Monday, November 5, 2012

Count It All Joy

Thought on the Sabbath School lesson for 11.10.12

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials,” James 1:2
Have you ever considered how completely foreign that philosophy is to pretty much every other way of thinking on the planet these days? Most folks spend considerable time and money to avoid any kind of trial. Our lives (in the United States, anyway) are all about easier, better and faster – trials of any kind just don’t figure in. When a trial does, inevitably come along, our first instinct is not to meet it with joy but with anger and frustration.

That is doubly true for Christians, sometimes. If we’re stuck in traffic we might get a little indignant with God. “God, you know I have to be to work on time. Why are you letting this happen to me?” In fact, there’s a whole brand of Christianity (Prosperity Theology) that preaches if you are doing it right, your life will be smooth sailing – you’ll have a great job, nice house and plenty of money. It’s a very appealing theory, but pretty hard to sustain even if you have any knowledge about the Bible at all. Many texts say just the opposite.
“‘These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.’” John 16:33
If you have a red letter Bible, those words are in red. Jesus, Himself, said them.  I don’t see any way around them – we are going to have to admit that “in the world, we will have tribulation …”

But it’s a pretty big leap between accepting those trials and tribulations and being happy about them, right? Facing trials with joy would be like trusting God enough to give Him complete control of our lives. That’s pretty radical!

The apostles and the early Christians seemed to understand that Christian life wasn't going to be all lollipops and rainbows. They lived every day, knowing that today could be the day that they are arrested, tortured and put to death.

We, as North American Christians, need to remember that we are not so very far removed from people who live every day with the threat of religious persecution.

Another question we need to answer would be, just what constitutes persecution.
“In a recent article on the suffering church, FaithWorks listed the degrees of persecution one could face for practice of religious faith:
1. Disapproval
2. Ridicule
3. Pressure to conform
4. Loss of educational opportunities
5. Economic sanctions
6. Shunning
7. Alienation from community
8. Loss of employment
9. Loss of property
10. Physical abuse
11. Mob violence
12. Harassment by officials
13. Kidnapping
14. Forced labor
15. Imprisonment
16. Physical torture
17. Murder or execution”[1]
Don’t you wish we could ask Peter and John how they were able to face each new day as a gift from God.  Remember the story in Acts 5:12–42? The apostles are standing together on Solomon’s Porch in Jerusalem and they’re preaching and working miracles and “multitudes” of people are giving their hearts to Jesus when up march the Sadducees and the High Priest. The High Priest has the apostles arrested and thrown in jail. He and the Sadducees trot off home to supper thinking they've handled that whole situation pretty neatly.

Meanwhile, Peter and the apostles are sitting in prison. An angel comes and lets them all out of prison and tells them to go back to the temple and start preaching again. Now, I’m thinking at this point, I’d be having some doubts as to whether or not going back to the place I was just arrested and doing the same thing for which I was just arrested is a wise choice…in fact, I’m pretty sure I’d be having a heart to heart discussion with that angel.

Peter and the apostles didn’t question their task at all, though. They went right back and started preaching again,
“Then the captain went with the officers and brought them without violence, for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them,  saying, ‘Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!’
But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: ‘We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree.  Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.’” Acts 5:26-32
Finally, the apostles were beaten and released.  
“…when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.  And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” Acts 5:40-43
Can you imagine? “… rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.”  Thrown in jail and beaten and they’re happy about it. Wow.

Are we at a place where we can praise God for sending trials into our lives? I’m pretty sure I’m not, but Mrs. White explains why we need to get involved.
“The watchful Christian is a working Christian, seeking zealously to do all in his power for the advancement of the gospel. As love for his Redeemer increases, so also does love for his fellow men. He has severe trials, as had his Master; but he does not allow affliction to sour his temper or destroy his peace of mind. He knows that trial, if well borne, will refine and purify him, and bring him into closer fellowship with Christ. Those who are partakers of Christ’s sufferings will also be partakers of His consolation and at last sharers of His glory.”[2]
Are we doing everything we can to advance the gospel? Are we telling people at work? at the store? on the plane? at school? Are we being working Christians? Are we being bold sharers of the truth about Jesus Christ? We don’t have much time left. We need to get the job done.

[1] Andrew Black and Craig Bird, "The Risk of Faith," FaithWorks (July/August 1999), pp.17-20
[2] E.G. White, Acts of the Apostles, page 261

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