Lethargy: Monday Monologues (podcast) October 19, 2020

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Stephen W. Hiemstra 2020 (Ken Burtram Photography)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will share a prayer and reflect on spiritual lethargy. After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on this link.

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Lethargy: Monday Monologues (podcast) October 19, 2020

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net,

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Persecution Can Be Transformative

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And Saul approved of his [Stephen’s] 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. (Acts 8:1)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In my grandparents’ home, every meal began with prayer and ended with a scripture reading. One time in college when I visited, I read the story of Stephen: “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.“ (Acts 6:13-14) Stephen offered no defense, but rather he accused the Jews of false worship and not keeping the law (Acts 7:48, 53). Then, he reminded them of Jesus’ words during his trial: “But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matt 26:64) Here Jesus paraphrased Daniel 7:13 in a clear claim of divinity. This claim drove the Sanhedrin crazy and in a fit of rage they stoned Stephen, an act illegal under Roman law (John 18:31).

After the execution of Stephen, the Book of Acts introduces Saul (Acts 7:58) who, not only approved of Stephen’s stoning, but led the persecution of Christians in Jerusalem that followed, ravaging the church (Acts 8:1–3). The word, ravage, suggests a self-destructive manner, as in the proverb: “When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the LORD.” (Prov 19:3) This manner of persecution confirms Saul’s own testimony that he was a zealous persecutor (Acts 8:1; Phil 3:6).

In leading the persecution of the church, Saul assists in scattering the Jerusalem disciples to both the regions of Judea and Samaria. This fulfilled the first two parts of the commission of Christ in Acts 1:8 and he was aided by disciples who shared the Gospel as they fled Jerusalem (Acts 8:4). Thus, even at his worst Saul acts as an unwilling, unknowing instrument of the Holy Spirit as he accomplishes Jesus’ charge in Acts 1.8, cited earlier.

When Saul sets out to oppose the third part of Christ’s commission in the scattering by going to Damascus, however, the risen Christ intervenes, preventing him from further self-destruction, saying: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). To this question, Saul responds: “Who are you, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” (Acts 9:5–6) This is in stark contrast with the response of Judas Iscariot who commits suicide (Matt 27:5). Even before he was even aware, the Apostle Paul, formerly Saul, served God’s purposes even in persecuting the church and, in doing so, was driven painfully towards his own conversion and call (Acts 9:15-16).

Persecution often traumatizes us, leaving deeper wounds than most other things. On an individual level, this trauma can lead to lifelong emotional and psychiatric issues, and, if we then turn into our pain and away from God, can be intensified by spiritual confusion. On a communal level, persecution can be followed by a cycle of revenge between warring communities. At either level, those persecuted and those persecuting are bound in an indelible, negative bond that is not easily broken.

Forgiveness breaks the bond created by abuse and persecution, and makes room for God’s Holy Spirit to work in our lives (Rom 12:19). Stephen died praying to God for the forgiveness of his persecutors: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:60), paraphrasing Christ’s own words from the cross (Luke 23:34). As one of those persecutors, Paul never forgot Stephen and mentioned him as he recounted his own conversion before the Sanhedrin. Was Paul’s conversion God’s answer to Stephen’s prayer? (Acts 22:20).

Another important consequence of the Jerusalem persecution was that the Holy Spirit worked to establish the first gentile church in Antioch, as we read:

Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. (Acts 11:19–21)

The key word in the Greek is scattered, which only appears one other place in Acts 8:4: “Now those who were scattered [by Saul’s persecution] went about preaching the word.” The word, scattered, infers an action of the  wind and the word for wind in the Greek is pneuma, which also translates as Holy Spirit. The inference is that the Holy Spirit established the church at Antioch in response to persecution (Acts 11:22).

