Fighting Is Honorable
Mankind has been offered a choice between war and shame, honor and disgrace, misery and happiness.
Satan designed the path toward shame, disgrace and misery by offering physical, temporary joys that are an illusion of any lasting happiness. God designed the path to honor and happiness that requires mankind to be at war (2 Corinthians 10:3). We sometimes cannot understand that our choices may seem right. But too often they only reflect our weakness and unwillingness to make the right choices. We must not compromise with evil, but we do when we are weak.
Winston Churchill noted that England was offered a choice between war and shame—and chose shame. However, what she got was war. He was referring to the visit to Hitler by the prime minister before the war. He [the prime minister] proclaimed that Germany was not preparing for war. When we choose the easiest path that seems to be the one most travelled and therefore the "right one," we will never achieve peace, success and true happiness.
Our war that lies before us is a spiritual one that must be fought without hesitation or fear. Fighting that war against Satan is honorable.
Victory Without Weapons
October 25, 2012
As the history of Europe unfolds, it has become clear that Germany has risen into prominence and dominance that Adolf Hitler only dreamed of and that he thought could be achieved through war.
Without a shot being fired, the economies of Europe are now being led by a strong and thriving Germany. The nation who controls the wealth controls those who seek financial help. All Europe seems to have fallen into that cycle.
God made a promise to the children of Abraham that they would be the ones to whom the nations would come for financial aid (Deuteronomy 15:6
). Their strength lay in obedience to God's law. Germany is not a god-fearing nation. Their strength is a fulfillment of prophecy and the work of God's arch-enemy. What irony must stir in the pens of historians who note the graves of young German warriors who failed to gain control and dominance with the weapons of the blitzkrieg—but whose grandchildren have gained more than would have been imagined without any weapons at all. They achieved victory without war.
An insightfull prognosis--Victory without War.
Although this is not a political thread I think this concept is almost prophetic in view of the Obama administation. Mr. Obama has made tremendous inroads into making HIMSELF a dictator--All without war or violence. He has achieved power for himself. Nothice the number of of 'executive orders' he has made (about four times as many as any other president) and most of those orders have usurped the power of the states and the judiciary. They have put that power in the hands of the adminstrative branch of the Federal Government giving them greater and greater power over the citizenry.
Look at Obama's affiliations and the support he has given to other countries. Every thing he has done has been ANTI CHRISTIAN. and pro Muslim. He sent milions of dollars of support to Muslim countries with little or no recourse to congressional aproval. He restricted the freedom of American Christian Churches.
Finally look at his LACK of SUPPORT to the Libyan Embassy when they were repeatedly asking for his help in the recent attack that left the American Embassy LOOTED and FOUR AMERICANS DEAD! His excuse----He DIDN'T KNOW! But proof exists that the White house was watching LIVE action during the whole thing, They had drones flying over the area with LIVE FOOTAGE beamed back to the White House!
When two former Seals stationed at the Embassy request help THREE times, that help was DENIED THREE TIMES. When a request to go to assist was made by special forces, in the area, THEY WERE TOLD TO STAND DOWN!!! A direct order NOT to help the beleaguered Americans.
Mr. Obama went to bed during this action that left four Americans dead.
Then the White House had the audacity to blame it on some diddly-poo video someone had made. They said it was in retaliation for that movie!!! Later they were forced to admit that was a lie....well, Obama called it a mistake!
Lord have mercy on America!
And this has all happened without War. Just Obama's underhanded dealings....
You may not approve of our other choice for President, but I encourage you to vote for Mr Romney, Because he is the ONLY candidate who has any chance of gathering enough votes to defeat Obama.... (A vote for a third party candidate, while I would usually support voting your convictions, in this political atmosphere, a vote for a third party candidate basically amounts to a vote for Obama...)
If we aren't very very careful Obama and his Muslim cohorts will have truly achieved a Victory without WAR.
A Civilized Society
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said, "Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society."
Those words carry value and meaning only if "civilized" is understood as being good, happy and beneficial to all citizens. In many (if not all) lands taxes are paid, but the result has not been a society of content and happy citizens. Taxes are often misused, misspent, or siphoned off for weapons of war or some pet projects. Citizens who pay the taxes are not always better off.
Kings and rulers set the rate of taxes, and generally taxes continue to rise instead of decline. The wise ruler Solomon fell into the trap of failing to consider the society and the definition of civilized. At the end of his rule, the land was ruined and had fallen into decay and discontent (1 Kings 12:10-11). There is a civilized society coming. It will have Jesus Christ as the ruler—the King of Kings. His rule will be fair, just, kind and loving. It will be a rule that truly will be for the people. It will not be "by the people" because we have proven that rule like that cannot last long. It will be ruled by the Divine who truly serves mankind. There has never been such a government on earth—but it is coming.
I was looking at a blog post off of the web just this morning and this one is off of Forbes magazine—7 year storm cycle, Isaac, Katrina and Hurricane Sandy and the perfect storm. It said, "Earlier this year," just read the first paragraph, "Hurricane Isaac hit New Orleans exactly seven years to the day that Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005. Now Hurricane Sandy will slam the east coast of the United States 21 years, three cycles of seven years, to the day of the anniversary of the perfect storm in 1991." The article goes on ask, "Is that two major coincidences in one year? What are the chances that two major storms land exactly on the anniversary of two prior epic storms and disrupt U.S. politics in a presidential election year?" So they ask the question, "What are the chances? Is this a coincidence?" Perhaps it isn't just a coincidence because we are witnessing something of an enormous magnitude at a very critical period in American and world conditions.
[Steve Myers] I think we discount things if we just say it's just coincidence and then not think about it anymore. Can we really relegate it to that or should we step back and say, you know, maybe there's more to this? You know, is it possible that God is getting our attention this way? Certainly we want to pray for those that are in the path of this storm. Certainly we want to pray that that storm would take a right turn and go out into the ocean and the damage would be minimal. But at the same time as we're being prepared for this storm, we should also remember there may be spiritual implications that are involved as well and not just to relegate it as just pure chance.
[Darris McNeely] Students of Bible prophecy certainly are going to look at this and draw certain conclusions. Let's just go to an example and a statement that Jesus made in His time to His generation of people when He made a very perfect point that I think applies to us at a time like this with this major hurricane coming up or any other type of natural catastrophe upon our peoples. He said, "Whenever," as He was speaking to the multitudes in Luke 12:54, "Whenever you see a cloud rising out of the west, immediately you say a shower is coming and so it is. When you see the south wind blow, you say there will be hot weather and there is." Then He said, "Hypocrites," to the group. "You can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it you do not discern this time?" And so what Jesus said to the Jews and to His audience in the first century I think does apply to us today. We can discern a major hurricane well in advance and make preparations to save lives, but can we really understand and discern perhaps the spiritual implications that are behind this that there is a God and that there is a time perhaps of judgment upon our peoples for the way we have been living our lives and the moral uncertainty of our times. And it is coming, Steve, at a time just a week prior to this very significant national election in the United States.
[Steve Myers] And so I think we should take that into consideration. Certainly look at the signs of the times that we live in. Are we living in a bigger storm than we might want to admit? Is it something that we should check our personal lives with and make sure they're aligning with the principles of God? And I think Psalms 18 comes into play and it should be a basis for where we look at life. And it says here, "The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer" (Psalm 18:2). So as we look for a deliverer at this time of this massive storm, let's not just take refuge in our storm shelters, but let's make sure that we really put our faith and our trust and our hope in the Rock, our God, who can truly save us.
[Darris McNeely] I don't think that it is just a coincidence and I think that is it important that we go to the words of these verses, from Christ's words and the Psalms, and we draw some spiritual conclusions that we should be able to discern the times in which we are living and come closer to the Kingdom of God and examine our own lives in regard to this because the world that we do live in can be very, very fragile when the forces of nature are stirred as they are at this time.
Wow Martha! Those are my views exactly. Before reading your post I was telling Vondi in an email that I found it not a 'coincidence' that this storm and the election were connected somehow. I believe God will put Obama back in office (Lord, I hope I'm wrong) so that he will do evil things so that people will see what his agenda really is and have a chance to turn to God before it's too late. Maybe the Rapture is just around the corner and this is the last chance for those unsaved to accept Christ as their Saviour so that they will be taken out of here before the real storm (Tribulation) hits. The anniversary dates of the storms being the same is quite amazing but again, has meaning.
This post was modified from its original form on 03 Nov, 17:26
Government for the People
What a joyful land we would live in if the government had the sole objective of doing good for the people.
The true end or goal of government should not be to exercise restraint on the people—it should be to do good. The citizens would so greatly rejoice in such a state that they would support the government with all their hearts. They would know that laws are merely regulations on how to do things for the benefit of all and for the well-being of the state. They would know that the governors love the people and are constantly trying to improve the life of the citizens.
That will be the government Jesus Christ installs upon His arrival on earth. All nations will gladly and joyfully look to Him for guidance, blessings and laws that are good and beneficial for everyone (Galatians 3:8). Humans yearn for that fulfillment. That is why democracy has been defined as government "for the people and by the people." What if that was so? In our ever faltering world and society, we realize the reality of our failure, and perhaps that realization will help us yearn for the government that is to come—the one that truly is for the people.
Does Marriage Matter?
Marriage is the building block of families. Families are the building blocks of communities. Communities are the building blocks of society. When marriages and families break down, so do communities and ultimately society and civilization as a whole. We've seen this pattern before, and we're witnessing it again as this bedrock of society increasingly crumbles.
Consider the costs when marriage is debased and discarded. A landmark 2008 study titled The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing concluded that breakdown of the family costs U.S. taxpayers a minimum of at least $112 billion each year, or more than $1 trillion in a decade.
That figure includes major costs for "higher rates of crime, drug abuse, education failure, chronic illness, child abuse, domestic violence, and poverty . . . more welfare expenditure; increased remedial and special education expenses . . . increased Medicaid and Medicare costs; [and] increasingly expensive and harsh crime-control measures," among other things.
The National Fatherhood Initiative website cites a number of studies showing that:
• "Children in father-absent homes are almost four times more likely to be poor."
• "Children born to single mothers show higher levels of aggressive behavior than children born to married mothers."
• "Infant mortality rates are 1.8 times higher for infants of unmarried mothers than for married mothers."
• "A 2002 Department of Justice survey of 7,000 inmates revealed that 39 percent of jail inmates lived in mother-only households."
• "There is significantly more drug use among children who do not live with their mother and father."
• "A poor parental bond with one's father was highly predictive of depression, a well-known predictor of alcohol abuse and related problems for both females and males."
• "Youth who have experienced divorce, separation, or a nonunion birth have significantly higher levels of behavioral problems in school than do youth who have always lived with both biological parents."
These depressing findings make it all the more disturbing that different groups, movements and even political parties wish to redefine marriage and family. Do fruits like the sad conclusions stated above not demonstrate the folly of tampering with an institution the Creator of human beings designed?
As Jesus Christ Himself said: "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate" (Matthew 19:4-6; quoting Genesis 1:27; Genesis 2:24
This post was modified from its original form on 09 Nov, 18:10
I fear for our country, Martha.
This made me think of the verse in Luke 17:29-32 But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.
30 Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.
31 In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back.
32 Remember Lot's wife.
The Basis of Moral Concepts
Abraham Lincoln was asked how people could use the Bible to both support and oppose slavery. Lincoln's answered, "The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time." Lincoln's logic is undeniable.
This same logic must be applied to the issue of abortion. Pro-life and pro-choice are opposite viewpoints concerning the value of human life. Both can't be right. Abortion is not a political talking point like taxes or zoning laws. Abortion is fundamentally an issue of morality.
Christians who oppose abortion must make their stand on the highest moral principle—human beings are made in the image of God. To indiscriminately abort a unique human being, created in the image of God, is morally bankrupt. Every human being has value to the Creator as his child. This truth is the basis of all moral concepts.
Thank you for your input and comments. I'm glad you find these posts interesting.
I wish Care2 had the little 'LIKE" buttons like Facebook does. They serve to call everybodys attention to special posts. And I certainly did 'LIKE" this post on abortion.
Personally I can find only ONE defense of abortion (and it isn't a good "defense' exactly but just a point) The child that is aborted goes straight into the arms of God. Yes it has missed out on life, and yes its death was horrific; but how much comfort God must offer the young soul! And now it will never know the heartache of rliving without love and even with rejection. It will never know hunger or neglect. It will be secure in the arms of God.
And THAT is a blessing even to the adult child of God.
In all of the tasks before us—the challenges we face, the problems that need solution, the pain mankind suffers, the damage to our environment—great effort is needed to gain and maintain control.
Understanding the needs we have is halfway to solving them. That sounds much easier to achieve than it really is. Understanding requires accurate knowledge and, along with that, the will to implement the instruments that will lead to success (Hosea 4:6).
The Bible tells us to continue to grow in grace and knowledge—that is the fundamental truth of understanding (2 Peter 3:18). Half the battle is won if we know what to do, how to do it and when to do it. The rest is a matter of execution and of will. Paul noted that even when he knew what to do, he did not always do it (Romans 7:18). Until we overcome that problem, understanding is only half way, and the rest will not get done.
End of the World Earthquake?
The magnitude 9.0 earthquake that was the fifth most powerful ever recorded, was just the beginning. A horrific tsunami continued the destruction and the catastrophe continues to overwhelm with an escalating nuclear crisis.
When a disaster such as this occurs, many ask, "Is this the end? Is it the sign that Jesus Christ is returning?"
No wonder that question comes to mind. The damage almost defies description. Have you heard that this massive earthquake actually shifted the entire island an incredible eight feet? According to Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, it was so powerful that it actually moved our entire planet by 25cm and altered the Earth's axis. Even the rotation of the earth was affected so that our 24-hour day was shortened by 1.8 microseconds, according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
It was only 2 ½ half weeks before this, that a powerful quake shook Christchurch, New Zealand. Just over a year ago a magnitude 8.8 quake rocked Chile and less than one month before that a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit in Haiti in 2010. Of course, who can erase the memory of the shocking Indonesian tsunami in 2004, which took the lives of about 200,000 people. What does it all mean?
When a disaster such as this affects so much of the world, many ask, "Is this a sign of the return of Jesus Christ?" "Will this be the end of the age?"
Do you know that Jesus himself answered those questions? He said, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven." (Luke 21:10-11) He also spoke of "the sea and the waves roaring" (Luke 21:25).
Jesus prophesied there would be great storms and tsunamis that will unleash unbelievable destructive power. So was this some kind of divine punishment poured out on Japan at the end of the world? No. Based on what God inspired in these verses, it just isn't true. The Bible indicates earthquakes will be in "various places". Instead, it should serve as an admonition for all of us.
But did you notice that earthquakes weren't the only factor? Jesus also warned of other causes of death and destruction. He talked about wars, famine and disease.
That leaves us with this question: Do these events signal the immediate return of Christ? No. After mentioning these occurrences Jesus then said: "All these are the beginning of sorrows" (Matthew 24:8). What an amazing statement. Christ predicted, that even though these are dreadful destructive occurrences, it's only the beginning.
As difficult as it may be to imagine, far worse suffering and devastation than the Japanese earthquake and tsunami will take place as the end of this age draws near. The worst is yet to come. But that's not the end of the story.
These events will lead to the specific sign showing that Jesus Christ is coming back to rule the earth:
"Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." (Matthew 24:29-30 NKJ)
So, how can you be prepared for this? Catastrophic earthquakes shake your confidence. Witnessing the devastation of the Japanese earthquake, tsunami, and following nuclear catastrophe, it shaken our illusion of safety and invincibility. What a reminder - that relying on ourselves is as unstable as the ground we stand on. So what should you do?
Jesus said, "when you see all these things, you can know his return is very near, right at the door, So you, too, must keep watch! For you don't know what day your Lord is coming. Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into. You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected. (Matthew 24:33, 42-44 New Living Translation)
These terrible tragedies must motivate us to get close to God. Do you know Him? Do you live by His Word? His return is closer than ever.
No doubt, Jesus made shocking predictions that the worst is yet to come. But that's not the end of the story. He also said that the best is yet to come! Bible prophecy tells us that there is coming a time when these kinds of sorrows will no longer happen. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes "and
End Of The World Earthquake?(cont'd)
No doubt, Jesus made shocking predictions that the worst is yet to come. But that's not the end of the story. He also said that the best is yet to come! Bible prophecy tells us that there is coming a time when these kinds of sorrows will no longer happen. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes "and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. For the old world and its evils are gone forever." (Revelation 21:4 NLT)
Despite the tragedy, there is a bright future ahead when Jesus returns and establishes the Kingdom of God on earth. Don't be shaken. Discover God's ultimate purpose. Then you can be sure you're standing on solid ground.
Martha, the post about Marriage is right on target. Unwed parents cost the children their security and results in costs to the taxpayer in millions/billion/trillion of dollars. To me the main thing is the outcome of the effects on children. As your article states, our society is breaking down so quickly. There is a new breed of children now. Most raised in a one parent home definitely are much more susceptical to grow up becoming thugs (for a lack of a better term). This affects society in so many ways both financially and otherwise. It is a dangerous time we live in and I don't see it getting better. It is breeding the same problems and it seems on more of a grandscale now that people know how to 'play the system'. Sad but true.
NO ORDINARY LIFE
And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:40-42
An Open Doors co-worker shares this personal experience from the Middle East:
The serenity of the pastor walking beside us seemed to calm the hustle and the bustle of the small village. He suddenly came to a stop, carefully looked around and then said, “Some time ago, exactly on the spot where you are standing now, a Christian brother was slaughtered to death because of his faith. He was abducted and brought here to be executed. Life in a mid-eastern village like this is not easy if you confess Jesus to be the Son of God. It could cost you your life.”
I looked at this servant of Christ and asked him the obvious question “Why do you choose to live here? Why do you choose to follow Christ under such severe circumstances?”
Without hesitation he looked at me and his reply became a challenge and guideline for my walk with the Lord, even if it is in the safety of my home. He replied “I refuse to live an ordinary life in Christ.”
As Christians we are called to refuse an ordinary life in Christ. We are commanded to reject worldly standards, to reject mediocrity, to reject compromise and to value people more than possessions, even more than our own lives.
To truly follow Jesus means His will is more important than my life. As well, while alive, I must adopt a lifestyle that puts people ahead of possessions, even one of my most valuable possessions—time! We tend to cherish stuff and comfort more than souls.
In the Shepherd of Hermes, an early church writing, we are urged, “Instead of fields, buy souls that are in trouble according to your ability.”
RESPONSE: Today amid the comforts of my environment I will refuse to live an ordinary life but seek to be more like Jesus.
November 15, 2012 Mistakes or Opportunities? Mary Southerland
Friend to Friend I am sure you have heard the story of Ivory soap, the "soap that floats." However, it was not always that way. Years ago, this soap was just another brand among many until a factory foreman made a mistake. He left a fresh batch of soap in the cooking vat and went to lunch. When he was late getting back and the soap had overcooked, the foreman frantically examined the burned soap. It seemed to clean the same. The only difference he could see was in the weight. The burned soap was just lighter. He could either report the mistake and risk being fired, or he could make the best of it and ship the soap out as if nothing had happened. He shipped it out. The results surprised everyone. Instead of complaints, the company was deluged with orders for this new "floating soap," and the foreman was promoted.
God works the same way, taking our mistakes and our sins and bringing good out of them. Paul said it well in Romans 8:28, "We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose" (HCS. If we let Him, God will use the pain of our sin and the results of our mistakes as the foundation upon which He can build a new life.
God works through our mistakes, knowing there is strength in pain that can be gained no other way. God does not eliminate mistakes, but He does step into the midst of the mistakes we bring to Him. At our invitation, God's very presence fills those mistakes with power and fresh hope, redeeming them for new truth and insight. God is not committed to our comfort, but He is committed to our character, to making us more like Jesus, and He will use every part of our life to make it happen. God does not waste a single experience, and there are no "scraps" of life to be thrown away. He uses even our mistakes for our good.
1. God uses mistakes to direct us. Some of my biggest mistakes have yielded the most powerful lessons in my life, pointing me in a new direction or revealing an area that needs change. As the writer of Proverbs explains, "Sometimes it takes a painful experience to make us change our ways" (Proverbs 20:30, NLT).
2. God uses mistakes to inspect us. People are like tea bags. If you want to know what is really inside a person, just drop them into hot water. How we respond to mistakes, problems and sin tests the strength and reality of our faith. James writes, "Whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow" (James 1:2-3, NLT).
3. God uses mistakes to correct us. Some lessons simply cannot be learned in the light; they are wrapped in the darkness of pain and defeat. I can remember when our daughter, Danna, was a toddler with a fascination for electric outlets. I repeatedly pointed to each outlet in our home and firmly said, "No! No!" It was not until she stuck an object into one of those outlets, burning her little finger, that she learned the lesson and changed her behavior. We would be wise to choose the attitude of the psalmist, "It was good that I had to suffer in order to learn your laws. The teachings [that come] from your mouth are worth more to me than thousands in gold or silver" (Psalm 119:71-72, GNT).
4. God uses mistakes to protect us. A problem can be a blessing in disguise if it prevents us from being harmed by something more serious. Several years ago, a family friend was fired for refusing to do something unethical that his boss had asked him to do. His unemployment was a problem and seemed like a huge mistake -- but it saved him from being convicted and sent to prison a year later when his former management's illegal actions were eventually discovered. "You planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good…" (Genesis 50:20, The Message).
5. God uses mistakes to perfect us. When responded to correctly, mistakes and problems are character builders. The apostle Paul warns, "There's more (trouble) to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we are hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next." Romans 5:3-4 (Message)
God is at work in us -- even in our mistakes – even when we do not recognize Him or understand His process. Someone once said, "Success can be measured not only in achievements, but in lessons learned, lives touched and moments shared along the way."
While living in South Florida, I considered hurricanes to be mistakes of nature. However, I soon discovered hurricanes are necessary to maintain a balance in the environment. We all know the devastation these monstrous storms can cause, yet scientists tell us that hurricanes are also tremendously valuable because they reduce a large percentage of the oppressive heat that builds up at the equator. In fact, hurricanes are indirectly responsible for much of the rainfall in North and South America. Meteorologists no longer use cloud-seeding techniques to prevent hurricanes from being formed because they are convinced that hurricanes actually do more good than harm.
Take a closer look at your mistakes. Have they become an albatross around your neck, constantly reminding you of your failure and inadequacy? Do past mistakes keep you from stepping out in faith today? It is time to strain each failure through a new God-given perspective for the valuable nuggets of truth and the treasures that the darkness holds.
What's the most grim, hopeless situation you've ever found yourself in? Jehoshaphat, king of the Old Testament nation of Judah, knew what it meant to face utterly overwhelming odds.
He and his people watched helplessly as a massive army made up of Judah's bitter enemies swarmed toward them. Diplomacy was no longer an option. And Judah could not hope to match the might of its attacker.
What thoughts would run through your head in such a situation? Would you run? Hide? Surrender? Stage a last stand?
Jehoshaphat's choice, and God's response, have much to teach us about gratitude amidst even the most dire of circumstances.
2 Chronicles 20:1-30
After this, the Moabites and Ammonites with some of the Meunites came to wage war against Jehoshaphat.
Some people came and told Jehoshaphat, “A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Dead Sea. It is already in Hazezon Tamar” (that is, En Gedi). Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him.
Then Jehoshaphat stood up in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem at the temple of the Lord in the front of the new courtyard and said:
“Lord, the God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you. Our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? They have lived in it and have built in it a sanctuary for your Name, saying, ‘If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.’
“But now here are men from Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, whose territory you would not allow Israel to invade when they came from Egypt; so they turned away from them and did not destroy them. See how they are repaying us by coming to drive us out of the possession you gave us as an inheritance. Our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”
All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the Lord.
Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jahaziel son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite and descendant of Asaph, as he stood in the assembly.
He said: “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.’”
Jehoshaphat bowed down with his face to the ground, and all the people of Judah and Jerusalem fell down in worship before the Lord. Then some Levites from the Kohathites and Korahites stood up and praised the Lord, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice.
Early in the morning they left for the Desert of Tekoa. As they set out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Listen to me, Judah and people of Jerusalem! Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful.”
At Issue - Purpose
When we really want to do something, we come up with a million reasons why we should. We become the world’s greatest saleswoman, convincing God why our plans are so rational. But when we don’t want to do something God’s asked us to do, we reverse the process. We criticize. We nitpick. We search for the irrational or the impossible in God’s plan. Our own weaknesses loom large in our vision. When Moses heard God’s plan, he immediately started the excuses. And God immediately shut him down. God doesn’t want your excuses—he wants your open heart.
But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Matthew 5:39-41
When we read these verses about non-violent resistance we usually think this is a defensive directive of Jesus. For example, a leading church bishop in Nigeria, amidst severe Muslim-Christian conflict, has repeatedly been quoted in the press as saying, “We have turned the other cheek so many times, we have no more cheeks to turn!” This statement is often repeated by young people in the conflict zones of Nigeria who have become frustrated by Muslim attacks.
Palestinian Christians involved in peace, reconciliation and non-violence movements have helped me see this teaching differently. When Jesus teaches about “turning the other cheek,” it was an offensive—not a defensive—act of peace using a culturally relevant example of His day. A person who slapped another on the cheek normally used the back of the right hand as an act of insult by a superior to an inferior. Thus, by turning the “other” cheek, the one hit (the perceived powerless person) takes an initiative to force the aggressor to now return the swing and hit his face a second time. This time the “hit” must be with an aggressive open palm or fist thereby transforming the nature of the relationship. Very counter-cultural.
The Christ-like response of turning the other cheek says the person does not assume the inferior place of humiliation the striker had in mind but views himself as an equal. The supposedly powerless person has redefined the relationship and forced the oppressor into a moral choice: escalate the violence or respond with repentance and reconciliation.
Other transforming initiatives are to give your cloak when sued for your tunic and to carry a load for two miles for a person who can legally demand that you carry it for only one mile.
We all must seek “transforming initiatives” within our own particular context.
In the sixteenth century a renegade group of Christian leaders rebelled against their own religion. These dissenters called for the church to separate from the state and to reject all forms of violence. They waged their war with weapons of peace, and many died for their radical cause of calling Christians back to the way of Christ.
Known as “Anabaptists,” they dared to think that Jesus should be taken seriously when he taught his followers to turn the other cheek, love their enemies, and do good to those who hate them. These “Inglorious Pastors” paved the way for all to lay down arms and acts of violence even at the expense of our own lives and liberties.
RESPONSE: As a peacemaker for Jesus, I will seek out “transforming initiates” wherever I see conflict.
Simon Stylites - Saint on the Pillar
Among all the so-called Desert Fathers, Simon Stylites (390 - 459) is often regarded as the most bizarre. His claim to fame was his perch on a pillar in a Syrian desert for nearly forty years. Today his celebrity has faded, but in his own day pilgrims came from great distances to hear him preach and offer counsel.
Simon grew up a shepherd boy profoundly influenced by his pious mother, Martha. By the age of thirteen he was fasting and denying himself the normal pleasures of life. At sixteen he entered a monastery but found monastic life too comfortable. He left the community and began a regimen of self-mutilation and starvation. Indeed, he was close to death before he was discovered and nursed back to life. As time passes, his ways became still more eccentric -- even among the desert monks themselves. He escaped to a tiny hut, now not only starving himself but also forcing himself to stand upright until he would faint and fall to the ground.
After three years he moved to a narrow mountain crevasse, where he expected to be left alone. But pilgrims were on his trail, eager that his holiness rub off on them. He had no place to hide, until he came up with an ingenious idea. With the help of sympathizers, he devised a pillar that grew in stages to rise, eventually, several stories high. His platform offered him no more floor space than a small bedroom. Now even more tourists arrived. Every afternoon he spoke to the crowds, though never encouraging them to follow him in his extreme asceticism. He maintained a wide-ranging correspondence and gained the respect of common people and emperors, including Theodosius and his wife, Eudocia. His support for the Council of Chalcedon was much sought after by Emperor Leo.
During his lifetime and after his death, living on pillars as "stylite" monks became the rage among the desert ascetics. Indeed, the desert was said to be dotted with pillars.
Friend to Friend God's redemptive grace can restore any life.
In the beginning, at the very moment that rebellion collided with perfection and invaded the hearts of humanity, God set in motion a plan of redemption. His plan was Jesus â€" His only Son â€" who came to redeem usâ€¦ to save usâ€¦ to wash us clean from sin. He is an awesome Redeemerâ€¦ One who gives beauty for ashes, comfort for mourning, and freedom to the shackled. A Savior who imputes His righteousness on the wretched, shines light in the darkest places, and breathes hope to the weariest of souls.
Scripture introduces us to a guy who experienced God's redemption in beautifully deep ways. His name was Job. Job was a good man. I mean a really good man. No joke â€" the Bible says so! This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. (Job 1:1b) He lived life the right way. He honored God, loved his family and was both faithful and patient. Good man.
You'd think that because Job was such a stand out guy that he'd pretty much have a cake life, right? SO not right. Let me just say this: good-guy-Job went through some stuff. Boy did he go through some stuff. We are talking major big-league stuff. He had it all and then lost it all: his children, his wealth and his health. Gone. In a blink.
Don't just skim over that last paragraph.
This man lost his children for goodness sake!
All ten of themâ€¦ at the same time.
I can't even fathom the thought of losing one of my children, let alone all of my children. Shiver. Job knew broken on levels that most of us will never come close to knowing. He knew ashes. He knew mourning. He knew darkness. He knew weary.
On the front end of the pain He had faith. Big faith. He gave God the benefit of the doubt. He held on to his integrity, accepted his circumstances and blessed the name of the LORD in spite of the horror he endured. And he worshiped! Can you believe he worshiped?
Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:
"Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised."
Job went through loss after loss, test after test and friend-with-bad-advice after friend-with-bad-advice who spoke condemnation instead of comfort. All that and his wife was a total drip. Seriously. She wanted him to "Curse God and die!" (Job 2:9b) Nice. Isn't it amazing how some people can say dumb things and completely misrepresent the heart of God in times of struggle? Oh, friendâ€¦ let us be women who are quick to comfort and slow to speak advice.
Stepping down from my soap boxâ€¦
Job was in anguish. (Job 6:2, 7:11) Understandable! He wanted to die because the pain was so unrelenting. (Job 6:9-10) He called out to God and asked Him to reveal where he had gone wrong. Then he repented of the sins that he knew he had committed.
He lamented. Stomped his feet a bit. Got a smidge sassy and frustrated with God. And he wondered if God even cared. Then God answered his complaints, corrected his heart and set the wheels in motion for one of the most amazing shows of redemption the world has ever seen.
God shined light into his darkness â€" spoke gladness to his mourning â€" and brought beauty to his ashes. He redeemed Job's life from the dark pit of broken. Then overwhelmed, Job humbly and whole-heartedly worshiped the Lord. But now, he worshiped God as his Redeemer. He was the first in Scripture to ever call God his Redeemer. For I know that my Redeemer lives. (
God shined light into his darkness â€" spoke gladness to his mourning â€" and brought beauty to his ashes. He redeemed Job's life from the dark pit of broken. Then overwhelmed, Job humbly and whole-heartedly worshiped the Lord. But now, he worshiped God as his Redeemer. He was the first in Scripture to ever call God his Redeemer. For I know that my Redeemer lives. (Job 19:25)
God also names Himself our Redeemer in Scripture!
You see? God is all about redemption.
His love for humanity runs deeper than the deepest recesses of our depravity. His love runs farther than your past â€" higher than your disappointments â€" wider than your heart wounds and deeper than a cavernous pit of depression. God's plan of redemption is for every person â€" no matter where you've been, no matter what you've been through, no matter what you've done.
But, alas, there's a catch.
There's always a catch, right?
The catch is: it has to be personal.
His grace is for every one of us, but each of us must accept or reject God's redemption plan by accepting or rejecting his Son, Jesus Christ. Redemption begins and ends with Jesus. For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NLT)
Redemption is for me.
Redemption is for you.
Do you believe that? Have you made it personal with God?
Whether you are at work, at home, at the hospital or in a jail cell. He's whispering, "Be still." Whether you are struggling with life strains or are in a season of reprieve. "Be still." Whether you have a house full of crazy-noise or an apartment filled with ordered-quiet. "Be still." Whether the diagnosis is cancer or the sting of betrayal is fresh â€" whether the hope you cling to resounds or you are weary and unsettled. "Be still." Know that He is God. Know that He is good. Accept that He is able and willing to exchange beauty for your ashes. Call out to Him as your Redeemer.
Confess your mess before Him.
Consider His love.
Thenâ€¦ in the stillness â€¦ respond from your heart.
November 16, 2012
"'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?' Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" Matthew 22:36-39 (NIV)
Have you ever thought it would be easier to serve God if weren't for people? I mean, people can be so annoying at times.
I wonder if Jesus knew we'd get frustrated with each other. Perhaps that's why He answered the Pharisees' question the way He did.
In Matthew chapter 22:37-40 the Pharisees, religious leaders of that day, asked Jesus about the greatest commandment. Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
Jesus answered a question the Pharisees didn't ask. They only asked for the greatest commandment, not the second. But Jesus knew one couldn't be done without the other. Obviously He wanted His listeners to consider loving God and loving people as inseparable. But why? Perhaps Jesus knew we would tend toward one or the other.
The truth is, we can love God and neglect loving people. Of course, none of us would admit to that. But I've been guilty of serving God through my commitments at church and then getting annoyed with people, and not showing compassion or kindness towards them.
When I was the director of the children's ministry 20 years ago, I loved the kids, but the volunteers sometimes got on my nerves. Especially when they decided to not show up based on what seemed like a flimsy excuse to me. After all, I was there in spite of being tired, having a headache, etc.
Judgment and a critical spirit crowded out love.
I've also been so busy serving God that I haven't shown sacrificial love towards my family. One of the first signs of being too busy is my diminished capacity to be kind and loving toward them. It happened a lot when my three boys were little and I was trying to keep the same pre-children schedule. I was constantly frustrated and my children did not always experience a patient and loving mother.
On the other hand, we can also love people and neglect our love for God.
We can lower God's standards, minimize His commands, and twist Scripture so as not to offend others. We can ignore how Jesus is the only way to God, because that would exclude so many "good" people from heaven. Yes, it's possible to love people more than we love God.
So what is Jesus saying here? I believe He's saying we must figure out how to do both. First, we must love God through trusting Him, believing in the goodness of His character and obeying His Word-even when we don't understand things.
In doing so, we must be honest about the condition of our hearts and ask God to help us love others well.
I'll be honest, this is hard for me. It is only through daily prayer, dependence on God, and Him working in my heart that I can even attempt to live out what Jesus called the two most important commandments. Even then, on my best day, I feel inadequate.
Thankfully, God never asks me to do anything without offering to help.
His Word sustains and encourages me. The Holy Spirit guides me. And God's love and mercy for me, a most unlovable girl at times, helps keep me mindful of why I love Him so much, and why I should let Him show others that same love through me.
Good motivation, Martha. This is a confusing issue today. Well I gues it always has been. People feel they just can't love everyone. And even worse, that they don't have to.
They have all kinds of 'logical' reasons why. But basically they are trying to 'talk God out of His standards"
God's commands are constant and don't change if He says we must love our fellowman, then that is the bottom line. Maybe the biggest problem we have is separating the soul from th eoutward actions and personal quirks of the individual. Separating the sin from the sinner, as the old saying goes.
No what kind of "unlovable" characteristics a person might have we must still treat him with the same Love that Christ would show him, considering that he has an enternal soul. It might be OUR loving attitude and actions that point him to Christ.
Think about that the next time you meet an 'unlovable' person.
RELEASE FROM CHAINS
African Muslim, El Gasim, saw the sign of the cross one day while praying the usual five times a day in the prison where he was incarcerated. He changed positions but the cross wouldn’t go away. This went on for seven days. He had no explanation for it, except that Christ was calling him to give his life to Him. A Christian pastor, also in prison explained that living for Christ would not be without suffering. They prayed together.
Other Muslim inmates saw El Gasim praying one day with another Christian prisoner and reported them to the authorities. When summoned to the superintendent’s office, they openly declared their faith in Christ and received twenty-five lashes each, administered by a Christian warder. The other prisoner denied his new faith but El Gasim confessed Christ and said he would face the consequence, no matter what. This enraged the authorities. He was beaten, shackled in chains weighing over fifty pounds and put on death row to be hanged.
The imprisoned pastor had great compassion for El Gasim, knowing that if God did not intervene, he was surely staring death in the eye. He told him Paul and Silas’ story, reminding him that he wasn’t the first to be beaten and chained for the sake of Christ. The important thing to remember was that Paul and Silas prayed and praised God, when their chains fell off and the prison doors opened. The pastor confirmed that it could still happen today, because the power that worked then, was still at work today. They prayed together, earnestly seeking God’s will.
The pastor retired to his room and continued praying. In the meantime, El Gasim, who then felt encouraged by the sharing, took the first step and to his surprise, the unexpected happened—the chain broke loose and fell from one of his legs. Bystanders, whose attention were drawn by the sound of the falling chain, watched in amazement as he took the second step—the same thing happened. A miracle had happened right before him and his other inmates. El Gasim went to the warder and told him, “Your chains are in the chapel, go and collect them.”
Trembling and confused the warder informed his superiors of this strange occurrence. An emergency meeting was convened. The incident could not be ignored or laughed off as nonsense. There were too many witnesses. They decided that it would be best to let El Gasim go free, because if he stayed he would certainly convert others to Christianity. Sending him to another prison wouldn’t help either, because even there they couldn’t stop Christ from doing miracles.
