1309) A Little Experiment

From I Am ‘N’ published by ‘Voice of the Martyrs’ organization, pages 233-235 copyright 2016.  Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand were the founders of ‘Voice of the Martyrs.’ ( http://www.persecution.org )

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Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand

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     Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand were married in 1936.  Both were Germans of Jewish descent.  Richard, intellectually gifted and fluent in nine languages, worked as a stockbroker and participated in leftist politics.

     Two years after getting married, Richard and Sabina both became Christians. They joined the Anglican Mission to the Jews in Bucharest.  Richard was ordained, first as an Anglican and after World War II as a Lutheran minister.

     During the war, they preached in bomb shelters and rescued children from ghettos.  They were repeatedly arrested and beaten and, at least once, nearly executed.  Sabina lost her Jewish family in Nazi concentration camps.

     After the war, the couple stood for Christ even though it meant certain persecution by the Communist Party.  Richard distributed Bibles to Russian troops, and in 1948, the secret police arrested and imprisoned him.  He would not be completely free until 1965.  Meanwhile, Sabina was imprisoned for two years and forced to work as a laborer on the Danube Canal.

     Ultimately, Richard and Sabina became known as “the voice of the underground church.”  In 1967, they began The Voice of the Martyrs ministry.  But for all they accomplished on a global scale, their greatest legacy may be their penchant to forgive.  In his book In God’s Underground, Richard wrote about an incident in Romania involving a man named Borila, who was responsible for killing Sabina’s family in a Jewish death camp in the early 1940s.  Richard and Borila were introduced by their landlord.  As they talked, Borila boasted about the huge number of Jews he had killed during the war.

     “It is a frightening story,” Richard replied, “but I do not fear for the Jews— God will compensate them for what they have suffered.  I ask myself with anguish what will happen to the murderers when they stand before God’s judgment.” .

     Borila reacted as if he were going to pounce on Richard, but the landlord diffused the situation.  Knowing the man loved music, Richard offered to play the piano for him.  “I remembered how, when King Saul was afflicted by an evil spirit,” he wrote later, “the boy David had played the harp for him.”

     After a few songs, Richard turned to Borila.  He nodded toward the bedroom where Sabina slept and said, “Her parents, her sisters, her twelve-year-old brother, and the rest of her family were killed.  You told me that you had killed hundreds near Golta, and that is where they were taken.”

     This time Borila looked as if he would strangle Richard, who then said, “Now let’s try a little experiment.  I shall wake my wife and tell her who you are, and what you have done.  I can tell you what will happen.  My wife will not speak one word of reproach.  She’ll embrace you as if you were her brother.  She’ll bring you supper.  Now, if Sabina, who is a sinner like us all, can forgive and love like this, imagine how Jesus, who is perfect Love, can forgive and love you.  Only turn to Him, and everything you have done will be forgiven!”

     Borila sobbed.  For years, he had been consumed by guilt, unable to sleep, his shame covered by his boasting.  “I’m a murderer,” he managed to say.  “I’m soaked in blood.  What shall I do?”

     Richard cried out, “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I command the devil of hatred out of your soul.”

     Both men fell to their knees, then stood up and hugged.

     It was time for the experiment.  Richard gently awakened Sabina.  “There is a man here whom you must meet,” he said.  “We believe he has murdered your family, but he has repented, and now he is your brother,”

     Sabina came out, put her arms around Borila, and embraced him.  Both wept.  Then, as Richard had foretold, she went into the kitchen to make him supper.

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Hebrews 9:27-28  —  Just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Luke 4:35  —  “Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly.  “Come out of him!”  Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.

Matthew 6:14-16  —  (Jesus said), “If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

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Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

–Jesus, Matthew 6:12

1308) Muslims Finding Jesus in Athens

 

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New Glory in the Ancient City: Muslim Refugees Turning to Jesus, by David Crabb; posted October 25, 2016 at:  http://www.desiringgod.org .

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     ATHENS, Greece — The spirit of Athens today lies at the crossroads between old and new.  Everywhere you look are reminders of the epic grandeur this city once enjoyed.  Even if you were to overlook the many monuments and ruins scattered throughout the city, the Acropolis looms large on the horizon, serving as a constant reminder that the world once revolved around this city.

     The modern Athens, however, bears little resemblance to its ancient self.  While teeming with life and energy, it sags under the burden of economic stagnation and wrestles with its current and most pressing crisis: what to do with the massive influx of refugees from the Middle East that are daily streaming into the city.

     Greece is unofficially a “Christian” country.  Some estimate that nearly 97% of the population identifies with the Orthodox church.  And yet for most Greeks, this is merely a cultural identification, not a religious one.  The church is linked closely with the state, and most Greeks ignore the church at best, or resent it at worst.  The tired cathedrals throughout the city serve as an appropriate metaphor for the “Christianity” of the city — ubiquitous, but lifeless.

     And yet the kingdom of God is growing in Athens.

     The Spirit of God is on the move and proving once again that he uses the foolishness of the world to confound the wise.  God has used this city’s greatest burden — the refugee crisis — to display his glory in magnificent ways.  Every day Muslim refugees in Athens are finding Jesus to be their true Treasure.

