1795) “What Church?”

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Remote Russian village


     In his book, The Insanity of Obedience, Nik Ripken (2014, pp. 279-287) tells about meeting Dmitri in the former USSR.  Born of Christian parents, Dmitri found himself and his family living under communism in an area where the nearest church was a three-day walk away.

     He started teaching his family one night a week, reading from the old family Bible.  It seemed a natural progression to sing, and also to pray.  And a Bible study turned into real family worship.  Neighbors began noticing and some of them asked if they could come and listen to the Bible stories and sing the familiar songs.  A small group began gathering.

     Local party officials came to see Dmitri.  They threatened him physically, which was to be expected.  What upset Dmitri much more was their accusation: “You have started an illegal church!”

     “How can you say that?” he argued.  “I have no religious training.  I am not a pastor.  This is not a church building.  We are just a group of family and friends getting together.  All we are doing is reading and talking about the Bible, singing, praying, and sometimes sharing what money we have to help out a poor neighbor.  How can you call that a church?”

     “I got fired from my factory job,” Dmitri recounted.  “My wife lost her teaching position.  My boys were expelled from school.”  When the number of people grew to seventy-five, there was no place for everyone to sit.  Villagers pressed close in around the windows on the outside.

     Then one night as Dmitri spoke, the door to his house suddenly, violently burst open.  An officer grabbed Dmitri by the shirt, slapped him across the face, slammed him against the wall, and said in a cold voice: “We have warned you and warned you and warned you.  We will not warn you again!  If you do not stop this nonsense, this is the least that is going to happen to you.”

     A small grandmother took her life in her hands, and waved a finger in the officer’s face.  She declared, “You have laid hands on a man of God and you will not survive!”

     That happened on a Tuesday evening, and on Thursday night the officer dropped dead of a heart attack.  The fear of God swept through the community and at the next house church service, more than 150 people showed up.  The authorities couldn’t let this continue, so eventually Dmitri went to jail for seventeen years.

     We must not take for granted the privilege we have to worship freely each week.


Philippians 3:7-11  —  Whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.  More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ  and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Acts 2:43-47  —  Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.  All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.  Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.  And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.


Heavenly Father, we pray for those who do not know you, and for those who hate you, and for those who hate us.  Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do; open their hearts to the work of your Spirit so that they may come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior; and may they, and we, learn to love all people as Jesus did.  In the name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.

1794) Coffee with Jesus

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Ethiopia is sometimes called the “Birthplace of Coffee.”  The ‘Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony’ celebrates coffee and community with a several hour social event that begins with raw coffee beans, specially prepared on the spot; adding flowers and burning incense to the fragrance of the cooking coffee; and then several rounds of the special brew for all, along with a bowl of fresh popcorn.  Sounds good to me!


By Faith McDonnell, posted February 11, 2018 at:  http://www.juicyecumenism.com


     One of my favorite coffee mugs was a gift from an Anglican priest friend.  In a witty acrostic, the cup reads:


     Not even my friend Father Mario could have foreseen one way in which God would demonstrate His extravagant love and compassion.  But for East Africa’s Opo people, the great lengths to which God went to bring them to new life in Jesus included honoring their devotion to coffee.

     An ethnic group of only some 5000 people, most of the Opo live on the Ethiopia side of the border with South Sudan in the Gambella region.  The Opo’s home area is cut off from the rest of Gambella about half the year because of the shallow, but very wide, Baro (also called Upeno) River.  This probably helps to explain how they remained a people group unreached by the Gospel for as long as they did.

     The former Bishop of the Horn of Africa, the Rt. Reverend Grant LeMarquand, has shared the amazing story of how the Opo ended up becoming Anglican Christians as part of The Oxford History of Anglicanism.  Writing of “Anglicans in the Horn of Africa: From Missionaries and Chaplains to a Missionary Church,” LeMarquand tells how those that were reached by the Gospel in the Horn of Africa are now the missionaries themselves.  “The most successful cross-cultural mission within Gambella was the Nuer outreach to the Opo people,” the bishop said.

     In 2006 a Nuer Anglican deacon, Gordon Roc, ventured to the Opo area to share the Gospel.  But when he found Opo that spoke Nuer, Roc discovered that they had already heard about Jesus just a few months earlier from some Seventh-Day Adventist missionaries.

     The Opo were very open to the missionaries.  Bishop LeMarquand writes:

While listening to the Adventists explain their message, coffee was prepared for the visitors.  When the coffee was presented, the Adventists declined, saying that they could not take caffeine.  The Opo rejected the Adventists’ message.  So when the Anglican deacon came speaking about Jesus, the Opo had just one question: ‘Can we drink coffee?’  Being assured that they could, they decided that they would be Anglicans!

