12/29/2007

Created for a Purpose

By Greg Laurie

“You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.” (Revelation 4:11)

Years ago, one of my sons asked me, “Dad, why did God put us here on the earth?” I said, “God put us here on the earth so that we might worship Him and glorify Him and know the God who created us.”

Our ultimate purpose in life is not to attain success, fame, or even happiness. It should be to know the God who made us. In fact, the Bible says there are those in heaven singing, “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created” (Revelation 4:11).We were created to worship God.

Everybody does worship. Certainly, we don’t all worship the true God in heaven. But everyone, no matter who they are, worships someone or something. What do they worship? That all depends. Some worship the true and living God. Others worship a god of their own making. Some people worship people. They worship sports heroes or actors or musicians. Some people worship possessions. Some people even worship themselves. But when you get down to it, every person everywhere worships. And the reason for this is that God created us with an inner drive. We are created with a sense that there is something more to life than what we experience on this earth.

You can worship a false god—a god of your own making, a god that you have brought out of your own imagination—and ultimately be disappointed. Or you can worship the true God. The true God—the living God, the only God, the God of the Bible—is the one to worship. He is the one to bow down to.

12/28/2007

Obstacles to the Eternal Life of Muslims

By John Piper

Paradoxically, hatred and tolerance are teaming up to take eternal life from Muslim people. Jesus said - and we say it with tears - "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:36). In other words, nominal Christians, devoted Muslims, pious Hindus, faithful Buddhists, orthodox Jews, devout animists, sincere agnostics, secular atheists - everyone who does not hold fast to Jesus Christ as the supremely valuable Son of God and Savior - will perish and not have eternal life. "He who has the Son has life; he who has not the Son of God has not life" (1 John 5:12).

Whatever obscures this message for Muslim people obstructs their way to eternal life. For them Christ is a prophet, but not the divine Son of God who said, "Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58). For Muslims Jesus is not the Savior who died for their sins and said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me" (John 14:6). Unless Muslims - and all others who deny Christ's deity - hear and embrace the good news that "the fullness of deity" dwells in Jesus (Colossians 2:9), they will be without eternal hope. This has always been true, but today things are different. Two seemingly opposite forces gather to block the gospel from Muslim minds.

First, there is the fire of hatred, fanned by the flames of September 11. Second, there is a twisted tolerance fed by the fear of man.

My son called me from Chicago to say that one of his Muslim friends had been beaten on the street. No reason. He just looked like one of "them." The spirit of revenge against Muslims in our nation these days is indiscriminate. Rage boils just beneath the surface. This is not the way of Christ. He calls his people to suffer for the sake of love, not seethe with the fire of hate. "Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly" (1 Peter 2:21-23).

Hatred from Christians keeps Muslims from seeing the superior worth of Jesus Christ. The spirit of revenge sends the false signal that Christ is not an all-sufficient, all-satisfying Savior. We justify our own little jihad, and seek our satisfaction by injuring the adversary. But true Christians treasure Jesus above vengeance, and do not rob Muslim people of truth and hope in this way. Christians would rather suffer to show the supreme worth of Christ. They crucify the craving of hate in their own hearts. They long for Muslims to see Jesus for who he really is. They know that eternal life is at stake - for both.

In reaction against indiscriminate hate there is now a stampede to pluralism and twisted tolerance. If Muslims are hated, then let us call ecumenical gatherings, and let us all praise the virtues of Islam, and the wisdom of Allah and the goodness of Mohammed. But let no one speak the intolerable and indispensable truth that Jesus is the only way to God.

Once upon a time tolerance was the power that kept lovers of competing faiths from killing each other. It was the principle that put freedom above forced conversion. It was rooted in the truth that coerced conviction is no conviction. But now the new twisted tolerance denies that there are any competing faiths; they only complement each other. It denounces not only the effort to force conversions, but the very idea that any conversion may be necessary for eternal life. It holds the conviction that no religious conviction should claim superiority over another.

When Muslims are protected from hate with this "tolerance," they are cut off from eternal life. And what promises deliverance proves to be death. If, in the name of this new tolerance, we are forbidden to say of Jesus, "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12), then eternal life is concealed and we are cruel.