     Javad is an Iranian former Muslim pastoring in Athens.  He first heard the gospel via satellite radio while living in Iran.  He didn’t have a Bible, and he didn’t know any Christians.  But when he came to Greece, a roommate asked him to come to an Iranian church with him.  He didn’t even realize it was possible for “Iranian” and “church” to be put together!  Because it was an entirely new concept, he accepted the invitation out of curiosity.  There, in a small, nondescript room of a rented street corner, he heard the message of life and gladly surrendered to Christ.

     Javad is a remarkable evangelist.  Every day he goes to the park, refugee camps, or coffee shops to share the gospel with Iranian and Afghan refugees.  He told me that he knows of at least two-to-three Muslims who have trusted Christ nearly every day since he arrived in 2008.  He works in a refugee center that provides food, clothing, and practical help to newly arrived refugees.

     Through the ministry of this center alone, over two thousand Muslims (overwhelmingly Iranian and Afghan) have trusted Christ in the last eight years.  In Javad’s church, approximately four hundred people have trusted Christ in the last few years, and nearly two thousand Farsi Bibles have been distributed to Iranian seekers.

     Many of these new converts are only passing through the city of Athens on the way to other European cities, so an informal network of church plants has grown up.  Former-Muslim converts have planted Farsi- and Urdu-speaking churches in Germany, France, the U.K., Sweden, the Netherlands, and more.  A new wind from the Global South is changing the face of gospel-preaching Christianity in Europe.

     And yet following Jesus is a costly decision for Muslims.

     Javad told me, “When I came to faith, I knew I could never go back to my family or to Iran, but it’s worth it because I have Jesus.”  This is a great problem for many Muslims.  To come to Christ means to give up everything they know: their country, their family, their friends, and their way of life.  And yet, as one former Muslim here in Athens told me, “When you have the Treasure, you will gladly leave family, friends, and country.”

     These brothers and sisters know the truth of Jesus’s words, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).

     After conversion to Christianity, many former Muslims experience persecution from their family and friends.  They are ostracized, harassed, sometimes even attacked.  These brothers and sisters know the truth of Jesus’s words, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).

     Like the apostle Paul, many of these converts once persecuted Christians themselves.  Javad was preaching in a park one afternoon and proclaimed, “Jesus is the Son of God.”  A Muslim woman who was entirely veiled except for her eyes, cursed him loudly and intensely.  A few weeks later, he was preaching again at church, and after the service a woman — with no veil — came up to him and said, “I heard you preach in the park a few weeks ago and cursed you, but now I have eyes to see that Jesus is the Son of God.”  This woman is now part of a church plant in Germany and regularly shares her faith with Muslim refugees…

     In Athens, a new glory is on display that exceeds even the grandeur of the ancient city.  “The gospel . . . is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16) because “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  The name of Jesus is spreading through Athens, and thousands of Muslims are finding him to be their greatest Treasure.

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This is a side of the Muslim refugee story you probably have not heard in the mainstream media.  We’ve seen the video clips of Muslim refugees — many of them from war-torn Syria — flooding into an unprepared and overwhelmed Europe.  We’ve heard accounts of some of these refugees committing ugly crimes and others demanding that the post-Christian societies that welcome them conform to the harsh demands of Islamic law.  We’ve even read the stories about Islamist terror groups such as ISIS infiltrating the refugee populations in order to wreak further havoc on the West.

But you may not know the rest of the story.  It’s a story of God building His kingdom in the midst of chaos, doubt, and uncertainty.  So while the wars and upheavals in the Middle East and Asia have sparked a crisis of biblical proportions, God continues His quiet work of saving sinners and transforming lives.   As Joseph in the Old Testament said, what man meant for evil, God meant for good, for the saving of many people.  –Eric Metaxas

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Matthew 16:18  —  (Jesus said), “I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Genesis 50:20  —  (Joseph said), “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good; to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

Acts 4:12  —  (Peter said), “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

1307) Answers to Prayer

By Joshua Rogers, November 6, 2016 blog at:  http://www.joshuarogers.com

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     When I was little, our family hit hard times and we didn’t even have money for groceries.  I was just five years old, so I wasn’t sure what was going on — all I knew was that the cabinets were empty.

     On the day we ran out of food, a couple from Main Street Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, drove up to the house in a big car.  We didn’t know them, and we didn’t go to Main Street Baptist (in fact, we weren’t even Baptists).

     They popped the trunk and began unloading bag after bag of groceries.  I’m pretty sure it was summertime, but it felt like Christmas, especially when I realized they had gotten us Fruit Loops.  I sat down on the couch and began looking over the box like it was a toy.  Then after they finished delivering all of the groceries, they left, and we ate.

     I don’t know how they found out we were in need, and it doesn’t really matter to me.  We needed some food, and I’m just thankful someone listened when the Lord nudged them to come through for us.

     When you think about it, we all have the opportunity to be the answer to someone else’s prayer today.  Maybe they don’t need groceries, but they need some encouragement, a friend, an invitation, someone to listen.  Maybe they don’t even know what they need — they’re just hurting and need someone like you or me to be present in their lives.  Maybe we will be the evidence that Jesus sees them in their hurt and that He deeply cares for them.

     So many of us pray that God will use us in a big way.  What if He wants to use us in a small way that will be big in someone’s life?  Is that enough?  If it is, then today is full of opportunities to love Jesus with an unexpected knock on the door, an open trunk, a box of Fruit Loops.

