Monday, August 11, 2014

Are You Ready for the Darkest Valley?

The Apostle Paul was on his way to Jerusalem after wrapping up a long, five-year journey through the Roman province of Asia, Macedonia and Greece.  It was his third missionary venture, and as was his history, it was one of personal risk and threats against his life.  There were those who simply wanted the great Christian evangelist silenced, even if it meant assassination. 

Sharing some final thoughts with the elders of the church in the Asian capitol city of Ephesus – men in whom he had personally invested three years of instruction and mentoring – he opened up as to how he could go on in the face of persecution when most would likely have given up.  His words are almost superhuman.

"And now I am on my way to Jerusalem, bound in my spirit, not knowing what I will encounter there, except that in town after town the Holy Spirit testifies to me that chains and afflictions are waiting for me. But I count my life of no value to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.” – Acts 20:22-24

Life for Paul was wrapped up, not in himself or his own wants, but in serving out the purpose given Him by the Lord.  The possibility of death was not concern for him since, as he wrote to the Philippian church, “To live is Christ and to die is gain”.  It wasn’t that Paul had a death wish.  There was much he wanted to accomplish in life.  But he had this incredible contentment in knowing his life was totally in God’s hands.

On the journey to Jerusalem Paul was twice urged rather passionately by caring friends not to go on to the city.  They had some “inside information”, revealed to them by the Holy Spirit that something horrible awaited him there.  Even his fellow missionary Luke tried to talk him out of the trip, but Paul would have none of it.  His heart was set on getting to Jerusalem.  His response to their attempts to dissuade him was, “I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Men who hated him and the message he preached were waiting for him there.  He knew that.  Yet he wasn’t afraid and in fact was ready for whatever would happen “for the name of the Lord Jesus”.

Like you, I’m sure, I have been shocked beyond words at the reports of the atrocities happening in Iraq as ISIS, a group filled with hate for anyone who dares believe in a different God than their own seems hell-bent on annihilating entire cultures from existence.  Children are being beheaded.  Young girls are seized, raped and sold off as slaves.  Men are crucified in front of their families.  And all because they claim faith in Jesus Christ.

As I read the reports and see the pictures I am beyond words and cannot find the right emotions as I think of innocent men, women and children suffering such horrors.  What bothers me as well is the thought that it is only by the grace of God that I wasn’t born in Iraq.  Who am I to escape their hell?  Who am I to be so blessed as to be an American?  And more, if I was one of the Christians in the path of the evil swath cut by these Islamic extremists, would I deny my Savior to escape certain death?  Would I, like Paul, be ready when death seemed certain?

Frankly, I don’t know.  I want to say, “Yes!”.  But if it was my child with a rifle pointed to his head; if it was my wife or daughter being dragged away to be raped and worse; if it were my hands and feet about to be nailed to a cross, would I cave or would I die with courage?  Would I be ready?

Please join me in praying for those who will pay the ultimate price in this genocide.  Join me in praying for someone to intercede on their behalf.  My heart breaks for what is happening, and I know yours does as well.  Let’s hope they are ready.

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