     Many of us can sympathize!  If you love coffee, you LOVE coffee.  And if you live in Ethiopia where some of the world’s best coffee beans are, you are doubly in love with coffee.  God in His wisdom and mercy knew what it would take to reach this “unreached” people.

     It was not that the ability to continue drinking coffee was some kind of “cheap grace” to persuade the Opo to become Christians.  It was that because of God’s kindness and understanding of who the Opo are, this important aspect of their culture and identity matter to Him.  In the same way, the culture and identity of each of us matters to Him.

     So God loved the Opo so much that He provided a second opportunity for them to respond to His invitation.  It was not that they became “Anglicans,” as happy as we Anglicans are that they did.  It was that Grace opened the door for them to then know the full extent of His love for them, and to experience the power of Jesus’ resurrection in their lives – which would prove to be more precious than coffee (even for the greatest coffee lover!).

    In Luke 12, Jesus tells His disciples, “Do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink. . . the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them.  But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”  With great tenderness He continues, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. . . For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

     Even before the Opo could read the Gospel in their own language, they took these words of Jesus to heart.  They did “seek his kingdom” and received “these things” (including coffee) as well.  Just 12 years after they first heard the Gospel, there are now five Opo Anglican churches in Gambella.  There had been no written form of the Opo language – but it now exists, and the services of Morning Prayer and Holy Communion, as well as the Gospels of Mark and Luke have been translated into that new written language.

     In 2014 the Anglican Communion News Service reported on the first time that the Opo heard the Gospel of Mark in their own language.  The Rev. David Onuk, the only Opo Anglican priest, declared, “When we used to read the Bible in Amharic, we used to miss words and lack understanding.  We are so excited to have the first book of the Bible in our own language.”  Some Opo Christians commented approvingly, “Now God has learned Opo!”

     St. Paul told the Christians in Corinth that he had planted the seed (of the Gospel), another missionary, Apollos, had watered the seed, but it was God that made it grow.  The Seventh-Day Adventists planted the seed of the Gospel in the hearts of the Opo.  Deacon Gordon Roc had watered the seed (with a good helping of coffee).  But it was God that made that seed grow.

     Now the Opo are part of that missionary church.  They are reaching out to the Koma people, the name of the Opo who lived in South Sudan but fled to Ethiopia to escape the forced conscription of their young men into a rebel army.

     The Opo and the other Anglicans in Gambella have been sharing everything they have with the Koma and other refugees from South Sudan.  And you can be sure that if the Opo plant the seed with the Koma, God will make it grow.


I Corinthians 3:6-7  —  I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.  So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

II Corinthians 2:15-16  —  For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life.


Oh God, you are so creative and generous.  The delicious cup of coffee I’m enjoying this morning has to be one of your great inventions.  Thank you.  I remember (as James 1:17 reminds me) that every good and perfect gift comes from my Father– from You!  Coffee is good, ‘very good,’ as you said when you surveyed your handiwork at the beginning of time (Genesis 1).  The fruit of these little bushes tucked away on the sides of mountains in the far corners of the world have come to me on this cold winter morning.  How good of you.  Bless those who took care to plant and tend and grow and harvest and process and deliver to me these precious little seeds of delight.  I am grateful.  Remind me through my day to look for other gifts hiding in common sight throughout my day.  I admit that I will get so busy today that I will overlook them.  But I am thankful.  Thank you for filling my life with such good and perfect gifts.  Amen

–Mark and Jill Herringshaw, posted on http://www.beliefnet.com

1793) Shy, Quiet, and Courageous

“The Priest That Did Not Back Down from the Nazis or the Communists”

By Zoltan Kesz, posted March 6, 2018, at:  www.intellectualtakeout.org


Kornel Hummel  (1907-1945)


     Kornel Hummel lived during one of the most crucial times in the history of the 20th Century, the 1940s.  The last year of World War II witnessed the most brutal acts of war in my country of Hungary.  More than half a million Jews were herded on to cattle wagons and shipped to the concentration camps where very few survived.  Besides the Germans, the brutality of the “liberating” Soviet troops posed a great challenge to Hungarians, too.  Fortunately, the period also produced some true heroes like Hummel.

     He was only 37 years old when the front lines of battle passed through the Hungarian capital of Budapest.  Hummel was a priest, a teacher of religion, and the protector of a community of blind people.  He had already saved hundreds when the siege of Budapest started in 1944.

     He oversaw a community of 120 people in a building complex known as the Institute for the Blind, but they had no chance to leave the compound when the Soviets arrived — not because they didn’t want to, but because their blindness prevented them from going anywhere.  Since Hummel had been serving them as their priest, he personally moved into the building when all the workers there had fled and deserted the 120 blind residents.