RESPONSE: Today I affirm my faith in a miracle working God who can release me from my chains.
A Sense of Place
Time and again in the Old Testament, the spiritual health of the people of Israel and the health and well-being of their land reflect each other. God had given the Israelites their own land, a land of plenty and fruitfulness. Where is your “Canaan”? What are the unique beauties and distinctive features of the place where you live? Biology professor David S. Koetje provides insights into caring for our &ldquolace”:
Faithfully caring for creation requires us to develop a stronger sense of place. Place relates to the distinctive features of specific landscapes, habitats, and communities. Fields, forests, deserts, and ponds are obviously unique places with distinctive features … [A] critical first step toward redeeming our fallen relationship with our lands and their inhabitants is attentiveness to the distinctive natural and cultural features of places.
Faithfully administering our calling requires us to serve these places. The term most often used to describe our caring for creation is “stewardship”: management on behalf of a higher authority. Because a steward is subject to God, she cannot simply do as she pleases with creation. Furthermore, she cannot claim that stewardship only applies to certain areas of the Christian life, such as finances, and not to others. Stewardship applies to all our relationships within creation: land, water, and energy; ecosystems, habitats, and species; our places, our bodies, our work …
As we focus on the importance of interrelationships and our own embeddedness within creation, how then do we serve our places? Stewardship that is place-based has five essential characteristics:
- Being attentive to the local ecology. What species are native to the place, and what are their interrelationships? What interdependencies make these ecosystems resilient against forces that would threaten their integrity? What positive and negative effects do human actions have on this habitat?
- Heeding the needs and knowledge of local communities. What have we learned about our community’s distinctive features and functions through our experience with it?
- Letting local cultural values inform priorities and practices. How do locally rooted values and experiences provide insights into appropriate stewardship?
- Cultivating precaution, caring, and conservation. How can we nurture the special features of the place? How can we encourage Sabbath rests and deter exploitation?
- Collectively forging technologies, practices, and policies that enhance our embeddedness in places. In what ways can we cooperate to enhance the interrelationships essential to the integrity of the place? How can we promote the flourishing of all its inhabitants, human and nonhuman?
Spend some time working through the questions in the text.Act on It
You are not where you are by accident. God has placed you right where you are—within his creation for a time and a purpose. What things can you do today to be his steward in your God-ordained place?
SOURCE OF PEACE
Five Christian students were walking home from an Open Doors seminar in east Africa and passed a young Muslim man walking into the bush with a rope in his hand. He tied the rope around a tree. The students asked, “What are you doing?”
“I want to kill myself,” he replied. “Why?”
“I say my prayers five times a day and I read the Qur’an. I have money, a wife and children, but I have no peace. I want peace. That is my one big wish.”
The students applied what they have learned and witnessed to this man named Keder. They told him that the Qur’an teaches that Jesus is a prophet but He is also the Saviour of everyone who accepts Him as Lord. He is the Prince of Peace. Keder left the rope in the tree and decided to give this Saviour a try. The students took him to church and after prayer Keder said, “I’ve found the peace I was seeking.”
The following day Keder showed up at the seminar. A stranger wearing a Muslim hat scared the teacher at first but he continued. In the afternoon, Keder asked to give his testimony. “Until now, Islam was the only genuine religion for me because it was straightforward. I studied the Qur'an for five years and I did my rituals daily but none of that gave me peace. That is why I decided to kill myself. Then I met five of you Christians yesterday. I used to hate Christians, but when you witnessed and prayed for me, everything changed. Muslims are hurting without the knowledge of the Scriptures, therefore pray for them.” Keder is now secretly studying the Bible and attending church. He is the first Muslim in his area to accept Christ. His Bible study leader says that he attends regularly and arrives early to talk about Jesus before the Bible study starts. Jesus’ peace makes him unafraid and he wants to witness. He is even prepared to die for Jesus.
RESPONSE: Today I will rest in the promises of the Prince of Peace and not be fearful.
He Is- Among Us
God isn’t some distant being watching his creation from afar. He chose to be in the midst of his people, so they could know him personally. He reminded Moses of his goal in freeing the Israelites and establishing them as a nation: “that I might dwell among them” (Exodus 29:26).
Today, God doesn’t dwell in a building, a temple or a palace; he lives in the hearts of his people. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, he performed a mighty miracle of freeing us from sin so he could send to us his indwelling Holy Spirit. Wherever we roam, he is with us. Wherever believers gather, he is among us.
POURED OUT LIKE A DRINK OFFERING
On the last day of an Open Doors seminar in South Africa, students shared how they thought the church should prepare for persecution. One man shared his son’s story and its impact:
It was at the time when the pupils rioted, burning schools, churches, shopping centers, town councillors’ houses and mercilessly attacking anyone whom they regarded as a ‘sell-out.’
Each morning his sturdy, neatly dressed, thirteen-year-old Christian son wound his way through the mounds of rubble towards school, amidst the mocking of other youths wandering the smoke-filled streets. Later he would walk home, while the teachers, frightened by the threatening mobs, locked themselves in their homes.
One particular morning, after the family devotions, his parents watched as he walked off to school. At the school grounds, a mob blocked the gate. He walked undeterred through the gate and greeted them with a nod and a friendly smile.
He was in the center of the mob when they closed in around him blocking any further progress. One older gang leader, tall and powerfully built, grabbed the strap of his school bag and pulled him to a standstill. He glared at him and growled, “As a Christian you have always been on time for school, never late, never missing a day. You have always been praised by those ‘sell-out’ teachers for knowing and doing your school work in spite of our revolutionary slogan, ‘liberation now, education later.’ Today, you will have to decide for our revolution or else.”
“I have decided to have nothing to do with your revolution,” the boy replied unwaveringly. He remembered what his father taught on compromise in times of persecution.
With a curse the bully pushed him backwards into the mob. Blows rained on him and he tried in vain to ward it off, then a knife flashed in the sun, a second, and a third. Hours later, a policeman knocked on the door of his parent’s home.
The father still lives in that house and preaches the love of Christ to the same community. Peace has returned to the township, but hardly a day passes without a passer-by, or a message scribbled on the garden wall, reminding him of that day.
The father says, “I greet them and smile at them in the hope that the testimony of my life and my willingness to forgive will eventually carry the light of Christ into their hearts, replacing the spirit of bitterness darkening their lives. I know by going back there to train the church leaders I am at risk of my life being &lsquooured out like a drink offering’ just like the apostle Paul.”
RESPONSE: Today I will not live in fear nor compromise my faith no matter what Satan throws at me.
Rachel The Woman in Whom Romance and Tragedy Were Blended
Name Meaning—Rachel was the first person in the Bible to have a proper name derived from the brute creation. Wilkinson remarks, “that, for the most part, the formation of a human name from that of an animal is traceable to some peculiarity either observed or desired in an individual, which would thus be most intelligently expressed in a rude and simple age.” Rachel, the name of Jacob’s beloved wife means “ewe,” employed more or less as a title of endearment, just as the word “lamb” is among ourselves. Laban, accustomed to tenderly nursing the weak ewes as they were born, thought “ewe” to be a fitting name for his second daughter.
Family Connections—Rachel was the daughter of Laban, the son of Bethuel and Rebekah’s brother. Rachel became the second wife of her cousin Jacob and the mother of his two sons, Joseph and Benjamin. (Compare material under Leah.)
As we have already shown, the characteristic feature of the Bible in pairing certain individuals, compelling us to compare and contrast the lives they lived together, makes it difficult to separate any couple and deal exclusively with one or the other. Invariably, as in the instance of Leah and Rachel, their lives were lived out in close association. Yet we must try and isolate Rachel from her sister, for the galaxy of the Bible’s famous women would be incomplete without such a star. Surely, the much-loved wife of Jacob, and mother of Joseph, Israel’s saviour, and also Benjamin, could not have been an ordinary woman even though she shone with reflected glory. From the many references to Rachel we have the following facets of her life and character—She Was Naturally Beautiful
It would seem as if Rachel had all the loveliness of her aunt, Rebekah. The sacred record speaks of her as “beautiful and well favoured” (attractive). Her sister Leah was “tender-eyed,” meaning some form of eye blemish making her less appealing than Rachel who prepossessed Jacob physically. Seeing her in all her natural charm and beauty, Jacob loved her. Although beauty may be only skin deep, it nevertheless wins admiration. The Hebrew form of Rachel’s description (Genesis 29:17) suggests that she was “beautiful in form and beautiful in look.” That God does not look upon the outward appearance merely is evidenced by the fact, of which Ellicott reminds us, that “it was not Rachel, with her fair face and well-proportioned figure, and her husband’s lasting love, that was the mother of the progenitor of the Messiah, but the weary-eyed Leah.”She Was Divinely Guided
While, as the younger daughter, it was Rachel’s task to go to the well and draw water for her father’s sheep, it was no mere coincidence that she went that day when Jacob arrived. She might have been sick or indisposed, and if Leah had had to go for the waterthat day, what a different story might have been written of Jacob, as well as of the history of Israel. Fleeing from his home to Haran, Jacob met God at Bethel and left it “lifting up his feet” (Genesis 29:1, margin), implying a lighthearted alacrity as he continued his journey with the divine promise in his heart, “I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest” (Genesis 28:15). Thus, with the assurance of the divine presence and guidance as a guarantee of favor and safety he met the shepherds who told Jacob of Rachel (Genesis 29:6)—the name that was to charm his heart the rest of his life. That meeting between Jacob and Rachel was of God, and it was His providence that ordered the first glimpse of each other at the well. We are apt to forget that often the most seemingly ordinary incidents in life are as much of the divine plan as the smallest parts of a watch, and upon these smallest parts of the plan all the others depend. Our steps, when ordered by the Lord, lead to great issue.
As far as Jacob and Rachel were concerned that meeting was unforeseen and unpremeditated. “A divinely directed life is often shaped by circumstances that human prescience could not have foreseen.” As soon as they met it was love at first sight, at least with Jacob. The first sight of his cousin’s beautiful face and figure cast a spell over him and he “kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept.” As she was his cousin, Jacob was not prevented from kissing Rachel by the etiquette of the East, which was the
As far as Jacob and Rachel were concerned that meeting was unforeseen and unpremeditated. “A divinely directed life is often shaped by circumstances that human prescience could not have foreseen.” As soon as they met it was love at first sight, at least with Jacob. The first sight of his cousin’s beautiful face and figure cast a spell over him and he “kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept.” As she was his cousin, Jacob was not prevented from kissing Rachel by the etiquette of the East, which was the home of warm feelings and demonstrative actions. Probably the tears Jacob shed were those of gratitude to God in bringing him to his mother’s relatives, and also tears of joy because he knew instinctively that the lovely maiden he kissed would be his wife. Jacob removed the stone from the mouth of the well, helped Rachel water the flock, acquainted her with his story, and was taken home by an excited Rachel where he was hospitably welcomed.
George Matheson draws our attention to the interesting fact that the meeting of Jacob and Rachel is “the first courtship in the Bible growing out of a cousinly relationship—in other words, as having its roots in a previous friendship.” Jacob, a poet by nature, dazzled by Rachel’s beauty, broke out into a deep love beforemarriage—a thought to ponder in these days when young people are being told that pre-marital experiences are quite in order, to test whether they are suited for each other. Jacob was to prove that the typical trial of love is waiting, and he had to wait many a year before the one whom he loved, as soon as he saw her, became his wife.She Was Deeply Loved
We are distinctly told that “Jacob loved Rachel,” and that the seven years he served Laban for his daughter, “seemed to him but a few days, because of the love he had for her” (Genesis 29:18, 20). Even after Jacob found that he had been deceived by Laban and had been given Leah instead, he served and waited for Rachel another seven years because “he loved her more than Leah” (29:30). From the first moment Jacob saw Rachel he loved her, and she became his choice as a wife. But while she alone was in the heart of her lover, “the real choice was not Jacob’s but God’s, and for the first place God had chosen Leah.” In his second marriage, Rachel only received half of Jacob, the other half had been given to her rival sister.
While Leah might have had “the keys of Jacob’s house, Rachel had the keys of his heart. Leah seems to have influenced his judgment: Rachel never ceased to hold his love. Leah bore Jacob six stalwart sons, Rachel was the mother of only two: but the sons of Rachel were dearer to him than the sons of Leah.” Jacob is outstanding among male lovers in the Bible for the true, romantic, abiding love he bore for Rachel. Whether such a deep and ardent love was reciprocated we are not told. The Bible has no reference to Rachel’s love for Jacob. She appears as a somewhat placid character. We have no record of any grief she felt, or protest she made when she discovered how Leah had taken the first place in Jacob’s life. We would like to believe that Rachel’s love for Jacob was as romantic as his was for her, and that also the years she had to wait for him seemed but a few days because of her heart’s affection for Jacob.She Was Cruelly Deceived
The deceit perpetrated by Laban upon Jacob, Leah and Rachel, adds color to the record. Laban cunningly beguiled Jacob into marriage with Rachel’s elder sister and less beautiful sister. Jacob had accepted Laban’s terms to take no wages for his labor in his fields, and at the end of the seven years' waiting expected to receive Rachel. In the gloom the bride appears closely veiled, according to custom. The ceremony is performed and the wedded pair return to their bridal chamber. But in the light of early morning Jacob discovers Laban’s duplicity—a duplicity in which Leah must have had a part. How shocked Jacob must have been to behold the plain-looking, undesired Leah instead of the face of his dearest Rachel.
Leah, by her father’s deceit, had stolen her sister’s blessing. Isaac had blessed Jacob, believing him to be Esau, and now Jacob marries Leah believing her to be Rachel. In the moment of his surprised discovery did Jacob remember how he had stolen his brother’s birthright by covering himself with a hairy skin and venison-smell, and making himself appear as Esau? Was this a retributive providence for his own deception of his blind and dying father?
Laban condoned his unrighteous act by declaring that in those times the younger daughter should not be given in marriage before the first-born. He should have told Jacob this when he covenanted to serve the first seven years for Rachel, or before the marriage anyhow. Jacob then became involved in two marriages, which were not deemed unfitting in an age when polygamy was tolerated even by godly men. For another seven years Jacob toiled bravely on, true love enabling him to persevere until Rachel was his. What interests us is the absence of any recorded protest on Rachel’s part against her father’s deception! Why did she not cry out when she saw that Leah, instead of herself, was being given to Jacob? If Rachel had resentment at the hour of marital vows between Jacob and Leah, she must have suppressed it. Why was she so placid amid such a calamity, at least for the man who loved her so deeply? Unmurmuringly, she goes on waiting for another seven ye
Laban condoned his unrighteous act by declaring that in those times the younger daughter should not be given in marriage before the first-born. He should have told Jacob this when he covenanted to serve the first seven years for Rachel, or before the marriage anyhow. Jacob then became involved in two marriages, which were not deemed unfitting in an age when polygamy was tolerated even by godly men. For another seven years Jacob toiled bravely on, true love enabling him to persevere until Rachel was his. What interests us is the absence of any recorded protest on Rachel’s part against her father’s deception! Why did she not cry out when she saw that Leah, instead of herself, was being given to Jacob? If Rachel had resentment at the hour of marital vows between Jacob and Leah, she must have suppressed it. Why was she so placid amid such a calamity, at least for the man who loved her so deeply? Unmurmuringly, she goes on waiting for another seven years, ere she is able to share Jacob with the woman who by that time had borne him many children. Perhaps the deep, unchanging love Jacob had for Rachel found little echo from her own heart.She Was Lamentably but Not Finally Barren
Once Rachel became Jacob’s second wife, her continued barrenness created an unreasonable and impatient fretfulness within her soul. Seeing Leah’s many happy children made her jealous. What anguish is wrapped up in the phrase, “But Rachel was barren” (Genesis 29:31). Says Donald Davidson, “Rachel would taunt Leah on not having the love of her husband, while Leah would find revenge in the childlessness of her rival.” Rachel’s whole being was bound up in the desire to become a mother, so she cried to Jacob, “Give me children, or else I die” (30:1). Rachel should have cried to God instead of Jacob whose anger was kindled against her for her impossible request. Certainly he loved Rachel with a true and tender love, and indignation because of her, must have been a source of bitterness. He should have thought of the bitterness of Rachel’s disappointment, and quietly pointed out to her the withholdings of Providence.
Poor, childless Rachel was not forgotten by the Lord for He remembered her and opened her womb (30:22-24). She gave birth to a son, and thereby took away her reproach. The grateful mother became a prophetess for she called her baby Joseph, which means, “The Lord shall add to me another son”—which was not merely the language of desire but the prediction of a seer. Of all the children of Jacob, Joseph became the godliest and greatest. Renowned as the saviour of Israel he stands out as the most perfect type in the Bible of Him who was born of woman to become the Saviour of the world.She Was Secretly Idolatrous
The time had come for Laban and Jacob to part. While Laban had learned by experience that he had been blessed for Jacob’s sake the patriarch likewise had been blessed, and with his wives, children and rich possessions found he could no longer live at Haran. So he set out for his old home, and took with him all that God had given him. Laban was loathe to lose the diligent partner who had worked with him so faithfully for twenty years. While Laban was absent for a few days caring for his many sheep, Jacob gathered all his family, cattle and possessions and secretly left. Returning home and finding Jacob gone, Laban set out to overtake the travelers. Catching up with them Laban took Jacob to task not only for leaving so secretly but also for stealing some of his household goods and gods.
It was this accusation that revealed Rachel, lovely as she was, in an unlovely light. Although the wife of the heir to God’s promises, she evidently was a secret believer in old heathen superstitions. She stole the household goods, and when Laban sought for them among the goods of Jacob, she had them hid beneath her person. In her cunning in hiding the small images in human form used for divination and which had a religious significance (Judges 17:5; 18:14, 17, 18, 20, etc.), Rachel manifested something of her father’s duplicity. It was not until Jacob reached memorable Bethel that he buried those strange idols under the oak at Shechem. Those lifeless deities, the size of a miniature doll, were regarded as “indispensable evidence as to the rights and privileges of family ownership. Hence, Laban’s query, ‘Wherefore hast thou stolen my gods?’” (Genesis 31:30). Because of his superstitious beliefs, Rachel likely stole the gods to insure a prosperous journey. Such relics from the old home would guarantee all continuance of the old good fortune. Jacob’s trust was in the great God at the top of a ladder with its ascending and descending angels, but Rachel wanted humbler gods that she could see. Further, those household divinities suggest the laxity of true worship in the home.
Thus, although living in a polygamous state, maritally, Rachel was also guilty of religious polygamy. There was a professed relationship to the God of Israel, yet at the same time she was married to idols (Gen
Thus, although living in a polygamous state, maritally, Rachel was also guilty of religious polygamy. There was a professed relationship to the God of Israel, yet at the same time she was married to idols (Genesis 30:23, 24). Rachel had no right to carry away what was not her own. Had she known that those stolen images would become a terrible snare in Jacob’s family, perhaps she would not have taken them (35:1-5). Images and relics have always been dangerous elements in connection with true religious worship. How prone the human heart is to forsake the spiritual for the material, the Unseen for the seen and temporal! May ours be the constant desire to obey the apostolic injunction to keep ourselves from idols! (1 John 5:21).She Was Tragically Taken
We now come to a feature peculiar of Rachel as a mother. Hers is the first recorded instance in the Bible of death in childbirth and her sepulchral pillar is the first on record in the Bible. It would seem as if Rachel had surrendered her idolatry before the death stroke fell on her. The hallowing influences of divine blessing on her husband and his seed as the result of Bethel, begot within her a sense of divine awareness. Young Joseph’s great reverence for God bespeaks of Rachel’s godly training in his boyhood years. Jacob’s love for her and his stronger faith (Genesis 35:2-4) helped to purify her character and she lived on long after her death in the life of her noble son.
While Jacob and his host were on the way from Bethel to Ephrath, tragedy overtook Jacob when Rachel died in giving birth to her second son, Benjamin (35:16). She had named her first son Joseph, meaning, “The Lord shall add to me another son,” which prediction was fulfilled when Benjamin was born. How often the brightest anticipations of life are clouded by the gloom of the grave! Rachel prayed for children, but the beginning of her second son’s life was the ending of her own. What travail and anguish are resident in the phrase, “Rachel travailed, and she had hard labour ... she died” (Genesis 35:16, 18). Facing death she called her son, Benoni, meaning “son of sorrow.” Suffering had brought her to the gates of death and the gift she coveted proved to be a crushing burden under which she sank. But Jacob chose another name for their child and called him Benjamin, signifying, “the son of the right hand,” and showered much affection upon the motherless child.
The last cry Rachel uttered as she died was “Benoni”—son of sorrow—and it is in the spirit of this Benoni that the Bible portrays Rachel. When Jacob came to die in extreme old age, he spoke sorrowfully of the early loss of his beloved Rachel who through her years had been caught in a web of much sorrow and unhappiness. He had loved her at first and ever afterward. Brokenhearted, Jacob buried Rachel on the way to Bethlehem, and set up a pillar over her grave. In “his heart that grave remained ever green, and he never ceased in fancy to deck it with flowers.” In a previous grave at Shechem he had buried Rachel’s idols, and with them her superstitious beliefs. Now he stands at the grave containing the dust of his beloved one and the pillar he placed over it was a sad memento of a broken heart. In later days Rachel’s tomb became a conspicuous landmark (1 Samuel 10:2). With Leah, Rachel had helped to build the house of Israel (Ruth 4:11). One day Rachel’s precious dust will be reanimated and she will sit down with the glorified with “Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”She Was Symbolically Recalled
Rachel’s cry for children was prophetic of the slaughter of the innocents when Christ was born (Matthew 2:16-18). Jeremiah pictures Rachel as rising from the grave to weep over the children being carried away to Babylon, never to return (Jeremiah 31:15). Thus the “Benoni” of Rachel’s heart as she died has been re-echoed throughout the entire history of Israel. Often it does seem as if tragedy triumphs, but the key to the mystery of sorrow can be found in the words of the church which for centuries has been singing for Rachel whom Jacob loved—
Sad-eyed Rachel, do not weep,
Your children die as martyrs go;
They are the first-born of the seed
Which from your blood began to grow;
In spite of tyranny’s dread days
They bloom in glory to God’s praise.
November 19, 2012
I have a confession to make: I crave control. You know—as in I like to be in charge; the shot-caller; the boss.
I'm pretty sure I was born ready to be in charge. As a toddler, I lined my frilly dolls and any willing playmates or siblings up in a way that suited my preferences. In elementary school, I couldn't wait to be selected for special duties, like heading up a game or putting on a play.
Yes, from birth I instinctively ordered and organized anything within my reach—objects, circumstances, and later in life, even living, breathing human beings. I didn't need a boardroom to prove that I was a natural born boss.
In my defense (and the defense of my fellow control-craving friends), this is often a much-needed skill. Being able to multi-task, identify duties and delegate is beneficial on many fronts. Just glance at my partial to-do list for the week:
Prepare meals and snacks for the week
Make appointments for the eye doctor
Do a few loads of laundry
Haul kids back and forth to sports practice
Help kids with homework
Whew, I'm worn out just writing that!
But, it helps to see that we need to be able to juggle a lot: home, school, family, careers, and church duties. The problem lies with our failure to know where to draw the line; to differentiate between leading and bossing; to know the difference between taking charge and taking over.
Competency carried to an extreme can morph into control.
I've struggled to find a balance between taking charge and ultimately taking over for most of my life.Colossians 3:23 helps me remember that managing my life and to-do list is ultimately an act of worship and service to the Lord. In it we're told, "Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people." (NLT)
When I work willingly as though I'm working for the Lord, I set about my tasks and navigate my relationships with a humble heart and open hands. I willingly let go of my preferences and desire to be the one in control.
When I work willingly as though I'm working for the Lord, I focus more on caring about others' feelings than controlling their opinions and resulting actions.
When I work willingly as though I'm working for the Lord, I want to please Him, not myself.
I've discovered there exists a minuscule line between being conscientious and being controlling. What I have to constantly keep in mind is the difference between being conscientious (my part) and being in control (God's part).
I'll probably always have long to-do lists and lots of activities. It's just the nature of my personality. But I'm trying to remember each day that it is God who is ultimately in charge, not me.
It's not easy for this control-craving woman to let go and let God run the show. It takes emotional effort and intentional change of my ingrained habits. But I am learning to work diligently without being controlling.
This week as we set about our tasks, lets remember just who the boss is: God. We are on His time clock. May our thoughts, actions and reactions make our Boss proud and accurately reflect His character.
Friend to Friend
Have you ever prayed about something, but didn't really expect God to answerâ€¦I mean really expect it. That happened to a bunch of Peter's friends.
In the early years of the church, King Herod had many Christians murdered and many more put in prison. James, the brother of John, was put to death with the sword, and Peter was thrown into prison.
The night before Peter was to be taken to trial, a group gathered at Mary's (John's mother's) house to pray for him. While they were praying, there was a knock at the door. A servant girl named Rhoda answered it.
"Who is there?" she asked.
"It is Peter," the freed apostle answered.
She knew it was Peterâ€"she recognized his voice! God had answered their prayers! Rhoda was so excited, she didn't even let Peter in, but ran back to tell the group that he was standing at the door.
"You're out of your mind," they told her. "Maybe it is his angel."
Peter kept knocking. Finally they opened the door and were astonished to see Peter alive and well, standing right in front of them.
Why were they surprised? Why didn't they believe Rhoda? While they were praying for Peter's release, they didn't really expect God to free him. Do you see it? We can pray about a situation and miss the glory moment standing at the door because of unbelief and low expectations that God would actually answer.
Sometimes, I fear we have lowered our spiritual expectations to match the experiences of people we know, rather than what we read in the Bible. We look around and see what has occurred in the lives of other believers, and that's where we set the bar. As a result, we lead mediocre lives, forfeiting the abundant life Jesus came to give.
Here's what I want you to do today. Pray and then expect God to answer! I love what David wrote: In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly, (Psalm 5:3, NIV).
Dear Lord, I am bringing my prayers before you today. Forgive me for praying and not expecting You to answer. Here is my prayer: (Fill in this spot with you own prayer.) I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly. In Jesus's name, amen.
Now It's Your Turn
If you don't keep a prayer journal, consider getting one. This could be a simple notebook, or a cute bound blank book. The dollar store is a great place for cute little journals. Write down your prayer requests and then make a note as to how God answered and the date:
Yes. No. Wait.
Reading NO ORDINARY LIFE Martha does make one wonder if given the same set of circumstances, would we be as faithful and true as that pastor. I know we would want to be, but would most of us have the courage to face unknown dangers? Cute cartoon.
Vondi, it is definitely hard to love the 'unloveable'. When I am put to the test I stop and think about God's commandment and also I think about the person being someone's child, parent or friend and it makes me step back and look in a different light at the person. Maybe not with love but with understanding and hopefully compassion.
Never Too Old
In the early 1900s, a desperate father prayed for his sick daughter: “God, spare her life and I’ll serve you with mine.” Miraculously, the girl recovered. The grateful father quit his job, packed his large family (along with a cow and some chickens) and moved to Texas for seminary. In his mid-30s, he became an evangelist who held tent revivals in Texas and Oklahoma.
For many years, the pastor faithfully preached the gospel. Even after reaching the century mark, he’d rise every day and don a three-piece suit. Despite shaky legs and cataract-clouded eyes, he’d wait for his son-in-law, married to the daughter who had nearly died so many years ago, to guide him downtown for coffee. A newcomer asked, “Why do you get so dressed up?” The aged pastor replied, “I never know when I’ll lead someone to the Lord. By the way, son, do you know Jesus?” Reverend A. F. Whitlock understood a simple truth: You’re never too old to serve God.
As a young man, Joshua was sent to spy out the promised land. Only he and Caleb believed the Israelites could conquer the enemies living there. So the people wandered 40 years until the exodus generation perished—save the two spies. Then, succeeding Moses, Joshua led Israel into the promised land. Though he was about 80, Joshua captained Israel to victory over six nations and 31 kings.
Fast-forward 20 years. Joshua 13:1 somewhat understates, “Joshua had grown old.” It is estimated he was around 100 years old. Joshua might have expected God to send him on vacation: go float atop the Dead Sea or fish in the Lake of Galilee. But God didn’t offer Joshua a retirement plan. Instead he said, “There are still very large areas of land to be taken over.” Joshua’s next task was to divide the land.
Maybe you think you’re too old to keep serving God. You’ve offered your tithes, taught Sunday school, led women’s ministry and sung in the choir. What’s left? There are always “lands” left to conquer. There are children to tell stories to, younger women who would love to hear about your history, sick people to visit, prayers to pray, people who have yet to hear the Good News. You’re never too old to tell others about God’s love.Reflection
- How has your age affected your ability to serve God (perhaps people don’t take you seriously because you’re younger or overlook you due to advanced age)?
- What areas has God placed before you to “conquer” (neighborhood, work, family, etc.)?
- Explain how Joshua’s story encourages you to continue serving God regardless of your age—young or old.
STAND FIRM AND STAND TOGETHER
But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 1 Corinthians 12:24b-25
As members of the same family we have the responsibility to come to the aid of another member who is suffering. The body of Christ is strong when each part is closely knit together. When one part suffers, all the other members suffer (1 Corinthians 12:20–27).
Members of the persecuted church who have been helped by others around the world have made comments like those of young Salamat Masih in Pakistan. He was charged with writing blasphemies against the Prophet Mohammed—even though he was illiterate. He was on death row until finally exonerated. After receiving cards from all over the world assuring him of prayers, Salamat said: “I never realized that I had so many brothers and sisters around the world.”
A pastor who was attacked and hurt in Indonesia was so traumatized that he and the family left the area and the ministry. Before we judge him, perhaps we should ask if this pastor ever received enough encouragement and help from other churches and believers. Could it be that he felt so alone because there were not enough other people who cared for him?
Another believer from Hindu background in eastern Indonesia was led to the Lord by a doctor who prayed for him regarding his incurable disease and God healed him. He lost no time in joining a local church.
He said, “At that time, a lot of people accepted Jesus in my village, but they were afraid of the threats from their families. When they convert, village officials come to interrogate them. I, myself, have been interrogated many times after my conversion, and warned me not to convert others. But I was not afraid. I chose to keep my faith in Him no matter what happened.” He experienced severe opposition and persecution from everyone he knew but he held fast to his faith. Open Doors then connected him with a group of other believers from Hindu background.
In November 2010, he and his family met a different kind of opposition that tested their faith. Mount Bromo erupted, covering hundreds of hectares of farmlands and plantations with volcanic ash. “Our livestock died, and we could not work on the farm…People around me ask why I can still smile and be happy. I just tell them that although I am poor and I face a lot of difficulties, I have Jesus. He gives me joy in my heart…Being with other believers reminds me that I am not alone. I am encouraged all the more to share the gospel with my people.”
RESPONSE: Today I will remember that I am part of a large body…a family that deeply cares for me.
Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light,"
(Matthew 11:28-230 NIV).
Friend to Friend
Here's a question. Do you think obedience to God is easy or hard? Hmmm. Obedience may seem hard at first, but in reality, obedience is the easy way. It is difficult to cope with the messes we get into when we don't obey. The consequences of sin are hard to deal with. Think about the times you have disobeyed or turned your back on God. What were the results? Easy? Hard?
Satan will try and convince you that obedience is much too hard, that it carries too high a price, but he will never tell you the cost of not obeying God. He will never tell you the glory moments you will forfeit by refusing or ignoring God's invitation to join Him.
Practicing Acts 17:28 (In him we live and move and have our being.) will never lead to sin. When we wrangle from God's embrace and set out on our own, that's when we get in trouble. God isn't telling us to obey to make life difficult. God wants us to obey to make life less difficult. The end result of obedience is the blessed way - smooth moves.
Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light," (Matthew 11:28-30). The yoke is simply a farmer's understanding of the divine dance of obedience. When two oxen are yoked together, they move as one walking in tandem to the bidding of the master. Usually, an older, more experienced animal is yoked with a young upstart. The apprentice ox learns from the more seasoned ox as they walk along tethered together. If the younger animal tries to surge ahead, the yoke chokes at his neck and slows him down. If he lags behind, the yoke chafes at his neck and prods him to hurry along.
And what does Jesus say about this yoke? It is not hard. It is not difficult. It is not heavy. It is easy. It is light. Being yoked to Jesus actually makes life much simpler - smoother - more peace-filled.
God said to the people of Israel: "If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea." (Isaiah 48:18). A river flows unhindered over rocks and boulders as it moves from one place to the next. It flows around them, over them, and past them all the while smoothing rough edges. A river doesn't strive to get from one place to another. It simply flows. That is the glory life of living and moving and having our being in Christ. We simply flow with a sacred inner calmness. Sometimes circumstances will be like tumultuous white-capped rapids, other times like a lazy gentle stream. But the life in union with Jesus keeps flowing. Moving forward. And in the journey, we catch glimpses of sudden glory in the scenery as we move between life's banks.
Obedience is so much more than following a list of do's and don'ts. Practicing religion rather than enjoying a love relationship with Jesus is like trying to plow the field alone. It will exhaust you rather than energize you. You will feel like a martyr and then wonder why others around you seem to be so joyful in their calling. Obedience because of our love relationship energizes our lives. Obedience out of a sense of duty or law drains. Always drains.
Religion operates on a "works of the law" principle: "I obey God, therefore, I am accepted by God." Relationship operates on the gospel of grace principle: "I am accepted by God through the finished work of Jesus, therefore I obey because I love and trust Him." We're going to talk more about that in the next chapter. This is important to understand because until we grasp the difference, we will never experience the joy of living and moving and having our being in Christ.
Obedience is a response to love. Jesus said, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching," (John 14:23-24).
Sometimes relinquishing control and following Jesus' lead through obedience can feel uncertain or awkward, like when your dance partner leads you into a new move for the very first time. But each time you say yes to God, a new passion and peace flows through your veins until eventually, hopefully, a total transfusion of Christ-centered living replaces self-centered stubbornness. Intimacy becomes sweeter. Passion grows stronger. Glory moments become easier to s
November 21, 2012
Fifteen years ago I watched an empty hospital bed roll into my living room. What an unlikely place for a bed. What an even more unlikely place for my husband, Ron, to be dying-in our living room.
How could this be? Ron was young, athletic, my best friend, the love of my life and the absolute joy of our three-year-old son, Nick.
Soon, fragile days filled with Ron's raspy breathing became what I called my "in between." During that in-between time — the space separating life and death — I wanted to savor the richness of last conversations, last kisses, and last memories.
But Ron's condition deteriorated quickly. He slipped away much too soon. In an instant, I became both a widow and a single parent. I felt completely alone.
Most people have a close support network, a soft place to land. Not me. Physical distance separated me from my mother and in-laws, and differences in viewpoints created emotional distances with other family members.
As a result, my "soft" landing place often felt like shards of glass slashing at my heart. Everything cut deeply. Everything hurt.
It was my love for our son, Nick, which helped me survive the painful emptiness and move on.
But I grieved when thinking about spending our future holidays alone. No boisterous birthday celebrations for Nick. No traditional Thanksgiving dinner. We needed a bigger family to do life with.
When you experience a tragic loss due to death or betrayal, it's hard to trust anyone again. At least it was for me.
Yet, a little brown-haired boy needed godly male influences, and a loving family with whom to celebrate. I also needed to stop being filled with conflicting emotions about being afraid to trust.
In 2 Corinthians 7:6, Paul didn't have any extended family present during a time of conflicting emotions and fear either. Yet, God saw Paul's need for a family-like companionship so He sent Titus to encourage and take care of the apostle. Titus was a problem-solver who had a heart for God and a heart for God's people in Corinth.
God also saw our need for a new, bigger family. With ample love, He sent Nick and me some "Titus" people who have a heart for God and a heart for His people. They helped to transform our downcast souls with His all-encompassing comfort.
Slowly, I cracked open my heart's door just an inch or two allowing these amazing people into our lives. Over time, God knit all of us together creating a "Titus family" related by our hearts, not our heritage.
My "Titus family" consists of people who love each other unconditionally, support and encourage each other, sit beside one another's hospital beds, hold each other accountable and share in every achievement, failure and pain.
Do we look alike? Not so much. But do we share the same heart and many happy holiday celebrations? Definitely!
The most valuable lesson I've learned since my husband died is that marriage certificates and blood relationships are not the only way to make a family.
God makes a family.
LOVE YOUR ENEMIES
Nigeria is divided religiously along the tenth parallel. On the north side Muslims are in the majority. On the south side Christians are in the majority. Along the border between these two groups much blood has been spilled repeatedly in recent years.
One pastor says, “We are facing persecution from our neighbors, the Muslims. They don’t want to see the gospel progressing…and they feel envious that we have more church buildings…and our businesses are expanding as well.”
Another pastor adds, “They see that they must stop the expansion of Christianity into the north, and that has to be done physically.”
And a bishop of one church denomination is wearying from the many attacks. He is quoted as saying, “We have turned the other cheek so many times, we have no more cheeks to turn!”
One violent incident took place in Tudun Wada. It began when a young student was accused of drawing a picture of Islam’s prophet Mohammed. All of a sudden the matter was taken seriously. They started burning churches and rioting with all kinds of weapons.
Nineteen Christians were killed that day, leaving behind mourning widows, family members and friends. Ten churches were burned. Thirty-six homes and one hundred forty-seven shops belonging to Christians were destroyed. But, God gave spiritual courage to His followers on that terrible day. And they refused to run.
Looking back on the situation, a pastor in the area says, “The churches that were destroyed…in fact there is none that has been rebuilt that is not bigger than what it was before. And the attendance by members has grown astronomically.”
