BUT IF NOT: Coming to a city near you

“Read it again, Mommy.”

I really don’t remember the number of times, but I know they were many. I picture where they all took place.  As we snuggled in for bedtime reading after family prayer, my young daughter would ask for the story about the three Hebrew children of Daniel chapter 3.  For several weeks it was the only story she wanted to hear.

We began to feel we were marching in with Nebuchadnezzar’s guests: the princes, the governors, and captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces. The melodic names of instruments danced off our tongues: the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of music.  You remember the story, right? The beautiful tones signaled the throng to bow themselves and worship the Babylonian king’s enormous golden image.

The most memorable part, of course, was the choice of the three young men, dubbed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo — captives, exiles, cut off from their opportunity to worship God as they knew to do, but elevated to the king’s ministry by their distinction above his other ministers. These worshipers of the One True Living God stood up to Nebuchadnezzar and declared that they would not bow, that their God was able to deliver them, and this: “But if not, be it known unto you, O king, that we will not bow.” They would be delivered, or else they would die, but they would not surrender.

In May, 1940, 350,000 British and Allied troops faced certain destruction when they became trapped at the port city of Dunkirk, France. The Nazi Blitzkrieg had just raced across that country and outmaneuvered what were thought to be impenetrable defenses. It appeared the entire British Expeditionary Force — practically all of Britain’s army — was about to be annihilated, along with thousands of others standing in defense of Europe against Hitler’s maniacal aggression.

The story is told of a British commander who telegraphed this simple message to his homeland: “But if not”.  The intent was instantly recognized.  The troops desired, of course, to be rescued; they wanted to avoid the destruction heading their way. But whether it came or it didn’t come, they would not bow, they would never surrender.

In this case, as in the original story, help did come.  Their choice of response to certain death galvanized a rescue effort that came to be known as “The Miracle of Dunkirk”. The inadequate number of military vessels in the harbor were joined by private fishing boats, yachts, lifeboats, rowboats, and any other craft that could be floated, ferrying 338,000 men to safety. An equally brave force stayed behind to engage the enemy and delay its advance.

As of this writing, we in the U.S. who worship the One True Living God remain comfortably isolated from the choice faced by those three Hebrew boys.  “Turn from your faith or die” doesn’t often come up on this shore. Believers in other parts of the world face it daily.  Do you realize that there will come a day when no one is spared? Whether that comes in our lifetime or not, we must not see this persecution as to whether it effects “us” or “them”.  True followers of our Master know that the Body of Christ has no geographic boundaries, and that when one member suffers, all suffer. At the minimum, we must pray for those in persecution’s grip today, advocate for them where we can, and assist in any way that is opened to us.  But for Biblical prophecy to come to pass, as it seems to be rapidly doing, we must wake ourselves from slumber and recognize that the current state of things will not always be.

We must be ready to die.

How does that make you feel? Have you thought lately that the way the world is shaping up, where hackers can access your bank account at any time they set their sights on it, where the most closely-guarded servers have to repel attacks continuously, where illegal drugs, guns, and terrorists’ weapons of choice are traded daily beneath the radar of law enforcement, there is coming a day when “the solution” will be introduced?  I posted on Facebook after the bombings in Paris that terrorized people become willing to accept greater controls over their liberty than those who feel they securely occupy their land.

This is not a exegesis on the book of Revelation, but the most elementary student of the Bible knows that a time is coming when no one can buy nor sell without something that is imposed upon them, stamped into their flesh, which allows them to continue to participate in commerce as they did before.  I could go on for awhile about how much more immediately relevant those prophecies seem today than when I first believed 30 years ago (for example, the idea that those who refuse the mark will be beheaded sounded symbolic for execution in general back then, as I wasn’t aware of much beheading being done since the French Revolution of the 18th century; it is a gruesome daily event in many areas today.)

Being inflammatory is a great way to get people to read and respond to what you are saying.  I try to avoid that cheap trick at all costs.  You either read someone’s blog because it speaks to you, or else you move on to something that does. But if God has given me a platform to have others consider anything He wants them to be thinking on, then there are times when the only option is to stand and say, “This is what the Word says, and we must hear and consider its implications for our own lives.”

I say again, “We must be ready to die.” That is the only way to face the “mark of the beast”. Many are prepping for a breakdown of the things we know.  But stores of things will not only run out, they will also make the owners targets.  After they run out, then what? Have we gained that much by extending our security just a little? Many who experienced the devastating floods in Louisiana weren’t “preppers” as the term has become popular, but had enough to spare and to share. In 24 hours time, they had nothing but the help of others to rely on.  I say that not in any way to be critical, for we should do the best we can with what we’re given, but it amazed me how quickly even the fruits of wise living evaporated before our eyes; as even as lives were forever changed.

In the days to come, we would be the most thankful that we were spending these days not prepping by storing up things, but by getting our hearts ready. Ready to live without our mobile devices and technology, because the God who sent Philip to find the Ethiopian eunuch in his chariot without a GPS can bring to us the information we need when we walk in His Spirit.  Ready to not know where the next meal is coming from, because the God Who sent the ravens to feed his prophet knows where we live. Ready to face uncertainty about our family members, because we were already told that when we truly follow our Master, we are taking up a Cross — something He gave up His life on — and putting Him ahead of father, mother, sister, brother, and child.  Again, this isn’t a “somewhere in the bye and bye” for many who profess Christianity today.  Crucifixions are regularly carried out by ISIS, as but one of their gruesome execution methods.

If we are ready to leave this world if deliverance doesn’t come, and if we are full of His Spirit when the final choices come, then when we refuse the mark of the Beast, we must understand that we will live as long as He wants us to — sustained by a raven if that’s what He chooses, or martyred for His glory. You see, the story of the Gospel is that sometimes the “bad guys win”, but only for a night.  Joy — eternal joy — comes in the morning, but only if the corn of wheat falls to the earth and dies.  I know I could have written about many more enjoyable things today, and God willing, I will do so again.  But it is most needful that we look at the reality of the scriptures, and the world around us.  Pastor Bowen has talked of being stirred much in the past few months to pray that God will help us be ready for what is coming on the church.  God doesn’t waste that kind of stirring.  Be uncomfortable.  Stir yourself to seek God.  Make up your mind that now will be the time you will begin to dig more deeply and if necessary, to forsake all and follow Him.  You will never – now or in eternity – be sorry you did so.

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