Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
autumn in Hudson, Ohio 2018
Malankara World Journal Monthly
Theme: Great Lent Weeks 1 to 5, Parables
Volume 9 No. 511 March 2019

III. Supplement: Lent and Christian Life

Choices Have Consequences

In the matter of the last things, there is no middle path, no third way. Either we choose God and His kingdom, and then reflect that choice in all of our smaller decisions, or we do not. ...

The Season of Lent

Lent is a season of self-examination and penitence, demonstrated by self-denial, in preparation for Easter....

Six Ways to Jumpstart Your Spiritual Life

Years ago I learned the First Rule of the Spiritual Life: He’s God and we’re not. All spiritual growth starts with this truth. Until you grasp what it means, you are still in spiritual kindergarten. ...

Trapped in the Darkness

There are people that we walk past every day that, without knowing it, are spiritually trapped in darkness under the weight of sin. ...

God Will Empower Us

We've all hit obstacles in our walks that aren't possible for us to pass. In fact, I'd even say that God puts things in our lives that we can't take care of on purpose. ...

It’s Not How You Start. It’s How You Finish

We never know when our last day on this earth will be. But here’s what we do know—we have a choice right now, today, to finish well. ...

Coming to Terms With the Past

God does not want us to be forever burdened with our past sins. “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness” says Romans 6:18. ...

Go the Extra Mile

In essence, Matthew 5-7 contain instructions from Jesus for them, and for us today, to go further than the strictly physical application of the law—to God's true intent in it, or as we say, from the letter to the spirit of the law. ...

What Are You Living For?

Sooner or later we all come to the end of our earthly journey. What will we have to show for our time on earth? ...

We Are Nothing Without God

In this season of Lent, I think we ought to start there—by meditating on the absurdity of God’s care. I so often think myself big. To comprehend God’s love for me I must remind myself daily that I am small. Ludicrously so. ...

III. Supplement: Lent and Christian Life

Choices Have Consequences

by Msgr. Charles Pope

The themes of early Lent are pretty basic. The ashes of Ash Wednesday announce the simple truth that we are going to die and subsequently face judgment. Hence we need to repent and come to believe the good news that only Jesus can save us.

The reading for Thursday after Ash Wednesday features Moses laying out the basic reality that all of us have a choice to make:

Today I have set before you
life and prosperity, death and doom …

I call heaven and earth today to witness against you:
I have set before you life and death,
the blessing and the curse
(Dt 30:15, 20).

So there is our choice: life or death, prosperity or doom. There is a Latin expression, Tertium non datur (No third way is given). We often like to think that we can take some middle path, but in the matter of the last things, there is no middle path, no third way. Either we choose God and His kingdom, and then reflect that choice in all of our smaller decisions, or we do not.

To those who think that a middle path is possible, I would say that it is the way of compromise, ambivalence, and tepidity. Walking such a path demonstrates a lack of commitment and a refusal to witness to Christ. These are not virtues that belong to God’s Kingdom; they pertain more to the kingdom of darkness. Jesus says, Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil (Matt 5:37). He also says, No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money (Matt 6:24).

So we are back to a choice: for the Kingdom of Light or for the kingdom of darkness; for the world and its ways, or for God and His ways. Do we choose to gratify the flesh or nourish the spirit, to serve Satan and his agenda or to serve Christ and follow His will and plan?

You are free to choose, but you’re not free not to choose. That is to say, you must choose. If you think that you can go on simply not choosing one or the other, I’ve got news for you: not choosing is choosing the kingdom of darkness.

Many do not directly choose Satan, but rather indirectly choose him by following his ways. We are asked to choose God directly, by accepting the gift of faith and basing our life on what the He commands. Faith is not some sort of “default position” we can have by accident. Faith is the supernaturally-assisted and transformed human decision for God and all that that choice implies. Faith is a gift freely offered and one that we must freely accept; it is a choice that will not be forced on us. Through our many daily choices, we are called to reaffirm, by grace, the choice we have made for God.

So again, life is about choices: the fundamental choice of faith and all the daily choices that either affirm or deny the reality of our faith.

We live in times in which people like to demand free choice, but also like to evade the responsibilities that come with making choices. Moses goes on in the reading today to describe the fact that the choice we make for or against God will have consequences:

If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God,
which I enjoin on you today,
loving him, and walking in his ways,
and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees,
you will live and grow numerous,
and the LORD, your God,
will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy.

If, however, you turn away your hearts and will not listen,
but are led astray and adore and serve other gods,
I tell you now that you will certainly perish;
you will not have a long life
on the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and occupy
(Dt 30).

Yes, choices have consequences. Even small daily choices have the cumulative effect of moving us in one direction or the other, toward God or away.

Many small choices also have a way of forming our hearts. Deeds become habits; habits become character; character becomes destiny. These choices form our hearts, establish our character, and move us into one future or another.

While sudden and dramatic conversions are possible as long as we are still living, it is more common that our hearts become more fixed over time and our fundamental character becomes less and less likely to change. As we get older, it’s harder to change because that’s what choices do to us: they move us in a certain direction, down a certain path; and the further along that path we go, the less likely we are to turn back.

Therefore, daily choices are important. It is essential to examine our conscience regularly and make frequent use of the Sacrament of Confession. Each day we ought to ask the question, “Where am I going with my life?” If we go on for too long living an unreflective life, it is easy to find ourselves deeply locked in sinful habits that become harder and harder to break. Frequent reflection is necessary and we ought not to make light of small daily decisions.

We live in times in which it is often easy to insulate ourselves from the immediate consequences of the choices we make. Medicine, technology, and social safety nets are all good things in and of themselves, but they do tend to shield us from immediate consequences, and help to cultivate the illusion that consequences can be forever evaded. They cannot.

We also live in times in which, perhaps more than ever before, the community is willing to bear the burden of poor individual choices. Again, this is not in and of itself a bad thing, but it does become an enabler of bad behavior, and fosters the illusion that consequences can be avoided forever. They cannot.

Our own culture is currently struggling under the weight of a colossal number of poor individual choices, ones that have added up to a financial, spiritual, moral, and emotional debt that we cannot pay. Sexual misconduct, divorce, cohabitation, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases, the use of hallucinogenic and addictive drugs, the casting off of discipline and parental responsibility, the rejection of faith and ancient and tested wisdom, rebellion, silence in the face of sin and injustice, greed, consumerism, factions, envy, discord, and on and on … all of this is taking a tremendous toll. The consequences are mounting and it is becoming clear that even the most basic functions of society such as raising the next generation, preserving order and stability, and ensuring the common good are gravely threatened.

And what is true collectively is also true for us as individuals. Many poor choices in small matters quickly draw us into self-destructive patterns that get more and more deeply entrenched. Without regular reflection and the reminder of penitential seasons like Lent, it is easy to lose our way. St. Augustine noted this in his Confessions, in which he described himself as being bound,

“not by another’s irons, but by my own iron will. … For in truth, lust is made out of a perverse will, and when lust is served, it becomes habit, and when habit is not resisted, it becomes necessity” (Confessions 8.5.10).

