Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A quote from the movie BRAVE, a poem on "Your Dimension of Greatness," and a reflection on the Olympic Games.

Several ideas come together today …

First, is the desire that all of us have to discover and understand our purpose in life.

Second, is a quote from the movie BRAVE: Merida states at the end: “Our fate lies within us. You only have to be brave enough to look for it.”

Third, is a poem titled Your Dimension Of Greatness from an unknown author:
No one can know the potential,
Of a life that is committed to win;
With courage – the challenge it faces,
To achieve great success in the end!

So, explore the Dimension of Greatness,
And believe that the world CAN be won;
By a mind that is fully committed,
KNOWING the task can be done!

Your world has no place for the skeptic,
No room for the DOUBTER to stand;
To weaken your firm resolution
That you CAN EXCEL in this land!

We must have VISION TO SEE our potential,
And FAITH TO BELIEVE that we can;
Then COURAGE TO ACT with conviction,
To become what GOD MEANT us to be!

So, possess the strength and the courage,
To conquer WHATEVER you choose;
That is destined FOREVER to lose!

And lastly, an observation from the Olympic Games in London – it takes long painful periods of preparation of many years, filled with tons sacrifices and a huge desire to win the race … and then we have to show up prepared to enter the race, to do our best and to run with all of our heart. The message from the movie BRAVE is that we CAN change our fate! It is a message of grace. It is a message of hope. 

On the coming judgment (Jude 1:14) and having a safe place to hide in Christ with a story from the pioneer days in the American West.

SCRIPTURE: Jude 1:14 (NIV)
See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy one to judge everyone.

STORY by H.A. Ironside:
One of the first gospel illustrations that ever made a real impression upon my young heart was a simple story which I heard a preacher tell when I was less than nine years old.
It was of pioneers who were making their way across one of the central states to a distant place that had been opened up for homesteading. They traveled in covered wagons drawn by oxen, and progress was necessarily slow. One day they were horrified to note a long line of smoke in the west, stretching for miles across the prairie, and soon it was evident that the dried grass was burning fiercely and coming toward them rapidly. They had crossed a river the day before but it would be impossible to go back to that before the flames would be upon them. One man only seemed to have understanding as to what could be done. He gave the command to set fire to the grass behind them. Then when a space was burned over, the whole company moved back upon it.
As the flames roared on toward them from the west, a little girl cried out in terror, "Are you sure we shall not all be burned up?" The leader replied, "My child, the flames cannot reach us here, for we are standing where the fire has been!"
What a picture of the believer, who is safe in Christ!
"On Him Almighty vengeance fell,
… Which would have sunk a world to hell.
… He bore it for a chosen race,
… And thus becomes our Hiding Place."
The fires of God's judgment burned themselves out on Him, and all who are in Christ are safe forever, for they are now standing where the fire has been.
Playing hide-n-seek has become one of our granddaughter’s favorite games. When she is “it” we have to move fast because she “speed” counts before starting to look for us. It is fun and a lot of laughter is shared. Discovering new hiding places becomes the challenge after just a couple of times of playing, but she never tires of the game.

Having a safe hiding place in Christ is a good thing. Realizing that in his presence we are safe from the things that go bump-in-the-night. The “fire’s” of life cannot consume us … the fire of fear, the fire of anger, the fire of low self-esteem, the fire of judgment of others, the fire of prejudice, the fire of an unsure future … well, you get the point.

And when the day comes when judgment shall fall upon the human race and most assuredly it will come, we who are “safe in the arms of Jesus” will be spared the pain of the final judgment and the all consuming fire which will follow.

Thank you for providing us a safe place to hide from the fires of life!

Friday, July 27, 2012

A story about the hostility between Japan and Korea and the power of reconciliation when God becomes involved.

Yesterday, I wrote about reconciliation and in my research I came across this long story. After reading it a couple of times I decided that I wanted to share it with my readers and so, today, just one long story with a powerful message. It was written by Tim Kimmel,  Little House on the Freeway, p. 56-61.

