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Archive for the ‘Dark Providence’ Category

saturday

Holy Saturday is the day between the crucifixion and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. For us, it’s a day of waiting We know “the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey used to say.

But consider the first disciples of Jesus – those whom He called to follow Him and those who saw Him betrayed, arrested, tried, beaten, mocked, scourged, and finally crucified. They didn’t know what would happen on Sunday morning. Yes, Jesus had told them on at least four occasions, but it’s clear that it didn’t register in their hearts and minds.

Jesus – the One they loved; the One they followed; the One to whom they had dedicated their very lives; the One they knew to be precisely who He claimed to be – was dead. Their beloved was buried in a tomb guarded by sixteen Roman soldiers. The enormous stone which had been rolled in front of the tomb’s entrance was decorated with the seal of the Roman Empire.

As far as these first disciples were concerned, it was over. What was over? Everything. Their Saviour, Lord, and friend was dead and gone. Their mission was over, seemingly before it even got started. The Romans and Jewish leadership had won. What would they do now? Their lives had been forever changed, and now it seemed to be over.

No hope.

No forgiveness of sin.

No reconciliation with God.

No peace.

No salvation.

No meaning.

No justice.

No mercy.

No future.

All of that would be true if Jesus had stayed dead in the tomb. Their faith, and our faith, is vain and useless if it would have ended with the death of Jesus. That’s what the disciples faced from Friday afternoon through Saturday night.

They didn’t know the rest of the story, but we do! Holy Saturday proves the importance of Resurrection Sunday.

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The Christian History Institute published the story of forty Roman soldiers who were martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ on March 9th, 320 A.D.

“Consider—you alone of Caesar’s troops defy him! Think of the disgrace you bring upon your legion. How can you do it?” Governor Agricola was speaking to forty soldiers in the 12th Legion of the Roman army who refused to offer sacrifice to the emperor while they were stationed near Sebaste in modern-day Turkey.

“To disgrace the name of our Lord Jesus Christ is more terrible still,” replied one of the soldiers.

The governor became exasperated. “Give up this stubborn folly. You have no lord but Caesar! In his name, I promise promotion to the first of you who steps forward and does his duty.” 

When that lure did not break their ranks he increased the pressure. “You persist in your rebellion? Then prepare for torture, prison, death!”

The soldiers stood firm. “Nothing you can offer us would replace what we would lose in the next world. As for your threats—we’ve learned to deny our bodies where the welfare of our souls is at stake.”

Agricola ordered them flogged. Guards dragged the men out into the cold where they were stripped and tied to posts. Whips with hooks of iron tore the men’s sides. Unbelievably not one of the forty surrendered. “Chain them in my dungeons!” roared Agricola. He referred their case to Lysias, commander of the 12th Legion, whose coming was soon expected. When Lysias arrived he threatened a sharp penalty if the soldiers continued to disobey.

On this day, 9 March 320, the men remained respectfully defiant. A new torture occurred to Agricola. Nearby was a frozen pond. The March air was sharp. “You will stand naked on the ice until you agree to sacrifice to the gods,” he said.

The rebel soldiers tore off their own clothes and ran toward the pond in the freezing air. “We are soldiers of the Lord and fear no hardship,” shouted one. “What is our death but entrance into eternal life?” Striking up a song, they marched onto the frozen pond. Baffled, Agricola posted guards. He had baths of warm water heated as an incentive to the forty to come off the pond.

As dark closed in, the forty prayed, “Lord, there are forty of us engaged in this battle; grant that forty may be crowned and not one be missing from this sacred number.” It appeared their prayer was doomed to disappointment, however. Babbling, one of the forty crawled away from the ice. Guards helped him into a bath but the heat proved too much of a shock to his frozen system. He immediately went into convulsions and died.

However, one of the guards had seen a vision of angels with crowns hovering over the pond. Impressed by the bravery of the remaining thirty-nine, he shucked off his clothes and ran onto the ice. The martyrs numbered forty again!

When the sun rose, Agricola was told that the forty were dead. He ordered the bodies burned and their ashes dumped into a nearby river so the bones could not be collected and venerated. When the guards began stacking the stiff corpses onto a wagon, they discovered that Melito, the youngest of the soldiers, was still alive. 

Melito was a local boy. The soldiers recognized his mom nearby. “Listen, Mother, take your boy home, save his life if you can. We’ll look the other way,” they said.

“What kind of talk is that?” scolded the woman. “Would you cheat him of his crown? I’ll never let that happen!” As the wagon began to roll away, she hoisted her son in with the others.

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt. 5:10-12).

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declaration

Sunday, December 9th, the Chinese Communist government arrested one hundred members of Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, China. Other arrests have taken place since then. Among those arrested were Early Rain’s senior pastor Wang Yi and his wife Jiang Rong. They have not been heard from since their arrests. Wang Yi is a well-known and influential pastor, both inside and outside of China. Since February, the Chinese government has ramped up its crackdown on the Chinese church (yes, even those churches who are registered). Good information can be found at China Partnership, Steve Childers’ website, China Aid, and World magazine. All of these sources have reported that persecution has spread to other churches, pastors, and schools.

