1655) Willing to Bleed

House church in Samar, Philippines

Mission Work in the Philippines

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Today’s meditation is another story from Standing Strong Through The Storm, a daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks for Open Doors International.

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     She stood outside the doorway of the church intrigued by the love and joy displayed by those inside.  The missionary had asked her to come in, but she had politely declined.  This was a hostile area in the Philippines, and her father had strictly forbidden her to have anything to do with “those Christians.”

     Unknown to the little Filipino girl, the missionary was praying fervently for her soul.  Finally one Sunday morning, the little girl accepted the invitation to attend the Sunday school class.  There she also opened her heart to Jesus and became a child of God.  The missionary presented her with a beautiful white dress, representing the fact that Jesus had washed all her sins away.

     The next Sunday the little girl was nowhere to be found.  Concerned for the girl, the missionary travelled to her home village.  Arriving at her home, she found the young, new believer lying in the dirt.  Her white dress was torn, filthy, and soaked in blood.  The girl’s father hadn’t shared the missionary’s joy in his daughter’s new-found faith.  In a drunken rage he had beaten her, repeatedly kicked her, and left her to die.

     The missionary gently lifted the fragile girl and carried her back to the church where a doctor rushed to help.  But there was nothing he could do.  He removed the ragged dress and cleaned her up, but her injuries were too severe.  The missionary stayed with her, trying to comfort her during her final hour.

     Upon regaining consciousness the little girl made an unusual request.  She insisted on holding in her hand the white dress the missionary had given her.  They explained that it was torn and soaked with blood and dirt.  With the simple faith of a child she whispered, “I just want Jesus to know that I was willing to bleed for Him.”

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This is how the church of Jesus Christ has grown from age to age.  

“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”  —  Tertullian, early Christian theologian  (155-240)

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I Peter 5:19-23  —  It is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God.  But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it?  But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.  To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.  He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.  When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.  Instead, he entrusted himself to Him who judges justly.

I Peter 5:8b-11  —  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith,because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.  And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong,firm and steadfast.  To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Revelation 2:10  —  Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.  I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days.  Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.

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I have suffered much;
    preserve my life, Lord, according to your word.

–Psalm 119:107

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1654) An Invisible Church

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Open Doors International (www.opendoors.org), like Voice of the Martyrs, serves persecuted Christians around the world.  One of the many places they work is Iran, a nation extremely hostile to any kind of Christian presence.  As in many Muslim nations, conversion from Islam to Christianity is illegal in Iran, and even talking about the Christian faith can lead to prison.  Yet, many Iranian Muslims are coming to believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  They then meet secretly in house churches to grow in their new faith. 

In the United States we take for granted unlimited possibilities for Christian fellowship and growth—churches with trained leadership, Christian schools, books, music, radio stations, periodicals, and seminars for everyone.  Christians gathering secretly in Iran have to depend on whatever leadership is available, as in the following testimony of a 23 year old ‘leader’ who is himself a fairly new believer.  Discipleship training of such leaders is a significant part of the ministry of Open Doors International.  They are providing materials and assistance to this young man, and many more like him.  It is impossible to know how many Christians are worshiping in Iran, but it has been estimated that there are more Muslims coming to Christ in Iran than in any other nation.

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     I am proud to be an Iranian, but I have to say that daily life has not been easy.  Three weeks ago I had a small talk with a Muslim in a park near a main street.  We talked in veiled terms about religion and politics.  At the end, the Muslim told me, ‘It feels like a big prison, to be living here.’  I agreed, but didn’t dare to say so.  I glanced away, thinking of my Christian friend arrested in December 2010 who is still in prison.

     I realized that I have more freedom than many of my Christian brothers and sisters who are in jail.  But after talking with this Muslim, I also realized that since I became Christian, I have even more freedom than he does!  Even the Christians in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison have more freedom than Muslims do.  It filled me with a feeling of sympathy and I thought about the lessons we had been learning.  It’s part of our discipleship training about our spiritual freedom in Christ Jesus.

     That training really helped our house group.  Together with my wife, we are the leaders of this house church, and every week we get together for at least one meeting.  We rotate places and days but it is always in the evening.  We study parts of the Bible, talk about the paragraphs that we like or don’t understand, and then we try to apply this to our daily life.

     This sounds good maybe, but I often wonder if this is the right way to do it.  How should I know?  I became a believer six years ago, when I was seventeen.  I don’t feel qualified to call myself a leader.  What do I know about the role of the Holy Spirit, about a Christian marriage, about explaining the Bible or studying the Bible in the right way?  But others came to faith later, so I am the most ‘experienced’ of our group.