Moses’ warnings are before us as never before.

In 1917, a beautiful and holy woman (St. Mary) appeared to three little children. She explained that the horrifying war (World War I) was finally coming to an end, but also warned that if people did not turn back to her Son Jesus and start praying, an even more devastating war would ensue; Russia would spread her errors and great disaster would befall the world. Do I need to tell you what happened? Any even casual assessment of the 20th century would find it hard to conclude that it was anything but satanic in terms of its wars, death rates through violence and abortion, and in its persecution of the Church.

Life or death, prosperity or doom; what will you choose?

Choices! Consequences!

And now from heavy to humorous:

Video -

Source: Archdiocese of Washington Blog

The Season of Lent

by Robin Dugall

Then he said to them all, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”
—Luke 9:23-24

"What did you give up for Lent?" was a common question in the neighborhood where I grew up. The season of Lent had a significant place in the community. Unfortunately, I had no clue about why we did what we did during Lent.

When I got a bit older, I took it upon myself to do a bit of research and came to a better understanding of Lent. Lent is one of the oldest seasons of observation on the Christian calendar. Like most religious holidays and seasons, there have been changes over the centuries on how Lent is observed. Yet, its purpose has always stayed essentially the same: it is a season of self-examination and penitence, demonstrated by self-denial, in preparation for Easter. Lent has been observed by believers throughout the centuries as a time dedicated to self-denial, sacrifice, spiritual formation, spiritual discipline, and prayer.

In many traditions, fasting plays a huge role. In history, people were regularly encouraged to fast daily (eating only one meal a day). In other traditions, prayer and confession were the primary focus on the 40-day Lenten journey.

Though Lent is still devoutly observed in some Christian denominations, others hardly mention it at all. However, in our time there is an increased interest in the significance of Lent. Frankly, there cannot be a better emphasis than for all of us to focus on our relationship with Jesus. Lent is a time to get in touch with that part of us that is broken and needs healing. It is a season to be able to openly acknowledge our deep desire for transformation and Christ-likeness.

As you read the following Lenten prayer, make it a part of your inner desire to be more like Jesus.

Lighter of lights – illumine us
Fire of fires – thaw us
Power of powers – strengthen us
Lover of lovers – warm us
Teller of tales – encourage us
Destroyer of darkness – save us
Touchstone of truth – examine us
Summoner of stars – amaze us
Wellspring of wisdom – weather us
Water of life – refresh us
Dancer of days – delight in us
Breath of the universe – bless us
— Ruth Burgess


1. During this season of Lent, focus on the knowledge of your own brokenness, yearning for healing, desire for transformation, and dependence upon Jesus. Reflect on the areas of your life that need transformation.

2. What are those areas in your life that get in the way of you being who Jesus wants you to be?


John 13:1-15; Mark 12:28-34

Source: HomeWord with Jim Burns

Six Ways to Jumpstart Your Spiritual Life

by Dr. Ray Pritchard

“Humble yourself!”

He shouted it a second time.
“Humble yourself!”

It happened just after the end of the college football playoff game between Georgia and Oklahoma. As the two teams exited the field, after Georgia defeated Oklahoma in a thrilling double-overtime victory, one of the Georgia players spotted the Oklahoma quarterback and shouted those two words at him:

“Humble yourself!”

It was unique enough that the video clip spread across the internet. You can hear lots of things after a football game, but you’ll rarely hear anyone shout, “Humble yourself!”

It remains good advice for all of us. If pride is the first sin, then humility is the first virtue. Years ago I learned the First Rule of the Spiritual Life: He’s God and we’re not. All spiritual growth starts with this truth. Until you grasp what it means, you are still in spiritual kindergarten.

James 4:6-10 fleshes out what it means to humble yourself in the eyes of the Lord. In this passage we discover six steps that unlock the path of God’s blessing for his children.

Would you like to know God better? Humble yourself!
Would you like to receive God’s approval? Humble yourself!
Would you like to break through to victory? Humble yourself!

Would you like a closer walk with God in 2018? Pay attention to this passage because it will help you jumpstart your spiritual life.

# 1: Take a Knee

“But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God” (vv. 6-7a).

Humility doesn’t come naturally to most of us. It’s the virtue which, if you think you have it, you probably don’t. D. L. Moody used to pray, “Lord, make me humble, but don’t let me know it.”

No one likes being told what to do. We would rather be in charge of our own affairs, and that’s why the whole notion of surrendering our pride to the Lord sounds strange at first. But there is no other way to get better. There is no other way to be healed. There is no other way to be forgiven. There is no other way to find a new life.

We can fight the Lord, or we can surrender everything to his control.

When we fight, we lose.
When we surrender in faith, we win.

Some friends saw this sign painted on the side of a bus in Nigeria: “Man no be God.” That sums it up, doesn’t it? You aren’t God, you never were, and you never will be. Start there, and you’ll be on the right path.

Humility grows best in the rich soil of God’s grace. Don’t pray for more humility; pray for more grace. Pray that God will pour out his grace in your heart so that you will only boast in the Lord.

The proud man must constantly remind you how great he is. He brags because he wants you to praise him. But if you have to tell me how great you are, how great could you possibly be? The braggart brags because he’s trying to convince you (and himself) of how great he is. The humble man doesn’t brag because the truth speaks for itself. He leaves his reputation in the Lord’s hands because it doesn’t matter to him what others think. He wants God’s reputation to become great in the land. What happens to him doesn’t matter as long as the Lord’s cause goes forward.

Walking in humility means you confess your sins, you forgive your enemies, you admit your mistakes, and you don’t brag about how great you are. It also means you serve others with a smile, not with a frown.

“God opposes the proud.” Don’t let that happen to you!
“But gives grace to the humble.” So pray for the grace you need.

Take a knee.
You’ll be glad you did.

# 2: Fight Back

“Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (v. 7b).

This is both a command and a promise. If we submit to God, we may be sure that when we resist the devil, he will flee from us. We have no power in ourselves against the devil, but he has no power to use against us when we fight with God’s power. By ourselves, we can’t win; with God’s help, we can’t lose.

The word “resist” is a military term. It means you stand and fight. You don’t run away. We are to flee temptation, but we are to fight the devil. That means taking up the armor of God and standing in the evil day (Ephesians 6:10-17).

Satan is like a football coach studying the opposing team. He has “game film” on us, he knows our weaknesses and our strengths, and he uses what he knows against us. If he can get you discouraged, he’s already won the battle. He knows when you lose your temper. Satan isn’t equal to God, but he’s a lot smarter than you or me.

Don’t be surprised when he hits you out of the blue. Fight back!
Don’t be surprised when he comes to you with a seductive temptation. Fight back!
Don’t be surprised when he whispers in your ear in a moment of weakness. Fight back!

The devil is a murderer by nature (John 8:44). He will destroy your career, your marriage, your family, and your ministry if you let him. You’ve got to stand and fight.

