1746) “No More God for Me”

    Long before there was a war in Vietnam, there were Christian missionaries proclaiming the Gospel to the Vietnamese.  The Christian population of Vietnam was never very large, and it has been severely persecuted since the end of the Vietnam war, but those who have persisted have grown strong in the faith.  Hien Pham was a Vietnamese Christian who worked as a translator for the missionaries in the 1960’s and 70’s during the war.  After Vietnam fell, Hien was captured by the Viet Cong and imprisoned.  He was accused of collaborating with the CIA, and while in prison he was to be re-educated.  He was taught about the evils of democracy and the many benefits of communism.  He was also told that he had been brainwashed by the Christians, and that there really was no God.  The authorities took away the Bible that he loved and forbade him to speak English, the language that he loved.

     “There is no such thing as God,” was the message that his captors drilled in, day after hellish day.

     For a long time, Hien held on to his faith, remembering the words of his Bible that he could no longer read, and, saying his prayers every day.  But finally, Hien began to wonder, “Maybe they are right.  Maybe there is no such thing as God.”  Soon his questions became convictions, and one night he decided not to say his prayers.  Instead, he made up his mind that he had been deluded all along by those missionaries, and he would no longer believe in God.  “I’m through with God,” he said to himself that night.  “When I wake up in the morning, it will be no more God for me and no more prayer.”

     The next morning, Hien, the newest atheist in the camp, stood in line as the commanding officer of the prison barked out the assignments for the day.  Hien’s job that day was to clean the latrines.  He cringed when he heard it.  This was the ultimate form of indignity for the prisoners.  The latrines were shabby and filthy and Hien would be spending the entire day amidst that filth.

     The soiled toilet paper was not flushed through the primitive plumbing, but was put into waste baskets.  One of Hien’s last jobs of the day was to empty these waste baskets.  All day long he had labored with reminders to reinforce his new belief that there is no God.  How indeed could a loving God leave him here and not rescue him from this living hell?  But as Hien’s work for the day was coming to an end, something in the last trash can happened to catch his eye.  It was a piece of paper with printed type.  As Hien looked closer, he saw it was in English.  Anxious to read this language once again, he looked around to make sure no one was watching.  He then quickly rinsed off the filth and tucked the paper into his pocket.

     That night after everyone had fallen asleep, Hien carefully took out his flashlight and removed the still damp paper from his pocket.  In the upper right hand corner he saw printed Romans 8.  Amazing!  This was a page from the Bible.  In a state of shock, Hien began reading.  The first verse he read was Romans 8:28:  “We know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  What a miracle to find a page of the Bible on that very day that he had decided to forget about God; and then to read first of all that verse that spoke right into Hien’s situation and into his heart.  Hien read on:  “What then shall we say in response to all this?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither the present or the future, nor any powers, or anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

     Hien began to cry.  Of all the Scripture verses he had known, these were the ones he most needed to hear in his present situation, and now they had come back to him in a most incredible way.  “Lord,” he prayed, “you would not let me out of your reach for even one day.”  Hien then gave up the atheism that he had just embraced, and went back to his faith and his daily prayers.

     The next morning, when Hien saw the commanding officer before the daily line up, he asked him, “Sir, would you mind if I cleaned the latrines again?”

     The officer stared at him, puzzled.  He decided Hien was trying to be a smart aleck, so he said, “All right, you are going to clean them every day until I tell you to stop.”

     Hien did not know it in the beginning, but it was that officer himself who had been tearing out pages from a confiscated Bible and using them for toilet paper.  Now, each day, Hien would find more pages, and each day, he would rinse them clean, hide them in his pocket, and read them at night.  In this way his faith was sustained and strengthened.  Life seemed hopeless to Hien as he cleaned those prison camp latrines, but there among the filth he found a word of hope.   

     After a while, Hien was released from prison.  In time, he escaped from Vietnam in a small boat.  He was one of the boat people that were so often in the news back in the 1970’s.  He made it to a refugee camp in Thailand, and then eventually was able to come to America.  He lives now in San Francisco, where he has a business.  Whenever possible, he looks for opportunities to tell people about how good God has been to him.      (Story told by Ravi Zacharias for whom Hien Pham worked as a translator in 1971.)

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Romans 8:18  —  I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Romans 8:28  —  We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:24-5  —  For in this hope we were saved.  But hope that is seen is no hope at all.  Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

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My God, I believe in you.  Increase my faith.

