won’t back down

“You can stand me up at the gates of Hell,
but I won’t back down!”

Tom Petty


(rod iron fence to Colonial Cemetery / Savannah, Ga / Julie Cook / 2016)

The first official Christian martyr, or protomartyr,
was Stephen, who was killed in 36 AD.

What we know about Stephen comes to us from the Book of Acts.

A Greek speaking foreign born Jew, Stephen was elected to serve as a deacon to his community. Stephen, along with others, had appealed to the apostles that the
elderly widows within their community were being passed over and forgotten.
So Stephen, along with 6 others, were elected as official deacons who would in turn
attend to these elderly widows.

Yet Stephen was also known for being quite the evangelist.
He was an ardent speaker and witness of a new faith based on the teachings
of Jesus of Nazareth.
Stephen was known to lead many Jews to conversion.

Now we must remember that Stephen was both a Jew, born and raised,
as well as a follower of the Resurrected Christ.
A conundrum in dry and dusty Palestine.
As a Jew, he was still expected to answer to the Jewish governing body.

It was however his gift of speech and witness, along with the numerous conversions
of Jews, that would lead to Stephen’s swift demise.

Stephen was brought before the ruling Sanhedrin on charges of blaspheming.
The council believed Stephen to be nothing more than a heretic.

Eloquently, standing before the tribunal, Stephen presented his case as he spoke
of a natural and holy thread of events spiraling down through the ages as he linked
Abraham, Moses, Solomon, the Temple, David and finally culminating with Jesus Christ–
the inevitable final link in the chain.

Stephen continued explaining that the true Son of God who will come again to
judge both the living and the dead….
As he told those gathered that God’s kingdom was not to be found here on earth and
was not to be found in manmade buildings such as the Temple or in earthly accumulated treasures but rather was to be found only in the the risen Son.

Stephen closed his testimony by turning his gaze upward while announcing to those
gathered that
“I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right side of God!”
(Acts 7:58)
At which point the members of the council descended into chaos as they shouted and
covered their ears against hearing such seditious and heretical talk.

Shadows of Caiaphas tearing his clothes over the words of Jesus…
“You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you:
From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the
Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Matthew 26:64

Stephen was immediately sentenced death…being stoned to death.

Remember this was the time of pre Christian Paul–rather this was the dangerous
time of Saul, Paul’s ‘old man’ of persecution and hate…
For it was Saul who was the agent who took keen personal interest in crushing
any and all ‘heretics’ who were promoting the teaching of the crucified Nazarene.

It was Saul who paved the way for Stephen’s death and it was Saul who approved it.

Now imagine if you will what would have happened if Stephen had recanted
his teachings?
What would have happened had Stephen been frightened by the knowledge that he would
be sentenced to death.
What if the thought of having people throwing rocks at him until he died…
a death brought about slowly and painfully from rocks beating against his body,
what if the thought of such a horrific death made him change his mind?
What would have happened had he thought it would best, be easier, if he just opted
to cooperate and renounce his preachings?

What example would be set?
What presedent would then be set as a witness to other followers.
What if other followers had been too afraid?
Afraid for their own physical wellbeing and the wellbeing of their families?
How would those decisions of so long impact today?

But Stephen had seen Christ in all His glory—
there was no backing down.
There was no turning back.
He would stand against the gates of Hell and he would not back down.

…..and it was this tale of Stephen and the sacrifice of faith that came
flooding front and center to my thoughts when I read the follwing
words offered by the Scottish Pastor David Robertson regarding the latest
news coming out of both England and Scotland regarding the Anglican Church.

“The Anglican Church is officially distancing itself from biblical and historic Christianity.”
David Robertson

Whoa!

The Church, the very bride of the Christ the groom, is actually distancing herself
from Jesus Christ???!!
As she is currently turning away from the Word of the God and the tenants of Biblical teaching… choosing rather instead to go the way of the current culture gods….

We are at present witnessing the Church of Western Civilization turning herself
away from her very foundation and yet thankfully, at the same time, we are witnessing
the Church of Africa rising powerfully to the defense and forefront of that same faith…
steeped in the Truth of God’s word….

The Bishop of Uganda has addressed this very issue….

“Archbishop “The British sent missionaries to Africa in the 19th Century telling us to trust the Bible as the Word of God, now they are telling us not to”
Archbishop of Uganda

“It is one way, Henry Orombi says,
of keeping faith with those long-ago Englishmen in muttonchop whiskers who brought
the church to Africa.
“A hundred or so years ago, the fire was in the Western world,” Orombi says.
“And many of their great people went over to the countries in the Southern Hemisphere,
and reached out there, and planted seeds there.
And then things changed in the Northern Hemisphere. . . .
It now looks like the Western world is tired and old.
But, praise God, the Southern Hemisphere,
which is a product of the missionary outreach,
is young and vital and exuberant.
So, in a way, I think that what God has done is he took seeds and he planted them
in the Southern Hemisphere, and now they’re going to come back,
right to the Northern Hemisphere.
It is happening.
It is happening.”
(excerpt from an article in The New Yorker / A Church Asunder April 2017)

As I pray that Bishop Orombi is correct…

May those of us of the Faith, as we find ourselves now standing against the
very gates of Hell, may we hold fast to God’s word, being not afraid of what the world
may do to us as we continue to proclaim His Glory…

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church,
and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.

Matthew 16:18

the hope found in a train wreck

“I have noticed a strange paradox.
While we are often quite confident about our own circumstances,
and ourselves, we are easily made fearful about what is going on in the wider world.
John seems to do the reverse – he does indeed tell us that our circumstances may be dreadful,
and that the world is in a deep mess, but he causes us to look much higher and further.
This world is not doomed. It is destined for renewal.
The whole creation groans and waits for its liberation from bondage to decay and to be
brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God”
(Romans 8:21).