As soon as our Open Doors co-workers heard about the violence, they rushed to Tudun Wada to see the circumstances for themselves. They provided for the spiritual, emotional and practical needs of the pastors and the entire Christian community.
Again the pastor comments, “They distributed to us Bibles and other reading materials. All of us pastors were very, very excited. We were happy.”
Another added, “Open Doors through the Standing Strong Through the Storm seminar has lifted up our hearts, and has given us a heart of love for our enemies…Just like Jesus Christ said that we should pray for our persecutors…our attitude towards them is actually to pray for them, and love them.”
The critically important need facing Nigeria is forgiveness. Christians are seeking to express it in tangible ways as they live out the love of Jesus Christ, just as He did two thousand years ago. He forgave the very people who nailed Him to a cross. That is the example Nigeria is witnessing today. And it is what will open the hearts of millions to the truth of the gospel.
RESPONSE: I will be an example to others in loving, forgiving and praying for those who hurt me.
Friend to Friend
Thank you, Lord of Heaven and earth, for your perfect love and abundant goodness.
You are gracious and compassionate, full of loving kindness, ready to forgive, patiently considerate, and generous beyond imagining. I rejoice that you have chosen me and brought me near to you, to dwell in your courts.
Thank you that you are my God, my King, my Friend, my Refuge in trouble and danger, my Father to care for me, my Shepherd to guide me, my Bridegroom to delight in me.
Because Thy loving kindness is better than life, my lips will praise Thee.
In just a few days, families all over the world will gather to celebrate Thanksgiving, my favorite time of the year. It is a simple holiday; one that seems to have escaped the death grip of materialism and side-stepped the greed that often permeates the holiday season. Laughter and love fills homes, and hearts swell with fresh hope as families gather around mountains of food to remember and celebrate all God has done. The rich heritage of relationships with family and friends is revisited and then tucked away as a precious gift of strength for uncertain days ahead.
Man set aside one day to be thankful. God set aside a lifetime. Yet, I find few Christians whose lives are filled with thanksgiving. I think I know why. It is because we do not understand the true meaning of praise, and we do not understand the accessibility of thanksgiving. Many Christians neglect praise entirely because they are afraid, shoving it down into a dark corner of their spiritual journey. On the other hand, some Christians base their entire faith on praise, neglecting the Bible and leaving service to someone else while they are busy praising God. Both viewpoints are wrong and out of balance. The truth is that praise and thanksgiving are acts of spiritual obedience and should be practiced by every believer.
Praise is not optional for a fully devoted follower of God. It is essential to a vital faith and a command from Him. Praise is more than spoken words; it is the natural fruit of a heart wholly devoted to God and bound by a love relationship with Him. Praise is powerful and can alter life's parameters to include trust and acceptance in the face of a crisis. The power of praise can also make this holiday season one of true celebration and new meaning. To understand the importance of praise we must first recognize the power of praise.
Praise pleases God.
The thought of bringing pleasure to God tilts my world just a bit. Nevertheless, we belong to Him, and just as we are pleased when our children obey us, God is pleased when we obey Him. Obedience to God is simply determining and doing the will of God. An obedient life is praise in action and brings God pleasure.
Praise deepens our trust and joy.
Praise turns trials into faith-builders as we learn to measure our problems against His limitless power, transforming the stumbling blocks of today into stepping stones for tomorrow. Praise frees us from having to understand our circumstances. Chuck Swindoll says: "The sovereignty of God is the Christian's security blanket."
Make this Thanksgiving be a time of celebration and praise in your home and in your heart. God will be pleased, and you will be blessed.
November 22, 2012
"O Lord, I am your servant; yes, I am your servant, born into your household; you have freed me from my chains. I will offer you a sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord." Psalm 116:16-17 (NLT)
King David really messed up. Not the "oops-I-snapped-at-my-husband-again" type of mistake. Rather, the Bible tells us David committed adultery with a soldier's wife, then had the innocent man killed to cover up the act. Talk about a condition for guilt.
While I haven't walked in David's sandals, I do know what it's like to feel guilt and shame over what I've done ... or haven't done. It can be all-consuming.
Guilt wraps its way around your mind and heart until it chokes out the truth. You avoid people, situations and places. Embarrassment leads you into disobedience. Guilt hisses lies like:
-He'll never forgive you. -You're the worst mother on the planet. -What kind of Christian does that? -Just give up; you'll never do better.
I wonder if David heard lies too. After all, God took him from a shepherd's field to the king's throne. The guilt at letting down the God he loved, and a soldier who trusted him, must have been intense.
After David had blown it, he could have given up trying to be a man of God. Who would respect him after such shameful behavior? But David didn't give up.
Rather than pulling back from life, he pressed into God.
And God forgave David and continued to use him for years.
Half of David's situation is common. We all make mistakes. We all fall short. We all need a Savior. The other half, the redemption, isn't so common. Too many people sit on the sidelines after a wrong choice, guilt-ridden and convinced they are disqualified from service. So why was David's story different? How was David restored to a position of honor and respect after behaving so shamefully?
The answer is whispered and shouted throughout the book of Psalms. We hear it in David's prayers and poems. Rather than living with a sentence of guilt, David chose to be grateful. He turned attention from himself to His God - and that changed everything.
David sought God's forgiveness with a sincere heart (Psalm 51). He was truly repentant. But then, his focus turned to thankfulness. Psalm 116 records David's words: "O LORD, I am your servant; yes, I am your servant, born into your household; you have freed me from my chains. I will offer you a sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD." (vs. 16 & 17)
Thankfulness is hard to come by when we feel like the scum of the earth. It feels like a sacrifice to offer praise instead of allowing our hearts to sink into self-pity with thoughts like, "I'll never change." "I'm such a failure."
Although he was deeply aware of his own lack, David focused on God's character, power and majesty. And when he did, thankfulness overflowed - silencing the lies about his worth and potential.
Most of us won't go to the extremes David did, but sinful decisions can bring about a guilt-ridden condition that manifests itself in negative thinking and reduced potential. Thankfully, David's example shows me that I don't have to stay there. Yes, I'm a big mess at times. But gratefulness sings these truths:
-God's grace is sufficient. -When you are weak, He is strong. -You've been forgiven; you are a new creation. -Don't dwell on the past, God is doing a new thing.
Gratefulness changes my perspective and opens my heart to the truth. And it's your truth as well. Jesus has already paid the price for our sins, so we don't have to pay it every day through guilt. When we humbly seek His forgiveness (and the forgiveness of others when necessary) our sins are forgiven. Through Christ's sacrifice we are set free.
What Was Jesus’ Self-Identity?
Jesus could be a bit mysterious about his identity. He tended to shy away from forthrightly proclaiming to be the Messiah or the Son of God. Though some people read into his mysterious statements, there were very good reasons for him to remain vague. New Testament scholar Dr. Ben Witherington III addresses this topic straight on: “If he had simply announced, ‘Hi, folks; I’m God,’ that would have been heard as ‘I’m Yahweh,’ because the Jews of his day didn’t have any concept of the Trinity. They only knew of God the Father—whom they called Yahweh—and not God the Son or God the Holy Spirit.
“So if someone were to say he was God, that wouldn’t have made any sense to them and would have been seen as clear-cut blasphemy. And it would have been counterproductive to Jesus in his efforts to get people to listen to his message.
“Besides, there were already a host of expectations about what the Messiah would look like, and Jesus didn’t want to be pigeonholed into somebody else’s categories. Consequently, he was very careful about what he said publicly. In private with his disciples—that was a different story, but the Gospels primarily tell us about what he did in public.” Adapted from interview with Dr. Ben Witherington III
I've been thinking on this, Martha and it's a good lesson.
Consider about how we regard people today who make wild statements aout their own self importance. We laugh at them and regard them as crazy.
If Jesus had come like that as you pointed out in the devotion, it would indeed have been regarded as blasphemy. No one would have regarded his teachings. As it was His teachings came first and He convinced Men by his life and teachings. I think it was nly right before his death that he acknowledged his relationship to the Father. (I didn't go look it up. I'm tired as I said. And my brain isn't too sharp. )
I view it as a pattern for US. We need to let our lives and the witness we live out come first and our claims for being 'born again' be realized by those looking on and not by our own acclamation.
That's the way Jesus did it.
The world is soooo weary of hearing people claim to be 'born again Christians' that it makes them ill. I am so weary of the claim that it turns my stomach. Why? Because those 'born again Christian's" lives shout louder than their words. They aren't living like Christ, which was the meaning of the word 'christian'
Let's make sure Christ is shining out of our lives so clearly that we can be recognized without words, that we can be the same kind of teacher He was.
ASHAMED OF JESUS
Young believers in the Lord in Muslim cultures often struggle with the issue of publicly declaring their new faith in Jesus. Shadiya is the youngest of five children in a Muslim family. At the age of eighteen she came in contact with a group of young people in the church of Pastor Jamil. During the summer of 2011, the church was visited by a group of other young Christians. During that time Shadiya decided to follow Jesus.
One day she forgot to hide her Bible and her younger brother found it. He asked his father about this striking book with a large cross prominent on the cover. Father was shocked. He soon found out that Shadiya brought the book into their house.
Initially dumbfounded by the hostile attitude of her father, Shadiya stood firm for what she believed. She admitted that she had become a Christian, that she received the Bible from some friends and that she no longer is a Muslim. Her father interpreted this as denying her identity. This, in his opinion, was a betrayal of the entire family and the Muslim community. In other words, the shame for the family was unbearable. So in her father’s eyes there was only one option; force Shadiya to deny her faith in Christ. “If you refuse to deny your new faith, you are no longer welcome in our home!” he yelled at her. Shadiya still held on to faith in Jesus.
The situation deteriorated even more after her father went to the mosque and shared the “apostasy” of his daughter with the local imam. They decided she had to deny her Christian faith openly and confess the Islamic faith in public. If she refused to do so, she would have to pay with her life. She would be stoned by the Muslim community.
She asked her apostate brother-in-law, Amir, for advice. He suggested that she do what they asked of her and remain a secret follower of Jesus. In her heart she could remain a believer in Christ, although she would openly deny her faith to save her life. Shadiya was not really convinced that this was the right thing to do and was full of doubt. In the end she followed the advice of Amir.
The prospect of becoming a martyr at the age of eighteen was now over but Shadiya remained doubtful about her decision. She and Amir asked Pastor Jamil what he thought about it.
“This could have been an opportunity for the whole family or the entire village to see God working in the life of an eighteen-year-old girl,” he replied. “It is a great challenge to deal with our fear; still we should rely on Jesus, rather than basing our choices on fear.”
The situation for Shadiya now seems less tense but the risk of escalation remains.
RESPONSE: Today I will not allow fear to control me…especially regarding the public declaration of my faith.
The Servant, Steward of Justice
God’s word through Isaiah is that he has appointed a servant, or trusted envoy, who will usher in a new order—a bringer and establisher of justice, whom we all long for and look forward to with hope. Evangelical leader Charles Colson emphasizes how we need that hope:
We cry out for the demands of justice to be satisfied, and we even sense that they will someday … How could we possibly live with the unfairness of this world if we did not have a belief that at some point the accounts will be reckoned? The nonbeliever has to chalk this up to the spin of the wheel and futile human remedies. But the believer, who trusts in a loving God, knows all believers have the same ultimate hope.
Our longing for justice is fulfilled both now and in the “not yet” by Jesus the Messiah. Best-selling author Philip Yancey elaborates:
When Jesus lived on earth he made the blind to see and the lame to walk; he will return to rule over a kingdom that has no disease or disability. On earth he died and was resurrected; at his return, death will be no more. On earth he cast out demons; at his return, he will destroy the Evil One. On earth he came as a baby born in a manger; he will return as the blazing figure described in the book of Revelation. The kingdom he set in motion on earth was not the end, only the beginning of the end.
Indeed, the kingdom of God will grow on earth as the church creates an alternative society demonstrating what the world is not, but one day will be … A society that welcomes people of all races and social classes, that is characterized by love and not polarization, that cares most for its weakest members, that stands for justice and righteousness in a world enamored with selfishness and decadence, as a society in which members compete for the privilege of serving one another—this is what Jesus meant by the kingdom of God.
The four Horsemen of the Apocalypse give a preview of how the world will end: in war, famine, sickness and death. But Jesus gave a personal preview of how the world will be restored, by reversing the deeds of the four Horsemen: he made peace, fed the hungry, healed the sick, and brought the dead to life. He made the message of God’s kingdom powerful by living it, by bringing it to reality among the people around him. The prophets’ fairy-tale predictions of a world free of pain and tears and death referred to no mythical world, but rather to this world.Think About It
We in the church, Jesus’ successors, are left with the task of displaying the signs of the kingdom of God, and the watching world will judge the merits of the kingdom by us. We live in a time of transition—a transition from death to life, from human injustice to divine justice, from the old to the new—tragically incomplete yet marked here and there, now and then, with clues of what God will someday achieve in perfection.Act on It
Determine a way to proclaim to others that the kingdom of God is breaking into the world.
In this Motivation the writer says: “We in the church, Jesus’ successors, are left with the task of displaying the signs of thekingdomofGod, and the watching world will judge the merits of the kingdom by us.”
Very many times when the watching world sees the earmarks of Christ-life in us they feel condemned and complain about how we live. When we make any kind of response to their complaints we immediately are accused of ‘judging’ them. But exactly where does the ‘judgment’ come in?
Doesn’t it come from the condemnation our righteous life lays on their conscience? I believe it does.
We often hear the admonition: "Judge not, that ye be not judged." (Luke 6 and other places) If we read this carefully we will see that Christ was speaking, not to his disciples and followers, but to the Pharisees and hypocrites who were condemning Him for the things he taught. He goes on to say further down to not be pulling the mote from a neighbor’s eye when they have a mote in their own. That is what the Pharisees wee doing up in the first part of the chapter when they began finding fault with the disciples walking through a grain field and rubbing off the wheat heads to eat as they went along. The Pharisees were finding fault. That’s what prompted his words and he was speaking to hypocrites. Read the whole chapter for yourself and see if that isn't what it is saying.
This verse applies to hypocrites, not to men and women who are living Christ-like lives. Just be careful that your life IS Christ-like.
And in conjunction with Martha’s post I thought of the verse in I Cor. 6:2 Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?
The Word never contradicts itself. The contradictions come in our Fleshly interpretations of the Word.
Another good one, Martha.
I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Revelation 3:18
Radical Christianity is a life-style, not just a mindset; radical Christianity is concerned with conquering, not cowering; with sacrifice, not superficiality; with victory, not verbiage; with scoring, not slumming; with penetration, not pandering. Radical Christianity is in first gear, neutral is nonexistent; radical Christianity is courageous but never constrictive constraining or cautious! Radical Christianity moves mountains; crosses Red Seas; pulls down walls; builds walls; walks on water; raises the dead; calms storms; feeds 5000 and walks through closed doors.
It suffers regularly; soars often; sweats daily; saturates everything and spreads everywhere. Radical Christianity calls sin black, hell hot, hypocrisy evil, Satan a liar and judgment sure. It doesn’t back down, sit down or stay down. Radical Christianity doesn't depend on the strokes of others to keep it going. It doesn’t acquiesce in the face of loud opposition, fold under pressure, wince under criticism, tarnish under time, die under duress, fade under technology nor rot under moisture. It doesn’t rust, retreat, renounce, reconsider, return or renege.
Radical Christianity always lifts up Christ; knocks down barriers; marches over objections; overwhelms pessimism; gobbles up cynicism; and tramples down skepticism.
Radical Christianity gives lavishly; prays relentlessly; claims abundantly; works feverishly; preaches powerfully; serves lovingly; perseveres patiently and believes expectantly! Radical Christianity dares to challenge the prevailing standard to make it God’s. It never plays to the grandstands; nor waters down its position; nor adjusts its principles, but rather is a thermostat that controls its surroundings, never a thermometer that merely adjusts to them. It is never big, popular, stylish, convenient, in vogue or in-step with the world. Its adherents are few; its sound clear; its philosophy unpopular and its rewards great. Its disciples aren’t rewarded by this world but are those to whom Christ will say, “Well done!”
A congregation of believers was worshipping in a Sunday service in Peru and a squad of heavily armed Shining Path rebels came rushing in. “We’ve heard that this group is committed to God. How many of you are willing to die for your faith? Raise your hands,” he commanded.
Fearing they would be slaughtered, most of the congregation remained still. But a small number of believers tentatively raised their hands. The others were released and the commander said, “Those of you who raised your hands, stop worrying. We’re not going to kill you. We just wanted to see who in the congregation believed enough in their faith that they were willing to die for it. That’s the kind of radical commitment we’re looking for.”
RESPONSE: Today I commit to being a radical Christian and give everything I am and have to Jesus.
The message above is good Martha but I don't like the word 'radical'. To me radical doesn't convey love; it makes me think of extremist and fanatical actions. It may have a religious meaning as well but I'm not sure.
Myth: “If I commit my life to God, he’ll make me a missionary to Africa.”
I had the dream again last night. I’m walking down the aisle of my church, but there’s no wedding march playing (sigh), just the off-tune ramblings of the church organist struggling through another verse of “Just As I Am.” A preacher is there waiting for me, and so is my mother, sister and third-grade teacher, Mrs. Boulter. (Remember, this is a dream.) It’s at the end of a revival service. The preacher asks those who want to “commit themselves wholeheartedly to God’s purposes for their lives” to come to the front of the church. In my dream, I tell the preacher I am ready to do whatever God wants me to do. Everyone is so happy. Mrs. Boulter is happy. I’m happy. The organist is happy.
The next scene, however, is something altogether different. It’s nighttime. And I’m stumbling around inside this primitive hut with a mosquito net wrapped around my head and body, blindly swiping at insects with a gigantic King James Bible. I try to scream, but it’s useless. A small town girl from Ohio has turned into an unwitting missionary. In the middle of Africa. And I’m miserable. I wake up the same way every time—drenched in sweat, with the sheets twisted around my head, clutching the phonebook.
I know it’s only a dream. Still, I’ve heard the stories. If you “give it all up to God,” something terrible will happen to you to test your faith and see if you’re really a good Christian. It would be just my luck to have to quit my job and leave my family so God can ship me off to Africa to be a missionary. And I’ve never even been outside Ohio.
I’m a Christian. I want to be totally, unapologetically obedient to God. But if I give God my entire life, I’m afraid he’ll do something extreme to prove a point. He might take away my boyfriend to see which one I love more—”him or Him”? Worse yet, what if something happens to my family because I said God could “have it all”? My mom will get cancer. Or my best friend will be killed in a car wreck. (You know, those things you never say around the donut table in Sunday school, but they’re legitimate fears.)
I love God. And sometimes I’m this close to giving him everything. But in order to prove my love for God, I feel like I have to do something drastic. And I’m not ready for that yet.
Let’s be honest—most of us are afraid of God. And we should be. He’s the all-powerful King of the universe. In comparison, we are helplessly powerless. But because we fear him, we hold back from him a few things we feel we can’t live without, afraid that he’ll strip them from us. A relationship. A job. A standard of living. Health. Dreams. It’s scary to know that God wants what’s best for us—because it may come at a price.
Anyone who’s familiar with the story of Abraham and Isaac knows that sometimes God asks us to give him what we’re clutching protectively to our chests. What if God asked you to give up what’s most dear to you? What would you do? How would you react? The danger is camping out in that line of thinking. If you continually live in fear of God and what he will do if you surrender your life to him, you likely won’t surrender. The Bible teaches, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).
God’s will is always tied to who he is. (Read that again.) The rumor that God is a sadist in the sky, waiting for some unsuspecting woman to give her life to him just so he can toy with her, is a twisted myth. That’s not how the Bible describes God. It’s not his nature.
Instead of fearing him, if we believe he is a loving God, we will be convinced all his plans for us will be full of love and for our good. If we trust the Father, we will trust his plans for us … even if they take us through difficult times, down roads we wouldn’t otherwise choose or even to the “Africas” we fear the most. Life with God may not always be “safe,” as we’d define it; but he will always, always be good to us. Our lives are in good hands.
“The real issue in life is not the search for God’s will; it is the search for God. The issue in faith is not knowing what God is doing, rather it is knowing that God knows what he is doing. The issue of faith is seeking God’s presence, not God’s plan for my life, because there is no plan outside of my knowing him.”
I love the post on 'radical' Christianity! It is so very trueof what our stand must be if we set out to live for the Lord. I can understand Vicky's dislike of the world 'radical' but being truly born again IS a pretty radical thing to many people. And people who live for the Lord are quite often called 'fanatics.'
The primary or first meaning of radical is "going to the root of an issue' or being 'thorough-going or extreme' Those are all descriptions of the dedication we must have for the Lord if we are to be one of his child.
I especially liked the one description: Radical Christianity is a life-style, not just a mindset; radical Christianity is concerned with conquering, not cowering; with sacrifice, not superficiality; with victory, not verbiage; with scoring, not slumming; with penetration, not pandering.
Too often we find 'Christians' who have just 'decided' to be a Christian. They have not been convicted of their sins, they just thought being a christian was a 'good thing to do.'
So many times people who call themselves Christians do cower before sin and sinful habits, but a Christian doesn't have to we can conquer over sin and the devil if we are willing to go all the way with the Lord. .
They only desire to be a 'superficial' Christian--just to seem like one to onlookers, but there is no sacrifice of selfish desires or time or effort .
Many, and I'm talking bout the preachers we hear on TV and radio now, are only concerned with saying the right words to get their listeners all excited but thre is no VICTORY in their messages or their witness. Too many times we TALK a good line, but we have no real victory in our life.
I really liked the description of a 'radical' Christian... if someone can think of another adjective, I'm ready to accept it, but radical is ok with me.
PERSECUTION AND CHURCH GROWTH
Pastor Samuel Lamb from southern China celebrated his 87th birthday in October, 2011. A quarter of his life was spent imprisoned for his faith. He still preaches several times on Sunday in his large house church and most week nights in Bible studies. His brilliant smile shines from a slight body suffering chronic disability resulting from 15 years confinement in a coal mine. “God gives me the strength I need,” he says. He has never left China, fearing that if he traveled, the authorities would not let him return.
Lamb credits God for the faith to accept what has happened in his life. It has deepened his ministry. Lamb believes that sometimes God is more glorified through sickness and poverty than through health and wealth. Christians travel thousands of miles to discuss house church ministry with Pastor Lamb and visitors from around the world seek out his house church in Guangzhou, China, which gathers 3,000 members each week.
Pastor Lamb often refers to persecution and growth as intertwined. He is known for his quote, “Remember the lesson of the Chinese church: more persecution, more growth.” As the pastor explains, “Before I was put into prison in 1955, this church’s membership was 400; when I came out in 1978, it built up to 900 in a matter of weeks. Then after 1990, when everything was confiscated here and the church briefly closed, we re-opened and in a matter of weeks we had 2,000 members. More persecution, more growth—that’s the history of the Chinese church, that’s the history of this church.”
Though the two are related, persecution in other parts of the world has not necessarily always brought church growth. North Africa is an example.
But the Bible, especially in the book of Acts, is clear that church growth will likely bring persecution. Each time the gospel made advances in Acts, persecution would break out. And in Acts 8:4, the persecuted and scattered believers went everywhere preaching the word.
RESPONSE: Today I will accept the principle that sometimes God is more glorified through sickness and poverty than through health and wealth.
November 27, 2012
We were out of options. The day the Sherriff's car pulled into our driveway, I knew what was coming. After a series of unfortunate events, things had gone from bad to worse to hopeless.
Her friendly, official, sheriff smile did nothing to relieve the emotional discomfort of this dreadful moment. The neighbors peeked through their blinds to see what was happening.
As she handed me the papers, I took them with tears in my eyes.
Looking at the baby in my arms and toddler peeking out from behind me, this kind woman genuinely said, "I'm sorry."
"Thank you," I whispered, as I slowly closed the door.
I sat down on our stairs and read through the official documents. Elaborate lawyer terms, forceful sounding laws I didn't understand, and words bolded in dark ink conveyed the dreadful news; "You must vacate the premises within thirty days."
It was unwanted and unavoidable. It felt shameful and embarrassing. And the foreclosure of our home was an aching process of letting go.
The carefully painted mustard-yellow walls: I would miss them so much. How would I survive without the daily afternoon play dates with my neighbor and her children? And what about all those hot dog dinners my husband and I ate to save pennies to buy this sweet home?
So much was about to be taken from us. Just like that.
I didn't understand why God would allow us to walk this humbling road. We had trusted Him, why hadn't He provided?
Any hope I had left in God faded fast. It wasn't something I could muster back up on my own. No, I needed others to fill the gap for me.
In scripture Paul wrote, "For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." (Romans 15:4 NAS
I learned during this devastating season, when our hearts become grounds of broken dreams, we may need to turn to the hope others have found.
The Bible holds deep historical roots of hope waiting for us to uncover.
We can find hope because ...
Abraham and Sarah found hope by believing while it seemed impossible for them to get pregnant, it was possible for God. (Genesis 15, 17-18)
We can find hope because ...
Ruth and Naomi found hope by moving their lives forward after losing their family. (Ruth 3)
We can find hope because ...
Mary and Martha found hope when they saw Jesus could do anything, including raising their brother from the dead. (John 11)
As I closed the door to our home for the last time, I accepted this place of brokenness. But I also made a choice to find hope no matter what.
I found hope through the eyes of wonder my daughters had as they explored our new rental house. I found hope when my mom helped me unpack our boxes and organize toys. I found hope when my husband's heart drew closer to mine through this difficult experience.
Hope is at the core of who we are as followers of Jesus. As we allow hope to flow into us, it will flow through us even in the most difficult circumstances.
If you feel hopeless in this season of your life, will you look back at those who had hope in Scripture to give you courage to have hope for your future? Hope, it heals our broken dreams.
And on the second post about 'giving it all up' I gave my life to the Lord when I was very young, but I didn't really understand what it was to truly FOLLOW him until I was about 16. And I did, I never looked back. It wasn't always easy but I kept on working at itl.
My intention was to go into medicine, for either people or animals. When it was time to declare a major, the Lord specifically let me know he had something else for me. I didn't go into medicine. The Lord made me a teacher.
I taught public school for a year and the Lord called me to teach on a little mission outside of Gallup NM. I went. No salary, no insurance, nothing except board and room.
I;ve had the most exciting life imaginable. I learned a foreigh language almost unconsciously. I met a Navajo man and the Lord saved him. We were married and had two children. And the Lord took him home when our childen were 2 and 4 years old...
I could fill pages and pages with everything that has happened to me--good times and hard times, but they were all filled with the wonderful blessings of God.
I would give young people no better advice but to serve God--not half heartedly, not trying to do things your own way and call it God's leading--but full heartedly, Be a Radical Christian. And OH the glory and blessins and excitement you will have!
There isn't enough words to describe it.
God has a huge ocean of blessings and wonder if you only give him your whole hearted self. Jump into the middle of that sea and don't worry what you will h ave to do. Whatever it may be, He will give you strength for it. And the Joy in serving him will be overwhelming!
Today's Truth Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame (Song of Songs 8:6, NIV).
Friend to Friend Shakespeare described jealousy as a "green-eyed monster." Mark Twain called it the "trademark of small minds." I once heard it described as "the gangrene of the soul." Not a lovely picture, is it? In fact, in human terms, jealousy is usually thought of as a negative trait we need to carefully guard against. However, when it comes to God, jealousy takes on a whole new meaning.
God is a jealous God. The root idea in the Old Testament word jealous is to become intensely red and refers to the way our face can change color with rising emotion when something or someone very dear to us is threatened. Been there? I have! In fact, both the Old and New Testament words for jealousy are also translated "zeal." In other words, being jealous and being zealous is basically the same thing in the Bible. God is zealous â€" eager about protecting what is precious to Him. It's the kind of jealousy that compels God to pursue each one of us relentlessly, no matter how we try to evade Him with our indifferent attitude or our propensity for sin. The jealousy of God is comparable to the jealous passion of a parent for their child. As a mother, I know what that kind of love is like.
When our son was only six weeks old, he developed a potentially serious medical condition. When the doctor told us to immediately bring Jered to the hospital for tests, I panicked. Dan rushed home from work, and we raced to the hospital where we were met by caring nurses and our wonderful pediatrician. After an extensive exam, the doctor said, "Okay. Let's get an IV in this little man and get him upstairs for X-rays." Seeing the look on my face, Dr. Schultz wrapped his arm around my shoulders and said, "He is going to be fine. We will take good care of him." Words of comfort, but they were not nearly enough to assuage my anguish as I pictured needles being thrust into my precious baby. And he couldn't eat in case they had to do surgery! Jered was all about eating. After his regular feeding time came and went, he screamed for food until he was hoarse. I cried along with him because I knew he was hungry, but I couldn't feed him or make him understand why I couldn't feed him.
The nurses were obviously accustomed to dealing with almost hysterical mothers like me and reassured me repeatedly that everything was going to be fine. I wanted proof! This was not just any baby they were dealing with. Jered was my baby! I fully expected the claws to pop out of the ends of my fingers at any moment because, for the first time in my life, I understood what a mama bear must feel like when her cub is threatened.
The nurse who was assigned to insert Jered's IV was wonderful. I held him tightly as she expertly and gently inserted the needle and quickly secured it with surgical tape. She then took a Styrofoam cup, cut it in half and taped it over the needle so Jered couldn't accidently kick it out. And let me tell you, he was indeed kicking at this point!
The nurse then left the room so I could rock my baby and try to calm him down. Just as he drifted off to sleep, the door slammed open as an X-ray technician wheeled a gurney into the room and sharply ordered, "Let's go!" He had no idea who he was dealing with. My husband did and quickly took charge, escorting the technician into the hallway and said, "We will carry him up to the X-ray floor and will be glad to follow you, but we will not need that gurney until we get there." The technician started to argue but evidently reconsidered when his eyes found mine and he caught my death glare. "Fine," he said and grabbed the IV pole and told us to follow him.
When we reached the X-ray unit, Dan gently pried Jered out of my arms and laid him on the gurney. The technician said, "We are really backed up today so let's make this quick!" He then jerked the gurney and the IV pole in opposite directions, yanking out the carefully inserted and securely taped IV. Blood spurted out of my son's leg and he began to scream.
I don't exactly remember what happened next, but Dan does. He said I scooped Jered up in my arms, stomped my foot so loudly that nurses came running as I growled at the offending young man. I guess the technician had reached his patience limit, too, because he glared back at me and said, "Lady, do you need to leave this unit?" Dan said he quickly began calculating how he was going to raise my bail money when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw me approach the doomed technician, plant my finger in his chest and whisper through clenched teeth, "Listen carefully to me, young man. I know you have a job to do, but you need to understand something right now! This is my baby! I am not going anywhere! And you need to watch how you treat him!" The young man quickly apologized as did I sort of but I meant every word I had spoken to him. Fortunately, Jered did not have to have surgery. He downed two full bottles in record time and I let the technician live â€" and we headed home instead of to jail. I was and still am a jealous parent who is passionate and zealous about her children.
RESPONDING WITH PRAISE
Helen Berhane spent almost three years in the shipping container prisons of Eritrea. In her book Song of the Nightingale, she shares about the first time she and other women were put in an old metal shipping container that was very hot and filled with fleas and lice:
Everyone was very despondent, and many of the women were angry. They asked me what we should do and I knew they were expecting me to say that we should shout or bang the container, to let our captors know that we were not going to tolerate this treatment. But I remembered… [reading] about how Christians, like nightingales, could not be prevented from singing even in captivity, and I suggested that we sing: “We should praise God in spite of the fleas, in spite of the lice, in spite of the heat. We should thank God despite our circumstances.” So I began to sing with them, and pray, and share the Word of God from memory.
Pastor Ung Sophal sat in a filthy Cambodian prison badly beaten. His hands and feet were chained for five months. “Only my mouth was unchained,” he said.
“...So I sang to God in prison all the time. Another prisoner heard me singing through a small hole in the wall, so I taught him the song—a bit at a time. He passed it on and soon eight of us were singing.”
Archbishop Dominic Tang spent twenty-two years in prison in China for his faith. He reports:
“Besides my prayer and meditation, every day I sang some hymns in a soft voice: ‘Jesus I live for you; Jesus I die for you; Jesus I belong to you. Whether alive or dead I am for Jesus!’ This hymn was taught to me by a Protestant prisoner who lived in my cell.”
RESPONSE: Today I will respond to all the challenges of life I face with praise and thankfulness.
Friend to Friend Over the course of several years, my husband and I traveled many times to Sea Island, Georgia and beheld art in motion as seasoned couples graced the dance floor to the sounds of a Big Band Orchestra. Mirrored steps, swirling dresses, and graceful twosomes moved around the parquet in a kaleidoscope of colors. Watching them stirred up a hunger in me to learn how to do the same.
So Steve and I signed up for a six-week introductory Ballroom dance class at a local studio.
"Steve and Sharon," the instructor began, "the first dance we will learn is the Fox Trot. Steve, extend your left arm. Now place your right hand on your wife's left shoulder blade. Cup it firmly in your hand. Let her know it's there." Then she turned to me, "Sharon, you gently rest your left hand on your husband's right shoulder and place your right hand into his left hand. Keep your backs straight. Taut. This is called your frame."
So far, so good.
She then proceeded to teach us to make little boxes with our feet while counting one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four. This was not floating around the dance floor like the couples on Sea Island. This was not what I had in mind.
The instructor continued teaching as we marched in place. "Steve, you have the hardest part because it is up to you to lead. All Sharon has to do is follow your signals. With a gentle press to her back, she will know to move forward. With a slight release, she will know to move backward. When you raise your arm, she will know to turn under."
Sounded easy enough, but it wasn't. More than once, the instructor tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Sharon, you're leading again." The problem was, when I led, Steve wouldn't follow. Imagine that. Now I know a train can't have two engines, but I felt that I was the better dancer and that the lessons would go much quicker if Steve would just let me lead. But my tendency to take control only slowed us down and frustrated the entire process.
After we mastered tiny boxes, it was time for lesson number two. "Okay," the instructor continued, "now you are ready to begin moving around the room. This will be like making small boxes with a flap open."
We learned how to take two steps forward and two steps to the side, two steps forward and two steps to the side. Actually, Steve got to move forward, but I had to move backwards, which seemed very unfair to me. "I understood that we couldn't both move forward, but why am I the one who has to move backward?" I complained. The instructor took a deep breath and assured me that this was the way God planned it. (She didn't explain it exactly that way, but I knew that's what she meant.)
So the three of us marched and counted: "Slow, slow, quick, quick. Slow, slow, quick, quick." I felt more like a shopping buggy being pushed around the room than a dance partner. I was just glad no one was watching.
I had wanted us to be the next Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, but instead we looked more like Fred Rogers and Mrs. Frog dancing about the neighborhood. And all during our six week lessons, the instructor kept tapping me on the shoulder and saying, "Sharon, you're leading again."
Eventually, I did learn to trust Steve enough to let him lead. Did you catch that? I learned to trust him. As long as I didn't trust him, I would never yield to his promptings. As long as I thought I could do it better, I would never follow his lead. But when I surrendered to his tender tugs and gentle releases, we began to glide. When I began to heed his cues, I knew when to spin, roll out like a casted fishing line and be reeled back in again like a prized catch.
Amazingly, when I relinquished control and followed Steve's lead, I looked good. I was the one spinning, twirling, rolling out, and swirling back in. All Steve got to do was stay in one place and drive the machine.
And that is the joy and beauty of practicing a life of union with Jesus. In Him we live and move and have our being becomes a graceful dance in which we simply learn to follow Jesus' lead. When we learn to yield to Jesus' tender tugs and gentle releases, when we relinquish our tendency to take control, we move as one to the melody of heaven's Big Band and God's creative choreography designed uniquely for each of us.
November 28, 2012
Do You Have "I" Issues? Jennifer Rothschild
In the late '70s I sat with my folks in a hospital room in the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. The doctors who had just completed tests on my eyes were explaining what it meant to have retinitis pigmentosa. They described how I would slowly lose my remaining sight and eventually be totally blind. My mind raced and my heart welled with confusing emotions. I was silent in that hospital room that day.
A few days later at my next visit, I only wish I had been silent.
We went back to the same room with some of the same doctors. This time it was to help me get on a rehabilitative program. One doctor described how large, thick glasses might help with the little vision I still had. Another discussed walking with a cane. Another doctor told me how important it was for me to have an oversized magnifying glass and advised me to use a flashlight to find my locker at school.
They stepped out of the room, and with full adolescent belligerence I ranted to my parents. "I will not wear any of that junk or use that embarrassing stuff! No way! I will not look weird!"
Just as I finished my outburst, the door opened and my new rehab counselor "rolled" in. Being legally blind, I couldn't see him well enough to detect what my mom described to me later.
He was blind in one eye, his face was disfigured, he was missing an arm, and his legs evidently weren't functional. What I could detect, even without sight, was that his voice was only audible by using an apparatus that made it sound synthesized.
Unfortunately he arrived just in time to hear my tirade about looking weird.
I was mortified by how self-centered I acted. I was humiliated by my own smallness and pride. I know he was a professional who most likely understood my immature response, but he also was a man who had lost his former physique and abilities, and who probably felt "weird" when he looked in the mirror. I was so ashamed.
I was only a few days into learning to live with blindness when I received my first lesson: when I am most self-aware, I am most miserable. Even today, as a 48-year-old woman, I still feel tinges of self-pity, self-awareness and self-absorption.
"I don't feel that's fair to me." "Do I look okay in these jeans?" "I don't think she likes me." "I look weird when I can't make eye contact. I don't want people to notice." "I need, I want, I wish."