 My God, I hope in you.  Strengthen my hope.

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1745) Go Vikings!

Rams

Case Keenum and Nick Foles as teammates with the Los Angeles Rams, 2015-2016

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By pastor and author Randy Alcorn, posted January 19, 2018, athttp://www.epm.org/blog

     There are many Christ-followers in the NFL, more than most people are aware.  Through the ministry of Pro Athletes Outreach (PAO), in the past few years I’ve been able to speak to and meet hundreds of them, and develop personal relationships with several dozen, so we’ve had lots of interactions between PAO conferences.  

     Of the many fine young men I’ve gotten to know, quarterbacks Nick Foles and Case Keenum stand out as two of those most serious in their Christian faith, and most diligent in their personal Bible study.  These brothers are the real deal, and they are personal friends who played together on the same team, one where life wasn’t easy for either of them.  They are true competitors in the right sense, yet in the end they are brothers in Christ who love and respect each other.  Please pray for both of them as they are the starting quarterbacks for this Sunday’s NFC championship game.  The winner and his team will go to the Super Bowl… needless to say, the other won’t.  But regardless of the outcome of this big game, in the ways that matter in God’s sight, both Case and Nick are winners.

     I’ve heard a lot this season from people who say the NFL is full of arrogant, overpaid young men who are anti-American.  Why?  Because a tiny percentage of the players chose to kneel instead of stand for the national anthem before some of the games.  My point is not to address this issue and the racial concerns related to it, but simply to say there are many Christ-followers in the NFL, and they should be evaluated on the basis of their own integrity and behavior, not that of their teammates.  People are making sweeping judgments against professional football players that are, in my opinion, unfounded. 

     Honestly, I wish both Nick Foles and Case Keenum could go to the Super Bowl and win it!  But of course, that’s not how it works.  Barring injury, one or the other will be a starting quarterback in the Super Bowl.  And the other who isn’t, will be every bit as important to God and to his wife and family as if he had won.  Winning a Super Bowl is an understandable desire, but for the Christ-follower, hearing his Lord say “Well done” is far more important—just as it should be for the rest of us. 

     Certainly there are far more important things in the world, including many done by people whose names are unknown to the vast majority of us.  But both of these young men are Christ-followers who seek to honor Jesus through the platform He’s given them.  Please pray for them and celebrate the fact that five months ago no one was predicting the Eagles versus the Vikings for the NFC championship.  And even if they were, they weren’t expecting Nick Foles and Case Keenum to be the starting quarterbacks.

     I should add that QB Carson Wentz, who started 13 games for the Eagles before being injured, is also one of the finest and most Christ-centered young men I know in the NFL.  See his Audience of One FoundationThe same is true of Eagles special teams captain Chris Maragos, a great brother also out with an injury.  Chris never fails to encourage me whenever we connect.  (Read his great testimony here.)

     In case you missed it last Sundayhere’s that “Minnesota miracle,”Keenum’s pass to Stefon Diggs, who scored the winning touchdown with no time left on the clock.  It was truly one of the most amazing game endings in NFL history.

Here’s Case Keenum giving honor to Christ, in an interview after the game.

And here’s Nick Foles talking about Scripture and how he almost walked away from football, before God made clear He wanted Nick to keep playing.

Here’s Carson Wentz, just after his season-ending injury, talking to fans and saying he was trusting Jesus and His plan.

   Finally, check out this article about Trey Burton, Philadelphia Eagles Tight End, who has a heart to share the love of Christ with the city of Philadelphia.  Trey is another great brother I met through PAO and chatted with after leading a pre-game Bible study in December with fifteen Eagles players and coaches.

     You might like to check out more articles from Sports Spectrum, a national publication that has been featuring Christian athletes for 15 years.  I love their website!  In a time where people are increasingly skeptical of young athletes, I’d encourage you to better understand and appreciate the many who are genuine followers of Jesus.  Since your kids and grandkids, especially your boys, are likely to admire and listen to famous athletes, why not introduce them to those who know Jesus, giving them good role models instead of bad ones?

      In a world where athletes have such influence on young people, let’s celebrate and pray for those who follow Christ and seek to be God-honoring role models. No matter who wins and who loses in Sunday’s NFC championship game, I’m confident Nick Foles and Case Keenum will be among those players and coaches who honor Jesus.

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I Corinthians 10:31  —  So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do [including playing and watching football and other sports], do it all for the glory of God.