Fight back with the Word of God.
Fight back by singing great hymns.
Fight back by praying to Jesus.
Fight back by leaning on your brothers and sisters.
Fight back by confessing Christ openly.
Fight back by coming to the Lord’s Table.
Fight back by fleeing every temptation.

Stand and fight, child of God!
Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

# 3: Draw Near

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (v. 8a).

The question is not, how near is God to us, but rather how near are we to him? Every married couple understands that proximity is one thing, but intimacy is something else. A couple may be seated on the same couch but be miles apart from each other. They may sleep together but not share the same bed spiritually. It is quite possible to be married and live entirely separate lives.

Drawing near to God starts in the heart. Take another married couple and watch them for a moment. She may be knitting or playing the piano. He may be reading a book or listening to her play the piano. Minutes may pass without a word being spoken, but they are happy together. He has drawn near to her, and she has drawn near to him.

If we come to God with that same desire to know him, he will draw near to us. You do not need to be an advanced Christian or a super-saint or a deep Bible student. The newest saint and the weakest believer may know God’s presence.

Years ago I heard the question put this way, “If God feels far away from you, who moved?” It’s never the Lord. We may know his presence and feel his pleasure if we truly want it. He will draw near to you if you draw near to him.

# 4: Clean Up

“Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (v. 8b).

We must cleanse our hands because they are dirty with sin.
We must purify our hearts because they are divided, and we are distracted.

This means we stop making excuses for bad attitudes, for casual unkindness, for clever put-downs, for dabbling in pornography, for bragging about our accomplishments, for envy of others, for bitterness, for a critical spirit, for our prayerlessness, for our need to be in control, for giving in to despair, for hating our enemies instead of loving them, and for our failure to do what we ought to do.

Here’s a useful way to apply this truth. Take some time to get alone with God. Pray this simple prayer: “Lord, show me the truth about myself.” Then write down what the Lord shows you. In my experience, you can’t do this in ten minutes, and you can’t do this when you are busy. It takes time to open your heart to the Holy Spirit. When I have done this, I have been appalled at what the Lord reveals to me about my own heart, but then I have been glad for the cleansing that comes from confession and repentance.

Hosea 10:12 offers us a wonderful promise:

“Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you” (NLT).

Plowing is hard work because it means digging up the rocks and pulling the weeds that keep the good fruit from growing. But if we by God’s grace do the hard thing, the Lord promises to send the rain that produces a new life with new joy and fresh fruit from heaven.

# 5: Get Serious

“Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom” (v. 9).

This isn’t exactly “your best life now,” and it doesn’t sound like the “abundant life” or the “life that wins.” In fact, this verse runs counter to the “I want to be happy all the time” version of Christianity that is very popular in the West.

Be wretched—Who wants to be wretched?
Mourn—Don’t worry, be happy.
Weep—That’s a real downer.

If we laugh, we should stop it and start mourning.
If we have joy, turn it into gloom.

I’ll be the first to agree that this verse, stated this way, seems like a downer. But let’s step back and ask ourselves what James means by all this.

Is he a killjoy? No, that can’t be right.
Is he a Nattering Nabob of Negativism? Whatever that is, that’s not who he is.
Is he a frowning Puritan? That’s not fair because the Puritans were supremely happy in God.

James wants us to get serious about our relationship with God. When theologian R. C. Sproul died in December 2017, Russell Pulliam wrote an assessment of his life in the Washington Post. He located Sproul’s huge influence in the fact that he believed in the theology of John Calvin. That led to this sentence:

Sproul believed that we are more sinful than we usually think we are.

That’s spot-on accurate, both as a statement of what Sproul believed and of the true American self-assessment. Most people, even those who don’t go to church, would agree they are sinners. That is, no one’s perfect, we all make mistakes, and so on. It’s not hard to get people to agree with that concept. But the Bible goes much further. It tells us that sin has infected every part of human life, that we are spiritually dead, spiritually blind, lost, separated from God, and without hope in the world. The Bible reveals the solemn truth that “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23). We have all missed the mark. The whole human race is lost, broken, dead, blind, deaf to God’s truth, in a state of perpetual rebellion, and so separated from God that we are under his wrath, and bound for eternal punishment in hell.

That’s what God says about the whole human race.
That’s God’s verdict on you and me.

If you don’t believe that, or if you think that’s too harsh, or if you can’t handle the truth, then this verse will make no sense to you.

It all depends on how messed up you think you are.

Small sinners need a small Savior.
Moderate sinners need a moderate Savior.
Bigtime sinners need a bigtime Savior.

We are all bigtime sinners!

Once we see our sin as it really is, we will be wretched and mourn and weep. We’ll stop laughing and start crying. We’ll let our joy be turned to mourning. And that opens the door to the abundant life we all seek.

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

This promise comes true whenever we decide to take God seriously.

# 6: Stay Low

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (v. 10).

When my friend Don Lough became the Executive Director of Word of Life a few years ago, he asked his mentor Howard Hendricks for his advice. His reply was simple: “Lie low and exalt Christ.” That’s a good word for all of us. We can brag on ourselves, or we can exalt Christ, but we can’t do both at the same time. That sentence stands as a powerful admonition for every Christian. It is great advice because it describes two choices. You can exalt yourself, or you can exalt Christ, but you can’t do both. When we decide to lie low and exalt Christ, there is no limit to what the Lord may choose to do through us.

I began this sermon by talking about one football player who shouted at another football player, “Humble yourself!” What he said to his rival, God says to us. His message is crystal clear.

We can be blessed, but we must humble ourselves.
We can change, but we must humble ourselves.
We can experience the abundant life, but we must humble ourselves.

In the early days of 2018, many of us are thinking about how we can get a fresh start and make a new beginning. James 4:6-10 shows us the path that will jumpstart your spiritual life:

Take a Knee.
Fight Back.
Draw Near.
Clean Up.
Get Serious.
Stay Low.

In the Kingdom of God, the way up is down.
If you humble yourself, the Lord will raise you up.

One final thought keeps ringing in my head. Verse 6 reminds us that God “opposes” the proud. Ponder that for a moment.

Could a Christian be an enemy of God? Yes. If that is not true, then these words of James have no application to most of us.

Could God be “opposed” to one of his own children, even though he loves them with an everlasting love? The answer is yes because God loves us so much that he will not leave us the way we are. His love leads him to “oppose” our pride, our anger, our loose tongue, our lust, our unkind spirit, and all the excuses we make for our sin.

It’s like those old Fram oil filter commercials where the mechanic says, “You can pay me now or you can pay me later.” If you humble yourself now, God won’t have to do it later. A wise pastor friend told me “the first price you pay is always the cheapest.” He’s right. The price for dealing with our problems never goes down; it always goes up. That’s true personally, and it’s true for our relationships. We put off dealing with our issues because we think it will cost too much to deal with them now. But that’s a huge mistake. Sin left untouched always grows. It’s like a deadly cancer you leave untreated. Sin always spreads because it is the cancer of the soul.

We can humble ourselves in the eyes the Lord, or we can go on living the way we want until the time God decides to humble us. The choice is ours.