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“The only time you should look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough.  You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have as much as them.”

–Louie C. K.

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The Israelites prayed to God:

Exodus 2:23b-25  —  The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.  God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.  So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.

God heard their prayer, and called on Moses to be the answer to their prayers:

Exodus 3:7-8b…10  —  The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt.  I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.  So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey…  So now, go.  I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

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PRAYER OF ST. FRANCIS:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.  Amen.

1306) Your Inner Pinocchio

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“THE MORE WE LIE THE EASIER IT BECOMES”

By Julie Borg, posted 11-1-16 at http://www.wng.org

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     Every time Pinocchio lied, his nose grew longer.  Of course, a real boy’s nose does not change when he lies, but his brain might, according to a new research study published in Nature Neuroscience.  

     Researchers at the University College London (UCL) have discovered the brain actually changes the way it responds when someone continues to lie.  For the vast majority of people, the brain area known as the amygdala begins a rapid-fire response when a person is dishonest, producing uncomfortable emotions and unpleasant physical reactions.  Our heart beats faster, blood pressure escalates, and we begin to perspire.  A polygraph machine is designed to detect these physiological changes and alert an investigator that a person may be lying.  It is these unpleasant sensations that discourage someone from continuing to lie.

     But the UCL researchers found when people lie repeatedly, the amygdala settles down and decreases its response, making it easier to lie again and initiating a slippery slope of dishonesty.

     The researchers conducted MRI scans on the brains of 80 volunteers while they took part in tasks that encouraged them to lie.  During several different scenarios, the researchers showed the volunteers pictures of pennies in jars and told them to estimate the number of pennies and then send their estimate by computer to another unseen participant who would use their advice to guess the number of pennies.

     The first scenario established a baseline for comparison by testing how the volunteers’ brains responded when they were not lying.  The researchers offered the volunteers a chance to earn a cash reward for themselves and their partner if they estimated the number of pennies in the jar accurately, providing incentive for the volunteers to be honest.  But in subsequent scenarios, the researchers told the volunteers they might earn a cash incentive by either over- or under-estimating the number of pennies.

     When volunteers believed incorrect estimates could benefit them at their partner’s expense, they began to lie slightly about the amount of pennies they thought the jars held.  Their MRIs showed strong responses from their amygdalas.

     As the experiment progressed, the volunteers continued to lie, and each lie tended to get bigger.  With each subsequent lie, the amygdala’s response decreased, making it easier for the volunteer to tell progressively increasing whoppers.

     “This may lead to a ‘slippery slope,’ where small acts of dishonesty escalate into more significant lies,” Tali Sharot, senior author of the study, said in a statement.

     The researchers speculated this same sort of brain adaptation may also occur with other immoral behaviors.

     “We only tested dishonesty in this experiment, but the same principle may also apply to escalations in other actions, such as risk taking or violent behavior,” said lead author Neil Garrett.

     The findings did not surprise Jason Lee, dean of Biblical and theological studies at Cedarville University, who noted this is the very thing Paul wrote about in the beginning of his letter to the Romans.  The Bible says when people continue to reject God they become futile in their thinking, their hearts are darkened and God gives them up in the lusts of their hearts.

     “The internal checks are there,” Lee said.  “God has put this internal, moral conscience within everyone, but when a person dulls the mind with habitual sin, God turns them over to the sin they choose and they just continue like a snowball headed down the hill.” 

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Romans 1:25  —  They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.

Romans 1:28-31  —  They did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.  They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity.  They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice.  They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.

Jeremiah 9:5-6  —  Friend deceives friend, and no one speaks the truth.  They have taught their tongues to lie; they weary themselves with sinning.  You live in the midst of deception; in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge me,” declares the Lord.

Psalm 119:29  —  Keep me from deceitful ways; be gracious to me and teach me your law.

I Peter 3:10  —  Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.

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PSALM 120:1-2:

I call on the Lord in my distress,
    and he answers me.
Save me, Lord,
    from lying lips
    and from deceitful tongues.

1305) Morning and Evening Prayer (jb11)

From A Diary of Private Prayer, 1949, by John Baillie, Church of Scotland pastor and theologian, (1886-1960); containing a morning and evening prayer for thirty-one days (adapted).

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MORNING PRAYER  (Fifteenth day)

O Eternal God, who is Lord and King for all time and over all creation, I seek to understand what it means to be your child.  Here I stand, weak and mortal, amid the immensities of nature; but you have made me in your own likeness and you have breathed into me the breath of your own life.  Within this poor body you have set a spirit that is akin to your own Spirit.  Within this corruptible nature you have planted incorruption, and within this mortal body you have planted the hope of immortality.  So from this little room and in these few minutes I can lift up my mind beyond all time and space to you, the uncreated One, until the light of your countenance fills my life.

Let me keep in mind that my mortal body is but the servant of my immortal soul;

Let me keep in mind how uncertain is my hold upon my bodily life;

Let me remember that here on earth I have no continuing city, but only a place of sojourn and a time of testing and of training;

Let me be in this world but not of it;

Let me be as having nothing yet possessing all things;

Let me understand the vanity of the temporal and the glory of the eternal;

Let my world be centered not in myself but in you.