Matthew 5:16  —  Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Matthew 25:21a  —  (Jesus said), “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

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O God, grant unto me such a knowledge of your will and trust in your grace that I may truly exemplify in my life the faith that I profess, so that others may see the light of Christ shining in what I say and do; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord.  Amen.

–adapted from Service Book and Hymnal, Augsburg Publishing House, 1958, pafe 227.

1744) Faithful in Small Things

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By Rick Warren, January 18, 2018, at http://www.pastorrick.org

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     A common saying today is that “what you do in your private life is nobody else’s business.”  Well, it actually is.  What you do in your private life — what you do behind closed doors or out of view of other people — builds and reveals your true character.  And God sees it just as clearly as the things you do in public. 

     In fact, the small, unseen things you do are the seeds to God’s public blessing on your life.  You cannot compartmentalize your life and say, “I have integrity in my public life, just not in my private life.”  I bet you could make a list right now of public figures that have tried to live this way only to have their private indiscretions turn into public scandal and personal downfall.  No matter what they say, any leader who is not faithful in small matters will not be faithful in large matters. 

     Jesus says, “If you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?” (Luke 16:12). 

     For centuries, everybody who learned a skill, trade, or vocation learned it through an apprenticeship.  If you were going to be a mechanic, you apprenticed to another mechanic and served in his business before you started your own. 

     This principle of apprenticeship applies to every area of your life.  It applies to how you handle other people’s money, how you handle other people’s possessions, and even how you handle other people’s ministry before God gives you your own.

     Before God gave me my own ministry, I served as a youth pastor under another man’s ministry.  God was watching how I handled it; he was testing my integrity.  I needed to prove my faithfulness in that ministry before God would allow me to lead the ministry of Saddleback Church.

     If someone loans you a car, how well do you take care of it?  If a family lets you stay in their house for vacation, do you treat it as well as you treat your own home? 

     God is watching and testing your integrity.  And he will reward you accordingly.

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“Not the maker of plans and promises, but rather the one who offers faithful service in small matters– this is the person who is most likely to achieve what is good and lasting.”

–Johann Wolfgang Goethe

“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”

–Albert Einstein

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Luke 16:10-12  —  (Jesus said), “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.  So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?  And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?”

Isaiah 30:15b  —  In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength.

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Dear God, You constantly pour out Your blessings on us:  help us to be a blessing to others.  You gave us our hands:  help us to use them to work for You.  You gave us our feet:  help us to use them to walk in Your ways.  You gave us our voices:  help us to use them to speak gentleness and truth.  Help us to please You, Lord.  Amen.  –author unknown

1743) Church Growth in Iran

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Protesters in Tehran, Iran, 2017

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By Eric Metaxas and Anne Morse at http://www.breakpoint.org, January 5, 2017

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     The protests currently shaking Iran have enormous implications for U. S. foreign policy—and for the Church.  Iranian citizens are rising up against their oppressive Shiite government.  They shout, “Death to the Dictator!” while enduring tear gas, water cannons, arrest—and death.

     The demonstrations initially had to do with the sagging economy, high unemployment, and the increased cost of basic foods.  As one protester quoted in the Washington Post said, “When we don’t have bread to eat, we are not afraid of anything.”

     But these protests may have evolved into “an open rebellion against Iran’s Islamic leadership itself.”

     The outcome of these protests of course will have enormous implications for the Middle East and for U. S. foreign policy.  The Iranian government is a staunch ally of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, supports Hezbollah, the Shiite terrorist group and arch-enemy of Israel, and is fomenting unrest (and that’s putting it mildly) throughout the Middle East.  And no doubt you’ve heard about the Iranian government’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

     But there’s another reason Americans—and especially American Christian—should be following events there: the growth of Christianity in Iran.

     In the online journal “The Stream,” my friend Michael Brown writes that Iranian converts, Christian leaders, and missiologists all tell him the same thing: “Iranian Muslims are converting to Christianity at an unprecedented pace.”  Indeed, according to the Iranian Christian News Agency, Islamic clerics are alarmed at the growing number of Iranian youth who are abandoning Islam, converting to Christianity, and joining house churches.  That despite the enormous risks of conversion in a country that openly suppresses the Christian faith.

