We stand when the judge enters his courtroom. It is a sign of honor and respect. Jesus is seated at the right hand of the throne of God, yet Stephen, as they stoned him, saw Jesus standing (Acts 7:55-56). We are commanded to give honor to whom honor is due (Rom 13:7).
I too want to stand to honor our fallen brothers and sisters in Christ. I want the persecuted Church to know that we have not forgotten them or forsaken them—that they are not alone.
The twelve Syrian martyrs who were publicly beheaded for their faith in Christ in October 2015 left behind wives and children. I wanted to do something but I didn’t know what.
A brother in Christ in Pakistan sent me pictures of one of his co-laborers who was killed recently for preaching Christ. The world was not worthy of him (Heb 11:32-40). He left behind family. He left behind a church. What will they do now?
Did you know that everywhere honor is spoken of in the New Testament, it is talking about money?
The Church at Philippi in Macedonia was not rich, yet they gave generously to meet the needs of their brothers and sisters in Christ in Jerusalem. In fact, the Scriptures say:
“Now I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, what God in his kindness has done through the churches in Macedonia. They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity.
For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem” (2 Corinthians 8:1-4 NLT).
I have read this many times but only recently realized how poor people could give so generously. They held an Isaiah 58 Fast:
“No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
“Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.
Then when you call, the Lord will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply (Isaiah 58:6-9a NLT).
An Isaiah 58 Fast is where you give up your own dinner to feed someone else or to meet some great need. It is called a True Fast.
“I can’t really say ‘no’ to myself.”
Well, honestly, how can you follow Christ at all? We are told that to follow Christ, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23). If you can’t say ‘no’ to yourself, you are the lord of your life, not Jesus. Are you even a Christian?
“I can’t give up food.”
Well, lots of people cannot give up eating entirely, but if you gave up your afternoon soda (20oz), you can put $1.50 per day towards meeting a real need. That doesn’t seem like much but it adds up. In 40 days, that is $60.
You can also give up something else that costs you money but you can live without. One sweet lady in my church is giving up the money she uses for our midweek dinner ($7). She has little to give but is giving up one meal a week. You can give up cable or satellite for 40 days or set aside the money you normally save. Whatever you do, it must cost you. Do not offer to God what costs you nothing (2 Sam 24:24).
“Will it really make any difference?”
The average annual household income in Pakistan is $1513.00 per year or only $126 a month. So a small sacrifice from you can make a huge difference in the lives of the widows and orphans of a Christian martyr.
“This is just another hard luck story… why should I?”
“If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?” (1 John 3:17 NLT).
“I’m a good person. I believe in God.”
What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?
So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless (James 2:14-17 NLT).
“Are you asking me to give up something for a whole year?”
No. Just for Lent: 40 days.
“I have never kept Lent in my life.”
Neither have I, yet it is one of the oldest traditions in the history of the Church. My own small branch of Christendom puts little value in tradition. Yet, I will participate in Lent this year for the first time in my life—not as a meaningless tradition but to meet an enormous need.
“I’ve never heard of Lent. Is it Scriptural?”
I believe the beginnings of Lent are found in Scripture. I believe it began with the Philippians and the offering Paul collected for the poor saints in Jerusalem (Acts 20:1-5) who had suffered through persecution, death and famine.
How does someone so poor give so generously? People haven’t changed. The Macedonian believers were living up to the limit of their income the same as many believers do. The only way they could meet a great need was to give up meals or some other necessity. Yet, despite their poverty, they are commended for their generosity. If the poor saints in Macedonia gave so generously, what can those of us who are in the top 1% in the WORLD do?
“I am not in the top 1%.”
To be in the top 1% percent worldwide you need a household income of more than $32,400 per year. The average household income in the United States is $51,759 but you could be well below average. The average American is wealthy beyond imagining to most of the planet but, even if you aren’t in the top 1%, I bet you could still find a way to help meet the need.
Imagine the look on that widow’s face when a Christian minister visits her with news that her brothers and sisters in Christ in America heard of her loss and sent her enough money to live on for a year! How would you react to such news?
Her children will have clothes. She can afford to educate them (there are no public schools in Pakistan). She and her children will not starve. Her desperate cry to God, “Give us this day our daily bread” is answered in the most remarkable way!
Not only will much praise be offered to God for your generosity, but by participating in another’s sufferings, you also participate in their reward. This is BIG. By caring for the suffering saints, we do the work of God and God, being Just, rewards us. When we participate in their sufferings by denying ourselves food or some costly pleasure, we are also participating in the sufferings of Christ (Php 3:10-11, 1 Pet 4:13).
Not only do we get to rejoice with those whose needs we meet, we also will get to rejoice when we stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ and He says to us, “Well done. You saw the needs of the least of these. You made right an injustice, as I also do. What you did for them, you have done for Me. Enter into the joy of Your Lord.”
“What do I do?”
- Choose what to sacrifice to meet the need (2 Cor 9:7).
- Do not tell anyone outside your own house (Mt 6:2-3).
- Write it down and pray over it (Num 30:2).
- Prepare if you need to. Be ready to start March 1 (2 Cor 9:1-3).
- Set aside the money you save (1 Co 16:1-2).
- Each Sunday contribute what you save! You can designate the money through the Missions Fund of your local church.
- On Easter Sunday, we will ALL rejoice and celebrate what God has done! (2 Cor 9:7).
“When do we begin?”
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday (March 1, 2017). But you can begin whenever you want. An Isaiah 58 Fast doesn’t have to occur during Lent. The forty days of Lent will end on Holy Saturday (April 15, 2017) and you do not fast on Sundays.