     The training helps us enormously to grow in our own leadership roles, but also motivates us to hand down the important things we learned to others.  Now we know we have to stay close to the Word of God.  Because it is easy to ascribe our own thoughts to the Holy Spirit, we learned how to test them against the Bible.  The training also helped us open up and discuss untouched topics, like relationships in marriage and being a servant leader like Jesus was.

     Through this discipleship training, we’ve been so encouraged to know that people all over the world know about us and pray for us.  This helps groups like ours to stay spiritually healthy, and grow in numbers, too.

     Even though believers in house groups like ours have to stay hidden and face a lot of difficulties, I think the church of Iran is like a colony of ants: most of them you don’t see!

–From Standing Strong Through The Storm, a daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks, broadcast by Open Doors International (2011).

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John 8:36  —  If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

I Timothy 4:8  —  Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

I Timothy 4:10-12  —  That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.  Command and teach these things.  Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.

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Almighty God, you have taught us through your Son Jesus Christ that those who follow Him may be persecuted.  Strengthen, comfort, and encourage all those who suffer harassment, violence, imprisonment, and even death for being followers of Jesus.  We pray also for those who persecute your people.  May their hearts be turned towards you through the faithful witness of those they persecute.  Protect members of the families and church communities of those who are persecuted, and bless the work and ministry of the organizations that support them.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

1653) It “Only” Takes a Spark?

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“That Spark”

by Hannah Burgdorf

     That spark.  The one so many people dream of.  The one I’ve dreamt of all my life.  “Spark” is a good word for it.  Delicate.  Brief.  Tiny.  Weak…

     Powerful.  Powerful enough to start a wildfire.

     But why?  Why does something capable of such strength, such intensity in one instance last only the briefest of moments in another?

     “It only takes a spark to get a fire going,” right?  Well, not really.  I mean, have you ever tried to start a fire?  Whoever wrote that song apparently never did (or he was really good at it).  Maybe he was inspired by a headline of a forest fire started by a stray spark.  I don’t know.  But a spark alone is not enough to start a fire.

     For one thing, a spark by itself is bound to go out.  Once it has burned up its tiny grain of fuel it simply disappears.  Further fuel is absolutely necessary.  Sometimes, as in the hypothetical forest fire above, a spark simply lands in the right place at the right time.  Sometimes it ignites an explosion.  Sometimes it requires coaxing to grow it from spark to flame to blaze.

     I cannot count the number of times I have carefully arranged tinder and kindling, coaxing a fire to life and adding more substantial pieces of wood as it grew strong enough for them.  With the fire blazing and beginning to heat our house I continue about my day.  I get involved in various responsibilities, hobbies, and distractions.  And I fail to add wood to the fire as it needs it.

     Sometimes that failure is a result of pure forgetfulness.  Other times, it is a matter of putting the task off—thinking I’m close to a stopping point in my current project and will take care of the fire as soon as I’m done.  And sometimes I just plain don’t want to make the effort.  Maybe because I’m in a lazy mood.  Or because we’ve run out of wood inside the house and I’ll have to bundle up and go out into driving, icy snow to get more.  And if my goal is warmth and comfort, why would I want to get cold and wet?

     And so the fire dies out.  Maybe not entirely.  With some work I may be able to stir it up, to breathe new life into the embers and the kindling I’ve had to add once more.  Depending on how low I’ve let the fire get, whether or not the wood I used before was a type that leaves good coals, and how dry the new wood is (or isn’t), it can take a lot of work to get it going again.

       William Booth said, “The tendency of fire is to go out; watch the fire on the altar of your heart.  Anyone who has tended a fireplace knows that it needs to be stirred up occasionally.”

     Which brings me back to the topic of my heart, albeit not in the spiritual sense Booth meant, but in the romantic sense.  It brings me back to the topic of that spark I’ve desired for so long.  From time to time I have experienced such a spark.  I have reveled in the thrill it gives.  I have sorrowed in its briefness.

     But some sparks I have had to smother.  Especially when encouraging them contradicts God’s laws.  Such sparks can be like trick candles on a birthday cake.  You may think you’ve gotten them under control only to have them re-ignite.  Such sparks require vigilance to “take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

     Come to think of it, I suppose all sparks require that same vigilance.  We must not allow our thoughts to fuel sparks that ought to be snuffed out.  And we must keep our thoughts from pouring water on a fire we ought to be tending.

     That is the spark I continue to hope for.  The one I can take an oath to fuel until death doth part me from the one I am sworn to.

     And when I finally enter into that commitment I must be careful to avoid the pitfalls that so frequently cause me to allow the fire at home to go out— other responsibilities, hobbies, and distractions.  I must be willing to work at it—even when I don’t feel like it.  And I must take William Booth’s advice to keep an eye on the fire of my heart, stirring it up as needed.  

     In both the romantic and the spiritual sense.

