Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened." But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.
Kevin Davies, center forward for Bolton Wanderers, scored a perfectly good goal on Saturday, but the referee, Mark Clattenberg, disallowed it for pushing. TV replays showed no push. Davies is quoted in this morning's newspapers as saying that this referee has had it in for him for a long time. He knew when he saw who the referee was that he wouldn't be treated fairly. Davies is a tall player. In another newspaper this morning there is a report of a study which demonstrates that whenever players clash on a soccer field, the taller of the two is more likely to be given the blame. It's not fair!
I have been reading a book on scientific fraud. The author was drawn to the subject by the case of Margot O'Toole. She had been working in the laboratory of Thereza Imanishi-Kara and uncovered evidence of fabrication of data. Quite properly she blew the whistle. Unfortunately for Margot, one of Imanishi-Kara's collaborators was the eminent scientist and Nobel Prize winner, David Baltimore, who would not review the evidence but insisted that Imanishi-Kara's work was genuine. Despite what, to my mind, is convincing evidence of fraud, it was the whistleblower who came off worst. She was unable to get another job in science and had to find work in a call center. It's not fair!
When Elvis Presley was getting past his prime, with corpulence setting in, he entered a provincial Elvis Presley look-alike competition. He did quite well. He came third. It's not fair!
Life is like that. It is only in fairy tales that everything is fair and everybody lives happily ever after. That's why they are called fair-y tales.
For Christians things are worse. Not only do we face the sea of troubles that flesh is heir to, but we face opposition. Jesus predicted as much. We are in a spiritual battle; Satan is our enemy. People have the wrong idea about this, looking for all sorts of weird happenings. Satan is more subtle than that. In Luke 22:3 we read that Satan entered Judas. What was the result? Did his eyes turn red and his face turn green? Did smoke come out if his ears? Was there ominous music or flashing lights? No, he just went to the Chief Priests and offered to betray Jesus. When we face Satanic opposition it comes from ordinary looking people, who may not even know that they are doing the Devil's work.
I sometimes post extracts from the newsletter of the Barnabas Fund, the latest of which reminds us of the plight of Christian villagers in Burma. The Burmese army attacked on 17 and 18 January 2010. Eleven villages in Nyaunglebin District were attacked and villagers ran for their lives. When some people later returned to one village to retrieve some of their belongings, two men were shot and killed, including Saw Mya Kaw Htoo who leaves a wife and six children. If you search the archives on this site you will find countless instances of physical persecution of Christians. And the way things are moving in the West, the time cannot be far away when Christian pastors are arrested for preaching from certain passages in the Bible.
But despite this opposition, this passage reminds us that we are blessed. Even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.
In Europe and much of America we suffer from light pollution. There are children in many of our cities who have never seen very many stars - the glare from our streetlights has hidden them. Go to Africa and there are millions of stars in the sky - each one representing a fiery ball of unimaginable heat and light. Our local 'blessing' of light at night has hidden the pomp and power of real light from our eyes. In a similar way we suffer from spiritual light pollution. We have many blessings in our lives. I live in a warm house. During that spell of snowy weather, I was tucked up warm inside. I never go hungry. We don't even get power cuts now; always I have electricity at the flip of a switch. I can travel anywhere I please - I have my own personal automobile; my wife has one too. I can communicate with whomever I please, by telephone, by e-mail or by reliable postal service. The shops stock anything I could desire. I have fresh and pure water on tap. I have hundreds of television channels I can watch. I have the Internet. Truly I am greatly blessed.
Some friends have just returned from a village in Malawi. The people there have no electricity. They have no fresh water or sewerage system. They have a truck, but no diesel to power it. No mobile phone, no computer, no air-conditioning, not even an electric fan; their entertainment is what they can sing to each other. For them, in their darkness, the news that one day they will go to heaven because God loves them and has given his only son for them stands out like the myriad stars against the black African sky. For us such good news is dimmed against the prospect of getting a Wii for Christmas.
Black clouds sometimes envelope us. In the past couple of years we have suffered attack after attack. Bereavements, family illness, accidents, all culminating with the news that I had cancer. Then I had to withstand months of chemotherapy. My circumstances are not unusual. I know what it is like to suffer, but so do most of my readers. But despite the black clouds we are still blessed.
Have you ever been in an airplane taking off through black clouds? By the time we reach our cruising altitude the clouds are gone and the sun is shining. In truth, the sun had never stopped shining; black clouds had hid it from view. In just the same way God never stops loving us. He doesn't go through phases when first he loves us then he punishes us. Even though he allows us to be tested by the harshest circumstances, he never stops loving us. "He comforts us in all our troubles," writes Paul. "Just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also in Christ our comfort overflows."
In one of Helen Roseveare's books she describes a vision she had of Jesus. Helen was a missionary who was brutally beaten and raped in the Congo during the Simba uprising in 1964. She tells us how in her vision Jesus told her that he had need of her body to suffer in. Now this must not be taken too specifically; the sufferings on the cross were complete and sufficient to atone for all our sins; but this is a reference to Philippians 3:10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.
This is how she put it: "When I called you to myself, I called you to the fellowship of my sufferings. They are not attacking you, they are attacking me. I'm just using your body to show myself to the people around you."
It was not only Christian missionaries who were raped and beaten in the Simba uprising. Thousands suffered, but Christians were especially blessed. Why? Because with suffering for Christ comes the comfort of Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:5 puts it this way: For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. Many of those who were rescued in Haiti came out from the rubble singing and praising God. What despair there was for those with no hope!
When bad things happen it is easy to become overwhelmed by fear. When I learned of my diagnosis I was very afraid. In the immediate post-operative period I was in a lot of pain. It was worst in the middle of the night. In my panic the Lord sent me a text. "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee". Strange how the memory still retains the KJV after more than 20 years of using the NIV. As I repeated the verse to myself I relaxed and drifted off to sleep again.
Fear paralyses us. It's like being a rabbit caught in the headlights; we freeze. But rather than letting fear reign in our heart we must set Christ at the center; In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.
When Peter denied Jesus fear of being detected took hold of him. He followed at a distance. He crept into the courtyard to hear the proceedings but denied he was a follower of Jesus for fear of being caught. When he was challenged, he denied Jesus with curses and swearing. Then Jesus looked at him and he went outside and wept bitter tears. Fear had consumed Peter, but Jesus had restored him. By the sea of Galilee he had the opportunity to replace fear in his heart with Jesus Christ. Perfect love casts out fear.
When Helen Roseveare was preparing to become a missionary, the missionary society sent her Foxe's Book of Martyrs to read. She sent it back, thinking that such excesses had nothing to do with modern missionary work. She was a doctor who was going to bring modern medicine to the poor blacks of Africa.
Later as a captive of those 'poor blacks' she says, "As I anticipated the suffering in my imagination and thought of what those cruel soldiers would do next, I quivered with fear... But when the moment came for action He filled me with a peace and an assurance about what to say or do that amazed me and often defeated the immediate attack of the enemy."
It is not only fear that claim our hearts. Riches, pleasure, family, success, peace and quiet, and even our Christian duties can take pride of place; can usurp the place of Christ. But Jesus is not only our creator, he is our savior. He has bought us with a price. Everything must be subservient to him.