     The news comes as no surprise to Reza Safa, a Muslim convert to Christianity and the author of “The Coming Fall of Islam in Iran.”  Safa, who now lives in the U.S., notes on his website that “Despite severe persecution by the Iranian government against underground churches, God’s Word is spreading like a wildfire all over Iran.”

     That’s exciting news.  And the protests against the regime raging across Iran may be a sign of hope for Christians, according to Iranian journalist and Christian convert Sohrab Amari. Amari told the Catholic News Agency that “the Iranians who are pouring into the streets have had it with an ideological regime that represses them.”  Many are even chanting “nostalgic slogans” about pre-revolutionary Iran—a time when religious minorities like Christians, Jews, and Bahai’s could live well enough alongside their Islamic neighbors.

     The outcome of the protests remains to be seen.  Will they lead to more freedoms, or to even worse repressions?

     And as the number of conversions continues to rise, will the government target churches even more fiercely, or will those who have tasted the freedom to become children of God through Jesus Christ act as leaven in Iranian society, inspiring more people to seek freedom from their authoritarian overlords?

     We don’t have to look far back in history to see epoch-shaking movements of God’s people.  As Chuck Colson documented masterfully in his book Being the Body, the fall of communism in Poland, in Romania, and throughout eastern Europe was fueled by Christian faith—and the human desire for freedom kindled by that faith.

     At one time, those of us old enough to remember the Cold War couldn’t have imagined the demise of European communism.  But it happened.  The fall of an authoritarian Islamist regime should not be beyond our hopes and prayers.

     So please, join me in prayer for our brethren in Iran—for safety, for wisdom, and for the conversion of many more to freedom in Jesus Christ.

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SEE ALSO:

What No One Is Telling You About Iran
Michael Brown | Townhall.com | January 2, 2018
  
Christianity is Rapidly Growing in Iran 
CBN News | August 15, 2017
 

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I Peter 2:9-10  —  You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

John 8:31b-32  —  Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Psalm 22:27-28  —  All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations.

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Merciful Father, your kindness caused the light of the Gospel to shine among us.  Extend your mercy now, we pray, to all the people of the world who do not have hope in Jesus Christ, that your salvation may be made known to them also and that all hearts would turn to you; through Jesus Christ, your Son our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, Augsburg Publishing House, 1978, page 45

1742) “I’ve Seen the Promised Land”

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By John Piper, at http://www.desiringgod.org, January 21, 2013

     The racial world I grew up in and the one we live in today are amazingly different.  Racism remains in many forms in America and around the world.  But in the days of my youth the segregation was almost absolute and the defense of it was overt and ugly, without shame.

  • In 1954, seventeen states required segregated public schools;
  • In 1956, 85% of all white southerners rejected the statement, “White students and Negro students should go to the same schools”;
  • 73% said that there should be “separate sections for Negros on streetcars and buses”;
  • 62% did not want a Negro “with the same income and education” as them to move into their neighborhood;
  • In 1963, 82% of all white southerners opposed a federal law that would give “all persons, Negros as well as white, the right to be served in public places such as hotels, restaurants, and similar establishments”;
  • And in 1952 (when I was six years old), only 20% of southern blacks of voting age were registered to vote.

     The upshot of those statistics was an unjust, unsafe, condescending, unwelcoming, demeaning, and humiliating world for blacks.  Have you ever paused to ask yourself what separate water fountains and separate restrooms could possibly mean except: You are unclean — like lepers.  It was an appalling world.

     Between that racially appalling world and this racially imperfect one strode Martin Luther King.  We don’t know if the world would have changed without him, but we do know he was a rod in the hand of God.  Leave aside his theology and his moral flaws.  He was used in the mighty hand of Providence to change the world so that the most appalling, blatant, degrading, public expressions of racism have gone away.

     For that, this MLK day is worthy of our thankful reckoning.

     Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his life to change the world.  And toward the end he was increasingly aware that “the Movement” would cost him his life.  The night before he was assassinated by James Earl Ray outside room 306 of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968, he preached at the Bishop Charles Mason Temple.  He had come to Memphis to support the black sanitation workers.

     His message came to be called “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”  He began it by surveying world history in response to God’s question: “When would you have liked to be alive?”  King answered, “If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy.”  Why?  Because “I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men in some strange way are responding.  Something is happening in our world.”