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II Corinthians 10:5b  —  We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

II Timothy 1:6-7  —  I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.  For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

James 3:5-6  —  The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.  Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.  It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

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It only takes a spark to get a fire going

And soon all those around can warm up in the glowing

That’s how it is with God’s love, once you’ve experienced it

You’ll spread His love to everyone, you’ll want to pass it on.

–Kurt Kaiser, 1969

1652) A Dangerous Place to Raise a Family

Adapted from an article by Marco Silva, posted September 3, 2017 athttp://www.desiringgod.org

     Our craving for more has plagued us from the very beginning.  Our first parents lusted after more when they trusted a talking snake and took forbidden fruit to satisfy their longing to be like God (Genesis 3:5).  God brought his beloved people through the parted sea, but in less than two months Israel’s praise devolved into grumbling (Exodus 16:2-3).  The prophet Amos decried the northern kingdom of Israel for their gluttonous appetite, which led them to “trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth” (Amos 2:6-8).  The Old Testament leaves us with no lack for examples of greed among God’s chosen people.

     Greed’s deceit knows no economic boundaries.  Rich, poor, or somewhere in between, most people are always wanting more.  Indeed, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (I Timothy 6:10).  By thinking we have never have enough, we are forgetting the One who gave to us in the first place.  Whatever the number of figures in your salary, we all tend to slide right past the midpoint of contentment into greed.

     In the wealthy, 21st century West, it becomes easy to forget the Giver.  The average American worker one-hundred years ago made about $687 a year, roughly the equivalent of $16,063 in the present day.  Today’s full-time median income is $50,383.  On average, we’re nearly three times as better off wage-wise than we were a century ago.  Compared to most of the world, 71 percent of whom live on less than ten dollars a day, most Americans boast incredible wealth.

     You might not think so when you pull up your account balances, but the average man or woman in the land of the free is exceedingly rich.  And because of our affluence, we must remain all-the-more vigilant.  John Piper explains, Jesus never said, “It’s hard for a person in Darfur to get into the kingdom of heaven.”  Jesus just said, “It’s hard for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven;” so the most dangerous place to raise a family is America.

     We may never really believe it, but our seemingly safe streets dotted, with single-family homes, can be far more dangerous spiritually than a war-torn, famine-stricken land.  There, sin’s destruction reigns obvious in violence and hunger.  But here, the wealth that masquerades as God’s undeniable favor can turn into a barrier, not a blessing.  A craving for more, intensified by our exceptional means, can lead many away from the faith (I Timothy 6:10).

      Of course, reaping the fruits of a harvest God has graciously provided is no sin — as long as we realize that we’re just stewards at every step.  Whatever we have, we’ve received (I Corinthians 4:7).   When we acknowledge that every good gift comes to us from our generous Father (James 1:17), gratitude smothers our desire for more, and grace begins to loosen greed’s icy grip.  When I’m tempted to complain about the high mileage on our family’s minivan, I can give thanks that I have an opportunity to transport the five of us safely and conveniently whenever I need to.  Instead of griping about the limited square-footage of our apartment, I can be glad that we not only have shelter that protects us, but a place to call home.

     When I whine for more, I align myself with evil.  But when I give thanks, I lock onto the very will of God (I Thessalonians 5:18).   And in God’s curious kindness, when we praise him for all that he is for us, he gives us the best gift anyone could ask for: more of himself.

     So, in the end, more stuff, more money, and even more time can never satisfy.  But in Jesus, God gives us more than we could have ever bargained for.  When we invest in contenting our souls in him, he pays unimaginable dividends in the currency of eternity.

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A song about wanting more, more, and more Money, Money, Money (Abba, 1976):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETxmCCsMoD0

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I Timothy 6:6-12a  —  Godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.  But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.  Fight the good fight of the faith.  Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.

James 1:17  —  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

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Prayer in Proverbs 30:7-9:

Two things I ask of you, Lord;
    do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
    give me neither poverty nor riches,
    but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
    and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
    and so dishonor the name of my God.

1651) “Sell Everything and Follow Me.” Okay.

Mark 10:17-21  —  As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him.  “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

…Jesus answered… You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him.  “One thing you lack,” he said.  Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.

At this the man’s face fell.  He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

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     In this story that is told in three of the four Gospels, Jesus invites a young man to sell all he has and follow Him.  The young man, however, walks away from Jesus and the offer of eternal life, for “he had great wealth.”  Jesus does not tell everyone to sell everything they have and give it to the poor.  Different people are called to make different sacrifices.  But a new movie tells the story of a man who came to believe Jesus was calling him, literally, to sell everything he had and serve the poor.  And unlike the young man in the story, this man said “Okay, I’ll do it.”

