2162) Persecution and Church Growth

From an October 2012 Standing Strong Through the Storm daily devotional at :  http://www.opendoors-usa.org

—————————

Image result for pastor samuel lamb china"

Pastor Samuel Lamb  (1924-2013)

—————-

     Pastor Samuel Lamb from southern China celebrated his 88th birthday in October, 2012.  A quarter of his life was spent imprisoned for his faith.  He still preaches several times on Sunday in his large house church and most week nights in Bible studies.  His brilliant smile shines from a slight body suffering chronic disability resulting from 15 years confinement in a coal mine.  “God gives me the strength I need,” he says.  He has never left China, fearing that if he traveled, the authorities would not let him return.

     Lamb credits God for the faith to accept what has happened in his life.  It has deepened his ministry.  Lamb believes that sometimes God is more glorified through sickness and poverty than through health and wealth.  Christians travel thousands of miles to discuss house church ministry with Pastor Lamb and visitors from around the world seek out his house church in Guangzhou, China, which gathers 3,000 members each week.

     Pastor Lamb often refers to persecution and growth as intertwined.  He is known for his quote, “Remember the lesson of the Chinese church: more persecution, more growth.”  As the pastor explains, “Before I was put into prison in 1955, this church’s membership was 400; when I came out in 1978, it built up to 900 in a matter of weeks.  Then after 1990, when everything was confiscated here and the church briefly closed, we re-opened and in a matter of weeks we had 2,000 members.  More persecution, more growth—that’s the history of the Chinese church, that’s the history of this church.”

     Though the two are related, persecution in other parts of the world has not necessarily always brought church growth.  North Africa is an example.

     But the Bible, especially in the book of Acts, is clear that church growth will likely bring persecution.  Each time the gospel made advances in Acts, persecution would break out.  And in Acts 8:4, the persecuted and scattered believers went everywhere preaching the word.

Pastor Samuel Lamb on Youtube:

**********************************************

Acts 8:1b-4  — On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.  Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.  But Saul began to destroy the church.  Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.  Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.

Romans 5:2b-5  —  We boast in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

II Corinthians 12:9-10  —  (The Lord), said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Matthew 5:10  —  (Jesus said), “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

I Peter 4:12-16  —  Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.  If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.  However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.

**********************************************

An Open Doors Prayer for the Church: 
Thank You, Lord, that You use all situations to grow Your church.  Help me to be an active and eager participant.

Related image

2161) Thankful for What’s Left

By Sandra P. Aldrich, adapted from her book Living Through the Loss of Someone You Love (1990, Regal)

——————————————

     My husband, Don, had always been in charge of the car maintenance, so after his death to cancer, I was too exhausted to think about our station wagon’s balding tires.

     But one afternoon, a blowout on the expressway forced me to enter the unfamiliar world of four-ply radials and speed ratings.  I nodded at appropriate times as the salesman explained the importance of computerized spin balancing, but the strain showed.

     The young man sensed my confusion.   “Why don’t you grab a cup of coffee next door while we get you all fixed up?” he suggested.

     I nodded and, with misty eyes, trudged outside. “Lord, I hate it that Don’s dead,” I muttered.  “He should be buying these tires.. . . He should be making the financial decisions…. He should be helping me raise Jay and Holly. .. . I need some encouragement, Lord.”

     I wiped my eyes and turned toward the restaurant parking lot.  A young woman was standing next to her car’s open hood.  I offered to help, but she insisted the engine would start again in another 15 minutes—after it cooled off.  So we pushed it out of the way, and I invited her to have coffee with me.

     Over the steaming cups, she asked if I was married.  When I told her Don had died last Christmas, I expected her to mutter, “Oh, I’m sorry.”

     Instead she shrugged. “How long were you married?”

     “Sixteen and a half years,” I stammered.

     She took a sip of her coffee. “Did you love him?”

     “Yes, very much.”

     “Did he love you?”

     I smiled. “Oh, yes.”

     Again she shrugged. “Then you’ve already experienced more love than most of us ever have.  Think of that instead of what you’ve lost.”

     Then she told about her divorce—the beatings, the custody battles, the continuing threats.  Suddenly she looked at her watch. “Hey, I gotta get to work.  But thanks for listening.  That helped a lot.”

     She was gone before I could tell her how she had helped me.  I stared at her empty chair, shaking my head at the bizarre way God had answered my tearful prayer.  “Okay, Lord,” I thought, “I’ll try to concentrate on what I have left instead of what I’ve lost.  But you’ll have to help me.”

     A few weeks later, our first Thanksgiving without Don tested that determination.  My husband’s favorite holiday meal had always been the traditional turkey dinner.  He’d invite the relatives, and I’d cook a 22-pound bird with all the fixings.

