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The Cost of Following Jesus – ISIS and America

Islamic terrorists in Iraq are beheading children and burying people alive, and it won’t stop there. They have a message for America: “We’re coming for you.” -CBN News

 

Following the path to Jesus often leads to persecution. Growing up in a culture where freedoms and choices are plentiful, makes that a hard pill to swallow for some. We’re free to gather in worship, we’re free to pray, we’re free to praise and sing to the Heavens all we please. While we very well may be ridiculed, hardly ever are we arrested for our faith.

 

Luke 21:10-19     Nations will go to war against one another, and kingdoms will attack each other. There will be great earthquakes, and in many places, people will starve to death and suffer terrible diseases. All sorts of frightening things will be seen in the sky. Before all of this happens, you will be arrested and punished. You will be tried in your meeting places and put in jail. Because of Me, you will be placed on trial before kings and governors. But this will be your chance to tell about your faith. Don’t worry about what you will say to defend yourselves. I will give you the wisdom to know what to say. None of your enemies will be able to oppose you or to say that you are wrong. You will be betrayed by your own family and friends. Some of you will even be killed. Because of Me, you will be hated by everyone. But don’t worry! You will be saved by being faithful to Me.”

 

I’m continuously watching videos and reading articles about ISIS and the persecution in Qaraqosh and Bartilla. I watch these Islamic terrorists run Christians out of their homes, cut off their limbs, and blow up their bodies. They flee while they can to Erbil, most with nothing more than the clothes on their back. If they don’t convert, they are killed, each one of them, from baby, to mother, to old man. They’re burning churches and cleaning out the belongings of the victims, leaving them with nothing. No ID, no travel documentation, no clothes, no money, nothing. They’re shot, tossed on the ground, and run over with machinery, as their families are made to watch. They’re pleading for the United States and the United Nations to come stand by them.

What am I doing for my faith?

Meanwhile, as thousands upon thousands are dying for their faith, here in America, churches care more about the lighting on the stage. They’re having basketball courts put in, flat screens installed, and pool tables set up. On the other side of the globe, children are being taken, raped and beheaded for their faith, while we worry about raising our hands during Sunday morning worship. We ask ourselves what the person next to us will think if we pray out loud or clap in excitement for the Lord. Frankly, I think we all need a heart check. Yes, persecution in the US is few and far between, but are we ready to fight the good fight?

Jesus made plain the consequences that would come with following Him. He warned us all through Scripture what would take place in the lives of believers. It happened to Peter, John, Paul, James, and countless others. Why it still comes as a surprise to me, is beyond me. Even though it’s anticipated, it’s not any more acceptable. 

Have mercy, Lord, on those who are mistreated. Keep them strong and rescue them from death.

Recently I read a story about a man named Dmetri, who fell head-over-heels in love with Jesus during the communist reign in Russia. He began opening his home to others, giving them a place to come and worship. People swarmed to read the Bible and sing songs that testified their faith. So many people came, the government noticed, and Dmetri was fired from his job. Steadfast, he continued preaching to others that came and gathered. One night, during a church session, officers broke in and took him, just as Luke said would happen in meeting places. They slapped him around and said, “We warned you, and warned you! And I will not warn you again! If you do not stop this nonsense, this is the least that is going to happen to you.” When the officer made his way to the door, a small grandmother put her life out there, and waved a finger in his face. She declared, “You have laid hands on a man of God and you will NOT survive!” Two days later, the officer died of a heart attack. After 150 people showed up at the next meeting, Dmetri was thrown into jail for 17 years. The prisoners and guards couldn’t break him as he continuously sang the same song to Jesus every day. They laughed and cursed, sometimes throwing waste at him. He snuck paper to his cell and wrote Bible verses on them, sticking them to concrete pillars as “praise offerings” to God. For 17 years he was beaten, but never stopped. The guards finally decided to execute him, but as they carried him away, 1500 inmates raised their hands and began singing the same song Dmetri had sung every day for those 17 years. The officers stepped back in horror and questioned him, demanding to know who he really was. He proudly declared, “I am a son of the Living God, and Jesus is his name!” He was then released.

When persecution comes, when your road becomes long, and your hallelujah tired, hold tight to Luke’s Scripture. 

 

This is a chance to tell about your faith. Don’t worry about what you will say to defend yourselves. I will give you the wisdom to know what to say. None of your enemies will be able to oppose you or tell you that you’re wrong.