     The name of the movie is “Mully,” short for Charles Mully, who was born in Kenya.  His father was jobless and regularly beat his mother.  Food was scarce, and the family’s prospects were worse.  One morning Charles, who was six, woke to discover he had been abandoned by his family, and not even his uncle would take him in.  So overnight Charles had effectively become, like 2.6 million children in Kenya, an orphan.  He was forced to live on the streets, begging for food, and sleeping wherever he could– at the age of six!

     As he grew, Charles said, “I hated my life; I wanted to throw away my life because there was no meaning.”  Somehow, however, he heard a message of hope through faith in Christ and personal hard work.

     At age 17 Charles walked 70 miles to Nairobi.  There, he began doing household chores at the home of a wealthy family that gave him a chance.  Soon, he was promoted.  Eventually Charles started his own taxi service, got married, and embarked on a rags-to-riches story that’s almost too good to be true.  Within a few years he was a globe-trotting millionaire respected by all.  In two decades Mully had transformed his one vehicle operation into an agricultural, oil and gas business conglomerate that made him a very wealthy man.  Mully had it all; a happy marriage, seven children, wealth, and success. 

     One day he encountered a group of kids who lived on the streets like he did as a child.  He refused to help them, but then his conscience bothered him.  He could not get the boys out of his mind.  His life once depended on the kind of help he now refused to give.  The reality of his hypocrisy devastated him, and he knew he had to do something.

     Miserable, he wrestled for hours with God, eventually praying, “God, use me.”

   Soon Mully stopped his career, sold everything he owned, and spent his fortune and his life to rescue, house, nurture, educate, and help orphaned and abandoned kids from the streets of Kenya.  He gave up everything to help those who had nothing.

     If you think Mully’s family was overjoyed, you’ve been watching too many Hollywood movies.  That’s what makes this documentary so special.  The pain, anguish, and uncertainty Charles brought upon his own family, in a way similar to how his father abandoned him, are agonizing to watch.  The film “Mully” shows, in a remarkable way, how the Lord can use imperfect clay pots like us to accomplish great—no, in this case astounding—things in this sin-scarred world; if we’re willing to make available to Him all that we have.

     In a short amount of time Mully and his family had hundreds of street kids living with them.  This threatened the stability of his family and presented many challenges to his own children.  But Mully knew it was part of a bigger plan.  He wasn’t just providing shelter.  He was creating a much bigger family where all these abandoned children became brothers and sisters, and Mully became their father.

     The growing family moved to a farm that became a self-sustaining community and home of Mully Children’s Family (MCF).

     The story is astounding. Through Mully’s faithful persistence, even Kenya’s physical environment and climate are being transformed.  Thank God for this man, whose soul is totally sold out to Jesus.

     It is estimated that since 1989 Mully and his wife have taken in 23,000 abandoned children, many who have since attended college and become successful teachers, doctors, nurses, business professionals and entrepreneurs.  Other children have returned to MCF as adults to transform the lives of the next generation of Mully’s children.

     Think about it– 23,000 children with no home, no family, no future– have had their lives transformed.  All this was accomplished by one selfless couple gave up their fortune and comfortable life to change the world, one child at a time.

     The number continues to grow as there are currently 3000 more children housed by MCF.

     Mully is known as the father of the fatherless and the father to the world’s biggest family.  Those who know him and meet him say he is a saint.  Most of the world knows of Mother Teresa, and hopefully they will know about Mully too.

     The movie “Mully” had a limited release to theaters for three days in early October.  There will be an encore presentation in some theaters November 9th.  The movie can also be purchased at Amazon (after Nov. 21).

(Loosely based on http://www.breakpoint.org blog, September 28, 2017)

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“Mully” movie trailer:

Movie website:

http://mullymovie.com/

Mully Children’s Family website:

http://www.mcfus.org

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Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise…

Take my silver and my gold;
Not a mite would I withhold;
Take my intellect, and use
Every power as Thou shalt choose.

–Frances Havergal  (1836-1879)

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1650) A Lesson in Grace

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By Lee Strobel

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“This is embarrassing,” my friend said to me over the phone.

“That’s okay,” I assured him. “Go ahead.  You can tell me.”

He sighed.  “Well, we found out our little girl shoplifted a book from the church bookstore.  We were really surprised because she’s a good kid.  Anyway, I was wondering whether you would help us out with something.”

Frankly, I was relieved the news wasn’t more serious.  “Sure,” I said.  “What can I do?”

“We’d like you to represent the church so she can come in and apologize,” he replied.  “Maybe you could figure out some sort of restitution.  We want to use this as a teaching moment.”

I agreed to help, but I have to admit I had an even bigger lesson in mind.

The next day, the parents and their eight-year-old daughter walked hesitantly into my office and sat down.  The girl was so small, she was almost swallowed up by the chair.  Her eyes were downcast; her mood was somber.

After I exchanged some pleasantries with her parents, I sat down on the edge of my desk so I was facing the girl.  As gently as I could, I said to her, “Tell me what happened.”

