Monday January 18, 2021 – Memories of my trip to Afghanistan

Acts 4:12  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.

I have referenced my trip to Afghanistan a few years ago as part of a Christian NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) in a number of devotionals.  It was truly a wonderful, eye-opening trip.  I treasure the memories of the Afghan Christians and Christian workers I encountered on that trip.  Seeing first hand, the deadly cultural reality faced by Afgans  who become Christian there was a stunning reality for me.

The leader of our NGO and I would take prayer walks in the mornings after our arrival.  During those initial walks, he first assured me that I wasn’t doing anything wrong.  Then, speaking of the gospel, he went on to instruct me that I must always be aware of the fact that, “Here in this Muslim culture – the wrong word at the wrong time could get someone killed.”  Wisdom and an awareness of who was hearing what was being said were absolutely required.

Totally new to me was coming to grips with a common reality that men and women who had accepted Christ were then unable to share that with their Muslim spouse or family.  How could an Afghan who had genuinely been changed by Christ be silent?  The answer was the knowledge that in their Muslim culture, the extended family would likely kill the believing spouse when they learned of their Christian faith.  This wasn’t – and isn’t – ‘urban legend’ but a reality that happened to people they knew first hand and had worked with.

This also kept many Afghan Christians from becoming part of an underground church – or any Christian gathering for that fact.  They didn’t know who they could trust and who might be there for the hidden purpose of identifying them.  The exposure could result in their death.  Recognizing this ever present threat shielded me from the temptation to become judgmental and question the reality of their faith.  My western background had never encountered anything like this.

Gordon Conwell Seminary did some research a few years ago and developed the estimate that each year 171,000 Christians are martyred for their faith.  That is a big number and given the increased slaughter going on throughout the world, that number is likely too low today.  Those are all brothers and sisters in Christ who lost their lives simply because they believed in Jesus.  The difficulties we face pale in comparison to the dangers many Christians around the world face – and that isn’t even addressing the poverty of their societies compared to the wealth we have in the west.

Thank God for the many Christian workers who are going to the nations to share the ‘true wealth’ of the Gospel of Christ.  Praise God for the untold number of conversions throughout the world due to God giving dreams and visions of Jesus – sometimes to entire villages.  Millions of Muslims worldwide are becoming Christians each year.  They respond to the love of God and the Good News of the Gospel just like we did!  May our hearts be moved to prayer and compassion for these believers – our brothers and sisters.  May their joy be overflowing as they grow in the wonder of our Lord.

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Sunday January 17, 2021 – What happened to the apostles?

Acts 5:40b-41  They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.  41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.

One of the books I’ve read that really moved me was The Heavenly Man – the story of Brother Yun.  He was not unknown to me as I had the privilege of hearing him speak a few years ago at a conference focused on Afghanistan.  He is a leader in the Back to Jerusalem movement involving Chinese Christians.

His personal story involves a great deal of suffering for the gospel of Christ.  But he counts that suffering as joy because of the privilege of being a Christian and serving Jesus.  His focus was not on himself but upon the Lord and fulfilling the opportunities that the Lord gave him.

In recounting what has transpired in the church in China, he presents an accounting of what happened to the apostles and some key early Christians.  It was good to be reminded that nearly all of them were destined to be martyrs.  They loved and served our Lord Jesus and that righteous road they walked led to an end that not many of us would sign up for.  I wonder if our tendency would be to view such a fate as being due to our failure to really follow the Lord – rather than it being the culmination of following Him.  Needless to say, I was, and am, greatly humbled and moved by the recounting of their destinies.

There are some variances in the historical records we have but here is one accounting of those who have gone before us:

  • John      – exiled to Patmos
  • Stephen      – stoned to death by an angry mob (note: might he have made it out of that situation alive if God had not given him a vision of heaven in the midst of it?)
  • Matthew      – stabbed to death by an angry mob in Persia
  • Mark      – died as two horses pulled his legs apart
  • Doctor      Luke – was cruelly hanged
  • Peter      – crucified on a cross
  • Philip      – crucified on a cross
  • Simon      – crucified on a cross
  • Bartholomew      – skinned alive by heathen
  • Thomas      – died in India as five horses pulled his body apart
  • James (Apostle) – beheaded by Herod
  • (Little) James –  cut in half by a sharp saw
  • James (brother of Jesus) – stoned to death
  • Judas      – tied to a pillar and shot with arrows
  • Matthias      – beheaded in Jerusalem
  • Andrew      – crucified on a cross (like an X – became known as St Andrew’s cross)
  • Paul      – a martyr under Emperor Nero

May our hearts be so consumed with love from and for our Lord that we too will joyously follow Him wherever He leads.  There is a world out there that needs to know Him.