     This time I couldn’t cook if he wasn’t there.  Some well-meaning friends had invited us for dinner, but I didn’t want to spend the day with someone else’s perfect family.  If I was going to compare myself to others, I wanted the comparison going in the right direction.

     So I called the Salvation Army and offered the three of us as meal servers.  That was the right decision; an afternoon of heapng food on sturdy paper plates instead of my blue and white china—for other single mothers, street people, the elderly and even entire families, forced me to think about those around me.  What had they lost?  What about the fiftyish woman in the summer-weight dress?  Had her husband once whispered, “Great meal, Hon,’ as he squeezed her shoulders?  Or had he left her for someone younger?  At least I didn’t have to deal with rejection, too.

     How about that man in the shiny suit?  Did he live in a silent hotel room?  Did he come here for the company as well as the food?  I smiled at Jay and Holly. We still had each other.

     When it was time to wipe the tables that afternoon, I whispered my thanks to the Lord for getting us through our first Thanksgiving as a family of three.  Oh, I figured challenges would still sneak up on the, but I knew I had a new weapon to face them: Concentrating on what I still had left instead of what I had lost.

Image result for soup kitchen images young family serving

———————-

“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has many;  not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”    –Charles Dickens

————————————

(After Stephen commented on how Levin always seemed to be so happy):  Levin replied, “Perhaps that is because I rejoice in what I have and do not bother about what I don’t have.”    —Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

____________________________________

When I came to faith in Christ, my skeptical father said, “You’ll get over it.”  It has now been over forty-five years, and I’m grateful I’ve never gotten over it—it has been a daily source of happiness.  When my dad, cancer-ridden and desperate at age eighty-five, surrendered his life to Christ, I celebrated his conversion.  I still rejoice every time this moment comes to mind.  If I find myself wishing my dad had come to my ball games and taken me fishing and said “I love you” when I was a kid, I choose instead to be grateful for the good things about him.  I thank God for using him in my life decades before he came to Jesus.  My father sometimes failed me; such is life under the Curse.  But my Father God has never failed me, even when I don’t understand His plan.  –Randy Alcorn, in his November 27, 2019 blog, at:  http://www.epm.org

********************************************

II Corinthians 1:3-4  —  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

Psalm 103:1-2  —  Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name.  Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.

James 1:16-17a  —  My dear brothers and sisters, don’t let anyone fool you.  Every good and perfect gift is from God…

*********************************************

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

–Johnson Oatman, Jr.  (1856-1922)

2160) “Earnest People” (part two of two)

Pilgrims Going to Church by George Henry Boughton

Pilgrims Going to Church, 1867, George Henry Boughton  (1833-1905)

—————————————-

A Thanksgiving meditation by Billy Graham, first published in Decision magazine, July 1971

—————–

(…continued)

Fourth, the Pilgrims left us an example of a people who had keen social concern.

     The Pilgrims believed that every person was made in the image of God, and that each one was of infinite value and worth in the sight of God.  They lived with Native Americans who had a different religion, a different skin color, and a different culture.  In March of 1621 Chief Samoset visited the Pilgrims’ village and signed a peace treaty that lasted for many years.  It was a treaty with high social and ethical content, showing a deep concern for the social, political and spiritual needs of neighbors.

     Though the Pilgrims knew that they were citizens of another world, they sought to improve the world they were passing through.  The Pilgrims made their world better, not by tearing down the old, but by constructive toil and fair dealings with their neighbors.

Fifth, the Pilgrims were evangelists who set us an example in sharing their spiritual and material blessings with others.

     In the Mayflower Compact the Pilgrims committed themselves to the “advancement of the Christian faith.”  The Pilgrims at Plymouth were followed by the Puritans at Massachusetts Bay.  Together they built churches and schools.  In 1636 Harvard College was founded to train men for the ministry.  By 1663 the first Bible was printed for the Native Americans (Algoquin) in their own tongue.

     These settlers came to the new world not only to find freedom for themselves but also to tell others of their faith.

Sixth, the Pilgrims were people of vision and hope.

     For “where there is no vision, the people perish” ((Proverbs 29:18), says the Bible.  The Pilgrims dreamed great dreams.  They dreamed of a haven for themselves and for their children.  They dreamed of religious freedom.  They dreamed of a world where God would rule the hearts of all people.   They lived and died with these hopes.  The Pilgrims’ strength of spirit was forged by a personal faith in Christ, by tough discipline and by regular habits of devotion.

     Today it seems that many of us have neither vision nor hope.  But if we so chose, we too could become like the Pilgrims.  We could regain hope.  We could recover the spiritual and the moral strength that we have lost.  But we would have to be willing to take up the same cross of Christ that they bore.  We would have to put our faith in the same Christ that they did.  We would have to make the same kind of lifetime commitments that they made. We would have to discipline ourselves is they did.