She hesitated, her lower lip quivering.  “Well,” she said as she started to sniffle, “I was in the bookstore after a service and I saw a book that I really wanted, but I didn’t have any money.”  Now tears pooled in her eyes and spilled down her cheeks.  I handed her a tissue, which she used to dab her eyes before continuing.

“So I put the book under my coat and took it,” she blurted out, almost as if she wanted to expel the words as fast as she could so they wouldn’t linger.  “I knew it was wrong.  I knew I shouldn’t do it, but I did it.  And I’m sorry.  I’ll never do it again.  Honest.”

She was so contrite that it broke my heart.  “I’m glad you’re willing to admit what you did and say you’re sorry,” I told her.  “That’s very brave, and it’s the right thing to do.”

She nodded slightly.

“But,” I continued, “what do you think an appropriate punishment would be?”

She shrugged her shoulders.  I knew from her parents that she had already thrown out the book to hide the evidence.  I paused for a moment, then said, “I understand the book cost five dollars.  I think it would be fair if you paid the bookstore five dollars, plus three times that amount, which would make the total twenty dollars.  Do you think that would be fair?”

“Yes,” she murmured, though I could see fear — almost panic — in her eyes.  Her mind was whirring.  Where was she going to come up with twenty dollars?  That’s a mountain of money for a little kid.  She didn’t have the five dollars to buy the book in the first place, and suddenly her debt had spiraled completely out of sight.

At that moment, I got up and walked behind my desk.  Sitting down, I pulled open the top drawer.  The little girl’s eyes narrowed.  She couldn’t figure out what I was doing.  I pulled out my checkbook, picked up a pen, and wrote a check from my personal account for the full amount that she owed.  I tore off the check and held it in my hand.  Her mouth dropped open.

“I know there’s no way you can pay the penalty that you deserve,” I told her.  “So I’m going to pay it for you.  Do you know why I’d do that?”

Bewildered, she shook her head.

“Because I love you,” I told her.  “Because I care about you.  Because you’re important to me.  And please remember this:  that’s how Jesus feels about you too.  Except even more.”

With that, I handed her the check, which she grabbed and clutched to her heart.  She simply blossomed with a look of absolute relief and joy and wonder.  She was almost giddy with gratitude.  The same little girl who had slinked into the office under the weight of shame now left lighthearted and skipping.

I don’t know how God ultimately used that teaching moment in her life.  But I do know this: once a person, even at a young age, experiences a taste of the kind of grace offered by Christ, it leaves an indelible mark on the soul.  Who could resist being attracted by the forgiveness and unmerited favor extended by Jesus?

This is one of the greatest dimensions of the unexpected adventure.  The message we convey isn’t based on condemnation or shame.  We’re not offering people a life sentence of hard labor to try to somehow make themselves worthy of heaven.  Instead, we have the privilege of telling people how they can find complete forgiveness as a free gift that was purchased when Jesus died as our substitute to pay for all of our wrongdoing — past, present, and future.

“Grace means there’s nothing we can do to make God love us more,” writes Philip Yancey in his classic book What’s So Amazing About Grace?  “And grace means there’s nothing we can do to make God love us less. . . . Grace means that God already loves us as much as an infinite God can possibly love.”

When I try to let that sink in, I’m just as overcome with gratitude as that little girl. 

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John 1:29  —  The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

Psalm 103:12-13  —  As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.  As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.

Romans 5:8  —  God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

I John 2:1  —  My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.  But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father— Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

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Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

–Psalm 51:1-2

1649) Wisdom Learned in the School of Suffering

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Yesterdays’s meditation briefly told the story of Richard Wurmbrand (1909-2001) who spent fourteen years as a prisoner of the communist regime in Romania, much of it in solitary confinement, oftentimes being tortured.  When he was released, he was able to leave Romania and come to the United States.  He he started the Voice of the Martyrs organization to pray for a serve persecuted Christians around the world.  Today, they minister in 68 nations.  To learn more about Richard Wurmbrand and Voice of the Martyrs, go to:

http://www.persecution.com

Today’s meditation consists of several quotes by Wurmbrand,  wisdom learned by what he suffered.

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 “My wife and I were present at a congress.  Sabina told me, “Richard, stand up and wash away this shame from the face of Christ!  They are spitting in His face.”  I said to her, “If I do so, you lose your husband.”  She replied, “I don’t wish to have a coward as a husband.”  (He was arrested soon after.)

“Did I believe in God?  Now the test had come.  I was alone.  There was no salary to earn, no golden opinions to consider.  God offered me only suffering—would I continue to love Him?” 

“It was strictly forbidden to preach to other prisoners.  It was understood that whoever was caught doing this received a severe beating.  A number of us decided to pay the price for the privilege of preaching, so we accepted the communists’ terms.  It was a deal; we preached and they beat us.  We were happy preaching.  They were happy beating us, so everyone was happy.” 