Tomorrow’s freedom is today’s surrender. Shout loudly. Spend wisely. Read avidly. Live responsibly. Give Lavishly. Travel meaningfully. Think Biblically. Study purposefully. Volunteer. Pray continually. 

 

 

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Well spent days in Africa

The road less traveled took me to the sewage-lined streets of Diepsloot, South Africa. There I learned that loving is the new black, and that a lion lives in the heart of every brave person. Rats ran the same streets the bare-foot children did, and disease was rampant, occupying the body of virtually everyone we met. But, come to find out, these people had nothing but grace and big welcome smiles to offer us strangers. It was there, among the hungry-for-love Africans, that I found more joy than ever before.

Nearly 280,000 people live within the 1.5 to 2 mile radius we ministered in. Of these 280,000, my group of 10 planted 301 seeds, sharing the Gospel with 301 people. The angels rejoiced as a whopping 153 of them committed their lives to Jesus.

Our hand’s became the Lord’s hands as a crippled woman walked and a blind woman saw again. Our whispers became shouts as we prayed not just for all, but for each.

I sat in the dirt with countless women, each one sharing in the same struggles. Not just one or two, but all of them lived in shacks the size of a garden shed or smaller. The shacks were built from wood, scrap metal and cardboard, pieced together like a puzzle. Electricity was a mighty scarce thing. Instead, open fires took the place of stoves, and there was no such thing as a hot shower. Dishes and laundry were done in buckets with water so cold it literally stung your fingers. This is what these people called home. This is how they lived survived.

But the women, oh the strong women of Africa. There was nothing more humbling than being seated at the feet of a woman bearing the hardships one bears in Diepsloot. Holding her hand and trusting that maybe for a second she felt all the hope she’d been robbed of. Sitting together, soaked in sweat-mixed tears, audibly crying out to the Lord. And as we cried, scripture says He bent down, leaning in to hear us. I write with Precious and Privilege and Agnus in mind. Nancy, Chio, Jo Ann, Gladys, Winnie, each one paving the way to greatness.

Africa is the swing of a hand caught by another, much smaller than yours. A baby in one arm, a child on the back, one on your shoulders, two pulling on your shirt, a few on your legs — you just never knew what kind of a balancing act you were walking into.

Here’s the thing – I’ve never been gifted with kids. So here I am, swamped with an innumerable amount of children, stiffly patting them on the back, trying my hardest to show them the love they are just so deprived of. Their noses dripped and their open sores were only growing. Most had ringworm, if not something worse. In that moment my heart softened as I thought of God’s love for us. Each of us, dirty and tarnished, are beyond loved by the Lord. And although we’re all “infected” by our own kind of ringworm, He still yearns for us, quick to pick us up with His grace.

I can’t express the state my heart was in. It was truly broken in a way that taught me my heart had never actually experienced heart break. But in the same hours, I sincerely fell in love too many times to count. I went with the intentions to change the hearts of the Africans, when in reality, I was the one that left with a heart change.

“It’s hard to reconcile the challenges they face, with the joy I see in them. The images spilling out of my television showed only misery, and I was fooled. I bought into the lie that circumstances define happiness in places that despair should thrive. I find adults dancing and singing. Children playing soccer with a ball of tied trash. Relationships and faith provide joy. My new reality… my joy should have no regard for my circumstances. I want what I have learned to trickle down from my head into my heart. I no longer want to need the ‘next thing’ to have joy. Africa does need our efforts and partnership, but for me, I need Africa more than Africa needs me.

So here I am, back at home, but I’m not so sure that home is a place that’ll ever be the same again.

 

 

 

 

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Love rendition

So easily I forget the freedom that lies right in front of me. So easily I fight to unlock the shackles I bear, overlooking the key that Jesus has freely given to me. I say “freely”, but that freedom was bought at such a high price. I forget that the water He gives quenches every thirst. I forget that His ear is bent to hear me. My faith shakes, and my heart breaks, and every day, from dawn to dusk, my God stands faithful and waiting. On the bright side of brokenness, lies Jesus.

I wish I could say my Bible was worn at the seams. I wish I could say I don’t continuously hit the snooze button, making excuses to sleep through my morning quiet time with the Lord. My head doesn’t bow in prayer as often as it should, and my hands hang at my sides while they should be lifted in praise. I let myself get swallowed up by the world, kind of like Jonah getting swallowed by the whale, only on much drier terms.