Almighty God, who raised from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ and set Him at your right hand in glory everlasting, I thank you for this hope of immortality with which through many ages you have cheered and enlightened the souls of your people.  Amen.

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EVENING PRAYER  (Thirteenth day)

O heavenly Father, give me a heart like the heart of Jesus Christ, a heart more ready to serve than to be served, a heart moved by compassion towards the weak and the oppressed, a heart set upon the coming of your kingdom.

I would pray tonight, O God, for all those sorts and conditions of people to whom Jesus Christ would give special thought and care:

For those lacking food or drink or clothing;

For the sick and all who are wasted by disease:

For the blind and the deaf;

For the maimed and lame;

For prisoners;

For those oppressed by any injustice;

For the lost sheep of our human society;

For the lonely;

For the worried and anxious;

For those who are living faithful lives in obscurity;

For those who are fighting bravely in unpopular causes;

For all who are laboring diligently in your vineyard.

Grant, O Father, that the many blessings  you have bestowed upon me may not make me less sensitive to the needs of others less privileged, but rather more incline me to lay their burdens upon my own heart.  And if any adversity should befall myself, then let me not brood upon my own sorrows, as if I alone in the world were suffering, but rather let me busy myself in the compassionate service of all who need my help.  Thus let the power of my Lord Christ be strong within me and His peace invade my spirit.  Amen.

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I Timothy 6:6-8  —  But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

Hebrews 13:14  —  For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

I Timothy 2:1  —  I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers,intercession, and thanksgiving be made for all people.

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1304) Six Questions About Heaven

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By Randy Alcorn, October 30, 2016 blog at http://www.epm.org

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Why do you think many Christians don’t look forward to Heaven anymore?

     Christians faced with death often feel they’re leaving the party before it’s over, having to go home early.  They are disappointed, thinking of all the people and things they’ll miss when they leave.

     But for God’s children the real party awaits.  Think of the Father making merry and celebrating with a feast for the prodigal son who’s come home (Luke 15).  The celebration is already underway at our true home, where we’ve not yet lived; and that’s precisely where death will take us. As others will welcome us to Heaven’s party, so we’ll one day welcome those who arrive later.

     God commands us in his Word to set our minds in Heaven where Christ is (Colossians 3:1).  We focus on an actual place where the resurrected Christ lives, and the resurrected cosmos, our future and eternal home.

     Paul says, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).  If we don’t understand this future glory of Heaven that awaits us, we won’t see that our present sufferings shrink in comparison to its greatness.

     What God made us to desire is exactly what he promises to those who follow Jesus Christ: a resurrected life in a resurrected body with the resurrected Christ.  Our desires correspond precisely to God’s plans.  It’s not that we want something, so we engage in wishful thinking.  It’s the opposite.  We want eternal life because God has wired us that way, and has always planned for it (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

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Will Heaven ever be boring?

     The belief that Heaven will be boring betrays a heresy— that God himself is boring.  There’s no greater nonsense.  Our desire for pleasure and the experience of joy come directly from God’s hand.  He made our taste buds, adrenaline, and the nerve endings that convey pleasure to our brains.  Likewise, our imaginations and capacity for joy were made by the God whom some imagine is boring.  Are we so arrogant as to imagine that human beings came up with the idea of having fun?

     “Won’t it be boring to be good all the time?”  This assumes sin is exciting and righteousness is boring, which is one of the Devil’s most strategic lies.  Sin doesn’t bring fulfillment, it robs us of it.  When there’s beauty, when we see God as he truly is— an endless reservoir of fascination— boredom becomes impossible.

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Will we eat and drink in Heaven?

      Words describing eating, meals, and food appear more than a thousand times in Scripture, with the English translation “feast” occurring 187 times.  Feasting involves celebration and fun, and it’s profoundly relational.  Great conversation, storytelling, relationship-building, and laughter happen during mealtimes.  Feasts, including Passover, were spiritual gatherings that drew attention to God, his greatness, and his redemption. 

     People who love each other love eating together.  In a parable when Jesus wanted to describe heaven, he used the image of a feast given by a king (Matthew 22:2).  In another place Jesus said to his disciples, “I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom” (Luke 22:29-30).  Jesus promised, “Many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 8:11).  The finest foods and drinks, according to Isaiah 25:6, will be prepared for us by God himself.

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What will relationships in Heaven be like?

     Scripture tells us we will all be living with the same person (Jesus), in the same place (Heaven), with God’s people.  Paul says in I Thessalonians 4:18 that we are to “comfort one another with these words,” in reference to our being together with the Lord forever.  So clearly we will be spending eternity with our loved ones in Jesus.

     Christ said that there won’t be human marriage in Heaven (Matthew 22:30).  Yet there will be marriage in Heaven, one marriage, between Christ and his bride— and his people will all be part of it (Ephesians 5:31-32).  My wife and I won’t be married to each other, but will be part of the same marriage to Jesus (Ephesians 5:31-32).

     I have every reason to believe that in Heaven, I will be closer to my wife and kids and grandkids than ever.  It won’t be the end of our relationships, but they’ll be taken to a new level.  Our source of comfort isn’t only that we’ll be with the Lord in Heaven, but also that we’ll be with each other.

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Will we be capable of sinning in Heaven?

