Let’s Ask the Question

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. Hebrews 11:39-40

Up to four thousand years have passed since many of these men and women have slipped into eternity, many of them violently so. While they were living, they only got a glimpse at "what was promised," namely eternity. They knew the truth, lived the truth, and died bringing forth the truth. As the previous verse stated, the world truly wasn't worthy of them.

Are we then to seek to become like them, i.e., to be martyred and persecuted for our faith? I daresay none (or a rare, misguided few) sought martyrdom or persecution. They accepted it but didn't seek it. Based on my readings, I have seen that the church in China believes the church in America to be pampered, and unwilling and unprepared to be persecuted or martyred if push came to shove. I can't refute that idea outright because there's enough truth in it to be painful.

And yet, the time may come when we in the West are called to put our lives on the line for the Gospel of Christ. Are we ready? A more important question might be, are we willing? Could we do it if necessary? I can't answer that for you, and you cannot answer it for me.

But we still need to ask the question.

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The Well-Known Unnamed

Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. Hebrews 11:35-38

This is the second half to the previous few verses about unnamed but very important Believers. How are they important? First, they provide us with an example of what could happen to you when you follow Christ. Essentially, it's what the other part of the world is facing. As I've said numerous times in this space, Western Christians don't get a real clear snapshot of what is happening around the world. Fortunately, the internet is changing all of that.

And secondly, they are to be commended for going through what they've gone through. "The world was not worthy of them." That is one of the most powerful statements in the Bible. I've known a few-not many-of those kinds of Believers. People with enormous talents who spend the best years of their lives serving others in some capacity.

Many of our Brothers and Sisters around the world are enduring intense persecution. That's no secret if you've been reading this devotional long. You'll never know their names or exactly what they're going through, but God does. You'll probably never see their faces, and if you do, they'll be bruised and beaten. But God is using those men, women, and children to build the Church of Jesus Christ throughout the world.

Continue to pray for those the world is not worthy of. Again, choose one of the nations from yesterday's devotional and pray like you've never done before for that land. Choose a city and pray for that city. Pray for the pastors of those cities who are charged with overseeing their flocks. Commit to praying a little each day for those pastors.

Voice of the Martyrs

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Faith Warriors

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about … the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 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. Hebrews 11:32-34

After entering a few prominent names, the writer of the Book of Hebrews writes about miraculous acts of faith that are being duplicated today. In the West, we're not aware of such miraculous acts of faith (for the most part), but they are taking place. Likewise, many who live under the rule of oppressive governments are experiencing intense persecution. If you study church history at all, you'll realize that the growth of the Church in those regions is fairly proportional to the cruelty of the persecution. For example, when the Ayatollah Khomeini was still alive it was said that he was one of the biggest evangelists alive inside Iran because many were flocking to the churches because of his heavy handed government.

Pray for those who are being persecuted for their faith. Choose a country and pray for the church and individual Believers there: China, North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan, Algeria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Cuba, Bhutan, Nigeria, Sudan, Syria. Unfortunately this is only about half of the list of countries that the Voice of the Martyrs has pinpointed as being especially cruel towards Christians. This would also be a good time to do a quick study of that country. Enter the country name into Google and view some of the information sites. The CIA (The World Factbook) has fairly good and unbiased summaries of every nation in the world. The World Factbook will usually appear within the first ten items when you search for a country.

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Do You Hear What Samuel Hears?

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about..Samuel…Hebrews 11:32

Samuel was the last of the Hebrew Judges and the first of the major prophets who began to prophesy inside Israel. Samuel also anointed the first two kings of the Kingdom of Israel: Saul and David. I remember Samuel as the little boy in the temple hearing the Voice of God in the middle of the night. He went to Eli because he had heard the voice, and what was Eli's response? "Next time you hear the voice, say 'Speak, for your servant is listening.'" (1 Samuel 3:1-14).

It's a fairly simple, child-like faith: whatever God wants us to do, we'll do it. And yet, it's probably the most difficult thing to do if we're running from God (like Jonah did). The thing is, we don't have to get in a boat and travel in the exact opposite direction to "run from God." We've got the concept so refined that we can run fro God in the comfort of our own homes!

Don't run from God. Instead, run to God. And when you hear that voice, say with child-like faith, "Speak for your servant is listening."

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David’s Rock

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about…David…Hebrews 11:32e

I think we all would have been disappointed if David hadn't appeared in this Hall of Faith. So much has been written about this man. The very fact that we know as much about his moral failures as we do his successes is, in a sense, reassuring. Yes, he reigned over Judah for seven years and over all of Israel for 30, but his life and his writings was an open book. In his young adventures with Goliath or his dealings with Saul, we see a man characterized by faith. Of course, he sinned greatly along the way, but he got back on the right path again and had to pay dearly for his sins.

Later in his life, we get a glimpse of his prayers: "my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior—from violent men you save me"  2 Samuel 2:3 and elsewhere in 2 Samuel 2:47, "The LORD lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God, the Rock, my Savior!" David's life was extremely rocky. His life was threatened numerous times. But needed a solid foundation; he needed God.