Every blessing awaits those who will humble themselves before the Lord.

This is the promise of God, and it is good news indeed. May God help us to take these words to heart.

O Lord, grant us grace that we might humble ourselves in your sight. Show us where pride has taken root. Shine the light of your Word on the hidden parts of the heart. Where we have sinned, have mercy. Restore us, O Lord, that we may rejoice in you once again. Amen.

Copyright © 2018 Keep Believing Ministries, All rights reserved.

Trapped in the Darkness

by Fred Alberti, Salem Web Network Director of Social Media

"…to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me."
Acts 26:18

As I was walking through my nature trail this week I, as I normally do, asked the Lord what I should write this week. As I passed through the chapel area of the trail the sun flashed through the leaves and caught my attention. Light. I had entered the darkness of the woods but that light caught my attention. I "filed" it away and continued my travels through the trail.

Later, I was reading through various news stories of earthquake survivors in China when one particular story jumped out at me and brought back to my mind my earlier encounter with the rising sun. The story was of a middle-aged man named Mr. Shen whose quick thinking to take cover in a doorway saved him from the fate experienced by many of his co-workers.

When interviewed, Mr. Shen recalled shouting to a co-worker to join him in the doorway when the room suddenly collapsed. The next thing he remembered was the sudden darkness that enveloped him.

What struck me in his interview was his statement, "Oh, the darkness, oh, the darkness all over. I didn't know when it was going to end."

There are people that we walk past every day that, without knowing it, are spiritually in the same condition as Mr. Shen; trapped in darkness under the weight of sin.

For Mr. Shen, the darkness crumpled under the hands of the rescuers. After 146 hours his encounter with complete and utter darkness came to an end. That darkness, however, will always leave a mark on his being.

Will you forget the darkness that seeks to crush the hope of those around you?

Intersecting Faith & Life:

Find a place of complete and utter darkness and spend at least 15 minutes praying for people you know who have not accepted God's free gift of salvation.

Further Reading

Ephesians 5:8
John 12:46
1 Peter 2:9

Source: - The Devotional

God Will Empower Us

by Pete Briscoe

God will never put you in a situation that you can't handle. --Unknown

I hear that saying all the time. Sometimes I automatically nod my head because it just sounds right, like a plaque on your mom's fridge. It is usually presented as a concise summary of God's care for us. The problem is, it isn't true...

We've all hit obstacles in our walks that aren't possible for us to pass. In fact, I'd even say that God puts things in our lives that we can't take care of on purpose. If we could handle everything on our own, there would be no need for us to rely on God. And that's how we were designed to live!

“If we could handle everything on our own, there would be no need for us to rely on God.”

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. --2 Corinthians 9:8.

He is able to empower us.

Because of God's grace, we are able to do things that we would be unable to do on our own. How does that work? I have no idea! I don't know how it is that He energizes our thoughts or the molecules in our bodies to allow us to accomplish things and choose things that we couldn't without His strength. But we know that He does. And when we obey Him and allow Him to work through us, we also experience it.

Father, it's tough to take on the challenges that I sometimes have to face. I don't want to try it on my own. I'm weak. You are strong. Be my strength. May others see what You're doing through me and be amazed by it. Let the world know through Your works in me that You are the source of this power! Amen.

Source: Experiencing LIFE Today

It’s Not How You Start. It’s How You Finish

by Sharon Jaynes

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”
 (2 Timothy 4:7 NIV).

I sat by her bed.

Her hand swollen…full…unmoving.

Feet that danced just a few weeks ago now stilled. Arms that lifted just a short time ago now limp. Words that spilled easily just a moment ago now halted. How could life seep away so quickly, right before my eyes?

Mom was ready. But I wasn’t.

Mom called to tell me she was going to the emergency room. She had abdominal pain and couldn’t stop throwing up. I had just been at her house four days before, and this was something new.

“She has an ileus,” the doctor explained. “Part of her intestines have stopped working. But her heart isn’t strong enough to survive surgery. If her intestines don’t start working on their own, she will die.”

Four weeks into the sitting and waiting, it looked like Mom was going to get to go Home. Not to her little brick house in the colonial neighborhood…the one with cedar shingles, cobblestone street, and white picket fence where she had lived for more than 25 years, but her home in a celestial neighborhood with familiar faces, golden streets, and the presence of God. Mom was ready. She had been planning the party for quite sometime.

I gently held her fluid-filled hand. Sky-blue eyes looked off into the distance. Her mind replaying bits and pieces of life.

“Mom, whatcha thinking about?” I asked.
“It’s not how you start. It’s how you finish,” she whispered.
“Who told you that?” I asked with a knowing smile.
“You did,” she replied.
“I love you, Mom.”
“I love you more,” she countered.

Mom had regrets. We all do…if we’re honest. But she finished well. She had made sure that her grandkids, extended family, and I knew we were loved. She had made preparations of her passing as easy as possible for me, the lone child responsible for all the details. She loved Jesus and was thrilled to get to see Him face to face.

The last week of her life, I was having a bit of a crying spell. Mom had requested the doctors remove all the machines, all the tubes, all the medications. “Comfort care.” That’s what they called it.

“Well Mom, it looks like you’re going to get to see Jesus before I do.”

And in a quick wit that served her well to the end, she teased with a twinkle in her eye, “Are you jealous?”

And to be honest…I was.

We never know when our last day on this earth will be. But here’s what we do know—we have a choice right now, today, to finish well. Your new start to the finish could begin today. Regardless of your past mistakes and missteps, weakness and failures…regardless of how you started this race, you can decide to begin your finish well.

Let’s Pray

Lord, I have made so many mistakes in my life. A trail of regrets lie behind. But praise You I’ve chosen to leave them behind and not carry them into my future. No matter how I started, I pray that You will give me the wisdom and the power to finish well.
In Jesus’ Name,

Now It’s Your Turn

Read this passage and note what Paul said about his decision to finish well:

“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward [reaching forward] what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”
(Philippians 3:13-14).

What part does forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead play in finishing well?

Source: Girlfriends In God

Coming to Terms With the Past

by Nancy Kennedy

Scripture: Jeremiah 33:1–26

“I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security.”
Jeremiah 33:6

A pastor friend told the story of a couple who had come to him for counseling. The couple had been married 40 or so years, and they were both plagued with guilt. They hadn’t become Christians until their later years, and, prior to that, they had both lived sexually immoral lives. Although they had been faithful to each other during their marriage, their past dips into immorality were now making them feel guilty for enjoying sex with each other.

The pastor thought for a moment, then asked the couple to name their favorite hymn. They both said at the same time, “It Is Well With My Soul.” So the pastor told them to go home and either listen to or sing the hymn every night before they went to bed.

A week later the couple returned to the pastor’s office. They told him that they had felt foolish at first, but they had sung their favorite hymn together each night. The wife blushed and the husband got teary eyed as he told the pastor, “When we got to the part that says, ‘My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought! My sin not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O, my soul!’ well… after all these years we feel fresh and squeaky clean and new all over again.”

