Persecution

The Fragrance of Christ

As I sit outside writing this morning, the incredible fragrance of honeysuckle wafts up to the porch on a light breeze every once in awhile. We have a bit of woods behind our house and the last few weeks of May and the beginning of June always bring the blossoming of, first, the wild roses and, shortly after, the honeysuckle– both filling the air with their wonderful scents.

But to some people, farmers and others, these plants are viewed as noxious weeds to be destroyed. Many don’t appreciate their amazing– albeit brief– time of glory each year and seek avidly to rid their landscape of these pests.

One person views them in a positive light and one person views them in a negative light.

As I was enjoying the scent of the honeysuckle the other evening, I examined my own life and wondered if I am the fragrance of Christ to those around me. I long to be, although that sinful nature does trip me up all too frequently!

What is the fragrance of Christ? What does it look like? It’s love and peace and joy. It’s selflessness and self-control. It’s honesty and patience and kindness.

But is that all there is to it? And if it is, then why are we viewed as noxious weeds to so many? Why does the world hate Christians so? 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 helps us understand, showing us that, while we are the fragrance of life to a few, to many we are the fragrance of death(!)–

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us [d]diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. 15 For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?

None of the things listed above would ever make an enemy. Who doesn’t like someone who is kind and patient and loving? What is the fragrance of Christ that turns people off and makes them want to attack and destroy Christians?

Let’s turn to scripture to gain some insight. For it is there that we find some of these offensive principles that make people turn away from, reject, avoid, and rebel against God. It is here we find out why the world at large hates us Christians.

Being the fragrance of Christ to the world also means that–

–We are committed to the truth of the Gospel. We proclaim that Jesus is the only way. There are no good works we can do or supernatural, mystical happening we can experience to make us right with God. (John 14:6)

–We understand that we–and everyone else in this world– are not good people. We are all born sinners and are in desperate need of a Savior. (Romans 3:23)

–We intentionally surrender our own desires to live for God. We give up our dreams in order to obey God. We take up our cross and deny ourselves. (Matthew 16:24)

–We separate ourselves from the world. From its passion for success. From its definition of love. From its goals and values. From its entertainment. (James 4:4) (please note that I didn’t say we separate ourselves from the people of the world–for we are clearly told to reach the lost. But, according to scripture, we must separate from the world’s system. Contrary to today’s popular opinion, you don’t need to participate in the world and its entertainment to reach someone for Christ.)

–We trust God instead of self. We turn to the Bible for answers instead of to man’s wisdom. (Psalm 118:8)

–We expect persecution and trials as we live our Christian life. We don’t want them, but we understand that we are swimming upstream in a world that is going downstream. (2 Timothy 3:12)

There are so many more things the Bible teaches that we must stand upon. And these are things HATED by the world. We teach that women are the keepers of the home and are to submit to their husbands (Titus 2:4-5). That homosexuality is a sin (Romans 1:26-27). That we are to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). Can you think of others?

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These things are not very popular to teach and preach and write about, are they? And they garner the antagonism and ridicule of the world and even much of the church. Only someone who is already a true believer or seeking after God will be drawn to these principles for life. Only this small group of people will recognize the benefit and blessing of a life lived in obedience to the principles laid out in the Word. Only these few will find these words life-giving, and comforting.

But the rest of the world (and much of the church) will view us as noxious weeds. People to be destroyed. An invasive plant to be gotten rid of.

And we are seeing this, aren’t we? My daughter-in-law sent a photo of a response someone sent to a Christian on Instagram. It was the very essence of what we are talking about. In a nutshell, this woman declared that Christians are a bane on society and should be destroyed. If Christianity is only about kindness and love, why would she declare this? It is because Christianity is about more than love. It’s about TRUTH.

There are a few things for us to reflect upon as we consider this idea of fragrance.

First, we should examine our own lives. Are we giving off the aroma of Christ in all ways? Or just the easy, appealing ways that will gain the acclaim of the world? This is tough and it’s getting tougher. We are all so susceptible to peer pressure. It is only through the strength of the Holy Spirit that we can speak the entire counsel of God and defend the Bible. It is only through His power that we can be the light of truth in this dark, dark world.

Second, I have to confess that one of the biggest puzzles to this for me is how Christians who love truth are often strongly disliked–and even hated–by other Christians. These are good people who are living for Christ. And, yet, when you declare someone to be a false teacher based on their own words and actions, they get mad at you. When you give clear documentation of a false doctrine or some other unpopular truth from God’s Word, they declare you to be negative or legalistic and ridicule you. What is going on here? If they are saved, why don’t they love the truth? Why don’t they want to see the Church and its members protected? I don’t have any answers but it is a puzzling and discouraging truth. If you are a watchmen on the wall, trying to protect the church, the arrows will come from both sides of the wall. And the arrows from inside the church hurt far, far worse than the ones coming from the world!

