We had a wonderful series of Revival services last week. Our evangelist/revivalist Rev. Marcus Whitworth did an outstanding job of presenting God’s word through music and message, holding our attention and getting us involved in the service. One of our guys told me that he had been in lots of revival meetings of various denominations, but never had he had as much fun as he did in this one.
I hope you have moved up a notch in your spiritual journey. I think the thing I especially appreciated about this revival was that instead of feeling brow-beaten and pointing out our short-comings, we instead were focused on the Joy of the Lord and His awesome power! We were in the Presence of Jehovah!
What can we expect in the days ahead?
In our Wednesday night study of Acts, I have come to realize that in the beginning years of Christianity, after every great victory—The Day of Pentecost, the healing of the Lame man at the Gate called Beautiful, and after so many people heard the gospel message preached and became believers, there would be an attack by the Enemy. The so-called religious leaders were jealous of the Apostles and the number of people who were flocking to them. They were threatened by the early church’s success, fearful of losing control over their Temple enterprises. And consequently, they did everything they could to shut now the message of Jesus. And when Paul and the Missionary party established churches on their journeys, almost without exception there was a backlash from city leaders and Paul or some of his party found themselves in jail. And I would tell you behind the actions of these authorities there was opposition in the spiritual realm taking place. In Ephesians 6:12 Paul wrote, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
Over the years I have seen on several occasions spiritual attacks on people who are new Christians. I’m convinced those attacks also come upon older Christians who have experienced renewal and revival in their spirits. I remember one lady who, after becoming a Christian, experienced nightmares and sometime daytime thoughts of Satanic attacks. I found out that her mother had been involved in witchcraft and it was obvious that Satan wasn’t happy about this lady becoming a Christian.
I have heard many testify after making a spiritual commitment to Christ how the Tempter would make them doubt what had really happened, saying, “You didn’t really mean it when you said you were going to quit sinning…”
And almost every Christian I know, self included, has gone through times when we didn’t feel victorious. We didn’t feel the joy and peace we like to associate with serving Christ. Several years ago I took a course at our Nazarene Theological Seminary on the Christian Mystics. The class focused on Christians who went through what we call the Dark Ages who struggled to experience oneness with God. They often spoke of going through a time they called “The Dark Night of the Soul.” I’ve heard many modern day Christians who used that phrase to describe a time when they did not feel the Presence of God. They said they felt that their prayers never penetrated the ceiling and Heaven seemed to be sealed up –like a brass ceiling. It was a time of testing for them—a time when they learned to walk by faith, not feeling or sight. And as they stayed true to God, eventually the darkness dissipated and their joy was restored.
I can guarantee you that as you attempt to draw close to God that Satan will do all He can to keep you away from God. Don’t let Him defeat you.
Peter’s letter is thought to have been written during a time of intense persecution of the Christian Church by the Roman Empire—possibly while Emperor Nero, who was considered to have been a madman, insane, and who, because of an obsession with spectacular building programs, was probably the culprit who was responsible for the burning of Rome. When this caused popular opinion to turn against him Nero used the Christians as scapegoats, blaming them for the mass destruction caused by the fire.
The persecution was the first official state sponsored persecution of Christianity, and it resulted in horrible tortures that are difficult for us to even imagine. The most commonly quoted persecution was of how Christians were covered with tar and set aflame as human torches in Nero’s gardens.
Peter was writing to people who had literally been under fire because of their faith. The concept of “Still Sweeter Every Day” takes on a whole different dimension when we consider “FAITH TESTED.”
We live in a time that records atrocities that exceed even Nero’s horrible persecution—when more people have been martyred for their Christian Faith in the last 100 years than were martyred in the entire 1900 years leading up to then. American Religious Liberty is under siege. The general population has indicated at the polls that Biblical Morality is not important—WE MUST CONSIDER THAT OUR FAITH, TOO, WILL BE TESTED.”