     What was happening?  “We are determined to be men.  We are determined to be people.”  We are standing up.  “A man can’t ride your back unless it is bent.”  For a brief window of time — just long enough — MLK was able to use his voice to restrain violence and overcome hate: “We are masters in our nonviolent movement in disarming police forces.  They don’t know what to do.”  He kindled a kind of fire that no dogs could quench and no fire hoses could put out.

     It was “a dangerous kind of unselfishness.”  Like the Good Samaritan.  “The Levite asked, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’  But the Good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’  That’s the question before you tonight.”

     A dangerous unselfishness.

     So dangerous it would cost MLK his life.  And he saw it coming.  That morning there was a bomb threat on his plane from Atlanta to Memphis.  He felt it coming.  So he closed his sermon prophetically:

We’ve got some difficult days ahead.  But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.  And I don’t mind.  Like anybody, I would like to live a long life — longevity has its place.  But I’m not concerned about that now.  I just want to do God’s will.  And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain.  And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land.  I may not get there with you.  But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.  And so I’m happy tonight; I’m not worried about anything; I’m not fearing any man.  Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

     Ten hours later he was dead.  The world was changed forever.  And I am thankful.

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Deuteronomy 32:48-50a…52a  —  On that same day the Lord told Moses, “Go up into the Abarim Range to Mount Nebo in Moab, across from Jericho, and view Canaan, the land I am giving the Israelites as their own possession (the Promised Land).  There on the mountain that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people…  Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance.

Deuteronomy 16:20  —  Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you.

Isaiah 1:17a  —  Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.

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Eternal God, we humbly confess that we have not loved thee with our hearts, souls and minds, and we have not loved our neighbors as Christ loved us.  We have all too often lived by our own selfish impulses rather than by the life of sacrificial love as revealed by Christ.  We often give in order to receive.  We love our friends and hate our enemies.  We go the first mile but dare not travel the second.  We forgive but dare not forget.  And so as we look within ourselves, we are confronted with the appalling fact that the history of our lives is the history of an eternal revolt against you.  But thou, O God, have mercy upon us.  Forgive us for what we could have been but failed to be.  Give us the intelligence to know your will.  Give us the courage to do your will.  Give us the devotion to love your will.  In the name and spirit of Jesus, we pray.  Amen.

–Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

1741) Staring at a Woman on the Beach

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By Washington D.C. attorney and writer Joshua Rogers ( http://www.joshuarogers.com ), posted at http://www.foxnews.com, January 13, 2017.

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     It was the crack of dawn and I couldn’t stop looking over at the woman a few feet away from me on the beach.  I had come to watch the sunrise and she was getting on my nerves.

     The woman, who was probably in her 60s, was hunched over, incessantly tapping and swiping on the screen of her cellphone, instead of beholding the breathtaking sunrise before us.  It seemed pathetic, really – awesome beauty was right in front of her and she didn’t even notice.  I wasn’t surprised though.

     I noticed her on the beach the day before when she and her husband were sitting next to my family.  She just sat there baking in the sun with her cellphone in hand and her neck craned forward, never looking up.  And even when she got up to walk around in the water, she still kept the cell phone in her hand, swiping and tapping away.

     Now she was in front of the finest that creation could offer and she was still looking down.  That’s a sad way to live, I thought.

     Then the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart: “It sure is, and you should know.  You’re just as distracted from looking at the sunrise as she is, except you’re worse off.  She’s only distracted by her phone – you’re distracted by your self-righteous desire to look over and judge her.”

     Ouch.

     I looked away from the lady, letting her be; and when I did, I discovered something: I was relieved.  I could relax and fully enjoy the masterpiece that was unfolding before me, and I didn’t have to worry about her.

     Scripture says: “In passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things” (Romans 2:1).  As Oswald Chambers writes in My Utmost for His Highest:

If I see the little speck in your eye, it means that I have a plank of timber in my own.  Every wrong thing that I see in you, God finds in me….  Stop having a measuring stick for other people.  There is always at least one more fact, which we know nothing about, in every person’s situation.

     For all I know, the grandchild of that woman was in the intensive care unit and she was repeatedly checking her phone for an update.  Maybe she was getting emails about a big financial decision.  Or maybe she was just playing a game on her phone – why did I care?

     God didn’t appoint me to evaluate that woman’s cellphone usage or look down on anyone else for that matter.  He called me to love others.  And while that may occasionally require me to point out a serious and legitimate wrong, I’m called to do it with loving humility (Galatians 6:1).

