This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Bound to Be Free compiled by Jan Pit. In the following short quotation from Li An (from China, pseudonym used to protect this well-known Christian), there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
Since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:28)
A brother was on trial for his faith in the Lord. When the prosecutor interrogated him he asked the brother: 'You believe in God; tell us where your God is.'
The brother replied: 'He lives in my heart.'
'Prove it; we do not believe in spiritual things.'
So the brother gave his testimony.
'You are speaking rubbish,' the prosecutor said angrily. 'You are making things up; they are a pack of lies.'
'You can go and find out for yourself,' the brother replied.
Two years later the brother was brought to the court again. To his surprise the prosecutor said: 'We have carefully looked into the things you told us; 80% is true, but we still don't believe there is a God.'
'Then how do you explain the 80%?' our brother asked.
'We don't need to explain. We have enough evidence to conclude that you are a weird person.' So they sent this brother back to jail...
What can we learn from this?
- That we must never compromise. We must be willing to pay the price--any price--for our faith.
- That, because of their unwillingness to acknowledge God, people can fall into deeper darkness than ever before.
Have you seen God at work? Have you responded?
A moment of introspection: A lesson from the Talmud for this moment: "He who adds not to his learning diminishes it." On that basis, let us add to our learning from Li An, the inspiration that urges us onward. Today, she poses a number of important considerations for us.
Her writing asks us where our God is. The brother she mentions reported God lives in his heart. Though that might not be supported per se, in the Scriptures, we are told in John 5:37-42 that Jesus criticized the Jews who were eager for His death, saying that they neither had God's Word abiding in them, nor God's love within them. Our challenge is to maintain the internalized Word through not only Bible memorization, but implementation of what we have committed to memory and read. Our challenge is to preserve the internal love of God and radiate that love outward in the form of compassion and mercy. In these respects, our faith is exercised and demonstrated as we "do" and "not only hear/read" what we've been taught by the living Word. (James 1:22-25)
Li An noted that the prison interrogator had boasted "we do not believe in spiritual things." Paul urged the church in Colossae to put on the new self: "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth." (Colossians 3:1-2) Michael Downey remarked about spirituality, "Spirituality is a slippery term, but the phenomenon itself is not new. Christian spirituality is nothing other than life in Christ by the presence and power of the Spirit: being conformed to the person of Christ, and being united in communion with God and with others. Spirituality is not an aspect of Christian life, it is the Christian life." In setting our minds on heavenly or spiritual things, above, we demonstrate the lives of ones raised with Christ. To those who set their minds on earthly things, Jesus taught in parables: "This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand." (Matthew 13:13) Those who set their minds to earthly things alone are like the seed described thusly: "As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful." (Matthew 13:22)
To such an unbeliever, Li An's Christian brother boldly shared his testimony, and had much the same response described as Jesus when He said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony." (John 3:11) The brother experienced the word of John the Baptist announcing the Christ: "He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true." (John 3:32-33) Jesus, John the Baptist, and the disciples/apostles all showed and provided their testimony of the Truth in their lives yet, as John Stott observed of today, "So much so-called 'testimony' today is really autobiography and even sometimes thinly disguised self-advertisement, that we need to regain a proper biblical perspective. All true testimony is testimony to Jesus Christ, as he stands on trial before the world. (John Stott. "Christian Reader", Vol. 36, no. 5.) From another vantage point, a certain mother had a creative idea: A mother I know has a different way of asking the same question ["How was your day?"]. As she tucks her children into bed each night ... she asks them a question: "Where did you meet God today?" And they tell her, one by one: a teacher helped me, there was a homeless person in the park, I saw a tree with lots of flowers in it. She tells them where she met God, too. Before the children drop off to sleep, the stuff of this day has become the substance of their prayer. Perhaps our testimony might also become "the substance of prayer".
In his book Don't Park Here, C. William Fisher likens many Christians to a piano player. Their testimonies never change. Instead of drawing on the full range of their blessings in Christ, they concentrate on just one or two "notes." They "play middle C" again and again. In a testimony meeting or during a sharing time, they say the same old thing--"I was saved 40 years ago, and I know I'm going to heaven." You get the feeling they've made little progress in all that time. Yet there's so much to the Christian life. Fisher commented, "Why, with all the rich, wide range of the keyboard of spiritual insight and truth, do so many Christians play on only one note? Why should anyone be content to be a dull monotone when God intends his life to be a rich, harmonious symphony?" The psalmist said, "I will tell of all Your marvelous works." Our lives can become our testimony as we choose to show Christ to the world. Dwight L. Moody agreed, saying "Where one man reads the Bible, a hundred read you and me." (Dwight L. Moody, quoted in "Men of Integrity", Vol. 3, no. 6.) May our lives shine as testimonies to our Lord. May our actions speak loudly, and our words merely support the active witness. Adapting a quote of Francis of Assisi, may we always be prepared to describe Christ's impact on our lives. If necessary, use words.