“Even the best of Christians are troubled by the question, ‘Why does an almighty God send, or at least allow, suffering?’  When you are nagged by thoughts like this, say to yourself, “I am still in elementary school.  When I graduate from the university of Christian life, I will understand His ways better and doubts will cease.” 

“I tremble because of the sufferings of those persecuted in different lands.  I tremble thinking about the eternal destiny of their torturers.  I tremble for Western Christians who don’t help their persecuted brethren.  In the depth of my heart, I would like to keep the beauty of my own vineyard and not be involved in such a huge fight.  I would like so much to be somewhere in quietness and rest.  But it is not possible…  The quietness and rest for which I long would be an escape from reality and dangerous for my soul…  The West sleeps and must be awakened to see the plight of the captive nations.” 

“I have found truly jubilant Christians only in the Bible, in the Underground Church, and in prison.” 

“Martin Luther, when he walked in the woods, used to raise his hat to the birds and say, ‘Good morning, theologians—you wake and sing, but I, old fool, know less than you and worry over everything, instead of simply trusting in the heavenly Father’s care.’” 

“Are you seeking Jesus? Where have you been looking for Him? As you begin your day, think through the various places you will be and the people you will be with; and envision Jesus standing next to you in each of those places.”

“A man who visits a barber to be shaved, or who orders a suit from a tailor, is not a disciple, but a customer.  So one who comes to the Savior only to be saved is the Savior’s customer, not His disciple.  A disciple is one who says to Christ, ‘How I long to do work like Yours; to go from place to place taking away fear; bringing instead joy, truth, comfort, and life eternal.”

“When a man has no faith in the reward of good or the punishment of evil, there is no reason to be human. There is no restraint from the depths of evil that is in man. The Communist torturers often said, “There is no God, no hereafter, no punishment for evil. We can do what we wish.” I heard one torturer say, “I thank God, in whom I don’t believe, that I have lived to this hour when I can express all the evil in my heart.” He expressed it in unbelievable brutality and torture inflicted on prisoners.

“Not all of us are called to die a martyr’s death, but all of us are called to have the same spirit of self-sacrifice and love to the very end as these martyrs had.”

“Whoever has known the spiritual beauty of the Under­ground Church cannot be satisfied anymore with the emptiness of some Western churches.  I suffer in the West more than I suffered in a Communist jail because now I see with my own eyes Western civilization dying.”

When an engineer has built a bridge, the fact that a cat can pass over the bridge is no proof that the bridge is good.  A train must pass over it to prove its strength.  The fact that you can be an atheist when everything goes well does not prove the truth of atheism.  It does not hold up in moments of great crisis.”

“We will respond, even in the face of irony and slander, with the sweetness of love.  We can afford to take this attitude because good anvils do not fear the blows of many hammers…  ‘Hammer away, ye hostile bands.  Your hammers break; God’s anvil stands.’”

“Faith in God is the sole answer to the mystery of evil.” 

“A faith that can be destroyed by suffering is not faith.”

“There’s always a good reason to rejoice.  There is a God in Heaven and in the heart.  I had a piece of bread this morning.  It was so good.  Look now, the sun is shining.  And so many here love me.  Every day you do not rejoice is a day lost, my son.” 

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Hebrews 5:8  —  Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.

I Peter 4:16  —  If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.

Romans 12:12  —  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

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Psalm 31:14-15a:

I trust in you, Lord;
    I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hands.

1648) Fifty Years Ago This Month

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Richard Wurmbrand  (1909-2001)

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From the Voice of the Martyrs website, http://www.persecution.com:

     Pastor Richard Wurmbrand left his apartment and headed to church as usual one Sunday morning in February 1948, but he never arrived at church that day.  Instead, he was kidnapped off the streets by Romanian secret police.  He would spend 14 years in Communist prisons.

     When he came down with tuberculosis and appeared close to death, guards moved Pastor Wurmbrand into the “death cell.”  But he didn’t die.  Instead, he survived and was eventually ransomed out of Romania.  After arriving in the West, he immediately began to tell the story of his imprisonment and the many Christians still suffering in Communist prisons behind the Iron Curtain.

     In October 1967 — 50 years ago this month — those stories were typed up and mailed out to Christians who wanted to know more.  It was the first issue of what later became the Voice of the Martyrs newsletter.  A ministry was born.

     Today the ministry that Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand founded is actively helping Christians in 68 countries, providing direct aid to the persecuted, sending Bibles to those in hostile areas and restricted nations, and assisting front-line workers.

