Faithful Unto Death

For anyone who has been monitoring the news, the events of Afghanistan have been horrifying to watch. We see mad rushes at the airport of those trying to leave. The people are so desperate to leave the terrors of the Taliban that they would rather hang on to flying jets than stay in Afghanistan and face certain death. Mothers are handing over their babies to the American military, in hopes that they might find a better life in America. To be sure, many are getting out. But many will be left behind. It is all heart-breaking.

However, there is a group of people that few in the media are talking about: the Christians in Afghanistan. They have no ties with the West. They didn’t work as translators. They weren’t trained by the U. S. military. They have no hope of leaving. But now, with the Muslim Taliban taking over the country, their lives are at great risk. The Muslim Taliban consider Christians to be infidels and worthy of death. I anticipate that many of these Christians will be killed over the next few weeks/months/years.

It is sad. It is difficult. It is heart-wrenching. Their deaths will come, not because they committed a crime, but because they embraced a Savior. The words of Jesus to the church in Smyrna are applicable. “For ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

These Christians are like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who refused to bow to the idol that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Their punishment was to be cast into a burning fiery furnace (Daniel 3:6). When called to give account before the king, they said, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18). God spared Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were able to walk through the fire, without as much as a single hair on their head being singed (Daniel 3:27).

These Christians are like the disciples of Christ in the first century. Saul of Tarsus was so enraged at those who followed Jesus that he went house to house, dragging of the men and women off to prison (Acts 8:3), hoping that they would be sentenced to death (Acts 9:1). Saul persecuted Christians in Jerusalem and other cities. But God spared the disciples in Damascus. When Saul was traveling to Damascus to arrest the followers of Christ in that city, he saw a vision of Jesus, which forever changed his life. Rather than persecuting the Christians, he joined them in Damascus.

The Lord is able to save the Christians in Afghanistan. He can hide them in plain sight. He can grant favor in the eyes of the Taliban. He can bring about the conversion of some of the Taliban soldiers to Jesus. But if not, we must pray that they would be “faithful unto death.”

Future Immanuel

Immanuel

One of the names given to Jesus is “Immanuel” (Matthew 1:23). Literally, this means, “with us God.” In better English, we say, “God with us.” This is the great reality of Christmas: that God came down from heaven to dwell with us on earth. This all took place in the past.

Another reality of Immanuel is often missed. It’s Immanuel in the future. When believers enter heaven to dwell with God forever, it will again be “God with us.” This is what Jesus promised to those who believe in him. “I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3).

The picture of the new heaven in Revelation expresses this reality with these words. “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3). This is the great reality of eternity. Believers in Christ will experience “Immanuel” forever.

The Call to Worship

Worship services often begin with something called, “A Call to Worship.” It may be a simple Scripture reading. It may be a short devotional. It may be a prayer of invocation. At any rate, it is a time for summoning the people of God to come and worship the Lord.

I love the reminder that Harold Best gives, “There can be only one call to worship, and this comes at conversion.” In other words, when we are saved from our sins, we are summoned to worship Him who saved us. This is the great call of our lives: to join with every creature saying “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever” (Revelation 5:13).

So, when believers in Christ gather for worship each week, this “Call to Worship” might be better labeled, “calls to continuation of worship” (Harold Best, Music Through the Eyes of Faith [New York: HarperOne, 1993], 147).

The American Church

The following verse describes the state of the church in Laodicea during the first century.  It could equally be said of many churches in America today.

“Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind an naked” (Revelation 3:17).

Churches in America are wealthier than any churches in the world. The temptation to have the attitude described is very easy. Many churches pride themselves on being so wealthy, teaching that it is a blessing from God, which they ought to expect for their obedience to Him.  Sadly, there are many who don’t know that really they stand broken before the Lord.  Well might the American church heed the advice of the next verse:

“I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the same of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see” (Revelation 3:18).

The counsel is to find your riches and your righteousness in Jesus Christ (who is speaking) and not in your own merits.

We worship the same God

Toward the beginning of the book of Revelation, we see five anthems of praise spontaneously erupt before God. Consider the gravity of the worship:

“Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”

“Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”

“Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”

“To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.” (See Revelation 4-5).

We worship the same God. Is your worship anything like the worship of those in heaven?

No horses or motor vehicles allowed

I recently went on a long bike ride with my wife along the Jane Addams Trail. It’s a great trail, from Freeport, Illinois, almost 13 miles all the way up to the Wisconsin border. It follows an old railroad track, so, it is straight and flat. For the majority of the way, it’s lined with trees, which helps to keep the wind down.  It was a wonderful ride!

Along the way, there were signs of those who were permitted to use the trail and those that weren’t. The trail was for bicycles, snowmobiles, hikers and cross-country skiers. Horses and motor vehicles were prohibited. I suspect that these rules are in place to help keep the quality of the trail nice for all to use.

It reminded me of heaven, … “nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27). Those purified in the blood of Christ will be able to enter, but impure will be kept outside. Heaven will be a wonderful place.