7 posts categorized “Grace Gems”

July 5, 2013

"I Need These Living Epistles"

From a letter sent in by a VOM reader:

“In 1996, our daughter Sophia had a long seizure causing permanent brain damage. She suffered badly for months, crying incessantly for two or three days at a time and writhing in pain. She did not know us or respond to us.

"One nurse could not understand why we were not angry with God for allowing this to happen. I tried to help her see that we are his servants and cannot deny the tremendous gift that God had given us in his Son. Four months after her seizure, Sophia died.

“The day she died, I saw a picture from a The Voice of the Martyrs article of a Sudanese sister whose breasts had been cut off sitting next to her infant. Her persecutors tortured her by doing this horrible thing, forcing her to watch her child die of starvation. Thousands of miles away from where she was, I knew her pain, and I wept, thinking, I will not allow myself to wallow in self-pity.

“That woman and others like her did not have the benefit of medical care, fellowship, and love from brethren that we had. Yet they have endured so much, and I, by the grace of God, can also endure it.

“I need these living epistles of the Lord Jesus Christ to express the reality that Jesus lives and this world is not my home.”

While God’s presence is always near through the person of the Holy Spirit, we often need those spiritual encouragers with skin on them to help us in our faith. Martyrs and other believers throughout the centuries are real people whose real examples of courage inspire us to believe that maybe, just maybe, we may be able to respond likewise. While we may not share in their exact ED_Coveradversities, we can adopt the spirit of their tenacity and bravery for our daily lives. If you have been inspired by an extreme story of faith, share it with others. Pass along the example. Teach others to draw strength from those who have gone before, living their faith as examples to all.

This is one of the readings from the book, Extreme Devotion, available from VOM’s online bookstore. You can also receive devotional thoughts daily via email. Sign up here.


June 18, 2013

A Banquet for the Starving Soul

How valuable is God’s word to a Christian in prison? More valuable than gold!

In their book, Captive in Iran, Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh share the miraculous story of how God provided them with access to His word, and how His provision was an incredible testimony and witnessing opportunity to their fellow prisoners. Marziyeh writes:

Captive-In-Iran-coverNot long afterward, as I was cleaning the floor under Mommy’s bed, I discovered a long-forgotten box of what looked like trash. I asked Mrs. Mahjoob if she knew whose it was. Mrs. Mahjoob said that some prisoner who was gone must have forgotten about it and left it, and I should just throw it away. As I carried the box to the trash, I looked through it, just in case. Even trash might have some value in prison. To my surprise, I found a pocket-size Gospel of Luke mixed in with the scraps and castoffs.

I quickly slipped it under the blanket on my bed. I could hardly wait to get to bed that night and start reading. When it was time for lights out, I retrieved the little book and opened the cover. On the flyleaf was an inscription and the signature of Archbishop Ramsey, the former archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the Anglican Church worldwide, who had evidently given it as a gift. What a treasure and miracle it was to find it!

It’s hard to describe the feeling of being able to read Scripture after being away from it for a month. Every page, every word, every letter was a blessing. A banquet for the starving soul. Maryam and I decided to share it with people who might be interested. First we loaned it to Mrs. Mahjoob. After she finished with it, we gave it to Mana. When she saw it, her eyes widened in shock and amazement.

“God has answered your prayers,” I said, handing it over. “Now you can read a portion of the authentic Bible you’ve always wanted.” As word got around, many, many prisoners wanted to read it. Before long, dozens of women had their first look at the true Christian Scriptures, reading the little volume signed by one of the most powerful men in the church, who had died more than twenty years before and whose little pocket Gospel had miraculously turned up under a bed in a women’s prison in the middle of Islamic Iran.

Excerpted from Captive in Iran by Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh. You can purchase a copy of Captive in Iran through VOMBooks.com. You can also choose to support VOM’s efforts to deliver Bibles into the hands of Christians living in hostile and restricted nations.