     The ministry also continues to tell the stories of these believers, just as Richard did.  Each year we tell one story in a video created specifically for the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP).  This year, in honor of VOM’s 50th anniversary, our IDOP video tells a story from Richard’s personal testimony of years in Communist prisons.  It is a story that reminds us to pray not only for our persecuted brothers and sisters but also for their persecutors.

     Select one of the links below to watch the powerful five-minute video (and preview of upcoming full length movie) :

https://www.persecution.com/idop/?_source_code=EM1710IDP6

http://www.persecution.com/idop/?_source_code=EM1710IDP6

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Matthew 5:10-12  —  (Jesus said), “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

John 15:19-21  —  (Jesus said), “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.  As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.  That is why the world hates you.  Remember what I told you:  ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’  If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.  If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.  They will treat you this way because of my name,for they do not know the one who sent me.”

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.”

I Corinthians 4:12b-13a  —  When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted,we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly.

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Almighty God, you have taught us through your Son Jesus Christ that those who follow Him may be persecuted.  Strengthen, comfort, and encourage all those who suffer harassment, violence, imprisonment, and even death for being followers of Jesus.  We pray also for those who persecute your people.  May their hearts be turned towards you through the faithful witness of those they persecute.  Protect members of the families and church communities of those who are persecuted, and bless the work and ministry of the organizations that support them.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

1647) A Shameful Legacy

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By John Stonestreet and Shane Morris, October 12, 2017 post athttp://www.breakpoint.org

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     Back on September 27th, Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy, died at ninety-one.

     An ancient Roman maxim says that one shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, but it would be irresponsible to not take note of his ideas and cultural influence, along with their consequences and victims.

     Much of the coverage of his death has been admiring or even adulatory.  The New York Times’ obituary, while mentioning Hefner’s feminist critics mostly in passing, emphasized how successful and influential he’d been.  There’s been a lot of “he changed the game,” “he lived on his own terms,” and “he lived life to the fullest” sort of language about him.

     CNN said that while “Some critics dismissed him as a relic of a sexist era, especially in his later years . . . many men envied his adolescent-fantasy lifestyle.”  The Washington Post called Hefner’s legacy “complicated” and then proceeded to quote gushing tribute after gushing tribute.  This sort of adulation for a man best-known for wearing his pajamas all day and spending nights with women young enough to be his granddaughters should embarrass even the media.

     Eleven years ago, Chuck Colson put Hefner’s legacy into proper perspective.  On the occasion of Heffner’s 80th birthday, Chuck said that “Hugh Hefner did more than anyone else to turn America into a great pornographic wasteland.”

     Hefner’s journalistic eulogists are celebrating his rebellion and ultimate triumph over the “puritanical elements of the [1950s].”  You know, that “dark and joyless time in America,” as writer Matthew Scully put it, “when one could actually go about daily life without ever encountering pornographic images.”  Without Hefner’s pioneering vision, “American males could not avail themselves of hundreds of millions of obscene films every year—as they do now.”

     That our pornographic wasteland is filled with so many victims is also part of the man’s legacy, which can only be fully understand in light of the larger story of the sexual revolution.

     You see, Hefner once claimed to have changed America, and it’s hard to argue that he didn’t.  He took Alfred Kinsey’s ideas of sex separated from morality and embodied them in images and words, making them seem glamorous, sophisticated, and respectable.

     Along with the birth control pill, porn was the other tangible artifact of the sexual revolution and catalyzed the separation of the sexual act from its God-given purpose.  Instead of a self-giving, life-giving act in the context of marriage like God intended, sex became an act of selfish pleasure in the cultural imagination.

     Porn turned image bearers into objects to be enjoyed instead of subjects to be respected and honored, while giving the illusion that there were no consequences or guilt.  Hefner was what I call “the artist” of the sexual revolution, granted a loosely-used modifier here.  Ideas alone can’t change culture; they need champions, and the most effective champions are artists and educators.

     The problem, as Ed Stetzer often says, is that no one even won the sexual revolution, but everybody lost.  Ideas have consequences and bad ideas have victims.

     Hefner’s legacy includes fatherless homes, objectified women, porn-addicted and trafficked children, and the sexualization of all aspects of culture.  And in a supreme bit of irony, a decreased lack of interest in sex with real-life women by addicted men.

     All of this is the result of what Hefner called the “Playboy Philosophy”: ultimately the divorcing of sex from its God-given context—marriage—and its God-given consequences—children.

     I posted about Hefner’s legacy on Facebook soon after his death, and one commenter quoted Jesus, “For what will it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul?”  And thanks in large part to Hugh Hefner, the same might be asked about our entire culture.

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Matthew 16:26  —  For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?  Or what shall a man give in return for his life?

Matthew 5:27-28  —  (Jesus said), “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’   But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Ephesians 5:3  —  Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.

Genesis 1:27  —  So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

I Thessalonians 4:3-5  —  It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister.  The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before.  For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.  Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.

