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discouraged?

When it comes to witnessing, do you ever wonder if you’re ever doing any good at all? Are you often frustrated by the lack of interest…or discouraged by criticism? Is there someone in your life right now who insists on challenging you, maybe even insulting you for your testimony and faith in Christ?  Then I pray that today you will be encouraged by a very unlikely testimony of one of the most unlikely of converts!

One day many years ago, there was a missionary on the street in Zimbabwe, giving away New Testaments to the people that passed by him. Most, it seemed, were receptive and gladly took the little Book with them. But one man stood at a distance instead, and insisted on mocking the missionary relentlessly, even cursing the Book and all who willingly received it. The missionary simply continued to smile at all who walked by, handing them out one by one until there was just one left to give. The missionary stood there for a minute, then turned to the man and kindly asked if he would like to have the last one. The man sneered and said, “If I take it, I’ll only use it to roll my cigarrettes.” The missionary politely replied,” That’s fine –  only read it before you smoke it.”

The man laughed, and went home and did just that. First he smoked Matthew….then Mark…then Luke… and even the first two chapters of John, page by page, before he suddenly stopped. Just as he was about to roll another cigarrette, one verse in particular caught his eye. He sat there and read it…again and again. Tears began to well up in this hardened man’s eyes as he read those words over and over… suddenly he began to pray to the very God who just hours before he had mocked. It was at that very moment, the man knew his life had forever changed. He continued to read and never smoked another page! Before long he had finished the entire New Testament and sat on the floor completely in awe of God’s grace and the Words he had just read.

Fifteen years passed. By this time God had done such a work in that man’s life that he was now a missionary and preacher himself, and traveled to various meetings as part of his vocation. At one such meeting, he finally saw the older missionary from that street in Zimbabwe all those years before…who had given him the New Testament. He ran up to him and said, “Remember me?  I was the man from the street that day who laughed and insulted you and your God. I even smoked His Word page by page….but guess what? God got my attention all those years ago as one verse in particular pierced all the way through my hardened, nasty soul…. and I’ve been telling others about Him ever since!”  The two men hugged and praised God for His faithfulness. The older missionary then confessed that he had wondered whatever happened that day after he gave away the last New Testament. He often wondered if it had even been the right thing to do….maybe he should have waited for one more person to walk by and given it to them instead… He told the man, “If you had moved on, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it…I’d have let you go and given it to someone else….but you didn’t. You stuck around and the harder I prayed for you to leave me alone, the louder you became in your insults. Finally, I gave in and with one left, I somehow knew God intended it for you.” They talked and shared together, rejoicing all the while in what GOD had done that day. Finally, the older missionary asked the younger, “May I ask what verse it was – that God spoke through to you?” The younger man smiled and with tears in his eyes quoted it word for word:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

Dear Christian, I pray that we will somehow understand and keep in our hearts continually the truth that the final outcome is never about us or our words or even our best laid out plans to reach this world for Christ…no matter how brilliant they may be! The power is ALL of Him! I’m thankful for the missionary who simply trusted GOD that day rather than his own reasoning. In spite of the other man’s intentions, he knew that GOD is fully capable of doing what only GOD can do in the first place! We may look at someone and see rebellion…or hatred…with no interest at all in the things of GOD….maybe they even insist on making our life as difficult as possible…but stand firm. Be gentle with them even when they are cruel. Simply commit yourself into the very capable hands of Almighty God, and wait on Him. As their words, like darts of the enemy, bounce off your armor (Ephesians 6:10-17)… think on Him, and who HE is…and how small the trials of life really are compared to the matchless glory of knowing Him for all eternity! 

What a privilege….that the Creator of all the Universe would think of us and allow us to be a part of His work here at all.  It may take fifteen years or more and we may never see the fruit of our testimony here on earth – but rest assured – GOD is always at work. It’s never for nothing! HE knows. HE sees. And perhaps HE’s even preparing the hearts of those around you right now for the seed you’re about to plant there. Dear Christian, just remember- it’s not of us, but GOD. And with GOD, all things are most certainly possible!

