The Storm" Video Casting Crowns
"Blessed Be Your Name" Video This song reminds us that God is worthy of being blessed in the good times and the hard times.
"Press On" Video by Selah I dedicate this song to all those suffering for their faith.
An interesting brief video presentation concerning Christian martyrs.
"Forty Brave Soldiers For Jesus" Tom Green (Audio) (Video) This is a powerful ballad concerning an event that happened in Armenia in 320AD and will touch you!
"Forty Brave Soldiers For Jesus" 320 AD in Armenia
The next morning as the guards were retrieving the stiff bodies and loading them onto a wagon to be taken away and burned, they discovered that the youngest of the martyrs was still breathing slightly. They set him aside, thinking that once he revived, he would surely recant. But it so happened that his mother was present. As she watched closely, her son made a small hand signal indicating his wishes. "Go, go, my son," she cried. "Proceed to the end of this happy journey with your companions, so you will not be missing from those who present themselves before God." Then with uncommon strength, she picked him up and put him into the wagon with his brothers.
After the bodies had been burned, local Christians retrieved the ashes and remains and distributed them to the fledgling groups of converts in the surrounding cities and towns. As dramatic reminders of the faithful witness offered by the forty martyrs of Sebaste, these relics encouraged and inspired the believers to preach the gospel more boldly than ever, and soon numerous churches were erected in honor of these men, firmly establishing Christianity in the whole region.
"By Their Blood: Christian Martyrs of the Twentieth Century" is a tremendous book I read about 20 years ago that chronicles the stories of modern day martyrs.
Stephen and Brooksyne Weber (Click on photo to enlarge)
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