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"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21).
I suppose we all have them although for the most part we don't usually share them with others. Sometimes they're just plain weird and we mercifully forget them as soon as we awaken. I am speaking of dreams.
In Scripture God occasionally spoke to people through dreams such as both the old and New Testament Joseph and Pilate's wife.
I had a dream the other night that was very realistic and vivid. I don't know whether God was speaking to me or not but it sure serves as a prompting for today's message! It's a dream I would sure rather forget and imagine could never happen. I dreamed that I was about to be beheaded!
But it has and is happening. Two notable New Testament Bible characters were beheaded in the Scriptural record; John (the Baptist) and James (from the inner circle disciples Peter, James and John). In Hebrews 13 beheadings may be alluded to as one of the means the faithful have lost their lives.
Through history there are records of beheadings but now it's in the news again as you all should know with ISIS and other Islamic groups. Most recently in the news were the horrific slayings in Kenya two weeks ago. This attack, like many, was specifically targeted to Christians. These fellow believers were killed in various ways, including beheadings.
In my dream the other night as I was about to be beheaded I had the opportunity to a share a Scripture verse with my beheader and all who were about to witness my beheading. Today's text came to mind (in my dream): "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."
Let us consider this short verse which many of us have memorized.
"For to me." This is the apostle Paul's personal perspective on life and death and it is so liberating! Do you have a personal perspective on life and death?
"To live is Christ." After his conversion on the Damascus road Saul (later Paul) began experiencing the great joy that comes from living for Christ. He declared "to live is Christ." It wasn't by any means an easy life but millions since have testified to the joy of serving the living Christ. As a great gospel song states, "life is worth the living just because He lives."
Yet Paul realized "to die is gain." The word translated "gain" has the sense of advantage. In fact a few verses later Paul says, "I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far" (Philippians 1:23). Several years later Paul is writing his final letter to Timothy and he was aware that "the time has come for my departure". What solid resignation I see in these words as he faced the martyr's death, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7).
Although not part of the Scripture record here's an account of Paul's final days on this earth: "Paul was tortured and then beheaded by the evil Emperor Nero at Rome in A.D. 67. Paul endured a lengthy imprisonment, which allowed him to write his many epistles to the churches he had formed throughout the Roman Empire. These letters, which taught many of the foundation doctrines of Christianity, form a large portion of the New Testament. Perhaps this is a reminder to us that our sufferings here are indeed minor compared to the intense persecution and cold cruelty faced by the apostles and disciples during their times for the sake of the Faith. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: But he that endureth to the end shall be saved."
Today, what a joy it is to follow Christ and to have a deep, abiding assurance of His love. And when the time comes for our departure however that may take place fix in us that deep knowledge that we will "gain" and be better off by far. That's what we live for!
Now you may never have a dream like mine or ever have to experience a violent death such as beheading for the sake of Christ. But if it was to happen and you were given an opportunity to testify I think it's a worthy spiritual exercise to ask, "How would I respond and what would I say?"
Now the twilight is fading, the day soon shall end
Lord, I get homesick, the farther I roam
But the Father has led me each step of the way
And now I'm going home
Going home, I'm going home
There is nothing to hold me here
I've caught a glimpse of that Heavenly land
Praise God, I'm going home
Be encouraged today,
Stephen & Brooksyne Weber
Daily prayer: Father, as I live out my time here on this earth, I'm so glad that I belong to You. You hold my right hand and guide me with Your counsel which is leading me to a glorious destiny, though the journey may be long, arduous, and at times downright frightening. Though my health may fail and my spirit grows weak, You, Father, remain the strength of my heart and my portion forever. You are my Refuge, my Fortress and my Deliverer. Help me to be courageous and reliant on You so that I will dutifully tell those who will listen of Your mighty works, most especially Your redeeming power and and saving grace through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
We pray for those who are presently experiencing persecution, many to the point of violent death. Grant them an assurance of Your steadfast love and grace and divine anesthetic.
Today's Suggested Music and Supplemental Resources
"The Faithful" Video Steve Green
Christians Are Persecuted, Martyred, and Killed Worldwide Video
What the Media Isn't Reporting on ISIS' Beheading of 21 Christian Men Article
"Going Home" Video Written by Bill Gaither, Singers unspecified This is my favorite YouTube version of the song referred to in today's message.
Here's an accounting someone compiled of how each of the apostles died:
1. Matthew suffered martyrdom in Ethiopia, killed by a sword wound.
2. Mark died in Alexandria , Egypt , after being dragged by horses through the streets until he was dead.
3. Luke was hanged in Greece as a result of his tremendous preaching to the lost.
4. John faced martyrdom when he was boiled in huge basin of boiling oil during a wave of persecution in Rome; however, he was miraculously delivered from death. John was then sentenced to the mines on the prison Island of Patmos. He wrote his prophetic Book of Revelation on Patmos. The apostle John was later freed and returned to serve as Bishop of Edessa in modern Turkey. He died as an old man, the only apostle to die peacefully.
5. Peter he was crucified upside down on an x-shaped cross. According to church tradition it was because he told his tormentors that he felt unworthy to die in the same way that Jesus Christ had died.
6. James the leader of the church in Jerusalem, was thrown over a hundred feet down from the southeast pinnacle of the Temple when he refused to deny his faith in Christ. When they discovered that he survived the fall, his enemies beat James to death with a fuller's club. This was the same pinnacle where Satan had taken Jesus during the Temptation.
7. James the Great son of Zebedee, was a fisherman by trade when Jesus called him to a lifetime of ministry. As a strong leader of the church, James was ultimately beheaded at Jerusalem. The Roman officer who guarded James watched amazed as James defended his faith at his trial. Later, the officer walked beside James to the place of execution. Overcome by conviction, he declared his new faith to the judge and knelt beside James to accept beheading as a Christian.
8. Bartholomew also known as Nathaniel, he was a missionary to Asia. He witnessed for our Lord in present day Turkey. Bartholomew was martyred for his preaching in Armenia where he was flayed to death by a whip.
9. Andrew was crucified on an x-shaped cross in Patras, Greece. After being whipped severely by seven soldiers they tied his body to the cross with cords to prolong his agony. His followers reported that, when he was led toward the cross, Andrew saluted it in these words: 'I have long desired and expected this happy hour. The cross has been consecrated by the body of Christ hanging on it.' He continued to preach to his tormentors for two days until he expired.
10. Thomas was stabbed with a spear in India during one of his missionary trips to establish the church in the Sub-continent.
11. Jude Was killed with arrows when he refused to deny his faith in Christ.
12. Matthias the apostle chosen to replace the traitor Judas Iscariot, was stoned and then beheaded.
13. Paul was tortured and then beheaded by the evil Emperor Nero at Rome in A.D. 67. Paul endured a lengthy imprisonment, which allowed him to write his many epistles to the churches he had formed throughout the Roman Empire. These letters, which taught many of the foundation doctrines of Christianity, form a large portion of the New Testament. Perhaps this is a reminder to us that our sufferings here are indeed minor compared to the intense persecution and cold cruelty faced by the apostles and disciples during their times for the sake of the Faith. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: But he that endureth to the end shall be saved.
Stephen and Brooksyne Weber
(Click on photo to enlarge)
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