     Hummel knew that his decision to stay and protect his flock might have a fatal ending.  But he was a man of faith, courage, and duty.  Twenty years earlier, while preparing to be a Catholic priest, he had a dream one night that he would be shot to death by a soldier.  He told his students he believed it may have been a sign that he would someday be a martyr to the faith, and that he would willingly accept it if it proved to be the case.

     Once shy and reserved from behind the pulpit, Hummel’s fortitude and resolve came bursting forth when met with this challenge.  He decided everything related to the operations of the Institute — what care and treatments were necessary, how food was to be provided, and what measures needed to be taken to protect those who were stranded there with him.

     Thanks to him, there was no major damage in the crowded building during the Soviet siege, but his own quarters were damaged by a bomb, and all his personal belongings were consumed by the flames.  He lost his diary to the fire, a treasured possession that he had kept since he was a young student.  He was wearing half-burnt pants when he went to ask his friends for a new change of clothes.  He shrugged off his loss, saying that God was good to have spared him and would pay it back a thousand times.

     With the Nazis gone, the first Soviet soldiers entered the building on January 10, 1945.  Surprisingly, most of them were rather humane, at first, rather than aggressive.  When they realized that the people in the building were blind, they even brought some bread and pickles to them.

     From time to time, however, some drunk soldiers wandered into the premises and started to take their chances with some of the young girls.  Some soldiers did not believe that the girls, who were quite self-confidently moving around in the building, could not see.  One aggressive soldier only believed his victim when one whom he had wanted to rape showed him her artificial eye.

     On the day that he met his fate, Hummel spent the whole day driving many of the sick and wounded of the city to a hospital.  Then he went back into the Institute building in the evening to hear confessions.  As he was listening to the last confession for the day, he was informed by a frantic caretaker that a Soviet soldier was harassing a young, blind girl in the courtyard.  Hummel raced to the scene, where he saw the girl lying on the ground and about to be raped.

     The priest somehow managed to separate the two and stood between the girl and the assailant.  The soldier brandished his weapon and shouted something in Russian.  Hummel gestured that he didn’t understand a word.  The soldier stepped back and it seemed at first that he was going to leave.  But suddenly he drew his gun, aimed, and shot Hummel in the chest at point-blank range.  The priest arched back, fell, and twice uttered, “Deo gratias” in Latin, “Thanks be to God.”  He tried to say it again for the third time, but only his lips were moving.  He couldn’t make another sound.

     From that moment and ever since, Kornél Hummel was a martyr, as his dream had foretold.  But to those of us who cherish his memory, he did not die in vain.  His courage and his essential decency show us that one’s choices in trying circumstances can be an inspiration that touches many hearts.  He was a hero who knew the risks in front of him.  He chose to accept those risks and help those entrusted to his care.  He didn’t run from danger to save himself.  He did what he could for the lives and liberties of others, which is perhaps the greatest service any human can provide to another.


“Nothing is so contagious as example; and we never do any great good or evil which does not inspire more of the same in others.” 

— Francois de la Rochefoucauld (1613-1680)


Isaiah 30:15a  —  For thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: “In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength.”

Matthew 10:39  —  (Jesus said), “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

John 15:12-13  —  (Jesus said), “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.


Lord, teach me to serve you as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to look for any reward,
save that of knowing that I do your holy will.

–St. Ignatius

1792) Too Sick to Serve

Ana Harris

From Ana Harris’ blog at:  www.anaharriswrites.com


From her story:

     I was newly married and pursuing a career in ballet when my life took a devastating turn. I fell severely ill and was diagnosed with late stage Lyme Disease in 2012.  In early 2017, I discovered that toxic mold was also playing a big role in my illness.  I became so sensitized to mold that my husband and I were forced to leave our home and belongings in search of a place with cleaner air for me to breathe.  Our search landed us in the middle of the desert, living in a tent with next to no camping experience.  After six months of camping and strict mold avoidance, I recovered so much of my health that we were able to move into an apartment in South Dakota.  I’m continuing to heal in leaps and bounds.

Then, another setback as told in a more recent blog:

     As you all know, these last two months have again been difficult for me health-wise.  One night, when I was feeling particularly sad and discouraged I confided in my husband Brett, “I’m scared that God isn’t going to say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant,’ when I get to Heaven.  I feel like I’m not doing anything.  I’m too sick to serve God and people.  I’m not contributing anything to anyone.”

     This wasn’t the first time I’ve battled such discouragement.  It was even worse when I was wasting away in bed for months that turned into years.  I was so sick that I couldn’t handle most contact with other human beings.  At times all I could think about was how to get relief from the pain.  I certainly wasn’t serving anyone.  Worse than that, my sickness was a huge drain on my husband and family.  I felt like I was a burden and my life was pointless.

     I think most chronic illness sufferers can relate.  And I think even healthy people can feel limited and useless for other reasons.  So, I wanted to share with you a story from the Bible that has reassured me during those painful moments of discouragement.