Throughout the Bible, God’s relationship with Israel was tested over and over by Israel’s sin. The book of Jeremiah talks about the horrible result of that sin. When the prophet received the prophecy recorded in chapter 33, Jerusalem was under siege from the invading Babylonians. Soon God would allow his people to be carried away from their land into captivity and their land to be destroyed. Like the couple who wrestled with memories of past sins, the Israelites would live with heartrending images of how their unfaithfulness to God had resulted in the burning and pillaging of their land. Their city would be filled with dead bodies.

But the story doesn’t end there. The prophet went on to say that because of God’s immense love, God would heal Israel’s pain, cleanse the people from their sin, and restore them to abundant peace and security. “Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things I do for it,” God said (Jeremiah 33:9).

Likewise, God does not want us to be forever burdened with our past sins. “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness” says Romans 6:18. And Romans 6:4 promises, “We were therefore buried with him . . . in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

So too is the promise for our marriages, which so often bend under the load of sins, both past and present. We must be honest with ourselves, with the Lord and with each other about memories or habits or activities that may be eroding our relationship and then deal with them. But we can do so in the joy of knowing that in Christ we can find forgiveness, restoration and a new start.

Let’s Talk

What are some things from the past that each of us is still struggling with?
How are they affecting our marriage?
How can we talk about those struggles in a way that builds up our marriage?

Source: NIV Devotions for Couples, Copyright 2015

Go the Extra Mile

by John O. Reid (1930-2016)

"And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two."
—Matthew 5:41

In Matthew 5:20, part of His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ instructs, "For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." He then goes on to expound the changes of attitudes and approaches to God's law that we must acquire to do just that, to exceed the righteousness of those very law-abiding people.

When He finished His sermon, the people were astonished, as He had taught them, not as the "letter of the law" scribes and Pharisees did, but "as one having authority" (Matthew 7:28-29). Jesus could preach with conviction and boldness because He saw past the rigid letter of God's commandments to their very spiritual heart and purpose. He could confidently give the law its true meaning and relevance to life.

In essence, Matthew 5—7 contain instructions from Jesus for them, and for us today, to go further than the strictly physical application of the law—to God's true intent in it, or as we say, from the letter to the spirit of the law. In His teaching, Jesus states a physical law, often quoting directly from the Old Testament. This base standard is to be met by all those who have made a covenant with God.

Then, He proceeds to amplify the particular law's meaning, usually beginning His amplification with words similar to, "I say to you. . . ." Such words should be a flag to us that Jesus is expanding the scope of the law to include, not just physical actions, but the condition, attitudes, and inclinations of a person's heart. In essence, He is teaching the standards required of His people to attain the Kingdom of God.

Lex Talionis

In one section of the Sermon on the Mount—from which two or three of today's common proverbs have derived—He covers what is known as Lex Talionis, "the law of retaliation." We know this concept by its more familiar name, "an eye for an eye." Jesus says:

You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. (Matthew 5:38-42)

Some may have taken the Old Testament guideline (see Exodus 21:23-25) in a literal fashion. At first glance, it seems that, if a person's tooth or eye were lost in a scuffle or accident, the one who caused the loss to happen would be required to forfeit his own tooth or eye. Though some may have demanded this in times past, it is clearly not God's intent for the law. Instead, it is a principle, given in concrete, understandable terms, that damage was to be justly compensated.

According to commentator Adam Clarke, the Jews of Christ's day abused this law to extract every last penny from another, and in the majority of cases, there was no mercy shown. Human nature being what it was then, and still is now, they insisted that the one who caused the problem receive every bit of punishment coming to him. In short, they wanted and exacted revenge!

Jesus wants us to understand that His disciples are not to act this way. We will study this section verse by verse to get the full force of Christ's explanation, in which He provides illustrations of His standard in action.

Beyond Retaliation

In countering the faulty understanding of this Old Testament law, Jesus teaches, "But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also" (Matthew 5:39). He begins by instructing us not to escalate the situation by stubborn resistance or, worse still, by perpetrating an additional offense. Elsewhere, Paul writes, "Repay no one evil for evil" (Romans 12:17). If offended, do not offend in return. If injured, do not inflict an injury in payment. In other words, retaliation is not the answer.

Note that Jesus is not speaking of dangerous situations, like facing a robber with murderous intent or a rapist on a dark street. On His mind are circumstances of daily life that are insulting, bothersome, or even mildly injurious, but not life-threatening. The Interpreter's Bible comments on the latter half of the verse: "A blow with the back of the hand to the right cheek was an insult, thus the palm of the hand was now poised to bring a blow to the left cheek." The blow is struck contemptuously rather than homicidally.

In a situation like this, the first thing that comes to most minds is revenge! Jesus desires that, rather than avenging oneself and acting with the same attitude of hatred as the aggressor, we reflect our calling and suppress the urge to seek vengeance. We should even be willing to take a second slap, this one from the other's open hand, without retaliation. Such pacifism usually pours cold water on the situation, avoiding further tit-for-tat retribution.

Jesus continues, "If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also" (Matthew 5:40). Certainly, no one likes to be sued. It is a time-wasting, frustrating, chaotic legal mess. It is often a huge disruption of normal life, and for a Christian, a terrible distraction from our spiritual priorities. Our Savior advises us to nip the suit in the bud by taking the loss—and even adding a premium to it if it will settle matters before they get out of hand!

In I Corinthians 6, the apostle Paul faced a situation in which members of the church in Corinth were being taken to court by other members. He writes in verse 7, "Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated?" Neither Jesus nor Paul means that a Christian should not use the law properly, but they are more interested in the right attitude in these matters. Many people take advantage of the legal system in a greedy, injurious manner, and Christians should not respond in kind. If confronted by such a person, it is usually better to suffer the loss of one's "shirt" than to fight back.

In Christ's example, He speaks of tunics and cloaks. The Jews of His day wore two principal garments, an interior "coat" or "tunic" (an undergarment), and a more costly exterior cloak (outer garment). This cloak was used, not only as a jacket or overcoat during the day, but also as a covering to sleep under at night. By Mosaic law, the outer cloak was an inalienable possession that could not be withheld from a debtor overnight (Exodus 22:26-27; Deuteronomy 24:12-13). Jesus is saying that, if we are sued even for a trifling amount, rather than countersuing and ratcheting up the hostility, we should be willing to give up what is rightfully ours to defuse the situation.

In Matthew 5:41, Jesus instructs, "And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two." His third example deals with the Roman practice of commandeering civilians or their property (mules, horses, oxen, camels, carts, wagons, etc.) to carry the luggage or other burden of military personnel for, in this case, one mile.

Evidently, the practice did not originate with the Romans but with the Persians. As there were no post offices at the time, and in order that royal orders might reach their destination quickly, Cyrus set up a system not unlike our Pony Express. A rider in this service was empowered to take a civilian's horse (usually his best or only horse), if his was worn out or lame. In addition, he could press a boat, cart, or any other vehicle into the king's service.