     And, like the Pilgrims, we need to dream great dreams, embrace great principles, renew our hope, and above all, believe in the Christ who alone can give meaning and an ultimate goal to our lives: “For in him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

**********************************************

I Thessalonians 5:18  —  Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Psalm 118:29  —  O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.

Psalm 30:12b  —  O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

Ephesians 5:19b-20  —  Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Colossians 3:15  —  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful.

Colossians 3:17  —  Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

**********************************************

God, eternity won’t be long enough to thank you for all you’ve given us and all you will give us in the ages to come.  May we not wait until we see you to be filled with gratitude for the saving work of Jesus, along with every other gift you give to us.  May our hearts overflow with gratitude to you this Thanksgiving, and each day.  Amen.

–Randy Alcorn

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

2159) “Earnest People” (part one of two)

Related image

The Arrival of the Pilgrims, 1864, by Antonio Gisbert  (1835-1901)

—————————-

A Thanksgiving meditation by Billy Graham, first published in Decision magazine, July 1971

—————–

     Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that “all history resolves itself into the biography of a few stout and earnest persons.”  It is appropriate at this season that we honor “a few stout and earnest” Englishmen—the Pilgrims—who left their native land in search of freedom to worship God.

     Our time is a time of cynicism, yet no amount of cynicism or ridicule can take away what the Pilgrims did more than 380 years ago.  The Mayflower’s voyage to the new world was a “survival  test” on a huge scale.  The passengers had sold their possessions and had to work for years to pay for their passage.  The ship had no heat or plumbing.  Storms raged, and a main beam cracked in mid-ocean.

     But after more than two months on the Atlantic Ocean, this band 102 people arrived before Christmas, 1620.  William Bradford wrote in his journal, “Being thus arrived at a good harbor, and brought safely to land, they fell on their knees and blessed the God of heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof.”  What a celebration that must have been!

     But just after Christmas a serious sickness broke out, and in the next three months nearly half the Pilgrims died.  Hunger and illness stalked them, but they never wavered in their purpose.

     Today, if these pilgrims could observe our troubled world with its disillusioned outlook, its rebelliousness and its erosion of traditional values, they would be not only dismayed but also shocked.  However, since their time, certain things have not changed.  There is still lust, greed, hatred, and prejudice in the human heart.  There is still persecution and war in the world.  With all of the world’s churches and universities, we would do well to go back to the church and the school of early Plymouth to see what those pioneers can teach us.

First, the Pilgrims have left us an example of their deep, unwavering religious convictions.

     What were these convictions?  They believed in Christ and in His Kingdom.  They found fulfillment in Him.  They had purpose in their lives.  They had encountered the living Christ and they knew it.  They feared neither monarch nor people, only God.  Because they belonged to God, they had a deep faith and confidence in themselves.  They believed in their own dignity, were confident that their cause was just, and walked with an uprightness that only fearless and free people can display.

     In our day agnosticism, anxiety, emptiness, meaninglessness, have gripped much of our world– and even the Church.  People are broad but shallow.  Our youth are desperately searching for purpose and meaning and fulfillment in their lives.  By contrast, these Pilgrim forebears stand as shining examples of people who were narrow but deep, certain of what they believed, unswerving in their loyalty, and passionately dedicated to God whom they trusted and for whom they willingly would have died.  I sincerely believe that a return to biblical faith and conviction would have a great impact at this hour.

Second, the Pilgrims left us an example of disciplined living.

     They were Puritans who were ready to order everything– personal life, worship, the church, business affairs, political views, and even recreation– according to the commandments of God.  The word “Puritan” itself in the contemporary mind identifies those who followed a strict and closely regulated life.  Their lives were marked by characteristics that, according to Jonathan Edwards, need to distinguish the life of every Christian: “This practice of religion is not only to be his business at certain seasons, but the business of his life.”

     They did not mind being called narrow by the religious and civil establishment of the day.  They remembered that their Lord Jesus had said, “Straight is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:14).  The ethic of self-mastery and spiritual discipline falls strangely on the ears of today’s generation.  What a contrast between the conduct of the Pilgrims and the permissiveness and hedonism of today.

     Third, the Pilgrims have left us the example of freedom under law.

     The Mayflower Compact forged before the Pilgrims left the ship was the wedge that opened the door to a government controlled by the people, a government that has endured in the United States for centuries.  Most historians agree that the Mayflower Compact was the forerunner of the Constitution of the United States.

     This little band of people searched for an equitable manner of earning a living and for a way of survival.  They tried living a communal lifestyle, but, according to Governor Bradford: “This communal system conceived by Plato was found to breed much confusion.”  When communal living failed, they assigned a parcel of land to every family; with individual enterprise, prosperity came to the colony.