     We need to give the world a break, stop looking for people’s imperfections and let God take care of the evaluating.  In doing so, we’ll be able to dislodge the plank of timber from our eye and be in a better position to see the many beautiful things God has placed right in front of us.

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Matthew 7:1-5  —  (Jesus said), “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

John 7:24  —  (Jesus said), “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”

Romans 14:10  —  You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister?  Or why do you treat them with contempt?  For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.

Romans 12:1  —  You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

Galatians 6:1  —  If someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.  But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.

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Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

–Psalm 51:10

1740) Mistaken Identity

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     The mayor of the little village could not believe his eyes.  He had to read the message for the second time.  The message had just been delivered to him on horseback by the royal messenger of the King himself.  The message read: “I, King Edward, am on a tour of the northern provinces, and I would like to stay in your village tomorrow night.  If this is agreeable to you, please have prepared a warm supper and a place of lodging.”

     “Well,” said the finely dressed horseman, “May the King stay in your village tomorrow evening?  He awaits your reply.”

     “Why, of course,” said the mayor, “who would turn down the King of the land?  I hesitated only because I was so shocked.  The King has never visited this village, but yes, yes, we would be honored to have him stay here.  He is greatly loved in these parts, so yes, by all means, tell him we will look forward to his arrival.”  With that, the royal messenger thanked him, turned, and rode off swiftly.

     The mayor was so excited and so nervous that he did not know where to begin.  What an honor, but only a day to prepare!  Why, a month would hardly be enough time!  He called together his entire staff and all of his servants, issued all sorts of instructions and orders, and soon, everyone in town was hard at work, decorating the banquet hall, preparing the finest food, and cleaning the streets.  All the most important people would be invited, and there must be enough food for everyone.  All that night and all the next day, everyone raced around, preparing for the arrival of King Edward.  By late afternoon they were ready, and the mayor, his wife, and all their important friends stood by the road, waiting to receive the King and his great company of aides and soldiers.  The town had never looked better.

     Just then, a solitary figure came walking down the road.  He was poorly dressed, had only a ragged sack on his back, and his clothes were covered with dust from the journey.  Well, the mayor was not very happy to see this.  He had already ordered that all beggars be kept of the street that day, and now with the King arriving at any moment, this shabby man had to be dealt with.  The mayor called quickly to one of his servants.  “William,” he said, “take that traveler down the road to old Jacob’s hut.  Tell Jacob that I would like him to give this man lodging for the night.  Jacob is a good man and will not refuse you.  Hurry up!  We must get this man out of here.”

     With the beggar out of sight, the welcoming party resumed their wait.  They waited and waited.  Minutes passed, then hours, and then it was well past midnight, and still, no King.  “Well,” said the mayor, “maybe the King got delayed, and maybe he just decided not to come.  Kings can do whatever they want, you know.  Maybe he will be here tomorrow.”  So they all went home, very sad and disappointed.

     Meanwhile, William, the servant had taken the shabby beggar down a long winding path, into the forest, and to the little hut of old Jacob, the woodcutter.  When they arrived, William explained the situation to Jacob, who graciously accepted the command.

     “There is not much here,” said Jacob, pointing to his supper laid out on the rough wooden table.  “Just some bread, some soup, and a warm fire.  But you are welcome to it,” he said, “and you being a traveler, I’d like to hear tales of the places you have been.”

     So old Jacob and the beggar passed the evening in jolly companionship.  The stranger told stories of beautiful lakes and mountains that he had seen, of faraway cities that he had visited, and of strange people and customs that he had encountered.  The old wood-cutter had never heard of such things, and his eyes were wide with wonder as they talked long into the night.  It was a never to be forgotten evening for Jacob.

     When morning came and the visitor was about to leave, he handed Jacob an envelope and asked him to give it to the mayor.  Thanking Jacob for his hospitality, the shabby man disappeared down the road.

     Late in the morning, the stranger’s message reached the mayor.  What he read left him shaken.  It was on the same royally decorated paper as the previous message, and it said:  “I wish to express my sincere gratitude for the fine provision of food and lodging, and the generous hospitality of such a fine host.  You could not have chosen for me a better companion than Jacob.  Perhaps on a later visit I can meet with you.”  It was signed, KING EDWARD.

     This is a story of recognition— or, one should say, of the failure to recognize.  The King came to visit, but his appearance was not what the people were expecting, so he was not recognized.  The mayor hurried to get him out of the way, and sadly, they never got to meet the King at all.  That wonderful, once in a lifetime opportunity was missed.