In recent centuries, this practice, often used to force seamen into the service of another nation's ships, has been called impressment. In America's Revolutionary War period, British ships would often intercept other nations' ships and force any American sailors found on them to work for the Royal Navy. In Roman times, a man could have worked all day, his family waiting for him to come in from his fields, and suddenly, a Roman soldier could order him to carry a heavy load for a mile.

No one likes to be made to do someone else's work. At the very least, we are apt to complain, argue, or simply refuse to be so used. Being compelled to engage in "community service" by law or by might is demeaning and perhaps unjust. But Jesus tells us to take the sting out of the situation by being willing to carry such a burden an extra mile in a cheerful attitude.

In a similar vein, Solomon advises, "If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for so you will heap coals of fire on his head, and the Lord will reward you" (Proverbs 25:21-22). Jesus says something very similar in His subsequent teaching (Matthew 5:44-45). Being struck, sued, or forced to carry a heavy load can bring out the worst in human nature: anger, resentment, outrage, and even violence. But when those who have been called find themselves in difficult and trying circumstances, their attitude must not be belligerent, spiteful, or vengeful, but helpful, willing, and good-natured. "Above and beyond" must be their motto.

A Generous Spirit

Jesus gives a final illustration in Matthew 5:42: "Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away." Some commentators cannot understand why Jesus places this example with the other three, as it does not seem to show having a good attitude under trial. However, having a godly attitude in parting with what we hold dear can be a test for us as well. The parallel scripture in Luke 6:30 shows that it follows the pattern of the previous illustrations: "Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back."

Many believe that what Jesus requires here is foolish, that is, to give to everyone who asks of us and to allow our goods to be plundered without objection. Perhaps Luke 6:34-35 helps to clarify what Jesus intends:

And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Highest. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.

His illustration in Matthew 5:42 deals with borrowing and lending, not with allowing oneself to be plundered. As in the other illustrations, His primary point is that it is preferable to suffer loss or harm than to retaliate or worsen the situation. When we give to someone in need, we should not expect to be repaid for our generosity, and we should certainly not take steps to force reimbursement. Christian charity should be done without expectation of gain. Yet, God sees, and He will show us favor: "He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will pay back what he has given" (Proverbs 19:17).

If a person asks for a loan of money or goods, we should approach the request assuming that he makes it in good faith, if there are no extenuating reasons to doubt his sincerity. We should, however, keep in mind other principles from God's Word, such as being good stewards of what God has given us, taking care of our own, not encouraging laziness or sustaining the idle, not supporting vices (alcohol, drugs, or other addictions), and not being a party to shady or dubious get-rich-quick schemes. Jesus' suggestion is that, if we do lend to others, we might as well consider that money to be gone forever. The struggle to regain it will probably not be worth the effort, not to mention the damage it could do to relationships and one's character.

In short, what does His final illustration require of us? It asks of us, not only that we should lend without suspicion and with no eye to profit, but that we also should have a generous spirit of outgoing concern for a brother or sister in need.

Pressed Into God's Service

All of these examples deal with the attitude of one's heart in exhibiting patience and love, and Jesus' intent in them is to raise us above the righteousness of the Pharisees to the higher righteousness of God's calling.

In Jesus, we have the ultimate example in responding correctly, when He said, while hanging on the stake, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34). Not long thereafter, Stephen, when faced with death at the hands of a mob of hateful Jews, rather than responding with epithets or seeking revenge, beseeched, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin" (Acts 7:60). Both had a generous spirit and a true love for their fellow man.

Matthew 5:41 speaks of being pressed into service to do a task for another. It might be good to remember that each of us has been pressed into the service of Almighty God and asked to go the extra mile. For most of us, our calling was unlooked for and perhaps even came at an inopportune time in our lives. Yet, a Higher Authority has put us into service to do a work. Have we taken on our burden and cheerfully gone an extra mile for God?

And beyond God Himself, in our marriages, in raising our children, in dealing with each other, and in interacting with those outside our fellowship, we should be doing all we can to go that extra mile. By doing so, we reflect the higher standards of God's law, the standard of truly loving God and each other. This attitude will take us far beyond the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.

Source: The Berean; Forerunner, "Ready Answer," August 2006
© 2006 CGG

What Are You Living For?

by Dr. Ray Pritchard

I know a man who likes to share his Christian faith using two simple questions. If he is meeting someone for the first time, he will ask them, “What do you do for a living?”

The person will answer, “I’m a doctor” or “I teach Spanish at the high school” or “I run a nonprofit” or “I’m a stockbroker” or “I’m a writer,” or whatever it is they happen to do.

That question works because we all do something. So it’s easy to get people to talk about what they do for a living.

Then comes the second question: “What are you living for?” Usually there is a moment of silence because people don’t know how to answer that question. But it’s a good one because just as we all do something, we all live for something, even if we don’t know what it is.

It’s good to pause and ask ourselves, “What are we living for?”

Some people live for money.
Some people live for fame.
Some people live for approval.

What are you living for?

A Question from Jesus

To help us answer that question, let’s take a trip back in time to a place called Caesarea Philippi, a Roman city located north of the Sea of Galilee. A huge rock cliff dominates the landscape. At the base of the cliff a stream flows on its way to the Jordan River. It is a critical moment for Jesus. All Israel buzzes with word of this man from Galilee. Who is he? By what power does he perform his miracles? What does he want?

After a wave of early popularity, the nation is now divided. True, he has a wide following among the common people. It is also true that among the rich and powerful, opinion is slowly crystallizing against him. In the distance, the drums of angry opposition are beginning to beat. Before too many months, their sound will become a deafening roar.

Knowing all this, and knowing that it would end in his death, Jesus gathers his disciples in this quiet place to draw out from them a deeper commitment than they had yet given. It is here Jesus asks the famous question,

"Who do people say the Son of Man is?" (Matthew 16:13)

And it is here Peter makes his confession,

"You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).

But the conversation does not end there, for Jesus is seeking more than a confession; he is also seeking a commitment: "Now that you know who I am, are you willing to commit your life to me?"

This is how Jesus puts the issue in Mark 8:34-36:

"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and the gospel will save it.

What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?"

Take a careful look at those verses. The New International Translation uses the word "life" twice and the word "soul" twice. But in Greek those are not different words. The Greek word is psyche, from which we get our English word psychology. Sometimes it refers to the immaterial part of man (his soul) as opposed to his body. But more often it refers to the whole man or to the inner conscious self we call the personality. The psyche is the "real you" that lives and breathes and makes decisions. "Life" is not a bad translation so long as we remember it means more than just physical existence.

What’s the Best Deal You Can Make?

With that background, we may paraphrase these verses this way:

"Now that you know who I am, are you ready to take up your cross and follow me? Before you answer, let me warn you that following me will seem in the eyes of the world as if you are wasting your life.

“The people of the world will never understand what you are doing. It will seem to them that by following me, you are throwing your life away.

