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In the dark? Look for The Son

TARGET PRACTICE

            Do you ever feel like a target is plastered on you back or maybe your forehead? If you say, ‘That’s crazy. I don’t feel that way,’ maybe I should rephrase my statement. As a Christian do you ever feel like a target is plastered on you back or maybe your forehead? Today like no other time in our six thousand year history, thousands, not millions by the way, are Christians targeted. This is the kind of message that will probably scare many from the cross upon hearing the truth. That is the exact opposite of what we Christians were told to do! But, bear with me and you will see why this message must be heard.

            For a moment, let us pretend that you dear reader know nothing of the Gospel other than you are aware that Jesus Christ existed. You were never told that Jesus is God (John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God). You, up to now, never knew that God the Father loved you so much that he sent HIS Son, Jesus Christ to die a sacrificial death for you (JOHN 3:16) because of the sin in your life that separates you from God (Romans 3:23). You never knew that each breath you took without acknowledging Jesus as your savior was sending you that much closer to Hell (John 14:6). Finally, a Christian mustered up the courage to tell you all these things and that Grace alone saves us (Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God). You learn that Grace is given freely by the Lord God when we accept his Son as our savior and repent from the sinful behaviors (John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him/ Romans 10:9-13 if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, "WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for "WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.").

            If you are a Christian, you know that our existence is great! We have the best relationship with our Lord, who by the way always hears our prayers, and life is good ALL THE TIME. Most of that is true. We Christians are sinners turned saints as The Bible teaches, but life is what it is. We have boatloads of trouble, depression, and heartache. Sadly, so many new Christians turn away and never grow in the faith, which makes me, question the legitimacy of their belief/commitment to Christ because of the trials that manifest themselves the second we leave behind the old life and become a new creation in Christ. As a matter of fact, getting back to what I said earlier, we as Christians have targets plastered on our backs with it appears everyone from Boot Hill to Capitol Hill literally gunning for us. That’s part of it, being a real Christian. If you are offended by my next statements, oh well. A real Christian is one who as Isaiah taught stands firm in the faith. Do you laugh at off color jokes? Do you stand around and stay silent when around friends/co-workers/family who aren’t saved? Do you-well, you get the idea. All of can improve in these areas. If you are attending church just to dress up and impress the neighbors, you are not a real Christian. If the only time you open The Word is when the preacher says to, you aren’t a real Christian. If you think parts of The Bible are true, but others are not because you can align them with your lifestyle, you are not a real Christian. If you encourage those new in the faith to continue living like Friday night instead of Sunday morning, you are not a real Christian. Anyway, back to the real Christian. If you are a real Christian, you know because God’s Word tells you that trials and hardships are coming.

James 1-4

Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.

            Most psychologists will disagree with the cliché, “Use it or lose it,” but it applies to the scripture in James. If we say we are believers, followers of Christ, our lives, actions, and thoughts will be reflective of Him, His teachings, and His ongoing existence in our lives. If not, then we lose contact so to speak with God. We grow spiritually in Christ like our bodies do physically if we pray and learn His ways.  Our salvation is not lost. We never lose that if we trust Christ’s words. “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” (John 10:14) “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27-28).

            Most people say that God will never put on them what they cannot bear. Scripture teaches that God gives us strength to bear out the burdens. Jesus made it clear that we are to daily carry the cross. Let’s look at some folks from Bible times and how they withstood the trials and if you will the targets plastered on their backs.

Acts chapter seven introduces us to Stephen known forever as the first Christian martyr. Stephen gives a bang up number one first class summary of the highlights of both Old and New Testaments as he is validating and defending the Gospel of Christ. He is killed for his actions ironically by the decree of Saul later to be Paul. As Stephen lay dying he, the quintessential Christian target, exemplified the behavior he taught; he held onto the teachings of Christ. He looked up and saw Christ and said, Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep.

Most will say/ask, “Hey, didn’t Jesus say that too?”

Yes. Stephen exemplified Christ in every aspect by asking for forgiveness for those responsible for killing him. How many of us can do this today?

The apostle Peter is truly a great representation of a person on their journey toward totally becoming the real, mature Christian. This may take a moment or three. Prior to knowing Christ, Simon Peter was just a fisherman minding his own business. When he was told that the Messiah had been found, Simon followed Christ. Grated when we first hear the message of redemption through Christ, we may not follow right away as Simon Peter did, but our stubbornness and quick tempers do follow us when we do finally follow just as his did.

