Preparing for Worship // September 18, 2016

Preparing for Worship // September 18, 2016

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One of the great things about being a Christian in our day and age is that we are the beneficiaries of two thousand years of church history and the examples which our fellow Christians through the ages give us. I am always challenged and encouraged by the stories of those who suffered and (in many cases) died for the faith. The amount of courage and confidence with which many of our brothers and sisters have faced persecution is astounding. My favorite story of a Christian martyr is the martyrdom of Polycarp (Yes, that’s the name of a man, not a fish). If you have the time and the desire, you should read the full account here, and then pick the blog back up in the next paragraph. However, realizing that most people are like me and would rather read the cliffnotes version, I’ll summarize it here. Polycarp’s story begins when God gives him a dream telling him how he will die: being burned at the stake. When the Roman soldiers came to arrest him three days later, Polycarp politely asked them to wait downstairs while he finished praying, which they did. After spending the next two hours in prayer, the soldiers carried Polycarp off to the stadium to be executed. Upon arriving in the stadium, the Roman official in charge told Polycarp that all he had to do to avoid trouble was deny his faith by simply confessing Caesar as Lord and saying, “Away with the Atheists” (Christians in the first century were commonly referred to as “atheists” because they had no images of gods in their churches). Instead, Polycarp pointed to the crowd in the stands and said, “Away with the Atheists.” Angry, the official said, “Swear the oath, and I will release thee; revile the Christ.” To this Polycarp responded, “Fourscore and six years have I been His servant, and He hath done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” The Roman guards’ first thought was to throw him to the wild animals, but the man in charge of this refused. Polycarp then told the Roman official that he would have to burn him alive. Upon lighting the wood, the fire formed a wall around Polycarp so that he was not touched. His life was finally ended when a Roman soldier stabbed him in the side.

My point in telling this story is for you to see the absolute confidence that Polycarp has as he heads towards his death; it almost borders on arrogance. This is not the attitude of a man headed to his death! Clearly, his hopes in this life are all gone, yet he maintained a courage and a joy that do not match his situation. This courage could only have come from one place: he knew that God was working all things, including his death, for his good.

As Christians living in America in the 21st century, it is easy to forget that many of our brothers and sisters through the ages have faced consistent, violent persecution. For them the war between the kingdom of the world and the kingdom of God was a clear reality. Everyday they saw the enemies of God attack His people. They also saw God vindicate His people despite this; they saw the church grow even in the midst of persecution. It is much easier for us to forget that persecution is a normal part of the Christian life, so when we face persecution and injustice we are taken by surprise. This persecution takes many forms. Sometimes it’s as simple as being made fun of or excluded from a group of friends for refusing to do something against the will of God. Others may face out-right presecution through the loss of a job or imprisonment. Whatever persecution we face, we come to worship a God who sees our trials and will one day bring them to an end. Whether you come to Him as one oppressed and in need of comfort, as the oppressor in need of forgiveness, or you joyfully see Him all around you, God knows what you need and is working for your good.

THE WORD

Scripture: Esther 3:1-15
Sermon: Don’t Fear the Haters

SONGS

Lead On O King Eternal  (Indelible Grace)
listen | chords | lyrics/info | purchase

Who is On the Lord’s Side? (Shane Martin)
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Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah (Jeremy Casella)
listen | chords | lyrics/info purchase

Song of Preparation: In the Hours  (Indelible Grace)
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Song for the Supper: Lo the Storms of Life Are Breaking (Indelible Grace)
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Song of Response: Whom Shall I Fear (Chris Tomlin)
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