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Saturday January 16, 2021 – Choosing to be an overcomer not a victim

2 Corinthians 12:10  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I remember a trip to Brazil where we all went to a farm with friends for a few days.  It was about 2 hours west of Recife, up in some mountains.  These friends and their farm were like an oasis for John and Fabi (our oldest son and his family who were missionaries there for 8 1/2 years) and we were greatly blessed to be there with them.  One of the interesting highlights of our time there was a little brown Labrador puppy.  There had been seven puppies born but unfortunately the mother only had six well-formed teats for nursing.  This little guy was odd man out – the runt of the litter.

By the time we got there, three of the puppies had already gone to new homes.  This little puppy was ½ the size of the other three puppies still there.  He also bore the scars of being the target of their rough play.  Fortunately he was receiving extra milk, food and care to help him grow.  He was sweet, playful, and the chosen recipient of our granddaughters’ affection.

If the puppy could think about it, I wonder if he would have thought of himself as a victim – or a survivor/overcomer.  He had been dealt a hand in life that put him at a real disadvantage – circumstances to deal with that were totally beyond his control.  Our granddaughter Becca considered him a ‘survivor’ (that was her term).  He was not going to let his size or ‘misfortune’ hinder him.

While thinking about this puppy’s situation a number of Biblical characters came to mind:

  • Gideon      – “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel?  My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”  (Judges 6:15)
  • Joseph      – “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. (Genesis 37:19)
  • Moses      – Moses said to the LORD, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been      eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” …  Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.” (Exodus 4:10, 13)
  • David      – So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”  Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”

It is so important to remember that we are not victims – no matter what lot in life we are dealt.  We are survivors / overcomers because of the God we serve.  Where we are weak, we look to the Lord and He makes us strong.  Our focus is Jesus. There is nothing He cannot redeem.

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Friday January 15, 2021 – Passion for the Lord

John 12:3  Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume

I’ve read a number of really good books including Jack Deere’s book entitled, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit.  It’s a wonderful book that concludes with focusing on passion for the Lord and then its relationship to power.  It is so important that we recognize that passion for God is absolutely essential to our life with God; it along with obedience.

This passion cannot be just a sense of longing or affection for the Lord.  It must be a life and habit forming condition of our heart that brings those actions that characterize individuals that truly are passionately in love with Him.  We must want to be such men and women!

There are Psalms and numerous songs that we sing in worship that describe attributes and actions that reflect passion for Him.  Do these describe us?  Our prayer should be for the Lord to transform us so that those words reflect our true condition more and more.  We want to be genuine Godly men and women.  The issue is not to be able to rejoice in our Godliness but to rejoice that He enables us to passionately love Him.  Let each of us wholeheartedly desire:

  1. to thirst for the Lord as a deer thirsts for streams of water
  2. a heart that yearns within me for Him;
  3. to earnestly seek Him;
  4. my soul to thirst for Him;
  5. to think of Him through the watches of the night;
  6. for Him to be my joy and my delight;
  7. for my soul to yearn and even faint for His courts;
  8. for my heart and soul to cry out for Him;
  9. to be a doorkeeper in His courts;
  10. to sing for joy on my bed because of Him;
  11. my heart to yearn to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in his temple.

This passionate love for Jesus becomes our heart’s motivation.  I believe that is what motivated Mary to anoint Jesus.  She was consumed with passionate love for Him and her heart responded to the inspiration of His Spirit and she just gave herself to anointing Him.  The focus was Him.  Her actions were genuine and selfless.

Later she probably experienced real joy that she had been able to do this for Jesus, but at the time she was motivated purely by the Holy Spirit and her heart of love for Him.  May we be continually transformed so that more and more of the things we do are motivated by such love for our Lord.

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Thursday January 14, 2021 – Obligations becoming opportunities to bring blessing to Him

1st Thessalonians 4:1  As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.

Suppose you’re driving your spouse’s car and you notice the gas gauge is nearly on empty.  Even though you’re rushed for time you stop and fill up the tank.  You might do it simply because it needs to be done; without really thinking about it.  There is nothing wrong with that.  A helpful deed is done that is good in its own right.

Or while you’re standing there filling the tank, you have a smile come upon your face as you think about blessing the one you love.  It is an act of kindness that has its own fulfillment.  It’s possible that your spouse might not even notice that it was done, but that’s not important.  You did it to bless them.

Have you ever noticed that an obligation doesn’t have to feel like something we have to do, like one more demand upon our time?  It can be perceived as an opportunity, rather than one of simple duty.  Much of the time we might not even notice or think about these activities – we simply do them because they’re the right things to do.  It is part of being responsible.

But these same obligations can also have the rich feel of opportunity.  They are something to be done that brings blessing and pleasure; to the one they are being done for and to the one who does them.

