1661) Lights Out, or, An Eternal Promise?

By Lee Strobel, reprinted from: http://www.biblegateway.com

     Sometimes I think back to the days when I was convinced there was no God.  I would lie awake at night and think about the ultimate hopelessness of life.  I believed that when we die, that’s it.  Lights out.  There’s nothing more.

     That’s a terrifying thought, isn’t it?  About one out of four Americans thinks that death is the end of their human existence, and that idea breeds hopelessness— a hopelessness so dark that many can’t face it, so they revert to false forms of hope.  They engage in wishful thinking: “Maybe when I die, I’ll be reincarnated or something.”  Or they leap into blind optimism: “I just won’t think about it.  By the time I get around to dying, they’ll have a cure for whatever I’ve got.”  Others pursue hopeful dreams by saying, “I’ll watch my carbs, run the treadmill, cut my weight, and lengthen my lifespan.”

     Those defense mechanisms may make people feel better, but they don’t change the reality that death still plays a perfect game: one out of one ends up dead.  And death has an annoying habit of being completely unpredictable.

     I was talking about the inevitability of death with a computer salesman named Jeff Miller, who attended our church.  He told me about a fateful flight he had taken from Denver to Chicago.  About forty minutes before they were to land at O’Hare International Airport, there was a muffled explosion, and the plane swung to the side so violently that the book Jeff was reading flew out of his hands.  As it turned out, the engine in the tail had exploded, and the plane’s steering was severely crippled.

     As the plane made the approach for an emergency landing in Sioux City, Iowa, it became clear that the situation was desperate.  Jeff told me that some of the people around him began trembling and crying from fear.  Others put on an air of optimism and kept telling themselves there was nothing to worry about.  But Jeff, who had been a Christian for several years, spent the time praying a simple prayer that was anchored in hope.

     He said, “Thank you, Lord, that you’re mine and I’m yours.  God, I want to live, but I know if I don’t, I’ll be with you, and you’ll care for my family.”  Jeff had a confident expectation that God would fulfill his promises to him.

     You may have seen the video of that plane when it scraped awkwardly onto the runway, broke apart, cartwheeled, and exploded into orange flames.  Jeff braced himself for a violent death, but it never came.  His piece of the fuselage tumbled into a cornfield, where it came to a stop, upside down.  Jeff hung there, suspended in his seat, with not a mark on him.

     I asked Jeff, “What was it like when everyone knew the plane was going down?  I mean, people don’t usually survive airplane crashes.  Was there a feeling of being in a hopeless situation?”

     He said, “Lee, I’ll tell you the truth.  It was scary, but at the same time I felt like I was full of hope.  I mean, there was hope if I lived, and there was the hope that if I died, I’d be with Christ.  It’s like it says in Psalm 118:6: ‘What can anybody do to you if your hope is in the Lord?’”

     How we face death tells us a lot about how we’ll face life.  The Bible says that because followers of Christ have the hope of eternity, they can live their lives with boldness and strength.

     When you have the confident expectation that God will live up to his promises, it changes the way you think about death.  I know it has for me.

     My prayer is that, moving ahead, you’ll base your hope not on wishful thinking or any of the other counterfeit versions, but on the One who has the power to truly change your life and assure your eternity.

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Psalm 118:6a  —  The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. 

Romans 14:7-9  —  None of us lives to himself alone, and none of us dies to himself alone.  If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord.  For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Philippians 1:20-25  —  I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me, to live is Christand to die is gain.  If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.  Yet what shall I choose?  I do not know.  I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.  Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith.

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O Lord,
support us all the day long of this troubled life,
until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes,
and the busy world is hushed,
and the fever of life is over, and our work is done.
Then, Lord, in thy mercy,
grant us a safe lodging, a holy rest,
and peace at the last.
Amen.

–Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890)

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United Airlines Flight 232 crash landing in Sioux City, Iowa, July 19, 1989.  In what has been called one of the most amazing life-saving events in aviation history, 185 of the 296 passengers on board survived.

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1660) “Consider the Wigglypuffs…?”

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A Wigglypuff

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Could our technology-filled lives be keeping our kids from knowing God and Scripture in a crucial way?

From “Consider the Pokeman of the Field: Children Isolated from Nature”, by Eric Metaxas and Shane Morris, October 24, 2017, at http://www.breakpoint.org

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     I doubt anyone listening to Jesus when He said, “Consider the lilies of the field,” scratched their heads and asked Him, “What are lilies?”  But it’s not difficult to imagine a modern audience asking Christ to explain His flower references.