The perfect Christian life is to live like Christ. We will never attain that on this side of heaven, but this should be our desire. This will consist of those wonderful things that everyone loves but it will also consist of those things that aren’t so loved. To be a true representative for Christ, we must embrace all of who He is. Not just the parts that are pleasant.

And then we must expect, just like the wild rose and honeysuckle plants, to be delightful and pleasant to a few and to be viewed as a pernicious and virulent weed to most. This is the life of the true believer.

 

If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.

John 15:18-20

 

 

 

Leaving Jerusalem

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If you are still with me in the Bible Challenge, we are in the midst of the gripping tale of David’s life. From a shepherd boy to a King on the run, we have read all of his well-known tales. We have read of him killing a giant, committing adultery and then murdering the woman’s husband, and we have read of the heart-breaking treachery of his son, Absalom.

It was hard to pick what to write about today. But there was one obscure passage in 2 Samuel that really stood out to me. Especially in our current situation as believers.

So I am writing today about Ittai the Gittite.

Have you ever even heard of him? This is not really that memorable of a story, as “larger than life” stories go. Let me set up the background–

Absalom, over the course of a few years, undermined his father’s authority and got enough men on his side to attempt to overthrow the King. Instead of fighting his own son, David makes the decision to just abdicate in order to protect the people of Jerusalem. He pulls all of his house together, with the exception of 10 concubines left to care for the palace. Along with him, showing their loyalty and serving as his body guards and corps d’elite were the Cherethites, Pelethites, and Gittites.*

As they walked out of the city, David stopped Ittai, the leader of the Gittites, telling him to go back into the city. Here is the conversation between the two (from 2 Samuel 15)–

Then the king said to Ittai the Gittite, “Why do you also go with us? Go back and stay with the king, for you are a foreigner and also an exile from your home. 20 You came only yesterday, and shall I today make you wander about with us, since I go I know not where? Go back and take your brothers with you, and may the Lord show steadfast love and faithfulness to you.” 21 But Ittai answered the king, “As the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king shall be, whether for death or for life, there also will your servant be.” 

Whether for death or for life, there also will your servant be.

What an incredible testimony of loyalty. Ittai chose to follow David out of the safe zone, knowing full well that it would most likely mean hardship, wandering, and even death.

This struck me, because in a lot of ways, I feel like we are soon going to be forced to follow Jesus out of American culture very soon. Oh, we may not be forced to physically leave, but the storm clouds we saw on the horizon only a few short years ago are now starting to bring fierce wind and dark, dark skies. Life is changing here. And the message is Get on Board or Be Persecuted.

Gone forever are the days of the beautiful religious freedom we enjoyed from the inception of this country. They are over. You do realize that, don’t you? They aren’t returning, no matter who is voted into office. I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but this ship has left the dock and it’s not coming back. Not without a supernatural miracle from God (My God is that big, so I don’t rule it out, but I don’t expect it either– not when I read the plan of the future as recorded in the Word of God).

I think it is time to follow our King out of Jerusalem. It’s such a heart-breaking time for those of us, the remnant, that remains faithful to the Word of God, isn’t it? We have become such a minority that sometimes we find ourselves wondering if we are even right, after all? But then we turn back to the Word and we read of church history, and we can see that this is exactly what we should expect. We Christians have really, here in America, been living a rare, cushy, comfortable existence. This has not been the norm for most of our Christian brothers and sisters throughout history, in foreign lands currently, or as recorded for the church’s future.

So are you ready to follow your King, whether it bring life or death? Are you ready for hardship, persecution, and wandering? Are you ready for slander, scathing remarks, intolerance for your views, and false accusations? Because if you have plans to remain faithful to the Jesus of the Bible, it will come. Some of you have experienced a bit of this already.

Are you going to be like Ittai– a loyal soldier for the King or are you going to tuck tale and run back into the comfort zone of the city? You will soon have to make a choice. Are you prepared?

Read and study the Bible, read biographies of great Christians who have gone before us, read classic authors of yesteryear. If you need ideas, check out my favorite books-where I have added a couple of new suggestions for you just this morning.

By reading and studying you will grow deeper, fixed roots of faith. These will hold you steady in the wind that is starting to blow. There is no time to waste. The perilous storm is almost here.

 

*As explained from the following websites: Jewish Encyclopedia and Bible Hub.