Shortly after the turn of the century, Japan invaded, conquered, and occupied Korea. Of all of their oppressors, Japan was the most ruthless. They overwhelmed the Koreans with a brutality that would sicken the strongest of stomachs. Their crimes against women and children were inhuman. Many Koreans live today with the physical and emotional scars from the Japanese occupation.
One group singled out for concentrated oppression was the Christians. When the Japanese army overpowered Korea one of the first things they did was board up the evangelical churches and eject most foreign missionaries. It has always fascinated me how people fail to learn from history. Conquering nations have consistently felt that shutting up churches would shut down Christianity. It didn't work in Rome when the church was established, and it hasn't worked since. Yet somehow the Japanese thought they would have a different success record.
The conquerors started by refusing to allow churches to meet and jailing many of the key Christian spokesmen. The oppression intensified as the Japanese military increased its profile in the South Pacific. The "Land of the Rising Sum" spread its influence through a reign of savage brutality. Anguish filled the hearts of the oppressed -- and kindled hatred deep in their souls.
One pastor persistently entreated his local Japanese police chief for permission to meet for services. His nagging was finally accommodated, and the police chief offered to unlock his church ... for one meeting. It didn't take long for word to travel. Committed Christians starving for an opportunity for unhindered worship quickly made their plans. Long before dawn on that promised Sunday, Korean families throughout a wide area made their way to the church. They passed the staring eyes of their Japanese captors, but nothing was going to steal their joy. As they closed the doors behind them they shut out the cares of oppression and shut in a burning spirit anxious to glorify their Lord.
The Korean church has always had a reputation as a singing church. Their voices of praise could not be concealed inside the little wooden frame sanctuary. Song after song rang through the open windows into the bright Sunday morning. For a handful of peasants listening nearby, the last two songs this congregation sang seemed suspended in time. It was during a stanza of "Nearer My God to Thee" that the Japanese police chief waiting outside gave the orders. The people toward the back of the church could hear them when they barricaded the doors, but no one realized that they had doused the church with kerosene until they smelled the smoke. The dried wooden skin of the small church quickly ignited. Fumes filled the structure as tongues of flame began to lick the baseboard on the interior walls. There was an immediate rush for the windows. But momentary hope recoiled in horror as the men climbing out the windows came crashing back in -- their bodies ripped by a hail of bullets. 
The good pastor knew it was the end. With a calm that comes from confidence, he led his congregation in a hymn whose words served as a fitting farewell to earth and a loving salutation to heaven. The first few words were all the prompting the terrified worshipers needed. With smoke burning their eyes, they instantly joined as one to sing their hope and leave their legacy. Their song became a serenade to the horrified and helpless witnesses outside. Their words also tugged at the hearts of the cruel men who oversaw this flaming execution of the innocent.
Alas! and did my Savior bleed?
and did my Sovereign die?
Would he devote that sacred head
for such a worm as I?
Just before the roof collapsed they sang the last verse,
their words an eternal testimony to their faith.
But drops of grief can ne'er repay
the debt of love I owe:
Here, Lord, I give myself away
'Tis all that I can do!
At the cross, at the cross
Where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away --
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day.
The strains of music and wails of children were lost in a roar of flames. The elements that once formed bone and flesh mixed with the smoke and dissipated into the air. The bodies that once housed life fused with the charred rubble of a building that once housed a church. But the souls who left singing finished their chorus in the throne room of God. Clearing the incinerated remains was the easy part. Erasing the hate would take decades. For some of the relatives of the victims, this carnage was too much. Evil had stooped to a new low, and there seemed to be no way to curb their bitter loathing of the Japanese.
In the decades that followed, that bitterness was passed on to a new generation. The Japanese, although conquered, remained a hated enemy. The monument the Koreans built at the location of the fire not only memorialized the people who died, but stood as a mute reminder of their pain.
Inner rest? How could rest coexist with a bitterness deep as marrow in the bones? Suffering, of course, is a part of life. People hurt people. Almost all of us have experienced it at some time. Maybe you felt it when you came home to find that your spouse had abandoned you, or when your integrity was destroyed by a series of well-timed lies, or when your company was bled dry by a partner. It kills you inside. Bitterness clamps down on your soul like iron shackles.
The Korean people who found it too hard to forgive could not enjoy the "peace that passes all understanding." Hatred choked their joy.
It wasn't until 1972 that any hope came. A group of Japanese pastors traveling through Korea came upon the memorial. When they read the details of the tragedy and the names of the spiritual brothers and sisters who had perished, they were overcome with shame. Their country had sinned, and even though none of them were personally involved (some were not even born at the time of the tragedy), they still felt a national guilt that could not be excused. They returned to Japan committed to right a wrong. There was an immediate outpouring of love from their fellow believers. They raised ten million yen ($25,000). The money was transferred through proper channels and a beautiful white church building was erected on the sight of the tragedy. When the dedication service for the new building was held, a delegation from Japan joined the relatives and special guests.
Although their generosity was acknowledged and their attempts at making peace appreciated, the memories were still there. Hatred preserves pain. It keeps the wounds open and the hurts fresh. The Koreans' bitterness had festered for decades. Christian brothers or not, these Japanese were descendants of a ruthless enemy. The speeches were made, the details of the tragedy recalled, and the names of the dead honored. It was time to bring the service to a close. Someone in charge of the agenda thought it would be appropriate to conclude with the same two songs that were sung the day the church was burned.  The song leader began the words to "Nearer My God to Thee." 
But something remarkable happened as the voices mingled on the familiar melody. As the memories of the past mixed with the truth of the song, resistance started to melt. The inspiration that gave hope to a doomed collection of churchgoers in a past generation gave hope once more. The song leader closed the service with the hymn "At the Cross." The normally stoic Japanese could not contain themselves. The tears that began to fill their eyes during the song suddenly gushed from deep inside. They turned to their Korean spiritual relatives and begged them to forgive. The guarded, calloused hearts of the Koreans were not quick to surrender. But the love of the Japanese believers --not intimidated by decades of hatred -- tore at the Koreans' emotions.
At the cross, at the cross
Where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away ...
One Korean turned toward a Japanese brother. Then another. And then the floodgates holding back a wave of emotion let go. The Koreans met their new Japanese friends in the middle. They clung to each other and wept. Japanese tears of repentance and Korean tears of forgiveness intermingled to bathe the site of an old nightmare. Heaven had sent the gift of reconciliation to a little white church in Korea. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