When a big "I" is the center of our thoughts and feelings, we truly are miserable!
Perhaps that's because "I" is also in the center of pride and sin. Ouch!
"But," Christ continued, "if it dies, it bears much fruit." (ESV) The principle is this: when it is all about us, we are like that seed that is unwilling to die. Consequently, we find ourselves alone in the prison of our own self-awareness. But, when we are willing to turn our big "I" into a little "I," we are then ready to experience real life, satisfying life.
God is teaching me that true self-esteem comes from being reduced—less of me, more of Him. As I am willing to relinquish my sense of self—self-pity, self-awareness and self-absorption—I am finding simplicity in an identity that comes from His life in me, rather than an identity based upon me, myself and I.
Today, let's choose to be more full of God than we are of ourselves.
EVANGELISM FUNCTION OF THE CHURCH
Johan Companjen, President Emeritus of Open Doors International, was travelling in the Philippines. Finding it extremely hot in his hotel room, he called for a staff person. “Is the air-conditioning not working?” he asked. “Oh yes sir,” the man replied, “It’s working. It’s just not functioning!”
Jesus Christ ordained five functions for His church to be involved in for Him. We are to evangelize (Matthew 28:19); to disciple or train those who are evangelized (Matthew 28:20); to minister or serve people demonstrating God’s love (Matthew 22:39; Ephesians 4:12); to fellowship together (Ephesians 2:19; Galatians 6:10); and to worship together (Matthew 4:10; John 4:23). In the Bible, there is not necessarily a priority order for these five purposes. They are all equally important.
Evangelism is one primary function. If we really have come to know Christ as Lord and Savior, we will want to share this wonderful experience with those we love. It sometimes seems hard or embarrassing to share the Gospel with our friends and relatives. But if we really love them, and if we really believe that without Christ they will suffer for eternity separated from God, we will tell them no matter how oppressive the culture or the political situation may be.
Restrictions on the church cause new creative means of evangelism to arise. In a restricted country of Asia, one such creative method is to hire a bus and invite relatives and friends to a free outing to the beach. Once in the bus, the pastor with a hand-held loudspeaker starts preaching to his “captive audience” about the love of Christ. At the beach the sharing and fellowship continues…as well as a water baptism for new believers.
In Soviet Russia, a group of Christians took advantage of the funeral of a small daughter of one of the members to present a public evangelistic witness. On the way to the cemetery, they stopped every few hundred meters to sing triumphant songs of praise. The father of the dead child also gave a clear message of salvation in Christ. Many listeners along the way were deeply touched.
In Vietnam, Pastor Ho Hieu Ha spent over six years in prison for pastoring a growing church right under the noses of the unhappy authorities. But he felt that his imprisonment was not a waste because he used the time to witness to others who were also in prison. When he was released, he had led ninety-six people to Jesus and discipled them.
RESPONSE: I am committed to sharing Christ’s love with others. It is a primary function of the church.
November 29, 2012
"The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail." Isaiah 58:11 (NIV)
Just because something great happens doesn't mean it is from God. I know this is true because I know how to manipulate and make great things happen.
Honestly, I hate that word—manipulate. It rubs something rough and grainy into the softer places of my heart.
But there it is. And I know it. Because sometimes I do it. I manipulate.
I know how to sell an idea I think is really great.
I know how to go the extra mile.
I know how to strategize to make my plan seem like a great strategy.
And not that any of this is intrinsically bad. Some of these things are great qualities God can certainly use in good ways.
But what if I use these skills and talents outside God's will? To push past God's timing, God's direction, God's plan to teach me stuff in the process?
Sometimes I think He lets us push past His better plan to experience the consequences of our headstrong attitude. Boy do I know all about that. I've jumped headfirst into something I thought I wanted so much, only to find extreme stress, fear, anxiety and an overwhelming sense of regret.
It's great to know how to sell an idea. But it's not great to do it outside God's will.
It's great to go the extra mile. But it's not great to do it out of a desire to secure what I want—rather than out of a desire to serve another.
It's great to strategize and have a plan. But it's not great if that plan stretches me so I seek my desires more than God's desires.
I am learning. Learning to not always push so hard. Run so fast. And desire so much more.
Recently I had the opportunity to be considered for something huge. Really huge.
And I knew how to secure it.
I knew the words I could use to sell my idea. I knew I could go the extra mile with my pitch and look impressive. I knew a strategy that could be implemented and the plan to propose.
But what I didn't know is if this was God's plan or my desire.
If I knew for sure it was God's plan, all my efforts wouldn't be manipulation—they'd be smart. But I didn't know.
Therefore, all my pushing and plotting were manipulation. So, I stopped. I backed off. I stepped aside.
And then I doubted. It was hard to watch the opportunity possibly slip away. But I reminded myself that this was a place where my trust in God has to step in. This was one of those times when a deeper faith could be found.
I can rest in the assurance that if something is to be, it isn't up to me. It's up to God. It's not that I just sit back and don't pursue things. I do. But I give what I can give without manipulation. And then I wait for God to give what only He can give. So, if He makes it happen without all my chaotic self-effort, then I will know it is His best.
And if it doesn't happen, I will thank Him for saving me from myself.
Friend to Friend I make room for things that are important to me. I eat two or three meals every day and sleep several hours each night even though my "to do" list is not much shorter today than it was yesterday. I will choose to play with a grandchild over cleaning the house any day of the week. I manage to find a place for that great piece of furniture I don't really need ... but really like. After all, it was on sale. I like watches. Don't ask me why because I simply don't know. I only need one watch, but I own several inexpensive ones. I will have lunch with a friend instead of running errands. And there is always room for chocolate! Silly examples ... right?
I wonder. I wonder what the innkeeper thought as he turned away the young man and his very pregnant wife that holy night so long ago. He had no room ... it was that simple. Do we?
The Christmas season is here. Our calendars are already full, our bank accounts are closing in on empty and our hearts and lives are crowded with things we deem important. But have we made room for Jesus?
I simply cannot imagine a world without the presence of God and yet I often live my life as if He does not exist. A crisis hits, and I try to handle it on my own. I don't understand the trials in my life while those who could care less about God seem to prosper. Instead of reaching out to Him, I withdraw into the darkness. Financial stress fuels worry. Instead of turning to God, I rely on what I can see and understand. I settle.
When I do cry out to God, He lovingly fills each dark corner with Light. His love flows over the pain like soothing balm and once again, I experience the manger. Once again, Jesus Christ steps into the smelly, unlikely and very ordinary existence that is mine to change everything ... absolutely everything!
Jesus could have come to us in many ways. The simplicity of His birth is extraordinary and sometimes hard to grasp. Jesus could have been born in a mansion. He was, after all, a King. Instead, He came to a dirty smelly manger and His birth was announced by common shepherds instead of Kings -- the greatest of all miracles in the midst of total simplicity. Today, Jesus still wants to meet us in the midst of our simple daily lives. It seems too easy and too good to be true, doesn't it?
It was Christmas Eve, and the family was preparing to attend the special service of their local church. Everyone was going except Dad, who was an honest man, a man who could not seem to wrap his logical mind around the story of God come to earth as a baby in a manger. He didn't want to be a hypocrite, pretending to worship a Savior he wasn't sure even existed, so he stayed home, built a fire to dispel the bitter cold of that winter night and began to read the paper while waiting for his family's return. Hearing a knock at the window, he turned to see a tiny bird trying to reach the warmth of the fire. The man opened the window, but the bird refused to come in. Grabbing his coat, the man raced out to the barn and opened the barn doors wide ... but still, the bird refused to come in. The man thought, "If only I could be a bird, for just one minute, I could lead the bird to safety." At that moment, he heard the church bells ring and finally understood why Jesus came to earth as a man - to become one of us - so He could lead us to eternal safety.
The very heart of Christmas is Emanuel, God with us ... with me ... and with you. Christmas is not a date on a calendar. Christmas is a way of life that celebrates the presence of God in the simple, ordinary happenings of daily life: where we go and what we do -- the smile we give the harried stranger or the patience we choose in the crowd of impatient shoppers -- the love that prompts the secret gift or the heart that constantly celebrates His birth through every sparkling light, every beautifully wrapped gift, each special meal, every card, phone call and visit. God is with us ... if we choose to make room for Him.
Why Did Jesus Need to Die?
The paradox found in the Gospels gets as quizzical as it possibly can in Matthew 17:22–23. God was going to save the world through the death of his Son. God, in his divine nature, doesn’t die. So how was God going to get this done? How was God going to be the Savior of the human race? He had to come to Earth as a human being to accomplish that task. And Jesus was the one to do it.
Jesus said in Matthew 20:28 that he “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” This is either the highest form of megalomania or it’s an example of somebody who really believes, as he said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). It was as if Jesus was saying, “I have the authority to speak for the Father; I have the power to act for the Father; if you reject me, you’ve rejected the Father.”
Even if you eliminated the Gospel of John and just read the Synoptic Gospels, this would still be the conclusion you would come to. And it is the conclusion that Jesus would have led us to if we had a Bible study and asked him this question. An astute Bible reader needs to ask, “Why is there no other first-century Jew who has millions of followers today? Why isn’t there a John the Baptist movement? Why, of all first-century figures, including the Roman emperors, is Jesus still worshiped today, while the others have crumbled into the dust of history?” It’s because this Jesus—the historical Jesus—is also the living Lord. He’s still around, while the others are long gone. Adapted from interview with Dr. Ben Witherington III
When was Jesus Christ born? Was Jesus born on December 25 - Christmas Day?
"Lacking any scriptural pointers to Jesus's birthday, early Christian teachers suggested dates all over the calendar. Clement...picked November 18. Hippolytus...figured Christ must have been born on a Wednesday...An anonymous document[,] believed to have been written in North Africa around A.D. 243, placed Jesus's birth on March 28" (Joseph L. Sheler, U.S. News & World Report, "In Search of Christmas," Dec. 23, 1996, p. 58).
A careful analysis of Scripture, however, clearly indicates that December 25 couldn't be the date for Christ's birth. Here are two primary reasons:
First, we know that shepherds were in the fields watching their flocks at the time of Jesus' birth (Luke 2:7-8). Shepherds were not in the fields during December. According to Celebrations: The Complete Book of American Holidays, Luke's account "suggests that Jesus may have been born in summer or early fall. Since December is cold and rainy in Judea, it is likely the shepherds would have sought shelter for their flocks at night" (p. 309).
Similarly, The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary says this passage argues "against the birth [of Christ] occurring on Dec. 25 since the weather would not have permitted" shepherds watching over their flocks in the fields at night.
Second, Jesus' parents came to Bethlehem to register in a Roman census (Luke 2:1-4). Such censuses were not taken in winter, when temperatures often dropped below freezing and roads were in poor condition. Taking a census under such conditions would have been self-defeating.
Given the difficulties and the desire to bring pagans into Christianity, "the important fact then which I have asked you to get clearly into your head is that the fixing of the date as December 25th was a compromise with paganism" (William Walsh, The Story of Santa Klaus, 1970, p. 62).
If Jesus Christ wasn't born on December 25, does the Bible indicate when He was born? The biblical accounts point to the fall of the year as the most likely time of Jesus' birth, based on the conception and birth of John the Baptist.
Since Elizabeth (John's mother) was in her sixth month of pregnancy when Jesus was conceived (Luke 1:24-36
Since Elizabeth (John's mother) was in her sixth month of pregnancy when Jesus was conceived (Luke 1:24-36), we can determine the approximate time of year Jesus was born if we know when John was born. John's father, Zacharias, was a priest serving in the Jerusalem temple during the course of Abijah (Luke 1:5). Historical calculations indicate this course of service corresponded to June 13-19 in that year (The Companion Bible, 1974, Appendix 179, p. 200).
It was during this time of temple service that Zacharias learned that he and his wife, Elizabeth, would have a child (Luke 1:8-13). After he completed his service and traveled home, Elizabeth conceived (verses 23-24). Assuming John's conception took place near the end of June, adding nine months brings us to the end of March as the most likely time for John's birth. Adding another six months (the difference in ages between John and Jesus) brings us to the end of September as the likely time of Jesus' birth.
Although it is difficult to determine the first time anyone celebrated December 25 as Christmas Day, historians are in general agreement that it w
Although it is difficult to determine the first time anyone celebrated December 25 as Christmas Day, historians are in general agreement that it was sometime during the fourth century. This is an amazingly late date. Christmas was not observed in Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, until about 300 years after Christ's death. Its origins cannot be traced back to either the teachings or practices of the earliest Christians.
To learn more about the origins of Christmas, read the following online Bible study resources:
Bible Study Aid Booklet: Holiday or Holy Days: Does It Matter Which Days We Observe?
I got this kernal of thought from Martha's first Post the other day:
“Why is there no other first-century Jew who has millions of followers today? Why isn’t there a John the Baptist movement? Why, of all first-century figures, including the Roman emperors, is Jesus still worshiped today, while the others have crumbled into the dust of history?”
When people ridicule the concpt of Christianity and Jesus this is one of the best answers I think we could give....
At Issue - Success
To succeed at any task, you must have the proper tools. Success in changing a tire requires such things as a tire iron and a jack. Success in quilting requires needles and fabric. Without the right equipment, you’re left empty-handed and guessing. These verses tell us that success in life requires one important tool—God’s Word. It’s not enough to own a copy of God’s Word. You have to use it—read it, meditate on it, talk about it and obey it. God has given you all you need to succeed in life—if you’ll use the tools he’s given you.
SHARE THE GOOD NEWS
Eight men sat in a small dimly lit room in a rural Chinese village home. Seven were preachers and their eyes were glued to the Bible held by the eighth man. It was a leather-bound zippered Bible with gold-edged trim on the pages.
The western visitor suddenly became aware that the seven men were staring intently at his Bible. One of them generated enough courage to say, “What a beautiful Bible. May I look at it for a moment?”
“Of course,” he replied. The Bible was gently handed from person to person as though it was made of eggshells. They asked how much it cost. And their faces fell when they learned it was the equivalent of twenty dollars.
Then the visitor received an inspiration. He decided to make this a personal ministry project. The qualification for receiving one of these Chinese Bibles should be so high that these leaders would be inspired to greater achievement. Yet, at the same time ensure that he would not need to provide a great number.
He told them, “If a person is mightily used by God, then I will bring him one of these Bibles.”
“What do you mean mightily used of God?” the preachers queried eagerly.
Thinking fast he replied, “Those who have led at least 10,000 people to the Lord and discipled another 10,000.”
To his astonishment the preachers burst out laughing. They said, “Oh, this is too easy. There are five of us here who can now qualify for your zippered gold-edged Bible, and we know ten more.”
After his trip the visitor chuckled, “I’m bankrupt.” But more seriously he added, “I’ve been working in China with house church leaders for many years. But one thing never changes...I am literally taken by surprise during each visit at how fast the church is growing.”
RESPONSE: Today I will take more seriously my responsibility in sharing the Good News of Jesus and fulfil the church’s function of evangelism.
WORSHIP FUNCTION OF THE CHURCH
“…Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." John 4:23-24
All true believers recognize the privilege and responsibility to worship God. This worship begins when the Holy Spirit enters our being and grows and continues throughout our lifetime. Every believer should worship the Lord privately as well as gather together with other believers to worship whenever possible. We can worship the Lord because of who He is, because of what He has done in creation and redemption, and because of all that He has done for us individually.
Worship in Scripture seems to revolve around praising God. This is an act of the will not necessarily related to how a person "feels" or the immediate circumstances of life. In other words, we should praise the Lord even when things seem to be going wrong. This is an act of submission to His divine will and pleases the Lord (Psalm 67:3; Hebrews 13:15; Isaiah 12:1).
Worship is evidently a matter of attitude that may be expressed outwardly in prayer, various bodily positions (such as kneeling), singing, dancing, clapping etc. Music plays a very important part in the heartfelt worship of most believers. The form of worship should reflect the believer’s cultural methods of showing adoration as long as it does not conflict with biblical guidelines.
Worship in the early church was simply an outpouring of thanksgiving from a heart that rejoiced in the Lord in complete disregard of circumstances. This type of worship cannot be stopped by anyone. A group of Christians in hostile surroundings can worship in this simple way without being limited to a certain building, a special time, or a prescribed program.
Worship is basically recognizing and declaring God's glory, holiness and worth. An act of worship is an expression of this recognition. The New Testament writers seemed to assume that all people knew how to worship. They give us few examples of how the early Christians worshipped. Participation in the Lord's Supper appears to have been their highest expression of worship. As they prayerfully remembered Jesus and His sacrificial death upon the cross for their sins, they were worshipping.
There are scriptural references to other times of worship such as Peter's prayer (Acts 4:23-28), and Paul and Silas’ experience in prison (Acts 16:23-25). Pastor Jack Hayford enjoys sharing the story about this as told by his favourite African-American preacher. Paul and Silas’ prison cell singing was heard all the way to the heavenly throne room of God. He began to tap his toe to the music. And since heaven is His throne and the earth is His footstool, that toe tapping created an earthquake!!!
RESPONSE: Today I desire every aspect of my life to declare God’s glory, holiness and worth.
Probably the hardest thing for me to surrender to God—and this may sound silly because you may be expecting me to say, “My children”—was the huge, five-bedroom home I purchased five years after my divorce. I knew that my home belonged to God and that I was simply a steward of what he had entrusted to me, but that didn’t keep it from becoming an idol. My wonderful house in its expensive zip code supplied status. I couldn’t imagine giving it up, especially if God wanted me to live somewhere I didn’t like.
I eventually realized I was supposed to sell that house, but for a full year I dug in my heels and refused to do it. What a nightmare I lived trying to untangle God’s best for my life while still continuing to weave in my stubborn wishes. But God was persistent. He kept reminding me of his desire through the wise counsel of my brother Paul and sister Cathy. He continued to impress on me the need to downsize and simplify my life.
I finally came to the point where I knew I simply needed to obey God and sell the house. When I moved into a smaller home, I suddenly had much more time and energy. I found that I could focus more earnestly on my writing, which was something I had not been able to do previously with all the repairs, chores and decorating.
As terrible as it sounds, it was easier for me to surrender my children to God than it was to trust him with my home. Sad, huh? But I knew in my heart that my children would be in better hands with God than with me. While it was still excruciatingly hard to turn my children’s lives over to him, I released them to his loving care by saying a simple, heartfelt prayer to that effect. Actually, I had to say that prayer many times. It seemed to take me forever to be able to voice words that were not a lie. Though I did not drop off my kids at the local temple to be raised by a holy man, like Hannah did with her son Samuel, I did choose to trust that God would love them and guide their lives better than I could.
- What one thing are you holding back from God?
- What would happen if you released it?
- Why does God insist we sometimes give up things that seem to bring us joy?
FULFILLING THE FIVE FUNCTIONS OF THE CHURCH
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25
In the summer of 2010, I led an excellent team of Open Doors staff and supporters on a visit to North Korea. We were allowed to pray publically in the areas we visited and of course were presented with a formal church service on Sunday morning at one of the three churches functioning in Pyongyang. It was a well-executed performance–especially the choir. On its website, the Korean Christian Federation claims that there are ten thousand Protestant Christians in North Korea meeting at five hundred designated centers. In reality, Christians in the country experience tremendous challenges in worshipping publically.
Brother Simon, the leader of the Open Doors work in North Korea, says that the true church must operate underground in the country. “They can’t simply go to church to sing and to listen to the sermon. It is clear that being a Christian in North Korea is a lonely business.”
Simon’s thoughts turn to Sundays in North Korea. “It happens only sporadically that Christians consider themselves safe enough to meet together in small groups. Usually gatherings consist of only two people. For example, a Christian goes and sits on a bench in the park. Another Christian comes and sits next to him. Sometimes it’s dangerous even to speak to one another, but they know they are both Christians, and at such a time, this is enough. If there is no one around, they may be able to share a Bible verse which they have learned off by heart and briefly say something about it. They also share prayer topics with each other. Then they leave one another and go and look for a Christian in some other part of their town or village. This continues throughout the Sunday. A cell group usually consists of fewer than twenty Christians, who encourage and strengthen one another, plus one-to-one meetings in people’s homes.
“Only if the whole family has turned to Christ is it possible to have something like a real fellowship gathering, as long as you keep your faith hidden from the neighbours. Besides this, it is sometimes possible to hold a meeting in remote areas with a group of ten to twenty people. Very occasionally, it is possible for Christians to go unobtrusively into the mountains and to hold a ‘service’ at a secret location like a cave. Then it may be the case that there are as many as sixty or seventy North Korean Christians gathered together.”
In spite of severe limitations, believers can fulfill all five biblical functions of the church.
RESPONSE: I will thankfully take my place in the assembly of believers to fulfill the church’s functions.
December 5, 2012 Ho! Ho! Ho! Help! Mary Southerland
Today's Truth Luke 2:16-20 (NIV) "So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen which were just as they had been told."
Friend to Friend Are you ready for the holidays? For some people, that question spurs exciting thoughts of beautifully decorated tables filled with scrumptious meals, festive shopping trips, extended family time, brightly wrapped gifts under a tree … the "Walton" kind of holiday. For others, the holiday season is a very difficult and dark time that is to be endured rather than enjoyed. According to the American Institute of Stress, more than 110 million Americans take medication for stress-related causes each week. During the holiday season, another one million people battle what experts refer to as the "holiday blues." I am very familiar with depression and the pain it holds and must constantly battle to stay out of that pit.
Depression is an emotional, mental, physical and spiritual disorder. Something is out of balance. We have buried some pain instead of confronting it or we have misplaced our trust and sought help from impotent sources. In order to deal with depression, we must first come to a place of total and complete surrender to God and His plan of healing, even if we cannot see or do not understand that plan. The bottom line of God's heart toward His children is always restoration and healing.
While I am not a big fan of television, I do enjoy watching a few select home improvement shows. On a recent program, an interior decorator and homeowner were discussing a list of changes that needed to be made in order to update the home. "First, we have to do something about those windows," the decorator announced. I was surprised that she had listed this task first – until I saw the house. The existing glass was not only an ugly shade of gold, but it was thick and chunky as well. The windows let in no light and made it virtually impossible to see in or out. The result was a dark, isolated home. The distressed homeowner protested, "But I like my privacy. And if I thought anyone could see in, I would feel totally exposed." When it comes to dealing with depression, many people feel the same way.
We construct walls over which no one can climb because the cost of friendship is too high. We fill the windows of our soul with emotional excuses in order to avoid dealing with pain. The result is darkness, loneliness and missed opportunities for restoration. We don't want to understand depression or find the treasures of that darkness; we simply want to be rid of it. Many people try to understand and deal with depression on a surface level – refusing to face painful experiences, difficult relationships and, in general, the broken places where darkness lives. We look for the nearest exit, hoping to bypass transparency because the price is just too much to pay.
Emotional integrity is an essential step to recognizing, understanding and dealing with depression. We must be real before we can be right, and until we are willing to risk being transparent, we can neither understand nor effectively deal with depression during the holidays or any other time of the year.
The holidays seem to tug at the masks we carefully hold in place or push the emotional buttons we desperately try to hide. The arrival of family members can resurrect painful issues that have never really been resolved. Financial pressure opens up like a sinkhole, waiting to steal our joy and destroy our peace. Schedules demand every ounce of energy, and false expectations leave us empty and hollow. The dark, slimy pit waits for us to fall in. It is not supposed to be that way, girlfriend!
November 5, 2012
Anger welled within me. How dare she ask this of me ... of us? I reread her email, which only fueled my fury. Rather than reply immediately, I decided to forward it to my husband for his advice. Any words I would have written to her directly would have been unkind.
I poured out my "how dare she" thoughts. Bitterness took root as I typed and typed, spewing all my pent up frustration. When I finished, I reviewed my message with great satisfaction. I'd expressed myself well in a safe place to a safe person. Then I pressed send.
In that moment, I glanced at the "to" box. I could not believe my eyes! Instead of hitting "forward," I'd hit "reply." My heart sank. All my hurtful words, all my vented anger, were in route to her, not my husband.
I felt sick. Never had I experienced the myriad of emotions that filled my heart.
What should I do? I called my husband and asked for his wisdom. We both agreed that I needed to email her, explain what happened, and ask forgiveness. It was the hardest email I've ever written.
Her gracious response astounded me. She thanked me for my apology and ended with these words, "I forgive you, so let's just put this behind us."
Tears streamed down my cheeks as her words of forgiveness melted the bitterness that had consumed my heart just an hour before.
I'm sure she was hurt. My words were harsh. Yet she chose to overlook and pardon my offense.
It's easy to forget that when we've been offended, we have two choices. We can go to God and surrender our hurt, or we can resist God and hold on to the hurt. We can extend grace or harbor bitterness.
Bitterness is like poison that infects every area of our lives. The author of Hebrews compares bitterness to a root that overtakes our hearts and causes trouble not only in the infected area but also in many other areas of our lives. (Hebrews 12:15 NIV 1984)
And although our feelings of bitterness, anger and unforgiveness may seem justified, they are not. Instead, they're often hurtful and destructive, to us and the person who hurt our feelings.
God's Word teaches us to choose forgiveness and instructs us not to let the sun go down while we are angry. When we do, we give the devil a place to work in our hearts and in our relationships.
Instead of allowing the enemy any room to grow between us, my friend chose forgiveness, extended grace and prevented a bitter root from taking hold.
She became a living example of the grace expressed in Ephesians 4:32 which says, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." (NIV 1984) Her wise example helped me move beyond my initial reaction of anger to her email.
My friend's gracious decision to forgive prevented Satan from dividing our friendship. It also modeled humility. Her choice to forgive has changed how my heart will react toward others who offend me. From that day forward, I have prayed for God's grace, not bitterness, to flow through me.
In a Sudan prison, Pastor Matta Boush was depressed as he faced thirty years on false charges. A visit from an Irish Catholic sister helped change his outlook. There were others in prison, she said, whose cases were far worse than his. She told him never to ask himself why he was there, but instead to ask for what purpose he was there. From that point Matta Boush began to minister to his fellow prisoners.
He began prayer meetings for non-Muslims and numbers grew quickly. One event at the prison made an especially strong impact. A prisoner, just prior to his execution, rather than being fearful, was calm and gave his testimony. He said he was not afraid to die because he knew he would go to heaven. This made such an impression that some of the Muslim guards became Christians.
He was transferred to another prison in the city of El-Obeid. Some Muslims objected to his ministry and prayer meetings so he was placed in solitary confinement for several months. Away from his God-given work and with too much time to think, depression overtook him again. But the encouragement of friends helped him through the hard times. Returning to the general prison population, he helped lead between 150 and 200 people to Christ.
Later Matta Boush was transferred to El-Khobar prison in Khartoum. There he was able to help build a prison chapel as well as continuing his ministry. In the next ten months, 200 people came to the Lord.
His sudden release indicated that the person ordering it had great authority. As a free man, he contacted churches and visited Nuba refugee camps. He was reunited with his three daughters. His wife, however, had married a Muslim man.
He began providing pastoral care for nine regional churches. He was faithful in sharing the Lord both in and out of prison. No sacrifice was too great to accomplish the goal.
RESPONSE: Today I will sacrifice my comforts to accomplish the most important goal – sharing Jesus!
December 6, 2012
When God Asks You to Give
"Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that He has given you." Deuteronomy 16:17 (ESV)
The past few weeks at church I've heard amazing messages about generosity. The kind of messages that linger ... entangle themselves around your heart ... and rise to the surface of your thoughts often.
A guest pastor visited our church and changed the way I look at giving.
I consider myself a generous person. But in my early childhood I knew the pain of not having enough. Wondering how the bills would be paid. Fearing the checkbook balance.
So, I've been hesitant to be fully generous. The kind of generous where the only way to fill the gap between what I'm comfortable giving and what I feel God calling me to give is sheer trust that I'm hearing God correctly.
A million "what ifs" nag, telling me to pull back my hand from offering too much. Other people can be that generous. Not me. Not with 5 kids - 2 in college and 2 more heading that way.
But then I clearly feel the tug to do what only makes sense if God Himself tells me to do it. Open my hand. Fill my world with trust. Bigger trust. The kind of trust I know would please God.
I feel Him speaking into the depths of my soul ... "I own it all. I'm not asking you to give Me 'your' money. I'm asking you to return what's Mine and watch Me move."
I ache to see Him move in my life. It's my deepest desire.
With this stirring still fresh, I challenged my office staff at Proverbs 31 Ministries to go through our humble space and look for things to give away.
Although we were in great need, I heard in the message, "It has to be given away to be multiplied." God challenged me - "What can you give away in the midst of your need?"
And I knew God was saying, "Get it all in order. Every bit I've entrusted to you ... get it in order and position yourself to give generously without hesitation or reservation."
We had things we talked about consigning ... things like ficus trees, bookshelves, and flower arrangements. But God challenged me "What can you give?" And I knew ...
So instead of consigning the items, we gave them away.
Later that afternoon a staff member came to me with a huge smile. She held out a letter. We'd received an anonymous grant from a foundation in Texas for over $3,000. That's a huge gift for our ministry. And it's probably ten times the amount of the total we'd given away that day.
It was as if a dam broke in my soul. Not because of the money God provided. That was a blessing for sure. But it wasn't about the money. It was about seeing God move. And my trust deepening. And my heart softening. And my hands opening.
This week, Proverbs 31 Ministries needs to raise what feels like an overwhelming amount. We have some big needs. But please know that I don't pull a salary from Proverbs 31 Ministries. I just want to help the ongoing efforts of reaching women every day.
My personal life has been touched and changed by God through Proverbs 31 Ministries. He has helped build my home and as a thank offering I want to help build Proverbs 31 Ministries. There are some big needs to help the ongoing efforts of reaching women every day.
The specific ministry area I would love to have your help with is the $100,000 it takes to fund our free daily devotions that we send to over 500,000 women and our radio ministry that reaches millions of women across the world each day.
With a heart full of trust I humbly ask you to join me in making a donation to Proverbs 31 Ministries.
What Is the Significance of Jesus Forgiveness of Sins?
Although we can forgive acts done against us, our forgiveness is incomplete; we cannot forgive the perpetrator for violating Gods law. This is beyond our capacity and is Gods ability alone to do. However, in Mark 2:5 Jesus claimed the authority to forgive sin. Why did Jesus do this, and what does this show about his identity?
To prove he had the authority to forgive sins, Jesus performed the miracle of physically healing a paralyzed man. The dilemma faced by the teachers of the law was clear: If Jesus did not have the authority to forgive sins, then how could he heal others? In other words, Jesus miracles obviously had a divine source that lent credibility to his entire mission and claims of authority. The sticky point was this: If, as the teachers knew, only God can forgive sins, then that meant Jesus was indeed the Son of God, just as he claimed. Some, like Jesus disciples and other followers, accepted this; however, even in the face of such overwhelming evidence, others rejected Jesus claim.
Jesus claim to forgive sin was difficult to prove through observation. How can outsiders really tell whether or not a person is forgiven? However, through his undeniable physical miracles, Jesus proved that he came from God, and he provided overwhelming outward evidence (the healing of the paralytic) of the invisible miracle (forgiveness of sins).
At Issue - Risk
Great risks require great risk-takers. Rarely will we take risks unless we’re certain that they’re worth it. Rahab was willing to endanger her life because she knew the risk was worth it. She knew God was on Israel’s side, and she wanted to align herself with him at any cost. In the end, her risky faith saved her life and the lives of her entire family (see Joshua 6:22–23). God doesn’t fail to give us opportunities to take on challenges. Our problem is that we often fail to accept his terms. If there’s something God wants you to do—do it! God will take you to the very edge of your faith if you’ll let him.
LOSE THE FEAR OF DYING
Our Open Doors colleague, Ron Boyd-MacMillan, shares the following insight from his teaching, “Why I Need to Encounter the Persecuted Church.”
There is a famous book called The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker. It is his contention that the whole of the western world is really a gigantic playground to distract us from ever facing the fact that we will all die! Thinking about death is all but forbidden. Preparing for it is seen as a sign of morbidity. We arrange for the elderly to die out of sight in hostels and hospitals. And huge multinational companies produce products that promise to keep the effects of aging at bay.
Inevitably, when we are too scared to face death we end up being a slave to it. Even Christians can show the same dread of it as others. But an encounter with the persecuted can go a long way to diffusing this sense of dread.
Over twenty years of reporting on the suffering church, I have interviewed literally hundreds of Christians who thought they were going to die for their faith. All of them—and I really do mean all of them—exhibited two amazing characteristics: they experienced unspeakable peace and joy in the midst of the pain as they began to feel death draw near; and they were as surprised as anyone that they were not afraid of death at the time.
Take Pastor You Yong, kidnapped by Islamic extremists from his church outside Madiun, central Java in December 2001. Furious that his church was full of Muslim converts, the extremists showered him with questions, trying to provoke him to attack them. They beat him and finally held a long machete to his throat. He assumed he was about to die. But what was going on inside Pastor You? Deeper than all the pain or fear? This is how he put it. “I was amazed that throughout the ordeal I felt an incredible peace. I was also amazed at the answers I was able to give them. That verse came true—‘when you are brought to trial, do not worry about what to say, for when the time comes, you will be given what to say’ (Mt 10:19). The more they tried to provoke me, the more peace I felt.”
And so when death reaches out its icy hand even in more everyday ways—when the plane hits an air pocket, or the results of the suspected cancer scan are due—I remember the experiences of my persecuted friends and I am strengthened to think, If they have been where I am about to go, and still testify that Jesus gives unaccountable peace, well, it is no tragedy to tread this well-worn path. Their experiences in the face of death help to take the dread away.
Of course, I know all this from the Bible, where Paul says that to be with Christ is “far better.” And I have read that wonderful passage in Acts seven when Stephen has the face of an angel when he is stoned to death. But the truth comes with more power when a flesh-and-blood person who has faced death puts their arms around you and says, “You will have peace, and Jesus will be with you in the midst of it all.” Death just cannot be that bad if Jesus is that great!
RESPONSE: Today I will live in the peace of God that takes away the fear of dying.
Augustine - Saint for All Seasons
Verse: Romans 13:13 - 14
Quote: "Thou hast made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in Thee." (Augustine, Confessions)
Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430) is one of the giants of church history. In the fifteen-hundred-year span between the apostle Paul and Martin Luther, no one looms larger in the minds of most Protestants. With the possible exception of Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin, his influence as a theologian is unparalleled. And his memoir, Confessions, is given a place in literature as the first recorded memoir. Augustine was an African, and it is fitting that this man of such great stature is still read and debated today, when the African church, having come full circle, is again a center of vibrancy and scholarship.
As a sexually charged youth, Augustine finds himself in "the thorny branches of sex and temptation." He also sows his wild oats for several years as an adherent of Manichaeism, a dualistic religion in which the spiritual realm is manifested in conflict between light and darkness, spirit and body. There is no good God who reigns supreme; individuals are essentially on their own, seeking knowledge to save themselves.
Manichaeism eventually proves to be intellectually unsatisfying for Augustine, who turns to skepticism and then to Neo-Platonism, a philosophy extolling truth, goodness, and beauty. This intellectual shift parallels a geographical move from Carthage to Rome. From Rome he moves to Milan, where his mother joins him and soon becomes enamored with Ambrose and influences her son to attend his sermons. All the while, Augustine is moving away from a philosophical worldview toward orthodox Christianity.
His "garden conversion" is the spiritual climax of his memoir. While weeping in a garden, Augustine overhears a child's voice calling, "Take up and read." Augustine takes this as a sign from God, and reaches for a manuscript of Paul. There his eyes fall on these words: "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying: but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh in concupiscence" (Rom. 13:13 - 14).
"Instantly at the end of this sentence," he writes, "by a light of serenity infused into my heart, all darkness of doubt fled away." Biographers and historians have pointed out that this was a conversion to a celibate monastic life as much as a recommitment to the Christian faith of his heritage and that it had been some time in coming.
On Sunday 387, Ambrose baptizes Augustine, who leaves behind his teaching position to immerse himself in Scripture. He then returns to Africa to live quietly in his hometown as a monk, but the locals recognize his capabilities and elect him to be their priest. Then, in 395, only eight years after his baptism, he is elected bishop of Hippo. Unlike many bishops of the era, he seeks to retain a monastic way of life while preaching several times a week and writing more than a thousand treatises in addition to extensive correspondence.
During the course of his bishopric, several controversies arise between Augustine and other sects. One of these is with the Donatists, a sect arising in the aftermath of the Great Persecution of Emperor Diocletian. When Imperial officials demand that Christians hand over the Scriptures under penalty of death, some Christians surrender their manuscripts and are considered traditors by the Donatists.
The Donatists regard denial of the faith to be the ultimate crime against the church and against God; traditors are no longer part of the church. If someone is baptized by a traditor bishop, that baptism is invalid. In defense of priests and bishops who had surrendered the Scriptures, Augustine argues that the sacrament is valid irrespective of the sinfulness of the priest who administers it. The grace of Christ is operative in the sacrament; thus the worthiness of the priest is irrelevant. Grace is conferred through the sacrament.
Augustine's most bitter theological controversies involve Pelagius, a devout and stout British monk, who teaches that individuals are responsible for their sins, even as they are for their good deeds. That humans inherit original sin from Adam he deems patently false; whether one sins or not is a matter of self-control and free will rather than determinism. Augustine, emphasizing God's sovereignty and election, counters that our sinful nature propels us to sin and that no one has the innate capability to do good.
Yet Augustine knows above all else that God is entangled with mystery. "Since it is God we are speaking of," he cautions, "you do not understand it. If you could understand it, it would not be God."
