Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Life and Death in Christ

By Brenda Black

"It is a bad world, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy that is a thousand times better than any pleasure of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people are the Christians - and I am one of them." — Saint Cyprian (200-258).

Cyprian was beheaded for refusing to recognize pagan gods, yet he realized the great secret of joy in the midst of persecution. He died living for God.
Centuries later, and in every decade since, Christians die because they live for God. In 1956, five young men paid the price. Among them, Jim Elliott. His attitude toward life surely influenced his acceptance of death.

“To stand by the shadows of a friendly tree with the wind tugging at your coattail and the heavens hailing your heart, to gaze and glory and to give oneself again to God, what more could a man ask? Oh the fullness, pleasure, sheer excitement of knowing God on earth,” he wrote in his journal.

Elliot and four other missionaries were speared to death by Huaorani because one of the tribeswomen lied about the believers on the beach. Their death may seem vain and senseless, but they died willingly, living for Christ, and generations of Huaorani have received salvation as a result of their faith and their demise.

Steve Saint, son of Nate Saint, another who died that day in Ecuador, has followed in his father's footsteps, back to the Huaorani. Steve speaks of his father's and his own motivation as God- driven, joyful purpose – “the great secret” that Saint Cyprian spoke of 1800 years ago.

“Dad strove to find out what life really is. He found identity, purpose, and fulfillment in being obedient to God's call. He tried it, tested it, and committed himself to it. I know that the risk he took, which resulted in his death and consequently his separation from his family, he took not to satisfy his own need for adventure or fame, but in obedience to what he believed was God's directive to him. I suppose he is best known because he died for his faith, but the legacy he left his children was his willingness first to live for his faith.” (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/6ta/6ta020.html)

The persecution continues. Every day Voice of the Martyrs reports stories of hate crimes against Christian believers. Right now, in our lifetime, Eritrean Christians are fleeing to Egypt because of persecution that intensified after an Eritrean governor ordered a purge against Christians at the end of 2010. VOM says, “Hundreds of Eritrean Christians enter Egypt each month in hope of reaching Israel. Some Eritrean refugees die while attempting the 900-mile journey through Egypt, and others are shot to death as they cross the Egypt-Israel border. Many of the refugees end up in Egyptian prisons or are held hostage for $20,000 ransoms by Bedouin Muslim nomads, who frequently work with human traffickers. Hostages who cannot pay the ransom are killed. There are currently between 500 and 600 Eritrean prisoners in Egyptian custody, and as many as 200 are currently held by traffickers. The refugees face sexual abuse, torture, beatings and enslavement at the hands of both Egyptian authorities and the Bedouin gangs. Barnabas Fund partners report that the Christians’ faith is the cause of their treatment.”

It is a bad world, an incredibly bad world. It is the same world that hated Christ and crucified Him. It is the same world that Christ warned would hate those who love Him. So how do we live in an “incredibly bad world” and live joyfully?

The Apostle James offered this advice: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)

Henry Ward Beecher once said, "The art of being happy lies in the power of extracting happiness from common things." More importantly I think we must extract joy from heavenly things by living above the common; living beyond the hate and horrors inflicted. We obtain peace by choosing the Prince of Peace as our solace and rest, our shield and help. A heavenly perspective is key to facing the heinous crimes of God haters. The hope of heaven is our source of all joy. And joy itself, as one component of the fruit of the Holy Spirit that lives inside God lovers, cannot be beaten out of faithful followers.

This world is not our home. This body is only designed for temporary use, but the soul for eternity. Live life aware of the “great secret” of joy in living for the Lord instead of living for the fleshly sins in this world or in fear of the sinful. Then come death or persecution or any kind of opposition, we go out grinning knowing we rise up winning!

Dedicated to my brothers and sisters around the world who daily “count it all joy.” Please pray that we all have the faith to stand firm to the end and be our Lord's great joy, for "faith is the strength by which a shattered world shall emerge into the light."

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