"You always have another option. You can try to save your own life by following your own desires. Lots of people do that. They live as if their career was all that mattered. But the people who live only for this life in the end will find they wasted it on things that don't really matter.

“They try to save it by living for themselves, but in the end they will lose it. They have wasted their lives on trivial pursuits.

"But if you follow me—though the way will not be easy, and you will often be misunderstood—in the end you will save your life. And the people who laugh at you now will not laugh at you then. They will see you were right and they were wrong.

"After all, what good will it do if you become the richest man in the world or climb to the top of the corporate ladder or rise to the highest salary level in your company or win the applause of the world, what good will all that do if in the end you find out it was all wasted? What good will that shiny new Lexus do for you then? Will you be able to trade it in for another life?

“No, you won't.
“But if you want to live that way, go ahead.

“Millions of people do. In the end they will be sorry, but by then it will be too late to do anything about it.

"So what will it be? The way of the Cross or the way of the world? You've got to invest your life somewhere. What's the best deal you can make?"

That reminds me of the famous words of Bob Dylan:

“You're gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.”

On this point, Bob Dylan and Jesus agree. You’re going to serve somebody.

Who will you serve?
What’s the best deal you can make?

Was Jesus a Failure?

The life of Jesus is the best answer to that question. Consider the facts of His “career”:

• He was born in an obscure village in an out-of-the-way province of the Roman Empire.
• He never went to college, nor did he have any professional training.
• He never had a bank account.
• He owned no property except the clothes on his back.
• He never held public office.
• He never wrote a book.
• He never had a wife or children.
• His closest friends were blue-collar workers.
• He felt at home among the outcasts of society.
• His ministry consisted of preaching in the countryside, teaching in the synagogues, answering difficult questions, healing the sick, and casting out demons.
• His opponents openly accused him of consorting with the devil.
• Along the way, he made many powerful enemies by exposing corruption in high places.
• Finally, his adversaries captured him, tried him in a kangaroo court, and put him to death.

To be perfectly honest, by most modern standards we would consider him a failure. He never made it to the top. If ever a man seemed to waste his life, it was Jesus.

But consider this. After more than two thousand years . . .

• His words are remembered and repeated around the world.
• His followers number in the billions and can be found in every country on earth.
• His personal integrity stands unsullied amidst the attacks of the cynics and the sneers of the ignorant.
• His death, which seemed to be a tragedy, has become the means by which we can be reconciled to God.
• His whole mission on earth, which seemed to be a failure, has now become history’s greatest success story.

How can this be? He was humiliated to the point of death and seemed to lose his life for no purpose whatsoever. Yet through his death God exalted him to the very highest position in the universe,

“So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue Confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”
(Philippians 2:10-11).

Jesus made clear why he did what he did when he said,

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,
it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit”
(John 12:24).

Out of one seed comes forth a vast harvest; but that seed must die in order to bring forth fruit. As long as the seed “saves” its life, it remains alone. But when it “loses” its life, it brings forth the harvest.

It’s simple, really.

If you try to “save” your life, in the end you “lose” it. But if you dare to “lose” it for Jesus’ sake, in the end you “save” it.

Jesus himself is the supreme example of this principle.

Career vs. Mission

There is yet another way of looking at this whole question of "losing" and "saving" your life.

That is to ask the question, Is your life a career or a mission?

There is a vast difference between those two concepts.
A quick glance at a dictionary reveals the essence of the difference:

— A career is something you choose for yourself.
— A mission is something chosen for you by someone else.

There is a huge difference between living for your career and being sent on a mission.

The Bible never talks about having a career.
You'll never find the word in the Bible.

Having a career is not a biblical issue.
Having a mission is.

It is not that believers don't have careers. We do. Some of us are painters, some are doctors, some are computer scientists, some are bankers, some are nurses, some are teachers, and some are writers. But the difference is this: The people of the world live for their careers; the people of God don't.

When your career is central in your life, then you are career-driven and career-minded while you climb the career ladder. You take a job and leave it two years later because it's a "good career move." You break all the significant relationships in one place and move across the country because your career demands it. Everything is calculated to get you someday to that elusive place called "the top." When you get there, your career will be complete, and the world will applaud your achievements.

I am suggesting that being career-minded in this sense is precisely what Jesus meant when he said, "He who would save his life will lose it." Your career may well keep you from fulfilling your mission in life, and your mission may never make much sense as a career.

— Your career is the answer to the question, “What do you do for a living?”
— Your mission is the answer to the question, “What are you living for?”

Your career is a ladder to climb.
Your mission is a journey you take.

Your career makes you a professional.
Your mission makes you a disciple.

Your career takes you to the top.
Your mission leads you to the cross.

Your career is about the here and now.
Your mission is about eternity.

If you are just here to eat, sleep, go to college, get a degree, get married, get a job, have some children, climb the ladder, make some money, buy a summer home, retire gracefully, grow old and die, then what's the big deal?

All of that is okay, but if that's all there is to life, then you are really no different from the pagans who don't even believe in God.

It's nice to have a career;
It's far better to be on a mission for God.

Serving God in a Communist Prison

Not long after the fall of the Soviet Union, I had the privilege of eating supper with a pastor from St. Petersburg, Russia. During the evening he told us what it was like to grow up in a Communist country.

His father (a pastor for over forty years) used to tell his mother, “Some night we may be sleeping when suddenly there will come a knock at the door. When that happens, don’t be surprised if the KGB takes me away in the middle of the night and you never see me again. When that happens, don’t give up the faith. After I am gone, remember the Lord will never leave you.”

During the Communist years, many Christians were taken to the prison camps and psychiatric hospitals and were made to suffer because of their faith. Some believers spent twenty-five years or more behind bars for the sake of the Gospel. A few of them came out and wrote books about their experiences. But most of those who suffered for God did not write any books because they did not want any publicity. They viewed their time in prison as part of their ministry for God. Their attitude was, “If God can use me more effectively in prison, then that’s where I will serve him.”

Let’s put it this way: Jesus calls his followers to be totally sold out to his kingdom. That applies to all Christians all the time, not just to “full-time Christian workers” such as pastors or missionaries.

Suppose you are an electrical engineer or an attorney. Here is God’s job description for you:

• You are a missionary cleverly disguised as an engineer.
• You are a missionary cleverly disguised as an attorney.

It’s nice to have a career;
It’s far better to be on a mission for God.

It’s not wrong to have a career and do well by the world’s standards. Nor is it sinful to move across the country. But motivation is everything. Two people may follow the same career path, and both may end up at the top. Yet one may be living solely for his career, while the other sees his life as a divinely ordained mission from God.

One has lost his life; the other has saved it, just as Jesus said.

Ask yourself, did Jesus have a career? No; he had a mission from God to be the Savior of the world. Nothing he did makes sense from a career point of view. Being crucified is not a good career move.

Yet by his death he reconciled the world to God. Was he a success or a failure? The answer is obvious.

“So Much Wasted Time”

Last November David Cassidy died at the age of 67. He is remembered for his role in the 1970s sitcom "The Partridge Family." According to his daughter Katie, his last words were, "So much wasted time."