May 13, 2013

Bonhoeffer: Only at the Hour that God Has Chosen

The following is excerpted from a letter written by German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and circulated to a hundred or so of his former students during World War II:

...To be sure, God shall call you, and us, only at the hour that God has chosen. Until that hour, which lies in God’s hand alone, we shall all be protected even in greatest danger, and from our gratitude for such protection ever new readiness surely arises for the final call.

Photo
Bonhoeffer is honored on The Martyrs Wall at VOM headquarters in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.
Who can comprehend how those whom God takes so early are chosen? Does not the early death of young Christians always appear to us as if God were plundering his own best instruments in a time in which they are most needed? Yet the Lord makes no mistakes. Might God need our brothers for some hidden service on our behalf in the heavenly world? We should put an end to our human thoughts, which always wish to know more than they can, and cling to that which is certain. Whomever God calls home is someone God has loved. “For their souls were pleasing to the Lord, therefore he took them quickly from the midst of wickedness” (Wisdom of Solomon 4.)

...Death reveals that the world is not as it should be but that it stands in need of redemption. Christ alone is the conquering of death.

...Only in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ has death been drawn into God’s power, and it must now serve God’s own aims. It is not some fatalistic surrender but rather a living faith in Jesus Christ, who died and rose for us, that is able to cope profoundly with death.

In life with Jesus Christ, death as a general fate approaching us from without is confronted by death from within, one’s own death, the free death of daily dying with Jesus Christ. Those who live with Christ die daily to their own will. Christ in us gives us over to death so that he can live within us. Thus our inner ding grows to meet that death from without.  Christians receive their own death in this way and in this way our physical death very truly becomes not the end but rather the fulfillment of our life with Jesus Christ. Here we enter into community with the One who at his own death was able to say, “It is finished.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life on earth ended when he was hanged in Flossenburg Concentration Camp on April 9, 1945. To learn more about his life, ministry and death, read BONHOEFFER: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas.


February 22, 2013

Richard Wurmbrand: Lessons from a thief

It is a world apart, the world of thieves. I found that they like to talk of their exploits, the riskier the better. They loved the excitement as other men love drink, gambling or women. I wondered at the dedication they brought to their work.

One evening, when most prisoners were outside, the door crashed open and the guards flung in a pickpocket, known to everyone as "Fingers." He rolled on the floor, gasping and groaning, as I helped him to his bunk. Soaking a rag in water, I began to wash the blood from his swollen mouth. It seemed he had been pilfering from the kitchen.

Richard&Sabina
Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand

“You're not a bad sort, Pastor,” Fingers said. “When I get out and make my next good haul, I won’t forget your share.”

I said I hoped he would find a better means of living. He laughed. “They're wasting their time beating me,” he said. “I love my work. I’ll never give it up.”

I put my arm around his shoulder and told him, “Thank you. You've taught me a great lesson.”

“What do you mean?” Fingers asked.

“If beatings don't persuade you to give up your ways, why should I listen to those who want me to change mine? I must put at least as much thought into winning a soul as you do into pulling off your next coup. The more I listen to the stories which you and your friends tell, the more I learn.”

He grinned painfully, "You're joking, Pastor.”

“No,” I said. “For example, you work at night, and if you fail the first night, you try again the next. So I, as a pastor, should spend my night in prayer, and if I don’t get what I want, I shouldn’t give up. You steal from others, but there is honesty among thieves: we Christians should be as united among ourselves. And although you risk your liberty and lives for money, as soon as you get it you throw it right and left; we should not overvalue money, either. You thieves don’t let punishment deter you; nor should we shrink from suffering. Just as you hazard everything, so too, should we, knowing there is a paradise to win.”

The prison at Poarta-Alba consisted of the remains of the labor camp beside the canal project on which my wife had been forced to work. I knew that now she was living somehow in Bucharest. No hour passed without thoughts of her. We lived in long, bare huts which held fifty men each. All around were derelict barracks and vegetable patches which Sabina must have known. This melancholy comfort was taken from me when, after a few weeks, I was told to prepare for another move.

