Painful Reality and Positive Results

The opposition was severe. The stones continued to smash against their bodies until every drop of blood drained out. They held on and waited in horror – waited for death.

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Others were sawed in two. Every nerve in their bodies reacted as their flesh was torn apart by the saw. The ghastliness of this severe torture was the price they paid for their faith in the one who loved them.

 Some experienced the sword in such an uncommon way. As the metal blade ripped their bodies open the pain shot through their entire being. This gruesome act was more than what any of them could bear. Finally their bodies fell, never to rise again.

 For the more unfortunate ones their only wish was for death to come a little quicker. These were people who endured a slow, agonizing death. They were tightly wrapped in animal skins and left in the hot sun. As the sun grew hotter the animal skin would get tighter as it shrinks. This gradual shrinking would squeeze their bodies tighter and eventually cause dislocation of bones and multiple fractures throughout their bodies. Finally they would be crushed to death in a long, agonizing torture; simply unimaginable.

 A list of such gruesome atrocities against followers of Jesus are mentioned in Hebrews 11 and makes the conclusive statement: “of whom the world was not worthy” (Hebrews 11:38).

 These stories may have been a reflection of the events in Acts 8 where followers of Jesus were severely persecuted. This is the situation where Stephen was stoned to death. “And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the Apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (Acts 8:1-3).

 Reading such accounts may cause us to think that the end had come for the ministry of the church. With severe persecution and the scattering of the believers, it would be difficult to see how the gospel could proceed any further. But the following verse gives us a clear picture of what actually happened: “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). Along with preaching the word, we see that many signs and wonders were performed by these scattered believers. The impact of the persecution was not to stop the work of the church, but to expand it much further to the “ends” of the known world. God took that disastrous situation and turned it around for good. The scattered believers simply remained faithful to their calling.

What are you facing today? No matter how difficult it is, just hang in there; trust God and remain faithful.

How do you respond when you hear of such acts against the church?  

Give your response in the comments section of this blog post by clicking here.

Dirt Level Commonality

I’ve had great opportunities to sit with my grandmother and hear amazing stories from the past. In one of those accounts, I was intrigued by how field workers where paid during her younger years. The land owner would place the money on the ground, and after he walks away, the workers were to come get it. The purpose was that there should be no chance for their hands to touch. If money is handed to them, that “danger” would be a possibility. The concept of untouchability was so strong that their conscience was not at all impacted.

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Although this may seem surprising to us, it was normal practice in their day many years ago. I am sure there were people who disagreed, and thought differently, but they may have kept the disagreement to themselves. They went with the flow and did as everyone else.

When one is confused about reality, they see others as inferior, and unclean, and unworthy. From the outset, this perception impacts how we deal with others.

The popular society may have certain views on particular groups of people. For example, when a crime is reported, many respond and say, “that figures; these people are such a menace to society.” Blanket statements such as these are quite common.

The commonly proposed suggestion is for us to understand and accept the differences of others. Once we accept the obvious differences, we will be able to accept the person as well, since the differences are the things that separate people.

But more than just acceptance, there needs to be relationship leading to community. Then that relationship can be mutually beneficial. Relationship is best developed when there is commonality with others. But with some, its difficult to find anything in common. In such a situation, Job’s friend Elihu found the most peculiar commonality: “Behold I am toward God as you are; I too was pinched off from a piece of clay. Behold no fear of me need to terrify you; my pressure will not be heavy on you.” (Job 33:6-7)

I suppose you can’t get more basic than that to find commonality: “I too was pinched off from a piece of clay.” Those people who paid the workers by placing the money on the ground could find no way to relate. Just like Elihu, they could have looked back to creation and they would have found commonality there.

Do you struggle to find commonality with some people?

Leave your response in the comments section of this blog.

Exploring Options

This week we have a guest post by Dr. Bob Logan. He focuses on incarnational missional ministry and multiplication. He is a church planter, coach, consultant, trainer, writer, and mountain biker. He lives in Los Angeles, California USA, and blogs at loganleadership.com. You can follow him on Twitter @drboblogan

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My best friend in college loved to go backpacking. That was not something I loved, but he bugged me enough that I decided to go on a short wilderness backpacking trip in the mountains with him. The first day we hiked up and reached our first campsite before nightfall. However, we saw no water.