December 7, 2012
I read books about it. I listened to sermons about it. I wrote about it. I sang about it. I thought about it. I was completely immersed. So why couldn't I get it?
God loves me.
It's a simple truth. How could a 44-year-old woman who has loved Jesus since she was 10 not feel loved by God?
Deep down I was going through the motions of believing ... hoping ... but truthfully, I had fallen into the mindset of working for God's love and acceptance. I could have given a theological dissertation on grace and salvation by faith, but my perfectionistic, I'll-do-it-myself attitude blocked a full, heart-changing understanding.
One day I blurted out to a dear friend and mentor, "Why can't I feel the love of God? I'm working so hard!"
She let the silence sit before a big grin spread across her face. "Did you hear yourself?" she asked.
"You can't work to know the love of God. You need to rest in the love of God." Then she encouraged me to relax and pray, asking God to reveal His love to me in a deep, transforming way.
Several months later, still in the midst of my wrestling match to understand God's lavish love, my eyes drank in the site of a bent and wrinkled woman wearing a bridal veil and carrying a tattered bouquet of silk flowers as she hobbled down an aisle of women. I was in Kolkata, India, helping with a mock wedding at a women's conference. Although the atmosphere and the message on being Jesus' bride was largely celebratory, tears streamed down the old woman's face.
The scene gripped my heart. Here was an elderly woman who, because of the fear and superstition of her native religion, missed the love of God most of her life. He, however, had loved, drawn, and wooed her heart. She had resisted until the onset of sickness and the pronouncement of her numbered days spurred her to abandon everything to take hold of His love.
As she walked feebly down that aisle, His love healed her of a lifetime of hurts and made her radiant and strong, despite her fragile frame.
As I watched her weep, something broke inside me. I found myself kneeling on the cold, concrete floor sobbing.
Growing up, I learned of His love every day as my mother and father watched me mature from an infant to an awkward teenager. But I didn't stay and rest in His limitless love that had surrounded me from birth to adulthood.
I had walked into a place of self-sufficiency that left me with a weary hollowness that only God's presence and love could fill.
Seeing an impoverished, old woman who had little left to give to God be fully encompassed in His love illuminated truth like a piercing ray of sunshine through a foggy morning.
It's a simple truth. He loves me, not because I have anything to give Him, but simply because I'm His. God doesn't call me to manufacture a feeling but simply to rest in His love and remain it.
He loves you too. Limitlessly. Profoundly. Lavishly. Relax, rest and bask in His love today.
Today's Truth "As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said." (Luke 10:38-39, NIV)
Friend To Friend Have you ever bitten off more than you could chew? Have you ever said, "Sure, I'll be glad to do that!" when you should have said, "I'm sorry, but I can't commit to that right now"? Has an over-loaded schedule ever added stress to you, your family, or your relationships? I would think you've answered, "yes" to each of the previous questions. I know I did.
I constantly try to make positive life adjustments. Two areas I evaluate regularly are my calendar and commitments. Trust me, I'm not the boundary queen. I won't even pretend to have all the answers about this topic, because I don't. I bow to the evil "yes monster" more than I care to admit. I'm in the trenches with you, constantly struggling to find a healthy balance between faith, family, friends, fashion, and ministry. (Okay, fashion doesn't really belong on that list, though it's terribly fun. I just wanted to see if you were paying attention!)
Jesus had some friends named Mary and Martha. Martha was a busy girl who, at times, allowed her to-do list to keep her from worship. Mary just wanted to be with Jesus.
"As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"
"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:38-42, NIV)
As we face a new year, let's choose what's better! It's so important that we establish healthy boundaries in our lives to keep us from being too busy to sit at the Lord's feet. Over the years, I've been forced to grow in the area of setting boundaries in order to bless and preserve my faith, family, friendships and ministry. In an article called Setting Boundaries, Dr. Richard J. Krejcir wrote, "A boundary is a fence to ward of potential problems and to protect those in its guardianship."
What does that look like in real life? How can we possibly spend time with the Lord, keep our homes clean, run errands, go to meetings, serve on committees, change diapers, shower, get our Bible study assignment finished, find missing teddy bears, take Johnny to little league, run Sally to dance practice, and have a hot, healthy dinner on the table by six o'clock? I'm sure it will look different for each of us, but there's one basic parameter that applies across the board, whether you are married, divorced, single, or widowed, or with or without children: make time for God.
Jesus said that the highest call on your life is to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37). Keep the main thing the main thing! Nothing should replace your personal time with God. Set aside time each day for Bible study, prayer, and worship. Jesus tells us that we must remain in Him. "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).
I want to comment on that beautiful image of Love that you had before this last motivation. "Here was an elderly woman who, because of the fear and superstition of her native religion, missed the love of God most of her life. He, however, had loved, drawn, and wooed her heart. She had resisted until the onset of sickness and the pronouncement of her numbered days spurred her to abandon everything to take hold of His love.
As she walked feebly down that aisle, His love healed her of a lifetime of hurts and made her radiant and strong, despite her fragile frame.
I love that image. it made me think that perhapst we don't feel the Lve of God more strongly is because most of us in this country haven't suffered very much. Oh yes, we moan about people who do little things to us and cut us because of our faith in God We have little setbacks that we call trials. But we haven't really endured very many hardships at all. This woman had experienced a lifetime without God. Now there is a hardship!Now at the end of her life she had experienced what that love was like.
We in America have lives of relative ease and comfort. We have access to the love of God daily, yet most choose to ignore it.
And because of those things God's wonderful love is not so apparent to us and we don't experience it completely.
OUR SPIRITS BLOSSOM WHEN WE SING
Our Open Doors colleague, Ron Boyd-MacMillan, shares the following insight from his teaching, “Why I Need to Encounter the Persecuted Church.”
Chinese evangelist, Mrs Yang, was visited by another full time preacher who was very downcast. The preacher wanted to buy a tape player, but had no money. Mrs Yang sat down and just began to sing to him. Her voice was deep and scratchy, the tune barely discernible, the words simple: I am a wanderer, my home is in heaven/ Life is fleeting/ Our home is in heaven/ In this world we have many trials/ And sadness and sickness/ True happiness is not in this world/ But in heaven.
Mrs Yang sang as if before the Lord himself. Every word poured out from her core with total conviction. Tears rolled down her cheeks, her hands clenched the air, and she beat time on her hip. Soon the visiting preacher had joined in, and I watched them, roaring out the hymn together, smiles over both their faces. The preacher left, still with no money for his longed for tape player, but refreshed and encouraged.
Then again, I watched one morning as Mrs. Yang went out into the hills to pray. I followed her at a discreet distance. First she prayed for twenty minutes, and then she sang, walking around, for another twenty minutes. For the next hour she read her Bible, making notes, planning the day’s sermons. After that she sang again, for another half hour.
I confessed I had been spying on her, and asked “Why do you sing so much when there is no one to hear?” She said, “My father once told me, ‘One of the sweet things about the Christian life is that you will do things because they are commanded, and then you will spend the rest of your life gaining deeper insight into why God’s commands are so good.’ So singing is a command. In the Psalms we are constantly exhorted to sing praises to our God. But as for why, I confess it is one of those wonderful mysteries my father told me about. You see, while in prison, I could pray and read scripture, but nothing raised my spirits like singing. Maybe it’s because singing somehow concentrates all of the body on the praise of God, but I have found it essential to the maintenance of a positive spirit.”
Then she looked embarrassed. I said, “What is it? You were about to say something, but you have gone all reticent.” She replied, “Well, it’s just that an old lady told me something that really sums up the main reason I sing. She said, ‘Our spirits are like flowers, and song is the sun. Just as flowers only truly open when the sun shines, so our spirits only blossom when we sing.’ I believe that. I don’t know how, but it’s true. Since my prison cell, I cannot do without song, and I am very frightened that as China gets more open, and the churches get more organized, we are going to leave the singing to the professionals. This would be terrible. The only way you can have a full blossoming spirit is to sing to it.”
RESPONSE: Today I will make my spirit blossom positively by singing to the Lord in the Spirit.
The Eternal Dimension of Generosity
This great section on restoration ends with a stress on the bringing in of the nations as holy priests to God and the eventual creation of new heavens and a new earth. Neither our ultimate goal nor our optimal quality of life can be realized in this present world; it can only be realized in the new world Jesus will create, as all nations are brought to holiness and submission to him.
The fact that the climax of Isaiah involves worship through offerings is also instructive for us as we think about the significance of our giving. One of the ways in which we seek God’s coming kingdom is by using our resources in a way that reflects their eternal destiny—by storing up treasures in heaven, where they will last forever (see Mt 6:19–21; 1Ti 6:17–19). Take a few moments to reflect on the following brief observations regarding the eternal dimension of generosity:
Let me assume the role of “eternal financial counselor” and offer this advice: choose your investments carefully; compare their rates of interest; consider their ultimate trustworthiness; and especially compare how they will be working for you a few million years from now. —Randy Alcorn
We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give. —Winston Churchill (1874–1965)
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. —Jim Elliot (1927–1956)
The only antidote I can find in the Scripture for greed and materialism is letting loose and giving what God has given you to help other people. If you do not release what God has entrusted to you, it will wrap its arms around your throat. —Chip Ingram
The great use of life is to spend it for something that outlasts it. —William James (1842–1910)
I have held many things in my hands and I have lost them all. But whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess. —Martin Luther (1483–1546)
We always pay dearly for chasing after what is cheap. —Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918–2008)
The less I spent on myself, the more I gave to others, the fuller of happiness and blessing did my soul become. —Hudson Taylor (1832–1905)
Any temporal possession can be turned into everlasting wealth. Whatever is given to Christ is immediately touched with immortality. —A. W. Tozer (1897–1963)
GOD’S WORK IN CHANGING LIVES
The more you travel, the more you realize that God is at work changing lives all over the globe. Whether people have committed crimes against God (rebellion, blasphemy, hatred etc.) or crimes against society (murder, violence, theft etc.) or crimes against themselves (shame, guilt, despair etc.), He is able to bring about a complete transformation of their lives and fill them with His Holy Spirit.
Standing Strong Through the Storm (SST teaching partner, Jim Cunningham, was sharing in a SSTS seminar with rural pastors in Colombia, South America. After the final session, Rauel (not his real name) approached Jim, almost shyly. With a warm smile and moist eyes, he extended his hand for what Jim thought was a handshake, but instead he gently offered a small piece of paper with some writing.
“For you, Santiago.”
They hugged each other. Between Rauel’s “No English” and Jim’s “No Spanish” there was an unspoken bond of Christian love. They said their “good-byes” pointing heavenward as if to say, “See you again my brother!”
Jim’s interpreter later translated the note. It read:
May the Lord bless your life and enrich your ministry. And may the angel of the Lord always encamp around you and all your family and nation. Take with you my remembrances and those of Colombia to the people of Canada.
“Do you know who Brother Rauel is?” the interpreter asked. Jim shook his head “No.” “He used to be a guerrilla leader against the government forces,” said his interpreter. “He came to faith as a follower of Jesus Christ a while back and this is his first time gathering with our pastors and leadership team. We earnestly prayed and had to have God’s peace before inviting him here.”
Jim concluded, “What an amazing story of God’s grace. God is changing hearts—one at a time. Keep praying for peace in Colombia!”
RESPONSE: Today I will praise God for His ministry in my life—and others—making changes and renewing my heart.
What a blessing, Martha! Praise the Lord!
I've heard and seen many situations just like this one over the 50 years that I've lived for God. In every case there was a dramatic change in the lifestyle of the individual.
Praise the Lord He is ABLE to change us completely if we will allow him!
If you ever have the opportunity to see the video called 'The Redemption of General Butt Naked" take advantage of the chance! It will leave you in absolute AWE of the work of God in this man's life!
Myth: “He’s not a Christian, but he’s a great guy.”
I didn’t know what to say when Richard asked the question. Does Kevin go to church? Hello, I thought you were going to be happy for me! I remember thinking, I’ve finally found someone I really like, and things are going great.
Still, Richard is my partner at work, and he and his wife know everything there is to know about me. They know I grew up in church. And they also know I dated a few guys from the church singles group. But there just wasn’t any chemistry. I had always dreamed that God would have the perfect person picked out for me and deliver him right to my door. However, I was fast approaching the big 3–0, and it still hadn’t happened. In fact, I had almost given up, figuring I was destined to be single for the rest of my life, and then Kevin came along. We met at the gym. I would have married him on the spot for his calves alone. However, it was his smile that really got to me. We kept running into each other in the mornings before work, and he finally asked me to go out one weekend. We talked for hours that first night, as if we’d known each other forever. He was wonderful.
Over the next few weeks, as my relationship with Kevin grew, Richard started to ask me more questions. “Does Kevin know you’re a Christian? Have you told him about your faith?” I fended him off with a few cursory answers. “Kevin didn’t grow up in church like you and I did,” I told him. “But I think he gets it, or at least he’s pretty close.” Richard didn’t seem satisfied with my answer. Truthfully, something inside of me cringed when I said it. But I’m not going to let anything or anyone spoil my happiness. Who’s to say Kevin isn’t the man I dreamed of all along? He’ll probably become a Christian at some point in our relationship, and then everything will be perfect.
Do you believe love stories like Isaac and Rebekah’s can happen? Two people who aren’t even from the same country brought together by God’s hand. But oh, the things we’re willing to believe in the midst of a man-drought. When the phone isn’t ringing because no one’s calling. When we spend another Valentine’s Day with the cat. There’s a “certain age,” you know, past which all of our mothers’ friends believe the odds for us finding the man of our dreams plummet. Add to the mix the complication of a Christian woman looking for a Christian man—and the situation becomes even more discouraging. We begin to convince ourselves that we somehow missed God’s best. Maybe that’s the problem. We just weren’t open before—our standards were too high. And so, now we’re not being desperate; we’re being open. Unfortunately, that’s when we begin to rationalize whatever we want to fit the ideal.
He’s not super-spiritual, but show me a man who is.
He has such great potential—he needs someone like me to encourage him.
It’s important to note that we won’t change God’s mind, even though we can list all sorts of factors in favor of our decision to marry outside of our convictions. The Bible’s warning not to marry a non-Christian is very clear (see 2 Corinthians 6:14). Think about it. How will you celebrate Christmas and Easter? Or discipline your children? Will your husband understand wanting to tithe from your joint account? Will he mind if you’re gone for part of every Sunday? How do you feel about having a quiet time alone? The issues range from minor to major.
If you’re single and lonely, God knows it. If you’re approaching a certain age, God knows how old you are. And he is not worried. The important thing is not to be married … it’s to be married to the right person. And God can bring that person unexpectedly, just as he did for Isaac and Rebekah. Feelings and emotions can be disastrously misleading in this area. That’s why we have to hold onto God’s Word, not a wish list, and let God dictate our decision whether or not to marry someone.
“He’s Mr. Almost for now, but perhaps with one change he could become Mr. Right. Before your heart rides off into the sunset … hold out for someone who has the same goal and the same faith. By not settling, you will have peace of mind in knowing you did what was right for yourself, your children and, yes, even Mr. Almost.”
DELIVERANCE COMES THROUGH ENDURANCE
Our Open Doors colleague, Ron Boyd-MacMillan, shares the following insight from his teaching, “Why I Need to Encounter the Persecuted Church.”
Christian testimonies on the whole tend to be dominated by those who experienced wonderful deliverances: deliverances of healing, from cancer or other life threatening diseases, or deliverances from debt, or romance less marriages. Even when it comes to reporting on the persecuted, we read of Chinese house church leaders released from the grip of a deadly fever, or border guards with eyes miraculously blinded to the Bibles sitting in plain view on the back seat.
Yet it has to be said that deliverance stories—though they tend to grab the headlines—are not the norm. A dear old Christian in Beijing used to say to me, “Remember, for every deliverance story you hear, there are a hundred endurance stories.” He was right. The story of the persecuted is primarily one of endurance.
I never saw this principle better illustrated than in the story of an old Chinese woman known throughout the world as “Auntie Mabel.” A doctor in Beijing, she was well known for her bright Christian witness. She never married in order to look after a sick brother. Her family was wealthy. They lived in a large house in central Beijing. All that changed abruptly in 1949. Her large house marked her out as one of the landlord class. She was evicted from her house and forced to live in a garden shed, with just a stove, two deck chairs and an old bed.
The Red Guards—teenagers who were given power to direct the Cultural Revolution—began to visit her, beating her up, parading her in the streets, and forcing her to wear a placard with her crimes written on them. So thorough were the Red Guards that they erected a large sign outside her house declaring her a pariah because she had distributed “imperialistic literature.” Mabel was shunned by neighbors, victimized daily by her work gang, and regularly beaten by Red Guards.
Many years later, she knew why she endured all this. In the early eighties, after Mao died, Mabel began to receive a stream of visitors saying, “During the Cultural Revolution, there was a large sign outside your house full of your crimes. One of them was that you had distributed Bibles. So I’m here on the chance that you have some left.”
Amazingly that sign which made her life such a misery became the means of a new ministry. It kept people away from her during the Cultural Revolution, but afterwards, after she had endured, it drew them. A number of high-ranking members of the Communist Party in China today owe their faith to her endurance.
She reflected, “It’s been nice to know why. It helps my faith. But it was hard. Every day was hard. I can’t say I saw Jesus, or even felt him close most of the time. I just got the strength to keep going, and that was enough.”
God can deliver us by transforming a situation, but more often He delivers by giving us the strength to endure the situation. That way, others are transformed as well as ourselves.
RESPONSE: Today I will endure all challenges knowing that God has a purpose and I am in His hands.
Salome No. 2 The Woman Who Wanted the Best for Her Sons
Family Connections—Legendary attempts had been made to connect Salome with Joseph by a previous marriage, and therefore link her up with the family of Mary; or to make her a daughter of Zacharias. Inadequate attempts have sought to identify her as the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus, using John 19:25 as the basis of association. Scripture is silent as to her genealogy. All we know is that she was the wife of Zebedee, the prosperous fisherman who had hired servants. The only glimpse we have of him is in his boat, mending his nets when Jesus came upon him and called his two sons to follow Him. That Zebedee shared his wife’s devotion to Jesus is evidenced by the fact that there was no action on his part to detain his sons from leaving his fishing business to accompany Jesus. Reading between the lines, it is not difficult to detect the harmony in that Capernaum family, concerning the call and claims of Jesus (Matthew 4:21; Mark 1:19, 20).Her Devotion
Salome, one of the saintly women who followed Jesus in Galilee and ministered unto Him, appears to have been one of His disciples from the outset of His public ministry (Mark 15:40, 41; Matthew 20:20-28). She had no doubt whatever as to His Messiahship, and faced no difficulty in persuading her sons, James and John, to accompany her in obedience to the Master’s word. Both Zebedee and Salome by their life and teaching prepared their children to follow Jesus. That they never forgot their home influence and instruction is seen in the depth of devotion, wide range of vision and a godly joyousness the writings of James and John, who became apostles, clearly reveal. Salome remained a faithful disciple of Jesus up to the very end. She was present at the crucifixion, beholding that grim scene afar off, even when her two sons had withdrawn.
Salome, along with the other women “stood afar off,” probably because of the malicious crowd, the rough soldiers, and the horrors of the cross, all of which was sufficient to make them timid. They were full of love and sympathy, even though they stood afar off. With tear-filled eyes with which they had shown their devotion on the way to the cross (Luke 23:28), they still beheld Him as He hung there in death. Salome was also with the women who came to anoint the body of Jesus, and shared in the glorious news of His Resurrection (Luke 24:10). They hastened to perform their last service for their Lord, but were not at the tomb soon enough to perfume His body with spices. Their devotion was rewarded by the revelation of the angel that He whom they loved and mourned was alive forevermore. They went forth to proclaim the blessed truth of the Resurrection—a miracle which Salome’s son, John, was to give emphasis to as he came to write the last book of the Bible (Revelation 1:17, 18).Her Demand
Salome was ambitious for her sons, and ambition is commendable when it is in full agreement with the mind and purpose of God. Ambition, when divinely directed, can lead to the heights of honor but when selfishly pursued can cast one down to the depths of degradation. Salome knew she was an honored mother because her two sons, James and John, were two of Christ’s best-loved disciples and along with Peter formed the inner circle among the Twelve. On different occasions, Peter, James and John are grouped together. Salome knew that Christ was the Messiah, but as a millennialist could not separate Him from Israel’s temporal glory. Feeling that the kingdom would soon be established, she requested that her sons be placed one on Christ’s right hand and the other on His left when He inaugurated His kingdom. Although such a demand arose from maternal pride and jealousy, it did not arise from true faith. She knew not what she asked (Matthew 20:20-24; Mark 10:35-40) when seeking seats of honor for her sons.
In His rebuke of Salome for her misguided ambition Christ did not reject the request of the mother for her children, but corrected it, and accepted it in a way mother and sons did not anticipate. To be intimately near Him on His throne meant fellowshi
In His rebuke of Salome for her misguided ambition Christ did not reject the request of the mother for her children, but corrected it, and accepted it in a way mother and sons did not anticipate. To be intimately near Him on His throne meant fellowship with Him in His sufferings. Our Lord did not treat Salome’s ambition as if it were sinful but he was compassionate because of the ignorance behind the request. Salome did not know “what manner of spirit” she was of (Luke 9:55). In effect, Jesus asked if her sons were prepared to drink the cup of martyrdom, and implied that James and John would share His throne of suffering. This they did, for James was the first apostolical martyr and John, the last. Salome’s dreams of the kingship of Christ with her sons sharing His rule were rudely shattered as she saw her much-loved Messiah dying as a felon on a wooden gibbet. Along with others she thought that it would have been “He who would have redeemed Israel,” but there He is, hanging on a cross in agony and shame. Salome came to learn that the only way to sovereignty is through sacrificial service. “Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant” (Matthew 20:26, 27). The mother sought earthly crowns for her sons, but through losing their lives for Christ’s sake, they gained greater honor in heaven.
As we leave “the mother of Zebedee’s children,” it is with the realization of the influence of a godly mother in, and over, the lives of her children. So often it is from a mother’s tender affection that her child imbibes the love of God, so that it becomes almost part of the child’s nature. Further, there is no more potent antidote against sin within or without than faith in God generated by the holy life and teaching of godly parents. Salome and Zebedee were the Lord’s and both of their sons became His followers and died for His cause. Happy and grateful are those Christian parents who live to see their offspring wholly dedicated to the service of the Lord.
FAITH IS NOT A SECRET
Some twenty-five years ago Boutros from a Middle East country became a Christian. Since then he has revealed a big heart for evangelism. Wherever he goes, he is always very open about his Christian faith.
A couple of years ago he was arrested and questioned by the police. They asked him if he had baptized people and he replied, “I told them that I had baptized 1,000 people—the real figure at that time was only 700 but I increased the numbers because I knew I would probably soon reach that number.” Boutros is a secret believer that when guided by God doesn’t make a secret of his faith.
An Open Doors co-worker reported it was a great joy to meet him. After a visit with Boutros he commented, “At his work place he has a cross hanging. Everyone who comes to his place sees the cross. Recently his chief started asking Boutros if he could go and work for another company. Family members who work for the government told Boutros’ brother that certain people wanted Boutros killed. Our co-worker asked him if he was afraid at all. He paused for a second and then nodded and said, ‘A little bit, now.’”
Boutros meets many people who want to know more about his Christian faith. They ask him, because he openly and clearly is a Christian. “I don’t have enough time in the day to talk with them. I have to work hard to make enough money for my living”, he apologizes. “I earn just enough to buy my daily food.” But even though he has to work hard, sometimes he can work and speak at the same time. “Then I have long conversations about the Christian faith.”
Boutros shared a vision he had recently. “I was lying in a pool of water in a beautiful garden and all around me were many people that I’ve known previously who had since left my country and were living in other countries. All of them were praying for me. Through this I felt that God was assuring me that many people around the world were praying for me.”
Our co-worker was impressed and encouraged meeting Boutros. “What a great testimony of how God uses our prayers for the persecuted Christians. The prayers really are a comfort and support to the secret believers,” he concludes.
After some prayer time together, Boutros and the co-worker moved to a safer place where no one would overhear what they were praying about. “It seemed important for him to have some form of physical contact, so we held hands and prayed for just a few moments before he indicated that we should get back. Although admitting that he was a little afraid at that moment, he seemed in a good mood, and very much encouraged by the vision he had of people praying for him. He did add though that he really needed prayer.”
RESPONSE: Today I will not keep my faith a secret but share openly with everyone I contact.
December 11, 2012
Ignored by Man, Chosen by God
Friend to Friend Have you ever felt that you were overlooked or ignored ... like you were a nobody? Well, take heart girlfriend. You are not alone.
In the Bible, we read the story of when the prophet Samuel went to anoint the next king of Israel. By God's instruction, Samuel traveled to Bethlehem, to the house of Jesse. He knew where to go and what family the king would come from. He knew the next king would be one of Jesse's sons ... he just didn't know which son.
Samuel arrived in Bethlehem and asked Jesse to bring all of his sons out for his inspection. Jesse brought out each of his seven sons, one-by-one. As Samuel prayerfully approached each young man, God said, "No, that is not the one...No, that is not the one...No, that is not the one." Seven times God refused Jesse's sons. Finally, exasperated and confused, Samuel asked, "Are these all the sons you have?"
"Oh yeah, I do have one more son," Jesse said. "I almost forgot all about him. Little David is out taking care of the sheep. I'll send someone to get him."
David was so insignificant to his own father, that when the prophet requested an audience with all of his boys, the dad didn't even think to invite him. However, David was the very one God had selected to be the next ruler of His chosen people. How exciting! You may have felt overlooked, disregarded, and ignored by man, but make no mistake about it, you are chosen by God!
Ponder these verses...
- "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience" (Colossians 3:12 NIV).
- "In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory" (Ephesians 1:11,12 NIV).
December 11, 2012
After marrying the man of my dreams, I thought my happily-ever-after had begun. And it did ... for a while. We had a cute Cape Cod on Logan Street, I taught fourth grade, and we enjoyed sweet friends in our church. Life was not only good; it was great.
But "great" quickly departed when changes came our way with a new job in a new city and a new house filled with a new baby. My husband's job meant he was gone ... a lot. Which meant I was alone ... a lot.
The transition to so much time alone was difficult, but it helped me see something was missing. At first I had no idea what it was or where to find it; I just knew it wasn't something I could get in my home, child or husband.
It took a while, but eventually I became keenly aware of what was missing: God wasn't part of my happily-ever-after. I had left Him out. At a young age I'd accepted Jesus as my Savior, but I had never surrendered to Him or spent much time with Him praying or reading the Bible.
A soul that is saved but not in relationship with Christ is void of His fullness. I was living in the void.
God heard the cries from my unfulfilled heart and led me to Scripture. On that day I opened my Bible to Psalm 1 and found this fulfilling truth:
"... his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers." (vs. 2-3 NIV 1984)
God tenderly let me see my tree (life) was planted in places far from the streams of His living water. I had planted myself beside the streams of the world, seeking its temporary joy and fulfillment. Planting myself there, away from Him left me thirsty. The unfertile soil and lack of hydration caused me to wither.
Meditating on His Word was the key to finding what I was missing. It never occurred to me God's instructions could be delightful, or that thinking of them day and night was even possible. "How does one meditate on Your Word day and night and still get things done Lord?" I asked.
In a faint whisper I felt the Lord encourage me, "Start here."
For the next 150 days I read a chapter a day in the book of Psalms. Actually, I spent more than one day reading Psalm 119. Have you seen Psalm 119? Its 176 verses were a bit intimidating for this newbie in the Word!
Is your life planted close to God? Does your heart have fertile soil for His Word to prosper? If you feel like me on that day I opened my Bible—lonely, thirsty and withering away, today can the beginning of your refreshment!
Meeting the Enemy
The idea of the devil more often solicits smirks than fear or caution in the world today. In his classic work The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis writes from the point of view of a senior demon, Screwtape, giving advice to his protégé, Wormwood, on how to influence his target. Screwtape tells Wormwood, “The fact that ‘devils’ are predominately comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you.”
The Bible is clear that the devil is real and his schemes can be traced back to Eden. Beyond our limited vision lies a spiritual realm where the war for souls is waged. Jesus Christ has already won the ultimate victory, but battles still rage as Satan tries to make Christians and Christianity ineffective and impotent. Those battles play out in various arenas. Paul described them as “rulers,” “authorities,” &ldquoowers of this dark world” and “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Spiritual warfare in unseen realms is as real as the battles waged here on earth.
There are also battles that occur within our thoughts, our relationships, our attitudes and our everyday choices. If the devil can wear us down so that we snap at our children or belittle our husband or pass on a tidbit of gossip, he has weakened our witness.
For every battle we face, God provides us with a full set of spiritual armor. God’s armor is based on truth and righteousness, faith and peace. He asks us to be armed with his attributes, not our own. Above all, we have prayer, which reaches into the spiritual realm and places the battle into the hands of the One who has already won the war.
The presence of evil need not make us suspicious or fearful. We don’t need to look for a demon behind every door. But we should be alert and prayerful so that we are aware of the devil’s schemes when they come and so we can fight the battle in the spiritual realm.Reflection
- How do you picture the devil and the battle in the spiritual realm?
- What schemes of the devil have you seen in your own life?
- What piece of God’s armor do you most need right now?
Ephesians 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
KEEPING FAITH SIMPLE
On his first visit to America, I took a Chinese Bible teacher to a Christian bookstore. I was not prepared for his reaction. I thought he would be overwhelmed by the variety of Bibles, reading aids, books and multi-media material on show. He was, but not in the way I expected. He stopped in the middle of the store, turned to me and said, “It must be very hard to be a Christian here.”
“Why do you say that?” I asked.
“How are you going to keep your faith simple with all this available?” We walked around the store as he told me what he meant. He picked five books off the shelf. All had similar titles like The Christian’s secret of a happy life. He leafed through them and said, “Each book seems to say there’s a secret to living a happy life in Jesus. But their secrets are all different. They all say there is one secret, but each has a different secret? That’s confusing.”
“Well, that’s just marketing” I explained a little defensively. But he went on. “Does that mean I have to buy all five books to really know Christ? That makes me anxious. What other secrets might I not be aware of? I have to buy more books. And soon, I would have more books than I could read, and I would not be happy, but guilty that I had spent money on all these books that I had no time to read.”
He put the books down on the floor and said quietly, “In China, I prayed for God to bring me books. He did, but only at the rate of about four per year. So I read those books thoroughly. I copied out passages. I made summaries for teachers. I learned whole chunks by heart. These books really formed me. The point I’m trying to make is that if you have too many books, it’s difficult to read one properly. I’m not saying it’s impossible, just hard. And this variety actually makes faith more complicated than it really is.”
He taught me a daily habit he learned in prison. “Every morning when you wake up, don’t get up; just stay in bed and for ten minutes thank God for anything that comes into your mind. It might be the wallpaper, it might be for friends, it might just be for life. Anything. Once you get going you discover that the world is full of grace, God’s grace. With that attitude you are ready to live the day for God because you are overwhelmed at how generous God is to you.”
It’s so simple, and yet isn’t there something in us that finds the simplest activities so hard to keep up? Maybe that is why we pack our lives with an infinite variety of routines and habits. Anything but just continually doing what is simple.
A Vietnamese evangelist said, “We are to stay in the first grade, grateful to Jesus, repentant for our sins, expectant of his coming. Don’t graduate or you’ll leave the basics behind.”
RESPONSE: Today I will live my life simply – back to basics of praising, praying, witnessing, awaiting.
SHARING FAITH UNDER PRESSURE
Twenty-nine-year-old Maryam Rostampour and thirty-two-year old Marzieh Amirizadeh spent 259 days in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison in 2009 in Iran. They had to overcome the fear of life imprisonment and the possibility of execution because they loved and followed Jesus Christ. They had to remain strong through weeks in solitary confinement, and endless hours of interrogation by Iranian officials and religious leaders. They had to endure months of harsh living conditions and debilitating sickness. In their first interview (with Sam Yeghnazar of Elam Ministries), they shared what life was like in prison and how they survived.
Maryam commented, “When we were arrested most of the guards treated us badly, especially when they knew we had been involved in evangelism. They would curse us and would not let us drink water from the public tap or use the wash basin. But this changed and eventually they asked us to pray for them.”
Marzieh said, “Some [prisoners] called us ‘Dirty, unclean, apostates,’ but their opinion changed and they asked for forgiveness. We had become an example to them and they would take our side.”
Maryam added, “At Evin Prison the well-educated political and business prisoners called us ‘Mortad Kasif’ (Unclean apostates). In less than a month everything changed. As they got to know us, they were curious about our faith, they respected us and called upon us to sort out arguments they had between themselves.”
When asked if any prisoners came to faith, she said, “Yes. There were those who accepted Christ. When we were in Vozara [the first prison the women were taken to] we prayed the sinner’s prayer with many of the prostitutes. They prayed themselves and we prayed for them. But there were others who were too frightened to confess their faith. There were many who were impacted.”
Even in prison, under tremendous pressure, it is possible to share one’s faith.
RESPONSE: Today I will resolve to use my freedom to share my faith with others in spiritual darkness.
December 13, 2012
Friend to Friend Paul said that he "put no confidence in the flesh" (Philippians 3:3). In other words, he didn't think that he was good enough because of any particular talent or ability that he had on his own. But his confidence came from his understanding of who he was as a child of God. Someone once said, "A man wrapped up in himself makes a pretty small package." But a man, or woman, wrapped up in God is an amazing sight to behold.
I believe we can change our inferiority, insecurity, and inadequacy into unshakable confidence by understanding who we are, what we have, and where we are as a child of God. I am not advocating confidence in self, but confidence in God - confidence in who you are because of what Jesus has done for you and what the Holy Spirit can do through you. Jesus said, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5,6 TNIV). Connected to the vine you can do everything God calls you to do (Philippians 4:13).
Paul knew what he could accomplish on his own...nothing. Oh, he could be busy. We all can do that. But bearing "fruit that will remain" is another story. This paraphrase shows how he viewed his own personal weaknesses:
I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan's angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn't think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,
'My grace is enough; it's all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.'
Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ's strength moving in on my weakness. Now that I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size-abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 The Message)
Paul had great confidence. The prefix, "con" means "with" and the root "fid" means faith." So a confident person is one who walks in faith. We walk in faith that we are holy, chosen, redeemed, dearly loved children of God who are empowered by the Holy Spirit, equipped by our Maker, and enveloped by Jesus Christ. Now that's real God-confidence.
December 13, 2012
The Slop Bucket
Recently I met a friend for coffee.
This is one of the great bonuses of having my son home from college. He needs money. I need time. My daughters need activity. So he took them to an indoor fun center that is the delight to many a child.
Not that I was feeling like I needed a break from all the family togetherness.
But my friend needed me.
So, we met and chatted and processed a situation I wish we didn't have to process — mean people.
I know I should say that people aren't mean. Sometimes people just do mean things.
And I know there are always two sides to every story. Glory be do I ever realize there are two sides. But during the holidays when "nice" is usually served up in high fashion, even the slightest meanness can seem really huge.
And knowing that in years past, my friend had spent way too many days crying during the holidays made me sad. For her. For the people who were mean to her during this time. For the reality that we Christians can be mean sometimes. We can be sharp and cutting and too tired to find the right words.
Not long ago, I got an email from someone who was too tired to find the right words. I still don't understand what caused her to be in such a tiff. And though I made my fingers type words back to her that were gentle and graceful, I will admit that what I really wanted to do was get in her face and tell her a thing or two. Boy did I have the perfect comeback. Because I can be mean. Just like those people who hurt my friend.
We are all more alike than we care to admit.
And not that I want to wax philosophical today, but here I go anyhow.
There's a bucket inside each heart where hurts are dumped. Little hurts, big hurts, past hurts—they all get dumped into this slop bucket. We think we're fine because the hurts are contained. We think we've dealt with the hurts because they aren't rising to the surface that often. But then someone comes along and kicks that slop bucket with a mean word or two and it spills over.
Sloshing. Spilling. Leaking. Staining. And every word we speak in response carries some of what's in our slop bucket.
So here's the thing.
Slop can be good if it's been turned into compassion. Some people have let Jesus touch their slop, mixing in mercy, grace, forgiveness, and a love that reaches just beyond what we're capable of on our own.
But too many of us have let our slop bucket sit and ferment in pride, resistance, our right to be right, and bitterness that cuts off our potential to grow into the woman we're designed to become. So, instead of compassion, the harshest judgment drips out with each of our words.
Compassion. Judgment. The reality that every girl has a slop bucket.
These are good things to think about over coffee when you've sent your kids away to play.
How Did Jesus Demonstrate That He Believed He Was God?
Although Jesus made many claims about his authority, how did he demonstrate to others that he believed he was God?
One episode that demonstrated his authority is recorded in Mark 3. According to the Law of Moses, no work could be done on the Sabbath (see Exodus 20:8–11). Jewish tradition dictated that aid could be given to the sick only if the person’s life was in danger, which clearly wasn’t the case here. The Pharisees who witnessed the healing of this man’s shriveled hand on the Sabbath became furious. Not only were they angry that Jesus violated rabbinic tradition, but they also perceived that he claimed both the authority to interpret the Law of Moses and the ability to fulfill it (see Matthew 5:17). The religious leaders, who felt threatened by Jesus, reacted by conspiring to kill him. Though tragic, their attitude and actions proved that Jesus’ claims ran counter to the religious establishment.
However we splice it, the Christian life involves living with mystery. Many times the will of God is utterly incomprehensible to us. This is as it should be, since God’s ways are so much higher than ours, but it doesn’t make it any easier to live with. Living with mystery is hard.