I think that’s the fear of many people:
That we will come to the end and look back with regret.
That we will come to the end and realize we wasted our one and only life.

Sooner or later we all come to the end of our earthly journey. What will we have to show for our time on earth? No doubt we can all look back on too much wasted time.

When I thought about David Cassidy's final words, I remembered these lines by Benjamin E. Mays:

I have just one minute
Only sixty seconds in it,
Forced upon me—can’t refuse it
Didn’t seek it, didn’t choose it,
But it’s up to me to use it.
I must suffer if I lose it,
Give account if I abuse it.
Just a tiny little minute—
But eternity is in it.

Dr. Mays was right. It may only be a minute, "but eternity is in it."

Life is Not a Dress Rehearsal

In one of his sermons Ravi Zacharias tells the story of Robert Jaffray of Canada. He came from a wealthy family and in fact was heir to a large newspaper fortune in Toronto. When he was a young man, he learned the Chinese language and was offered a large salary by Standard Oil of New York if he would forego his missionary career and work for them.

He refused, so they doubled their salary offer.
He refused again.

They cabled him with this message: “Robert Jaffray. At any cost.”

He cabled back, “Your salary is big. Your job is too small.”

He spent 35 years as a missionary in China and helped translate the Bible into Cantonese. When World War II broke out, he and other missionaries were placed in an internment camp. He died there two weeks before the end of the war.

Did he waste his life?
It depends on your perspective.

C. T. Studd said it this way:

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

One day all of us will pass from this life into the presence of God.

What will we say on that day?
More importantly, what will the Lord say about us?

The martyred missionary Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

If you try to save your life, you’ll lose it in the end.
If you lose your life for Jesus’ sake, in the end you will save it.

If you live for your career, what difference will it make ten seconds after you die?
If you spend your life in the service of the kingdom of God, the road may not be easy, but ten thousand years from now you won’t regret your decision.

Life is not a dress rehearsal. We only get one chance to do whatever we’re going to do on planet earth. Soon enough, sooner than we think, our moment in the sun will be over.

Do you have a career, or are you on a mission for God? The answer to that question makes all the difference in the world.

I’d like to repeat those two questions I asked in the beginning and ask you to ponder them again in the light of what God’s Word says.

What do you do for a living? Most of us can answer that question easily.
What are you living for? That’s a harder question.

May God help us to live for Christ today and every day.

Copyright © 2018 Keep Believing Ministries, All rights reserved.

We Are Nothing Without God

by Dr. Janelle Aijian

Scripture: Psalm 8: 3-6

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet.

In a new translator’s version of Genesis, there’s no Adam.
No serpent. In paradise, I don’t bleed. Fig leaf-free girl,
dear God, I say as we converse fluently without tongues,
joined as two spice-drenched beloveds in a song of songs,
could we please ask the gardener to plant a pomegranate grove
by a stand of non-fruiting olive cultivars, which don’t bloom
and aren’t so messy? Honey, I am the gardener, says God,
whose anthropomorphic footfalls caress the afternoon cool.

Wolves in our botanical garden ask nothing of any human,
eyes the hue of clementines plucked green off a young tree,
one of five in my orchard, per telltale ringless left finger:
fig, clementine, kumquat, oroblanco, and lemon. If I reside
in paradise, then I get to eat all the fruit I want, all day long.
No problem, says God, who calls me a little pouch of myrrh.

An eagle locks eyes with mine. A dove by the pool adores
the wolves as she coos, gold-amber, one stone’s throw away.
Each one carries a scent: snowy owls of shuttered skies, elk,
bobcats, melanin-rich skin of a feckless human. In paradise,
wolves and doves coexist. Once, a clementine sat forgotten
in my purse until it acquired the spots of a leopard. A world
in a lion’s eye is kohl-lined gold. Aloes and sage carve a path
through a brushy stand of Joshua trees, one which God made
after lightning struck the agave and scrub oak. Joshua trees
are chuppah arches double-wreathed with burrs, scales, fur.

Joshuas aren’t guys, so yucca moths activate their ovaries.
Wolves do not question why a male is missing in paradise.
Yes, yucca moths take care of it. Coyotes do not question
the human. Why I’m not married, why childless, howling,
and whether we’ve reached the century when God invents
a gossamer mousse garnished with absinthe-laced cherries
served in hand-fired ceramic espresso cups, a dessert to taste
together for the first time after we invent a miniature spoon
no larger than a bee hummingbird, tiniest in all creation.


At the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles there is a massive 3,040 square foot wall featuring a 2.46 gigapixel image of one section of the galaxy, as photographed by the Samuel Oschin Telescope. It’s called “The Big Picture.” Its image (which covers only 30 square degrees of deep space) shows 1.5 million stars. Ordinarily, when I visit the observatory I find this vision beautiful and inspiring. I think of God and the goodness of the creation he has made. But once, while staring at The Big Picture, something happened to me. Dwarfed by the image stretching several stories above me and away from me in each direction, I zeroed in on a single star, no more than a centimeter wide in the massive photograph. And it dawned on me that the star I was looking at was several times bigger than the sun. Suddenly, for a single moment, I felt what Blaise Pascal described: “When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in an eternity before and after, the little space I fill engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces whereof I know nothing, and which know nothing of me, I am terrified. The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me.”

It’s all too easy for us to underestimate our smallness in the universe. We spend most of our lives surrounded with objects scaled to the adult human frame, and so we come to believe that this universe is also scaled to suit us. The simple fact is that it’s not. In fact, the universe is so immense that even the idea of its size is beyond our capacity. And it’s this fact that makes many who study its immensity balk at the claims of human religions. How foolish that anyone would dare to suggest that the God who made all that would even spare a thought for our planet, much less listen to the paltry concerns of one of its even smaller and less significant inhabitants. They ask, “What is man, that a God would be mindful of him?”

And in this season of Lent, I think we ought to start there—by meditating on the absurdity of God’s care. I so often think myself big. To comprehend God’s love for me I must remind myself daily that I am small. Ludicrously so. My life is unbelievably brief. My concerns and troubles are not worth mentioning even compared to other creatures who are as tiny as I am. And yet the God who spoke a billion stars into being loves me. Listens to me. Was willing to die for me.

It’s not an easy thing to think about. Nothing I can say can make you feel the way I did looking at that photograph. And it’s deeply unflattering to our sense of self to even attempt this imaginative work. But it is only in the light of our profound smallness that we can really appreciate the wonder of the psalmist and of Karen An-hwei Lee at the intimacy of God’s love and care. It doesn’t make sense. It is utterly undeserved. And remembering that this is so strips us of our sense that we are owed God’s attention, that his constant reception is only to be expected. No, Christ’s regard for me is pure, astonishing gift, for I am dust.


Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that the ashes we receive in Lent may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior.

(From the Anglican Book of Common Prayer)

Dr. Janelle Aijian
Assistant Professor
Torrey Honors Institute
Biola University

Source: Lent Project-Bioloa University


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