Mark 12:41-44 —  And he [Jesus] sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box.  Many rich people put in large sums.  And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.  And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” 

     Take heart friends, you may have less energy and health to work with but you can still give what little you can.  And in the eyes of Jesus, your feeble expression of gratitude to your caregivers can be more significant than someone else’s founding a non-profit.  Just give what you have to give.

     The sick mom heating up canned soup for her family in the microwave may be giving more than the mom who is cooking an all organic meal from scratch.

     The sick wife who takes three hours to write a simple birthday card in between waves of pain may be giving more than the healthy wife who organizes a big birthday party.

     The sick friend who replies to a text message when her head is pounding and she’s trying not to vomit may be giving more than the healthy one who invites a friend over for dinner.

     The sick believer who fights to concentrate enough to say a two sentence prayer for a person in need may be giving more than the healthy ones who are leading bible studies and starting ministries.

     The people we love may not always realize this, but we can rest assured that Christ is watching and he knows.  He knows our hearts.  He knows that what a suffering person has to give looks different than what a healthy person has to give.

     And He’s a God who counts two copper coins a priceless gift.


O Lord, let my life by useful, and my death be happy; let me live according to thy laws, and die with confidence in thy mercy.  Amen.

–Samuel Johnson  (1709-1784)

1791) “Where Are We?”


By Elizabeth Livingston, page 16, Newsweek, January 10, 2005.


     “I love you, Bob.”  “I love you, too, Nancy.”  It was 2:00 a.m., and I was hearing my parents’ voices through the thin wall separating my bedroom from theirs.  Their loving reassurances were sweet, touching— and surprising.

     My parents married on September 14, 1940, after a brief courtship.  She was nearing 30 and knew it was time to start a family.  The handsome, well-educated man who came by the office where she worked looked like a good bet.  He was captivated by her figure and her blue eyes.  The romance didn’t last long.

     Seeds of difference sprouted almost immediately: she liked to travel, he hated the thought; he loved golf, she did not; he was a Republican, she an ardent Democrat.  They fought at the bridge table, at the dinner table, over money, over the perceived failings of their respective in-laws.  To make matters worse, they owned a business together, and the everyday frustrations of life at the office came to roost at home.

     There was a hope that they would change once they retired, and the furious winds did calm somewhat, but what remained steeled itself into bright, hard bitterness.  “I always thought we’d…” my mother would begin, before launching into a precise listing of my father’s faults.  The litany was recited so often, I can reel it off by heart today.  As he listened, my father would mutter angry threats and curses.  It was a miserable duet.

     It wasn’t the happiest marriage, but as their 60th anniversary approached, my sister and I decided to throw a party.  Sixty years was a long time, after all; why not try to make the best of things?  We’d provide the cake, the balloons, the toasts, and they’d abide by one rule: no fighting.

     The truce was honored.  We had a wonderful day.  In hindsight it was an important celebration, because soon after, things began to change for my parents.  As debilitating dementia settled in, their marriage was about the only thing they wouldn’t lose.

     It began when their memories started to fade.  Added to the frequent house-wide hunts for glasses and car keys, were the groceries left behind on the counter and notices of bills left unpaid.  My parents couldn’t remember names of friends, then of their grandchildren.  Finally they didn’t remember that they had grandchildren.

     These crises would have at one time set them at each other’s throats, but now they acted as a team, helping each other with searches, consoling each other with “Everyone does that,” or, “It’s nothing, you’re just tired.”  They found new roles— bolstering each other against the fear of loss.

     Financial control was the next thing to go.  For all of their marriage, my parents stubbornly kept separate accounts.  Sharing being unthinkable, they’d devised financial arrangements so elaborate they could trigger war at any time.  He, for example, was to pay for everything outside the house, she for whatever went on inside.  The ‘who-pays’ dilemma was so complex for one trip that they finally gave up traveling entirely.

     I took over the books.  Now no one knew how things got paid; no one saw how the columns that spelled their fortunes compared.  Next, I hired a housekeeper.  Cooking and cleaning, chores my mother had long complained about, were suddenly gone.  Finally— on doctors orders— we cleared the house of alcohol, the fuel that turned more than one quarrel into a raging fire.

     You could say my parents’ lives had been whittled away, that they could no longer engage in the business of living.  But at the same time something that had been buried deep was coming up and taking shape.  I saw it when thy father came home after a brief hospital stay.

     We had tried to explain my father’s absence to my mother, but because of her memory, she could not keep it in her head why he disappeared.  She asked again and again where he was, and again and again we told her.  And each day her anxiety grew.

     When I finally brought him home, we opened the front door to see my mother sitting on the sofa.  As he stepped in the room, she rose with a cry.  I stayed back as he slowly walked toward her and she toward him.  As they approached each other on legs rickety with age, her hands fluttered over his face.  “Oh, there you are,” she said, “there you are.”