Let’s consider today some of the sources of Faith’s Testings;
I. OUR FAITH MAY BE TESTED BY THE WORLD AT LARGE.
a. The world looks at our claims and asks, “Is it real?” Every time a Christian falls, or a Christian is found in compromising situations, the World sneers and claims, “I knew it wasn’t real!” I’ve heard all my life non-Christians talking about the hypocrites in the Church—People who claim to be something they aren’t. The truth is, everywhere we go our Christian Faith is under the scrutiny of the World. An unkind word, a moment of indiscretion, an unloving attitude, a moment of failure, and the World pounces with “I TOLD YOU IT ISN’T REAL!” We are constantly being tested. As a young Christian just out of college, I accepted the position of Youth Pastor in one of our churches. It was a part time job that required me to be bi-vocational. I worked on a survey crew for the county. My boss knew I was a Christian and in the ministry, but he wittingly or unwittingly often put me in situations that proved awkward at best. He was a heavy drinker, though he never drank on the job. But he and another crew member who did claim to be a Christian, often bragged about their latest drinking exploits. Once my boss sent me to the store for some items we needed and he told me to pick up a pack of cigarettes for him No big deal, except I knew I was being tested. I brought him the cigarettes, but then I explained to him how I felt that having to buy cigarettes was a compromise to my witness and I asked him not to send me after them again. Fortunately, he respected that. Sometimes we come up against people who won’t respect us or our beliefs, and we must decide when and where we have to take our stand. What would you do? Don’t condemn another person on how they handle such situations. Think through all the implications. BUT THE BOTTOM LINE MUST BE, “HOW CAN I BE TRUE TO MY FAITH AND TO MY GOD?” In the ancient world, the big issue was placing a pinch of incense before a bust of Caesar and saying, “Caesar is Lord.” Many Christians were imprisoned or martyred because they refused to do so, saying, ‘THERE IS ONLY ONE LORD—THE LORD JESUS CHRIST!” Foxes Book of Martyrs tells of Christians who remained true to their faith, even while their families were being tortured. I pray to God that none of us will ever have to face that intense test of Faith. But, quite frankly, I’m here to tell you that EVERYONE OF US WILL BE TESTED—the World wants to know “IF YOU ARE FOR REAL!” Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, NIV). WILL YOUR FAITH STAND UP TO THE TEST OF THE WORLD?
II. OUR FAITH MAY BE TESTED BY OUR PHYSICAL INFIRMITIES.
a. In Acts 9:36-37 we read, “In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became sick and died. And her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. Lydda was near Joppa, so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and begged him, ‘Please come at once!’” I’m here to tell you that sickness and death are sometimes hard to explain. Why would God allow such an active and productive Christian like Dorcas to get sick and die? Why does God allow any Christian to be sick? Why is there physical suffering at all in our world? There are no easy answers, but I’ve known of professing Christians who have turned their backs on God and the Church in their anger and disillusionment. The Bible is full of examples of Godly people who suffered physically. The Old Testament Job is perhaps the most well known. Satan tortured him and took away all that was precious to him in this world—His Children, his servants, his wealth, his dignity—and the whole reason was to see “IF HE WOULD STAY TRUE TO HIS FAITH IN GOD.” If our faith is affixed to good health and material prosperity it will ultimately fail us. About physical illness and death: I have come to realize that we are still in a fallen world. The fallenness allows sickness and death. God is not the cause. Sin is the cause. God is actively working on our behalf to banish sickness and death. Jesus Christ is the Ultimate Remedy. But until the final Revelation when Jesus returns and the World is judged and Death and Hell and Satan and His Cohorts are cast into the Lake of Fire for all eternity, we will still experience some of the consequences of our Race’s fallenness. BUT GOD WILL ONE DAY RESTORE US—We will one day exchange this perishable body for one that is imperishable! And, on occasion, for reasons that may be beyond our understanding, God sometimes chooses to intervene and cause physical healing in a supernatural way—like He did for Dorcas. Whether He chooses to heal us or not, THE REAL TEST OF MY FAITH IS, “WILL I TRUST GOD REGARDLESS!” Do you have faith in God even when your body groans with pain, or someone you love faces serious illness?