Now my friend was an eagle scout. He excitedly pulled out his shovel, portable pump, and water purification tablets. I stood there thinking, “No water? I didn’t sign up for this.” I wandered over the next knoll and discovered a water faucet. So I came back and watched my friend dig for another ten minutes because he was having so much fun. Also, I wasn’t as nice back then as I am now. But eventually I couldn’t stand it anymore and I told him it might be a little easier if we just walked the 150 feet and used the faucet.

Before you go digging in with only one option, go explore a bit and see if there might be any other options out there. There might be a better one.

Please leave your response in the comments section of this blog by clicking here.

 

The Problem With Obedience

A rage of anger and resentment welled up within him as he heard the the music and laughter from the party. He stood far enough at a distance where most of the guests wouldn’t see him. He was sure that his father was wrong this time. All these years he gave in to his father’s wish. He gave in to all the demands and arguments. Never once did he disobey. He was compliant and good.

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Some more of the happy guests arrived and asked him “aren’t you coming in?” “Just a minute” he lied. Now he stepped away even further, angered by the silly smiles on the faces of the guests walking in to the party.

Then his father stepped out and began looking around. When the father finally spotted him, he quickly walked up to him and asked him to come in. But that request just escalated the resentment he felt. It was so wrong that he was faithful and obedient all these years, but now his younger brother, a disobedient, unruly rebel returns home and he is celebrated.

He firmly stood his ground and refused to go inside. His goodness and obedience kept him away from the father’s delight. He could have gone inside and enjoyed the party, but how could he? He was too good to go celebrate with such tainted rebells and those who reward them.

That story in Luke 15 ends with the older son still standing outside refusing to go in. He still held to his rightful demand that he was indeed better than his brother.

But for the father, it wasn’t a question of who is good or bad. He simply loved all his children. And when one is struggling a bit too much, his heart goes out to that one even more.

So the older brother remains outside unable to go in because he was obedient and good. His younger brother had left the house earlier because of his rebellion against his father and the family. Finally he ended up outside the home.

The obedience of the older brother coupled with the condition of his heart fueled arrogance. His arrogance was directed against his father and the family. And he also ended up “outside” the home, unable to come inside.

Obedience is good and necessary. But watch out for the condition of your heart that may use it to breed arrogance. This unfortunate condition will cause you to despise the love that the Father wants to shower on his children. That arrogance will pull you toward legalism and away from grace, away from the Father. And it is grace that is fundamental to our salvation by faith in Jesus.

So be obedient, but watch it! Don’t let it get to your heart.

What do you think about the problem with obedience?

Share your thoughts in the comments section of this blog by clicking here.

A Misplaced Trust: An Unfortunate Illusion

I remember the collapse of a prominent government Mutual Fund savings plan several years ago. Throughout the country, there was outrage and protest against the government. As journalists interviewed the protesters, they vented their frustrations and complaints.

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One person said, “All my savings was put into this plan hoping for a good future.” others said, “Since this is a government plan, I thought it would be reliable and safe.” The loss was too much for so many. Their trust was firm, but unfortunately it turned out to be an unfortunate illusion.

For the people who experienced this disaster, the severity of their loss was too much. But there are a few things to learn from this. First, This disaster is a great example of a government run and government regulated disaster. I guess when the government regulates itself, you cannot expect much more.

Second, we see a host of people who invested in only one savings plan. But at that time, there were no other options to invest in mutual funds, so those interested were limited to just one method.

Third, we learn a lesson on trust. Job said “If I have made gold my trust or called fine gold my confidence, if I have rejoiced because my wealth was abundant or because my hand had found much, if I have looked at the sun when it shone, or the moon moving in splendor, and my heart has been secretly enticed, and my mouth has kissed my hand, this also would be an iniquity to be punished by the judges, for I would have been false to God above” (Job 31:24-28).

Precious things, wealth, work, and nature are all mentioned in the above passage as pulling for our hearts. But placing undue trust in any of these would be mistrust of God above. God and him alone is to be trusted without limit.