     I don’t doubt that if my mother and father magically regained their old vigor, they’d be back fighting.  But I now see that something came of all those years of shared days— days of sitting at the same table, waking to the same sun, working and raising children together.  Even the very fury they lavished on each other was a brick in this unseen creation, a structure that reveals itself increasingly as the world around them falls apart.

     In the early morning I once again heard the voices through the wall.  “Where are we?” my father asked.  “I don’t know,” my mother replied softly.

     How lucky they are, I thought, to have each other.


Image result for pearls before swine images marriage 

(Pearl Before Swines, by Stephan Pastis, January 21, 2018)


Psalm 71:9  —  Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone.

Proverbs 5:18  —  May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.

II Corinthians 4:16  —  Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

Matthew 19:4-6  —  (Jesus said), “At the beginning the Creator made them male and female,  and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’  So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Ecclesiastes 12:1  —  Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them.”



O God, out of all the world you let us find one another and learn together the meaning of love.  Let us never fail to hold love precious.  Let the flame of it never waver or grow dim, but burn in our hearts as an unwavering devotion, and shine through our eyes in gentleness and understanding.  Teach us to remember the little courtesies, to be swift to speak the grateful and happy word, to believe rejoicingly in each other’s best, and to face all life bravely because we face it with a united heart.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Walter Russel Bowie  (1882-1969), Rector of Grace Episcopal Church, New York City

1790) Just Imagine

By Randy Alcorn, posted March 5, 2018, at:  http://www.epm.org

Understanding What Life Looks Like for Billions of People Worldwide Can Change Yours


     In his book The Great Ascent: The Struggle for Economic Development in Our Time, economist Robert Heilbroner recommended visualizing ourselves doing the following, step by step.  Though this may make you uncomfortable, it will increase your level of gratitude, thankfulness, and contentment, and hopefully increase both your compassion for the world’s truly poor and desire to reach them in Christ’s name.  Please don’t just read the words.  Slow down and take time to picture what reality looks like for billions of people:

1. Take out all the furniture in your home except for one table and a couple of chairs.  Use blankets and pads for beds.

2. Take away all of your clothing except for your oldest dress or suit, shirt or blouse.  Leave only one pair of shoes.

3. Empty the pantry and the refrigerator except for a small bag of flour, some sugar and salt, a few potatoes, some onions, and a dish of dried beans.

4. Dismantle the bathroom, shut off the running water, and remove all the electrical wiring in your house.

5. Take away the house itself and move the family into the tool shed.

6. Place your “house” [the tool shed] in a shantytown.

7. Cancel all subscriptions to newspapers, magazines, and book clubs.  This is no great loss because now none of you can read anyway.

8. Leave only one radio for the whole shantytown.

9. Move the nearest hospital or clinic ten miles away and put a midwife in charge instead of a doctor.

10. Throw away your bankbooks [or debit and credit cards], stock certificates, pension plans, and insurance policies.  Leave the family a cash hoard of ten dollars.

11. Give the head of the family a few acres to cultivate on which he can raise a few hundred dollars of cash crops, of which one third will go to the landlord and one tenth to the money lenders.

12. Lop off twenty-five or more years in life expectancy.

   The next time you are tempted to think, “I don’t have enough money,” don’t compare yourself to the relatively small number of people in the world who have more than you.  Compare yourself to the billions who have less, most of them far less, including those who lived in the time the Bible was written.  I often encourage people to go to < globalrichlist.com > and insert their household income to see where they figure in terms of global wealth.  Most will find they land in the top 1 or 2 percent.  (Click on that link and do this!  It is quick and easy… and astounding!)

     God has given you considerable material blessings.  Have you ever asked yourself, Why has He provided so much?  You don’t need to wonder.  Paul tells us exactly why in II Corinthians 9:10-11:  “Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that…”

     So that what? ‘Prosperity theology’ would finish this sentence, “so that we might live in wealth, showing the world how much God blesses those who love Him.”

     But that isn’t how Paul finishes it.  He says, “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion” (v. 11).

 God comes right out and tells us why He gives us more money than we need.  It’s not so we can find more ways to spend it.  It’s not so we can indulge ourselves and spoil our children.  It’s not so we can insulate ourselves from needing God’s provision.

     It’s so we can give—generously.

     (By the way, I am not minimizing the fact that many people in western countries do struggle financially.  In some cases it’s not their fault and certainly we should help them.  But it is fair to say that some people don’t have enough because they are spending what they have on things they want but don’t actually need.  In those cases, when there’s no food on the shelf, often it’s because of other choices that have been made.  There is help available for people in changing their spending habits and getting out of debt.  For example, see < Crown Financial Ministries >.)