“I have planted, Apollos watered; but GOD gave the increase. So then neither is he that plants anything, neither he that waters, but GOD that gives the increase.” 1 Corinthians 3:6,7

Faith on Trial

Mehdi Dibaj had to appear before the judge in Iran. He was arrested and locked in prison for denying Islam and preaching the Lord Jesus instead. At the time of this trial, Dibaj had already spent nine years in prison for his faith in Jesus Christ. “If only” he would deny Christ, he would be free to go home to his wife and children tomorrow! But Dibaj refused. He would rather lose his freedom and even his very life than deny His Lord and Savior. In the courtroom, a defense written by Dibaj himself was read. His testimony speaks for itself:

“With all humility I express my gratitude to the Judge of all heaven and earth for this precious opportunity and with brokenness I wait upon the Lord to deliver me from this court trial according to His promise. I also beg the honored members of the court present to listen with patience to my defense and with respect for the name of the Lord. I am a Christian, a sinner who believes that Jesus died for my sins on the cross. Jesus paid the penalty for our sins by His own blood and gave us new life so that we can live for the glory of God. He has asked me to deny myself, to be His fully surrendered follower, and not to fear people even if they kill my body. I have been charged with “apostasy”. In Islamic law, an apostate is one who does not believe in God, the prophets, or the resurrection of the dead. We Christians believe in all three! (Yet) I would rather have the whole world against me, but know that Almighty God is with me, or be called an apostate but know that I have the approval of the God of glory. Who can destroy the relationship between the Creator and the creature or defeat a heart that is faithful to God? He will be safe and secure under the shadow of the Almighty. Our refuge is the mercy seat of God. I know in whom I have believed and He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him to the end, until I reach the kingdom of God. That is the place where the righteous will shine like the sun, but evildoers will receive their punishment in hell. They tell me, “Return!” But who can I return to from the arms of my God? Is it right to accept what people are saying, instead of obeying the Word of God? The God of Daniel, who protected Daniel’s friends in the fiery furnace has protected me for nine years in prison. All the bad things that have happened to me have turned out for my good and gain. So much so, that I am filled with joy and thankfulness! During the nine years He has freed me from all responsibilities so that I could spend my time in prayer and study of His Word with heart searching and brokenness, and grow in the knowledge of my Lord. I praise the Lord for this unique opportunity! He gave me space in my confinement, my difficult hardships brought healing and His kindness revived me. Oh what great blessings God has in store for those who fear Him! People object to my evangelizing, but “If you find a blind person near a well and keep silent then you have sinned.” (a Persian poem) It is our Christian duty, as long as the door of God’s mercy is open, to convince evil doers to turn from their sinful ways and to find refuge in Him in order to be saved from the wrath of a righteous God and from the coming dreadful punishment.”  (Open Doors Day by Day: www.opendoorsusa.org)

Mehdi Dibaj did not mince words or hold back on this day before the court. He was a witness put there to testify to the truth of what he had seen and heard. And, isn’t that what all Christians are called to do? A witness isn’t expected to give an eloquent speech, or put on some sort of elaborate production with flattering words of wisdom or intellectual musing….we have something far greater than all of the world’s best wisdom or intellect combined! We have the power of the Holy Spirit working within us- and those around us- according to the will of the Father! And, we have the gospel of Jesus Christ which IS the power of God unto salvation. (Romans 1:16)  Trust God!  He is always in complete control. Never is He nervously sitting on the edge of His throne wondering to Himself what to make of the situation down here… His will is being carried out just as He planned from the beginning of time, regardless of the sin and disobedience of mankind. And we can be sure that one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. “For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:11,12) ….. “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth: And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10,11)

For now it may appear that He doesn’t see or maybe just doesn’t care, but nothing could be more false. Don’t be deceived. He is waiting and calling all to repentance – even still. Turn to Him. Don’t wait. Confess your sin. And please, don’t treat His patience, His long-suffering, goodness, and mercy lightly….nor tread upon His amazing grace. Today is the day to get right with God. “Behold, now is the accepted time: behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2) Humble yourself and call out to Him. Don’t wait. Time may very well run out on you. It’s not a scare tactic…it’s the truth. “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27)

Early in 1994, Dibaj was released from prison after nine years of confinement. Six months later… he was murdered. Praise God for his faithful testimony! He was ready to meet His Maker. Are you?

Unashamed

“I am a part of the fellowship of the unashamed. I have Holy Spirit power. The dye has been cast. I have stepped over the line. I am a disciple of HIS. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed! I’m finished with low living, sight walking, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, and dwarfed goals! I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean on His presence, walk by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by power! My faith is set. My gait is fast. My goal is heaven. My road is narrow. My companions few. My Guide reliable! My mission clear! I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, or delayed! I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of the adversary, or negotiate at the table of the enemy! I won’t give up, shut up, let up until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, preached up for the cause of Christ! I am a disciple of Jesus! I must go until He comes, give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until He stops me. And when He comes for His own, He will have NO problems recognizing me. My banner will be clear!”