     Writing at The Guardian, Robert Macfarlane spotlights a study published in “Science” by researchers from Cambridge.  Using picture cards, these scientists asked children to identify common British animal and plant species like bluebells, herons, otters, oak trees, badgers, and wrens.  The kids, who were between the ages of eight and eleven, couldn’t even identify half of the pictures.

     They were then shown make-believe creatures from the Japanese card game and cartoon series, Pokémon.  These included animated oddities like the Arbok, the Bulbasaur, and the Wigglypuff.

     The kids were able to identify a staggering eighty percent of these imaginary critters, by name!

     “Young children clearly have tremendous capacity” for learning about living things, wrote the researches, but they’re “currently more inspired by synthetic subjects” than by “living creatures.”  This famine of knowledge about the natural world, they conclude, is linked to kids’ “growing isolation from it.”

     Now why does any of this matter?  Well, because a manmade world filled with man-made creatures is a world drained of wonder.  Barely three generations ago, looking up at the Milky Way was a nearly universal human experience.  Now, only those lucky enough to have camped out West or spent a night at sea have beheld the stars as God created them.

     That’s more than just sad.  It’s a worldview problem.  The Bible constantly refers to nature.  We first meet God in Scripture not as Savior or Father, but as Creator.  The Psalmist invites us to “consider the heavens” and writes that they “declare the Glory of God.”  When he compares his thirst for God to the way a deer runs toward water, most people in the modern world miss the impact of those words.  They’ve never seen a deer do that.

     Much of Job is an appeal to nature as proof of God’s power and sovereignty.  And Jesus Himself took scarcely a breath between natural metaphors.  “Birds have nests and foxes have dens,” He said, “yet the son of man has no place to lay his head.”

     For the modern reader—especially the modern child—many of these references lack their original power.  Quite simply, our isolation from nature has become isolation from God’s Word.  Cocooned in our man-made world of climate-controlled homes, cars, subways, and high-rises, we’re finding it easier to live as practical atheists.  I suspect even those of us who believe in the God of creation lack the wonder our ancestors felt toward Him while lost in a starry sky, or stooped beside a flower.

   Fortunately, the solution is as easy as stepping outside.  We may have city lights and the glow of touch screens to obscure our view, but God’s world is still near at hand, even right here in New York City where I live.

     So for you and your kids, simple things can make a huge difference.  You can instill in them a sense of awe for the natural world by visiting a community garden.  Pick up books on birds or plants from the library and take the time to notice and identify each living thing.

     One of my favorite things about America is our breathtaking collection of national and state parks, many of which boast wonders the Psalmist would envy.  Why not schedule a visit?

     Do not underestimate the power of these experiences.  They will shape your child’s worldview and yours.  And they will inspire wonder in the God of creation as no Pokémon ever could.

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Matthew 6:28-29  —  (Jesus said), “Why do you worry about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.”

Psalm 19:1  —  The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Genesis 1:1…31a  —  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…  God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.

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PSALM 8:

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
    in the heavens…
When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky,
    and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

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1659) Tested By Affliction and By Success

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Rick Warren (1954- ) and Matthew Warren (1986-2013)

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Two devotions by Rick Warren atwww.pastorrick.org  October 20 and 22, 2017

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     You’ll face trials in life, no doubt about it.

     But God will use them to free you.

     In fact, sometimes what others expect will enslave you, God uses to liberate you.  He’ll use them to set you free from the expectations and opinions of others.

     The Bible says it like this: “You let captors set foot on our neck; then we went through fire and water and you led us out to freedom” (Psalm 66:12 NAB).

     God wants you to be free.  The Bible says the truth will set you free.  But truth often comes with a high cost.

     Four years ago my youngest son died.  You might have heard the story.  He had struggled with mental health his entire life.  He had a troubled mind but a tender heart.

     The day he took his life was the worst day of my life.  I’ll never forget it.

     But to make matters worse, Satan tried to take advantage of it.  Critics came out in full force, saying horrible things about my family.  You’d see them on TV, in magazines, and on blogs.  They celebrated and laughed at his death.  It was brutal, public, and constant.  I thought I was going through Hell itself.

     But God walked with me every step of the way.  During this time, someone asked me how I was doing and I responded, “Honestly, I feel fearless.”

     I wasn’t afraid.  All I kept thinking was, “Satan, is that all you can throw at me?  Are those critics the best you have?”

     I’m not afraid of anything anymore.  I’m living for an audience of one.  Sometimes God uses tough times to wean you off an addiction to other people’s approval.  You just don’t need it to be happy.

