This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Forever Young: Living and Dying for Christ (VOM). In the following short account, there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38)
Amelio Crotti had been a prisoner in China and wrote about his experiences. The following is one of his accounts:
From my cell I heard a mother speak soothing words to her child of five, whose name was Siao-Mei. She had been arrested with the child because she had protested against the arrest of her bishop. All the prisoners were indignant at seeing the suffering of the child. Even the prison director said to the mother, "Don't you have pity on your daughter? It is sufficient for you to declare that you give up being a Christian and will not go to church any more. Then you and the child will be free."
In despair the woman agreed and was released. Two weeks later she was forced to shout from the stage before 10,000 people, "I am no longer a Christian." Siao-Mei stood beside her as she denied her faith.
On their return home, little Siao-Mei said, "Mummy, today Jesus is not happy with you."
The mother explained, "You wept in prison. I had to say this out of my love for you."
Siao-Mei replied, "I promise that if we go to jail again for Jesus, I will not weep."
The mother ran to the prison director and told him, "You convinced me to say wrong things for my daughter's sake, but she has more courage than I."
Both went back to prison, but Siao-Mei no longer wept.
So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 10:32-33)
A moment of introspection: What would it take, for us to deny the Lord? Peter, the disciple, adamantly took issue with Jesus, saying he would never deny Him. Yet he did deny Him. (Mark 14:66-72) Would the lure of worldly goods and possessions cause us to abandon our Savior? In The Pilgrim’s Progress, the main character, Christian, encountered deceivers, enticers (especially in Vanity Fair), dissuaders, and opposers along his way to the Celestial City. Whereas, it seems, every temptation is an opportunity to flee to God--in the early church, Demas succumbed to the worldly seduction, and left the apostle Paul (2 Timothy 4:10) "For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia." Samuel Johnson (a devout Anglican and poet, essayist, moralist and more) once remarked that "Man’s chief merit consists of resisting the impulses of his nature." We are not tempted away from Christ because we are evil; we are tempted because we are human. Paul, the apostle, realized this and warned the church not to be taken captive by the world (Colossians 2:8). As weak individuals we may easily fall into rationalizing instead of resisting our impulses. The apostle Paul also advised his protégé, Timothy, to resist the attraction of the world and explained to him that... "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs." (1 Timothy 6:10) The same could be true of the love of the world and its allurements (1 John 2:15-17); in this passage, the Bible strongly advises us against loving the world: "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life--is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever." Even Jesus Christ Himself, in Matthew 6:24, outlined the peril inherent in materialism: "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money."
Would our children's school system lead one to dismiss Jesus Christ in one's life? For many, today, this very institution lures persons away from the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Educators at all levels of public schools and collegiate studies, actively bias young learners away from the Christ, and towards humanism. Around the world, family members, village leaders and residents, religious competitors (to Christianity), governments, police, armed forces, terrorists, laws, customs, traditions, and more, actively chastise and persecute new believers and long-time believers for their faith--and the common demand is voiced: "Deny Christ!" In Jesus' day, the same adversaries stoned Stephen, crucified Christ, maligned and persecuted the apostles (2 Corinthians 6:3-10), and persecuted communities of believers: Acts 8:1-3 "And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison."
What can one do to retain one's faith if denying faith seems virtuous, as in the case of Siao-Mei's mother? By yielding to temptation, her mother lost in a moment the faith it took her a lifetime to gain. Hristo Kulichev (Bulgarian Christian imprisoned for many years) shared his similar experience in prison, of temptation in the form of (false) caring about his children:
Many times I was summoned by the police because they didn’t allow me to preach the Gospel. When I was arrested the public prosecutor tried every possible way to exert influence on me. Satan used this man to tempt me in many different ways. The man offered me a better job. When I refused to accept it he began to remind me of the difficulties I would have to face in prison. When he realized that I was ready to suffer for God he said: "You seem to be willing to suffer for your faith, but do you realize it will have many consequences for your children also? Your imprisonment will affect all your family and they will suffer because of you. Your daughter won’t be allowed to graduate from Sofia University, and your son will not be allowed to finish at the Technical College. And you will be the only reason for that. You will destroy their future." I know parents in my church who ceased coming to church for fear that they might hinder their children’s career. I do not blame them. Fear is the strongest tool of Satan to tempt us. Fear for ourselves, fear for our loved ones. Fear, which we hid under the cover of love and care. I turned to the prosecutor and said: "If I love my family more than God I am not worthy of Him. I am ready to sacrifice anything for my Savior and so disarm Satan."
Ultimately, thankfully, Siao-Mei's mother listened to the Lord's message to her, through Siao-Mei, and responded readily to the Lord's re-direction. Hristo Kulichev likewise responded to the Lords' message through his recall of Scriptural guidance: "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." (Matthew 10:37-39) Knowing God's Word and listening to it--applying it to our lives--is always the best choice for believers, in abiding within Christ. The Psalmist affirmed this, as he wrote Psalm 119:9-11:
How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
Solomon, in his God-given wisdom wrote in Proverbs 7:24-27:
And now, O sons, listen to me,
and be attentive to the words of my mouth.
Let not your heart turn aside to her ways;
do not stray into her paths,
for many a victim has she laid low,
and all her slain are a mighty throng.
Her house is the way to Sheol,
going down to the chambers of death.
Tempted to deny Christ? Before we do, ask the Lord if this is His desire, His will. Denying Christ is a serious undertaking. It never produces good results for a believer. Jesus said much to ponder and apply, in the 15th chapter of John, and these words of warning should give us a shudder: (John 15:6; context: John 15:5-11) If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. Enchantment with the world has ramifications that debase Christians. The world hates believers (John 15:18-25); this is increasingly true. In its hatred, it tempts, abases, abuses, discourages, anesthetizes, saps, distracts, destroys, weakens, ostracizes, demeans, ignores, and employs many more methods and means to eliminate belief in Jesus Christ in this world. In the church, the great falling away has begun (1 Timothy 4:1-2); yet Jesus Christ told his followers and us, that His words are intent on keeping us from falling away. (John 16:1). It behooves us to know God's Word, to become familiar with it through understanding and application, for it is this Word of God and our faith in Him that will keep us from falling--will keep us from denying Him. We would do well to emulate the zeal of the Psalmist, and so also …love the LORD our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. (Deuteronomy 6:5-6) May the Lord find us faithful, as He Himself is faithful. When we love God with our whole heart, soul and mind, Satan will not be able to enter into our lives. God will enter and take care. Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24-25)