Matthew 19:4-6  —  “Haven’t you read,” Jesus replied, “that 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.”

I John 1:9  —   If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

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A prayer by Martin Luther on the commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”:

Dear God, in this commandment you teach and command me to be pure, orderly, and respectful in all my thoughts, words, and deeds.  You forbid me to disgrace any other man’s wife or daughter, certainly not by any wicked deed, but also not by any idle talk that would rob them of their decency and degrade me.  Rather, I should do what I can to help them maintain their honor and respect, just as I would hope they would do for my family.  For we are responsible for each other– we should not do anything that would bring our neighbor’s family into reproach, but should do what we can to preserve their honor and goodness.  Amen.

1646) How Could it Happen? (b)

     (…continued)  There are those who firmly believe that one of the solutions to the trouble in our society today is to get rid of Jesus.  I believe the opposite.  I believe the main problem is our society is that we have already gotten rid of Jesus all too much.  I know all about mixing church and state, but that’s not what I am talking about here.  I am talking about the personal faith and integrity of individuals, and the inner moral character that a society needs in its people in order for us to live together in peace and order.

     Within our own Lutheran churches the trend is obvious.  Each succeeding generation is less and less interested in Jesus, and pays less attention to matters of God and morality and eternity.  And Jesus says, be careful, (verse 43), or “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you” and given to someone else, “to a people who will produce its fruit.”

     Our nation is indeed a “house divided.”  We cannot agree even on what the problem is, but we do all agree that we are in trouble.  And this trouble comes not only from mass murderers, but from such a disheartening breakdown in civility, respect, decency, manners, and morality (no matter how you define all that).

     I will describe just one snapshot of this breakdown.  This is not a big deal like murder, just some little thing that happened to me a couple weeks ago.  I was coming home from an evening meeting at church, and it was dark.  I was going through town, not far from my home, and I suddenly saw a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye.  It was a boy on a bicycle, coming across from a side street.  I am on the main road, and he has the stop sign.  But he doesn’t slow down and he’s not even looking.  It is dark, he’s wearing dark clothes, and there are no lights or reflectors on the bike.  I see him just in time and I slam on the brakes, and he just keeps on going across ahead of me.  And then he looks at me scornfully, and shows me one of his fingers.  I could not believe it.  If I hadn’t paying attention, he could have been killed.  But from him, there was no gratitude and no shame; just defiance and disrespect.

     So what is going on there?  This would be a perfect opportunity for an old guy like me to go on a rant about all that is wrong with the youth of America; but it is way more than that.  That same defiance and disrespect and lack of shame is seen in adults all over the place– in politics (on both sides of the aisle, all the way to the top), in sports, in entertainment, on the news, on social media, in neighborhoods, and in religion.

     So what can be done?  The only thing I know very much about is the Bible, and the Bible doesn’t give any outlines for reforming all of society.  But God’s Word does have a great deal to say about reforming the individual, so it is to that we need to pay attention.  There is much in the Bible about civility, decency, respect, kindness, gentleness, love, forgiveness, forbearance, patience, service to others, obedience, gratitude, and reverence.  There is also much in the Bible about accountability, about grace, and about judgment and short and long term consequences.  The Bible was not written for governments, but for individuals and our relationship with God.  And when we are right with God, and do what God says, many good things are given the opportunity to take root and grow, including good citizenship and good relationships with one’s neighbors.

     In Deuteronomy 8:1 Moses says in his farewell address to the people, “Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors.”  “Follow every command,” Moses said.  Why?—so you can be judgmental and look your nose down on neighbors and go to heaven?  No, but simply so that that things may go well with you.  That is the purpose of God’s commands: to show you how life can best be lived, so that our life together can be good.

     In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law” (Matthew 5:17-18).  God speaks to us as individuals and God wants us to obey His law, and by individual obedience the whole society is blessed.

     There is an old German proverb that is very much in line with these verses:  “Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean.”  The entire community and nation is strengthened by every truth told, by every promise kept, by every act of service, by every kind word, by every act of obedience, and whenever we bear each other’s burdens.  But at the same time, the entire community and nation is weakened by every lie told, by every broken promise, by every act of disrespect and disobedience, and by every unkind word.

     In the same way, trust is built up, or torn down, in a community.  The act of one shooter in Las Vegas destroys such trust, but the acts of those who risk their lives to save and help others can restore that trust.  That was also seen in Las Vegas, and Houston and Florida.

     Believing in and obeying God has everything to do with death and the life to come.  It also has everything to do with the life we are living with each other right now.

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Give us courage, O God, to face the fears and insecurities with which we build walls between ourselves and others.  Give us the wisdom and patience to work at better understanding the people whom you surround us with.  Let our words and actions show forth your love.  Amen.

–Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, Southeastern District

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