     The freedom exercised by the Pilgrims didn’t degenerate into license to do whatever one wanted to do.  Theirs was a liberty under law.   To them freedom under the law meant judgment for the lawless.  To them, retribution was not only a tenet of their faith but also it was the practice of their commonwealth.  They made laws in keeping with biblical convictions.  They not only feared those laws and their judges but they also obeyed them.   (continued…)

2158) The Greatest Wonders

 

The Taj Mahal, India, Built 1632-1653

—————-

     A teacher once told her students to list what they considered to be the Seven Wonders of the World.  Most of the students took the assignment to mean ‘man-made’ wonders, so these students listed things like the Great Pyramids of Egypt, the Panama Canal, the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, and St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  A few students took the assignment to mean the great natural wonders of the world, so those students listed things like the Grand Canyon, the Rocky Mountains, and Niagara Falls.  One little girl, however, took the assignment in an entirely different way, and ended up with a very different kind of list.  Here are the seven things she listed as the greatest wonders of the world:  #1) to see; #2) to hear; #3 ) to touch; #4 ) to taste; #5 ) to feel; #6) to laugh; and, #7) to love.

     I like that little girl’s list best of all.  The other wonders are truly great because of their uniqueness or their great size.  But the wonders the little girl listed are even greater precisely because they are so common.  Almost every one of us, even the poorest and lowliest, can see and hear.  Even those who cannot see or hear, can laugh and love.  Those wonders, though common, are truly miraculous, and can fill us with wonder and awe.  I marvel at the amazing technology of a camera, but just think how much more the human eye can do– taking in images, constantly focusing and adjusting for light and distance; then instantly recording that image in our memory, there to be retrieved in a few moments, or, in 70 years, and then, if the need arises, be recalled, thought about, and turned into words to describe the image to another.  It took a lot of labor and a long time to build the pyramids.  But no amount of labor or time can build and install even one little human eyeball, and everyone of us has not one, but two!  And that is but one of the seven items on that little girls list.  That girl knew how to appreciate the simple things in life.

     In Deuteronomy chapter eight the people of Israel are on the verge of entering a new land, the land God promised to bring them to when he freed from slavery in Egypt.  As slaves in Egypt they were perhaps working on those pyramids listed by several of the students as one of the great ‘wonders of the world.’  Throughout the book of Deuteronomy, Moses speaks to the people for the last time, after leading them for forty years.  Within days, Moses will be dead, and the people will move on into the promised land without him.  Among the many things he has to tell them, in this chapter he tells them to remember to be grateful.  In verses 10 and 11 he says, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.  Be careful that you do not forget the Lord…” or else, Moses says in verses 14 and 17, “or else, you will forget the Lord and say to yourself, ‘my power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’”

     Moses then mentions some of the great miracles that God had done for the people in the past, for example, freeing them from slavery and sustaining them in the wilderness.  Then, looking ahead, he reminds them to be thankful and praise God for the simplest things– food and water.  That is what makes up most of blessings they will receive in the new land, as listed in verses seven, eight, and nine,– food and water.  Remember to be thankful, Moses implies, every time you take a drink of water or eat a bite of food.

     The problem is we oftentimes forget to be thankful for the many simple blessings that we already have because we already have our eyes on something else, something we do not have, but what someone else does.  Everyone in this life gets a different bag of blessings, and we find it all too tempting to forget to be grateful for everything that is in our bag, and be constantly looking around at what someone else has received in their bag, anxious to see if there is anything we are missing out on.  Sometimes we are reminded of those who have less than we do, and that reminder can inspire in us feelings of gratitude.  But all too often, we are looking at those who seem to have more than we do, and then we are tempted to have feelings of resentment and ingratitude, and perhaps even jealousy and anger.  For many people, the receiving of more things makes them not more content, but fills them with an even greater craving for still more.

***********************************************

Deuteronomy 8:10-14  —  When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.  Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day.  Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

1 Chronicles 29:13  —  Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.

Psalm 107:21  —  Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind.

***********************************************

O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good:  for his mercy endureth for ever.

–Psalm 136:1

2157) Can’t Quit

——————————-

By Ray Stedman

     Here is the mark of the true believer:  He cannot quit.  When Jesus said to them, ‘Will you go away also?’, it is clear that he would have let them go if they had wanted to.  Jesus does not hold anybody against his will.  Responding to our Lord’s words, Peter says two wonderful things:

     First, Peter says, in effect, “Lord, we have been thinking about it.  We have investigated the alternatives.  You’re not easy to live with.  You embarrass us.  You frighten us.  We don’t understand you at times.  We see and hear you do things that simply blow our minds.  You offend people who we think are important.  We have looked at some alternatives, but I want to tell you this, Lord: we have never found anyone who can do what you can do.  To whom shall we go?  You have two things that hold us, two things we cannot deny.  The first is your words.  What you say to us has met our deepest need, has delivered us from our sins and freed us from our fears.  Your words, Lord, are the most remarkable words we have ever heard.  They explain us and they explain life to us.  They satisfy us.  Nobody speaks like you do, nobody understands life like you do.  That holds us.”