Matthew 6:19-21  —  (Jesus said), “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

I Timothy 6:17-19  —  Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.  In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

Colossians 3:2  —  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

1 John 2:17  —   The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.


 O merciful Creator, your hand is open wide to satisfy the needs of every living creature.  All that we possess is from your hand.  Make us always thankful for your loving providence.  Give us grace that we may honor you with all we own, always remembering the account we must one day give to Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978, (from prayers #157 and #183)

1789) Do Your Children a Favor and Give Them a Mission in Life

Do Your Child a Favour - Give Them a Mission in Life

By Veronika Winkels, a freelance writer who lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and two children.  This article was originally posted on February 9, 2018 at http://www.mercatornet.com and is reprinted with permission under ‘Creative Common License.’


     Generation Y– my generation– and those since, (Millenials, iGen, Dot-Commers or whatever you want to call anyone younger than 30), have received at least one message from Western culture loud and clear: “Have a good time.”

     This principle holds well in Peter Pan’s fantastical home Neverland where no one has to grow up, but in the real world, it fails to create a healthy, even happy society.  Shakespeare agrees: “If all the year were playing holidays, to sport would be as tedious as to work.”

     Without a grounding in something substantial like religious belief or a code of ethics — something older generations commonly shared — the axiom to “seek pleasure” rapidly devolves into a strange, miserable narcissism.

     Miserable, because deep down, I believe people really do want to lead considered and deliberate lives that demand something from them.  But now, moral mantras are left to each individual’s own divining.  At best, younger generations have been endowed with the feeble code of “Be nice to people,” but this is proving insufficient to stave off self-absorption.

     I am all for the adage “first, do no harm.”  But, especially now that I have children of my own, I think we, as a culture, need to re-evaluate and decide what should come next.  Because if “second” is “Have as much fun as you can” this doesn’t seem to leave any room for things like duty, responsibility, or even purpose.

     When pleasure becomes the purpose of life, all pleasure is lost; happiness will remain elusive to our children so long as we tell them their sole purpose in life is to seek it for its own sake.  Instead, I want to teach my children to seek some good beyond themselves.  I want to give them a mission in life.

     By mission I mean a cause or a purpose that encompasses something much bigger than the person who undertakes it.  Something they feel born to do, and destined to perform.  This is not to say I feel my son should join the Special Forces, or that my daughter needs to start a non-for-profit school in Tibet, (both very admirable things).

     But I do wish to enthuse them with the desire, and a sense of duty, to make this world a better place for their being in it.  This might mean being passionate about education, proud of their heritage, or even just grateful for what they have.  Having this as a starting point, surely they cannot help but see what might need improving and want to set about doing just that.

     Then, surely, happiness – satisfaction with life – must follow.  With a sense of the value of their neighbor, country, or culture, they will seek more fulfilling pursuits than if they sought their own temporary gratification.

     Christianity calls this ”God’s will for His children.”  Secular religion fails to lift it to these heights, and can at best trace our moral intuitions to chance, coincidence, or still more banal, personal preference.  But these are hardly inspiring concepts.

     In fact, it is such non-religious concepts which prescribe pleasure alone as the ultimate purpose of life, as we see in the rise in activities such as shopping, social media usage, dining out, and watching Netflix shows.  Is it any wonder?  If your existence is sheer coincidence, what’s left but to enjoy it while you’ve got it? 

     But if you believe you’ve been put on this earth for some reason, you will be more likely to seek out that reason.

     I do not think that teaching my children they can do anything they want to do, or be anything they want to be, is overly useful to them.  Instead, I intend to teach them that they do have some purpose in life, that they must seek it, and, having once discovered it, put all their energies into it.  

     In the meantime, I am showing them that they can have some fun along the way, too.


Matthew 22:37-39  —  Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Mark 8:34-36  —  Then (Jesus) called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

Romans 12:2  —  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Ephesians 2:10  —  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.


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)

1788) Tom Skinner

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From Black and Free, 1968, by Tom Skinner (1942-1994), as told by Ruth Tucker in Stories of Faith, 1989.


     Tom Skinner was raised in Harlem, the son of a preacher, and he grew up learning how to behave as a preacher’s kid.  But while he outwardly conformed, he inwardly rebelled.  By his own testimony, he was an extraordinary success:  “I was president of the student body at school.  I was a member of the Arista Society, made up of the cream of the intellectual crop.  I was president of the Shakespearean Club.  And I was a member of the baseball team.  I was also president of the young people’s department in my own church.  By the time I was fourteen years of age, I’d acted out full length plays of Shakespeare, Hamlet and Macbeth, playing the title roles.”

     Such was the young man who was confronted one night by a street gang member and asked facetiously if he wanted to be a member of the Harlem Lords.  The gang member was taken aback when the preacher’s kid said yes.  “In order to be a member of the Harlem Lords you gotta pass the initiation test,” he warned.  “We’ll see if you’re tough enough to be in the gang.”