Because the apostles remained in Jerusalem at this point, the Holy Spirit used ordinary disciples, whose names remain unknown, to establish the Antioch Church and churches throughout “all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) It is much like God has used Pentecostal evangelists in our own time to reach much of the known world (IBMR 2015, 29).  much like God has used Pentecostal evangelists in our own time to reach much of the known world (IBMR 2015, 29). And in many places around the world, persecution remains ever present.

Persecution Can Be Transformative

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

 

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Reviled: Monday Monologues (podcast) September 28, 2020

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Stephen W. Hiemstra 2020 (Ken Burtram Photography)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will share a prayer and reflect on being reviled. After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on this link.

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Reviled: Monday Monologues (podcast) September 28, 2020

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net,

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Persecution Gets Personal

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Honored are you when others revile you and persecute you 

and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

 (Matt 5:11)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Ninth Beatitude is the capstone Beatitude in Matthew, which repeats Eighth Beatitude emphatically, in content, intensity, and position. The parallel in Luke’s Gospel is even more explicit: “Honored are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!” (Luke 6:22) One commentator interprets: 

The differences between Matthew and Luke reflect different settings in the Church’s mission. Persecution is a more general expression for the antagonistic behavior experienced by the Church in mission, while exclusion may well refer to the earlier, more specific mission within the synagogue setting. (Guelich 1982, 94) 

Notice the verbs—revile, persecute, slander—the emphasis screams at us, the tension with others is intensified and the object of this vitriol shifts from righteousness (in general) to me (specifically). Generic persecution has become a personal attack (Wilkins 2004, 211). Tension is amplified by the shift from the third person (they) to the second person (you) (Neyrey 1998, 168). This intensification comes on top of the repetition of the Eight Beatitude and on top of being the capstone Beatitude. The emphasis here simply screams.

The verb in Greek, revile, means: “to find fault in a way that demeans the other, reproach, revile, mock, heap insults upon as a way of shaming.” (BDAG 5316.1) The noun form means: “loss of standing connected with disparaging speech, disgrace, reproach, insult.” (BDAG 5318)

The meaning of these words was perhaps intensified by Jesus’ body language. Jesus looks his disciples in the eye and addresses them as friends, like a commander knowing that when the battle begins they will have his back—this is an intense moment (Rom 5:6-8). Yet, the commander-pep-talk analogy breaks down because the disciples ultimately do not have his back and Jesus knows that he goes alone to the cross. Nevertheless, the coming cross gives urgency and intensity to this discussion. The disciples will be left behind and they must deal with persecution and revulsion on their own, especially when it involves their closest family and friends.

Reviled is used biblically in several specific contexts:

1. She conceived and bore a son and said, God has taken away my reproach. (Gen 30:23)

2. If a man takes his sister, a daughter of his father or a daughter of his mother, and sees her nakedness, and she sees his nakedness, it is a disgrace, and they shall be cut off in the sight of the children of their people. He has uncovered his sister’s nakedness, and he shall bear his iniquity. (Lev 20:17)

3. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. (Isa 25:8)

4. But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. (Ps 22:6)

5. Then I said to them, You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision. (Neh 2:17)

The controlling idea in revulsion is to be left exposed to public ridicule for bareness, nakedness, or weakness. It is like a woman caught without clothes or a city without walls or, in a contemporary context, like the homeless person suffers exposure, ridicule, and abuse. Addicts and psychiatric patients may suffer similar abuse, but their exposure is less physical and more metaphorical.  Jesus cites several of the above messianic passages himself, as when he cites Psalm 22 from the cross (Mark 15:34).

In these passages, Jesus addresses disciples in a communal, honor and shame culture. The Beatitudes address common themes—poverty, hunger, and mourning—shared by disciples driven out of and disinherited by their families and communities (Neyrey 1998, 168–169). The three verbs—revile, persecute, and slander—involve similar social stigma and expulsion themes, only with more intensity.