III. OUR FAITH MAY BE TESTED BY OUR PERSONAL AMBITIONS.
a. In James 1:13-15 we read, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me,’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full blown, gives birth to death.” Abraham’s supreme test of Faith was when he was commanded to sacrifice his only son of the Promise, Isaac. It is hard for us to fully understand that test—our view of immortality is vastly different from the view of those in Abraham’s day. But Abraham’s idea of immortality was wrapped up in Isaac and in the Race of people that God had promised would come through Isaac. But Abraham chose to trust God more than his own instincts—more than his own desires and dreams—and God counted that to Abraham as Righteousness. I do not believe that it is wrong to be ambitious—to desire to do great things, to desire to be a person whose life counts for something. But before I can have ambitions, I must first of all surrender myself fully to God—so that I lay down all my ambitions and all my desires—“NOT MY WILL BUT THINE” must be the commitment of my life. I must submit all my plans and desires to Him and allow Him to be in total control—allow Him to replace my ambitions with His plans so that my overall will is TO DO HIS WILL. DOES YOUR FAITH STAND UP TO THE TEST OF YOUR PERSONAL AMBITIONS?
IIII. OUR FAITH MAY EVEN BE TESTED BY THE CHURCH.
a. In 1 Kings 13 there is a story of a prophet of God who lived in the Southern Kingdom of Judah who was commanded to deliver a message to Jeroboam, King of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. In the prophet’s own words he tells us he was, “…commanded by the Word of the Lord: ‘You must not eat bread or drink water, or return by the way you came…’” (1 Kings 13:9). But another prophet who lived in the Northern Kingdom sent word for this prophet to come eat at his house, saying, “The Lord has told me to tell you to do this.” The first prophet listened to the second one and disregarded his own personal “Word from the Lord.” Consequently, a lion then killed him on the side of the road. Now, that’s an odd story. The Old Prophet from the North must have been a false prophet, for his message was not from God. But the warning seems clear. We must be true to God in our own lives, even when other Christians don’t understand us, or even when they try to talk us out of doing what we feel God is telling us to do. THE IMPORTANT THING IS, BE SURE OF GOD’S WORD AND WILL FOR YOUR LIFE. And once you know for sure, don’t go back on that even if the General Superintendent tries to talk you into doing something else. One of the great stories of recent history is told on the Great Methodist Missionary Dr. E. Stanley Jones, who served in India, and was a renowned Holiness preacher and writer. In a Methodist Conference meeting Dr. Jones was elected bishop—equivalent to our District Superintendent. After a time of prayer, he felt that this was not God’s will for him and he declined the position—even though the whole conference had voted for him! He knew that God had a different plan for him than what those of the conference wanted him to do. He knew that He had to follow God’s Plan. Is God calling you to be a missionary? Or maybe He is
Talking to you about teaching a class of children or starting a ministry to people with problems? Do your friends try to discourage you, telling you how hard it will be and how much you may have to sacrifice? OBEY GOD! We’ve laughed for years about it–The day I said “Yes” to God’s call to be a preacher. I told my Dad about it and, after a few moments of silence, his response was, “I guess you know that the lowest paying job you can get!” Dad had always wanted me to be a doctor. But after that shaky start, Dad remained my best supporter. After I graduated from college I never asked my Dad for money, but whenever he came around, he would slip me a 20 or so—I guess he thought he had better help out so I wouldn’t starve to death! WILL YOUR FAITH STAND UP TO THE TEST OF OTHER CHRISTIANS, OR TO FRIENDS AND FAMILY?
Tests of our Faith may come from anywhere at any time in all kinds of shapes and sizes—Even from Friends and Family, or enemies within or without.
The question is not, “ARE YOU GOING TO BE TESTED?” Rather, it is “WHEN YOU ARE TESTED, WILL YOUR FAITH BE PROVEN TRUE…”
Remember Peter’s admonition and encouragement to the Christian’s whose Faith was being tried: “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith, of greater worth than gold which perishes though refined by fire—may be proven genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7).