Peter was always for lack of a better word second guessed Christ. When Christ washed Peter’s feet, Peter protested not understanding the importance of the symbolism. When Christ explained that He had to die, Peter refused to believe it saying in essence, “No, man, no!” Right before this, Christ spoke highly of Peter, but immediately referred to Peter as Satan because he was denying what Christ had to accomplish! How many times have doubted that God is in control because of our life’s circumstances? We tend to see the right now picture whereas Jesus has always seen the grand picture. Most know the story of Peter walking on the water towards Christ. Old Pete got out of the boat in faith when Christ commanded him. Many times when we are n fire so to speak for the Kingdom we do jump out of the boat and are ready to tackle everything. But the moment, our nature gets the best of us, we and Peter are alike. He started to sink when he took his eyes off Christ. How many times have we taken our eyes off Him?

Sadly Peter is mostly known for his denial instead o the strong founder of the church by a majority of people. As it happened, the disciples were being petty arguing who among them would be the greatest. Christ intervened saying what He had to say. One would betray the other deny. Before His arrest, Jesus scolded Peter and two others because they were too tired to stay awake and pray. Moments later when Judas betrayed Christ, Peter was the first to defend his master by drawing a knife and cutting a guard’s ear off. Now I’m not saying you or I are like Peter in that we go and cut ears off, but we do have spiritual highs and lows. One second we can’t spend an extra minute praying before the day begins. Next we are jumping headfirst into something without considering all things.     

            Three times Peter denied Christ. We deny Christ every time we don’t witness to someone who is lost and going to hell. We deny Him by not exalting Him. We deny Him by standing and listening in silence to those who abuse his name or deny that He is The Way, The Truth, and The Life. If we do anything less than proclaim the Gospel message to a lost and dying world then we are denying Him. We spend more time debating the merits of reality shows, our favorite meals, the next big blockbuster, and how Team A could have beaten Team B if only they had listen to Coach C, than we do studying and sharing God’s Word. We are no different than pre-crucifixion Peter.  He grew and kept the command the Risen Christ gave him; “Feed my sheep.” Check out I and II Peter for the message and proof of growth.

            As we close, let us remember those original twelve and Paul that were Christian targets for Christ and the Gospel.

 

Matthew killed by a sword wound.

Mark Died after being dragged by horses through the
streets until he was dead.


Luke- was hanged.


John Faced death when he was boiled in a huge basin of boiling oil
in Rome. However, he was miraculously delivered
from death. John was then sentenced to the mines on the prison island of
Patmos . He wrote his prophetic Book of Revelation on Patmos.
The apostle John was later freed. He died as an old man, the only apostle to die peacefully.

Peter was crucified upside down on an x-shaped cross. According to church
tradition it was because he told his tormentors that he felt unworthy to die
in the same way that Jesus Christ had died.


James, The Less was thrown over a
hundred feet from the Temple when he refused to deny his faith in Christ. When they discovered that he survived the fall, his enemies beat James to death with a fuller's club.

James the Great, son of Zebedee, was a fisherman by trade when Jesus
called him to a lifetime of ministry. As a strong leader of the church,
James was ultimately beheaded at Jerusalem. The Roman officer who guarded
James watched amazed as James defended his faith at his trial.
Later, the officer walked beside James to the place of execution.
Overcome by conviction, he declared his new faith to the judge and knelt
beside James to accept
beheading as a Christian.

Bartholomew also known as Nathaniel was flayed to death by a whip.

Andrew was crucified on an x-shaped cross. After
being whipped severely by seven soldiers , his body was tied to the cross
with cords to prolong his agony. His followers reported that, when he was
led toward the cross, Andrew saluted it in these words: "I have long desired
and expected this happy hour. The cross has been consecrated by the body of
Christ hanging on it." He continued to preach to his tormentors for two days
until he expired.


Thomas was stabbed with a spear.

Jude, The brother of James, was killed with arrows when he refused to deny
his faith in Christ.


Matthias the apostle chosen to replace Judas Iscariot, was
stoned and then beheaded.

Paul suffered long imprisonments and torture before being murdered by decapitation under Nero in Rome most likely in 67 AD. 

I pray that no one is wondering why all these men throughout history allowed themselves to die in such a manner. The reason is clear; Jesus Christ is real. They could not deny their experiences with Christ. They knew Christ and His message. They considered it, being a target, a blessing. Jesus reassured them just as He will reassure you today if you do not know Him as Savior. Jesus said as recorded in John chapter 15:18-19, “If the world hates you, understand that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love [you as] its own. However, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you.”

If you have never accepted Christ as your savior, today is your day. There’s nothing special about the sinner’s prayer. Remember we are saved by Grace.

Father God, Lord, I know that I am a sinner. Lord I believe Jesus Christ is the Lord. I know he died on the cross for me. I know Lord that you raised him from the dead. Father, I repent of my sins and ask Jesus to come into my life as my savior. It is in Christ’s holy name, I pray, Amen.