In our own context, the intensity of the response in being reviled underscores the fundamental nature of our faith decision. Jesus says:

And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Mark 13:12–13)

“Jesus assumes that such a shift of loyalties will result in significant relational fallout.” (Hellerman 2001, 66) 

Faith in Christ is not an incremental decision, as if we could approach God by tweaking our Sunday morning schedule, or giving more to the church, or occasionally improving our personal conduct. Faith in God is more like a wise guy renouncing the mafia or a rebel fighter responding to an amnesty program by laying down arms. Laying down arms requires a public ceremony where people on both sides notice. The public ceremony of baptism is celebrated both as sacrament of cleansing (baptism by sprinkling) and as a sacrament of death and rebirth (full immersion baptism) emphasizing the transition to faith.

The intensity of this transition to faith in the early church is often dismissed as merely an example of unity: “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” (Acts 2:44-45) While this passage is an example of unity, it is also emblematic of significant stress for the disciples, who would normally share such moments primarily with family. Absent family fellowship, the picture of unity here is like an alliance of street people watching out for one another during the winter in the face of intense deprivation.

Intense persecution marks one as a Christian, which also marks one for salvation (Rev 22:4).

References

Bauer, Walter (BDAG). 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. ed. de Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <BibleWorks. v.9.>.

BibleWorks. 2015. Norfolk, VA: BibleWorks, LLC. <BibleWorks v.10>.

Guelich, Robert. 1982. The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding. Dallas: Word Publishing.

Neyrey, Jerome H. 1998. Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Wilkins, Michael J. 2004. The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Persecution Gets Personal

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

 

 

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Persecution: Monday Monologues (podcast) September 21, 2020

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Stephen W. Hiemstra 2020 (Ken Burtram Photography)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will share a prayer and reflect on persecution. After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on this link.

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Persecution: Monday Monologues (podcast) September 21, 2020

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net,

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Blessing Those that Persecute

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Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 

(Rom 12:14)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Increasingly even in America, Christians find themselves the target of isolation, discrimination, persecution, and shootings. Few will forget the shooting of young, female, high school student in 1999 for professing faith in Jesus Christ, yet it happened again in 2015.⁠1 During 2015 alone, a woman was jailed for publicly espousing Biblical views on marriage (Ellis and Payne 2015); a church was the site of a mass shooting (Wikipedia 2015a); and Christians were publicly beheaded by Islamic extremists. From the cross, “Jesus said, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) Like the crucifixion, persecution reminds us of who we are, who we belong to, and what we are about.

Who We Are

Persecution links our identity to Christ, as Jesus reminds us: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt 5:12) Persecution for righteousness sake validates our faith and places us in the company of prophets.

Who We Belong To

Like the prophets, we are citizens of heaven (Phil 3:20) and undocumented aliens here on earth, as the Apostle Peter writes:

Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Pet 2:10-12)

Honorable conduct and good deeds mark us as Christians so as the body of Christ people should see something different about us, especially in persecution (Isa 51:1).

What We Are About

Persecution is part of the mix of trials that we should expect to experience (Rom 8:34-39), as the Apostle Peter writes:

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Pet 3:13-17)

Are we zealous for what is good? Do we suffer for righteousness sake? Persecution trains us to lean on Christ—the source of our goodness and righteousness— and not our own abilities, prejudices, and strength.

When Jesus teaches us about being salt, it is attached to a warning: “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” (Matt 5:13) If we lose touch with Christ, we are like an unplugged vacuum cleaner showing potential, but no power—trampling is a good analogy for the persecution of a church that has lost its way.

Footnotes

1 http://www.CassiereneBernall.org. Also: (Saslow, Kaplan, and Hoyt, 2015).

Blessing Those that Persecute

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Norm2020

 

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Righteousness: Monday Monologues (podcast) August 31, 2020

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Stephen W. Hiemstra 2020 (Ken Burtram Photography)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will share a prayer and reflect on righteousness. After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on this link.