Fingers came up to say goodbye. With him was an associate called Calapod, a villainous bandit who had been feared throughout the countryside. He slapped me on the back, shouting, “So this is the Holy Reverend who likes thieves and robbers!”

“Mr. Calapod,” I said, “Jesus did not mind comparing himself with a thief. He promised, ‘I will come as a thief in the night.’ Just as those whom you have robbed never knew you were coming, so one night Jesus will come for your soul, and you will not be ready.”

IGUExcerpted from In God's Underground, written by Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, the founder of The Voice of the Martyrs. You can order a copy of the book here; it is also available for Kindle
and Nook e-readers.


February 13, 2013

NEPAL: “Those words were pricking my heart”

When a Christian brother we'll call "Bilal" died last spring in a small Nepali city, it was important to his family that his body be buried. For Nepali Christians, burial is not only a way to dispose of a body but also an "Ebenezer" (1 Sam. 7:12), a permanent landmark of a person's faith and God's faithfulness. But in Nepal, where 75 percent of the people are Hindus, cremation is the expected ritual following a death.

About 30,000 people live in the city where Bilal's family live, but there are only four or five Christian families. When Bilal died, radical Hindus tried to take his body for cremation, according to Hindu custom. Death, along with birth and marriage, is one of three significant milestones in Hindu culture. By cremating Bilal's body, the Hindus hoped to erase his Christian testimony. Cremation would be a message in their culture that Bilal hadn't really been a Christian, that in death he'd returned to Hinduism. Conversely, a grave would be a permanent testimony that this man had died a Christian. Np-lgflag

Bilal's family refused to turn the body over to the Hindus; they wanted a Christian funeral and burial. The family was at home making funeral arrangements with their church's pastor, Pastor "Sabal," when they heard shouting outside the house. A large Hindu mob had gathered, shouting threats and demanding the body in order to perform Hindu last rights and cremation.

Sabal told the Hindus that Bilal was a Christian and that his family wanted a Christian funeral. The mob then became enraged, grabbing Sabal and two other Christians and beating them with sticks and their fists. The Christians tried to flee on their bicycles, but the mob continued to attack.

The Christians found refuge in the home of "Bima," a Christian widow who motioned them inside her house despite the angry mob chasing them. Why would she invite attacks on her home by sheltering the Christians?

"I am the Lord's servant," she told VOM workers, "so I have to be strong. I will not fear, because he is with us. I thought that some of those people might make problems for me, but I have to be strong."

The mob of angry Hindus backed off, and Christians on motorbikes came to remove Sabal and the others from danger. Sabal was treated for wounds he received in the beating and was later examined by our VOMedical director. While Sabal's body healed quickly, he struggled emotionally. He couldn't sleep for a week after the attack.

"I was praying for myself and I understood, when reading the Bible, I understood that I have to forgive," Sabal said, "because the Lord says if you don't forgive others you will not be forgiven. Those words were pricking my heart." God helped Sabal forgive his attackers by reminding him of the forgiveness he had received.

"I have also done some wrong things, some mistakes, so the Lord is working [to forgive me]," he said. "So I have to forgive. The Lord was speaking to me, 'Forgive them. They have to come to Me.' The Lord was speaking to me. Then I said yes. I have to work with them so they will come to Christ." A month after the attack, Sabal came to the point of fully forgiving those who had attacked and injured him.

He continues to minister in the same city, but after the attacks his congregation shrank by half. Many Christians left in fear, so Sabal preaches sermons designed to encourage believers to withstand the persecution he knows they'll face.

"One day everyone has to die," he tells his congregation. "The life here [on earth] is very short. Whatever they do to us because we're Christian — what we will go through — even if we have to die, we'll die because we'll have a long life [in eternity with Christ]."