Therefore let us open the door of life for all Muslim people by renouncing hate, showing love, conquering fear, commending the King of the universe, Jesus Christ, and suffering willingly, if we must.

Learning to See When the Lights Go Out

By Sharon W. Betters

God is keeping the promise of Isaiah 45:2-3 to me:

I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you m ay know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name. (Isa. 45:2-3)

When death grabbed my youngest child, Mark, and tried to destroy our family, I wondered how my heart kept beating. In my grief I felt estranged from God. For more than twenty-five years I had taught women to believe that God will make beauty out of ashes, that he is the Repairer of broken walls, that they could trust him. But on July 6, 1993, I concluded that I had lied. How could God ever bring beauty from the ashes of the sudden deaths of our sixteen-year-old son and his friend Kelly? How would I ever trust my heavenly Father again?

Because of my rich spiritual heritage and role as a pastor's wife and Bible study teacher, it's possible that people who knew me well imagined that my response to deep sorrow would be great faith. Instead, my long journey into the abyss of grief frightened our closest friends and extended family. I raged against God, demanding that he give me back my child, demanding that he show himself to me in the way I wanted. At other times, I sobbed quietly, exhausted from the constant presence of the ghost of grief, surrendering to God's silence, longing for what had been, concluding that never again on this earth would I know joy or happiness.

Early in my journey, I often envied those who experienced similar loss but seemed to be in a cocoon of peace and strength. Though their grief was as deep as mine, they never seemed to question God's presence or love. It seemed that I, indeed, was in a cocoon, but one characterized by darkness that blinded me to God's presence.

Why didn't God grant me peace and strength? Why did I have to struggle to trust him once more? My personal journal is filled with questions like these - and more.

I have concluded that God gave me the gift of wrestling. At first I think I wrestled with him in order to win - to change his mind. But soon the wrestling was for the purpose of resting in him. I learned that he is not afraid of our confusion and needs no one to defend him. But neither is he obligated to answer all of our questions.

A friend of Amy Carmichael, missionary to India, once said, "The woman who has no experiences in the dark has no secrets to share in the light." This statement challenged me with a choice in the aftermath of Mark's death. Would I accept midnight sorrow as an opportunity for God to reveal his secrets of the darkness? Or would I refuse to open my eyes and hands to treasures designed to turn my heart toward him? In time, desperation to understand my heavenly Father and experience his power drove me to place my hope in what I know about him, now in what I do not know. That's when I began to more clearly experience the treasures in the darkness and riches stored in secret placers.

Learning to see when the lights went out took me back to the foundations of my faith, where I unpacked each belief and examined it through the grid of God's Word. I needed to know that what I had believed and taught for more than twenty-five years was absolute truth. Through tear-filled eyes, I searcher for God's presence everywhere and in every event. No detail was insignificant. It still isn't.

My journal is a written record of the many times God responded to my please for relief. It gives me tangible evidences that before I even expressed my sorrow, he had sent treasures to turn my heart toward him. I know now that he prepared many of those gifts before the foundation of this world, with plans to send them to our family at just the right moment.

Thirteen years later, God continues to keep his promises by sending treasures in the darkness, riches stored in secret places - treasures designed to turn my heart toward him and remind me that he calls me by name.


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Sharon W. Betters is the wife of Dr. Charles F. Betters, pastor/teacher of MARK INC Ministries. Sharon is the author of Treasures of Encouragement, Treasures in Darkness, and co-authored Treasures of Faith with her husband. For more resources designed to help turn your heart toward the love of God, visit www.markinc.com.

Adapted from Treasures in Darkness: A Grieving Mother Shares Her Heart. Used by permission of P & R Publishing Company, copyright ©2006 by Sharon Betters. All rights reserved. Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without permission of P & R Publishing Company and/or MARK INC Ministries.

12/25/2007

The Well-worn Work Gloves


Author Unknown

I sat, with two friends, in the picture window of a quaint restaurant just off the corner of the town-square. The food and the company were both especially good that day. As we talked, my attention was drawn outside, across the street. There, walking into town, was a man who appeared to be carrying all his worldly goods on his back. He was carrying, a well-worn sign that read, "I will work for food." My heart sank. I brought him to the attention of my friends and noticed that others around us had stopped eating to focus on him.