On reconciliation (Colossians 1:19-20) with a story from the life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

SCRIPTURE: Colossians 1:19-20 (NIV)
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

(The Message): So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe - people and things, animals and atoms - get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the Cross.

A childhood accident caused poet Elizabeth Barrett to lead a life of semi-invalidism before she married Robert Browning in 1846. There's more to the story. In her youth, Elizabeth had been watched over by her tyrannical father. When she and Robert were married, their wedding was held in secret because of her father's disapproval. After the wedding the Brownings sailed for Italy, where they lived for the rest of their lives. But even though her parents had disowned her, Elizabeth never gave up on the relationship. Almost weekly she wrote them letters. Not once did they reply. After 10 years, she received a large box in the mail. Inside, Elizabeth found all of her letters; not one had been opened! Today those letters are among the most beautiful in classical English literature. Had her parents only read a few of them, their relationship with Elizabeth might have been restored. 

There is power in the act of reconciliation. There is sadness when attempts are made, i.e. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, but rejected. There is a beauty in reconciliation when forgiveness comes with it (see tomorrows blog about a long story of hurt and pain and reconciliation between Korea and the Japanese occupiers during the war).

Thanks be to God for the reconciliation that he makes a reality through Jesus Christ. I particularly like the Message translation/paraphrase: “… that everything of God finds its proper place in him …” Of particular interest is the “of God”. For reconciliation to work we must be open to it and receptive to the love that is being expressed. Clearly Mrs. Browning’s father was not in that all her letters got returned, unopened. How sad. Her father allowed his controlling nature and anger to get in the way of a beautiful relationship … and the beauty of her words.

And so it is with us. We either accept or reject God’s love in Christ … on a daily basis. Do we simply return his “letters” unopened or expose ourselves to him in Christ Jesus? Now that is THE question!

