Monday, January 19, 2015

For what have you NOT been thankful?

When encountering a verse such as Ephesians 5:20 ("Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ"), I'm tempted to slide right past it. Sure, I'm grateful. I am glad I have a wife and family. I am glad I have a good church family to enjoy. When someone gives me a gift, I make sure to say, "Thank you."

But from time to time I encounter situations that that make me realize I should be thankful for things I often take for granted. For instance, once while visiting residents in a nursing home I saw a man sitting in a chair in the hallway. Assuming he was a visitor like myself, I greeted him, but he continued staring at the wall. When I asked the nurse about him, I learned that this man had had the mind of a baby all his life. He was a nice-looking guy, and about my own age. Yet he would never think an adult thought. For the first time, I thanked God for a brain that can function.

Similarly, on my trips overseas I sometimes see beggars who are missing two and sometimes three limbs. Some people in the U.S. will hold signs on street corners asking for handouts, and it's hard to guess whether they really need aid or are pulling a scam. But when the person asking for help is missing body parts, there is no doubt of the difficulties they face. Do I have two working arms? Two legs? Eyes? Ears that hear? A job? Even these shouldn't be taken for granted, for not everyone has them.

I invite you to pause and reflect. Are there things that you enjoy every day, yet have never truly given thanks for them? Chances are, if you think a few moments, you'll find some!


Monday, December 29, 2014

Agents of Darkness

Although many agents of faith have been--and still are--active in this world, the Bible reminds God's people that agents of darkness are also active. And not simply a few of them. As long ago as the first century A.D., the Apostle John wrote that "many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist" (2 John 7). 

John certainly wasn't trying to be discouraging. Rather, he was facing reality, and he encouraged the recipients of his letter to take heed, to realize that many spiritual opponents were active, and to not be discouraged by them. In fact, in the next verse he encourages them to consider themselves and to stand firm, rather than losing heart of the large numbers of those who delight in speaking against Christ.

If you're a follower of Christ, chances are that you, too, at some point have grown weary of the opposition. Perhaps you've been tempted to just "go with the flow." If so, then John's advice is for you, too! Stand firm for the Lord and don't slip backward. Throughout history, the godly ones have been the minority on earth. Christ Himself pointed out that "wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Matthew 7: 13-14).

In "This Is My Father's World" the hymn writer penned similar encouragement to take heart:

  This is my Father's world.  
  O let me ne'er forget 
  that though the wrong seems oft so strong, 
  God is the ruler yet.
Again, let your light shine regardless of how many don't appreciate the Gospel light! 

Monday, December 15, 2014

No Secret Agents for God

For 11 years I worked as Assistant to Georgi Vins. He was a Russian evangelist who spent 8 years in Russian prisons and labor camps before being exiled to America in a dramatic 1979 exchange.  (The U.S. swapped 2 captured Soviet spies for 5 well-known prisoners in the Soviet gulag--4 human rights activists and Vins, a Christian preacher.)

During those years of laboring alongside Georgi Vins, I often interpreted for him at church services and Christian conferences. He was always a popular speaker, who spoke out about the then-persecuted church in the USSR. During Q & A sessions with him, there was never a shortage of hands. I well recall how one man, after learning details of the persecution, asked, "Isn't there a way for believers to live peaceful lives and avoid the oppression and harassment?"

After the slightest pause, Georgi Vins replied, "If a Christian stayed home instead of going to church; if he didn't pray openly; if he didn't let others know about his faith in Christ; then yes, he could probably avoid persecution. But that's not the Christian life."

Mr. Vins died in 1998, but over the years, that answer has often resurfaced in my thoughts. In western nations, the ridicule and harassment Christians sometimes experience may not be as hard-hitting as it was in the USSR, yet certain forces sometimes try to suppress our outward expressions of faith. They  attempt to quash our Bible-based convictions. Some believers might be tempted to decide, "Enough already. I'll still be a Christian, but just a silent one." In other words, to avoid mockery or making waves, they try to be "secret agents" of faith. But that's not the Christian life.

Jesus was crucified. His apostles endured arrests, chains, prisons, sentences of death. How did they respond? They rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for Christ's name. In Philippians 1, the Apostle Paul expresses gladness that other Christians were emboldened by his example: "And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear" (v. 14).

If you're ever tempted to go undercover with your faith, tempted to dim the source of light in your life so as to not "offend" someone, my encouragement to you is this: Don't. Jesus Himself says, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). A dark, burned-out light bulb may still be a light bulb, but it's useless. Don't be a secret agent of the faith. Let your light shine!