Heads moved in a mixture of sadness and disbelief. We continued with our meal, but his image lingered in my mind. We finished our meal and went our separate ways. I had errands to do and quickly set out to accomplish them. I glanced toward the town square, looking somewhat halfheartedly for the strange visitor. I was fearful, knowing that seeing him again would call some response. I drove through town and saw nothing of him. I made some purchases at a store and got back in my car.

Deep within me, the Spirit of God kept speaking to me: "Don't go back to the office until you've at least driven once more around the square." Then with some hesitancy, I headed back into town. As I turned the square's third corner. I saw him. He was standing on the steps of the storefront church, going through his sack. I stopped and looked; feeling both compelled to speak to him, yet wanting to drive on.

The empty parking space on the corner seemed to be a sign from God: an invitation to park. I pulled in, got out and approached the town's newest visitor. "Looking for the pastor?" I asked. "Not really," he replied, "just resting." "Have you eaten today?" "Oh, I ate something early this morning." "Would you like to have lunch with me?" "Do you have some work I could do for you?" "No work," I replied. "I commute here to work from the city, but I would like to take you to lunch." "Sure," he replied with a smile.

As he began to gather his things, I asked some surface questions. "Where you headed?" "St. Louis." "Where you from?" "Oh, all over; mostly Florida." "How long you been walking?" "Fourteen years," came the reply. I knew I had met someone unusual. We sat across from each other in the same restaurant I had left earlier. His face was weathered slightly beyond his 38 years. His eyes were dark yet clear, and he spoke with an eloquence and articulation that was startling. He removed his jacket to reveal a bright red T-shirt that said, "Jesus is The Never Ending Story."

Then Daniel's story began to unfold. He had seen rough times early in life. He'd made some wrong choices and reaped the consequences. Fourteen years earlier, while backpacking across the country, he had stopped on the beach in Daytona. He tried to hire on with some men who were putting up a large tent and some equipment. A concert, he thought. He was hired, but the tent would not house a concert but revival services, and in those services he saw life more clearly. He gave his life over to God.

"Nothing's been the same since," he said, " I felt the Lord telling me to keep walking, and so I did, some 14 years now." "Ever think of stopping?" I asked. "Oh, once in a while, when it seems to get the best of me. But God has given me this calling. I give out Bibles. That's what's in my sack. I work to buy food and Bibles, and I give them out when His Spirit leads." I sat amazed. My homeless friend was not homeless. He was on a mission and lived this way by choice. The question burned inside for a moment and then I asked: "What's it like?" "What?" "To walk into a town carrying all your things on your back and to show your sign?" "Oh, it was humiliating at first. People would stare and make comments. Once someone tossed a piece of half-eaten bread and made a gesture that certainly didn't make me feel welcome. But then it became humbling to realize that God was using me to touch lives and change people's concepts of other folks like me."

My concept was changing, too. We finished our dessert and gathered his things. Just outside the door, he paused. He turned to me and said, "Come Ye blessed of my Father and inherit the kingdom I've prepared for you. For when I was hungry you gave me food, when I was thirsty you gave me drink, a stranger and you took me in." I felt as if we were on holy ground. "Could you use another Bible?" I asked. He said he preferred a certain translation. It traveled well and was not too heavy. It was also his personal favorite. "I've read through it 14 times," he said. "I'm not sure we've got one of those, but let's stop by our church and see." I was able to find my new friend a Bible that would do well, and he seemed very grateful. "Where are you headed from here?" "Well, I found this little map on the back of this amusement park coupon." "Are you hoping to hire on there for awhile?" "No, I just figure I should go there. I figure someone under that star right there needs a Bible, so that's where I'm going next."