This text was found on a scrap of paper in the home of an African pastor shortly after he was martyred.

Amen, Sir. And let it be so for all who name the name of Christ.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes…” Romans 1:16

“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”   2 Corinthians 1:18

The Pinecone

I was watching a nature program with my family the other day and became amazed all over again at how beautifully it all works together- just as God designed it. How can we not be in awe of Him? No matter what we study in all of creation – from the tiniest ladybug to the massive complexity of the solar system – God’s glory beams forth in all things. It’s spectacular! “Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” (Psalm 29:2)

But this time, it was the pinecone that really grabbed my attention. Being from the Northwest, I used to collect them as a kid and still enjoy them to this day. But what stood out was the fact that there are certain pinecones which are specifically designed to go through fire. I’d heard that before but never really stopped to think about it. They come from the “fire climax pines” such as the Monterey Pine or Pond Pine and have seeds within the cone that are closed up tight for many years. While other pines may produce cones that are opened by birds or scatter their seeds in other ways, this particular type of pine has seeds that can only be released during the intense heat of the flame. The fire kills the parent tree, and no doubt everything around it, but these stored seeds are released in huge numbers when the cones are opened up by the heat and fall to re-populate the charred ground below. Who would have thought that something as destructive as a forest fire could actually be good for something? We’ve all seen either firsthand or from pictures, the after-effects of a forest fire. The ground is burned and blackened, trees that once stood tall and mighty are toppled and burned up…how can this be good? Yet, it’s at this very moment, when the flames are the hottest, that God’s perfect design is unfolded within these pinecones. As the seeds fall and scatter across the forest floor, new life begins…even amidst the devastation and destruction left behind.

God always has a purpose. His plan is perfect. His will supreme. Persecution in the life of a Christian, and even death, is a very sobering reality for many believers. We might ask, “How can anything good come from something so painful?” Yet, all through history we see that the very flames of persecution only seem to spread the gospel of Christ. It doesn’t burn up or come to nought. It will never be destroyed. No matter how many millions try to snuff it out…God’s truth lives on. Many times there is isolation, rejection or even death for the Christian who refuses to deny his Lord. But the seeds that are planted by faithful followers of Christ only continue to grow and bring new life to those who believe. God designed it this way. His plan is perfect. His will supreme. Praise God! He is so good.

“For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-all things were created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:16,17

Precious.

“How precious also are your thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with you.” Psalm 139:17,18

The word ‘precious’ is defined as being of high price or great value; costly, irreplaceable. I think it’s easy to say that yes, of course, God’s thoughts are indeed precious…there’s nothing greater, nothing more worth knowing than His thoughts.  His Word reveals His thoughts to us….so, then the question might be, is His Word really precious to me? Do I esteem it more valuable than anything else? Many of us feel strongly about our children, our families, our friends. If  our children are precious to us…will we stop at nothing to spend time with them…to know them..to care for them? What about God? Does He get the same treatment of our time and pursuits?

I was sitting in a doctor’s office not too long ago, and as is typically the case….I was waiting… for quite a while. I didn’t come “prepared” this time…or so I thought. I didn’t bring a book to read and I really wasn’t interested in any of their magazines. So, I just sat and looked around. I counted cars in the parking lot and watched traffic for a while… I listened to the receptionist answer the phone and silently approved of her good manners. I read every piece of drug advertisement they had stapled to the walls and doors… thank you notes from satisfied patients…a child’s smiley face drawing. Of course, nobody ever really looks up from their magazine or book unless the door opens and their name is called…we just sit and wait…and try to pass the time.

Suddenly, it occured to me that I had a small New Testament tucked inside my purse for easy access when witnessing.  What better way to spend my time sitting here than to read from God’s Word or memorize Scripture?  I smiled and was excited to have thought of this, picking up my purse and unzipping the pocket, almost humming joyfully…when suddenly… I hesitated. My hand stopped, suspended in mid-air inside the pocket. What was the problem? I began to wonder what it would look like to people around me.  Will they think I’m being pious? I don’t want to look pious, but why not read a Bible as I wait? Why would that even be a big deal?  This is America. We can do that. We should do that!  I was nervous now but grabbed the Bible and pulled my hand out of the purse. There. Done. I sat back and opened it up. Almost immediately, I was aware of the receptionist staring at me from behind the desk. I looked up and smiled, but this time, she didn’t smile back. I tried to swallow casually but my throat suddenly felt very dry. Hmm. Haven’t I ever in all my life – even just once – seen someone read a Bible in public? My mind raced…surely I have…surely, on a street corner, a public building…somewhere in time….but no, I could not pinpoint one single moment where I walked into a waiting room or saw someone somewhere, passing time by reading a Bible outside of a church or Bible Study…. By now, the lady across from me had looked up from her magazine and was glancing in my direction as well. A few others began shifting in their seats and glancing around… I hadn’t done anything different. I didn’t say a word. Yet, for some reason, the silence felt more awkward than ever before. It seems nobody notices when we blend in with a magazine, book or cell phone…but a Bible…that’s different. People notice. Am I really ok with being different – right here, right now? Are His thoughts still precious?

