You Need a Habit

photo-3I am reading about persecuted people around the world both past and present. Through tear-filled eyes, I am looking at the most anathema of tortures inflicted on the most vulnerable of people, and I can barely take it in.

I know that it has been said “What comes out of you in persecution is what you have put in over your lifetime.” Your resolve, and determination are factors in your survival, but they have to be buoyed by something that transcends yourself, and they are exercised in something called a habit.

I live in this post-modern society that looks at prayer, scripture memorization, fellowship with believers, and routine as something “overly religious” and unnecessary for life. In the name of Grace and freedom in Christ, many dismiss the ideas that create a rote way of living, and a discipline of godliness. “Hey, I’m not religious, I just love Jesus.” That is a great starting point for sure, and I would hope that all disciplines in life would flow from a love for God as we reciprocate His love for us. But what have you invested in your heart and spirit to carry you through persecution? What have you invested in your life to feed someone else with? What do you plan to pass on to the next generation who may have it harder than you?

These are questions I am asking myself as I read stories of persecution.

In each story of persecution and torture I am reading, the foremost discipline for the saint was prayer and worship. In whatever capacity they could sing, speak, lift their heads, or their hands, they would do it. Daily. Hourly. Every minute they were conscious. Expressing love and devotion to God, and calling on His strength to sustain them through the cruelest of suffering.

Second, what the person had memorized, sustained them. Coupled with that memorization was a habit, a discipline, a practice where that memorization worked its way into their daily life in prison, in isolation, and captivity. Scripture verses. Entire chapters of the Bible. Hymns. Songs. Poetry that lifted the spirit. They wrote the words on paper, inscribed them on cement blocks, sang them out loud, recited them in their minds, and prayed them. Daily. Hourly. Every minute they were conscious.

I’m looking at my children, and the generation they represent. I am looking at the gaping hole of disciplines and memorization of scripture. I am looking at the lack of “habit” that purposefully instills scripture, prayer, worship, and fellowship in their lives. So, I am looking at my responsibility.

I am looking at the wave of persecution headed our way. The kind of persecution that our brothers and sisters around the world have already suffered, and continue to suffer today. The kind of persecution we as Americans mistakenly think we will evade because we are just “too great a nation” to ever go through that kind of terror. And I am asking the questions of habit, discipline, memorization, prayer, fellowship, and encouragement.

I exhort you–to leap beyond blogs and Facebook. Attend church while you still can. Take your children to church. Memorize  and learn scripture while it is available to hold in your hand. Learn to pray and listen. Hearing God’s voice is the result of the discipline of prayer, and the desired outcome. Encourage one another while you still have opportunity to do so. Fill yourself to overflowing with God’s thoughts, and sing, sing sing. Pass this on to your children, and anyone God gives you an opportunity to speak to.

You need a habit. Start today.

1 Thessalonians 5 New International Version (NIV)

5 Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5 You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.

23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

25 Brothers and sisters, pray for us. 26 Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss. 27 I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters.

28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

And the Flame Passes On

I live in America.  The greatest persecution I have experienced so far comes when people complain about my conservative views deeply rooted in my faith in Jesus.  Sometimes the complainers are loud, or plenteous in their angry words.  Sometimes they get television time and rant about their intolerance of what my faith declares.  Sometimes they say they want to kill people like me.

My brothers and sisters in Christ living in Iran, Uganda, Sudan, Turkey, Central Africa and many other countries are experiencing much more than this.  They are being cut into pieces with swords and bayonets.  Many pregnant women have had their wombs cut open and their babies chopped up with knives.  Many of my brothers have been doused with gasoline and set on fire.  Many have been beheaded, beaten, and bludgeoned to death.  Many are running for their lives, and many are imprisoned in inhumane conditions.

Granted, all violence begins with ideas, and in my country, the ideas of wiping my “kind” out can certainly turn into actions at any time.  For this moment in time, however, I have been granted a tremendous privilege from God to publicly declare my faith, and live it out publicly without the consequences of death.

I think of the early church who was persecuted so heavily by the Roman government.  I think of those burned alive as garden torches for Nero’s landscape designs.  I think of those who were imprisoned until the time that they could be thrown into the arenas with hungry lions for the public’s entertainment.  There were the children…the young lives dressed in the fresh skins of sheep who were sent out to the arenas to be chased and devoured by packs of hungry dogs.

I have to, over and over again, remember that the faith that I carry as a flame inside of me isn’t an “idea” or a code of moral living.  I carry the passion of one who has found Jesus to be everything He claimed to be.  I believe He was born of a virgin, died a criminal’s death as penalty for my sin, and was resurrected after three days with all authority over death, hell and the grave, and because He lives, I too will live even after my body dies.  My faith is a flame passed on from my mother who received it from her mother and aunt, who received it from parents, relatives, and friends.  They carried the truth that continues to be the Truth that sets all free. Because this Truth is Jesus, and He is not dead.

Every government in history has had their opportunity to wipe out the Christians in their countries, and many almost succeeded.  But this flame keeps passing on!! While I hear of my brothers and sisters being decimated in other countries, my prayer becomes, “God may my flame burn even brighter to carry what they carried.  As long as I am living, God, may it be said of me that I carried the flame of faith honoring those who have gone before, and for the generations yet to be born. May I pass the flame faithfully from my life to my children, and to my neighbors, friends, and enemies.”

Hebrews 11:32-40

32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms,administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging,and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

Remembering the persecuted church today, and praying that my life will carry their flame.