He smiled, and the warmth of his spirit radiated the sincerity of his mission. I drove him back to the town-square where we'd met two hours earlier, and as we drove, it started raining. We parked and unloaded his things. "Would you sign my autograph book?" he asked. "I like to keep messages from folks I meet." I wrote in his little book that his commitment to his calling had touched My life. I encouraged him to stay strong. And I left him with a verse of scripture from Jeremiah, "I know the plans I have for you," declared the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a Future and a hope."

"Thanks, man," he said. "I know we just met and we're really just strangers, but I love you." "I know," I said, "I love you, too." "The Lord is good!" "Yes, He is. How long has it been since someone hugged you?" I asked. "A long time," he replied. And so on the busy street corner in the drizzling rain, my new friend and I embraced, and I felt deep inside that I had been changed. He put his things on his back, smiled his winning smile and said, "See you in the New Jerusalem." "I'll be there!" was my reply.

He began his journey again. He headed away with his sign dangling from his bedroll and pack of Bibles. He stopped, turned and said, "When you see something that makes you think of me, will you pray for me?" "You bet," I shouted back, "God bless." "God bless." And that was the last I saw of him.

Late that evening as I left my office, the wind blew strong. The cold front had settled hard upon the town. I bundled up and hurried to my car. As I sat back and reached for the emergency brake, I saw them... a pair of well-worn brown work gloves neatly laid over the length of the handle. I picked them up and thought of my friend and wondered if his hands would stay warm that night without them. Then I remembered his words: "If you see something that makes you think of me, will you pray for me?" Today his gloves lie on my desk in my office. They help me to see the world and its people in a new way, and they help me remember those two hours with my unique friend and to pray for his ministry.

"See you in the New Jerusalem," he said. Yes, Daniel, I know I will...

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It is but natural or ordinary for anyone to desire for a life of ease -- this is why people seek for personal blessings and prosperity. But as one matures spiritually, one will realize that the difference between a life of ease and a life of "lack of ease" lies in one's knowledge of God and his attitude towards Him.

A man's life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses. (Luke 12:15) One can be materially abundant yet not satisfied. Or one can be lacking materially yet satisfied.

Observe apostle Paul's attitude regarding this matter: "I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need." (Philippians 4:11-12)

True contentment is only achieved when one discovers that God is the only real sustainer and provider of all things. What we ask God for (or don't ask God for) -- especially when we are at the state of contentment and satisfaction -- could tell something about the level of our spiritual maturity.

The Night That Changed The World

Author Unknown

The green hills near the town of Bethlehem, five miles to the south of Jerusalem, are dotted with caves, most of them man-made. Two thousand years ago, some of the caves were carved into the soft white limestone by shepherds. Here these outcasts of society made their homes and raised their families. Other caves were hollowed out as stables. These were dark, dank, filthy holes, fit only for the animals that inhabited them. In one of these unspeakably dirty hollows -- surrounded by sheep, donkeys, and maybe a camel or two -- the Son of Man was born of a virgin. It was a night that changed the world.

The Jews had been anxiously expecting a Messiah for 500 years before He actually appeared. The prophets of old had predicted it and, since Jews were indoctrinated in the Scriptures from childhood, nearly everyone knew the prophecies by heart. Yet, with anticipation came misconception. A king, they said, should be born into a palace surrounded by magnificence, not in a lowly stable. Furthermore the first announcement of his birth should have been made to the greatest men of Israel -- the chief priests of the Temple -- not to lowly shepherds.

But Christ did not come into the world to save just the rich and the powerful. He came to offer salvation to all. Could the lowliest of people have accepted Him had He been born into splendor and hobnobbed only with the rich?

The mistake of many people today, as it was then, is to expect God to conform to their expectations. The Jews expected a king, a great sword-wielding warrior who would be their salvation from the pagans of Rome. Instead, they got a gentle man of love and peace who taught that the way to salvation was repentance of sin and trust in God. What they got was totally unexpected, and Jesus went largely unrecognized by the powerful Jewish rulers except as a clear and present danger to their authority.

It was mainly the lowly and the humble who followed Him, who listened to His words and were ultimately saved. The powerful Jews of the Temple, with few exceptions, considered Jesus a dangerous, itinerate preacher from Nazareth who uttered blasphemy and, since He had so many followers, threatened to lure Jews away from Temple worship. All they saw was that Jesus was raining on their parade. The signs that the prophet Isaiah and others had predicted were largely ignored.