Mystery should make us silent, humble, careful. We should not rush to explain what cannot be explained. But I remember on a visit to China meeting a famous house church leader. We were talking about revival. Revival is a mystery. Why does God bring it to some countries and not to others? We don’t know. This leader said he knew: “Oh, there is no mystery to revival. Revival is brought about by persecution. You pray for persecution, and you will get revival later on.”
But this is quite untrue, and one has to make allowances for persecuted Christians, for though they may know the history of their own churches well, they are often unaware of the history of the church worldwide. It is obvious that God has brought many revivals about without persecution. The Great Awakenings of 18th century America and Britain for example were brought about largely as a result of the preaching of Whitefield and Wesley. It is also obvious that there are places where persecution has not brought revival. One thinks of the whole of North Africa and the Middle East, which provided so many of our early church leaders like Tertullian and Augustine. Now there are only the sandy ruins of churches, and Islam.
Mysteries also should make us honest. We have to admit “we don’t know” to God. But all too often we beg for answers we simply could not handle. But if I look at the experiences rather than theexplanations of the persecuted, I see that at the heart of mystery is not frustration, but joy and grace.
The same Chinese leader—so confident he knew the formula to revival—also shared a prison experience: “I had lost my church, my freedom, and I was starting to lose my health, and I cried to God, Why are you letting me go through this?” He received no formal answer, but said, “I felt a light within me that chased away the darkness, and I received the companionship of Christ. I cannot explain it any more than that, though God knows I have tried. It never comes out right. But the mystery of God’s will was the means I rested on the bosom of Christ.”
Mysteries appear dark, like black holes on the outside, but as we enter them, we are in for a wonderful discovery. At their center is not darkness, but light. This light is the light of Christ. Don’t be afraid of a mystery. It is dark on the outside, but full of light on the inside.
RESPONSE: Today I will not fear mystery but love it by entering to find the light of Christ.
Pope Leo I
Born into an aristocratic family ten years before the sack of Rome, Leo (c. 400 - 461) is singled out by the emperor to serve as a diplomatic envoy in settling a dispute in Gaul. While he is away, the bishop of Rome dies, and Leo is unanimously elected to fill the post. He secures power, insisting that popes are in a direct line of succession from the apostles and that anyone who rejected papal authority was not within the "body of Christ." He consolidates this authority by moving against heretics, particularly Pelagians and Manicheans.
Leo, in the judgment of many historians, is the first realpope. Not always specifying the head of the church, the term pope was used for bishops and as a broad term of respect for church officials. True papal supremacy is not clearly defined until the reign of Leo, coming to full bloom under Gregory I.
Leo's rule was theological as well as political. In 448, Leo receives a letter from Eutyches, an abbot in a monastery near Constantinople. Eutyches writes of the influence of the Nestorian heresy, but then he himself comes under fire for allegedly subscribing to the same heresy and is excommunicated by Bishop Flavian. He asks Leo to reinstate him, and when Leo fails to act, he is absolved in a "robber council," an action that is perceived to be a threat to papal power and is promptly annulled by Leo.
In 449 Leo writes a letter to Bishop Flavian. This "Tome of Leo" becomes a key document as the church continues to define orthodoxy at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Here Leo's definition of the two natures of Christ is deemed the orthodox position. He accuses Eutyches of seeking to "dissolve Jesus" in his endeavor "to separate the human nature from him, and to make void by shameless inventions that mystery by which alone we have been saved." Leo charges Eutyches with thinking "the Lord's crucifixion to be unreal."
Eutyches, seventy years old and the head of a monastery of some three hundred monks, refuses to appear before Bishop Flavian, convinced that the deck is stacked against him. When he finally does appear and is questioned, he waffles on precisely what he is willing to confess. But the statement he makes leaves no doubt among the supporters of Leo that he is a heretic. "I confess that our Lord was of two natures before the union, but after the union I confess one nature."
Leo regards such a confession as blatant heresy, seeking to clarify the incarnation and the twofold nature of Christ with words that rise above dry dogma: "Without detriment therefore to the properties of either nature and substance which then came together in one person, majesty took on humility, strength weakness, eternity mortality."
Heresy is not the only matter weighing Leo down. Only a few years after the landmark Council of Chalcedon, he faces a desperate situation in Rome; barbarians again threaten to sack the city. Attila, nicknamed "the scourge of God," is making his way to Rome. One early account serves to establish Leo as "the Great" for the centuries that follow. According to the anonymous author, Attila "came into Italy, inflamed with fury . . . He was utterly cruel in inflicting torture, greedy in plundering, insolent in abuse." Leo stands strong, approaching Attila and saying, "We pray for mercy and deliverance. O Attila, thou king of kings . . . the people have felt thy scourge; now as suppliants they would feel thy mercy." This account records the appearance of Peter and Paul, who "threatened Attila with death if he did not obey the pope's command. Wherefore Attila . . . straightway promised a lasting peace and withdrew beyond the Danube."
That Leo served both as head of state and chief diplomat demonstrated the weakness of Imperial Rome since the events of 410. But his talking down Attila surely did not signal the end of the invasions of the city. Some years later, Vandal marauders moving northward from Africa pillaged the city despite Leo's pleas. For the next years, until his death in 461, he took charge of cleanup and restoration as well as ministering to those who had been taken captive to Africa.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
2 Corinthians 4:7-9
Friend to Friend
My husband and I were in a waiting period. His company had gone through a merger and was collapsing positions and territories, which left his employment in jeopardy. For months we didn't know if Brad would keep his job or if he would need to look for another one. During that time, God bid us to trust Him.
Choosing to trust God is so daily, isn't it? When I only looked at the "what-ifs" of Brad's job situation - the possible unemployment, the grueling process of job-hunting, the financial strain unemployment would bring, and the uncertainty of the economy - my faith and God-confidence shook and waned. Fear and doubt knocked on my heart, suitcases in hand, wanting to move in and take up residence. On the other hand, when I fixed my eyes on God, looked at His character and at the ways He had brought us through hard times in the past, my faith was strengthened. Courage, confidence and joy knocked on my heart! They are much better residents!
The Old Testament book of Ruth features the heart-warming story of Ruth and Naomi: two women who faced difficult circumstances and an uncertain future. Following the death of her husband and sons, Naomi decided to move back to her homeland of Israel. Though she freed her daughters-in-law to stay in their home country of Moab and re-marry, Ruth refused to leave Naomi's side.
Determined and loyal, Ruth held tightly to the mother-in-law she loved deeply and to the God of Israel whom she now called her own. Though our natural tendency in hard times is often to try to go it alone, I've learned from Ruth, and from my own experience, that in turbulent times it's vital that we hold fast to our faithful God and to the ones we love.
"Look," said Naomi, "your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her."
But Ruth replied, "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me." When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her" (vv. 15-18).
God breathed hope into the souls of Naomi and Ruth through their kinsman-redeemer, Boaz. The book of Ruth goes on to tell a fascinating account of how God lovingly cared for and blessed Naomi as He used the faithful friendship and kindness of Ruth to "renew her life and sustain her" (4:15). She traveled back to Bethlehem as a broken, depressed and hopeless widow but was comforted and restored by the loving hand of God.
Like Naomi, when I experience difficult times - like the one Brad and I were facing a few years ago - I have to choose to trust God. Some days I choose well. Some days I don't. Choosing to trust is essential.
How can we choose to trust God? I've found that my courage to trust is bolstered by playing praise music, meditating on God's goodness, reading Scripture, and praying. Those things collectively renew my mind and strengthen my faith.
No matter what challenges you face today, take comfort that God knows every issue on your heart and is able to shoulder your burdens. Hold fast to the faithful One. Your challenges do not fall outside the scope of God's ability to intervene. God is mysterious, He's powerful, and He's able! When you lift your eyes from your situation and fix them on your Savior - when you choose to trust Him - you will find peace in the pain and strength in the struggle.
WHAT’S YOUR STRUGGLE?
I’m often questioned about the main difference between a persecuted Christian and a western Christian. My answer has not changed in twenty years. In the persecuted church, Christians realize they are in trouble, and go to God about it. In the western Church, Christians forget they are in a fight, and even if they do remember, never manage to find the time to go to God about it.
Persecuted Christians know they are in a fight. Every day they struggle. Not being conscious of a daily struggle may be sure sign that one is losing the battle of life. The ancient Psalmist looked at the rich elite of Israel and said, “they have no struggles.” They should have struggles if they wish to please God. But so many Christians in the world today seem surprised at the language of struggle today.
What struggles do the persecuted awaken us to? There is, first of all, the struggle we are always in. Everyone that visits persecuted communities comes away with a renewed appreciation of the spiritual battle we are always engaged in.
Secondly, there is the struggle we must awaken to. A persecuted Christian in Palestine said, “When you become a real Christian, you get reawakened to the fact that ‘the whole world lies in the hands of the evil one,’ and this reflects in your own culture.” She added, “What your culture worships, you have to struggle against.” In her case, it was a worship of extremist terrorists, who risked everything to kill Israelis. In standing out against that, she struggled to communicate to her neighbors who thought she was being “unpatriotic.”
We have to face up the same question. What is our culture worshipping? Is it, as Francis Schaeffer once said, “the god of personal peace and affluence,” where we don’t mind what goes on in the world so long as our space and prosperity is not affected?
Finally, there is the struggle we must create.Brother Andrew tells the story of meeting Pastor Haik of Iran, who said to him in 1993, “Andrew, when they kill me, it will be for speaking, not for being silent.” Haik was killed in 1994. If he had stayed silent about the treatment of his Christian friend, Mehdi Dibaj, Haik would be alive. But he chose to enter, even create, the conflict. The fact is we can avoid struggle if we want. Each of us has to make a choice to speak up, defy the powers-that-be, and bring a struggle into being. Otherwise Satan wins.
Persecuted Christians are always in a fight. They struggle all the time, against their own sins, against idolatries in their own societies, and against the orchestration of the evil one who is out to take our worship away from God. Yet these struggles should mark our own lives and churches as surely as the devil does not live exclusively in China or Columbia. This world is the place of struggle. What’s your struggle? The persecuted force us to ask. Everyone ought to have one!
RESPONSE: Today I will affirm and engage in the struggles I face in standing strong against the enemy.
He Is - A Creative Communicator
Balaam was riding a donkey on a mission that displeased God. But God used the donkey to warn Balaam against his folly. In the natural world, donkeys are stubborn animals known for their loud bray. In the supernatural world, God can use even a donkey to speak to obstinate people.
If you are stubbornly set in your ways, don’t be surprised when God shows you that he is a creative communicator. He may not speak through an animal, but he can get his message across using people, events—even pop culture. God has amazingly creative ways to get your attention.
If you are stubbornly set in your ways, don’t be surprised when God shows you that he is a creative communicator. He may not speak through an animal, but he can get his message across using people, events—even pop culture. God has amazingly creative ways to get your attention.
I've been known to be stubborn when I want to be also, like, my family and friends will tell you, but there's also advantages to that. I don't mean that as an excuse, by the way. I've always been strong-willed. My only reget is that it didn't help me get anywhere when my depression was out of control. It made me nothing but rebelious and problematic to everyone else. Now, that God has intervened and shown me mercy, I don't have to feel guilty about that any longer.
GOD IS AT WORK IN HIS CHURCH
Daniel, a young “underground” house church believer from Muslim background (MB would not attend the open church in his Middle Eastern city because he felt its leaders were cooperating with the government. Everything had to be secretive in the house church meetings with no loud singing. It was risky meeting like this. Daniel shares his story of discovery and what he learned from the experience:
“A few months ago, I was at the church leader’s house. They were old family friends and I was helping their kids to repair their computer. The mother answered the door and men came into the house. They were plainclothes police with papers that showed they were from security and had authority to arrest. They took everyone’s phones, disconnected the internet, and gathered all of the computers while they searched the house for Bibles. They found 300. They didn’t want to touch the Bibles, like they were dirty. They took the husband and wife away in handcuffs.
“The leaders were still imprisoned when the police came to my house about a month and a half later pretending to be postmen. In my whole life, that was the first time I saw my father cry. They searched through my room and took my computer, my books, my prayer notebook, my written plans for our youth group, and my personal Bible. They also took my sister’s laptop and all of our cell phones. At the end of their search, they told my parents that they were going to take me with them. My mother was distressed, but I hugged her and told her I would be back.
“They took me to the central prison. I was there for two weeks. They only beat me the first day, but they still threatened me. For the first week I didn’t answer their questions, but the second week was difficult. I was imagining my mom and dad—I had talked to my dad and knew it was a more difficult time for them than for me. I still wondered what I had done wrong and why I didn’t have the right to praise my Lord.
“After two weeks they let me go after guaranteeing I wouldn’t flee. About a month later they also released our leaders on bail. After that, they told me my case was still open and they could call me in at any time. We were uncertain of our sentence because they wouldn’t hold a trial for around six months. Constant pressure. It was a pleasure to be persecuted for my Lord.”
Asked what he learned from the experience, Daniel replied, “First, God taught me patience. Eventually, even though I was worried about my family, God gave me a chance to witness to my persecutors. I really don’t hate them. I love them because they don’t know what they’re doing. They’ve been taught bad things, they’re not bad themselves. I felt a responsibility to tell them about the light of Jesus that can break through their spiritual darkness…I want western people to know that God is working in the Middle East, through persecution, deception, and difficulties.”
RESPONSE: Today I will be thankful that God can work through my fellowship of believers regardless of the level of freedom we enjoy.
Name Meaning—Child bearingor joy of parents
Alarmed over the rapid increase of the population of Israelites in Egypt, Pharaoh ordered two Egyptian midwives to destroy all male children as soon as they were born (Exodus 1:15-20). He would never have employed Hebrew women to destroy the males of their own nation. The answer of the two named midwives, Puah and Shiprah, to Pharaoh’s anger when he discovered that his cruel edict was not being carried out, implies that they were used to wait upon Egyptian women who only employed them in difficulty at childbirth (Exodus 1:19). Hebrew women seldom employed midwives for they were more “lively,” or had far easier births than the Egyptians.
Puah and Shiprah are Egyptian names. Aben Ezra, the ancient Jewish historian, says that these two women “were chiefs over all the midwives, who were more than 500.” As superintendents of such a large staff to which they had been appointed by the Egyptian government, Pharaoh ordered them to carry out his terrible command just as he would give orders to any other of his officials. As it is likely that only the chief Hebrews could afford the service of midwives, probably the order of Pharaoh only applied to them. Although Egyptians by birth, it would seem as if they had embraced the Hebrew faith, for we are told that Puah and Shiprah “feared God” (Exodus 1:21).
Receiving the royal command to commit murder, these two loyal, vigorous, middleaged women were caught between two fires. Whom should they obey? The God of the Hebrews in whom they had come to believe, or the tyrannical king of Egypt? True to their conscience and honored calling they knew it would conflict with the divine command to kill, and so “saved the men children alive.” Thus, they obeyed God rather than man, and in so doing brought upon their heads the rage of Pharaoh. Confronting his anger, Puah and Shiprah took refuge in a partial truth. They said that because Jewish women had easy deliveries, their children were born before they could reach them and assist the mothers in labor.
Cognizant as He was of the partial truth the two midwives told, God knew all about the crisis behind it, and commended Puah and Shiprah for their courage of faith. They had risked their lives for many Jewish infants. Such an act was meritorious in the eyes of the Lord, and He honorably rewarded them by building them houses. Fausset suggests that the nature of such a reward consisted in the two midwives marrying Hebrews and becoming mothers in Israel (2 Samuel 7:11, 27). Puah and Shiprah are striking witnesses against the scandalous practice of abortion, which several nations have legalized.
December 17, 2012
Our Christmas festivities came to a halt last year when a speeding car slammed into us at a stoplight. Presents, goodies and Christmas lists crashed to the floor. Thankfully the rescue squad and police arrived quickly and requested we go to the hospital.
However, we were hours from home and had a million things left on our holiday to-do list. With reservation, and minimalizing the bumps and bruises, we agreed we felt fine, and the emergency crew let us leave.
But my husband Dale really didn't feel well. By the next morning that "not right" feeling took center stage. We sensed something was seriously wrong with his heart.
In less than one full day, we ended up calling 911 twice. Again they responded quickly, sending a rescue team to our home. My husband Dale, with me by his side, was rushed to the emergency room.
Thankfully we weren't alone. My brother-in-law Tom followed behind the ambulance with our daughters. And our friend Todd heard what was going on and also headed to the hospital.
While waiting in the emergency room, Todd and Tom talked about the mission Tom leads in East Africa. He explained how he was looking for resources to help put wells in place for thousands who don't have access to clean water. Todd recalled a conversation he'd had with a friend just the night before. Amazingly, she'd shared her deep desire to fund, of all things, wells in Africa.
Without missing a beat, Todd called his friend and explained Tom's needs for the people of East Africa. This generous woman immediately gave money to dig wells that would serve 5000 people.
While God was orchestrating the miracle of clean water, He was also performing a healing on my husband. The doctors recorded that Dale had suffered a heart attack caused by the car accident. Our family and friends prayed over him and incredibly he began to feel as good as new. The next day the diagnosis "heart attack" was wiped off Dale's chart and the doctor's released him to go home. He was healed!
What a whirlwind of activity! In less than 24 hours we'd been in a wreck, Dale was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with a heart attack, a connection was made that provided thousands with clean water in Africa, and Dale was released from the hospital with a clean bill of health, completely healed!
I'll be honest—those 24 hours were awfully hard to endure and totally derailed my holiday plans. I wouldn't want to go through them again. Car accidents and emergency hospital visits aren't something anyone ever wants, especially during Christmas. It's supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year!
In the moment it was incredibly difficult, yet in hindsight it all actually was wonderful. During a time of the year when we celebrate one of God's greatest miracles—the birth of Jesus—we got to witness several awe-inspiring miracles. God used the very hard circumstances we went through to display His power ... not only in that local hospital to save Dale's life, but also to people across the world, saving many lives in Africa through clean water.
Let's be on the lookout during this holiday season to see the Lord at work. His Word promises in Psalm 77:14 that God performs miracles and shows His power. How is He doing those things in your life today?
FROM OBSTACLE TO INSTRUMENT
The persecuted church teaches us that everyone is either an agent of God’s will, or an instrumentof God’s will. Everyone in this world has only two choices: they can choose to do God’s will by co-operating with God, or they can choose to defy God and do his will unknowingly.
“Remember, our God is so great even the persecutors serve him,” said a Chinese pastor wryly. He was referring to arch-persecutor of the Chinese church, Mao Tse Tung, who launched the fiercest anti-Christian campaign of the 20th century in the 1960’s. Called the “Cultural Revolution,” he swept away all churches, burned all Bibles, and imprisoned all the pastors.
Yet all he succeeded in doing was pushing the church deep underground, where it became embedded in the family structure and Chinese culture in a way 300 years of evangelism had failed to accomplish. From this fire emerged the world’s largest revival – where the church grew from 1 million in 1950 to over 80 million today.
“We say,” smiled the pastor, “that thanks to Mao – who thought he was annihilating the church – we have the greatest revival. He thought he was killing the church, but all the while he was doing pre-evangelism. God had the last laugh. Glory be to God – He always gets his will done.”
This truth is also showing up in India. Since 1997 violence against Christians has increased greatly as a result of the election of Hindu extremists. Yet the effect of the extremism has been to drive thousands of low caste Hindus into the church. The more Hindu extremists persecute Christians, the more moderate Hindus are drawn into the church.
It is a glorious truth the persecuted awaken us to. Everyone ends up furthering the will of God! Even those who put obstacles in the way of the church serve God, because God just turns the obstacle into an instrument. This means that we must not despair when we think conditions for the flourishing of our Christian lives or our churches are less than perfect. Take your worst enemy or the one feature of your life, society or church that causes you most despair, then put your mind into gear and think – how would God work his will through this obstacle?
Are you childless? Maybe God is using that to give you a greater ministry, impossible with the responsibility of family? Are you powerless? Maybe God wants to show his glory and make you marvel? We may not get an answer, but it is a thrill to try, because we know everyone is either a willing agent or an unwitting instrument of the will of God.
He’s too great, and he loves the world too much, for it to be any other way! God takes the obstacle, and makes it the instrument!
RESPONSE: Today I will be an agent to accomplish God’s will realizing He can make me an instrument.
"Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13, 14 NIV).
Friend to Friend
As humans, we tend to remember what we need to forget and forget what we need to remember. God, on the other hand, forgets what He promises to forget and remembers what He promises to remember. God said, "Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more" (Hebrews 10:17).
Paul tells us one of the secrets to his success as a Christian and in life. "But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13,14).
In the Bible, God tells us that He "forgets" our sins and remembers them no more. But how does an omniscient, all-knowing God forget? Let's look at the antonym to get a better understanding.
There are many events in the Bible that begin with the words "God remembered": "God remembered Noah" (Genesis 8:1), "He (God) remembered Abraham" (Genesis 19:29), "God remembered Rachel" (Genesis 30:22), "God heard their groaning and remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob" (Exodus 2:24). In each incident, God's remembering meant that He was about to do something - God was about to act.
Therefore, if God's remembering means He is about to act, then God forgetting means that He is not going to act. "For I will forgive their wickedness," He says, "and will remember their sins no more" (Jeremiah 31:34). He forgets our sins - He is not going to act upon them. Likewise, while we cannot physically forget the details of the wounds of our past, we can choose not to act on them. We can choose to forgive the person who has hurt us and not allow the memory of the offense to control our lives. In that sense, we can forgive and forget.
When Paul talks about forgetting he does not mean that he will or even can wipe an incident from his memory. "Forgetting did not mean obliterating the memory of his past, but was a conscious refusal to let it absorb his attention and impede his progress."(Zondervan NIV Commentary: Volume 2: New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: The Zondervan Corporation, 1994), pg. 806.) Paul refused to allow anything from his past control his present. He could tell about it, but without pain, malice, or a hint of revenge.
But it's too hard, you might say. Friend, God will never tell us to do something that He will not give us the power to do. He has instructed us to forgive...so He will give us the power to do so. He has instructed us to leave the past behind ... so He will give us the power to do so. Paul said, "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13). "All things" means all things that God has called us to do.
Isaiah wrote, "When a farmer plows for planting, does he plow continually? Does he keep on breaking up and harrowing the soil? When he has leveled the surface, does he not sow caraway and scatter cumin? Does he not plant wheat in its place, barley in its plot, and spelt in its field?" (Isaiah 28:24).
I think for many of us, we have been plowing and re-plowing the ground far too long. We've been telling and re-telling
Isaiah wrote, "When a farmer plows for planting, does he plow continually? Does he keep on breaking up and harrowing the soil? When he has leveled the surface, does he not sow caraway and scatter cumin? Does he not plant wheat in its place, barley in its plot, and spelt in its field?" (Isaiah 28:24).
I think for many of us, we have been plowing and re-plowing the ground far too long. We've been telling and re-telling what was done and how it was done going over the same ground and stirring up the dirt into a giant dustbowl. But there comes a point when it is time to stop plowing up the ground and start planting seeds - until then, we will never see a harvest.
Today, ask God if there is someone you need to forgive, if there is something you need to "forget," or if there is some ground you need to cease plowing. Then give the memory to God and ask Him to plant good seeds for an incredible harvest!
Diamonds on Black Velvet
2 Corinthians 12:710
Why wont God heal me? Doesnt he love me? Perhaps youve asked similar questions. Maybe youve been frustrated because God didnt answer a prayer the way you had hoped. Could it be that he is using those very difficulties to keep you dependent on him? Like placing sparkling diamonds on black velvet, our human weakness provides a contrasting backdrop against which Gods power can be displayed.
Paul was faced with such a dilemma. He came from the best family line, studied at the best schools and encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus. He experienced revelations from God. It would have been easy for him to be proud. But Paul suffered a thorn in the flesh. Three times Paul asked God to remove his thorn. Three times God said no. Did that mean God didnt love Paul? Absolutely not! It simply meant that God decided to empower Paul despite his thorn, to keep Paul dependent on Gods strength. God proved to Paul that Gods power was made perfect in Pauls weakness.
Paul didnt tell his readers the nature of his thorn. If he had, we might be able to dismiss his words as not applying to us. Because he did not, we can identify with himand wonder what our own thorns are. Is it a chronic illness, a debilitating disease weve suffered with or a painful injury weve sustained? Is it a chemical depression or bipolar illness? Is it cancer or chronic fatigue?
All of these thorns are hard to live with, especially if weve asked repeatedly for healing. They can make us feel weak and spiritually deficient. They can make us feel isolated, undeserving and ineffective. They can cause us to become self-absorbed and self-pitying. But there is another way to look at them: We can offer our illness or disability sacrificially to God and allow it to keep us on our knees, asking God for strength. We can allow Gods love and power to push us through difficult and painful times, to use our thorns to make us more tenderhearted toward others. We can see them as the black velvet against which Gods grace glitters.
Memorize Gods words to Paul, and every time you are tempted to feel that your thorn disqualifies you from Gods work, remember them: My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
What would you say is your particular thorn in the flesh?
How might you have grown prideful had it not been for this thorn?
How has God proven himself strong on your behalf?
2 Corinthians 12:9
But he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
BECOME A DISCIPLE
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
Sixty-three-year-old Lena has established several secret churches in her Central Asia country. She now leads seven house fellowships which meet together in small groups. On several occasions she has had to cope with arrests. “One time police with guns entered the house where we were meeting with a group. We were taken off to the station. Of course we were afraid,” says Lena. The reason why Lena can talk so “nonchalantly” about her arrest follows quickly. She does not necessarily see it as a problem, but as an opportunity to testify.
“I experienced how God took away my fear and gave me peace. Even more, I had the chance to tell the gospel to the head of police. While we were locked up there, I simply started to talk. I was given the opportunity to tell him what God had done for me,” says Lena. “After some time, the man only said, ‘Take your group away.’”
While she is telling her story, there is not a trace of fear, anger or bitterness to be found on her face because of the injustice. When asked how this is possible, Lena only has one answer. In God’s Word, it says that for a long time there will be persecution, but that He will also grant a way out. She recalls Isaiah 41:10, which says, So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. So Lena lives out her life in Uzbekistan, bearing in mind that God is watching over her everywhere.
She provides Bible teaching for Christians and has a heart for work with children and young people adding, “We have to do everything to help Christians to become mature believers.” For example, Lena and other Christians try to hold annual children’s camps where, for a few days, the children are introduced to the gospel through play. The enthusiasm of the children makes it clear that the camps are a success. But Lena and her staff encounter problems year after year. “It’s difficult to find a suitable location, where we can receive the children in safety. And things remain tense: the police may always come and disrupt the camp.”
Despite these difficulties, Lena does not give up. She sees the church growing and hammers home the missionary message of Matthew 28, in which Jesus calls on us to make disciples of all nations. This message is what Lena is living out, in the midst of persecution.
“We must understand that the church cannot grow without disciples,” emphasises Lena. “Become a disciple!”
RESPONSE: Today I will become a true disciple of Jesus using every situation—good or bad—to share my faith with everyone and encourage and train other younger believers.
December 19, 2012
Rest in God
Friend to Friend
Life is so daily and often filled with uncertainty, a reality that can make me very nervous. I want to know what the plan is and how that plan is going to be implemented. Details! I need details! Instead, God calls me to rest. I don't want to rest. When I rest, I feel guilty. I have places to go, people to see and important things to do. I hear the quiet whisper of the One who knows me best and loves me most, "Mary, it is time to rest." I have tried to ignore that whisper on more than one occasion, but it is only a temporary maneuver on my part. The Lord is my Shepherd. He is used to dealing with stubborn sheep like me. He will lovingly make me lie down in green pastures and firmly lead me beside quiet waters. Why? He wants to refresh my soul and give me the peace that can only be found at His feet. Rest is not really an option. It is a spiritual discipline that needs to become a spiritual habit in our life.
Admit your need for rest. Many of us have bought into the lie that who we are is based on what we do or don't do. We fill every waking moment with something or someone in order to prove our worth. After all, we must be worthy if we are doing worthy things, right? Busyness does not always equal productivity. When we admit our need to rest, we are acknowledging the fact that we are imperfect and that our human power is limited. We need to rest in Him.
Turn to Jesus to find rest. Recreation is anything you enjoy doing while relaxation is any activity that slows you down. Restoration is an inside job and can only be found in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We once had an Australian cattle dog named Dallas. Australian cattle dogs are extremely loyal to a master of their choice. Dallas chose our son, Jered, to be his master. When Jered came home from school each day, Dallas would greet him at the door and follow him wherever he went. If Jered was doing homework in his room, Dallas would find a spot under the desk. If our son was working in the garage, Dallas was with him. When Jered ran an errand, Dallas went for a ride. Dallas instinctively knew that the only place he would find genuine rest was at the feet of his master. The same is true in our lives.
Lay your stuff at Jesus' feet. The number one stress in our lives is the result of bearing a burden that is not ours to carry. Exhaustion comes when we take on a responsibility God never intended us to have. The twin of exhaustion is emptiness that comes when we fail to take on a responsibility God doesintend for us to assume. God empowers His plan and agenda for our life. When we step outside of that plan, we are stepping into our own power and depending on our own strength, both of which will soon be depleted.
Realize you are not alone. For years, our family vacationed in the mountains of North Carolina in order to escape the brutal heat of South Florida where we lived. We all had our favorite thing to do while on vacation. Dan loved to read and take long walks in the cool, green forests. The kids loved wading in creeks, looking for "gold." My favorite activity was shopping for antiques. Now let me define "antiques" and "antique stores" according to Mary. The best stores were nestled in the mountains on some remote dirt road and the "antiques" were what most people would call junk. One year, I walked into a shop and stopped in my tracks when I saw the yoke.Matthew 11:28-30 is one of my husband's favorite passages of Scripture where Jesus says, "Take my yoke upon you and you will find rest for your souls." For years, I searched for just the right yoke to give Dan as a special gift. It seemed that every yoke I found was either too big or too small and in less than stellar condition. The yoke before me was in perfect condition and was just the right size and price. Upon closer inspection, my excitement faded.
Yokes have two loops of leather or wood attached to a sturdy wooden frame. Two working animals wear the loops around their necks in order to bear whatever load they are given. The loops on this particular yoke were not the same size - one larger than the other. When I pointed out the flaw, the shop owner said, "It is supposed to be made like that. The stronger animal is placed in the larger loop to help the weaker animal pull the load. A shared load is a lighter load.
Are you tired and exhausted from trying to live life on your own? Come to Jesus and find rest in Him.
December 19, 2012
There are things mommies aren't ever supposed to find.
They aren't supposed to find themselves in a firehouse frantically looking for their child.
They aren't supposed to find their child's name on a list of those who won't be coming home. They aren't supposed to find a dress to wear to their child's funeral.
They aren't supposed to turn their calendar and find a date circled for the birthday party they were supposed to be planning next month. The one that won't be.
Or walk to the mailbox and find their child's dentist appointment reminder card. The receptionist forgot to pull that one out.
Or find a book they know their child would love. Only half way to the checkout counter they remember, their child is gone.
They aren't supposed to find these things.
They aren't supposed to find that grieving for a child is like navigating a path with chasms so wide their continued steps seem impossible. Terrifying. Hopeless.
I know these chasms. I watched my mom stare at them. I saw her wish she could fall in them and never have to take another painful step. I wept over everything she found reminding her my sister was gone.
That's how I know what God would have me pray right now. For the families of the loved ones that lost so much last Friday. But especially for the mommies.
The mommies that even right now are finding things no mommy should have to find.
I want my prayers to slip into those chasms and somehow fill them. I am asking God to show me. Make me aware of the specific things those mommies might find in the months to come.
When the black dresses are hanging in the closets. The media has packed up and gone home. The cards stop coming. The neighbors' lives go back to normal.
And in the quietness of her own grief that mommy finds something. Something that breaks her heart all over again. And in that space of pure grief, she feels horrifically alone.
Please Lord, let my prayers go there. Prick my heart to fill that chasm with layers of prayers from my mommy heart. Let me take the deep grief of that moment so she doesn't have to be so alone.
Though she won't see me or hear my prayers, may she feel an unexplainable sense of Your presence. And know. You.
That's what I pray she does find. You. With her. Comfort. Peace. Healing. Hope.
Oh God, show us how to pray.
EVANGELISM OPPORTUNITIES EVERYWHERE
Pastor Joseph Bondarenko sat on the sunny deck of the Russian river boat as it pulled out of Tyumen in Siberia and headed north up the river. The leaves on the trees were already changing colour in a blaze of autumn beauty. But this was no Love Boat. On board this old river scow were over one hundred and fifty other Christians joining this adventure. The passengers were there to assist in a one-month evangelism outreach in northern Siberian cities&mdashlaces where the gospel had not been preached before.
As Joseph soaked in the beauty of the sun and God’s creation, he thought back on his early ministry years in the nineteen fifties and sixties. His aggressive evangelism in those days resulted in imprisonment three times. Yet there in those filthy prison cells, God was still present and his ministry continued. Joseph led so many to Christ in prison that they kicked him out each time. In total he lived nine years in a prison cell, isolated from his beloved wife, Mary.
He smiled to himself as he recalled that eventful day in 1989 when the KGB agent who had him imprisoned came to talk. The officer had been watching him for years and now articulated his desire to know Jesus too. Joseph’s spirit leaped with joy as he thought back on the day that KGB agent and his family were baptized. Nothing is impossible with God.
He relived the many crusades in recent years when Open Doors provided as many as twenty thousand Russian Scriptures for new believers who responded to the call of God on their life.
And now with a group of musicians, preachers and follow-up personnel his vision for evangelism was continuing to be fulfilled; one whole month stopping and preaching at twenty cities along the main rivers of Siberia. At the end of the month, Joseph’s “cruise-ade” had seen over 10,000 people pray the sinner’s prayer and commit their lives to the Lord! And even more exciting is the fact that Christian young people were left behind in sixteen communities to do follow-up training and establish new churches.
On the walls of a hall in Joseph’s church is the missionary journey history of this local body and the missionary vision maps. Joseph becomes very animated and excited as he traces the colour-coded missionary journeys for the past summers that young evangelists he is training had made into Siberia and onward toward the Far East. But more exciting for him are the dotted lines that lay out next summer’s trip plans. They reached right to the Pacific Ocean!
Like his Master, Joseph went through much suffering and deprivation in his life. But like his Master, nothing gives Joseph more joy than knowing the angels in heaven were rejoicing.
RESPONSE: Today I will recommit to share the good news of the gospel with everyone wherever I am.
December 20, 2012
When I was sixteen I wanted to change the world for Christ. I'd just begun my relationship with God after being introduced to Him at a youth retreat. Soon afterward, I started attending a missions-minded church. They told stories of people in far off lands who needed to hear about Jesus.
My plan was to someday go far away and help. Maybe I'd take clean water or medicine or teach them a new skill. But more than anything, I wanted to tell people about the Lord, introducing them to the God I loved and the Bible I couldn't put down. That was my plan ... or so I thought.
Instead, today I am a work-from-home mom with a limited budget, a used computer and yet an unchanged desire. I still want to change lives with the love of Christ. Thankfully, He's shown me I don't need to leave home to do that.
And you don't either. We can change the world from our very own homes. All we need is a little money, a mouse to click and a desire to tell the Good News. Then, we can be part of the charge in Mark 16:15 to"Go into all the world and preach and publish openly the good news (the Gospel) to every creature [of the whole human race]." We women can band together and pool our resources to tell the world about Jesus.
How do I know this is possible? For the past eight years, I've served God through Proverbs 31 Ministries from my home. And God is doing exciting things through this ministry.
Just this past year we impacted the lives of over 500,000 women daily through our Encouragement for Today devotions. We also celebrated with over 4,000 women who made first time commitments and gave their lives to Jesus through our events and online ministries. The staff in our tiny office also responded to over 10,000 prayer requests and counseled thousands of women in crisis and intervened to stop suicide attempts, divorces and more.
I get to be a part of what God is doing by serving and my own personal donations. And along with me, so does everyone who gives something to Proverbs 31 Ministries.
Friend to Friend
An African boy listened carefully as his teacher explained why Christians give presents to each other on Christmas day. "The gift is an expression of our joy over the birth of Jesus and our friendship for each other," she said.
When Christmas day came, the boy brought to the teacher a seashell of lustrous beauty. "Where did you ever find such a beautiful shell?" the teacher asked as she gently fingered the gift.
The youth told her that there was only one spot where such extraordinary shells could be found. When he named the place, a certain bay several miles away, the teacher was left speechless.
"Why...why, it's gorgeous...wonderful, but you shouldn't have gone all that way to get a gift for me."
His eyes brightening, the boy answered, "Long walk part of gift."
I just love that story. During this holiday season, I watch as people scurry about swiping those plastic cards through the credit card machines faster than a speeding bullet. And yet, God has already shown us that the most precious gifts cannot be bought or sold. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16 NIV).
The magi also knew about the joy of giving. While they gave gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Christ child, they also gave another gift...a long walk. We don't know how far the magi traveled, but we do know that it was a distance that took months, perhaps years. Their long walk was part of the gift.
I wonder how far we are willing to go to worship Jesus...to bring our gifts to him. I wonder how far out of the way we will go to praise him. Do we only give to Him when it is convenient or easy? Or do we give what He wants most - a portion of ourselves, our very lives.
I think the little African boy had the right idea. The real gift wasn't the shell; it was the sacrifice he had to make to give it.
How Did Jesus Affirm His Power Over Life and Death?