     Christ promises that, “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelations 21:4).  Since “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), the promise of no more death is a promise of no more sin.  Those who will never die can never sin, since sinners always die.  Sin causes mourning, crying, and pain.  If those will never occur again, then sin can’t.

     We will have true freedom in Heaven, a righteous freedom that never sins.  Since Adam and Eve sinned, despite living in a perfect place, as did Satan, many people wonder if we’ll sin someday in Heaven.  The Bible says that God cannot sin.  It would be against his nature.  Once we’re with him, it will be against our nature too.  We won’t want to sin any more than Jesus does.

     Sin will have absolutely no appeal to us.  The memory of evil and suffering in this life will serve as an eternal reminder of sin’s horrors and emptiness.  Sin?  Been there, done that; seen how ugly and disastrous it was!

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How might you use the doctrine of Heaven when sharing the gospel with someone?

     Heaven is a terrific evangelistic subject when we portray it as the Bible does.  Satan has vested interests in our misconceptions regarding Heaven.  When he depicts it as a dull, drab, tedious, boring place where nobody would want to go, all motivation for evangelism is removed.

     Why would we want our friends to spend eternity in a dull place?  And why would they want to go there?  And nobody wants to be a ghost when he dies.  On the other hand, when Christians understand Heaven is an exciting physical place on a redeemed world with redeemed people in redeemed relationships without sin and death, where there is music, art, science, sports, literature, and culture, it’s a great source of encouragement and motivation.  

     “They all lived happily ever after” is not merely a fairy tale.  It’s the blood-bought promise of God for all who trust in the gospel.  The happiness we long for is found in Jesus alone.  This is what makes the gospel “good news of great joy.”

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Colossians 3:1  —  Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

Matthew 22:1-2  —  Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying:  “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son…”

Ecclesiastes 3:11b  —  He (God) has set eternity in the human heart.

John 14:2  (Jesus said), “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?”

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O Lord, you have prepared for us a wonderful place.  Prepare us also for that place.  Amen.

1303) Not My Job

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Louie C. K.  (1967- )

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     A while back I saw a you-tube clip of Louie C. K. on Conan O’Brian’s late night show.  Louie C. K. is not my favorite comedian.  Like so many entertainers today, his routines are filled with profanity, and his outlook on life is cynical and ungodly.  But he oftentimes does speak the truth, and he is not afraid to say what people don’t want to hear.

     Conan brought up the issue of kids and cell phones, and how so many parents have a difficult time limiting their children’s cell phone use.  I like how Louie responded so I am going to quote him here– but not exactly.  I am going to rephrase some of it, along with adding a few of my own thoughts to make it say what I want to say.  If you want to hear precisely what Louie C. K. said you may find it here:  (http://teamcoco.com/embed/v/70303)

     Regarding the difficulty of limiting his kids cell phone use, Louie said he doesn’t have a problem with that.  He said:

   I just don’t them have a cell phone at all.  It’s easy.  You just say, ‘No, you can’t have it; it’s bad for you.’  They say, ‘But I want it,’ and I simply reply, ‘I don’t care what you want.’

   I know that doesn’t make them happy, but I am not there to make them happy.  I am raising children to make the grownups they’re going to be, so I have to give them the tools to help them get through a terrible life.

   It is not my job to make my kids happy.  It is my job to prepare them for life.  So they are disappointed because they can’t have a cell phone?  That’s too bad.  Life is filled with disappointments, and then you die.  That’s not a very happy thought, but that’s how it is.  Kids have to learn how to deal with it.  Why should I give them impression somebody is supposed to make them happy all the time?  That does not prepare them for real life.

   So, no cell phones.  That’s the way I look at it.

   Some parents feel bad when the kids say, ‘Well all the other kids have one.’  So what?  Let your kids be the better example to the others.  Just because other stupid kids have phones doesn’t mean my kid has to be stupid too, otherwise she will feel weird.

   Besides, I think those things are toxic, especially for kids.  They just look at the phone all day.  They don’t look at people, and so they don’t learn empathy.

   Kids  have always been mean, because they are trying it out.  They look at an overweight kid and say, “Hey, you are fat.”  But then they see that kid’s face and how their words hurt them, and they say, “Ohhh, that doesn’t feel good,” and they don’t want to do that again.  But if they just write and text someone the words “You are fat,” and don’t see the reaction, then it is fun, and they want to do it more…

   You know, underneath everything in your life there is that ‘thing,’ that emptiness… that ‘forever empty’ feeling.  Do you know what I mean?  (Conan immediately recognizes the feeling and readily agrees, “Yes, yes, I know what you are talking about.”)  It is that knowledge that it is all for nothing and you are all alone.  That feeling is always down there.  And sometimes for me when things clear away and this feeling comes, and it can be overwhelming.  You realize life is so tremendously sad.  Perhaps you are all alone in your car when it hits you, and what do you do?  Well, you reach for your phone and start texting someone, because you don’t want to face the sadness all alone.  So you will risk your life and the life of others on the road so that you can be looking at your stupid phone, instead of facing the sadness and the loneliness.

     The other day I was driving and this an old song came on, and I got a flashback to something years ago, and I got really sad.  So to avoid the feeling, my first reaction was to pick up my phone and text a silly message to about fifty people, so that some of them could answer me, and then I could answer them, and I could be doing something other than being so sad.