There are Christians all over the world right now who are being persecuted for their faith. They may have lost most of their wordly possessions, may even be on the run or in hiding, yet the one thing they miss the most…the one thing they ask for time and time again is a Bible. They just want God’s Word.  Jesus is precious to them. They don’t have the freedoms we have here, but  they are willing to risk it all anyway. We have freedom here to not only read His Word, but to talk about it too. What am I doing, hesitating like that in a waiting room??

“O how I love your law! it is my meditation all the day. You through your commandments have made me wiser than my enemies: for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers: for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep your precepts. I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep your word. I have not departed from your judgments: for you have taught me. How sweet are your words unto my taste! yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way. You word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Psalm 119:97-105

“A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.”  -Theodore Roosevelt

“Here is a Book worth more than all the other books which were ever printed.” – Patick Henry

“The Bible is the best book in the world. It contains more than all the libraries I have seen!” – John Adams

“That the Word of God alone is our standard of judgment in spiritual things; that it can be explained only by the Holy Spirit; and that in our day, as well as in former times He is the teacher of His people…for the Lord enabled me to put it to the test of experience, by laying aside commentaries, and almost every other book, and simply reading the Word of God and studying it. The result of this was, that the first evening that I shut myself into my room to give myself to prayer and meditation over the Scriptures, I learned more in a few hours, than I had done during a period of several months previously. But the particular difference was that I received real strength for my soul in doing so. I now began to try by the test of the Scriptures the things which I had learned and seen, and found that only those principles which stood the test were really of value.” – George Muller

This morning, I thought about all of this as I prayed for fellow believers in Libya who have been waiting for YEARS to find a Bible. YEARS. I prayed for K. (name withheld) who’s requested a Bible online even though he’s living in the Arabian Peninsula where there are very few known believers and much political upheaval and violence. It took over 3 months for a friend of mine in the Philippines to receive his Bible by mail. And for many others around the world, reading a Bible openly, or even just owning a Bible – period – is to risk imprisonment or their very lives to do so. But His Word is precious to them.  His thoughts they want to know. They are willing to die if necessary… can’t I just be willing to risk a few awkward silences or uncomfortable stares?

Christian, let’s not be afraid to take our Bibles with us wherever we go! Let it be a springboard for sharing the gospel with those around us. What a privilege we have here! May God be glorified and may His Word, His very thoughts, become precious to countless others as we openly share our faith in Him!

A Marxist leader once stated that Christian love is an obstacle in the development of the communist revolution. “We need hatred, not love,”  he said.

These words were also used when a mob of people “visited” my husband Benjamin. The Lord had called Benjamin to preach a message of forgiveness, love and hope in our troubled township. Many people came to listen, but others were angry… “If you do not stop preaching love and forgiveness we will kill you,” was the reaction. 

One night Benjamin woke up and called our family together in the middle of the night. He told us about the threats and said, “I believe they will kill me soon.” We could not believe our ears. I knew he did not say these things lightly, and that I could never persuade him to stop preaching. That night he prayed with us all. A prayer meeting that I will never forget. “Remain faithful to Jesus,” he said, “love those who will kill me – because Jesus loves them.” It all sounded so strange and yet so true.

A few days later, my husband was dragged out of the car and beaten to death. His murderers took his Bible and drenched it in his own blood. “We want hatred,” they shouted. But Benjamin was a messenger of love and forgiveness.

Benjamin was not alone when he was killed. One of my sons was with him. Benjamin Jr. He was only 12 years old and managed to escape. From behind a barrel he saw what they did to his father. He came running home to Soweto to tell me what had happened. Even though my husband had predicted what would happen I could not believe it had happened.

My son Benjamin went to his room and wept and wept, all night. Then the Lord did something in the heart of my boy. He heard a wonderful voice, like his father had heard. His father had often told him, “Benjamin, you must take my place to sing for the Lord if anything happens to me.” Early the next morning I heard singing, coming from my son’s bedroom. At first it was a broken voice, but then, it became clearer and clearer. I could hear my boy sing to the Lord. He sang a verse from the Scripture, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” I could hardly control myself. O Lord, make me like my children. Help me to forgive.

