Wow! A week of the new year is already history. And so much stuff has happened. A Congress woman shot in the USA; murder most foul continues in Jamaica despite a welcome reduction in the gross rate last year; two blind pedestrians mowed down at a bus stop in Jamaica, and four more pedestrians died this morning, again going against the downward trend established last year; most of our relatives are safely back in cold England, icy USA and freezing Canada; Shelly Ann Fraser our female Olympic 100 metres Gold medalist got married last weekend; I attended wedding of two wonderful young people yesterday and already I have a save the date for another in July; Christians attacked in Nigeria with loss of lives and homes and churches burnt; and a child was baptized and received into the family of God today at my church.
Personal struggles abound as folks try to make the best of it in a very uncertain world, filled with illnesses - some of sudden onset others more chronic ; temptations of various sorts, financial stresses, marital and relationship issues, struggling to cope with the loss of a loved one and the resultant loneliness, struggles with one's sexuality, and work related stresses. At the best of times this is a very stressful world. And how to negotiate our way through all of it is the challenge for all of us.
In this respect two recurrent and related themes from the Lord occupied my mind and readings this week. Instructions which if studied and then obeyed would serve us well as individuals, and as nations this year. The general theme is a reminder that, as Christians we are called to have a different perspective on life than non-believers, and specifically that we are called to
" return good for evil".
One set of readings which was very instructive were the two accounts of the Apostles miraculous release from prison, against all expectations and logic.
" The Apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people> And all believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade. No one else dared to join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people.........Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.
Then the high priests and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out..........When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin - the full assembly of the elders of Israel - and sent to jail for the apostles. But arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, we found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside"
Acts 5:17-23 NIV
The second account closely mirrors the first, but there is a significant addition:
" It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also.........After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each.....So Peter was kept in prison, but eh church was praying earnestly to God for him.
The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. Quick get up he said, and the chains fell off Peter's wrists.
Then the angel said to him, ' Put on your clothes and sandals,' And Peter did so. ' Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,' the angel told him. peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.
Then Peter came to himself and said, " Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod's clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating". Acts 12: 1-11 NIV
One of the great challenges we face as believers, is to appreciate that we live in a world where what we see, is not all there is. And thus to live a life of faith that other too will come to understand and see the wonderful vision that Elisha prayed to God that his servant would see.
" When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. " Oh my lord, what shall we do? " the servant asked.
"Don't be afraid", the prophet answered. " Those who are with us are more than those who are with them"
And Elisha prayed, " O lord, open his eyes that he may see." Then the Lord opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
2 Kings 6:15-17 NIV
O that we could believe what Elisha believed and so pray to God that others may experience this same revelation about the Spirit world around us. Then we would be not be so anxious and feel so desperate about life. Yes, God allowed James the brother of John to die at the hands of wicked, and so he did with John the Baptist too. And the reason for that remains a mystery in the same way that the Lord allows many " innocents" to perish in our time. As He did in the case of the two blind people who lost their lives recently. But that does not take away from the fact that " Our God reigns". And that His powerful agents are all around us protecting us from evil. Oftentimes in circumstances that were not aware until in retrospect ( or as the young preacher at today described it as " looking through the rear-view mirror of life) we realize how much the Lord was there rescuing us from evil, illness, and persecution.
As I write I recall a meditation which I shared in a previous message, and which made a point that is very germane to this issue: The meditation was written by Evelyn Underhill.
What then is a real man of prayer? He is one who deliberately wills and steadily desires that his intercourse with God and other souls shall be controlled and actuated at every point that by God Himself; that his supernatural environment is more real and solid to him than than his natural environment........
I really believe then that the prayers of the church, set loose the Supernatural power of God, and so Peter was freed from his bondage. And if the early church by means of this great facility of prayer, rooted in the belief of a God who is Almighty, could cause Peter to be miraculously set free, then there is no reason why the Body of this Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forevermore, cannot cause others to be set free from bondage of whatever kind in today's very stressful world. But we must believe when we pray. What the hymn-writer, in that great hymn of the church ", And now O father mindful of the love", calls " dim faith and languid prayers, have no place in the life of a Christian engaged in the struggle to set people free from bondage.
The second specific instruction came from the Word of God and from a meditation.
"Love must be sincere. hate what is evil; cling to what is good. be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with god's people who are in need. Practice hospitality
Bless those who curse you; bless do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice. Mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not pay back anyone with evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but have room for God's wrath, for it is written, " It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord. On the contrary:
" if your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
Romans 12: 9-21 NIV
Actually I read the following meditation before I read the Word. But the two acting together remove any possibility of missing the message from the Lord.
UNATTACHED TO SELF CHRIS TIEGEN 2008 DEVOTIONAL GUIDE
"Do not resist an evil person. Matthew 5: 39
IN WORD There is perhaps no more difficult point for the flesh to wrestle with than this one. Nonresistance is not our natural inclination when we're confronted with evil. And, in fact, there are surely qualifications that need to be applied to this verse. Are despots to be given passive permission to pillage and to destroy? Are serious moral issues to be forfeited to a secular culture? Are we to express no opinion at all.
Surely Jesus meant for us to resist evil. We are encouraged - even commanded - at several points in Scripture to stand firm against the evil one. So what does He mean by this? He means that when people confront us, we are to counter evil with good ( Romans 12: 21). Mercy triumphs over judgment ( James 2:13). Evil aggression is never defeated by an evil response.
Watchman Nee tells a story of a a Chinese Christian who used to go to great pains to pump water from an irrigation stream into his rice field. Every night, his neighbor, whose fields were lower, would make a breach in the dividing wall and drain the Christian's water into his own fields. The theft was repeatedly frequently. The Christian asked his friends for advice about the right thing to do. A fellow believer advised that Christians ought to do something more than what is right. The next few days, the Christian filled his neighbor's fields first before filling his own. The neighbor knew his acts were evil, but he was amazed at he Christian's nonresistance. Good won over over evil. The neighbor soon became a Christian. he had observed a higher way.
IN DEED What is your reaction to evil and offensive persons? No, God does not tell you to be a doormat. He does ,however, tell you to demonstrate a goodness that surpasses anything this world has known. Give evil people a glimpse of heaven. Do not fall to their level; we were born from a much higher source. Let them see and be amazed.
As I close I recall two things. One this meditation above is rooted in the Beatitudes. And so I went and read through the entire teachings of Christ on this matter in Luke 6-7. The message is clear. Be different! Be holy! Influence the world for good. Secondly the Psalmist revelation that:
Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.......
The wicked have set a snare for me,
but I have not strayed from your precepts....
Psalm 119: 105 & 110. NIV
Recently a friend who worships in a Pentecostal church, lamented the decline in the priority that some members are attaching to the Word of God. And paying more attention to the prophetic word from men. If we are to be light to this dying world, we have to escape from this kind of "spiritual suicide". As access to the supernatural power of God, comes only from the kind of prayer life which is rooted in God's Holy Word, as revealed in these last times, in and though the living Word, Christ our Saviour. It is only a life immersed in the Word, where the Spirit of Christ is being formed more and more each day, where the " old man has gone, and the new man cometh", that can survive the inevitable persecution from the " Herods" of this world. And do more. Set people free from stress and trials and illnesses, by having a supernatural perspective and returning good for evil. Then the true church will show its colours according to A. W. Tozer ...and they have no hard feelings - only charity and compassion and a strong desire that all men may come to repentance and be reconciled to God.