"Knock knock." "Who's there?" "July." "July who?" "July like a rug." That was good stuff several decades ago in Oakland, NJ, where I supposedly grew up.
This month was first called "Quintilis" because it was the fifth month of the calendar until Julius Caesar got hold of it. In 46 B.C., he created the Julian calendar and, as if that were not egocentric enough, he named this month after himself because his birthday was on the twelfth. July also brings the birthday of Yand di-Pertuan Besar of Ng Sembilan, a major figure in Malaysia. Just think--had history taken a different turn, we'd be celebrating the Fourth of Yand di-Pertuan Besar of Ng Sembilan with fireworks!
July has another anniversary that generated fireworks of another kind. On July 19, 64 A.D., a great fire began that destroyed almost three-quarters of Rome. Knowing what a lunatic Nero was, the populace blamed him for the fire. He conveniently shifted the blame to the Christians, beginning a severe persecution. It is unclear whether Nero actually started the fire, but because of the lie that connected it with the Christians "an immense multitude was convicted, not as much of the crime of firing the city as of hatred against mankind" (Tacitus).
Many Christians confessed to starting the fire, but those confessions were born more of torture than truth. Some even turned in their acquaintances just to escape the brutal inquisitions. Without minimizing the cruelty of the "investigations," confessing to a lie to save one's life is understandable but not the way of Christ.
For some reason, lately we've been hearing lessons from local and broadcast pulpits about persecution. Perhaps the Lord is trying to tell us something. It is becoming more dangerous to live the Christian life at home and around the world. This is precisely what Jesus predicted in Matthew: "Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people" (24:9-11). In other words, as the time of Christ's return nears, many liars will sprout up like weeds, promising rose gardens and riches for his followers. Even worse, "At that time if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Messiah!' or, 'There he is!' do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect" (Matthew 24:23-24).
Christians are targeted as being divisive, mean-spirited, uncaring, and intolerant; hence, unloving and destructive to society. The disciples were accused of turning the world "upside down" (Acts 17:6) and presenting Jesus as a kingly rival to Caesar (v. 7), an exaggeration concocted to foment political trouble for the Christians.
The reality is that true followers of Christ seek to bring nothing but good to individuals and society (Galatians 6:10; Matthew 5:13-16). We are commanded to be exemplary citizens and pray for our leaders so all can live in peace (Romans 13:1-7). The ultimate goal is the ultimate good for all people: their salvation (1 Timothy 2:1-4). Nothing is more loving and caring than demonstrating and offering to everyone eternal life in a rightside-up world (Titus 2:7-8, 11-14). God has promised to destroy the present heavens and earth with fire in preparation for a new heavens and earth (2 Peter 3:10-13). So, let us rekindle the spiritual gifts within (2 Timothy 1:6-7) and set our heart and city on fire--for Jesus!
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