Most days my heart cries for order.

Recently I found myself stuck in a rut. A deep rut, similar to a pot hole after an ice storm. I got lost in the comparison game, only to come out as the loser. Days were long, and nights longer. The pot hole became a sink hole. As I spent a couple days restlessly battling the chaos within me, I gave in and handed my greed over to God. I said, “Father, I’m exhausted. I’m selfish and jealous for so many things.” And I was. I had a calloused heart for a good week, trying to make jealousy a prettier trait than it is. Despite my efforts, there just wasn’t any justifying my feelings. I ran to Jesus, and called His Name. I remembered the freedom in front of me. I remembered that chains are broken and shackles fall to our feet when we call upon our gentle Father. With these realizations, God plucked me out of the rut, and paved over the pot hole. With closed eyes and folded hands, I called on Him, only minutes before How He Loves came on my Pandora station. The first line, “He is jealous for me,” echoed in my ears, resonating with a new meaning. I had heard this song before, too many times to count, but this time I heard Jesus, not David Crowder. “I am jealous for you,” He whispered, “I long for you.” Oh, amazing grace, how sweet the sound.

He is jealous for me. The Maker of everything in sight, the One who hung the stars and carved the mountains, is jealous for me. I am cherished and I am pursued by a Love that outdoes all the rest. I am enveloped in His grace, sealed tight like a love letter sent to free a debtor. I imagine God peeling and sticking a stamp to the corner of a grace-filled envelope, before putting the flag up on the mailbox. Heaven’s mailroom must be filled to the brim with envelopes of the same sort. Although I’d like to picture it that way, grace is stamped with Christ’s blood, something far more precious. 

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The Finished Work of Christ

“Because all people have sinned, they have fallen short of God’s glory. They receive God’s approval freely by an act of His kindness through the price Christ Jesus paid to set us free from sin.” Romans 3:23-24

 I think one of the biggest things that people tend to overlook is the last three words that Christ said on the Cross: “It is finished.” The work of Jesus Christ is done. Sin is dead; it has no power over us. Death is destroyed. Christ did all of the work on that cross, your chains were broken many, many years ago. You’re already free. It’s a matter of learning to walk in the confidence of your freedom. The battle is convincing your mind how free you are and seeing the beauty of grace. Because let me tell you, the chains have been broken already. You’re free to walk without heavy burdens; you don’t have to be a slave to sin. I really love Romans 6:14, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” I really recommend reading Romans and absorbing all of the truth in it. Romans was written by the apostle Paul around AD 57. It took place in Corinth when Paul was on a missionary trip. This book was written to the church in Rome.

 There is guilt, and then there is conviction. Guilt does in no way come from God, but conviction does. Conviction is completely different from guilt. When we read Romans we learn that not one person can get God’s love by never messing up or sinning. “Everyone has turned away, everyone is rotten to the core, and no one does any good.” (Romans 3:10-12) Paul makes it clear in Romans that through confession and repentance, we can be free from any guilt. If you think you’re still guilty once you’ve confessed your sin, you’re only believing a lie. Jesus is our savior. He saves us from sin. He saves us from guilt. Jesus Christ came to set us free, not keep us tied down to guilt. The one who has confessed and turned from sin is no longer guilty.

 If there is a place in your life filled with guilt rather than conviction, recognize it’s a lie. If you’ve accepted Jesus as the ransom for your guilt, you aren’t guilty. Paul wanted the Romans to know they were saved by grace but still called to be holy. Same applies for us! God bless you, thanks for reading. 

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Needing Prayer

 

So lately, I’ve been struggling with understanding wrong from right when coming to grace and law. 

I’ve grown up listening to my family talk about how much they love Joseph Prince. When you’re raised in that, that’s just kind of what you take a liking to as well. He wrote a book awhile back called Destined To Reign, and we all loved it. It spoke to my grandparents so much that they bought close to a hundred copies and gave them to people they thought needed them. The people that received them all agreed it was an eye opening book and were just as moved by it. This book talks about the law being fulfilled on the cross when Christ died, and the grace poured out on us when we accept Him as our savior. We bought all his tapes and CD’s, watched his shows, ect. I mean, we really loved the guy. 