Pastor David Robertson


( a most colorful little beetle / Julie Cook / 2017)

I caught another sermon post by our friend the Scottish pastor David Robertson.

The sermon was based on Revelation 17…
(here is a link to the chapter as a means of saving the word count today…
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Revelation%2017 )

The chapter has a rather matter of fact, mince no words sort of title…
The Great Whore and the Beast.

And if we know anything about the book of Revelations and John…
symbolism while mincing no words runs hand in hand as the title may be considered a bit
of a double entendre.

For the whore is not merely a local prostitute just as the beast is no wild animal
of the forest.

Here is the link if you would like to read the sermon.
( https://theweeflea.com/2017/06/10/revelation-17-the-prostitute-on-the-beast/ )

Have you ever been a bystander who witnesses something bad?

There you are…just standing there, minding your own business, when suddenly
you are aware of something massive which is just about to take place.
You’re actually able to survey the full landscape, the whole picture as it were…
You see these two forces and all that is around them
as they are on a one way course with destruction…..
and yet…..

You know in your head that what you are about to witness is not going to be good and
will not end well for either party.
That this cataclysmic event is actually going to be really really bad…
and yet you are totally helpless to intervene..unable to do your best to stop it.
It is going to happen whether you jump in or not.
It’s as if everything is now in slow motion.
It’s a surreal moment that seems almost out of body.

And that is exactly how I’m feeling about our current day and time.

I feel almost like a spectator on certain days who is watching a train wreck that is just
about to occur.
I’m standing there watching two opposing trains barreling directly at one another
and there isn’t a darn thing I can do to stop it because the trains are bigger,
faster and more powerful than my mere human frame.
I can’t even scream because the trains won’t hear me and there are no people who
will hear me who can stop the trains before it’s too late.
As in no one….

And yet at the same time there is an almost odd release of anxiety,
as there is an unexplainable peace, or perhaps better yet, a clam….
for I am resigned to the knowledge that there is indeed nothing I can do…
the inevitable is going to happen with or without me.

As a Christian, I feel obligated to be a defender of the faith as it were.
That it is my solemn duty to not only proclaim the Gospel to a darkened
world but it is my duty to defend the collective Christian Church..
a Church who the world yearns to destroy.

And there is frustration found in the inaction of simple standing by and watching…
watching the masses of those who profess to be Christians..
those who are either blinded or lost to the fact that the inevitable train wreck has
been set in motion…
and yet the majority remain silent to what is Truth.

And yes, I admit that we don’t know when or where the wreck will be…
but we know the wreck is coming…yet why in the heck won’t anyone step up and
speak out…alerting, reminding, sharing with the world???
Why the silence?

And then it dawns on me that maybe, just maybe the problem is that there are
just a handful of folks who really actually acknowledge that the inevitable collision
is going to happen.. one way or another, it’s going to happen…
and there’s nothing any of us can do to stop it….

So best we just be prepared ourselves for when that collision comes…
because no one else seems to want to listen….
For in the end, we who remain faithful are not to be doomed to the wreck…
because after the collision, Love has already won.

“Sometimes as Christians we need to lift our eyes from our own personal
circumstances, and from what is going on in our countries and indeed the whole world,
and get a grander vision.
We look up, as Stephen did as he was about to be stoned to death:
‘But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit,
looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand
of God.
“Look,” he said,
“I see heaven upon and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God”
(Acts 7: 55-56).
This is the vision we need, individually and collectively –
the vision of Christ and his glory”
Then, and only then, will be able to rejoice in the midst of trouble.
Even though ‘the great prostitute is drunk with the blood of God’s holy people’,
they shall rise and she shall fall.
Once we grasp this, then, and only then,
will we be able to live lives that are full of faith not fear,
love not hate,
forgiveness not revenge.

David Robertson

crime and punishment meets mercy

woman-caught-in-adultery

Two thousand years ago, or so the story goes, there was a woman who was accused,
by the elders of her community, of having committed adultery.
She was taken to the central courtyard of her village for punishment.

The woman was bound and dumped onto the hot sandy center of town.
Next she was surrounded by her accusers,
the men of the community,
who would now proceed to pelt her with rocks…
one rock at a time,
until she was dead.
All of which, depending on the size of stones, the number of men gathered, coupled with
the accuracy and speed with which each stone was thrown, death could be anywhere
from 20 minutes to 2 hours…
Slow, painful and torturous…

This was the required and assumed punishment for any woman accused of such an act…
never mind if the man involved was married and guilty, punishment did not usually await him.
And not all accused woman were actually guilty.
It was often a convenient deterrent to others…as well as a way to do away
with undesirables…

And so the story goes….

Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning
he was back again at the Temple.
A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them.
As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees
brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery.
They put her in front of the crowd.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus,
“this woman was caught in the act of adultery.
The law of Moses says to stone her.
What do you say?”

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him,
but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger.
They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said,
“All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”
Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one,
beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left
in the middle of the crowd with the woman.
Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman,
“Where are your accusers?
Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

“No, Lord,” she said.
And Jesus said,
“Neither do I.
Go and sin no more.”

John 8:1-11

Fast forward to 2016 Iran.

Stoning is still an accepted form of punishment in many Middle Eastern countries.
It is still a widely practiced and totally acceptable means of punishment in
Sharia Muslim communities…and as we see from the recent following story out of Iran,
even to protest or write against such, is an equally punishable offense.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37575193

Mercy,
Grace,
Forgiveness
Hope…

or—

a fate buried in stone…

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves,
it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works,
which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:8-10