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Righteousness: Monday Monologues (podcast) August 31, 2020

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net,

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Norm2020

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Prosecute Righteousness

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Honored are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,

 for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:10)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

For many Christians, persecution poses a perplexing question—“Why are good people persecuted?” (Graham 1955, 98)—to which the Book of James responds:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (Jas 1:2–4)

The paradox of the suffering servant at the heart of the Christian worldview was first expressed by the Prophet Isaiah: “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” (Isa 53:11) In effect, what James is saying is that persecution for righteousness’ sake both shapes us in sanctification and marks us as disciples of Christ, who was himself persecuted unto death.

Here the Greek word for persecution means: “to harass someone, esp. because of beliefs, persecute” (BDAG 2059.2) and it often associated in the Old Testament with a military engagement vigorously pursued (e.g. Deut 11:4). The Greek word for righteousness means: “the quality or characteristic of upright behavior, uprightness,  righteousness.“ (Guelich 1982, 93) As we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we expect others to persecute us, as scripture reminds us (1 Pet 4:16).

The injustice of Jesus’ persecution is noted by one of the other men being crucified (also Isa 53) as Luke’s Gospel records:

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us! But the other rebuked him, saying, Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong. And he said, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. And he said to him, Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise. (Luke 23:39-43)

Note that this story mentions both the idea of righteous persecution and the reward of heaven, as cited in the Eighth Beatitude.

Persecution (unto death) in the Old Testament begins with the story of Cain and Abel, where Cain kills Abel because God accepted Abel’s righteous sacrifice and rejected his own (Gen 4:3–9). Post-resurrection persecution in the New Testament begins with the stoning of Stephen who accused the Sanhedrin of false worship, persecution of the prophets, and murdering God’s Messiah (Acts 7:48–53). Persecution is likely also to be our fate, as the Apostle Paul reminds us:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Rom 8:35-37)

Persecution is often edited out of this passage in public readings, but it is fundamental to our life in Christ.

Jesus reminds us that a student is not better than his teacher—he was persecuted; we will be persecuted (Matt 10:24–25). But even in the midst of persecution, Jesus admonishes us to—“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44)—suggesting that persecution is an ministry opportunity.

References

Bauer, Walter (BDAG). 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. ed. de Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <BibleWorks. v.9.>.

BibleWorks. 2015. Norfolk, VA: BibleWorks, LLC. <BibleWorks v.10>.

Graham, Billy. 1955. The Secret of Happiness. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc.

Guelich, Robert. 1982. The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding. Dallas: Word Publishing.

Prosecute Righteousness

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Norm2020

 

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Prayer for the Persecuted

Life in Tension by Stephen W. HiemstraBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Eternal and Compassionate God,

We thank you, Lord, for visiting us when we are afflicted and suffer unjustly.

For you are a God who cares, who understands our grief, our wounds, our sorrows, our diseases.

We lay our afflictions before you for we cannot bear them alone.

Heal our wounds, comfort us in our griefs, and purge us of disease.

Restore us; redeem us; save us; in doing so teach us to bear the wounds, griefs, and diseases of those around us and to point them to you.

Teach us to intercede for the people around us in action and in prayer.

For you are our God and we are your people.

You are with us; you are for us; and you have given your name to us.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, let our security reside only in you, now and always.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Prayer for the Persecuted

Also see:

Grief Prayer 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2vfisNa

 

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36. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webEternal and Compassionate God,
We thank you, Lord, for visiting us when we are afflicted and suffer unjustly. For you are a God who cares and understands our wounds, our sorrows, our diseases. We lay our afflictions before you for we cannot bear them alone. Heal our wounds, comfort us in our griefs, purge us of disease. Restore us; redeem us; save us; in doing so teach us to bear the wounds, griefs, and diseases of those around us and to point them to you. Teach us to intercede for the people around us in action and in prayer. For you are our God and we are your people. You are with us; you are for us; and you have given your name to us. In the power of your Holy Spirit, let our security reside only in you, now and always. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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