The more we learn to differentiate right things from wrong things, the more aware we become of our opportunities (rather than obligations) to do the right and avoid the wrong.  (Sometimes the wrong thing is simply not doing the right thing we see needs to be done – James 4:17)  While this can take on the feel of duty, doing the right thing is positive in its own right – and such an opportunity if we have the eyes to see it.  In every one of these situations we can recognize that we have the opportunity to do something pleasing to God.  We get to experience the joy of blessing Him.

Making wise choices and living righteously are pleasing to Him and enriching to us.  They communicate our love to Him (and to those around us) in a way that is genuine and biblical.  Words are important, but they don’t compare to actions done with our motivation centered in Him.  The Holy Spirit will transform us as we pursue these opportunities that enable us to live lives that please Him more and more.

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Wednesday January 13, 2021 – Being blind to doing wrong!

Isaiah 1:16c-17a  Stop doing wrong, learn to do right!

Today’s verse was an exclamatory statement from the Lord to the Israelites.  They were religious but their lives were not lived according to what God wanted.  In fact the context of Isaiah 1 presents a picture of a people who were the antithesis of what God wanted.  In describing their religious activities, God uses the following descriptive terms: no pleasure in the blood of bulls and goats and lambs, trampling my courts, meaningless offerings, detestable incense, evil assemblies and hated festivals and feasts.

It is in this context that He issues His command to ‘Stop doing wrong, learn to do right.’  In the following verses where He instructs them how to live we find the well known promise of forgiveness, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”  The Lord takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.  Rather He is pleased when they turn from their ways and live. (Ezekiel 18:23)

Later in Isaiah the Lord says, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (29:13a)  The problem is a people who think they are living right, when they’re not.  They are living in deception – deception so serious that they do not recognize the truth when they hear it. Or if they do recognize it, they don’t do anything about it.

It’s wonderful to repent like Zacchaeus did when he met Jesus (Luke 19:2-10).  But it is imperative to actively pursue with the Holy Spirit, the application of God’s word and ways to every area of our lives as the years go by.  In our culture there are many temptations that we have to deal with that have cultural approval.  Among them are the following:

  • situation ethics
  •  there are no absolutes (except this absolute that there are no absolutes)
  • if it feels good do it
  • cheating
  • how we dress
  • white lies
  • political correctness
  • sexually impure content of commercials, programs, internet sites, video games and movies
  • gender identity
  • what we communicate and how we communicate

It’s important to recognize that all wrongdoing is sin (1 John 5:17a).  Fortunately, we are not left to ourselves as we pursue living godly lives.  We have the great promise in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”  May the Lord enable us to see and repent of the things in our lives that are not considered right by Him.

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Tuesday January 12, 2021 – Right and wrong, there is an objective standard

Isaiah 7:15 He (Jesus) will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right.

Right and wrong.  What is right – and what is wrong?  For the past few days I have been aware of this topic stirring within me.  Being able to identify right from wrong is very important for us.  We must recognize that it’s a requirement of our faith.  Who determines what right and wrong are?  Is it like beauty being in the eyes of the beholder – what is wrong in one person’s view might be right in another’s?  Further, what is the implication of identifying right from wrong?  Is there something required of us?

These and a lot more questions have been swirling within me.  This morning I looked up scriptures involving this subject and found myself surprised by how many there are – and their significance.  Today’s verse speaks prophetically of Jesus growing up and learning to reject the wrong and choose the right.  That alone makes it a critical skill for us to learn.

Given the impact of culture upon our lives, and particularly upon the church, it is far more critical than many of us might think.  It is something we must all become more aware of because it is so involved in our daily lives – with a much greater frequency than we might imagine.  In Exodus 23:2a the Israelites are admonished, “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong.”  What is the basis for determining the crowd is wrong?  A very important aspect of this whole process is added in Exodus 15:26, ‘He said, ‘If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes,”  There is an objective standard as to right and wrong.

One of the disconcerting things about this subject is the fact that an individual can be convinced he is right … and be wrong.  In Proverbs 12:15a it says, “The way of a fool seems right to him,”.  But in Proverbs 14:12 it says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”  We can be foolish and/or sincere and miss it.  Fortunately, we have His word and the Holy Spirit to teach us.  We simply have to respond and learn from Him.  This is more than a subject He wants us all to master – it’s a way of life.

To be continued…

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Monday January 11, 2021 – Remembering what God has done

1 Chronicles 16:12  Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced,

Raising 4 sons is an adventure to say the least.  (We are now getting our daughters the easy way.)  One of the guiding principles of our family life has been to build memories.  We did things together and in such a way that the activity or experience became a lasting memory.  I record special things in my journals, but Donna and I recall them and we talk about them when we are together as a family.