But the struggle is obvious as our hearts are pulled in all directions by those things which are popular. Our society values each of these as worthy of trust and exemplary. Now, as we look back on our lives, each one of those “popular” trusts have failed us.

Those investors were genuine in their intentions. They wanted the best for their families and for their future. But their trust was directed in the wrong place. God alone is worthy of all our trust.

Do you have a story of “misplaced trust” to share?

Share it in the comments section of this blog by clicking here.

Sitting in the Silence: The Inner Monologue

This week we have a guest post by Zaida Warner. Zaida is a Christian Life Coach, Writer & Speaker and has been a ministry leader at Miami Vineyard Community Church for the past 5 years. Visit her blog at leadershipchristiancoaching.com

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Have you ever just sat and listen to the silence? It’s never silent. It’s like a rush of thought waves that crash against your brain, at least for me it is. I jump from thought to thought as they enter and they begin to drive me crazy. With that said, I will share that those that know me can agree, I do not like to be by myself. I still find it difficult sometimes to go anywhere alone even as simple as getting a cup of coffee at your local coffee shop but God has pushed and probed me to overcome that. I have come to learn over time how to control my thoughts, categorize those thoughts and instead begin an inner monologue with Christ when I find myself sitting in silence. I start to speak with Him about those thoughts, fears and emotions that begin to overwhelm me. The great thing is that God always has a solution and a response. There are so many things He wants to share with us that if only we took a moment to listen in the silence, the world around us would become a little bit easier to cope with.

Time with Him can take place anywhere: In the car, on your porch or backyard and YES even at your desk at work. It’s learning to tune out the world, control your thoughts and tune in to what God has to say to you at that moment. God has shown me that I am never alone and has taught me to enjoy that silence and alone time because it is so needed. I now look forward to those moments any time I can get them especially when you are a busy mommy of 3 like me!

Read: Lamentations 3:26, Proverbs 17:28, Romans 10:17

Prayer: Father God, thank you for always being by my side and never leaving me alone. Thank you for reminding me that even though I may see the chaos that surrounds me, you continue to bring peace inside of me. Help me to continue to cherish my moments of silence with you and speak to me words of wisdom, knowledge and strength. My hope is in you Lord all the days of my life.

Meditate: Now breathe in and out slowly while you count to 30 and let Him speak to your heart. BE IN HIS PRESENCE.

Reflection Questions: What thoughts rush into your mind when you sit in silence? Now begin your inner monologue with Christ and tell Him about those thoughts. How do you feel when you spend that time with Him?

*Remember God does not expect a specific amount of time spent with Him because once we accept Jesus as our Christ and Savior, every moment is a moment with Him. There is power in His name…Jesus!

You may leave your comments by clicking here.

Give Till It Hurts? Ouch!

An Eye for the Needy

Every time the bus stopped for meals, I noticed a young man who stayed in the bus without eating. After a few stops I asked him and found out that he had no money for food. We were traveling on a bus from California to New York (one of several while I was a college student). I was just eighteen years old, and having seen lots of suffering all around me while growing up in the Bronx, I had to help.

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Give Till It Hurts? Ouch!

Limited Supply

So, for the entire three days, I bought food for someone I had never known before. My own funds were limited since my only income was the part-time job I had while attending college. With that I could not even pay my fees for college.

After the three-day journey, I arrived at the bus station on 42nd street in Manhattan. That is when I realized that in my generosity I had spent every penny in my possession. I checked every pocket and every corner of each of my bags without any hope. With no money for the subway ride home to the Bronx, I simply walked around wondering what to do next.

When Helping Drives You to Beg

It was just 75 cents (3/4 of a dollar) that I needed, and I began thinking of my options. I also did not have enough money for a phone call home. Walking home was out of the question since it was just too far. The only other option I could think of was to stand on the street corner and ask strangers for some change. That option seemed a bit too much like begging, so put that option as the last resort. Then I remembered the few times in the past when I found change lying around on the ground — but nothing there. Some say “give till it hurts.” But this was too painful.

