Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Jailed For Jesus

And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed.
Acts 16:25-26

Yesterday Pastor Michael Salman began his sixty day sentence for conducting a home Bible study in a building on his property. According to the Phoenix, Arizona prosecutors, this came down to zoning issues and permits.  He was not jailed for his preaching but for not keeping zoning laws.  So was the pastor out of line?  Was his insistence on having a Bible study at odds with God's injunction in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the land?  It is a bit of strange irony to understand that it was the apostle Paul who wrote this chapter in Romans.  Why?  He was the same fellow who wrote 2 Corinthians 11:23, "Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft."  Paul was imprisoned often for disobeying the law of the land.  It would be nearly four hundred years before Christ was allowed to be preached in the Roman Empire.  In Paul's day the law clearly stated that only the official Roman religions could be preached, and Caesar worship took center stage.  Now the question could be asked is there a contradiction in the Bible concerning obeying the laws of a nation and preaching the gospel?

It seems at times that serving God and sharing His truth are at odds with the laws of the land.  Ask Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (aka. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego).  The law of Babylon was very clear and explicit. "That at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up: And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace (Daniel 3:5-6)."   It is also clear that they willfully broke this law and that all knew it took place.  "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; these men, O king, have not regarded thee: they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up (Daniel 3:12)."   So what was God's opinion of all of this?  Ask Him!  He was there as He was the 4th man in the fire.

Simon Peter also understood that there are times when sharing the Gospel that delivers souls from eternal torment is more important than repressive laws that attempt to restrict its propagation.  This same Peter who just weeks prior had denied the LORD three times was now preaching about the risen Christ he had seen.  He had been warned by the priests and legal authorities to never mention that name nor share the message of the cross even while being beaten and whipped.  Did it stop him?  Not hardly.  In Acts 12 we find him imprisoned for sharing Christ when the legal authorities (Herod)  had him jailed.  So what did God think about this?  Ask Him!  He sent a mighty angel to release him.  I guess that was God's response.

We could ask so many from history what their opinion was.  There were hundreds, no thousands martyred for illegally preaching including all of the apostles except John.  There were those pesky preachers and servants of Christ who were burnt in the Lollard's Pit for passing out illegal English Bibles.  There are just so many to ask that I don't know where to go next.  Wait!  We could ask the Puritans and Pilgrims who helped to found this land.  Were they not escaping persecution from their governments for not worshiping in the prescribed and lawful way?  Maybe we should ask them?  Some of their descendants would form a near forgotten document called the Constitution of the United States of America that allowed the free exercise of religion because they did not want a repeat of what had happened to them in their nations of origin.

Maybe we should look for more current and contemporary witnesses?  Ask the unknown number of Chinese saints what they think as they conduct illegal services in their houses, barns, and local woods since Christianity is illegal in their Communist land.  How about the thousands who are forced to not mention the name of Christ in lands where Sharia law is in place?  Maybe w
e should ask those who have been raped, tortured, beaten, scarred, and burnt for illegally worshiping Christ in Muslim lands?  Just days ago 18 were  killed in Kenya.  Ask them!  Eighteen confirmed dead in church attacks in Kenya - Provo Christianity | Examiner.com Ask Youcef Nadarkhani for his thoughts as he awaits his execution in an Iranian jail for illegally preaching and failing to recant Christ. U.S. urges Iran to release Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani - UPI.com

Maybe we are asking the wrong person.  Let's ask Jesus.  Was he not crucified for preaching and setting up a kingdom contrary to the established Roman authorities?  That is what His accusers said.  They had him beaten, whipped, and nailed to a cross for preaching illegally.  Unlike the 18 in Kenya, you can ask Him now.  The grave could not hold Him.  His empty grave itself testifies to His answer.  Men's eternal souls are worth more to God than all of the repressive laws of man that try to stop the preaching of the cross that saves!  By the way, if you choose not to ask Jesus now, you won't have long to wait for His answer.  You will get it soon as He is Soon2Come!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Christ Alone

For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
1 Corinthians 2:2

What is the enemy's chief strategy in this age of great deception just prior to the coming of Christ?  Simply, it is to change the person of Jesus Christ and to minimize His atoning work at the cross. Why else is there such an outcry when the name of Jesus is evoked?  It is because there is simply no salvation outside of trusting Jesus; therefore, Satan works overtime to sidetrack humanity about Jesus or risk they will come to forgiveness and saving grace.  Just the other day a cult group left literature on my doorstep.  In this particular cacophony of twisted theology Jesus is just an angel raised up by God to show us a better way to live.  Take Jesus out of this teaching and the major tenants of the religion still stand.  Actually, that is how it is with all false religion since they are all based off men's philosophies as to how to get to God.  Take out the founders and the basic teachings can stand alone.  Not so with Jesus.  You can not take Him out of true Christianity and have it stand.  Jesus Christ is Christianity.   Read and heed Jesus' warning in John 8:24b, "for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins."  No Christ, no cross, no salvation.  The LORD didn't show us  a way to heaven--He is the way!

It is amazing, truly a work of grace, that God would share such powerful truth to a messed up fellowship of believers such as those attending the Corinthian Church.  The list of sins that Paul had to address in this church was so embarrassing as to make this preacher blush just sharing them.  Already, an early form of Gnosticism was beginning to infect this gathering, and its first target was Jesus, of course.  To this Paul shares the very centerpiece of faith--Christ and Him crucified! He reminded them that he had not come to them to draw a following after himself or take time to promote his own ministry.  Paul revealed that his only goal was to share Messiah's cross for therein is salvation.  The Corinthians, however, being a church focused on the event of meeting in church rather than being an outreach to a lost world, were too busy focusing on their superhero preachers.  Thank the LORD we are not like that today!  Or are we?  Is our entire ministry devoted to entertaining folks at church or elsewhere or are we preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified as the only available God given means to reach heaven?  As I heard asked recently, have we become a "come to" church offering a good time of worship or a "go ye" church sent to share grace, mercy, and salvation wrought in the person of Jesus Christ and His passion?

Since this church, like the folks rebuked in Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22), was so focused on self to the point of excluding their mission to the world, Paul would later remind them of their purpose in 2 Corinthians.  What was the focal point of their purpose? It was to share God's plan of redemption and to act as ambassadors to a world at war and rebellion against the God who created all and loves so deeply.  "To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation  (2 Corinthians 5:19)."  We definitely are too obsessed with the temporal.  So, in closing, let me remind you what you can take to heaven with you.  Your car?  No it will burn someday with fervent heat.  That house you prayed so much for?  It too will burn.  Your fancy furniture--burn.  Your bank account filled with all that cash?  It too will fade away as the currency of Heaven is faith.  The only thing you can take to Heaven are your family friends and loved ones.  When eternity arrives, as an old song used to say, the only man made thing that makes it to Heaven are the scars on Jesus.  Don't let the enemy redirect your focus in these last days on the temporary and fleeting.  Focus on Jesus as He is surely Soon2Come!

Signs of the Soon Return