This is particularly important when it comes to our life with our Lord.  It is too easy for special experiences with the Lord to become kind of lost in the business of life.  The Lord, through Moses, warned the children of Israel many times about this,

“Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” (Deuteronomy 4:9) 

Such memories sustain and build our faith – and the faith of others.  Our human tendency is to forget the memories, and to also forget the Lord who produced them.  Yesterday’s devotional about Donna’s encounter with the Lord as her Father was such a memory.

When we were living in Franklin, TN, our pastor Steve Fry, did a series on keys to healing – in our lives, our relationships and our world.  We were able to share with him about this experience where God healed the wounds in Donna due to the relationship with her earthly father. Donna became teary talking about this powerful experience with God making Himself known to her as her father.  Then she made a statement about this experience that I had forgotten.  She said, “This was the first time in my life where I felt like I was a daughter!”

While there is pain in what she lived through, it is so overshadowed by the wonder of who God is and what He did.  He settled within her the issue that she was His daughter; and that He was her Father!  This memory brought forth such a well-spring of gratitude and joy and wonder and passion.  Not just for what God did – but more importantly for who He is and who He considers us to be.

How good and important it is to remember the wonders and miracles He has done!

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Sunday January 10, 2021 – Donna’s amazing experience with her Heavenly Father

Psalm 45:10-11  10 Listen, daughter, and pay careful attention: Forget your people and your father’s house.  11 Let the king be enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord.

Today’s verses are the beginning of a section of Psalm 45 (verses 10-17) that is very dear to my wife Donna and to me; to her because God used these verses so powerfully in her life; to me because God so touched the woman I love through them.  It is a section where God speaks to His daughters.

Donna’s father’s house was painful for her both as a daughter and as a woman.  Her daddy was an alcoholic.  Possibly key to that was the fact that when Donna’s older sister was 3 years old, she was killed when he accidentally ran over her backing his car out of the driveway.  Donna’s parents were married, divorced, re-married and re-divorced.  He was not someone who knew how to show love.

When Donna was 19, she had a marvelous salvation experience where God gave her an amazing vision of Jesus on the cross.   When she saw the blood dripping from his hands and feet  she knew he died for her.  Over the years her relationship with the Lord grew and she has been a blessing to so many.  But there was something the Lord wanted to heal in her and that happened in a woman’s conference in Canada back in the early 90s.  The Lord freed Donna of the hurts and wounds that lingered still as a result of her daddy not being a loving father – not being the man God intended him to be.

The Lord wanted her to have the joy and freedom that come from a healthy, vibrant view of Him as her Father; to receive His love and affection.  As part of that healing process, God spoke these verses to Donna as speaking to His daughter.  I vividly remember the tearfully, joyous phone call I received from her when this happened.  She was overwhelmed by the love from her Heavenly Father and with love for Him.  The pain from her daddy was gone.  In its place was the joy and wonder that she was a beloved daughter of the King.

God is a master at freeing us from whatever restrains us.  He wants us to know and experience Him as the loving Father He is.  If we have ‘stuff’ like Donna had, He will set us free too.

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Saturday January 9, 2021 – The mind-boggling wonder we have in God!

Habakkuk 3:19  The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.

I was trying to think of words to describe the wonder and reality of what we have in Jesus – and words just don’t and can’t do it justice.  Some thoughts that come to mind: “It’s too good to be true!”, “Pinch me I must be dreaming!”, “How can this possibly be?”, “Never in a million years….”, “This can’t be real!”, “I’m blown away!”

For me, the above also usually includes tears coming down my face because what I’m experiencing is so mind-bogglingly wonderful that the sense of gratitude within me is just overwhelming.  It also helps that I can be a bit emotional, but again, it never entered my mind that this even existed.  That we, individually and corporately, as the object of God’s love, could be so incredibly swept off our feet by our Lord!  And somehow it just keeps getting better the longer we are His and walk in His ways.

In the midst of good times and bad; tough times and easy; with plenty and with need; when His presence is all around us and when we feel like He’s nowhere to be found – it makes no difference.  He never leaves us!  He never stops loving us!  He envelopes us in His love and gives us the grace, the strength, the mercy, the resources to face whatever is in front of us.  Best of all, we are His!

If it seems to you that I am describing a land where you’ve never been, let alone live; allow the Holy Spirit to have His way with you.  Allow Him to undermine your doubts and unbelief and bring you into the wonder that He has for all of us – including you!

Remember the movie The Wizard of Oz?  It starts out as a black & white movie.  Then Dorothy wakes up in Oz and is stunned – as were the audiences that saw the movie – because Oz was in living color!  What was flat and dull became stunningly bright and beautiful.  Maybe you are viewing everything around you in black & white.  Respond to the Lord and His Spirit at work in you and He will open your eyes to see your world in His “living color”!

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