Then everything changed. I began complaining to God for getting me into this mess. After all, I was simply helping a needy person in his hunger. Maybe my generosity went too far, but my intentions were clear. I could have put aside just a few coins for my trip home, but I never thought of it. I was only thinking of the immediate need and responding to it. But God could have helped me — I thought he should have.

Miraculous Encounter

That’s when I bumped into a young man I worked with during the summer while in High School. After the greeting and the common chit chat, I told him my predicament. He immediately reached into his pocket and gave me money for the fare. Never in my life had 75 cents felt so valuable than at that time. All the way home I wrestled with the question: “Why did I end up in this predicament while trying to help someone in need?”

Job struggled with a similar situation when he said “Did I not weep for him whose day was hard? Was not my soul grieved for the needy? But when I hoped for good, evil came, and when I waited for the light, darkness came (Job 30:25-26 ESV).

A Greater Reason

But Proverbs says “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed (Proverbs 19:17 ESV). Knowing these texts was a greater problem for me.

I still don’t have a clear resolution of this dilema, but when people ask for help, I don’t think twice.

Do you have a similar experience? Share it in the comments section of this blog post by clicking here.

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Back From The Past

“Do you remember when…?” “If I could just go back to those days when we had so little, yet were so happy.” It seems that the “good old days” syndrome transcends language, culture, and time. Whichever part of the world you travel to, the view of the past is just the same.

Back From The Past
Back From The Past

 Job’s story is among the oldest ones in the Bible, and he looks to his past and remembers the “good old days.” But for Job, no one would fault him for his perspective. Everyone would agree that he was at the lowest point of his life. Anything in his past must be better. But focusing on the past has several negatives.

 First, we tend to glorify the past. Somehow, events and people from the past become simply bigger than life. Job reflects on his past in chapter 29, and it’s certainly awesome. Past events take on a new significance much further than its former reality. People in the past increase in their significance and become bigger than life.

 Second, we fail to “live” the present. We are meant to experience the present as it is. Because of this focus on the past, Job filled his days with questions and confusion. He allowed the words of his friends to take him on an emotional spiral that proved to be meaningless. Then God comes and cancels all of their arguments and Job’s complaints. Then beginning with chapter 38, God simply describes his might and splendor. He seems to be saying that instead of looking at the present and reasoning everything out, just look to Him and His greatness. He alone is the answer to your confusion and turmoil.

 Third, we may sabotage the future by not living the present. No matter how bad the situation is, the present is meant for us to experience and to learn from. These lessons are essential for building us up and getting us ready for the future. So, does a difficult present situation imply that you can assume a great future? Though we may not be aware that we are headed there, the present is what leads to the future.

 How should we handle the present? Can it be any different? Since Job was busy comparing with his past, his present became a time of greater turmoil. Sure, his predicament was severe and unimaginable, but the focus on the past made it exponentially worse. Ultimately, God in his mercy intervened and helped to bring stillness to his confused and trembling heart.

 So, do you remember when…? Forget it. Just live the present. Live it in all of its glory, its ugliness, its brokenness and its confusion. Whether you enjoy it or not, live it. While you’re at it, listen for God’s still small voice. He is speaking to you. Just Listen…do you hear him?

 Just how are you doing with living the present? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section of this blog by clicking here.

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A Dead End Facebook Reunion

After many years of searching for an old classmate from my school days, Facebook came to the rescue. I remember our conversation quite vividly; how can I forget? He recognized me, and was happy that I called. He also mentioned that he was unemployed because his previous boss wouldn’t allow him to speak his mind.

A Dead End Facebook Reunion
A Dead End Facebook Reunion

But the rest of the conversation was a complete blur. I couldn’t make sense out of what he was saying. There was no coherence between his words, as if remote sentences were pulled out from totally different conversations. But just to make sure he wasn’t drunk, I called a few more times during different hours of the day. Each time the response was similar to the first conversation.

 It was like he was completely lost in his own world. I was standing on the outside looking in, unable to understand what’s going on inside, and unable to enter in. I spoke to several others who told me they had a similar experience, and could not connect with him. Obviously the problem is much beyond alcohol, and beyond the understanding or capability of his former classmates. Although I was happy for the new Facebook reunion, it was certainly a dead end.