     Peter goes on:  “Secondly, Lord, we have seen your character.”  Notice how Peter puts it:  “We have believed, and have come to know.”  That implies a process which has perhaps gone on over the course of months and years.  Peter is saying, “We have watched you, and we have come to see that there is nothing wrong in you.  You are the Holy One of God, you are the sinless One.  You fit the prophecies; you fulfill the predictions.  You have drawn us and compelled us.  You are the incomparable Christ, thus there is no place to go.”

     I have found this to be true of real Christians.  Those who steadfastly continue on always feel this way about Jesus.  They know their own failures, their own weaknesses.  They know that despite the many times they do not understand what is happening to them, yet they cannot leave.  This is the testimony of those who walk faithfully with him and follow him.  I have often said that the best definition of a Christian is someone who cannot quit.

     I had a phone call once from a young man, a relatively new Christian who said to me, “I can’t make it.  I can’t continue to be a Christian.  It’s too hard.  I blow it all the time.  I’m going to hang it up.”  I had heard that kind of thing before, so I said to him, “That’s a good idea.  Why don’t you do that?  I think you’re right.  Hang it up.”  There was a pause on the line, and then he said to me, “You know I can’t do that.”  I said, “I know it.  Of course you can’t.  You can’t quit.  Who can you go to?  Where can you find answers and resources such as you have drawn on?”  This is what Peter is saying to Jesus.

*************************************************

John 6:60-61…66-69  —  On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”  Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you?”… From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.  “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Psalm 73:25-26  —  Whom have I in heaven but you?  And earth has nothing I desire besides you.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

*************************************************

I HAVE DECIDED TO FOLLOW JESUS

I have decided to follow Jesus (3x)
No turning back, no turning back

Though none go with me, still I will follow (3x)
No turning back, no turning back

The world behind me, the cross before me (3x)
No turning back, no turning back.

——————–

To hear this song on youtube go to:  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ypi4jz2_sHk

2156) Always Give Thanks? (part two of two)

Luke 7:36-50  —  When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.  A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume.  As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears.  Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.  When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender.  One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman?  I came into your house.  You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet.  You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.  Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown.  But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

**********************************************

     (…continued)  In this story some high achievers, the Pharisees, look down on a woman who we are told “lived a sinful life.”  They objected to the attention this woman was paying to Jesus, and they objected to the attention Jesus paid to her.  But Jesus looked not at her sinful life, but at her repentance.  She, unlike the Pharisees, knew she was a sinner in need of grace, and Jesus said that “her many sins have been forgiven, for she loved much.”  Then he added, no doubt referring to the Pharisees, but “he who has been forgiven little, loves little.”  The Pharisees needed forgiveness just as much as the woman, but they were blinded by their self-righteousness.  Proud as they were of their own goodness and their own achievements, they felt little gratitude for the forgiveness offered them by Jesus.

     From the safe distance of 2,000 years later, it is easy to read the New Testament and always take the side of Jesus against the wicked Pharisees.   But to be honest we need to look at those ways that we are similar to them.  Are there people we look down on?  Do we have a full awareness of depth of our own sin?  Do we have a deep gratitude for the forgiveness of sins that we have received, or do we take it for granted, and casually and knowingly continue to do wrong?

     Michael Vick was the number one NFL draft pick in 2001.  He became an all-pro quarterback with the Atlanta Falcons, and was off to a brilliant career.  But Michael Vick was a bad boy, and was often in trouble with the law.  The worst trouble came when he was arrested and convicted for running a dog-fighting and gambling ring, a wicked business that inflicts unspeakable cruelty onto dogs.  His brilliant career was halted in 2007 when he went to jail for the dog-fighting.  Vick was sentenced to almost two years in prison and was released in 2009 after serving 18 months.  His reputation was ruined, he had to file bankruptcy, and he had a hard time finding a job.  The Atlanta Falcons no longer wanted him, and could not even find any team willing to trade for him, and so they released him.  Finally, Vick was picked up by the Philadelphia Eagles who were risking more trouble and a public relations nightmare.  Michael Vick went from the peaks of success to the depths of failure in the blink of an eye.  He is a man who lived a sinful life, and like the woman in the parable, was looked down on by everyone.