When We Are Wrongly Accused

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The accusations came in an e-mail. From someone I thought was my friend. In the e-mail, she stated falsehoods about me as facts. There was no doubt or indecision in her statements. Just a break of friendship because of a, b, and c that she had heard about me. Things I had said or done that made it impossible to be my friend anymore.

My first reaction was to write a letter of self-defense. After all, I was being unjustly accused of something that wasn’t even true. The hurt ran very deep. She didn’t even value my friendship enough to talk to me in person about these accusations.

But as I talked it over with my husband, I decided against it. I realized that if she was willing to end our friendship via an e-mail, without any offer to get together and talk about it, then she probably had never been a friend at all. And, honestly, I just wasn’t interested in making her choose who to believe. To write a letter would have meant I needed to accuse someone she loved dearly of lying. I didn’t see any good coming from that.

A few years after that e-mail, something similar happened. Eric and I made a decision that we knew was very risky to some future relationships. We definitely felt the Lord’s direction and guidance and decided to obey Him. We tried to make the necessary change as gracefully and lovingly as we possibly could. After the decision was made, several friendships which we valued grew very icy. We couldn’t figure out why.

A few months later, we had a pretty good idea what had happened.

You see, friends we value very highly actually came to us and told us that someone had lied blatantly about us. They valued our friendship enough to ask if what they heard was true. It wasn’t true at all. And we grew almost depressed knowing that this person was telling such vicious lies about us. The feeling of powerlessness that happens in a situation like this is almost overwhelming. But, again, we realized that more harm than good would come from a confrontation and so–as painful as it was–we chose to just let it roll.

This all happened a long time ago, but it came to my mind recently, for some reason. I think it may be because we find ourselves in a bit of a complication with the state of Pennsylvania because we have been wrongly accused of not paying our unemployment compensation to the state. They are stating that we did not pay our taxes due from the third quarter of 2011. In the aftermath of that, they have increased our rate substantially and revoked our sales tax license. When I talked to them on the phone, explaining that they are wrong and that we have paid the tax, there isn’t much belief or help on their part. I am in the middle of that mess and e-mailed bank copies of the cashed checks in the exact amount to them yesterday.

I have found that there are few things that make you feel more helpless and powerless than when you are wrongly accused of something.

But if we choose to stand up for what is righteous and true, this will probably happen to us. We will have enemies who want to take us down and discredit us. It is the very nature of the world that the wicked will try to take down the righteous. David talks about this in Psalm 109 and Psalm 41:7-9. And Peter tells us that we will suffer for Christ’s sake (I Peter 4). Part of this suffering will be verbal, reputation-ruining rumors and gossip about us.

So how do we deal with this?

Do we get all huffy and upset? Do we return evil for evil and start spreading our own gossip? That is what the flesh wants to do, isn’t it? At least my flesh!

What I have found is that, after I have vented to someone I trust wholly and completely (usually my husband or my mom), it is best to just ignore the false accusation (unless it has to do with taxes or hurts someone else — then we should not ignore it!).

If we are given an opportunity to defend ourselves (such as in court or in a conversation with friends) we should not be afraid, for the Holy Spirit will guide and direct us (Mark 13:9-13). And it’s important that any defense is spoken in a calm and loving manner. If we pitch a fit of temper and defend ourselves heatedly, we will almost always automatically disqualify ourselves to our listeners.

And, in the end, God knows the truth about you. He has told us that vengeance is His (Romans 12:19) It is so very important that we do not allow ourselves to grow bitter. This is probably what we Christians struggle with the most, don’t you think? We allow ourselves to hate those that have lied about us.

One of the hardest things I have done is to treat those that have accused me falsely with kindness. The first time you see them, your heart just sinks and you want to avoid them. But if we can face them with a smile and loving-kindness that first time, the next times grow easier and easier. You see, we can’t control them. We can only control us. And this verse comes constantly to mind when I am dealing with people who have accused me falsely–

 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. (Romans 12:18)

Isn’t it interesting that the verse right after this ones talks about how God will avenge us? Our job is to live peaceably with men as much as it is up to us. God will take care of the rest.

These things are not easy. I know from personal experience. They take great effort of the mind to pull away from the thoughts of anger, vengeance, and bitterness. But if we allow the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with love, grace, and mercy for these souls that have hurt us so deeply—if we can respond in this completely unnatural way (according to human standards)–we are a shining example to the world of the transformed life that God has wrought in us.

In fact, we can turn something Satan wanted to use to further his kingdom into something that furthers God’s kingdom. It’s completely up to us.

 

 

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