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     God tests us with success.

     Does that sound strange?  You might have an easier time believing that God tests you with stress or suffering.  But think about it.

     You’ve seen success ruin people.  The young rock star gets everything she has ever wanted and then crashes and burns.  The athlete signs a big contract and then parties away his future.  A business grows bigger than anyone expected, and the owner becomes reckless with expansion plans.  We’ve read the stories.

     As a pastor for more than 40 years, I can tell you that more people have been ruined by success than by suffering.  Suffering tends to push people toward God.  But when people are successful, they often forget about God.

     For every person who can handle pain, you’ll find very few who can handle fame.  The praise goes to their head, and it destroys them.

     The Bible tells us in Proverbs 27:21, “Fire tests the purity of silver and gold, but a person is tested by being praised” (NLT).

     In reality, every compliment is a test.  Compliments and criticisms are a bit like chewing gum.  You can chew on them awhile, but don’t swallow them.  Both of them can really mess you up.

     It’s so easy to forget God when success comes your way.  But if you remember that your success comes from God, you will pass the success test every time.

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 Heavenly Father, remember your tender mercies and fill my heart with your grace.  How can I bear this life of misery unless you strengthen me with your mercy and grace?  Do not turn your face from me.  Do not withdraw your consolation, lest my soul become as desert land.  Teach me, Lord, to do your will.  Teach me to live worthily and humbly in your sight, you who knew me even before the world was made.   Amen.

–Thomas a Kempis

1658) Harvey and David

By Tony Reinke, at http://www.desiringGod.org, posted October 24, 2017.

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HARVEY

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     Actress Emma Thompson, 58, recently spoke out about movie producer, and alleged woman-hunting predator, Harvey Weinstein, saying he is just the tip of the iceberg of a Hollywood epidemic.  Men abusing their power to force sexual advances on less-powerful females is, she says, our cultural “crisis of masculinity.”

     How many other vultures prowl the hotels of Hollywood?

     “Many,” said Thompson.  “Maybe not to that degree.  Do they have to all be as bad as him to make it count?  Does it only count if you really have done it to loads and loads of women?  Or does it count to do it to one woman once?

     “This is a part of our world — a woman’s world — since time immemorial.”

     The flood of recent news leaves us with questions.  Will the Weinstein scandal soon explode into a Catholic-Church-level scandal for Hollywood?  How far will the reverberations sound?  How many powerful Hollywood elites will be exposed and implicated?  And how did Weinstein, long scolded for his unwanted sexual advances, find a celebrated home in liberal politics for this long?

     What the last year has made clear is that sinful men with influence and authority often take advantage of women who lack it — and it’s a problem for the most powerful elites on the right, and, a problem for the most powerful elites on the left.  It is a crisis of masculinity for all.

     And, as Thompson said, it has been around since time immemorial.

DAVID

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   The story of a high-power movie producer inviting an aspiring actress to his hotel room, at some point stepping into the bathroom, emerging in a robe, asking for a massage (or worse), should make us uncomfortable.  But the storyline is not new.

     In its most infamous version, we read of the predation of King David and his misuse of his authority, and his abuse of a woman (II Samuel 11:1-12:23).

     Standing on his rooftop perch, looking down over the city under his control, David beheld a bathing woman…    David turns this very private moment into a moment for lustful curiosity and a fantasy leading to his own self-gratification…

     It’s the kind of story that should make us all very uncomfortable.

     We know where the shameful story heads next — from the lustful sight, to an abuse of his kingly authority to call her to his palace, then his bed, and then all the fallout: the pregnancy, the murder of her husband, the death of the resulting child, and the family turmoil that would haunt David’s own house as a result — one sin compounded by the next sin compounded by the next sin, all leading to a cascade of consequences.

SIN

   What makes this entire tragedy more vivid are the detailed accounts we are given of David’s brokenness and repentance after he was “outed” for his evil.  The prophet Nathan opens David’s eyes to see himself as the selfish thief of an unlawful pleasure (II Samuel 12:1-15).  The moment is as greedy and invasive as can be imagined, the prototypical sin of a man that echoes in the Weinsteins of Hollywood and the conservative talkshow hosts of New York City.