This is when I began getting confused. I read a post someone made awhile back about how Joseph was a false preacher. I thought, “There’s always going to be someone that disagrees with every preacher out there.” I read more online and some compared him to Joel Osteen, another controversial false teacher. Joseph preaches strictly on grace, while many others preach mixed messages, or according to the law. It’s not just “feel good” sermons, I feel like it really is more than that. He backs up what he says with verses, but so many people will find a verse that contradicts the one he used. If I worded that right? I apologize if that doesn’t make sense, it’s one of those situations where I’m not sure how exactly to put it. I don’t want to encourage people to read his books and listen to his teachings if they’re false. I don’t want people to get the wrong idea about grace, but I don’t want them getting the wrong idea about the law. 

Hear me clearly on this one, I really want to make my days count. I want to live a sincere life that serves God. I don’t want to waste time, and I don’t want to life a false life because I’m listening to the wrong kind of sermons. God doesn’t want me feeling confused, and that I am sure of. So while I’m praying for myself, I’m asking that you pray for me as well. Pray that God gives me understanding for what it is He wants me to hear, and leads me in the life He wants me to live. Thank you!

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No Condemnation

I’ve written on grace before, but I wanted to take the time to do it again. I see so many people struggling and feeling like they don’t measure up because of mistakes. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, what you’ve done, what you’ll do in the future, God’s love and grace for you is abundant. If you’re hurting today please, please listen to You Are More by Tenth Avenue North. I pray as you read this, that this speaks to you and gives you peace in whatever you’re struggling with. 

In the old testament, we were given laws to follow. (Before the death of Christ) If you’re unsure on how people were saved before Jesus, for example Abel or Enoch, let me know and I can write about that in a separate entry. Adam and Eve were born perfect and sinless, and then when Satan came in serpent form and tempted Eve with the apple, that gave birth to sin. Sin is an offense against religious or moral law. Her act was a sin because God told her not to eat from that tree, but she gave in to temptation and ate anyway.

Today, we have all sorts of sin. We all do it, and no sin is bigger or worse than another. Lying is just as bad as homosexuality, adultery is as bad as lying, ect. We feel the weight of all this burden, knowing that we fail our loving God. We have this guilty conscious that we can’t get out of. Grace isn’t an excuse to purposely do wrong because we know the forgiveness waiting around the corner. Paul wrote, “For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.”

When Jesus died on the cross, He physically took all of our sins. The law was fulfilled. Every time you fail, receive that there is no longer condemnation to those who are in Christ. Paul continued to say, “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh.” God saved us by putting our guilt and condemnation for our sins on Jesus at Calvary.

That being said, don’t receive guilt, punishment and condemnation for your sins, but claim righteousness, peace and joy through Jesus Christ. It’s all been done on your behalf, so believe and receive. Good news, Jesus Christ has risen. He is alive and living in me! 

Thanks guys!

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Heaven or Hell

As I listened to Give Me Your Eyes by Brandon Heath earlier, it really hit me that literally every person on this earth is going somewhere after this life. I’ve always known this, but it really smacked me in the face today. Every person I’ve ever come across, my mom, my dad, my friends, my friend’s mom and dad, my doctor, my teachers, the crossing guards, everyone you see on t.v., ect. Many of those celebrities have it all, but if they don’t have Christ, what do they really have? They have all these worldly things, but nothing waiting for them after this life other than a pit of fire. We think we have the rest of our lives to go out and witness, but we aren’t even promised a tomorrow. We hear that so much, but if you think about it, and really let that sink in, you realize we don’t have much time at all. 7 billion people, all going to Heaven or Hell. We have to reach them as soon as we get an opportunity to, because they aren’t promised a tomorrow either. It’s time to get out of our comfortable shells and go out of our comfort zone to lead someone to Jesus. Nothing in this life will matter if it isn’t about loving God and the people He has made. Not now, or ever.  It’s pretty awesome to know theres a Kingdom waiting for us all. It’s even greater to know theres a God waiting to welcome us, and pour out His love as we enter. We don’t want people to miss out on that, it’s hard to wrap my mind around people burning in Hell for an eternity because someone didn’t make sure they heard the gospel. If someone doesn’t choose Jesus, then we pray for them. That is our duty, we’re called for this. We must be His hands and feet. We have to love, we have to give, we have to witness. I pray today that we can each lead our communities, our states, our countries, our world, to Christ. That we can all convince people of His love and mercy. I pray that people realize the power of the cross, and choose to accept Jesus as their savior.

 

Thank you, God bless you. Be a witness.