Oct 18, 2007

Death of Jesús Franco

We were saddened to hear of Jesús Franco´s death. Jesús had been serving as the pastor of Cristo es Amor (Christ is Love) Lutheran Church in Barquisimeto.

Jesús had been in ill health for some time. As I understand what happened, exploratory surgery and other tests had been done to determine exactly what was wrong, but without success. Then, on October 4, 2007, he suddenly died at the age of 47.

That certainly gives me pause for reflection as I turn 49 this week. However, I have been working on my first sermon for homiletics class, using as my text St. Paul's second letter to Timothy, chapter 2, verses 8 to 13. The entire epistle is an excellent text for meditation on the meaning of our brief lives here on earth.

Second Timothy is Paul's swan song. In nearly all of the apostle's other letters, he speaks of his plans for the future. In Second Timothy he clearly anticipates his own death.

"For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing." (2 Timothy 4:6-8)

The Book of Acts ends with Paul under a relatively comfortable form of house arrest in Rome. At that time he was allowed to live under guard in a home where he could entertain fairly large groups of people. As a Roman citizen, he had appealed accusations made against him to the Emperor and he apparently expected to be acquitted (Philemon 1:19).

His second letter to Timothy was written some time later under very different circumstances. Paul again is imprisoned, but this time he is cold, isolated and lonely. He asks Timothy to visit him soon, and bring him a cloak and some books. He feels abandoned by people he thought were his friends.

There is much speculation as to what happened to Paul did between the period of house arrest described in Acts and the writing of Second Timothy. Some think he was released from his first imprisonment and perhaps went on a missionary journey to Spain as he had intended.The Scriptures do not speak of these things, nor is there an actual record of Paul's death. But according to ancient church sources, Paul was writing to Timothy from a prison cell during the first great Roman persecution under Nero. He probably was put to death at this time.

As the light of Christ was dawning on the world, Paul foresaw the remaining shadows darkening. "But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless ,swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power." (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

And, "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths." (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

Because of this, "...all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived." (2 Timothy 3:12-13)

As it happened, the persecution of the church under Nero would prove only the beginning. Over the next 250 years, persecution by the Roman government would continue, only becoming more vicious as the number of Christians in the Empire grew. But this time of trial finally came to an end when Constantine, the first Christian emperor, in 313 A.D. signed an edict which guaranteed religious liberty for all.

Of course, the brief period of tolerance that followed did not last forever, either, as the days of the Roman Empire itself were numbered. The institutional church itself would gain worldly power, drift into false doctrine and persecute those who preached the pure Gospel.

Down through the centuries and to this day, Christians have had to risk imprisonment, torture and execution for their faith. A good source of information about this is www.persecution.com, the official Web site of Voice of the Martyrs. This organization was founded by the late Richard Wurmbrand, a Lutheran pastor who was imprisoned for 14 years by Communists in his native Romania.

But Paul, cold and alone in his prison cell, was nonetheless filled with hope and joy, and ready to accept death with peace. He gave thanks that God had brought him through many trials and tribulations and would take him home in the end.

"But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen." 2 Timothy 4:17-18)

Paul also had the assurance that despite his own imprisonment and execution, the preaching of the Gospel could not be silenced because it had the power and promise of God behind it. He notes in 2 Timothy, chapter 4, that there are others who are continuing the work.

"Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.

"The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself." (2 Timothy 2:8-13)

In Christ, we are guaranteed nothing and everything. We are not promised wealth and fame, or even a life of modest comforts. But we are promised the He Himself will stand with us in times of trial, in the hour of our death and beyond. May He grant us all the courage, perseverance and patience of those who have gone before us, confessing Him faithfully to the end.

Jordi studies the catechismSpeaking of the fleeting nature of human existence, it has been interesting to observe that the children who have been attending our Sunday school in La Caramuca since we began three years ago are not exactly children anymore. They are entering adolescence and five are enthusiastically studying Luther's Small Catechism in hopes of eventual confirmation. One example is Jordi Duque who takes what he learns in confirmation class home with him and discusses it all with his mother and two brothers. He also leads a prayer circle at home. (Last year Jordi gave me a Father's Day card because he did not have a male relative he could think of as a father figure.)

Luz María addresses the CongressLuz María and I were both busy last week at the second annual Congress of Lutheran Educators in Caracas. Lutheran teachers from both public and private schools came together for four days of seminars and other activities. Most of the Congress took place at El Salvador Lutheran Church and its Concordia Lutheran School, but Sunday we rented a bus to take everyone to La Paz Lutheran Church in Petare.
You can see all the pictures I took here.

This week we had a van from la Fundación del Niño (Children's Foundation) bring beauticians to the preschool. They gave all the children haircuts.

New hairdoFinally, I would like to announce that I am changing to a new system of managing my newsletter mailing list. I have set up a Yahoo Group for this purpose. If you would like to continue receiving an e-mail newsletter from me on a regular basis, please join this group at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/venezuelaview/

I sent everyone invitations to join the group via Yahoo Groups, but I know many of you did not receive one because the spam filter maintained by your e-mail service provider blocked it (not that there is anything wrong with that). Thank you for your patience and support.

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