     So I started reaching for the phone… and then I didn’t.  I thought to myself, ‘Just be sad.’  I decided to just let the sadness come over me, and it did.  I even started to cry, and I had to pull over.  I let it all happen and I just cried uncontrollable.  And then I quit– and strangely, a better feeling came over me, and then I felt good.  And I realized none of that would have happened if I had started texting.

   But we don’t ever want to let the sadness come.  There are so many ways to distract ourselves and so we do, and we avoid the sadness, and we don’t really live.  Sadness is a part of life—that is life.  Life is really sad, and then you die.

   So that’s why I don’t want to get cell phones for my kids.

     Louie C. K. is part right—life IS sad and then you die.  Life is also wonderful… but even the best times come to an end, and then you die; so that is still sad.

     This is not the whole truth, but it is where we must start.  If we start by insisting on not ever being disappointed, we will face even greater disappointment.  If we try to do all we can to protect our kids from disappointment, trying to make sure they are always happy, we are not preparing them for life.  Kids need to know life is sad, uninterrupted happiness is not part of the deal, and they will die.

     But then we must also teach our children the most important truth in all of life:  even though life in this world is sad, and even though we will die, there is a God who created us, and wants us to know Him, and wants us to be with him forever.  Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I am overcome the world;” and, he said, “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”

     If we teach our children to have faith in that, they will be prepared for life, now and forever.

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Job 5:7  —  Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.

I Peter 4:12  —  Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.

John 16:33  —  (Jesus said), “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

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Good Jesus, strength of the weary, rest of the restless, come to me who am weary that I may rest in you.  Amen.

E. B. Pusey, English churchman  (1800-1882)

1302) Four Chaplains (b)

     (…continued)  As he walked among the young soldiers on the Dorchester offering words of encouragement, Chaplain Fox was perhaps thinking of his own 18-year old son, serving in the Marine Corps.  Before leaving he had said goodbye to his wife and 7 year old daughter Mary Elizabeth.  In other parts of the ship Father Washington likewise did his best to soothe the fears of those about him.  As a Catholic Priest he was single and hadn’t left behind a wife or children, but there were eight brothers and sisters at home to fear for him and pray for his safety.  Now his closest brothers were the other three Chaplains on the Dorchester.  Surely as he prayed for the soldiers, Father Washington also whispered a prayer for Chaplain Fox, Chaplain Poling and Rabbi Goode.  Not only had Chaplain Fox left a son and daughter behind, Rabbi Goode had left behind a loving wife and 3 year old daughter.   Chaplain Poling’s son Corky was still an infant, and within a month or two his wife would be giving birth to their second child.

     The crossing was filled with long hours of boredom and misery.  Outside, the chilly Arctic winds and cold ocean spray coated the Dorchester’s deck with ice.  Below deck the soldiers’ quarters were hot from too many bodies, crammed into too small a place, for too many days in a row. 

     Finally, on February 2nd, the Dorchester was within 150 miles of Greenland.  But then came some bad news.  One of the Dorchester’s three Coast Guard escorts detected the presence of an enemy submarine.

     Hans Danielson, the Dorchester’s captain, listened to the news with great concern.  His cargo of human lives had been at sea for ten days, and was finally nearing its destination.  If he could make it through the night, air cover would arrive with daylight to safely guide his ship home.   The problem would be surviving the night.  Aware of the potential for disaster, he instructed the soldiers to sleep in their clothes and life jackets.  However, below deck it was hot and sweaty as too many bodies were too closely packed in the cramped quarters.  Many of the men, confident that tomorrow would dawn without incident, elected to sleep in their underwear.  The life jackets were also hot and bulky, so many men set them aside as an unnecessary inconvenience.

     Outside it was another cold, windy night as the midnight hour signaled the passing of February 2nd and the beginning of a new day.   In the distance a cold, metal arm broke the surface of the stormy seas.  At the end of that periscope, a German submarine captain monitored the slowly passing troop transport ship.  Shortly before one in the morning he gave the command to fire.

     Quiet moments passed as silent death moved toward the men of the Dorchester.  Then, the early morning was shattered by the flash of a blinding explosion.  It had been a direct hit, tossing men from their cots with the force of its explosion.  A second torpedo followed, instantly killing 100 men in the hull of the ship.  Power was knocked out in the engine room and darkness engulfed the frightened men below deck.  Water rushed through the gaping wounds in the Dorchester’s hull and Captain Danielson gave the order to abandon ship.

     The ship tilted and began to sink rapidly.  Piles of clothing and life jackets were tossed about in the darkness where no one would ever find them.  Wounded men cried out in pain, frightened survivors screamed in terror, and all groped frantically in the darkness for exits they couldn’t find.  Somewhere in that living hell, four voices of calm began to speak words of comfort, seeking to bring order to panic and bedlam.  Slowly soldiers began to find their way to the deck of the ship. 

     Before boarding the Dorchester, Reverend Poling had asked his father to pray for him. “Pray that I shall do my duty and never be a coward,” he said.  “Just pray that I shall be adequate.”  He probably never dreamed that his prayer request would be answered so fully.  As he courageously guided the frightened soldiers to their only hope of safety from the rapidly sinking transport, he spoke calm words of encouragement, urging them not to give up.

