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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Lasting Faith

Pray for Kenneth Bae.  It is urgent.  Each day that passes, marks another day that this 44-year-old man is separated from his children and family.  He also goes by his Korean name, Pae Jun Ho.  Whether Bae or Ho, God knows who you mean.  Pray for this man, a Christian whose heart breaks for orphans.
            Bae is a U.S. citizen from the state of Washington, but has been living in China serving with the highly acclaimed and thoroughly reputable organization Youth With a Mission, YWAM.  YWAM wants to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the lost in the world.  Bae is ethnically Korean.  He takes people from China on tours into North Korea. 
            On November 12, 2012, in the country legally, Bae was arrested and has been in a N. Korean prison since.  It has been 188 days, and counting.  Our brother in Christ who values evangelism and salvation as we do is now imprisoned for carrying out the Great Commission.  He has received the longest sentence ever imposed on a U.S. citizen in North Korea: 15 years.
            Revelation 14:12 says, “Here is a call for endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus.”  Indeed.  Jesus sends us out with the good news that He is offering salvation from sin and death to all people.  Bae, sent out by Jesus, is now in prison in a dark place.  Imagine being separated from your family for 188 days; for 15 years.   Pray for him.
            And listen to God’s word.  Mr. Bae would understand the Christian who wrote Revelation, John of Ephesus.  John was imprisoned for refusing to bow to the Roman emperor.  He was sentenced for life to the prison compound on Patmos Island.  John could empathize with Kenneth Bae.  His word to all who suffer for Jesus is “endure.”
            While John passed the time of his internment he met with the risen Christ and was taken to Heaven in a vision.  He writes, “I saw another angel flying in midheaven” (14:6a).  I don’t know exactly what John means by ‘midheaven.’  He does not elaborate.  Rather he emphasizes the angel’s activity. 
            The angel carried an “eternal gospel,” which was to be preached to “those who live on earth – to every nation and tribe and language and people” (14:6b-d).  Because of Christians like Kenneth Bae, that gospel is preached in places like North Korea.  North Korea has been described by Christians who have escaped as being openly hostile to God and to faith.  These believers acknowledge there are some Christians in the country.  However, the large Churches in the bigger cities are facades.
            These buildings are actually controlled by the government and are in place to give the impression to the world that North Korea is a place of religious freedom.  In actuality though, these buildings are occupied by people who actively oppose Christian faith.  This information comes from a report of Max Fisher of the Washington Post.  He interviewed a defector who reported on the conditions in Pyongyang and other cities in that country.[i] 
            Thank God that Kenneth Bae is carrying the word of God to people in a place where there is a terrible cost for committing one’s life to Christ.  Will an American diplomat travel there and negotiate his freedom?  Will he serve out 15 years?  After a decade and a half, will he even be freed then?
            Last week, I mentioned Christians in Syria.  They made up 10-15% of the population before the violence began.  Now, the numbers dwindle as they flee to Lebanon.  God bless those who stay and maintain a church in that war-torn land.  They know the Assad regime is immoral, abusive and must fall.  However, they fear it will be replaced by the rule of Muslim extremists who have no tolerance for the presence of Jesus worshipers. 
            How can the eternal gospel Revelation says is to be proclaimed make it into these places of war and persecution?  We might find comfort reading that it is an angel carrying this gospel not men and women.  But Jesus gave the command to his disciples, and the first ones to “go and tell” the Jesus story were the women who followed him.  Before the angel of Revelation does his work of worldwide gospel proclamation, the church is to go and tell, and to do so in all places, even hard places.
            These extreme examples make for good stories, but if we leave it there, then the good stories end up being really bad preaching.  Why?  Because it is so easy to leave it there.  I am completely serious in telling the church to pray for Kenneth Bae and for the crumbling Christian presence in Syria.  We could add to our prayer list Nigeria.  Always on the brink of war, Muslim-Christian tensions are boiling over right now.  When we answer the call to prayer, it changes us and makes a difference for good in the world.
            However, it is so easy to leave it.  We hear a word a church and the truth might compel us … a little bit.  So we pray and wipe our hands and our brows and say, “Well, I prayed!”  Is there more?  Both the angel and the church are to be about some very specific activities as they pray.  Does this mean I think we are all to go sit in prison with Kenneth Bae?  Maybe. 
Maybe God is calling someone here to that ministry.  We want to open ourselves to do whatever God sets out for us and by “whatever,” we truly mean we will answer God’s call without thought to how difficult it seems.  I met a doctoer early in 2012 who is an American citizen and is ethnically.  She is, by now, in North Korea, there to teach in a medical school.  Also, she will secretly work with Christians to encourage them and grow the church.  She knows full well she could have 15 years of hard labor.  Yet she goes with Heavenly joy in her heart. 
Maybe one of us is to join her and Mr. Bae.   Or one here might be called to Syria or Nigeria or other hard places.  We are all called and God’s church is called to every nation.  In our nation there won’t be arrests and imprisonments.  There is not the threat that the government will soon be dominated by a hate-filled religion that has no conscience or hesitation in killing believers.  What threatens our witness?