     He was tough enough, as he later recalled.  “After six weeks of fighting with the Harlem Lords, getting involved in several rumbles, breaking into a few stores and doing some other stealing, I sized up the leader of our gang.  I decided, ‘Why should I be just a member of the gang when I can be the leader?`”  He challenged the leader to a fight and won.  For the next two years he “would reign as undisputed leader of the gang” and would earn twenty-two notches on the handle of his knife— one for each time he used his knife on someone.  And all the while he continued his active involvement in church and school activities— his parents not realizing he was a gang leader.

     One night while he was listening to his radio and planning his strategy for a massive attack by a coalition of gangs against gangs on the other side of the city, an unscheduled gospel program came on.  He was annoyed— especially by the preacher’s obvious lack of education and his emotional, uncouth manner.  But somehow he could not force himself to get up and change the station.  The more he listened, the more he was convicted, and by the end of the program he turned his life over to God.

     That was the turning point in Tom Skinner’s life.  After that decision, he boldly began sharing the gospel and led many members of his own gang and rival gangs to the Lord.  He later went on to become America’s leading black evangelist…

     Evangelism seems to come naturally to some people— people to whom grace has been apportioned to be evangelists.  After he was converted, Tom Skinner became such an individual.  Immediately after his conversion, he began sharing his faith with others.

     The decision to go public with his newfound faith was not easy, as he testified:  “You don’t just walk up to a gang of fellows that you’ve been leading around for two years in rioting, looting, fighting and lawbreaking and say, ‘Well, guys, it’s been nice knowing you.  So long.’ No one quits a gang.  In fact, just two weeks before I had personally broken the arms and legs of two fellows who told me they were going to quit.  And these fellows got off easy.”

     But whether or not to tell his gang members about his conversion was not an option for Tom.  He had made a promise to God, and he decided to make the announcement in front of the entire gang.  “I moved into the smoky room and walked to the front,” he later recalled.  “There were 129 fellows in that room.  Every one of them carried a knife.  I made my announcement and gave my testimony.  You could have heard a pin drop.  No one spoke.  No one even moved. I walked down the aisle and out into the night air, half expecting a knife to come tearing into my back or a bullet to dig into my flesh. But nothing!  I walked out without one person raising a hand against me.”

     Two nights later, Tom led “The Mop”—the “number two man in the gang” to the Lord, and in the weeks that followed several more of his old gang members were converted.  Besides personal witnessing, he began preaching on the streets to passers-by.  It was on one such occasion that members of the rival “Diablo” gang spotted him.  Within minutes they surrounded him, threatening his life.  He calmly explained what had happened in his life, and before the encounter was over, he writes, “We led at least twenty-five members of that gang to Jesus Christ.  Many of them prayed openly on the street.”

     Tom’s ministry of evangelism was also effective in the local churches— indeed, so effective that some local pastors feared his ministry would be a threat to their own.  His goal, however, was not to start a rival movement, but simply to reach out with the gospel and bring people to Christ.


I Timothy 1:14-16  —  The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners— of whom I am the worst.  But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.

Matthew 10:28  —  (Jesus said), “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Isaiah 51:7  —  (The Lord says), “Hear me, you who know what is right, you people who have taken my instruction to heart:  Do not fear the reproach of mere mortals or be terrified by their insults.  For the moth will eat them up like a garment; the worm will devour them like wool.  But my righteousness will last forever, my salvation through all generations.”


PSALM 118:5-7:

When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord;
    he brought me into a spacious place.
The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.
    What can mere mortals do to me?
The Lord is with me; he is my helper.
    I look in triumph on my enemies.

1787) Choosing Life Over the Olympics

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What would you have given to become an Olympic athlete?  One famous Japanese figure skater knows what she wouldn’t give.

By Eric Metaxas and Anne Morse, posted March 2, 2018, at: http://www.breakpoint.org


     The skater is gliding gracefully across the ice in a bright red costume, holding her arms aloft.  Skating backwards now, Miki Ando of Japan is preparing for a huge jump: A quadruple Salchow.  And she lands it!

     The audience explodes with delight.  But a few years later, the applause went silent when the two-time Olympian became pregnant— and refused to have an abortion.

     Miki Ando landed that quadruple Salchow— the only female skater ever to do so in competition— at the Junior Grand Prix figure skating finals at The Hague in 2002.  She took part in the Olympic Games in both Turin and in Vancouver, representing Japan— a country where figure skating is insanely popular.  And she’s a two-time World Champion.

     Four years ago, Ando was preparing for a spot on the Olympic team for the Sochi Games when she made a shocking discovery:  She was pregnant.  And now she had a hard decision to make.  She considered having an abortion.  Competitive skating was her life; having a baby meant missing months of practice.  And in Japan it’s considered shameful to have a baby out of wedlock.