     At this time Michael Vick received encouragement from an unexpected source.  The support came in an article written by Chuck Colson, who was looked on by some people as the self-righteous Pharisee type.  Colson was a vocal proponent of religion, morality, and individual responsibility.  He was an ex-marine, a tough lawyer, an ex-political power player, and a real no-nonsense kind of guy.  After his conversion, he was up front and out-spoken about his Christian faith, speaking all over the country against the many sins of modem society.  With his appreciation for law and order, he would fit in very nicely with Pharisees who loved to emphasize the Old Testament Law.  And law and order is good and necessary.  The Pharisees were not wrong about that, and Jesus never condemned them for that.  Jesus also opposed the sins that they opposed, and sometimes he even made the law stricter.

     But what Jesus objected to in the Pharisees, and what Chuck Colson did not have, was a spirit of self-righteousness.  You see, Chuck Colson also spent time in prison, going to jail for his involvement in the Watergate cover-up.  He has much to be ashamed of, his sins were broadcast to the world, and his crude and conniving words are recorded on the Nixon White House tapes for all time.  Like Michael Vick, he knows what it means to fall from the heights— from an office in the White House right next to the President’s, to a 6′ x 9′ jail cell.  And Colson knows what it means to be given a second chance.  He used his second chance to start ministry for prisoners, and for almost 40 years he has worked with prisoners all over the world, establishing some of the most effective prisoner release programs in the country.  Chuck Colson believed in second chances because he believed in Jesus, and he was glad that someone was giving Michael Vick a second chance.  He didn’t pretend to see into Michael Vick’s heart, and he didn’t know how sincere his public remorse was, but he wanted to see him given a chance.  (Vick did make good use of his second chance, returning to the NFL for a while, establishing charities, working with youth football, and having a family.  Colson died in 2012 at the age of 80.)

Image result for michael vick images

Michael Vick  (1980-  )

     Colson’s story is a good illustration of this theme.  He lived a sinful life, he came to faith and received Christ’s forgiveness, and he has since lived a life of service to others in gratitude to God for his grace and mercy.  His attitude was Christ-like– strict in own personal life and his stance on morality and ethics, but at the same time displaying in his life and service genuine Christian forgiveness and mercy.

     To fully appreciate God’s mercy we need to understand that just as we are appalled by the behavior of some who we know lived a sinful life, God in his perfect holiness is appalled by our far from perfect behavior and faith.   And yet he offers his grace and forgiveness.  We must not take that for granted, but live every day in gratitude.  From now on, says Ephesians 5:20, “always and in everything, give thanks.”

************************************************

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.

–Ancient Jesus prayer

———–

Image result for every saint has a past every sinner a future wilde images

2155) Always Give Thanks? (part one of two)

Image result for always give thanks images

     In Ephesians 5:20 Paul tells us to “always and for everything give thanks to God the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (RSV).   Always?– and for everything?– give thanks?  Is that what you always do?  Or, are you perhaps the type of person who always and in everything, can and will find something to complain about?  Most of us are probably somewhere in the middle.  It is difficult to be always thankful for everything; and even the most negative person probably has an occasional positive feeling of gratitude. 

     The key to happiness in life is to tend more toward thankfulness than complaining.  Not only is that the key to happiness, but God’s Word commands it.  And the command is made not only in this one verse, but the admonition to be grateful is an often repeated theme throughout the Bible.  In fact, this even gets two of the Ten Commandments.  The ninth and tenth commandments both begin with the words “Thou shalt not covet…”  To covet is to want something that you do not have, something that someone else has, something that God has not given to you– be it a possession or a skill or whatever.  The opposite of coveting is to be content, to be satisfied with what you have, and to be thankful for what God has given you.  “Always and in everything give thanks,” says the verse.

      This is, of course, all a matter of perspective; a matter of how one chooses to look at what they have been given.  There are people who have everything but are still not satisfied and can complain all day; and, there are those who have very little, but are content, happy, and hardly ever complain about what they don’t have.  The contentment that comes from gratitude is not a matter of how much you have, but how much you choose to appreciate what you have. 

     Am I telling you anything new?  Of course not.  You know this already.  But we do need the occasional reminder.  Even as I write this, I am reminded of many aspects in my own life that should be more a matter of gratitude (which I can so easily forget), instead of complaint and dissatisfaction (which I can be so quick to do).  I know how this works, and so do you; so this is not so much new instruction as it is a reminder of what we already know.  Ephesians 5:20 provides the opportunity for such a reminder.

   Let me illustrate this with a (mostly) true story.  Mike and Ed both worked for a large company.  They did not know each other until they were assigned to work together on dealing with a large financial mess created by the dishonesty of one of the company’s executives.  Mike resented the many extra hours, the nights and weekends stuck in the office, and the pressure from the boss to get it done fast.  Mike would often make his frustration known with loud and long complaints. 