      On top of it all, we get a full Psalm (51) from David debriefing his confession on his face before the God he has wronged.  There David confesses that his sin is “ever before me.”  He has sinned against a woman, sinned against her husband, sinned against his army, and sinned against his kingdom.  And yet, all that is far and away surpassed by his offense against God.  David confesses in prayer, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:3-4)…

     David was blinded by his lust from seeing this woman as a God-honoring woman.  His failure of masculinity (in fact, his failure as ruler) was in failing to protect her obedience to God.  And this is at the heart of our crisis of masculinity today: men whose self-centeredness cannot appreciate the holy beauty of a woman’s act of obedience to God’s call over her life.  Whether it is an actress God has called and gifted to act, or a female gifted by God to sing and perform on stage, or a woman working under the authority of a powerful male boss, every woman must be protected for her obedience to God’s design for her life.

     Whether it’s Roman Catholic priests, powerful television hosts, Hollywood directors, male authorities in female gymnastics, or any other positions of male power, there remains a crisis of masculinity — a crisis of knowing that true masculinity is self-giving for the sake of the benefit and flourishing of others.

     We are called to teach our boys that the girls in their schools are living their lives before God, and likely called to be wives of other men.  We are to keep telling married men that your wife is not your possession, but God’s, to be protected and guarded as she fulfills her faithful obedience to her God.

     This crisis of masculinity is an old tale — an old tragedy — since time immemorial.  It plagues the left and the right.  And all men would be hopelessly caught in this sin, had it not been for another King, one greater than David, who could meet a vulnerable woman at a remote well, not to take advantage of her, but to give her eternal joy (John 4).

   In him we can still hope for the resurgence of the glorious masculinity God intended — men not bent on taking, but giving.  Men not fixed on self-gratification, but ready to sacrifice self for her good.

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II Samuel 11:2-4a  —   One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace.  From the roof he saw a woman bathing.  The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her.  The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.”  Then David sent messengers to get her.  She came to him, and he slept with her.

II Samuel 12:9a  —  (Nathan said), “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes?”

Psalm 51:1-4a…10  —  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.  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…  Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

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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.

1657) Unforgettable Photograph

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Kim Phuc (1963- ) is best known as the girl in the Pulitzer Prize winning photo of a Vietnam War napalm-bombing attack near Saigon.  She now lives in Toronto with her husband and two children (in 2008).  Her organization, Kim Foundation International, aids children who are war victims.

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South Vietnamese forces follow terrified children, including 9-year-old Kim Phuc (center) as they run down a road near Trang Bang after an aerial napalm attack on suspected Viet Cong hiding places, June 8, 1972. 

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“The Long Road to Forgiveness” by Kim Phuc, with Anne Penman for the Canadian Broadcasting Co., June 30, 2008.

     On June 8, 1972, I ran out from Cao Dai temple in my village, Trang Bang, South Vietnam; I saw an airplane getting lower and then four bombs falling down.  I saw fire everywhere around me.  Then I saw the fire over my body, especially on my left arm.  My clothes had been burned off by fire.

     I was 9 years old but I still remember my thoughts at that moment: I would be ugly and people would treat me in a different way.  My picture was taken in that moment on Road No. 1 from Saigon to Phnom Penh.  After a soldier gave me some drink and poured water over my body, I lost my consciousness.

     Several days after, I realized that I was in the hospital, where I spent 14 months and had 17 operations.

     It was a very difficult time for me when I went home from the hospital.  Our house was destroyed; we lost everything and we just survived day by day.

     Although I suffered from pain, itching and headaches all the time, the long hospital stay made me dream to become a doctor.  But my studies were cut short by the local government.  They wanted me as a symbol of the state.  I could not go to school anymore.

     The anger inside me was like a hatred as high as a mountain.  I hated my life.  I hated all people who were normal because I was not normal.  I really wanted to die many times.

     I spent my daytime in the library to read a lot of religious books to find a purpose for my life.  One of the books that I read was the Holy Bible.

     In Christmas 1982, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior.  It was an amazing turning point in my life.  God helped me to learn to forgive — the most difficult of all lessons.  It didn’t happen in a day and it wasn’t easy.  But I finally got it.

     Forgiveness made me free from hatred.  I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days but my heart is cleansed.

     Napalm is very powerful but faith, forgiveness and love are much more powerful.  We would not have war at all if everyone could learn how to live with true love, hope and forgiveness.

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Kim still suffers daily from excruciating pain but she now finds purpose in that pain, saying, “The pain reminds me daily to go back to the Lord in prayer.  Then he gives me peace, energy, strength and grace to face each day… The pain is for my spiritual protection and I thank God for it.”
 
Kim says she wants to change the way people see her; no longer the little girl crying out of pain, but now as a woman crying out for peace.  She adds, “Now God uses my picture and my everyday life to glorify Him.  Now I understand the purpose of why I’m still here and why I suffer.  It is to glorify the Lord.  It’s not about me.  It’s about Him!”