     Likewise, Reverend Fox, Rabbi Goode, and Father Washington stood out within the confines of an unimaginable hell.  Wounded and dying soldiers were ushered into eternity to the sounds of comforting words from men of God more intent on the needs of others, than in their own safety and survival.  Somehow, by their valiant efforts, the chaplains succeeded in getting many of the soldiers out of the hold and onto the Dorchester’s slippery deck.

     On deck, the chaplains continued their work.  They aided the efforts to get men into the lifeboats, directed men to safety, and left them with parting words of encouragement.  In little more than twenty minutes, the Dorchester was almost gone.  Icy waves broke over the railing, tossing men into the sea, many of them without life jackets. 

     Working against time the chaplains continued to pass out the life vests from the lockers as the soldiers pressed forward in a ragged line.  Then, the lockers were all empty, and the life jackets gone.  Those still pressing in line began to realize they were doomed.  Then something happened those who were there would never forget.  All four chaplains began taking their own life jackets off, and putting them on the men around them.  Together they sacrificed their last shred of hope for survival to insure the survival of other men.  Then time ran out.  The chaplains had done all they could for those who would survive, and nothing more could be done for the remaining, including themselves.

     Those who had been fortunate enough to reach lifeboats struggled to distance themselves from the sinking ship, lest they be pulled beneath the ocean swells by the chasm created as the transport slipped into a watery grave.   Then, amid the screams of pain and horror that permeated the cold dark night, they heard the strong voices of the chaplains.  “Witnesses of that terrible night remember hearing the four men offer prayers for the dying and encouragement for those who would live,” says Wyatt Fox, the son of Chaplain Fox.

     Looking back they saw the slanting deck of the Dorchester, its demise almost complete.  Braced against the railings were the four chaplains, praying and giving strength to others by their final valiant declaration of faith.  Their arms were linked together as they braced against the railing and leaned into each other for support.  One witness, Private William Bednar, found himself floating in oil-smeared water surrounded by dead bodies and debris.  “I could hear men crying, pleading, praying,” Bednar recalls  “I could also hear the chaplains preaching courage.  Their voices were what kept me going.”  

     John Ladd, one of the survivors, said, “It was the finest thing I have ever seen or hope to see this side of heaven.” 

     Then, only 27 minutes after the first torpedo struck, the last vestige of the U.S.A.T. Dorchester disappeared beneath the cold North Atlantic waters.   In its death throes it reached out to claim any survivors nearby, and also taking with it the four ministers of different faiths who learned to find strength in their diversity by focusing on the Father they shared.

     That night Reverend Fox, Rabbi Goode, Reverend Poling and Father Washington passed life’s ultimate test.  In doing so, they became an enduring example of extraordinary faith, courage and selflessness.

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Of the 920 men who left New York on the U.S.A.T. Dorchester on January 23rd, only 230 were plucked from the icy waters by rescue craft.  Had it not been for the chaplains, the number of dead would certainly been much higher. When the news reached American shores, the nation was stunned by the magnitude of the tragedy and the heroic conduct of the four chaplains.

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On May 28, 1948 the United States Postal Service issued a special stamp to commemorate the brotherhood, service, and sacrifice of the Four Chaplains.

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John 15:13  —  (Jesus said), “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

I Thessalonians 4:17b-18  —  And so we will be with the Lord forever.  Therefore encourage one another with these words.

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Psalm 23:4a:

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.

1301) The Four Chaplains (a)

Reprinted from:  www.homeofheroes.com/brotherhood/chaplains

     In November, 1942 four young men became friends while attending Chaplain’s School at Harvard University.  They had enough in common to bond them together.  At age 42, George Fox was the “older brother”.  The youngest was 30-year old Clark Poling, and less than three years separated him from the other two, Alexander Goode and John Washington.    A common cause brought them together, the desire to render service to their nation during the critical years of World War II. 

     Between the early days of May to late July, the four had entered military service from different areas of the country.  Reverend Fox enlisted in the Army from Vermont the same day his 18-year old son Wyatt enlisted in the Marine Corps.  During World War I, though only 17 years old, Fox had convinced the Army he was actually 18 and enlisted as a medical corps assistant.  His courage on the battlefield earned him the Silver Star and the Purple Heart.   When World War II broke out he said, “I’ve got to go.  I know from experience what our boys are about to face.  They need me.”  This time he enlisted as a minister, joining the Chaplains Corps.

     Reverend Clark V. Poling was serving a congregation in New York when World War II threatened world freedom.  He determined to enter the Army, but not as a Chaplain.  “I’m not going to hide behind the church in some safe office out of the firing line,” he told his father when he informed him of his plans to serve his country.  His father, Reverend Daniel Poling knew something of war, having served as a Chaplain himself during World War I.  He told his son, “Don’t you know that chaplains have the highest mortality rate of all?  As a chaplain you will not be safe, nor will you be hiding out anywhere.  You just can’t carry a gun to kill anyone yourself.”  With new appreciation for the role of the Chaplains Corps, Clark Poling accepted a commission and followed in his father’s footsteps.

     Like Clark Poling, Alexander Goode had followed the steps of his own father in ministry.  His first years of service were in Marion, Indiana; then he moved on to York, Pennsylvania.  While studying and preparing to minister to the needs of others, “Alex” had joined the National Guard.  Ten months before Pearl Harbor he sought an assignment in the Navy’s Chaplains Corps, but wasn’t initially accepted.  When war was declared, he wanted more than ever to serve the needs of those who went in harm’s way to defend freedom and human dignity.   He chose to do so as a U.S. Army Chaplain.