     The New Testament also tells the story of the visit of a king to his people, the King of all heaven and earth.  This King also came for a visit, but he also did not look like what people were expecting.  And he too was shuffled to the side, and then even killed, by those who wanted to get him out of the way.  They also failed to recognize the one for whom they were waiting, and they missed the most important of all opportunities.

     In the first chapter of John are some of the saddest words in the whole Bible.  The Gospel of John begins with these words:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God, and through him all things were made.  In him was life, the lift that was the light of all people…  And then that Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  The Word is Jesus, the Son of God, Savior of the world.  Verses ten and eleven, those saddest of all verses, speak of him, and of how he was not recognized:  “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own received him not.

     Can there be any more disturbing words in all the Gospel writings?  He came to his own, but his own received him not, and not only did they not receive him, they killed him.  They were looking for, hoping for, waiting for the promised Messiah from God, but then, when he was right there in their midst, they did not recognize him.  He was too ordinary, he was not spectacular enough, he did not fit in with their expectations or their agenda— and they did not recognize him, just like the mayor did not recognize King Edward, who to his eyes looked too ordinary.

     But this first chapter of John is not all bad news.  The very next verses tell of a very different reaction.  Not everyone would fail to recognize Jesus.  Right after it says, “he came to his own and his own received him not,” it goes on to say, “But to all who did receive him, and who believed on his name, he gave the power to become the children of God.

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John 1:9-12  —  The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.   He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.

2 Corinthians 2:19a  —  God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.

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Day by day,
Dear Lord, of thee three things I pray:
To see thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
Follow thee more nearly,
Day by Day.

–From the 1971 musical Godspell,

Based on a prayer by Richard of Chichester  (1197-1253)

1739) Tua Tagovailoa

By John Stonestreet and Roberto Rivera, at http://www.breakpoint.org, January 11, 2018.

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Alabama’s stunning come-from-behind NCAA championship victory over Georgia was fueled by freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.  In a remarkably humble interview after the game, especially given what he’d just accomplished on national television, he said: “I would like to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  With him all things are possible.”

Two years ago, on BreakPoint, I talked about Tagovailoa’s faith— back when he was still in high school.  Here’s a part of that broadcast from 2015:

     Sports Illustrated recently told the story of Tua Tagovailoa, who is considered to be the best high school football player in Hawaii. The junior quarterback at Honolulu’s Saint Louis High School is drawing comparisons to the school’s most famous alum, Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.

     On the surface the comparison is understandable.  Besides playing for the same high school, both quarterbacks share a similar style that makes them a threat on the ground and in the air.  And like so many great players in Hawaii, they share a Samoan heritage.

     And it’s this last bit that’s the most intriguing and inspiring part of the story, at least for Christians.

     At the heart of the Sports Illustrated story about Tua is his relationship with his late grandfather.  It’s a story about a Christian from one generation passing a spiritual legacy to the next generation.  The article is filled with Bible verses.  It tells readers that the entire Tagovailoa clan gathers “every evening for prayer and teaching,” and to sing a Samoan hymn that “asks God to be present in everything they do.”

     This is something that Tua has in common with his hero, Marcus Mariota.  Mariota, as we’ve said before on BreakPoint, is also a Christian whose goal is “to go out and show the world that Christ lives.”

     Football fans have long noted the disproportionate number of Samoan players in the NFL and in big-time college football.  By one estimate, “a Samoan male is 56 times more likely to play in the NFL than an American non-Samoan.”  Football greats like the late Junior Seau and Troy Polamalu are only two members of this illustrious line.

     Less known, and even more important, is the role that Christianity has played in the lives of so many of these players and in Samoan society as a whole.  Stories like that of Tagovailoa, Mariota, Polamalu, and former Raiders quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo are a testimony to the extraordinary success that 19th and 20th century missionaries had in converting the Samoan people to Christianity.

     When the first missionaries from the London Missionary Society arrived in 1830, they found that there were already some Christians on Samoa.  In keeping with Polynesian culture, it arrived via longboat, probably from places like Tonga and Tahiti, where Wesleyan missionaries had already been at work.

     Western missionaries then built on the Samoans’ attraction to Christianity.  By 1855 the entire Bible had been translated into Samoan.  And before long, native Samoan religion had been replaced by Christianity.