Many things in American culture erode, water down, suppress, and relativize the Christian’s message that Jesus is Lord.  It all boils down to compromise.  We aren’t going to suffer bodily harm for our testimony, but our culture tells us to mute the Gospel and only allow it to speak in its proper place – in church buildings on Sunday morning; before meals and bed; and in a word of thanks for secular successes.   Oscar winners and athletes who win the championship are allowed to emphatically thank God.  In those moments of triumph unrelated to anything we see in scripture we see the victors declaring “God has a plan.” 
Yes, a major component of God’s plan was for you to win the title and for the seven Christians on the other team to lose.
Our separation-of-church-and-state nation celebrates our announcement that Jesus is Lord as long as we make that announcement conform to the values that reign currently: tolerance; freedom; excess; affluence; and, our infatuation with all things young, all things thin, and all things cool.  If Jesus fits in with all that, then He can be Lord in the hearts of American Christians.  If he does not, then Christians need to bend a little and compromise their statement of faith or at least minimize it so that it does not offend anyone else.
This “eternal gospel” is defined in Revelation 14:7.  “Fear God and give him glory … and worship him.”  Fear God does not mean fear Him like we would fear a bully or fear an intruder or fear an impending storm.  This is not fear of heights or fear of snakes.  Fear God means to hold God in such reverence, to afford God such authority, and to recognize God’s absolute holiness that we see that sin nauseates God.  We know our lives are under God’s watch.  Every instance of rebellion is seen by God, so we fear God’s judgment and we also fear hurting God’s heart.  Both are true.  Appropriate God-fear leads us to see God as the exalted one whom we cannot approach casually.  We exist to serve Him.
Fear is a condition that leads us to the second command in the eternal gospel – glory.  Give God glory.  This happens in our worship.  It also comes about in our living.  When we relate to other humans in love, God is glorified.  When we get the most out of our abilities, God is glorified.  Relationships and work are to be done with God constantly in mind.  We are ever seeking God as we go about life, submitting ourselves to Him and conforming to His ways.  We live to lift God up.
Worship is an activity and it is a posture.  We have talked about worship in recent weeks.  We know it happens in worship services and also in private moments. 
These commands of the eternal Gospel which apply to all people – fear God, exalt God, worship God – contradict our culture’s unwritten rules.  In our culture, we are to fear peer disapproval.  If our peers don’t like how we’re living, we must change.  We exalt ourselves.  And we worship things that make us feel good and do it right now.
To abandon fear of God, glory of God, and worship of God, for fear of peer disapproval, glory of self, and worship of immediate gratification is compromise.  Revelation calls this fornication (14:8) and drunkenness.  Verse 9 says, “Those who worship the beast and its image, and receive a mark on their foreheads … will also drink the wine of God’ wrath” (14:9-1).
God has no place for us reducing our faith and making it fit.  Faith in Jesus and the life lived in his name ignites fire within.  We fear nothing but God and face the world determined to tell about Jesus, knowing He will bring healing, joy, and life.  This is no time for wishy-washy faith.  In Revelation 3:16, Jesus declares he will spit out of his mouth those with lukewarm faith.  We are either with Jesus all the way or not at all.  In our times, where we live, the Bible calls us to live out our witness for Jesus as if doing so would get us killed.  That is the commitment the Lord expects.  God wants all of us – every bit of each one of us.  We won’t be persecuted for testifying that Jesus is Lord.  But we must be as committed as if that were to happen. 
Anything less disgusts the Lord to the point that God is unhappy.  God’s love never fails so our strongest alliance is with him.  The world around us, the world demanding we compromise, will have no influence.  Rather we stand firm. 
Revelation 14:13, “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus” (14:13).  Whether a believer is fighting false doctrine like many 2nd century Christians, a believer sees his life on the line like John on Patmos and Kenneth Bae in Korea, or a believer is tempted to relegate her faith like the affluent 21st century American Christian, we are called to stand and endure.
Robert Wall points out two implications for the disciple who demonstrates this lasting faith.  First, we will sacrifice.  Some sacrifice social standing or friendships or popularity or even jobs.  Others even sacrifice their freedom or their lives.  An enduring faith is not recognizable in easy times, but rather when it is severely tested.  If we with stick Jesus and don’t yield, we will be tested.
Second, there is good news for the enduring disciple.  “Blessed are those who die in the Lord.”  This could even be translated “Happy are those who die in the Lord.”  Paradoxical?  Ask Kenneth Bae.
After months in prison, he was permitted some phone calls.  His sister said he sounded calm and not discouraged.  Did he know he would be locked up for trying to help North Korean orphans and for doing it in Jesus’ name?  I am sure he was not surprised.  Calm and not discouraged. 
I knew friends in seminary whose wives left them because they did not want to go into ministry.  Calm and not discouraged. 
High school and young adult believers grow to the point that they as Christ followers have to decide.  Will I continue in the party life of my friends knowing that God is not pleased?  Or, will I cease the me-first, party hard, ignore-the-rules life and begin living for Jesus even if doing so means some of my friends will ditch me?  They opt for the Jesus way.  Calm and not discouraged. 
Where in your life is the decision point?  Fear God, glorify him, and worship him, no matter the cost.  Pray like life depends on it because it does for Kenneth Bae and for Christians in North Korea, Syria, Nigeria, and other places.  And in your own walk, develop lasting faith.  Don’t wilt under the hot lights of temptation.  Stand strong in Jesus’ name.  Tell the world about him.  Some will mock you.  Others will hear Jesus through you and turn to Him because of your witness.

[i] Arthur Bright, Christian Science Moniter online, May 10, 2013 -

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