     As Ando later recalled, “I could not make up my mind all the way, but I hated to make a decision to say goodbye to the baby.”

      In the end, she announced: “I have chosen the baby’s life over skating.”

     When news broke of Miki’s pregnancy— and of her decision to give birth— the Japanese public was furious.  Their quad-jumping champion was now told she was setting a bad example.

     “Honestly,” Miki told Kristi Burton Brown at LiveAction.org, “98 percent of the people said I was so bad.”

     But her critics were forgotten when, in April of 2013, Miki gave birth to a little girl she named Himawari, now an adorable almost-five-year-old in pigtails.  Her mother takes her with her to skating events, and when she cannot, Himawari’s grandmother cares for her.

     Would Miki have won a spot on the Japanese Olympic team four years ago if she had aborted her baby?  It’s hard to tell; many factors are involved.  In any case, she has no regrets.  Miki is now a professional figure skater, coach, and television personality.  And as she told a Japanese website, the sight of her daughter’s face makes her want to do her best.

     Miki is sending a vital message to women of the Western world:  that babies and careers are not mutually exclusive.  Sadly, women are often told from early childhood how important it is to have a career— that they should put off childbearing until they have finished college and gotten a good start on their careers.   Men, also, are told to put off marriage and fatherhood and focus on making money.  But babies tend to show up when they want to, regardless of our plans, and couples are often put under pressure to abort.

     Miki’s story is proof that life doesn’t end with the birth of a baby— and that their appearance, even if seemingly ill-timed, can become a great joy.  And as Kristi Burton Brown pointed out at LiveAction.org, the message that women must choose between career and motherhood “is harmful.”

     And as for the Olympic medal Miki might have won, she notes that “No one is guaranteed the successes they most covet— no matter how much or who they sacrifice in the name of the success they crave.”


Deuteronomy 30:19-20a  —  This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.  For the Lord is your life. 

Psalm 139:13-14  —  For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

Psalm 22:9-10  —  You brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.  From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.



O Lord God Almighty, who hast made us out of nothing, and redeemed us by the precious blood of thine only Son; preserve, I beseech thee, the work of thy hands, and defend both me and the tender fruit of my womb from all perils and evils.  I beg of thee, for myself, thy grace, protection, and a happy delivery; and for my child, that thou wouldst preserve it for baptism, sanctify it for thyself, and make it thine forever.  Through Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord.  Amen.

The Christian’s Guide to Heaven, 1794


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1786) A Letter From Prison

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Inside a prision in Eritrea


A pastor imprisioned for his faith in Eritrea (East Africa) recently wrote this letter to his wife (posted January 12, 2018 at http://www.opendoors.org ):

 My dear wife,

     God, by His holy will, has prolonged my prison sentence to five years and four months.  I very much long for the day that I will be reunited with you my dear wife, our children and God’s people in the church.

     My dear, listen to me— not only as a wife, but also as a Christian woman who has come to understand who God is and how deep and mysterious His ways are . Yes!  I love you, I love the children, and I would love to be free in order to serve God.  But, in here, God has made me not only a sufferer for His Name’s sake in a prison of this world over which Christ has won victory, but also a prisoner of His indescribable love and grace.  I am testing and experiencing the love and care of our Lord every day.

     When they first brought me to this prison, I had thoughts which were contrary to what the Bible says.  I thought the devil had prevailed over the church and over me.  I thought the work of the gospel in Eritrea was over.  But it did not take one day for the Lord to show me that He is a sovereign God and that He is in control of all things— even here in prison.

     The moment I entered my cell, one of the prisoners called me and said, “Pastor, come over here.  Everyone in this cell is unsaved.  You are very much needed here.”  So, on the same day I was put in prison, I carried on my spiritual work.

     My dear, the longer I stay in here, the more I love my Savior and tell the people here about His goodness.  His grace is enabling me to overcome the coldness and the longing that I feel for you and for our children.  Sometimes I ask myself, Am I out of my mind?  Am I a fool?  Well, isn’t that what the Apostle Paul said, “Whether I am of sound mind or out of my mind, I am Christ’s!”

     My most respected wife, I love you more than I can say.  Please help the children understand that I am here as a prisoner of Christ for the greater cause of the gospel.


Philippians 1:12-14  —  Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.  As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.  And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

Genesis 50:19-20  —  But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid.  Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” 

I Corinthians 4:9-13  —  It seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena.  We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings.   We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ!  We are weak, but you are strong!  You are honored, we are dishonored!  To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless.  We work hard with our own hands.  When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it;  when we are slandered, we answer kindly.  We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.


Lord, meet the needs today of Christians around the world in prison for their faith in You.  Help them to glorify You in their situation.  Bless their family members waiting patiently at home.  Amen.

Standing Strong Through the Storm