Jesus performed many stunning miracles during his ministry; resurrecting the dead was among his most astounding. Mark 5 recounts the occasion when Jesus brought a dead child back to life in front of her parents and his three closest disciples (see alsoLuke 8:49–56).
The fact that the girl was indeed dead is evident from the people’s reaction when Jesus claimed she was only sleeping. Unaware of Jesus’ divine power, they laughed at him, since it was clear to them that she would never “wake up.” Despite their disbelief, Jesus brought the little girl back to life.
God alone holds the power over life and death, thus Jesus’ use of this power provides evidence that he has the same authority as God the Father. Jesus’ resurrection of this little girl highlights his authority, his identity and his power to give life—whether physical or spiritual—to those who believe.
At Issue - Prayer
If someone called and said that you’d just won a million dollars, what would your first response be? “Wow, thanks! I’ll expect it in my bank account today!” Not likely. Usually when we hear outrageous promises, our cynicism kicks into high gear. This is a natural response to most situations, except one&mdashrayer. See, when God makes exorbitant promises (like answering our prayers of faith), he actually means what he says. He’s a real “you’ve just won the jackpot!” kind of God. When you truly believe this, your response to prayer will be like Hannah’s. You’ll drop your suspicions because you expect God to answer for your good.
Gregory the Great - Pope and Politician
Quote: "It is doubtless impossible to cut off all abuses at once from rough hearts, just as a man who sets out to climb a high mountain does not advance by leaps and bounds, but goes upward step by step and pace by pace."
Gregory (c. 540 - 604) descended from Roman nobility and was himself a propertied government administrator. But the church was in his blood. Three aunts were nuns, as was his widowed mother, Silvia, and his great-great-grandfather was Pope Felix III.
Wave after wave of barbarian armies have brought ruin to the region. His dream is to escape, though not to the monastery. "Late and long," he recalls, "I put off the grace of conversion." But in his mid-thirties he leaves behind his government post, donates his property to charity, and sets out to establish Benedictine monasteries. Later he becomes a cloistered monk himself. In 579 he is appointed papal ambassador to Constantinople, where he becomes embroiled in a theological controversy.
Gregory (at this time only a deacon) confronts Eutychius, the patriarch of the city, who argues against the bodily resurrection of believers, while Gregory insists that just as Christ's physical body was raised from the dead so also would the bodies of his followers be raised. Eutychius' treatise is condemned and burned. Gregory returns to Rome to serve as abbot of St. Andrew's monastery before he is elevated to the papacy in 590. For nearly a century the church has not demonstrated strong leadership in the West, but Gregory quickly consolidates his power. A self-described "servant of the servants of God," he defends his absolute authority over the church.
During his fourteen-year reign as pope, Gregory serves virtually as head of state during wartime, overseeing welfare for refugees and others displaced by hostilities. But he is primarily a preacher who speaks with urgency, convinced that he is living in the end times. At the same time, he seeks to bring solemnity to public worship, establishing a training school for church musicians. The hauntingly beautiful Gregorian chants date to this period, as do standard liturgies of scripture readings and prayers for each Sunday of the year.
Pastoral care is also one of his passions. He writesLiber Regulae Pastoralis (Book of Pastoral Rule) in response to questions on the topic, using the symbols wine and oil offered by the Good Samaritan to denote the balance between discipline and compassion.
Gregory also plays a major role in theological matters, particularly in advancing the concept of purgatory, with its corresponding merit of the saints, particularly those who were miracle workers. His Dialogues, filled with miracle stories, ranks high as popular devotional literature for more than a thousand years. One story that Gregory reports in his Dialogues goes to the heart of his belief in purgatory. Justus, a monk at his monastery who has earlier stowed away money, dies repentant of this sin. However, Gregory, concerned for his soul, offers a month of Masses for him. On the thirtieth day, a visionary Justus appears to another monk, announcing that he has been freed from the flames of purgatory. These thirty Masses are believed to be so effective that the practice—known as "Gregorian Masses"—continues for centuries, particularly in Benedictine monasteries.
Even as barbarians plunder Italy and neighboring regions, Gregory is setting the stage for medieval missionary outreach. In 596 he commissions Augustine, the prior of St. Anthony in Rome, and forty monks to serve as missionaries in Britain. It is a dangerous mission, and before they arrive at the destination Augustine has second thoughts and turns back to Rome. But when word reaches Gregory, he orders them to turn around and carry on with their journey. On Christmas 597, soon after they arrive, Augustine baptizes ten thousand people. The mass baptism, remembered as the "Miracle of Canterbury," paves the way for the reestablishment of the church in that region. Gregory's concern for this mission venture is evident:
The heathen temples of these people need not be destroyed, only the idols which are to be found in them. . . . If the temples are well-built, it is a good idea to detach them from the service of the devil, and to adapt them for the worship of the true God.
Gregory later promotes Augustine to the position of Archbishop of Canterbury. Augustine dies in 604, just months after the death of Gregory. Their combined efforts leave the church in this region on a solid foundation.
NEVER TOO OLD TO SERVE JESUS
The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” Psalm 92:12-15
As I share with numerous audiences my experiences from years of ministry in Asia, I often try to drive home the point that the Church in China teaches us that you can never be too young and never too old to serve Jesus.
Our Western church culture marginalizes youths until they have finished some level of higher education. And even worse, we marginalize those who are retired as now being “over the hill” and only fit to sit in a rocking chair for whatever years remain for them.
But repeatedly in the Old Testament, there are references to the elderly “still bearing fruit in old age!” And the persecuted church is replete with stories and testimonies giving evidence.
In 1997 I wrote a booklet titled Great Bible Women of China in which I share the story of five elderly Chinese Bible Women who completed long fruitful lives of service, finishing strong.
In his book, Vietnam’s Christians: A Century of Growth in Adversity, veteran Vietnam missionary, Reg Reimer, shares the remarkable story of diminutive Mrs. Diep Thi Do. She and her pastor husband served as missionaries among the Stieng tribal people for twenty years. Just before Vietnam fell in 1975, her husband was captured by the communists and was never heard from again. She then did not dare do any tribal ministry except pray.
In 1981, emerging from the deep underground during the darkest years, she encountered some very discouraged Stieng Christians in the market. They begged her to be their missionary and pastor. She considered this a strong call from God and courageously called the Stieng back into church groups. She often “stared down” resistance from communist authorities. She presided over the building of the largest church sanctuary in Vietnam. She performed all pastoral functions including marrying, burying, appointing leaders and administering the sacraments. Her bravery and her spiritual authority ensured that no one ever challenged her operating essentially as a bishop.
Reg Reimer concludes, “She described herself as ‘only a little woman.’ But her faith and trust in God made her a giant in the lives of thousands of Stieng Christians she had served for fifty-five years. More than four thousand came to attend her funeral and celebrate her life when she died at age eighty-four in 2008.” You can never be too old to serve Jesus!
RESPONSE: Today I will acknowledge that disciples of Jesus can be useful for Him at any age—especially in their elderly years.
Friend To Friend
A few years ago my family and I went to the movie theatre to see a cute children's movie called Tangled. The film is a modern take on the classic story of Rapunzel. One of my favorite scenes of the movie was when young Rapunzel had just escaped from the dreadful tower that she had been locked in her whole life. For the first time she tasted freedom... and it tasted really good! At one point, unable to contain her joy, she raced around a tree and loudly exclaimed that this was her "Best! Day! Ever!"
I loved that movie moment!
A few days after seeing Tangled, I was sitting at my kitchen table preparing to speak and sing for a women's Christmas event for a church in South Carolina. I prayed that the Lord would give me fresh inspiration as I shared the sacred love story of Christmas. I opened up my Bible and read through Luke 1 and 2: that familiar story of the birth of Christ. The words leapt off the page that day and filled my heart with awe all over again. I was reminded of the joyful Tangled movie moment and was fully convinced that I was reading about the best day ever - when Grace came to earth as a snuggly baby. Compelled to respond creatively... I wrote a rap.
A Christmas rap.
Oh, yes I did!
Not my normal genre, but that day my heart responded to the Word in rhyme and rhythm!
Most of us have heard the Christmas story a thousand times. There's an old saying that familiarity breeds contempt. Surely we must guard against this! May we never become bored of the miraculous story of Christmas!
A Christmas Rap (When Sacred Love Came Down)
By Gwen Smith
A long time ago an angel told a girl
That she would have a baby and He would save the world
Now Mary was confused 'cause she hadn't known a man
But her innocence was a part of God's plan
The angel said the Spirit of the Lord would make it happen
"He'll be the Son of God. He will be a man of action!"
"May it be as you have said, I'm a servant of the Lord.
Blessed among women! I can't wait 'til he is born!"
So nine months later on the night the babe would come
A twinkle in the sky brought attention to God's Son
The shepherds, they were chillin' in the fields with their sheep
When the Angel of the Lord came and stirred them from their sleep
"Do not be afraid! I bring good and joyful news
That will be for every man, this will be a sign to you.
For unto you is born, in the town of David
The Christ! The Messiah! And He will be your Savior!"
"Now listen, there is more - and you might find it stranger
You will find this baby, lying in a manger."
Then suddenly the sky was filled with angels singin' praise
Joyful songs to celebrate the One who came to save
The shepherds said, "No way! Let's go and check it out!"
They ran to see the babe that the angels sang about
They came upon the child then ran to spread the word
And people were amazed at the story that they heard
O what a holy night, when sacred Love came down
To wear a suit of skin, to wear a thorny crown
For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son
To reconcile hearts. It is finished! It is done!
December 21, 2012
Do you ever look around at other women and wonder how in the world they get so much done?
It's frustrating to feel that you are somehow falling behind, or missing out on all the things you want to accomplish because you just can't seem to make it happen.
So I started to analyze why it was others seemed to get more done than I did. Why did they reap more than me?
Was I just not cut out to run at as fast a pace as them?
I suspect there may be some truth to that. We all know people we'd classify as "high energy." Note: I'm energetic, but I'm not one of those perky morning people that I dislike, uh, er ... admire. Okay, envy.
Was I just in a different season of life? I still have kids in the home - kids who cannot drive. Certain seasons of mothering or care-taking can be busier.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized these were not the full crux of my problem.
No, the crux of my problem was waiting for everything to be perfect before I moved forward. If I didn't feel I could do something "right," I often didn't do it at all. If I couldn't control each move, or the outcome, I waited rather than began. And that meant a lot of things sat either un-started or unfinished.
Home improvement projects.
Even my elaborate study-the-Bible plans.
I spent a lot of time waiting until I felt fully ready, and all conditions seemed ripe before I would begin. That was a lot of time wasted. In fact, when I reflect on the things I have accomplished in life, I'm not sure I've ever felt fully ready for any of them when I started.
I wanted ideal conditions. A primary lesson in the book of Ecclesiastes is learning to distinguish between the things we have control over, and the things we don't. For instance, we can't control the weather, the aging process, or the job market. Trying to control such things is futile. And waiting for the climate, our appearance or the work industry to be perfect before we embark on our dreams is just as useless.
Will we never plan a picnic because it could rain? Will we not bother exercising because we're going to die at some point? Will we put off training for that new job we've always wanted because the economy could turn?
True, the conditions might not be perfect. Your efforts might fail. Or they might have to be repeated for months before they yield significant results. But they also might succeed! And you don't know in advance what is going to work.
Nothing will work, however, if we do not.
We can't control the rain, the locusts of life, or the size of our harvest. But we control the planting. And nothing grows that isn't first planted with energy and fertilized with prayer.
Ecclesiastes teaches us our inability to control the future should lead us into diligent work, not into depressed daydreaming while we watch clouds - and others - go by.
While we can't control everything, we can do something about one thing. She who stares at the clouds - waiting - does not reap. But she who plants, reaps.
THE BEAUTIFUL BRIDE OF CHRIST
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:2-4
Iraq is probably the last place in the world you’d expect to find an illustration of the beautiful bride of Christ. Yet on top of a beautiful plateau in the mountains of Kurdistan (Northern Iraq) a group of Arab Christians organized a prayer conference. More than five hundred Christians from all over Iraq, from all kind of churches including twenty local church leaders, came to pray for unity and peace in the country. “Oh God, unite our country again, bring peace to the Christians and strengthen your people,” was the common prayer on everybody’s lips. “This was a unique and wonderful experience for the Iraqi church,” shares Joyce who was one of the participants.
Teachers and pastors gave lectures on humility and engaged the group in seeking the Lord Jesus Christ at first. “There was prayer for the country and prayer for the different pastors. And one of the highlights was the fact that local Iraqi pastors washed each other feet and that is a miracle in a country where there is so much division,” Joyce adds. And she continues, “We prayed for God to give hope and life for individual Christians again; we prayed for individual prayer requests which were written down on paper.”
Another pastor taught the group to love their country and to have a passion for the country. Joyce says, “Two young leaders from Baghdad were very much touched by this, since both of them had been victims of violence and kidnapping in Baghdad, because of their faith. They had problems in loving their country and the people in it.”
One pastor shared, “Every six months we lose twenty per cent of our believers to the free world, and our main problem is also that so many Christian leaders are leaving. You just finish training young leaders and they leave. It is a pity and we are losing so many potential leaders.”
Another Iraqi Christian shared with tears the experience of his kidnapping in Kirkuk. “God was with me and I felt that people around the world were praying for me, although I was amazed about that. God was with me and he brought me out.”
In conclusion a pastor said, “Like Christ, the church in Iraq feels afflicted, not comforted and lashed by stones. And yet does the son of the king ever feel powerless? I do not think so; the presence of the comforter is in our midst in Iraq, so be brave and continue. The Holy Spirit in us is not just a power; He is God himself, who is with us. To God the church in Iraq is beautiful also; so let us love her and work alongside her to make her more so.”
RESPONSE: I will never lose faith that Jesus is developing His beautiful bride around the entire world.
From Curse to Redemption, Traveling Toward Consummation
This passage paints a picture of the brevity of human life. “At least,” sighs Job, in what may sound sarcastic to our cynical ears, “there is hope for a tree …” (Job 14:7). Job’s comparison of a person’s fragility to that of a flower (see Job 15:2) is an ironically opposite image. We are reminded of David’s words in Psalm 103:15–17: “The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But [and this caveat means everything to us as believers] from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him.” Job had a God-inspired inkling about redemption (see Job 19:25), but it was ill-formed, a vague hope groping beyond the light of the revelation God had to that point made available to humankind.
Historical theologian and national spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance for Environmental Stewardship E. Calvin Beisner observes:
What we ought to expect, if we believe in the transforming power of Christ in the lives of the redeemed and, through them, on the cultures in which they live, is an increasing reversal of the effects of the Curse, a progressive transformation that parallels the growth—both intensive and extensive—of Christianity through the centuries. While Biblically sound social analysis repudiates the secularist ideology of inevitable Progress, nonetheless the Christian doctrines of creation, fall, curse, redemption, and consummation equip us with a linear concept of time and a Biblically grounded faith that God is indeed working in time and space to restore this fallen and cursed world to glory (Mt 13:24–43), and we ought to see—and can see if we are looking—evidences of this in history.
Job’s imagery of a tree “dying” and rising again at the scent of water is striking in light of Beisner’s reflections (though the analogy was certainly not intended by either Job or by this modern author) (seeJob 14:8–9).
In terms of historical progression, Job lived under the curse (temporally speaking, the cross was yet far off, though God in his grace would offer to his Old Testament saints glimpses of salvation; see Jn 8:56;Gal 3:8; Heb 4:2). We, on the other hand, find ourselves blessed to be living on the stepping-stone of redemption. Our sights are set on the rock-solid certainty of a glorious future with Christ. God’s Old Testament people knew little of curse reversal (and God will deal with them on the basis of what he did choose to reveal in the days before Christ). Indeed, our stewardship of the planet covers a dimension they could not fully have foreseen. Having moved from curse to redemption, we are invited to travel confidently and diligently, in faith and at work, toward consummation, that glorious completion of all God’s work.
CHRISTIAN DEPORTATION MIRACLE
In late 1992, “Wally” Magdangal, a Filipino Christian who for years had pastored a clandestine house church in Saudi Arabia, was arrested. His secret house church was unexpectedly penetrated by the “mutawwa”, the Saudi Arabian religious police.
Wally remembers reading in an Open Doors magazine about a small group in China that gathered weekly in the back room of a small store to worship together. It was the era of the infamous Cultural Revolution. Since the believers could easily be overheard by anyone entering the store, they “sang” hymns together without words or music. Someone whispered the name of the song and they would silently move their lips and simply think of the words and music.
He said, “We are an underground Church like the believers behind the Bamboo Curtain, but the difference is that we can praise in full voice because our facilities are sound-proofed. Not even our closest neighbour can hear us.” But they were betrayed and now Wally was en route to prison.
For three-and-a-half hours he was physically and mentally tortured. They slapped, boxed and kicked him on the face. Then using a long stick, they lashed his back and the palms of his hands. Then the soles of his feet. He could not stand without wincing and he describes his bruised body as looking like an eggplant.
Upon returning to his cell, Wally prayed for five hours thanking God for allowing him to participate in the sufferings of Jesus. Here are his own words; “Suddenly there was light. The cell was filled with the Lord’s Shekinah glory. His presence was there. He knelt and started to touch my face. He told me, ‘My son, I have seen all of it. That’s why I’m here. I am assuring you that I will never leave you or forsake you.’”
Wally woke up two hours later feeling like a new man. He was amazed when he saw his body had been restored to perfect wholeness. No bruises, no cuts, no bleeding or blood stains. He adds, “God had completely restored me.” This was a significant source of strength as he later repeatedly witnessed to his interrogators who were dumbfounded by his healing. Once after sharing his faith, Wally noticed the guard’s countenance change. He was smiling. Wally said, “I could feel the Holy Spirit working already.”
Wally (and his fellow-pastor) was spared scheduled execution on December 25. Miraculously, at the last moment, they were released and deported home to the Philippines. Today he shares God’s goodness and blessing around the world never forgetting that Christian miracle.
RESPONSE: Today I will thank the Lord that He still works miracles today, here and around the world.
Myth: “If I’m a good Christian, then nothing bad will happen to me.”
This isn’t what I asked for, thank you. I want my old life back.
The one where my parents were the perfect couple. Where I was the only one among my friends whose parents were still together. And seemingly still in love.
The one where I was voted most likely to succeed and everyone, right or wrong, envied my life because it seemed so perfect. And I believed it was.
I want to go back to the times when I knew You were involved in my life. The ones where I prayed and You answered. I talked to You, and You listened. The times when I knew You were alive. Loving. And on my side.
I want the life where all I had to do was show up for class, and I got good grades. Name a job opening, and I landed it squarely. Speak my needs, and my husband moved heaven and earth to meet them.
That … that’s what I want.
This … that I have right now … You can take this all away.
This split in my perfect family that I didn’t ask for, and this side of my parents’ relationship I never knew.
This embarrassment of being a college graduate and yet unemployed. The shame of being “let go” from my first real job—the one I e-mailed everyone about and was so confident I’d be successful in.
This heaviness of heart from knowing that I can’t make my husband love me. This crushing realization that he may leave me for someone else someday. This fear of being divorced before I’m 30 years old.
This stagnant spirituality that barely gets me by. And makes me question all I’ve known up to this point.
This can all go. Because this isn’t what I asked for when I first came to You. I want life the way it was supposed to be.
If we believe a true Christian ought not to experience adversity, then the moment our lives fall apart, so does our faith. We begin to question a fundamental issue: “Am I really a Christian? After all, if I were really following God, then this wouldn’t happen to me.”
Following this line of false thinking, we perceive adversity as God’s punishment for unknown sin. As if God is dropping hints from heaven with every tragedy or that he has deserted us somewhere along the way. How easy it would have been for Joseph to question his belief in God and to assume God was punishing him with every misfortune (see Genesis 37; 39—40). Instead, the Bible records his remarkably opposite attitude of faith.
Similarly, we can look to Jesus as the ultimate example to debunk the idea that bad things do not happen to good people. Isaiah prophesied centuries before that the Messiah would be “despised and rejected” and well-acquainted with sorrows (Isaiah 53:3). If Jesus’ life is the Christian ideal, an example in every way, then we must accept Jesus’ suffering as a part of God’s divine impartiality and learn how Jesus handled it. If we were to believe the claims that adversity is unfitting for a believer, then we must discount the examples of Moses, Hannah, Naomi, David, Job, Hosea, Jeremiah, Paul, Mary, John and countless others who experienced great adversity as believers.
The Bible is, above all, realistic in its approach to life. Life sometimes hurts and threatens to crush us beneath its weight. But life in the Spirit is about perseverance and peace in the midst of struggle, not the absence of struggle. To believe otherwise is to join the disillusioned throng who encounter life on its own terms and are unprepared for the blow.
“The deepest level of worship is praising God in spite of pain, thanking God during a trial, trusting him when tempted, surrendering while suffering, and loving him when he seems distant.”
THE COURAGE THAT MADE CHRISTMAS POSSIBLE
Chinese evangelist, Brother Xi, was travelling one very cold Christmas Eve in the rugged province of Gansu. As he came to the next village he sensed something was wrong. He introduced himself as a bearer of good news. A small man interrupted, “Well we have only bad news here right now. A couple has just had their baby stolen.” In the poorer areas of China, where couples are restricted to one child, it is not uncommon to have child snatching, even stealing babies for wealthy childless couples in the cities.
He stepped inside the house to find both husband and wife staring quietly at him. The couple’s grief hung heavy in the air. He said, “I’m so sorry to hear about your plight, but I know someone who may help...God. Let me pray to Him.”
There was no reaction on the couple’s faces, so he went into prayer, feeling very uncomfortable indeed. “Dear Father, many years ago at this same time of year you sent a child into the world and rescued us all; we ask today that you will send back this child to us, and deliver this village from the sadness which grips it, Amen.”
Suddenly the young husband spoke, “Shut up and go away. We have prayed to our gods and nothing has happened. Why should yours be any different?” He was grabbed from behind by the other villagers and propelled out of the village. “Don't you dare come here again!” they bawled.
He wandered the hills in a daze of humiliation, tears, and crying to God. Then he thought l went to that village expecting a hero’s welcome, or at the very least, I relied on being a curiosity, quizzed and entertained by people who live very dull and isolated lives. Instead, I had only been treated a little like Christ was treated.
Kneeling there in the snow, he knew what he had to do—go back to that village, knowing for sure he would be despised. This was to follow in the Master’s footsteps. With a pounding heart he turned and began to walk slowly back towards the village. Suddenly, across the still late afternoon air, he heard a baby’s cry coming from what appeared to be an old well shaft.
Sure enough six feet down was a little baby, wrapped in a thick blanket, lying at the bottom of the dry-well. He climbed down to hug some warmth back into it. It was a baby girl. Those who snatched it did not know it was a girl, and finding later that it was, left it in this old well to die.
He walked back to the village with the precious bundle of life. The villagers came running. They were amazed and overjoyed as they led him to the cottage of the poor couple, and the smile on the mother’s face as he placed her baby into her lap was unforgettable. “Come, warm yourself by the fire” said the husband. They drew up a chair for him, and as the other villagers crowded round, he asked, “Who was that God you prayed to?”
What an invitation. Here he was, the honored guest, looking at thirty eager people, waiting with bated breath to hear the Gospel. “Well,” he began, “He came to earth in the form of a little baby, just about this time 2000 years ago...”
RESPONSE: Today I will praise God that He is truly in control and can work out all situations for good.
Abigail The Woman With Beauty and Brains
Name Meaning—Father of Joy,or Cause of Joy
Family Connections—Scripture gives us no clue as to Abigail’s parentage or genealogy. Ellicott suggests that the name given this famous Jewish beauty who became the good angel of Nabal’s household was likely given her by the villagers of her husband’s estate. Meaning “Whose father is joy,” Abigail was “expressive of her sunny, gladness-bringing presence.” Her religious witness and knowledge of Jewish history testify to an early training in a godly home, and acquaintance with the teachings of the prophets in Israel, Her plea before David also reveals her understanding of the events of her own world.
The three conspicuous characters in the story of one of the loveliest females in the Bible are Nabal, Abigail and David. Nabal is described as “the man churlish and evil in his doings” (1 Samuel 25:3), and his record proves him to be all that. Churlish means, a bear of man, harsh, rude and brutal. Destitute of the finer qualities his wife possessed, he was likewise avaricious and selfish. Rich and increased with goods and gold, he thought only of his possessions and could be classed among those of whom it has been written—
The man may breathe but never lives
Whoe'er receives but nothing gives—
Creation’s blot, creation’s blank,
Whom none can love and none can thank.
Nabal was also a drunken wretch, as well as being unmanageable and stubborn and ill-tempered. Doubtless he was often “very drunken.” This wretch of a man was likewise an unbeliever, “a son of Belial,” who bowed his knee to the god of this world and not to the God of his fathers. Further, as a follower of Saul he shared the rejected king’s jealousy of David. Added to his brutal disposition and evil doings was that of stupidity, as his name suggests. Pleading for his unworthy life, Abigail asked for mercy because of his foolishness. “As his name is, so is he; Nabal is his name, and folly is with him” (vs 25). Nabal means “a fool,” and what Abigail actually meant was, “Pay no attention to my wretched husband for he’s a fool by name, and a fool by nature.” Truly, such a man will always provoke the profoundest perversion in all who read his story.
Abigail is as “a woman of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance.” In her, winsomeness and wisdom were wed. She had brains as well as beauty. Today, many women try to cultivate beauty and neglect their brains. A lovely face hides an empty mind. But with Abigail, loveliness and intelligence went hand in hand, with her intelligence emphasizing her physical attractiveness. A beautiful woman with a beautiful mind as she had is surely one of God’s masterpieces.
Added to her charm and wisdom was that of piety. She knew God, and although she lived in such an unhappy home, she remained a saint. Her own soul, like that of David, was “bound in the bundle of life with the Lord God.” Writing of Abigail as “A Woman of Tact” W. Mackintosh Mackay says that, “she possessed in harmonious combination these two qualities which are valuable to any one, but which are essential to one who has to manage men—the tact of a wise wife and the religious principle of a good woman.” Eugenia Price, who writes of Abigail as, A Woman With God’s Own Poise, says that, “only God can give a woman poise like Abigail possessed, and God can only do it when a woman is willing to cooperate as Abigail cooperated with Him on every point.” True to the significance of her own name she experienced that in God her Father there was a source of joy enabling her to be independent of the adverse, trying circumstances of her miserable home life. She must have had implicit confidence in God to speak to David as she did about her divinely predestined future. In harmony with her many attractions was “the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is more lustrous than the diamonds that decorate the delicate fingers of our betters, shone as an ornament of gold about her head, and chains about her neck.”
David is the other outstanding character in the record. He it was who fought the battles of the Lord, and evil had not been found in him all his days (25:28). He could match Abigail’s beauty, for it was said of him that he was “ruddy...of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to” (1 Samuel 16:12). When Abigail and David became one they must have been a handsome pair to look upon! Then, in addition to being most musical, David was equal with Abigail in wisdom and piety for he was &ldquorudent in matters,...and the Lord [was] with him” (1 Samuel 16:18).
The sacred historian tells us how these three persons were brought together in a tragic way. David was an outlaw because of Saul’s hatred, and lived in the strongholds of the hil
David is the other outstanding character in the record. He it was who fought the battles of the Lord, and evil had not been found in him all his days (25:28). He could match Abigail’s beauty, for it was said of him that he was “ruddy...of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to” (1 Samuel 16:12). When Abigail and David became one they must have been a handsome pair to look upon! Then, in addition to being most musical, David was equal with Abigail in wisdom and piety for he was &ldquorudent in matters,...and the Lord [was] with him” (1 Samuel 16:18).
The sacred historian tells us how these three persons were brought together in a tragic way. David was an outlaw because of Saul’s hatred, and lived in the strongholds of the hills with his loyal band of 600 followers. Having often helped Nabal’s herdsmen out, being in need of food for his little army, David sent a kind request to Nabal for help. In his churlish fashion, Nabal bluntly refused to give David a crumb for his hungry men, and dismissed David as a marauding hireling. Angered, David threatened to plunder Nabal’s possession and kill Nabal and all those who emulated his contempt. Abigail, learning from the servants of David’s request and her husband’s rude refusal, unknown to Nabal, acted with thought, care and great rapidity. As Ellicott comments &--;
Having often acted as peace-maker between her intemperate husband and his neighbours, on hearing the story and how imprudently her husband had behaved, saw that no time must be lost, for with a clever woman’s wit she saw that grave consequences would surely follow the churlish refusal and the rash words, which betrayed at once the jealous adherent of Saul and the bitter enemy of the powerful outlaw.
Gathering together a quantity of food and wine, sufficient she thought for David’s immediate need, Abigail rode out on an ass and at a covert of a hill met David and his men—and what a momentous meeting it turned out to be. With discreet tact Abigail averted David’s just anger over Nabal’s insult to his messengers, by placing at David’s feet food for his hungry men. She also revealed her wisdom in that she fell at the feet of David, as an inferior before a superior, and acquiesced with him in his condemnation of her brutal, foolish husband.
As a Hebrew woman was restricted by the customs of her time to give counsel only in an emergency and in the hour of greatest need, Abigail, who had risked the displeasure of her husband whose life was threatened, did not act impulsively in going to David to plead for mercy. She followed the dictates of her disciplined will, and speaking at the opportune moment her beautiful appeal from beautiful lips, captivated the heart of David. “As his own harp had appeased Saul, the sweet-toned voice of Abigail exorcised the demon of revenge, and woke the angel that was slumbering in David’s bosom.” We can never gauge the effect of our words and actions upon others. The intervention of Abigail in the nick of time teaches us that when we have wisdom to impart, faith to share, and help to offer, we must not hesitate to take any risk that may be involved.
Abigail had often to make amends for the infuriated outbursts of her husband. Neighbors and friends knew her drunken sot of a husband only too well, but patiently she would pour oil on troubled waters, and when she humbly approached with a large peace offering, her calmness soothed David’s anger and gave her the position of advantage. For her peace-making mission she received the king’s benediction (25:33). Her wisdom is seen in that she did not attempt to check David’s turbulent feelings by argument, but won him by wise, kind words. Possessing heavenly intelligence, self-control, common sense and vision, she exercised boundless influence over a great man, and marked herself out as a truly great woman. After Abigail’s successful, persuasive entreaty for the life of her worthless husband, the rest of her story reads like a fairy tale. She returned to her wicked partner to take up her hard and bitter life again.
It is to the credit of this noble woman that she did not leave her godless husband or seek divorce from him, but remained a loyal wife and the protector of her worthless partner. She had taken him for better or for worse, and life for her was worse than the worst. Wretched though her life was, and spurned, insulted and beaten as she may have been during Nabal’s drinking bouts, she clung to the man to whom she had sworn to be faithful. Abigail manifested a love stronger than death. But the hour of deliverance came ten days after her return home, when by a divine stroke, Nabal’s worthless life ended. When David hearkened to the plea of Abigail and accepted her person, he rejoiced over being kept back by her counsel from taking into his own hands God’s prerogative of justice (Romans 12:19).
When David said to Abigail, “Blessed be thy advice,” he went on to confess with his usual frank generosity that he had been wrong in giving way to wild, ungovernable passion. If Abigail had not interceded he would have carried out his purpose and destroyed the entire household of Nabal, which massacre would have included Abigail herself. But death came as the great divorcer or arbiter, and Nabal’s wonderful wife had no tears of regret, for amid much sufferi
When David said to Abigail, “Blessed be thy advice,” he went on to confess with his usual frank generosity that he had been wrong in giving way to wild, ungovernable passion. If Abigail had not interceded he would have carried out his purpose and destroyed the entire household of Nabal, which massacre would have included Abigail herself. But death came as the great divorcer or arbiter, and Nabal’s wonderful wife had no tears of regret, for amid much suffering and disappointment she had fulfilled her marriage vows. In that farmer’s house there had been “The Beauty and the Beast.” The Beast was dead, and the Beauty was legally free of her terrible bondage.
After Nabal’s death, David “communed with Abigail” (1 Samuel 25:39)—a technical expression for asking one’s hand in marriage (Song of Solomon 8:8)—and took her as his wife. Married to Israel’s most illustrious king, Abigail entered upon a happier career. By David, she had a son named Chileab, or Daniel (compare 2 Samuel 3:3 with 1 Chronicles 3:1). The latter name means, “God is my Judge,” and one has an inkling that the choice of such a name was Abigail’s because of her experience of divine vindication. She accompanied David to Gath and Ziklag (1 Samuel 27:3; 30:5, 18). Matthew Henry’s comment at this point is, “Abigail married David in faith, not questioning but that, though now he had not a house of his own, yet God’s promise to him would at length be fulfilled.” Abigail brought to David not only “a fortune in herself,” but much wealth so useful to David in the meeting of his manifold obligations.
Among the lessons to be learned from the life of Abigail, the first is surely evident, namely, that much heartache follows when a Christian woman marries an unbeliever. Unequal yokes do not promote true and abiding happiness. The tragedy in Abigail’s career began when she married Nabal, a young man of Naon. Already we have asked the question, Why did she marry such a man? Why did such a lovely girl throw herself away upon such a brute of a man? According to the custom of those times marriages were man-made, the woman having little to say about the choice of a husband. Marriage was largely a matter of family arrangement. Nabal was of wealthy parentage and rich in his own right with 3,000 sheep and 1,000 goats and thus seemed a good catch for Abigail. But character should be considered before possessions.
Many a woman in the world today made her own choice of a partner. Perhaps she knew of his failures and thought that after marriage she would reform him, but found herself joined to one whose ways became more evil. Then think of those brave, unmurmuring wives who have to live with the fool of a husband whose drunken, crude ways are repellant, yet who, by the grace of God accept and live with their trial; and who, because of a deep belief in divine sufficiency retain their poise. Such living martyrs are among God’s heroines. All of us know of those good women chained with the fetters of a wretched married life for whom it would be infinitely better for them—
To lie in their graves where the head, heart and breast,
From care, labour and sorrow forever should rest.
Thinking of modern Abigails the appropriate lines of noble Elizabeth Barrett Browning come to mind—
The sweetest lives are those to duty wed,
Whose deeds, both great and small, and closeknit strands
Of an unbroken thread; where love ennobles all.
The World may sound no trumpets, ring no bells:
The Book of Life the shining record tells.
December 24, 2012
"It's the most wonderful time of the year!" The loudspeaker blared out the joyful lyrics of the familiar holiday song that snowy Christmas Eve afternoon.
Everywhere I glanced, people were searching for last-minute gift purchases, holiday baking ingredients or that one final string of twinkle lights that would make their Christmas downright Norman Rockwell perfect.
However, as I stood in line paying for the ingredients for my assigned Cheesy Potato casserole for our family gathering, a lump formed in my throat. Soon my lips quivered and hot tears fell onto my wind-chapped cheeks.
How can everyone be so happy? Why is the world going on as if nothing happened? My friend Julie died last night leaving behind a husband and eight children who need her. Doesn't anyone care?
I wanted to scream. And I wanted Christmas to be cancelled that year. There was no holiday cheer in me and I thought the rest of the world should follow suit and just 'humbug' the whole celebration.
Our family made it through that holiday. My young children, although sad about their friends' mother's death, perked up Christmas morning, eager to open their gifts. My husband and I carried on with our normal life and, over the next few months, tried to help lighten the load of our now widower friend.
Several in our circle of friends made meals on a weekly basis. A college girl offered to clean their home. One of Julie's sons joined our homeschool for kindergarten a few days each week. Although we still experienced great heartache knowing our friend wasn't coming back, lightening her husband's load and cheering the children made us feel as if we were fulfilling the mission God had for us.
Ever since that year, our family has become even more aware of the fact that for many, Christmas isn't the most wonderful time of the year. It is downright painful.
Loneliness looms. Depressions darken. Even suicides soar. While scores of us delight in the season, drinking the sights, sounds and smells, others are numb from pain and despise the season.
And so I'm reminded of what a sweet neighbor of mine once told me, "Christmas is an excuse for making someone's life better." She was so right! There are souls waiting to be encouraged and included at the holidays. If only we would cease our own sometimes self-focused hustle and bustle long enough to see!
After that sad season, we've made it our mission to reach out at the holidays more than we play the commercialized "gimmee game."
Christmas is not about getting. Its very essence is giving.
When our family has been intentional about being Jesus' hands and feet at the holidays, He has allowed us to brighten the lives of many. We sing Christmas carols to shut-ins, decorate homes and address Christmas cards for widows, shop for the needy, bake for the brokenhearted, and often include the lonely in our normal Christmas activities as if they were part of our family.
Because really, they are. Maybe it is your family God wants to set a lonely soul in this year.
Let's vow this Christmas to make someone's life better, richer in love, and fuller in the comforts of knowing they are noticed and cared for.
Reflect and Respond:
Gather the family. Solicit responses to the following questions, "Who do you know that might be lonely at Christmas this year? Now, what creative way could we help to combat their loneliness and make them feel loved?"
"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze" (Isaiah 43:2 NIV).
Friend to Friend
One of the most beautiful pictures of trusting in the sovereignty of God is in the story of three young Jewish men: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. These three lads refused to bow to King Nebuchadnezzar's idol. The punishment for such rebellion against the king was death in a fiery furnace. When the young men were taken before the king just before facing death, they respectfully explained:
The God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. (Daniel 3:17-18)
That is a faith that's real - truly tried by fire. God can deliver me, but if He chooses not to, I'll serve Him anyway. God can heal me, but if He doesn't, I love Him regardless.