My son and I have sung this wonderful song together ever since, in many meetings, in many countries, to many people who are hurt – and who need to forgive also.

Father, forgive us, because we too do not always know what we are doing.

A couple of years after my husband died my son and I were singing in a meeting in Soweto. We gave our testimony about the hurt and about God’s provision. There was a wonderful spirit in that meeting. We sang our love-song again. “Father forgive them…” The audience was listening spellbound. Then I was asked to speak. I read from Matthew 18:21-22, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “….seventy-seven times.” I spoke for some time and then I invited people to trust the Lord Jesus as their Savior. Some people came forward and asked me to pray for them. One man however hesitated. He seemed scared. I encouraged him to tell me what was bothering him so much.

He said, “I need your Jesus, I need forgiveness. I…I was one of the mob who killed your husband.”

I was trembling, scared, confused. What should I do? Singing “Father forgive them” is one thing, but now….Then the Lord must have touched me, deeply, very deeply. Because He gave me strength and courage to put my arms around the killer, and forgive him – as Jesus forgives us.

“You are now my brother,” I whispered.

He left, a brand new person.  And so was I.

Grace Dube is from South Africa.  This is her story. She continues to speak a message of love and forgiveness everywhere she goes. (courtesy of Open Doors Day by Day)

Happy Fourth of July!  As summer kicks into high gear this weekend with fireworks and barbeques to celebrate America’s independence, let’s not forget to give thanks to God, to whom it all belongs.  And, let’s also remember to pray for those who can only dream of the freedoms we enjoy in this country each day.

God has so richly blessed us. Wouldn’t you agree?  He is so good.  He is always good and can never be anything but good!  And many of our brothers and sisters in other countries around the world will testify to the same…yet they have so much less. Not all are free to assemble together in a worship service, or talk about God, the One True God, without intense opposition. They face persecution for even acknowledging the name of Jesus Christ and must have Bibles smuggled in just to have access to His Word. Yet, these people still sing of His great goodness toward them and praise Him for His mercy and rich blessing upon their lives. How can this be?

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:23

Where they once were slaves to sin, now they’ve been given the only gift that really matters in this entire world…the gift of Jesus Christ and eternal life in Him! Guilty. Condemned. Deserving of eternal punishment. But Jesus, who committed not a single sin (not a single wicked thought or desire, keeping every Commandment of God to the fullest extent) became sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21) As the hymn says so well, “For God the just is satisfied to look on Him and pardon me.”  He took all of God’s wrath for our sin upon Himself, died on the cross, then rose again in victory!  His grace is sufficient. They have hope and they sing because in Him they live and move and have their being (Acts 17:28)…and by His grace alone, can now stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free!  

This is the song of each redeemed child of God. It’s not because of what we have….but because of who HE is!

God tells us to remember those that are in chains as if we ourselves are there chained with them (Hebrews 13:3) and that is the very mission of Open Doors USA.  “We exist because persecuted Christians want to do more than survive the spiritual battle; they want to advance the kingdom. We exist to empower our persecuted brothers and sisters to live out the gospel in the harshest of circumstances and help them advance the kingdom where faith costs the most. We exist so you can also be on the offensive by being united with those on the front lines. We do so because we believe when one member suffers, all members suffer with it. (1 Corinthians 12:26) All doors are open and God enables His Body to go into all the world and preach the Gospel.”

We have been told to take His Gospel to every man, woman, and child….and right where you are at TODAY there are men, women, and children who need to hear it.  That is your mission field.  Be faithful to God wherever He has you.  And, let’s also remember to pray for and support our brothers and sisters around the world, in countries like North Korea, where they face severe persecution (isolation, torture, imprisonment, execution) for their faith. 

It is estimated that in North Korea alone there are 50,000 North Koreans in prison camps. And the situation there only continues to worsen. The regime under Kim Jong 2, has gone to any length necessary to control society and eradicate Christianity. Christians that have been arrested are routinely used as a means of testing biological and chemical weapons. Yet, Christianity is growing there and the Gospel continues to spread!  All to the glory God, whose Word is not bound – not now, not ever!

If you would like to know more about Open Doors, please go to their website www.opendoorsusa.org  Or follow them on facebook and get involved in their two current campaigns: North Korea: 50,000 for 50,000 and the Global Summer Offensive.  Thank you!  And, Happy Independence Day to you and your families!

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