     One look at the be-speckled, mild mannered John P. Washington, would have left one with the impression that he was not the sort of man to go to war and become a hero.  His love of music and beautiful voice belied the toughness inside.  One of nine children in an Irish immigrant family living in the toughest part of Newark, New Jersey, he had learned through sheer determination to hold his own in any fight.  By the time he was a teenager he was the leader of the South Twelfth Street Gang.  Then God called him to ministry, returning him to the streets of New Jersey to organize sports teams, play ball with young boys who needed a strong friend to look up to, and inspire others with his beautiful hymns of praise and thanksgiving.

     Upon meeting at the Chaplains’ school, the four men quickly became friends.  David Poling, Clark Poling’s cousin, later said, “They were all very sociable guys, who initiated interfaith activities even before the war.  They hit it off well at chaplains’ school, and were very close.  They had prayed together a number of times before that final crisis.”

     The four men shared a common calling to ministry, but they were very different in their backgrounds and personalities.  They were also from four different church traditions:  Reverend Fox was a Methodist minister, Reverend Poling was a Dutch Reformed Minister, Father Washington was a Catholic Priest, and Rabbi Goode was Jewish.  In a world where differences have all too often created conflict and separated brothers, ‘the Four Chaplains’ found a special kind of unity, and in that unity they found strength.

OFF TO WAR

     The U.S.A.T. Dorchester was an aging luxury liner.  In the nearly four years from December 1941 to September, 1945, more than 16 million American men and women needed to be transported to fight a war on two fronts, in Europe and the Pacific.  Moving so large a force was a monumental effort, and every available ship was pressed into service.  The Dorchester was designated to transport troops.  All non-critical amenities were removed and cots were crammed into every available space, in order to get as many young fighting men as possible on each voyage.  

     When the soldiers boarded in New York on January 23, 1943 the Dorchester was filled to capacity.  In addition to the crew and a few civilians, young soldiers filled every space.  There were 902 lives about to be cast to the mercy of the frigid North Atlantic.

    As the ship heard for an Army base in Greenland, many dangers lay ahead.  The sea itself was always dangerous, especially in this area known for ice flows, raging waters, and gale force winds.  The greatest danger, however, was the ever present threat of German submarines, which had been sinking Allied ships at the rate of 100 every  month.  The Dorchester would be sailing through an area that had become infamously known as “Torpedo Junction.”

     Most of the men on board were young, frightened soldiers.  Many were going to sea for the first time and suffered sea-sickness for days.  They were packed head to toe below deck, a steaming human sea of fear and uncertainty.  Even if they survived the Atlantic crossing, they had nothing to look forward to but being thrown into combat.  They were men in need of a strong shoulder to lean on, a firm voice to encourage them, and a ray of hope in a world of despair.

     Also on board were four Army Chaplains, called on to put aside their own fears and uncertainties to minister to the needs of others.  (continued…)

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The Four Chaplains

1300) Keeping the Faith

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     Faith in Jesus is not the same as feelings for Jesus.  Faith is stronger than feelings.  It is stronger than knowledge.  Faith often becomes a sheer act of will.  A person may say, “I don’t feel like believing, but I want to believe.”  And it may very well be that if a person were to say, “I don’t know whether this Christianity is true or not, but with all my heart I want it to be true,” then in God’s sight, he has faith.  A man cried to Jesus, “I believe, help thou my unbelief.”  God himself is the giver of faith.  By myself I cannot believe in Jesus or come to him, but the Holy Spirit works through Word and Sacrament to give me faith.

     He makes it possible for me to be a believer.  To be sure, feelings are important.  In fact, Jesus will give us deep and lasting feelings.  He will help us to feel joy, to feel repentance, to feel hope, to feel love, to feel faith.  But when the dark days come, and these feelings seem to slip away, be sure of this:  Jesus has not abandoned us.  He does not make feelings a condition for his being with us.  He is with us, even in those gloomy and depressed days when we hardly dare to think that he cares at all.

     A man came once to me and said, “I feel that God has left me.”  I replied, “Perhaps that does not make any difference to God.”  After all, God is our Father, Jesus is our great Brother and Savior…  He has promised never to leave us or abandon us.  He has given us his Word.  We rest there.     

–Alvin Rogness, The Jesus Life, pages 26-27.

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     “What people don’t realize is how much religion costs.  They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course, it is the cross.  It is much harder to believe than not to believe, so you must at least do this:  keep an open mind.  Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God.”    

–Flannery O’Connor, Habit of Being, page 354.

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      “I need not exert myself and try to force myself to believe or try to chase doubt out of my heart.  Both are equally useless.  I have let Jesus into my heart, and he will fulfill my heart’s desire.  I need only to tell Jesus how weak my faith is.  ”  

                                                                                    –O. Hallesby

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Mark 9:24  —  …The boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Proverbs 3:5-6  —  Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Romans 10:17  —  Consequently, faith comes  from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. 

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O Most High, Glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me a right faith, a certain hope, and a perfect love, understanding, and knowledge; O Lord, that I may carry out your holy and true command.  Amen.  –St. Francis of Assisi