Some of the believers too fearful to attend church still ask Sabal to come to their homes and pray with them. He has faith that one day their courage will be strengthened and they will return to the church. "I believe they will come one day," he said, "because they have tasted the Lord."

YOUR TURN: What are you doing to leave a legacy for Christ that others will be blessed by after your death?


February 13, 2012

He Actually Chooses Affliction!

Monday is the day where I like to leave you with some devotional inspiration.  Today's thought comes from the website Grace Gems.  Read on and be inspired!

 

He actually chooses affliction!

(J.C. Ryle, "Faith's Choice!" 1879)

"By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter;
choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin." Hebrews 11:24-25

Is there any cross in your Christianity?

There is a common worldly kind of Christianity in this day, which many have--a cheap Christianity . . .
   which offends nobody,
   which requires no sacrifice,
   which costs nothing--and is worth nothing!

But if you really are in earnest about your soul,
if your religion is something more than a mere fashionable Sunday cloak,
if you are determined to live by the Bible,
if you are resolved to be a New Testament Christian--
then you will soon find that you must carry a cross. You must endure hard things; you must suffer in behalf of your soul, as Moses did--or you cannot be saved.

The offense of the cross is not ceased!

God's true people are still a despised little flock.

True evangelical religion still brings with it reproach and scorn.

A real servant of God will still be thought an enthusiast and a fool by many.

If there is no cross--there will be no crown!

Moses left the ease and comfort of Pharaoh's court--and openly took part with the despised children of Israel. In fact, if ever a man seemed to be choosing pain, trials, poverty, distress, anxiety, perhaps even death, with his eyes open--Moses was that man!

Let us think how astonishing was this choice.

Flesh and blood naturally shrink from pain. We draw back by a kind of instinct from suffering, and avoid it if we can. If two courses of action are set before us, which both seem right--we take that which is the least disagreeable to flesh and blood.

But look here! Here is a man of like passions with ourselves, and he actually chooses affliction! Moses saw the cup of suffering that was before him if he left Pharaoh's court--and he chose it, preferred it, and took it up!

Faith told Moses that
affliction and suffering are not real evils. They are . . .
  the school of God, in which He trains the children of grace for glory;
  the medicines, which are needful to purify our corrupt hearts;
  the furnace, which must burn away our dross;
  the knife, which must cut the ties which bind us to the world.


January 30, 2012

A Cheap, Easy Christianity

Today I would like to share with you all a convicting devotion that I received a few days ago from Grace Gems.  Normally, I post an excerpt from the wonderful book Extreme Devotion, but today I thought I'd mix it up a little and share with you this powerful thought from J.C. Ryle called The Cost.

"Any of you who does not give up everything he has, cannot be My disciple." Luke 14:33

What does it cost to be a Christian?

I grant freely that it costs little to be a mere outward Christian. A man has only got to attend a place of worship twice on Sunday, and to be tolerably moral during the week--and he has gone as far as thousands around him ever go in religion. All this is cheap and easy work--it entails no self-denial or self-sacrifice. If this is saving Christianity and will take us to Heaven when we die--we must alter the description of the way of life, and write, "Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to Heaven!"

But it does cost something to be a real Christian, according to the standard of the Bible. There are . . .
  enemies to be overcome,
  battles to be fought,
  sacrifices to be made,
  an Egypt to be forsaken,
  a wilderness to be passed through,
  a cross to be carried,
  a race to be run.
Conversion is not putting a man in a soft armchair, and taking him pleasantly to Heaven. It is the beginning of a mighty conflict, in which it costs much to win the victory. Hence arises the unspeakable importance of "counting the cost."

True Christianity will cost a man . . .
  his self-righteousness,
  his sins,
  his love of ease, and
  the favor of the world.

A religion which costs nothing--is worth nothing!


A cheap, easy Christianity, without a cross--will prove in the end a useless Christianity, without a crown!

  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

You may want to read the whole of Ryle's challenging article, "The Cost!"

Source: Grace Gems