     After a while Mike noticed that Ed was not joining in on the grumbling.  Throughout the whole process Ed remained his usual cheerful self, despite being forced into the same miserable position as Mike.  Finally Mike asked Ed why he wasn’t more upset by the whole ordeal.

     Ed replied by telling him how he had learned to have a different perspective on all his troubles.   Ed said that he had been born with a heart defect, and just a few years before this his heart was giving out.  He was dying, and his only hope was to undergo a very difficult and dangerous surgery.  Without the surgery, he  would live less than a year, but if he had the surgery, there was a 50-50 chance he would die on the operating table.  Ed decided to have the surgery, and it was successful.  The defect was repaired and Ed made a full recovery.  Ed said, “When I said good-bye to my family that morning as I went in to surgery, I knew that I may never see them again.  I might not get even one more day, as that surgery could very well have been the end of everything for me.  And so when I did wake up and the doctors said I would be fine, it was like getting my life back again.  After something like that you look at all of life and every day from then on with gratitude.  Sure, we are putting in some long days here when we would rather be doing something else.  But for me, every day since that surgery has been a gift, no matter what I am doing.”  Ed had learned to do as the verse says, “always, and in everything give thanks.”

     There are two kinds of people in the world.  There are those who consider their life as their own achievement, and whatever comes to them is owed them.  They believe they have earned it and deserve it.  And, there are those others who believe their life is a gift, and whatever they receive comes to them as an additional, undeserved blessing of God.  Christians, if they are consistent with what they say they believe, will see their lives from that second perspective, and approach life with gratitude for all that God has given them.

   It is up to us to make good use of what we have been given, and even the best of us do not always do that.  But then we believe that God has even more to give us.  Not only do we look at all of life as a gift, but as Christians we know that in Christ we are offered forgiveness for the many ways that we have misused the life we have been given.  This too becomes a matter of perspective.  If we see only our achievements and have only pride in ourselves for what we have, then we will not have much appreciation for the Gospel of God’s grace and love and the forgiveness of our sins.  But if we see ourselves as receivers of everything we have, including the life and strength and skill to accomplish our achievements; and if we understand and believe what the Bible means when it says that we are sinners, then we will have a deep sense of gratitude for the forgiveness we receive in Christ Jesus.  (continued…)

2154) Help Wanted

Image result for god our helper images

“We All Need Help” by John Piper

Hebrews 4:16  —  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

     Every one of us needs help.  We are not God.  We have needs.  We have weaknesses.  We have confusion.  We have limitations of all kinds.  We need help.

     But every one of us has something else: we have sins.  And therefore at the bottom of our hearts we know that we do not deserve the help we need.  And so we feel trapped.

     I need help to live my life and to handle death and to cope with eternity — help with my family, my spouse, my children, my loneliness, my job, my health, my finances.  I need help.  But I don’t deserve the help I need.

     So what can I do?  I can try to deny it all and be a superman who doesn’t need any help . Or I can try to drown it all and throw my life into a pool of sensual pleasures.  Or I can simply give way to the paralysis of despair.

     But God declares over this hopeless conclusion: Jesus Christ became a High Priest to shatter that despair with hope and to humble that superman or superwoman and to rescue that drowning wretch.

     Yes, we all need help.  Yes, none of us deserves the help we need.  But no to despair and pride and lechery.  Look at what God says.  Because we have a great High Priest, the throne of God is a throne of grace.  And the help we get at that throne is mercy and grace to help in time of need. Grace to help! Not deserved help, gracious help.

     You are not trapped.  Say no to that lie.  We need help.  We don’t deserve it.  But we can have it.  You can have it right now and forever.  If you will receive and trust in your High Priest, Jesus the Son of God, and draw near to God through him.

***************************************

Psalm 5:1-2  —  Listen to my words, Lord, consider my lament.  Hear my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.

Psalm 40:12-13  —  For troubles without number surround me; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.  They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me.  Be pleased to save me, Lord; come quickly, Lord, to help me.

Psalm 124 :8  —  Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Isaiah 41:10  —  So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Matthew 9:35-36  —  Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

***************************************

Lord, be Thou within me, to strengthen me; without me, to keep me; above me, to protect me; beneath me, to uphold me; before me, to direct me; behind me, to keep me from straying; round about me, to defend me.  Blessed be Thou, our Father, for ever and ever.  Amen.

–Lancelot Andrewes  (1555-1626)

2153) Type ‘A’ and Type ‘B’ in the Bible (part two of two)

Picture

     (…continued)  Those same attributes that made Martha a capable, effective manager also got her in trouble.  She was aggressive, assertive, and strong in conviction.  She was also quick to criticize, intolerant of others’ differences, and prone to self-pity.

     Maybe Martha was jealous of Mary’s close relationship with Jesus.  Yet she could have been just as close had she chosen to spend the time with Him.