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Matthew 18:20-22  —  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Ephesians 4:32  —  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Proverbs 17:9  —  The one who forgives an offense seeks love, but whoever repeats a matter separates close friends.

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Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.  –Jesus

1656) Teaching Kids About Love

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Here is another great family story by Joshua Rogers from his blog, “Finding God in the Ordinary.”  This piece was orginally published at Fox News Opinion, and was posted October 21, 2017 athttp://www.joshuarogers.com

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     The day my oldest daughter was born, I held her in my arms in the hospital and made two promises:  “First, I promise I will never leave your mother; and second, I’ll show up.  I’ll do everything I can to be at your recitals and ball games and dinner around the table.”

     My baby laid there in my arms blinking, breathing, oblivious to the magnitude of the words I was saying.

     My promises seemed so valiant when I made them at the hospital.  But when I got home, I realized my daughter was going to need my wife and me to do a lot more than just stay married and love each other.  She needed to see a regular demonstration of our love.  That was not our strong suit.

     While we loved each other deeply, we were in a constant battle for control and both of us were losing as we bickered and bickered.  Having a baby in the house made us more self-conscious about what we sounded like – especially to the ears of a little one.  We made an unspoken agreement to change.

     I’d like to say we immediately abandoned our old habits and learned how to disagree without being disagreeable.  That, however, would not be true.  We still struggled, but at least we were finally making an effort to resist our dysfunctional patterns of behavior.

     Over the years we made a lot of progress, which was largely due to confessing our struggles with Christian friends and praying things like “Father, please show me how I need to change.”

     God responded, showing us unflattering things about our character that we didn’t want to see.  It was humbling and made us less likely to assume we were always right when there was a conflict.  It also had an unexpected benefit:  We became more affectionate to each other.

      I don’t mean to say we weren’t affectionate before – we never lost the spark of infatuation that attracted us to each other in the first place.  But as we grew in humility towards each other, we were more likely to gently touch each other in the car or say encouraging things to each other in the everyday ho-hum.  We had no idea the impact it was having on the other members of our household.

     One day, we were all listening to a playlist of Disney songs when the sentimental love song “I See The Light” from “Tangled” came on.  I walked over to my wife, who was in the kitchen, took her in my arms, and started dancing with her slowly.  I could tell it caught her off-guard and embarrassed her a little – it came out of nowhere.  Thank goodness she stayed in my arms and danced with me anyway.

     As the song approached the final chorus, I looked in my peripheral vision and suddenly realized we weren’t alone.  Our daughters, who were five and seven, were standing there watching us in silence.

     The song approached the end, and as the strings played the last notes, I decided to give the girls a Hollywood ending.  I took my wife’s face in my hands and kissed her.  After I pulled away, I looked over and saw my oldest daughter’s face lit up with adoration, and her eyes filled with tears.  Then she came over, buried her face in my wife’s legs, and cried.

     “Why are you crying?” my wife asked.

     “I can’t explain it.”

     “Can you at least give me one word to describe how you’re feeling?” I asked.

     My daughter paused, looked up at us and said, “Loved.”

     That one word – “loved”— took my breath away.  Like so many others, I work hard to be a good parent and spouse, but I typically see those roles as having separate tasks and separate functions.  My daughter helped me see that there’s far more overlap for children than we realize.

     Parents are the first two people who get the opportunity to teach children what love looks like, and our kids are counting on us to prove that love is real.

     Children want to see their imperfect, dysfunctional parents dance in the kitchen, say “I love you,” pray together, kiss as they say goodbye, and speak highly of each other.  Those moments of affection provide assurance to our kids – the world isn’t all bad.  Things are going to be OK at home.

     Demonstrating marital love to our children is a privilege, a unique opportunity to be both a good parent and a good spouse.  To love each other well is to love our children well.

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Ephesians 5:25  —   Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

Ephesians 5:1-2a  —  Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love.

Philippians 4:8-9  —  Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable— if anything is excellent or praiseworthy— think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me— put it into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you.

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A PRAYER FOR THE FAMILY:

Almighty God, according to thy mercy relieve our distress and sorrow.  In thy goodness, spare us and our children.  Grant that in our homes we may keep and foster thy heavenly Word.  O thou who art good, kind, and bountiful, have compassion on us.  Grant us the necessities of daily life and keep our families securely in thy care, so that we may honor you forever and ever.  Amen.

–Philip Melancthon, reformer (1497-1560)

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

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.