Most of us probably haven't been threatened or mistreated as David was. But we do know the fickleness of life. We know what it's like to have our dreams shattered and our world turned upside down. We can climb on the same Rock David was on. We can rest in the "cleft of the rock" as the old hymn goes.

We can do that daily.

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Faith of Jephthah (who?)

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about…Jephthah...Hebrews 11:32

Judges 11:1 states: “Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior.” How would you like to have that for a tombstone epitaph? A second verse later is equally powerful: “The the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah” (Judges 11:29). He was so confident that the Lord would give him victory that he made a vow that he would hand over to the Lord “whatever comes out of the door of my house.” His only child, a daughter, came out of the house (for a more thorough discussion of this controversial vow, please go to Jephtha’s Daughter).

Again, setting aside the vow for now, it’s apparent that Jephthah in fact was a mighty warrior. He was bold and confident that God would give him the victory. He was a man of faith.

I suspect that many in my reading audience are mighty warriors. Much of the battle is fought on the knees. Know this, when you take steps of faith that are bold and confident, you will be richly rewarded. I don’t know exactly what that means for you, but you and God know. Take steps of faith this week that are bold and confident.

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And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about…Samson…Hebrews 11:32

When we think of men who have had enormous strength in the world, Samson always comes to mind. He was set apart for God's service early, and did not drink alcohol or cut his hair. He married a Philistine (Judges 11:10). tore a lion apart with his bare hands, killed many men of Ashdod, set fire to their orchards and fields, and killed a thousand men with the jawbone of an ass.

After a Philistine named Delilah tried four times to get Samson to reveal the secret of his great strength, he at last gave in. In the middle of the night, she had a man cut off his hair, and then a team of Philistines bound him with strong fetters, gouged out his eyes, and set him to grind at the prison mill. This once great warrior was reduced to the duties of oxen. But Samson's hair began to grow again. The day came when the Philistine leaders sent for the blind Samson so they could mock him. Samson asked a servant boy to place him between two pillars on which the house stood. He pulled them down, and died along with thousands of Philistines.

Even though Samson wasn't bright (tricked by Delilah four times) or moral (married a Philistine and killed Philistines for pleasure), he gets a mention in the Hall of Faith. He had been reduced to slave labor. He knew exactly what he was doing when he pulled down the pillars. He knew he would also be ending his own life with that action. As he ground the grain with that huge wheel, you know he was thinking about his past actions. He wanted one last chance to make a difference.

Most of us want to make a difference where we are. Pray to God that you will use the opportunities that He gives you. For some, I'm afraid those opportunities may cost us dearly if we take them.

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And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about…Barak…Hebrews 11:32

Barak was a military general in Judges 4-5. He was the commander of the army of Deborah, a prophetess and judge. Barak and Deborah defeated Sisera's armies (Canaanite), who had for oppressed the Israelites for twenty years. God didn't speak directly to Barak but through Deborah. Barak had insisted that Deborah come with him. Deborah's response was that when you win, it won't be your win, a woman (Deborah) would get the credit.

We live in a very "me-centered" world:

  • Go for the gusto.
  • Treat yourself to luxury; you deserve it!
  • Look out for Number One.
  • You deserve a break today.
  • Me, myself, and I.

Ralph Waldo Emerson is credited as saying “There is no limit to what can be accomplished if it doesn't matter who gets the credit.” Such was the case with Barak. He was a powerful leader in his own right, yes, but he was also a servant of Deborah the judge (or ruler). He could have taken credit for a mighty military victory, but he didn't.

Often it takes humility to bring out our faith. It's not always about what we want. A number of years ago, someone challenged me to NOT to take the credit when I do something that's pat-on-the-back worthy ("Look, honey, I did the dishes/laundry/cooking" come to mind). It was better for my wife to notice and give me the credit. And if she didn't notice, was it that big of a deal anyhow?

I challenge you to make it a habit of NOT patting yourself on the back in front of someone when you do something for someone else. It's not as easy as it seems.

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And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon…Hebrews 11:32

God chose Gideon to free the people of Israel and to condemn their idol worship (Judges 7). Gideon began with 32,000 men and God narrowed down the number to 10,000 and finally to 300 men. Three hundred men held torches and trumpets, and at Gideon's command all 300 men shouted "A sword for the Lord and Gideon" and blew their horns. The men in the camp turned on each other, and it was a complete routing for Gideon.

This is one of those fascinating Old Testament stories we heard as children. It's a wonderful account of how God used 300 men to obtain victory over a large army. We learned about the fleece that Gideon used because he had doubted God. We also learned that God used a small number of dedicated men to accomplish His goals.

Missionaries serving in foreign lands have similar challenges. They don't always have all the information they need to make difficult decisions, and they are often up against incredible odds. Choose a missionary you or your church knows by name and pray. Pray that they will make Godly decisions. Pray that they may be encouraged despite the enormous obstacles they face.

Then drop them a line in an email or handwritten card to let them know you're praying for them.

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