The young men were thrown into the furnace. Their refusal to bow to the King's request infuriated Nebuchadnezzar. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie the young men up and toss them into the flames. The flames were so hot, the soldiers who took the bound boys to the furnace died in its heat. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego walked into the flames and the King stood by to watch.
"Didn't we throw three men in the furnace," the King asked in amazement.
That was enough for the king to have a change of heart. He ordered the door opened, and the three young men walked out of that furnace without a singed hair on their heads or a hint of smoke on their clothes!
We can be sure of this, my friend - when walking through the fiery trials of life, we are never alone. Jesus is right there with us all the way. A little smoke and fire doesn't bother Him one little bit.
Are You Listening?
When was the last time you heard from God? Think about it. Has God’s still, small voice been drowned out by the hum of too much noise from work, family, church and friends?
The adolescent boy Samuel was lying in the temple. It was still night because “the lamp of God had not yet gone out” (the lamp would not have been allowed to go out before morning). Samuel was probably lonely, having been separated from his family and dedicated by his mother Hannah to work for the old, blind priest Eli in the temple. It seems to have been a discouraging time to work there: “The word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.” But as Samuel drowsed on his pallet, the sound of his name cut through the flickering dimness.
Naturally, Samuel thought Eli had called. “Here I am,” replied the boy. Again, “Samuel!” Again, “Here I am.” Samuel listened keenly, but the summons didn’t come from Eli. God himself called Samuel that evening, and Eli taught the boy the right response: “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.”
What made Samuel so ready to hear God’s voice? For one thing, he was a faithful and obedient servant. He was ready to respond to his master, and his willingness made him ready to respond to God as well. He was being faithful in the small things of his everyday life and was therefore entrusted with a great thing, to be a prophet of God and to restore the priesthood’s honor.
Samuel was also in the right place to listen. Are you? His posture invited God to speak to him: faithful, obedient, humble, waiting, receptive. His willingness to respond became instrumental in restoring holiness to the land: “[God] revealed himself to Samuel through his word. And Samuel’s word came to all Israel.”
If you want to hear God speak, do what you can to be ready. Be prepared when you’re in a place of outward silence and sanctuary: as you lay awake in the early hours of the morning, while you wait in your car for your children to get out of school, when you walk the dog in the evening. Seek an inner silence and sanctuary also: Let go of mental noise and emotional confusion. Take deep breaths in and out until your heart and respiration rate slow. Humbly and receptively invite God to speak to you, and wait with faithful and obedient readiness. When God calls your name, respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”Reflection
- What are some things that drown out God’s voice for you? What makes it difficult for you to be still in God’s presence?
- Are personal sins blocking you from hearing God’s voice? Take time to confess any wrongs you’ve committed and ask God to cleanse you.
- Read Psalm 84 to prepare you to spend time in God’s presence.
HARVEST TIME IN CHINA
House churches in China love to celebrate Christmas—without Santa and the commercialization found in the west which, sadly, is now creeping into the profit-centric malls in China’s cities. They revel in the opportunity to share about the coming of Jesus Christ and God’s love to colleagues, friends and neighbors who usually do not mind attending special Christmas gatherings in the spirit of the season.
Increasingly, house churches plan elaborate programs with performances, such as ice-breakers, Christmas carols, dances and sketches—to till the soil of each heart—before culminating with an evangelistic message. Several rent public halls or banquet rooms in hotels and create a festive air with decorations of balloons, ribbons and artificial flowers.
Brother Kao says, “We found out that it was possible for us to rent meeting halls in some places that were usually used for wedding dinners. So, with the Christmas season fast approaching, we booked such halls at multiple locations in preparation for our Christmas evangelistic outreach,” Kao continued. Then the church put together a program and began practicing hard on the short plays about two months before.
“There was this one hall that had just been used for a wedding banquet. When we arrived to put up our Christmas decorations, we found it was already beautifully done up so we merely added a few more Christmas touches. We had our church members invite their unsaved friends and relatives. Because Christmas is viewed as a Western celebration, many people are curious and open to finding out what it’s all about, so they readily come.”
The hall was packed with many first-time guests. The program began with the singing of some Christmas carols and everyone sang with gusto, even though they might not have understood what the lyrics meant. Then the plays followed, dramatizing the story of Noah and the flood, showing the depravity of man, and how only eight were saved. At the end of it, the pastor went up on stage, explained what the whole story meant and shared about man’s need for a Savior before making an altar call.
Kao explained, “Each night at every location where we held this outreach program, an average of one hundred people would pray to become children of God. And because we had received the materials from Open Doors earlier, we were able to give each new believer a Bible and a book on the spot. We find that doing so helps them to further understand the decision they have made and enables them to grow in their new life in Christ.”
“Please inform our brothers and sisters who are praying for us that we are putting the books you supplied to good use and giving them to new Christians,” he voiced gratefully.
RESPONSE: Today I will pray for those who have not yet heard the Good News about Jesus Christ.
Friend to Friend
(I posted this devotion a few months ago, but wanted to post it again as you head into the crazy holiday season. Here we go!)
I pressed the send button on my latest manuscript,What God Really Thinks about Women. For twelve months I had spent night and day with Jesus and the women he encountered while he walked the earth. I was going to miss them. Miss walking in their sandals. Miss breathing their air. Miss crying their tears. Miss carrying their water jugs. And while I wasn't going to be in their lives and in their business every day, their imagined faces were etched in my mind and they had become part of me for eternity. But it was time to move on.
I grabbed a cup of coffee, snuggled up in my favorite overstuffed den chair, and opened my Bible in my lap. "OK, God," I began, "that project is finished and tied securely with a bow. So what do you want me to do now?"
I wondered if I should get into a Bible study group, take a class at the local seminary, or finally write those magazine articles I had been putting off. Should I start a small group, volunteer at a charity, or start a new book project? I asked the question and waited.
God surprised me. Acts 17:28 came to my mind. I believed He put it there. In him we live and move and have our being. Learn what that means, He seemed to say. Let's just spend time together. No agenda. No goal. No deadlines. I want to rekindle the romance. Will you let me?
His answer startled me. I hadn't even realized the firehad died down. Wasn't I working for Him? Wasn't I doing God's will? Wasn't I busy about my Father's business? And then I began to see what He meant. He began turning the lens of my mind's camera and the fuzzy image grew clear. I wondered how I had missed it before. In the middle of all my busyness for God, I had neglected my relationship with God.
I was made for goals, or so I thought. Sitting still wasn't in my nature, and perhaps that was what God was trying to tell me. My "nature" or natural bent of work was standing in the way of worship. My natural bent of activity for God was getting in the way of my communion with God. My daily routine of sanctioned quiet times was getting in the way of divine romance in which He wanted me to engage.
Like the men caught on the stormy Sea of Galilee, I felt I had been reeling in the waves for years - never in danger of truly sinking - just reeling from one rolling wave of work and deadlines to the next. But on this particular morning, I began to see the cast of characters in this Galilean scene in a different light. I was definitely in the scene, but I wasn't in the boat at all. I was the storm.
I love how Eugene Peterson describes Jesus' words to the wind and the waves as his friend stirred him from his sleep to calm the squall: "'Quiet! Settle down!'" The wind ran out of breath; the sea became smooth as glass."(Mark 5:39 The Message).
What does God really want from me? I've pondered that question since the day I first came to Christ. It was one of the two questions Saul asked when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus: "Who are you? What shall I do? (Acts 22:8,10).
I think I've made my relationship with Jesus far too difficult. I have spent so much time striving to get closer to the heart of God. And all the while God has been whispering to me, "Cease striving and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10 NAS. "It's not that hard. Settle down. Be quiet."
And that is what Jesus was telling me that frosty January morning. But I realized I didn't really know how to be quiet and settle down. I had never mastered the idea of "be still and know." I knew that God was God. It was the "be still" part that stumped me every time. Now don't get me wrong. I can be still for a few minutes, maybe even an hour if need be. But much longer than that and I'm undone. Restless spirit syndrome begins to shake my soul, and the urge to get up and get moving wrestles me from worship.
So on this January morning, as I share this with you, I'm asking...will you be still and know that He is God with me? For a moment?
God had a lot to show me in the year that followed that frosty morning. I've shared a lot of what I learned as we've gone through the year together. As we head into the next few busy weeks of the holiday, I just wanted
December 26, 2012
I sometimes struggle to see how God's Word applies to me and my life. Especially when I've been waiting a long time for some prayers to be answered. For hearts of loved ones to fully turn to Jesus. For manna to rain from heaven.
The funny thing about waiting is it can be all-consuming. It inhales my attention, chews my focus and swallows my thoughts, leaving me in a place of uncertainty and doubt. I forget God's power to fulfill my hopes for prayers answered. Its then, when I can't see how He's going to bring things to pass, I have to rely on His faithfulness in the past.
Remembering God's faithfulness in other's lives in Scripture, reminds us of His faithfulness in our own.
When the waters rise, you've waited long for rescue and you feel God's forgotten, remember... Genesis 8:1*: But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.
When fear, worry, doubt and anxiety enslave and you feel God's forgotten, remember... Exodus 2:23a, 24a,25b: During that long period...The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out...God heard their groaning and he remembered... and was concerned about them.
When you can't sleep and restlessness sets in,remember... Psalm 63:6-7: On my bed I rememberyou; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.
When all hope is lost, remember... Luke 24:6a-7: He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you...'The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'
When dreams come true and you're thriving in your calling, remember... 1 Chronicles 16:12a, 15:Remember the wonders he has done... Heremembers his covenant forever, the promise he made, for a thousand generations...
Recalling these accounts in Scripture helps me remember His goodness in my own life. When I can't see how He is moving on my behalf, I choose to remember that He promises to be just as present and fait
Recalling these accounts in Scripture helps me remember His goodness in my own life. When I can't see how He is moving on my behalf, I choose to remember that He promises to be just as present and faithful to me and you today as He was for others in the past.
When joy surrounds. When sorrow clobbers. When all's right in our world. When the bottom drops out. When we feel loved and cherished. When we feel abandoned and alone, let's remember... They remembered that God was their Rock, that God Most High was their Redeemer. (Psalm 78:35)
BROTHER DUAN’S MIRACLE
Brother Duan was an elderly house church leader in northern China. He was travelling with a group of believers today to hear a dynamic Bible teacher, Brother Wang.
Duan asked, “What age is this Brother Wang?” When they told him he was in his early forties, a great look of pain swept Duan’s face. He said, “I once had a son. I knew him for only two months. Now he’s dead. But had he lived, he would be forty-two today. My wife called him “Christmas’ Child,” since he was born at Christmas time. I called him “Isaac,” because we had despaired of ever having a child, but ten years after we were married, along he came.”
All looked at Duan as he continued, “I only saw him for two months.” He then told them how he and his wife were greatly persecuted evangelists in the 1950’s—both in great danger of arrest. So they offered their child to their enemy, two-fingered Wu and his wife who were childless.
Duan never knew what happened until he came out of jail in 1978. His dear wife had died in the terrible famine of 1958. Their son had indeed been adopted by Wu, but the entire family had disappeared under the rubble when a devastating earthquake hit in 1975. Said Duan sadly as they approached the meeting house, “God judged me for being so irresponsible with my little son.”
There was a crowd of two hundred packed into the house, and many outside at the windows. When Brother Wang began preaching, Duan got a terrible shock. It was like hearing himself. There was a commotion as he clawed his way to the window and looked at the preacher.
Hearing the commotion, the preacher stopped. There was minute of shocked silence as both men looked at each other. The physical likeness was amazing. Duan began to apologize, “I’m sorry Brother Wang for interrupting your excellent message. You see, I had a son, who would be your age now. And if he had lived, he would have looked and sounded just like you.”
Brother Wang began to tremble violently. Suddenly his legs buckled beneath him, and someone caught him before he fell down. Tears came into his eyes, and he whispered hoarsely, clutching his pounding chest, “Are you Daddy Duan?”
Everyone wept. Father and son were reunited after forty-two years. Wang had indeed been brought up by two-fingered Wu, who had been so impressed by Duan’s act of giving that he became a strong believer. Wu used to say to him, “I’m not your real father. He is a great man of God, full of grace and love. He gave you to me, and I give you all my love, and the encouragement to put God first, just like your real father.” Wang’s adopted parents had moved away from the earthquake zone before the tragedy, and both died of cancer in their sixties. He became an evangelist, and tried to find his real father, but Duan had changed his name so many times to avoid arrest that he had proved untraceable, even to his son.
As father and son continued to hug and weep, the elder of the church stood up and declared, “It’s December. We have seen our sermon tonight. “Christ came into the world to save sinners” - that is Christmas. Just as Duan handed his only son to the care of his enemy, so God handed over his own son to us sinners. Let us rejoice in their reconciliation and ours too.”
RESPONSE: Today I will rejoice in God’s act of reconciliation in sending His only Son for me, a sinner.
December 27, 2012
I had a favorite sweater I loved wearing. It wasn't too bulky but was still warm and cozy. The only problem was the threads were loosely woven together. It would snag on things, so I had to be careful.
I was mindful of the delicate nature of this sweater so I could protect it, make it last, and enjoy wearing it time and again.
Until one day I was in a hurry, grabbed some things I needed and rushed to my car. I tossed my stuff on the passenger seat, including a spiral notebook whose metal binding wire caught on my sleeve. As I pulled my arm toward the steering wheel, the notebook came with it and pulled a huge snag in my sweater.
I unhooked myself and assessed the damage. I should have taken the sweater off and later taken time to repair the snag the correct way.
But in my rush, I made the decision to do what seemed easiest in the moment. I snipped the lose threads and hoped for the best.
That decision started an unraveling process that ended the life of my beautiful sweater.
Recently, my husband and I got into an argument. In front of the kids. Over something so stupid. Right before we were about to head out the door to go on a date.
In the heat of the argument he announced the date was off. He no longer wanted to go. Honestly, I didn't either.
I wanted to sit in a coffee shop by myself and make a mental list of all the reasons I was right. All the reasons he was wrong. And justify my perspective.
But it's at this exact moment of resistance an unraveling can begin.
Doing what seems easy in the moment often isn't what's best for the long term.
I pushed for us to still go on our date. It wasn't fun. It wasn't easy. There were tears.
There were awkward stretches of silence. But we pushed through the resistance we both felt, and eventually talked.
Talking through the snags. The pulls. The things that threaten to unravel us.
There is a delicate nature to marriage. It's so easy to forget that. It's so easy to take it all for granted and stop being careful. Stop being mindful. Stop being protective.
The unraveling can happen so quickly. And the unraveling doesn't just happen in marriages. It can occur with best friends, children, in-laws ... especially during the holidays.
Yes, during what's considered the happiest season of the year, stress levels can be at an all time high. Between coordinating family get-togethers, shopping blow-out sales, and spending time with that relative you might not be friends with if you weren't related, Christmas can feel anything but merry and the New Year anything but happy. And all that's pulling at you can make tempers flare and your relationships feel like they're coming apart at the seams.
Be intentional about catching the snags in these relationships. Today. Right now.
For me, being intentional required an apology to my husband. By admitting I was wrong and asking for forgiveness. Repairing the snags the correct way—tying a knot and tucking it back into the weave of our relationship fabric.
Psalm 23:1-6 (GWT) "The Lord is my shepherd. I am never in need. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside peaceful waters. He renews my soul. He guides me along the paths of righteousness for the sake of his name. Even though I walk through the dark valley of death, because you are with me, I fear no harm. Your rod and your staff give me courage. You prepare a banquet for me while my enemies watch. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows. Certainly, goodness and mercy will stay close to me all the days of my life, and I will remain in the Lord's house for days without end."
Friend to Friend
Christmas is my favorite time of the year! One of my favorite family traditions is the buying of our Christmas tree. It must be purchased on the day after Thanksgiving and it must be purchased from the nice man who runs a tree lot just down the street from our house because he has the best Frasier Firs in town. The whole process is something to see and steeped in Southerland tradition.
We all pile into "Old Blue," my husband's well-worn truck, and head for the tree lot two minutes away from our house. When we arrive, my husband and our children fan out in search of "the tree." Yes, I believe there is one particular tree just waiting for us to claim it. Over the years, many people have tried to change that opinion, but I am standing firm. As tradition demands, my husband, Dan, immediately begins muttering, "Bah, humbug" under his breath, but just loud enough for us all to hear. That is the cue for our daughter, Danna, to begin rolling her eyes and correcting her Scrooge father. Our son, Jered, ignores them both and carries out his steady search in quiet contemplation. He usually spots "the tree" first. "Found it!" he will shout, which is another verbal tree-finding tradition. We all gather to inspect Jered's find, immediately dismiss it as unworthy, and spread out once again in search of our tree.
The owners of the tree lot now recognize us, understand that there is a non-negotiable Southerland step-by-step process and stand back, waiting for the curtain to fall on the tree drama, content in the knowledge that we will eventually buy a tree from them. I consider and dismiss almost every tree on the lot before going back to the first tree Jered picked. Afraid of losing it to another customer, Jered diligently stands guard over his tree until we come to our senses and realize that he, once again, has found the perfect tree. After what we consider a respectable search time, we once again gather at Jered's tree, looking for "holes" in the branches, evaluating each side to make sure it will display well and finally, examining the top of the tree to make sure our angel tree-topper will be comfortable there.
The moment of truth arrives when Dan, Danna and Jered all look at me and ask, "Well, what do you think, Mom? Is this the one?" Savoring the moment, I take my time. My husband and children know that, at this point, their only job is to remain silent. Finally, I turn to them and say, "Let's get it!" I am almost certain I hear applause at this moment, from my family, from other customers and certainly from the tree man. My husband writes the check as Jered loads the tree in Old Blue and we head home where the Christmas tree stand is ready and waiting. Jered, the hulk football player, unloads the tree, cuts off an inch of the trunk, places it in the stand and transports the tree to its new home for the holidays.
The smell is delicious. The needles are green and fresh ... for about a month, and then, every year, the same sad process begins. Although I faithfully water the tree, the needles grow more brittle with each passing day, the smell is less powerful and eventually, the limbs begin to wither, dry out and turn brown. Why? The tree has been separated from its source. The same is true in our lives.
God is our source and there is no life if we are separated from Him. He will meet our every need, and not just material needs. God meets every emotional need, every physical need, and every mental need. A loving Father meets the needs of His kids. He is our source! Our mate is not our source. Our job is not our source. Our children are not our source. God alone is our source.
As you celebrate the Christmas holiday, don't allow anyone or anything divert your heart and mind from the eternal truth that no matter what you did or did not receive this year, no matter what you gave or were unable to give this year - God is your source. And that truth is not seasonal - it is eternal.
Did Jesus Believe He Was God’s Son?
It’s evident that Jesus had a Messianic self-understanding, but that means more than the fact that he was anointed. Any prophet or priest could claim that. No, Jesus’ anointing is more than that—there is a divine sense. He is God’s Son.
That’s the importance of the parable of the wicked vineyard tenants. In this story told by Jesus, the vineyard owner leases his place to tenant farmers, but when the landowner sends servant after servant to collect his share, the tenants beat them. Finally, the owner sends his beloved son, and they kill him. When the parable is interpreted in its context, we see that the vineyard owner is God, the tenants represent ancient Israel, and the servants symbolize the prophets. The point is clear: God sent his Son. Otherwise, Jesus would just be one more messenger, one more prophet. No—God sent his Son, and that Son is Jesus.
I got this kernal of thought from Martha's first Post the other day:
“Why is there no other first-century Jew who has millions of followers today? Why isn’t there a John the Baptist movement? Why, of all first-century figures, including the Roman emperors, is Jesus still worshiped today, while the others have crumbled into the dust of history?”
When people ridicule the concpt of Christianity and Jesus this is one of the best answers I think we could give....
The way I understand it is that the bible is now complete, so there is no longer a need for that sort of thing....a movement. Sure, there will ALWAYS be examples, but it's Christ that is the center of Christianity. It's HIS example we are to follow and live by. John The Baptist paved the way for Christ's coming later to begin His ministry in preaching the message of God's kingdom and the hope for all mankind.
The Roman Emperors did not believe in any of this and were opposed, but their examples are also written down in the bible for us to learn from regarding the Christian way of life or rather, the opposite way. By the way, I'm still learning here. I'm not saying that my answer is THE ONLY one. I'm no bible scholar.
At Issue - Parenting 1 Samuel 3:1114 With all the ugly stories of child abuse that we hear, disciplining children has become a touchy subject. Yet weve all met people who grew up without disciplineand that neglect is another form of abuse. When Eli refused to discipline his children, God actually stepped in. God approves of discipline and expects us to lovingly discipline our children. Discipline provides a sense of structure for children, allowing them to feel safe. And giving children consequences for their actions while theyre young spares them from greater consequences as adults.
SAMUEL AND HIS CRIPPLED SON But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law Galatians 4:4 Samuel was a schoolmaster in a small city in central China. One night he overheard his head teacher praying, Lord, please help Samuel to love his son. Its so sad the way he treats him so cruelly, cutting him off, refusing to spend time in the home, ashamed of his crippled boy. Lord, we dont know what goes on in the mind of his son, but we do know he is very sad. His wife says the boy weeps all the time when the father comes in and leaves. He may not know much, but he does know hes not loved, and doesnt know why. Deeply moved by the prayer, Samuel went home late that night and sat beside his sleeping son for hours, just stroking his hair and whispering, Forgive me. Every night after that, Samuel stayed late at his sons bedside, reading him portions of the Bible a book he had found at school. When he had finished a page, he would signal to the boy, who loved to help by turning the page. They felt warm together. Soon his wife joined them for the readings, and the family grew closer and closer. Samuel sensed new feelings of love well up inside him as he read the truths of the Bible. He felt a power to love his son more and more. Thats when tragedy struck. His boy was run over by a truck and badly injured. There was nothing the medics could do. They took him home to nurse him through to the end. Christians came and prayed for his healing, but the boy continued to deteriorate. By this time Samuel was praying to God, and crying out for Him to spare his sons life. But in December, after a sudden power failure, the boy finally died. Samuel asked the Christians to hold a service for his boy. A pastor came and prayed, saying, Lord, you knew this boy was going to die. How kind of you to reconcile father and son before he died. Thank you for your work of grace. And we thank you for your eternal work too. You watched your son, helpless in flesh, die and grow coldall because you knew we could not love you otherwise, as we are so blind in our selfishness. Samuel pondered the meaning of this prayer. He didnt understand it all. But he did get this: God had lost a son too. Unlike Samuel, God lost a son He had cherished, a son that was perfect. How much harder for God. He went to church the following week in a nearby community where they were celebrating an event unknown to Samuel. Samuel testified on that very day, I see that I see that I went through what God went through. He had a Son He loved, and watched Him die that life may come to everyone. I too had a son, but I did not love him. Then God broke my heart, so that I could love him. Then He took him. But I have life now, life that will last so long that one day I know I will be reunited with my son. And he will not be lame. And we will fellowship together, not in freezing rooms of fear and pain, but on beautiful planets of peace and harmony. I can love again. Even in my grief, with my son gone, I can love again. We can all love again! RESPONSE: Today I will express my love for God even in the midst of any pain and loss.
St. Patrick - A Legendary Life
Quote: "The Lord opened the understanding of my unbelief, that, late as it was, I might remember my faults and turn to the Lord my God with all my heart."
Growing out of the ministry of Celtic monks in Britain is the work of an illustrious missionary to Ireland. Patrick (c. 389 - 461) is a much-celebrated saint, though his actual identity is shrouded in legend. Indeed, historians have for centuries wondered if there were actually two individuals (Pelladius and Patrick) melded into one. The first of these individuals is thought to have died in 461, and the second in 493. History is not always an exact science, and the story of St. Patrick is too good to be set aside for want of solid data. So Patrick and his double become one, and we recognize that hagiography and biography are often blended.
Patrick is born in Britain into a Celtic Christian family of clerics—his father a deacon and his grandfather a priest. Kidnapped by a band of Irish plunderers when still a youth, Patrick is sold into slavery. For six long years he herds swine and seeks God. During this time he is convinced that he hears the voice of God telling him that a ship is waiting to take him home. He escapes and journeys to a port where he works aboard ship for his passage home. Now a free man, he finds refuge in a monastery and then returns to his home. There God speaks in a vision:
I saw a man named Victoricus, coming as if from Ireland, with innumerable letters; and he gave me one of these, and . . . while I was reading out the beginning of the letter, I thought that at that very moment I heard the voice of those who were beside the wood of Focluth, near the western sea; and this is what they called out: "Please, holy boy, come and walk among us again." Their cry pierced to my very heart, and I could read no more; and so I awoke.
For Patrick the vision is God's call, but the clerics are not convinced. In spite of one delay after another, however, he finally arrives back in Ireland in 432, now past the age of forty. His mission field is isolated and hostile, beyond the borders of the empire. There are scattered Christian communities, but his encounters are primarily with pagans who have no desire to turn away from their traditional ways of worship. They revere the sun and wind and fire and rocks, a worldview that finds magic and spirits everywhere in nature. The druid priests mount strong opposition, but Patrick eventually prevails. He trumps their magic with magic (or miracles) of his own, causing some historians to wonder if Patrick might have been the mightiest druid of them all.
In the years that follow, Patrick impresses political leaders and makes alliances that promote church growth. Within fifteen years much of Ireland is reportedly evangelized. His missionary story features perilous journeys, life-threatening opposition, kidnapping, and captivity. After some thirty years of ministry, he laments: "I fear to lose the labor which I began" lest God "would note me as guilty."
The evangelization of Ireland by Patrick and others is a venture conducted primarily by the Celtic church, as opposed to the Roman church. One of the most noted of the Celtic abbot-missionaries is Columba, who, with twelve clerics to serve under him, establishes his headquarters just off the coast of Scotland on Iona, a small barren, foggy island, battered year-round by pounding waves. Here he sets forth a monastic life of prayer, fasting, meditation, Bible study, manual labor, and training for evangelists who are then commissioned to preach, build churches, and establish more monasteries.
Although Gregory I is credited with initiating the conversion of Europe through missionary and military undertakings, the work of Patrick, Columba, and others is also an important piece of the puzzle. Indeed, this is an era when missionary ventures spurred by monastic expansion begin in earnest.
December 28, 2012 "Don't Miss the Beautiful" Gwen Smith Today's Truth Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2a, NIV). Friend to Friend A few years ago I went on a trip to minister in Tennessee at a women's event and, to my delight, my daughter Kennedy was able to join me. The two of us are all about "mommy-daughter time" so we were giddy with happy as we started off on the three and a half hour drive. Prior to the trip, I had given Kennedy permission to use my iPad to watch a movie. So once we hit the highway, she got cozy with her pillow, her headphones went on, and her attention became fixed on the rectangular screen in front of her. Random giggles floated in the air from the movie-watcher as I drove and prayed through the talk that I was to give later that afternoon. Just off the Northern parts of the Carolina highway " past the congestion of traffic and the hullaballoo of the suburbs " I was freshly smitten by the splendor of God through traces of red, yellow, orange, and brown leaves that were dancing in the breeze under brilliant blue skies. The trees continued to boast of more and more glory as I neared Virginia, and then they were joined by the mountains. Oh, the mountains! They puffed their chests with the majesty of color and power! My heart was captured by the glory of it all, so I tapped Kennedy and pointed out the window, encouraging her to look around, to lift her eyes and soak in the wonder. "Don't miss the beautiful!" I urged. "Don't miss the beautiful!" She paused her movie and joined the beauty moment, agreeing that God was indeed showing off with His creation. Minutes later, she went back to watching her movie as I drove on undone. Wrung out by glory. Overwhelmed by the sacred sanctuary I'd stumbled upon. I stayed in the moment and celebrated the beautiful as the psalmist did in Psalm 96: 1 Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. 2 Sing to the LORD, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. 3 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. 4 For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. 5 For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens. 6 Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and glory are in his sanctuary. 7 Ascribe to the LORD, O families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. 8 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come into his courts. 9 Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth. 10 Say among the nations, "The LORD reigns." The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity. 11 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; 12 let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; 13 they will sing before the LORD, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth. Worship poured from my heart. I thanked God for the beauty show. As praise and adoration continued to rise, a God-thought settled on my heart. Tell them, Gwen. "Tell them what, Lord?" I wondered. Tell the women what you told Kennedy. Tell them not to miss the beautiful. Ahhhh, yes! I would tell them, and I would chew on that challenge for days to come. Convicted by questions like: How often do I drive right through the busyness of my days and miss the beautiful? How many moments of glory do I not even see because my eyes are on the mundane? Do I even look for it? As we head into this busy holiday season and dance between the days of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years - as we decorate the doors and the hearths of our homes and communities, let's be intentional to decorate the doors and the hearths of our hearts with ribbons of God's grace. Let's live with eyes lifted to the Gift of gifts, Jesus Christ. When we face the stresses of our lists, and our tasks, and our activities, and our heart burdens, let's commit to remembering that the best present is His presence. He's our Hope, our Peace, our Joy, our Beautiful. Don't miss the beautiful.
December 28, 2012
I sat with pen in hand, surprised by the words on the page in front of me.
"You will not find my Peace by engaging in excessive planning; attempting to control what will happen to you in the future. This is a commonly practiced form of unbelief." (Sarah Young, Jesus Calling)
Planning is one of the things I do best. I have my list of things to accomplish every day. I have a list of goals in ministry. I even have a bucket list!
Planning is a good thing, right?
However, as I read those words in my devotional book, the Holy Spirit revealed to me the way I must often appear to my Heavenly Father.
There are so many things I want to do. Instinctively I know that God's timing isn't mine, but sometimes my litany of lists are in the hopes that if I work hard enough and plan long enough that God will get on my schedule.
It's not that planning is wrong. With our busy lifestyles, our lists keep us from dropping off our young daughter in a cowgirl costume at the neighbor's house ... when the party is scheduled for the next Friday (yes, it really happened).
But this was a deeper heart issue. How many times did I plan and plan and plan some more, only to be disappointed as my lists got longer and my goals farther away.
My planning was less about organization, and more about worry. I felt more in control if I made lists because I felt like I was doing something.
I sensed God saying, "Lay it down. All the planning, all the worry about how things will work out."
In 1 Peter 5:6-7 we are encouraged that, "God's strong hand is on you; he'll promote you at the right time." In the very next verse, Peter warns us to be aware that,"... the devil is poised to pounce..." (The Message)
It's no accident that Peter shared a promise, but also a warning.
The promise is that God is in control. He knows exactly where He is taking you, and as you trust Him, His promotion may look very different (and far more fulfilling) than your carefully drawn plans.
When we are trapped in excessive planning and things don't work out the way we want, it can create anxiety, frustration, or anger towards God—all traps the enemy would love to use to discourage and distract us.
I didn't stop writing lists. They keep me from forgetting what I need to do.
But I have stopped excessive planning.
God's ways are higher than mine. And if I keep that truth above my planning, then I am open to go in whatever direction God leads.
I didn't have to sign up for Overplanner's Anonymous. Instead, the first thing on my plan every day is to simply "trust God."
GIVEN WHAT TO SAY
But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Matthew 10:19-20
It was early in the morning the day after Christmas. It was cold. Mehdi Forootan sat in the back seat of an undercover police car in front of his house in Tehran, Iran. An officer pointed a camcorder at him. “Do you know why you were arrested?” the officer asked him. “No,” Forootan replied.
The officer turned off the camera and looked Forootan in the eyes. “I can beat you until blood is coming out of your mouth and every part of you. The next time I turn on the camera, you tell me why we are taking you,” the officer said and turned the camera back on.
Forootan spoke of his faith in Christ, and he spent the next 105 days in Iran’s harshest prison. On Dec. 26, 2010, authorities had arrested Forootan in a wave of persecution against Iran’s underground church. More than three months later, he was one of a few who had not been released.
During one interrogation, an officer turned on a camcorder and pointed it toward him, demanding that Forootan tell him about his “crime.” Forootan began to tell him how he had struggled with substance abuse as a teenager, “and how when I was in university I found Jesus and He saved me, and I have been free ever since. But he became angry and turned off the camera. He said, ‘I asked you to tell about your crime, not evangelize us.’”
After months of trying to get him to write statements confessing a crime, authorities inexplicably released him. Forootan said his first month out of prison was one of the worst of his life. He couldn’t speak to anyone of his prison experience for fear that authorities were watching and would re-arrest him. His parents had given the deed of their house to authorities as bail.
He and his fiancée decided it was best for him to leave Iran and go to Turkey as a refugee. For Forootan, this meant an illegal escape through the mountains, because authorities had confiscated his passport.
“I came out of Iran with 70 Afghanis,” Forootan said. “I went to the mountains and walked in the mountains for eight hours, and after eight hours I came to Turkey…That was really hard, because I really love Iran, and I’m really sad about this land. Maybe I can’t see my country again.”
Many who follow Jesus in other lands make great sacrifices for the sake of the gospel. Despite harsh treatment—even prison with interrogations—they still love their home country. But during those interrogations, the Holy Spirit gives the right words to be spoken.
RESPONSE: Today I will rest in the Lord realizing that when pressures come, He is with me and His Spirit will give me the right words to speak.
The Implications of God’s Dominion for Dealing With Pain and Loss
Nothing belongs to us, not even our selves. Strictly speaking, we do not even own our private feelings and thoughts. The fact that God asserts his absolute ownership at this point in the book is significant for how we understand personal pain or loss. Bitter as this &ldquoill” may be to swallow, we have to acknowledge that God doesn’t owe us a thing. Whether he gives or takes away (see Job 1:21), or even if he allows our bodies or minds to be wracked with pain, we are to praise and adore his name. This is not to say that we are necessarily to thank him for pain or calamity (though this may sometimes be appropriate). But he does expect us to praise him in spite of and through the hard times. What would it mean for us to truly live in the light of God’s absolute ownership, to live out in our daily lives the knowledge that we have been “bought at a price” (cf. Ps 24:1; 50:10; 1Co 6:20; 7:23)? And what a price!
Bestselling author Philip Yancey has delved deeply into the &ldquoroblem” of pain. He addresses the quintessential human question: Where is God when it hurts? Yancey’s final thoughts from his book by the same title:
He has been there from the beginning, designing a pain system that still, in the midst of a fallen, rebellious world, bears the stamp of His genius and equips us for life on this planet.
He has watched us reflect His image, carving out great works of art, launching mighty adventures, living out this earth in a mixture of pain and pleasure when the two so closely coalesce they sometimes become almost indistinguishable.
He has used pain, even in its grossest forms, to teach us, asking us to let it turn us to Him. He has stooped to conquer …
He has let us cry out and echo Job with louder and harsher fits of anger against Him, blaming Him for a world we spoiled.
He has allied Himself with the poor and suffering, establishing a kingdom tilted in their favor, which the rich and powerful often shun.
He has promised supernatural strength to nourish our spirit, even if our physical suffering goes unrelieved …
He is with us now, ministering to us through His Spirit and through members of His body who are commissioned to bear us up and relieve our suffering for the sake of the head.
He is waiting, gathering the armies of good. One day He will unleash them. The world will see one last explosion of pain before the full victory is ushered in. Then, he will create for us a new, incredible world. And pain shall be no more.
STAND STRONG THROUGH ALL STORMS Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither Psalm 1:1-3 Concluding Thoughts: 1. Ours is the Kingdom. No matter what setbacks we see or experience, in the end the Kingdom will revert to our Lord and we will reign with Him. 2. Ours is the victory through dying and living again victory through being able to drink the cup of evil and injustice poured out and not being consumed by it. 3. Ours is the responsibility of caring for our suffering brethren, especially converts and those in countries more restrictive and repressive than ours. 4. Ours is the responsibility of reaching those who still sit in darkness. 5. Ours are the lives that should manifest purity and Christlikeness. 6. Ours are the hearts that should be willing to pay the price to bring peace and understanding among men and between men and God. Hearts willing to be proactive. Hearts willing to stand at the end of the day and having done all; stand. 7. Ours is the challenge to stand strong through all the storms we face and come through the fire refined and purified to walk the way of the cross before a dying world. RESPONSE: Today I will accept the challenge to stand strong through all the storms I may face!
He Is - Fire
Fire symbolizes God’s presence and power. God spoke to Moses out of a burning bush and guided the Israelites with a pillar of fire. In this verse he promises to go before them like a devouring fire, judging the nations that defy him.
Fire can be either helpful or harmful. Contained, it provides light, warmth and fuel. Uncontained, it devours everything in its path. One way or another, God will be a fire in your life. If you defy him, he will burn with justice. If you serve him, he will illuminate the path before you.
It is possible! The persecuted church by example prove to us that it is indeed possible to lose everything...to suffer everything...to endure everything...yet maintain a joyful spirit and heart of love for the Lord.
So often our major shortcoming is simply to doubt that we could go through those experiences and come out of them as refined and triumphant as we have witnessed others in these devotionals. Jesus never promised that our life would be easy—just fulfilling. He never promised that things would be fair—only that He would be just.
Though we might think that life is too hard for these brothers and sisters about whom we’ve been reading, we have been given perhaps an even tougher spiritual assignment. Yet the principles in dealing with it remain the same.
Ruth Graham shared a convicting story about a Christian who had just arrived in a free country from years of persecution. He was appalled at the seeming casual commitment to Jesus and materialistic contamination of these Christians. And he said so. Sometime later he returned to visit the friend to whom he had spoken so bluntly when he first arrived:
He asked if his friend remembered what he had said, the bitterness of his criticism. The friend remembered. The man stood silent for a few moments, reflecting. The friend tensed for a second attack.
“I have come to apologize both for what I said and the way in which I said it,” he said simply. “I was merely afraid. I did not know how dangerous freedom could be. It has been a year now. And I am worse than those I criticized.”