Several months ago, Pastor Wang Yi wrote a letter to to his church in the event that he was detained for more than 48 hours. It’s called “My Declaration of Faithful Disobedience,” and you should read it. After you’ve read it, pass it on to others so they can read it. We in the United States need this kind of wisdom and maturity. You can read his declaration here.

The last elder of Early Rain Covenant Church, Li Yingqiang, wrote this letter to the church hours before he was arrested, on the subject of how the church should respond to persecution.

Please pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ in China, that they would remain faithful, obedient, and bring glory to God.

Please pray also for the the church here in America. We need this kind of wisdom and thinking.

 

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This morning, I had the privilege of hearing Pastor Rick Elzinga preach on Psalm 88. The following is a summary of his sermon in one sentence: God understands our discouragement – if you have any doubt, simply look to the sufferings of Christ on behalf of His people.

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There are other circumstances in which those who are pious should stand firm in peace and patience. Such qualities should extend to every situation that we encounter in this life. No one, then, has properly denied himself except the one who has abandoned himself to the Lord so that every aspect of his life will be governed by his will. The person thus composed in soul will neither judge himself to be miserable, nor will he spitefully complain against God for his lot in life, come what may.

The true necessity of having such a disposition is clear if you consider how many unforeseen events we are exposed to in this life. We are continually harassed by one illness or another; the plague advances; we are cruelly vexed by the calamities of war; frost and hail render the land barren and leave us with little, devouring our expectations for the year’s crop. Wife, parents, children, and close relatives are snatched away by death; homes are consumed by fire. These are events which make men curse their lives, despise the day they were born, hold in contempt heaven and its light, rage against God, and, being fluent in blasphemies, accuse God of unfairness and cruelty. But the believer must in these circumstances consider the mercy and the Fatherly kindness of God. If the believer, then, should see his house made lonely by the loss of those nearest to him, even then he must not stop praising the Lord. Rather, he must turn himself to this thought: “The Lord’s grace continues to dwell in my home and will not leave it desolate.” If the believer should see his crop consumed by drought, disease, or frost, or trampled down by hail and famine threaten him, even then he must not despair within his soul, nor should he become angry toward God. Rather, he must persist with confidence in this truth: “But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever” (Ps. 79:13). God, then, will provide for us, however barren the land. If the believer should be afflicted by illness, he must not be so stung by the severity of his hardship that he erupts in impatience and demands from God an explanation. Rather, he must, considering the justice and gentleness of God’s discipline, recall himself to patience.

Indeed, the believer should accept whatever comes with a gentle and thankful heart, because he knows that it is ordained by the Lord.

(A Little Book on the Christian Life, by John Calvin; translated by Aaron Dendinger an Burk Parsons, Reformation Trust, 2017, pp. 51-53)

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psil4

“We’ve missed you in church” (or “We’ve missed you at Bible study”).

“Well, things have been really tough lately. We’re really going through it right now.”

You’ve heard that exchange before. I know I have. Maybe you’ve said either of those lines yourself. But is it right – is it what God wants?

Pslam 119:143-144 says, “Trouble and anguish have come upon me, yet Your commandments are my delight. Your testimonies are righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live.” Life had gotten tough for the psalmist. He describes it as “trouble” and “anguish” Whatever he was experiencing could easily be described as God’s “dark providence,” which could have kept him from God, His Word, and His people. But it didn’t.

Why hadn’t the suffering psalmist drifted from God? Because He was sustained by God’s Word. God’s commandments (His Word, in other words) were his delight in the midst of his troubles. He didn’t succumb to the temptation of ignoring God when things weren’t going well. In fact, when life got tough, the psalmist ran towards God, and not away from Him. In his troubles and anguish, he was sustained by God through His Word. As he poured over God’s Law day and night, He was nourished and strengthened by what he read.

If (and when) we’re “really going through it” and things are tough, we need to be in God’s Word and with His people more than ever, and not away from them. His Word is our delight in trouble and anguish. He uses it to sustain us for His glory and our good!

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charlesspurgeon1

It’s sometimes said that pain and suffering have no purpose or meaning, even (sadly) by those who profess to be Christians. But if the God who is both sovereign and good is involved (and He most definitely is), there is meaning and purpose in everything.

In Psalm 119:71, the psalmist says, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes.” That sounds strange when we hear it. We have a strong tendency to avoid affliction, or try to get out of it, because it hurts and we don’t like it. If we don’t see an obvious purpose, we think none exists.

Contrary to our limited understanding, one of the reasons for affliction (trials, trouble, and tribulation, if you will) is learning God’s Word (“statutes” is another way of referring to God’s Word and Law). Notice the flow of thought from the psalmist: At some point, he was afflicted (we don’t know the details). He went to God’s Word/Law in order to find comfort, meaning, the promises of God, the character of God, and the truth about himself. In the process, he gained more knowledge and appreciation of God, not to mention a closer relationship with Him. Therefore, he says that affliction was good for him. It drove him deep into God’s Word – the Scriptures – and deeper into God. Without those afflictions, he may not have learned God’s statutes, and neither will we.

There is meaning in suffering and affliction. God has many purposes for it – one of them being a greater knowledge and understanding of God and His Word.

Can we say that it was good for us that we were afflicted because it caused us to learn God’s Word? I pray we can.

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