The interrogator accused the Christian brother of lying, of making things up. Yet that dear brother spoke the truth, even as the apostle Paul addressed the Romans (Romans 9:1), "I am speaking the truth in Christ--I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit..." and told the Church in Corinth, "The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying." (2 Corinthians 11:31) It is imperative that we be bearers of the Truth! In his book Up from Slavery, Booker T. Washington explained that during the period following the Civil War, many people became teachers thinking it would be an easy way to make a living. One such fellow went from village to village, teaching for a while and receiving pay for it. As he entered one town, the people asked if he taught that the earth is round or flat. He replied that he was prepared to teach either way, based on the preference of a majority of his patrons! Truth is not determined by survey, despite our modern attempts to make it so--even within the church. Ultimate Truth is found in God alone.
The official was unwilling to acknowledge God. We Christians are to acknowledge the Lord in all of our ways (Proverbs 3:5-6); Jesus said, "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) By his resistance to so acknowledge the Lord, the prison official fell into deeper darkness than before he chose that option. For Christ will deny him before the Father, "And since [he] did not see fit to acknowledge God, God [will give him] up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done." (Romans 1:28)
To the inquisitor, the brother gave an invitation to "go find out for yourself [if I am telling the truth or lying]." The questioner found it impossible to accept the testimony of the brother. God would respond to official, "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him." (Hebrews 11:6) The Christian brother in essence instructed the interrogator, "If you find it hard to believe in God, I strongly advise you to begin your search not with philosophical questions about the existence and being of God, but with Jesus of Nazareth. If you read the story of Jesus, and read it as an honest and humble seeker, Jesus Christ is able to reveal himself to you, and thus make God real to you. The Christian brother knew that the cost of food in the kingdom is hunger for the bread of heaven, instead of the white bread of the world. Do we want it? Are we hungry? Or are we satisfied with ourselves and our televisions and our computers and our jobs and our families? While the Church, today, has a story to tell to the nations, we've a testimony to share with our neighbors and friends, our co-workers and unbelieving family members. Acts 17:22-31 tells of Paul's faith, his belief in the Savior and King, Jesus. Perhaps our testimony and our recommendation to others to "go find out for yourself" might sound different, but should direct the unbeliever to the Way, the Truth and the Life. (John 14:6)
The questioning official returned after two years of "researching" and, without documentation, had come up with 80% agreement with the brother--yet still could not believe in God. In the brother's response, Li An notes that there is a lesson to be learned: never compromise. Merriam Webster dictionary/thesaurus describes compromising as endangering, hazardous, perilous, jeopardizing, menacing, risky. Charles Swindoll agrees, saying that "The swift wind of compromise is a lot more devastating than the sudden jolt of misfortune." Uncompromising, we ought to be willing to pay the price for our faith--any price. Jesus spoke of being willing to bear our cross (Luke 14:27-33); in this passage, He also taught a parable to the masses about counting the cost of following Christ. Jesus did not want a blind, naïve commitment that expected only blessings. As a builder estimates costs or a king evaluates military strength (V31), so people must consider what Jesus expects of His followers before they commit their lives to Him. The cost, Jesus warned, is complete surrender to Him. Consider this: There are two suggestive truths within this passage. William Barclay explained the parable of the builder thusly:
1. It is possible to be a follower of Jesus without being a disciple; to be a camp-follower without being a soldier of the king; to be a hanger-on in some great work without pulling one's weight. Once someone was talking to a great scholar about a younger man. He said, 'So and so tells me that he was one of your students.' The teacher answered devastatingly, 'He may have attended my lectures, but he was not one of my students.' It is one of the supreme handicaps of the Church that in it there are so many distant followers of Jesus and so few real disciples.
2. It is a Christian's first duty to count the cost of following Christ. The tower which the man was going to build was probably a vineyard tower. Vineyards were often equipped with towers from which watch was kept against thieves who might steal the harvest. An unfinished building is always a humiliating thing. In Scotland we may, for instance, think of that weird structure called 'McCaig's Folly' which stands behind Oban:
In every sphere of life each of us is called upon to count the cost. In the introduction to the marriage ceremony according to the forms of the Church of Scotland, the minister says, 'Marriage is not to be entered upon lightly or unadvisedly, but thoughtfully, reverently, and in the fear of God.' A man and woman must count the cost.
It is so with the Christian way. But if we are daunted by the high demands of Christ let us remember that we are not left to fulfil them alone. He who called us to the steep road will walk with us every step of the way and be there at the end to meet us.
The New Daily Study Bible -- (William Barclay, "The Gospel of Luke", Westminster Press, July 2012, Pages 203-204)
Whatever the price, whatever the time, wherever the place--Jesus Christ expects no compromise. Our prayerful testimony could bear fruit for the Kingdom. Acknowledge the Lord in all we do. As William Barclay correctly wrote, "it is so with the Christian way. But if we are daunted by the high demands of Christ, let us remember that we are not left to fulfil them alone. He who called us to the steep road will walk with us every step of the way and be there at the end to meet us."