     Today, virtually every Samoan self-identifies as a Christian of some sort.  More than 60 percent describe themselves as “very religious.”  Prominent Samoans frequently refer to Samoa as a “Christian nation.”  The preamble to Samoa’s constitution describes Samoa as “an independent State based on Christian principles and Samoan custom and traditions.”

     What’s more, 91 percent of all Samoans agree with the statement that Samoa is “one of the most religious nations on Earth.”  Thus, Christianity’s influence on Samoan life and culture is hard to dispute.  This legacy and heritage are on display in stories like that of Tagovailoa’s.  The missionaries who brought Christianity to the Polynesian world wound up transforming an entire society.

     Now, I’ve got no idea whether Tua Tagovailoa is the next Marcus Mariota on the field.  But what matters is that he seems to be following an even more important Samoan tradition off of it.  And that is worth celebrating.

SEE ALSO:

The Island’s Next Great QB: Tua Tagovaiola and the Man Who Inspired Him to Soar
Lindsay Schnell | Sports Illustrated | October 8, 2015
 
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I Corinthians 2:9  —  As it is written: What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived, are the things God has prepared for those who love him.  (Tua’s favorite verse)
Psalm 71:18  —  Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.  (illustrated by the influence of Tua’s grandfather)
Matthew 5:16  —  (Jesus said), “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
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Almighty God, we pray that,
encouraged by the example of your saints,
we may run with patience the race that is set before us,
looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith;
so that at the last we may join those whom we love
in your presence where there is fullness of joy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.   Amen.

–Book of Common Prayer

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1738) Keeping Faith Simple

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Ron Boyd-MacMillan shares the following insight from his teaching, “Why I Need to Encounter the Persecuted Church” (www.opendoorsusa.org)

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     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.” 

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I Corinthians 2:1b-2  —  When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

John 3:16  —  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.

I John 5:13  —  I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

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Jesus loves me, this I know,

For the Bible tells me so.

1737) Sleeping Through a Storm

Matthew 8:23-27  —  Jesus got into the boat and his disciples followed him.  Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat.  But Jesus was sleeping.  The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”  He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”  Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.  The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this?  Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

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From Standing Strong Through the Storm daily devotion (January 7, 2018), from Open Doors ministry, at: http://www.opendoorsusa.org

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     Can you sleep while the wind blows?  During a recent hurricane storm, the following story circulated on the Internet.

     A farmer on the Atlantic seacoast constantly advertised for hired hands.  Most people were reluctant to work on farms along the Atlantic because of the awful storms that wreaked havoc on the buildings and crops.  One applicant for the job was a short, thin man, well past middle age.

     “Are you a good farm hand?” the farmer asked him.

     “Well, I can sleep when the wind blows,” answered the little man.

     Although puzzled by this answer, the farmer, desperate for help, hired him.  The little man worked well and kept busy from dawn to dusk.  The farmer felt satisfied with the man’s work.

     Then one night the wind howled loudly from offshore.  Jumping out of bed, the farmer grabbed a lantern and rushed to the hired hand’s sleeping quarters.  He shook the little man and yelled, “Get up!  A storm is coming!  Tie things down before they blow away!”

     The little man rolled over in bed and said firmly, “No sir.  I told you, I can sleep when the wind blows.”

     Enraged by the response, the farmer was tempted to fire him on the spot.  He hurried outside to prepare for the storm.  To his amazement, he discovered that all of the haystacks had been covered with tarpaulins.  The cows were in the barn, the chickens were in the coops, and the doors were barred.  The shutters were tightly secured.  Everything was tied down.  Nothing could blow away.  The farmer then understood what his hired hand meant, so he returned to his bed to also sleep while the wind blew.

     When you’re prepared for storms, spiritually, mentally, and practically, you have nothing to fear.  Can you sleep when the wind blows through your life?  The hired hand in the story was able to sleep because he had secured the farm against the storm.

     We secure ourselves against the storms of life by soaking ourselves in the Word of God, being obedient to it, and then placing our faith and trust in God’s goodness.  We don’t need to understand.  We just need to hold His hand to have peace in the midst of our storms.

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Proverbs 10:25  —  When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm forever.

Isaiah 25:4a  —  You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm.

Philippians 4:6-7  —  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

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Precious Lord, take my hand,
Lead me on, let me stand,
I’m tired, I’m weak, I’m worn.
Through the storm, through the night,
Lead me on to the light.
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.

–Thomas Dorsey, 1932