Thursday, May 29, 2014

Ascension Day: When Christians Should be Looking Up!

Today is Ascension Day, forty days after Resurrection Day (Easter). The Bible tells us that it was after forty days on earth, during which time Jesus appeared publicly twice in the upper room to his disciples (John 20:19-29), once in Galilee to a large crowd of followers (Matthew 28:16-20), picnicked with some of the eleven after a night of fishing on the Sea of Galilee (John 21:4-14), and met with them again in Jerusalem (Acts 1:6). Luke makes it plain that during these days he offered "many proofs" that he was, in fact, the same Jesus who was alive again (Acts 1:3). He also told them that great power was coming for them from heaven, but that they must wait in Jerusalem now for it to come.

After all of this, according to the book of Acts (1:6-11), he led them for their final "study session" (where he laid out once again the plan for worldwide witness once their power had come to them), to the same hillside east of Jerusalem where he had, weeks before, told them about the end of the age--the Mount of Olives. He repeated the plan (you remember what it is, don't you?) and as he finished, with the eleven watching, he began to rise bodily into the sky, a glorious, shining cloud of glory enveloping him as he rose so that they could no longer see him. He (and the cloud) were gone! But in the meantime, two angels stood next to them, and gently told them that staring was not their occupation. But hope was theirs--this same Jesus, will return in just the same way.

In his glorified body.
Carried back on the cloud of God's glory.
To the Mount of Olives, where he will stand on earth.

We've been studying a little bit (OK, a lot) about what the Bible says will precede this return, but never let us lose sight of what the signs point to.

Our Jesus is alive, and he is coming back.

Can it happen? Just as surely as he went up, he will come back down. Until then, don't lose hope, even though you can't see him yet.

Happy Ascension Day!

Friday, May 16, 2014

When Death is Chosen Over Denial of Christ, Then Faith Is Proved Genuine

You simply must read this story about Habila Adamu (right), a Nigerian man who was attacked in his home by Boko Haram fighters, asked if he would deny Christ, then shot and left for dead when he would not do so, in front of his family. This story means so much more as I consider the message we have been learning over and over in Revelation--real faith will be tested, and faithfulness unto death is the ultimate test.

This is today's reminder that the rest of our brothers and sisters around the world must shake their heads when they hear western Christians talk about times of tribulation being in the future for the church.

Now, of course, some Christians make it through a long life and die peacefully. They, too have been faithful unto death, even though death was not put before them as a threat to stop their faithfulness. God is honored by such long faithfulness, and it will be rewarded--of that, I am sure. But such a life is not promised to the Christian, and the New Testament seems to point us toward expecting something different than an easy path.

Our belief that there is a capstone of tribulation, if you will, before the return of Christ should not cause us to think that until then most Christians will be exempt from the really hard stuff. I don't know anything much harder than what our brother here went through. Don't take my word for it--click this link or the one above and read his story. You will be encouraged, and you will be sobered. Believers are being killed, kidnapped, imprisoned, beaten, mistreated, and facing daily persecution for the name of Christ.

It's not just Nigeria (which, by the way has one of the largest Christian populations in Africa). It's Egypt, and it's Pakistan, and it's regions of India, and it's Afghanistan, and it's parts of China, and it's North Korea, and it's Cuba, and it's Kazakhstan, and it's Kyrgyzstan, and it's Uzbekistan, and it's Turkey, and it's Colombia, and it's many more.

Open Doors USA has their annual world watch list for countries where persecution is significant. Go here to see the 2014 report, and click on any country to see what they have isolated.

UPDATED: CNN is carrying the story of a woman in Sudan just sentenced to death for "apostasy"--she is a Christian but was born a Muslim. She is pregnant, and her husband says he is "praying." She was also found guilty of adultery, and sentenced to 100 lashes, because her marriage to a Christian is not recognized. See the story here.