Loving and forgiving Father, you have reached out to us in Christ, acceptance is now up to us as you wait patiently for a response. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

On answered prayer (Matthew 21:22) with a long story from the ministry of Watchman Nee on his experience of answered prayer.

SCRIPTURE: Matthew 21:22
Jesus said, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

STORY as shared by Roger F. Campbell:
In his book Sit, Walk, Stand, Watchman Nee describes a preaching mission to an island off the South China coast. There were seven in the ministering group, including a sixteen-year-old new convert whom he calls Brother Wu. The island was fairly large, containing about 6,000 homes. Nee had a contact there, an old schoolmate of his who was headmaster of the village school, but he refused to house the group when he discovered they had come to preach the Gospel. Finally, they found lodging with a Chinese herbalist, who became their first convert. Preaching seemed quite fruitless on the island, and Nee discovered it was because of the dedication of the people there to an idol they called Ta-wang. They were convinced of his power because on the day of his festival and parade each year the weather was always near perfect.
"When is the procession this year?" young Wu asked a group that had gathered to hear them preach.
"It is fixed for January 11th at 8 in the morning," was the reply.
"Then," said the new convert, "I promise you that it will certainly rain on the 11th."
At that there was an outburst of cries from the crowd: "That is enough! We don't want to hear any more preaching. If there is rain on the 11th, then your God is God!"
Watchman Nee had been elsewhere in the village when this confrontation had taken place. Upon being informed about it, he saw that the situation was serious and called the group to prayer. On the morning of the 11th, there was not a cloud in the sky, but during grace for breakfast, sprinkles began to fall and these were followed by heavy rain. Worshipers of the idol Ta-wang were so upset that they placed it in a sedan chair and carried it outdoors, hoping this would stop the rain. Then the rain increased. After only a short distance, the carriers of the idol stumbled and fell, dropping the idol and fracturing its jaw and left arm.
A number of young people turned to Christ as a result of the rain coming in answer to prayer, but the elders of the village made divination and said that the wrong day had been chosen. The proper day of the procession, they said, should have been the 14th. When Nee and his friends heard this, they again went to prayer, asking for rain on the 14th and for clear days for preaching until then. That afternoon the sky cleared and on the good days that followed there were thirty converts. Of the crucial test day, Nee says: The 14th broke, another perfect day, and we had good meetings. As the evening approached we met again at the appointed hour. We quietly brought the matter to the Lord's remembrance. Not a minute late, His answer came with torrential rain and floods as before.
The power of the idol over the islanders was broken; the enemy was defeated. Believing prayer had brought a great victory. Conversions followed. And the impact upon the servants of God who had witnessed His power would continue to enrich their Christian service from that time on. 
God answers prayers. God answers our prayers. God answers all prayers. That is a reality. It is central to the gospel. The central motivational factor in prayer must be God’s will. Are we asking for something that Jesus would ask for? Is it a Kingdom matter? Is it focused on others?

Gracious and most merciful God, to you who answers our prayers, we seek your guidance in our prayer life. Help us to focus in on Jesus’ desires for our life and out of that relationship turn to you in prayer.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Seeing Christ's glory (John 1:14) and doing something about it.

SCRIPTURE: John 1:14 (NIV)
We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
The Message version: The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.

STORY by St. Francis de Sales:
Some men become proud and insolent because they ride a fine horse, wear a feather in their hat or are dressed in a fine suit of clothes. Who does not see the folly of this? If there be any glory in such things, the glory belongs to the horse, the bird and the tailor.
Jesus had the glory. It could be seen. He had the royal bloodline. He and the Father were one. He had the glory, but chose to become our servant. He became flesh and blood. The Son of God became one of us. He had it all, but gave it all up for the likes of you and me.

The Word of Grace became flesh … holy flesh … glory-filled flesh … earth bound flesh. The Glory of God decided to walk among the humans not to bring more glory to himself, but so that we could share his glory. He came here so we could go there. He brought the glorious kingdom to our doorsteps.

Now what are we going to do with it?

We are honored that you, O Christ, came to us. Thank you for moving in our neighborhood. Now, help us bring honor and glory to your name as we become servant people of the Kingdom.