     She should have calmly taken her concern to Mary.  Instead, she disrupted the good fellowship of weary travelers and thoroughly embarrassed her well-meaning sister, not to mention herself.

     But in Jesus’ response, we learn as much about Him as we do about Martha.  He knew her heart.  She did love Him and was sincerely doing her best to serve Him.  She just didn’t realize she was serving her own pride.  She attempted to minister to him when she desperately needed to be ministered by Him.

     John 11:5 states, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”  With amazing wisdom and tenderness, Jesus here demonstrates that love by not rebuking Martha’s insolence.  Instead, the Lord gently puts the whole scene in perspective for her.

     “Martha, Martha,” He begins, as one often did in addressing one he deeply loved and longed to lead in a better way.  We can imagine Jesus gently placing His hands on her shoulder, as He continues: “You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41, 42).

     The word translated “worry” comes from the Greek words for “pieces” and “mind.”  Literally, it means to come to pieces in the mind or to have a divided mind.

     Jesus admits there is no end to the number of things we might worry about (Matthew 6:34).  We can worry about our jobs, our possessions, our children, our health, or, like Martha, our responsibilities.  Worry does not stem from these things, however, but from within.

     It’s the product of a mind that lacks perspective.  Such a mind needs to fill itself from the reservoir of God’s Word, not the innumerable concerns that constantly vie for our attention.  Martha quite likely knew the verse, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).  Yet she seldom put it into practice.

     Mary chose “what is better” or, literally, “the better portion.”  The reference is to food, and it sets up an interesting contrast.  While Martha devoted herself to preparing physical food, Mary devoted herself to receiving spiritual food.  She was a hungry soul, single-mindedly devoted to the spiritual meal served by Jesus and oblivious to all else.

     Jesus stresses the issue of Mary’s choice.  Yet Martha also had a choice, even though she probably thought her hands were tied.  I have to do this work, she rationalized.  It’s not a matter of preference, but necessity.  How many times do we use this as an excuse to neglect time with God?

Charles Hummel’s The Tyranny of the Urgent reminds us we must learn to discern between the urgent and the truly important.  Serving the guests was much more urgent than listening to Jesus.  But it was also far less important.  Mary made her choice; so did Martha.  She was not the victim of circumstances.

     Couldn’t Martha have prepared a simpler meal or delayed dinner long enough to enjoy Jesus’ presence?  If she had, she could have gone about her duties with renewed perspective and probably with the help of her sister.

     Jesus said of Mary, “It will not be taken from her.”  Time spent at the feet of Jesus is an investment in eternity, a treasure stored in Heaven.

     The Westminster Confession states, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  Martha might have thought “enjoy” was a bit too frivolous.  She suffered from job saturation.  Today, we, too, are often managed by our responsibilities.  Sometimes, when we are unsure of our direction, we attempt to compensate by doubling our speed.  The result is a hurried and harried Christian life, full of activity, but devoid of an eternal perspective.

     In his marvelous book When I Relax I Feel Guilty, Tim Hansel describes Martha-like believers as “Weary Servants of the Impossible.”  For us, there are never enough hours in the day or days in the week.  Often, those most committed to serving others give of themselves until they have nothing left.  But they keep on giving, drawing from a dry reservoir.  They have forgotten how to receive.

     Martha, too, forgot there was one thing even more fundamental than giving to Jesus.  That sounds almost heretical, doesn’t it?  What could possibly be more important than giving to Jesus?  Receiving from Him.  The truth is, we need our Lord a great deal more than He needs us.

     Jesus wants our fellowship and devotion, not just our skills and efforts.  He values our service less than our devotion and worship.  Yet it is worship that fosters the most effective service.  Martha is not rebuked for serving any more than Mary is commended for not serving.  The message is not “worship precludes service,” but “worship precedes service.”

     I found when I was a pastor that grasping and maintaining this perspective on worship and service was the most important challenge in my ministry; it was also the most difficult.  Too often I cut short worship to devote more time to service.  Ironically, whenever I put service before worship, I shortchange those I’m attempting to serve, and I shortchange myself.  But worst of all, I shortchange my Lord.

     Satan’s favorite lie is, “There’s work to do. God understands.  He’s always available, and there’ll be plenty of time to spend with Him later.”  Hence, the urgent displaces the important.  We allow the labor of our hands to overshadow the love of our hearts.

     Often, the urgent is what people want us to do.  But the important is what God wants us to do.  Jesus did not always live up to others’ expectations.  But he was in touch with His Father and knew how to separate the grain of God’s will from the chaff of man’s will.

     At the end of His life, Jesus said to His Father, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (John 17:4).  What strikes me is not that Jesus worked, or even that He finished His work, but that the work He finished was what God gave Him to do.

******************************************

Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.

–I Samuel 3:10b