 While we were students, I remember him to be quite intellectual and with a great personality. He had all the possibilities for greatness. Since I was an average student, I appreciated his abilities in so many ways. I was just delighted that we had some level of friendship. Such people with a high level of ability were usually beyond my reach.

 As a young teenager, I had shared the gospel with many people – young and old alike. In our mid teens, my brother and I and several friends found the opportunity to walk the streets of New York to share Jesus with people. We handed out literature, spoke personally with people, and even preached on the streets. Many laughed it off, and a few accepted. The rejections were numerous, but when some accepted Christ, those where some of the most joyful memories from my teenage years.

 But how do I share Jesus with this person? Yes, he’s my friend, but he was also one of the most brilliant students in the school. Although I had shared with so many, this one was different. How would he respond? But I had to share it. As a friend, it was the best I could offer to my friend. But after I shared a few words with him, he just looked at me silently with a look of disgust. I had seen this look on the faces of many people, but not on him. Then he looked away and completely ignored me as if I never existed. I understood that to be a very clear message to keep my views to myself and to never bring it up again with him. And I never did bring it up. I felt quite small that day and the rejection was felt quite deep. Since he was a friend, I thought that the least he could do was to listen…but that was not an option.

 Once while Job was experiencing the lowest point of his life, his friends came and visited him. Job was literally in the dumps while his friends were experiencing power and affluence. He was made to feel guilty without even any chance for innocence. At that point he said “From where, then, does wisdom come? And where is the place of understanding?” (Job 28:20 ESV) Each one of his friends had their answers. But Job had his own perspective: “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding. (Job 28:28 ESV)

 There it is. The fear of the Lord. That’s what is needed. So, don’t be envious of others just because of their success. Keep your head up high. Those who fear the Lord are in a great place.

 Would you tell us your experience of sharing the love of Jesus with others? Share it in the comments section of this blog post.

Why I Write These Blogs

The desire to write regularly began years ago, but somehow I could not get motivated to do so. That desire was the reason this blog was started several years ago, but it never got much mileage.

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Throughout my college and seminary days, writing was a part of my daily routine, but it was all directly related to my studies. Writing the dissertation for my doctoral work gave me the feeling of writing something to the extent of producing a “book.” But none of these prompted me to write regularly.

In June 2012, I was miraculously healed of chronic back pain with which I suffered for 17 years. The final five years was severe where I was bedridden for months at a time. That healing was a process which began about two years prior to the healing of my back pain. The “process” took me through intense emotional turmoil and ultimately to complete healing of my back pain in 2012. As a result of the healing, I was able to resume all of the physical activities that I thought were forever impossible.

One of those activities was playing basketball. In September 2012, I played basketball (tried to) with a few teenagers and posted the pictures on Facebook. You can view that picture at this link. A few commented on the pictures and I received several emails asking about my healing. When I realized that I was repeating the same things on each email, I decided to post my story of healing as an entry on my blog. After a few weeks, I thought it necessary to share how the pain began and my experiences surrounding it. Subsequently, I began sharing about some of the issues I struggled with and how I perceived them biblically. That, of course, led to more sharing of my thoughts on various issues, and it became a weekly process.

Lots of ideas and inspiration for writing came from Jeff Goins, a writer and blogger who is a constant help to writers. Sometimes I get phone calls from people letting me know how my writing has inspired them. Along with this, the responses by email and blog comments from readers of my blog gave me the indication that I needed to continue writing as it helps so many.

Although not very large, the subscribers who continue receiving these weekly emails are an indication of interest, and that others will also benefit. Thank you for continuing to read each week. When you find a post that helps, inspires, or encourages you, please remember to share these emails with your friends by forwarding them. Some people use these ideas for small group discussions and activities. Others have used them for sermon illustrations and sermon ideas. You can also share a link to the blog on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media that you use. A recent look at the stats indicated that people from more than 20 countries read and benefit from these writings. Keep reading, and keep sharing.

How have you benefited from these blogs? Please share it in the comments section of this blog. Thanks.