The fact that Jesus was miraculously born of a virgin proves that He was truly sent from God. His humble birth illustrates that He came to save all of mankind, not just the elite. His birth on that night of nights, in a humble cave in Bethlehem, began a chain of events that changed the world forever.

"Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." (Isaiah 7:14 NIV)

12/24/2007

The Real Saint Nick

(And How We Need Him Today)
By Warren Throckmorton


Given the decision making power of Santa Claus on the matter of gifts, my children make sure they leave Mr. Claus some seriously good cookies on Christmas Eve. However, most children don’t know that there is much more to the real Saint Nick than toys and cookies. In addition to being generous, the jolly fellow could easily be considered the patron saint of purity.

Recently looking into the legend of Saint Nick, I learned that Saint Nicholas lived early in the fourth century in what is now Turkey. Orphaned as a young boy, he was left with substantial financial means by his parents. He used this inheritance to benefit others, especially children. Deeply religious, Nicholas became the Bishop of Myra in Turkey and played an important leadership role in the church. Called the Wonderworker, he was well known for his generosity to children, hence his association with the legend of Santa Claus. The story of a benevolent soul giving gifts to children is a part of many cultures with many names. Saint Nick as another name for Santa Claus persists to this day.

I also discovered that Saint Nicholas is a patron saint of virgins. In the Catholic tradition, a patron saint is one who prays to God on behalf of a petitioner. So, if one wants to remain chaste, one may pray to Saint Nicholas who will then lift up the petitioner in spiritual prayer to God. As an aside, his patronage of purity may explain at least one of the criteria for being in either the naughty or nice category when Saint Nick checks and rechecks his list. But I digress. There is more to this story.

Legend has it that Saint Nicholas became aware of a desperately poor parishioner having three daughters with no dowry to recommend them for marriage. The father had planned to sell them into prostitution to provide some means of support. By night, Saint Nicholas secretly brought bags of gold on three separate occasions to the man's home. These generous visitations allowed the three daughters to have sufficient means to avoid whoredom and later strike a marriage covenant. On the third visit to deliver the gift, Nicholas was caught in the act of generosity by the grateful father.

Many make the Santa Claus-like association of this story to Saint Nicholas the gift giver. I see an additional angle. For reasons that often involve money, women today have few benefactors, few Saint Nicks. Bob Dylan sang truly two decades ago that today's culture seems to promote "old men turning young daughters into whores." A look at any magazine rack will tell you that there is a market for flesh and the demographic is predominantly male, ages 12 and up. Research company Visiongain estimates the pornography market to be a 70 billion industry in 2006. That is a lot of gold being used to degrade women rather than enhance their virtue.

Blending traditional gender roles has been little help here. Women today are not, nor should they be, as helpless as those three girls aided by Saint Nicholas. However, girls gone wild with sexual freedom most often leads to exploitation by men. I doubt we would see as much skin if there were no gawking male purchasers, eager to buy and sell innocence as commerce.

Harmful to both men and women, graphic sexuality, even the somewhat scaled down prime time variety, contributes to the overall commodification of sex. Viewed through the eyes of a pornographer, sex is commerce and sexual purity is restraint of trade.

We need Saint Nicholas today. We need the gifts of chastity and modesty. We need more respecters of purity and fewer of those who would sell young people into the brothel of commercialism.

We need you today Saint Nicholas, the Wonderworker. Our sons and daughters need the good gifts of those who truly value their health and purity.

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Warren Throckmorton, PhD is an Associate Professor of Psychology and Fellow for Psychology and Public Policy in the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City (PA) College. Dr. Throckmorton is past-president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association. His columns have been published by over 100 newspapers nationwide and can be contacted through his website at www.drthrockmorton.com.

Are You BUSY?

By Rev Whit

Satan called a worldwide convention of demons. In his opening address he said, "We can't keep Christians from going to church. We can't keep them from reading their Bibles and knowing the truth. We can't even keep them from forming an intimate relationship with their savior. Once they gain that connection with Jesus, our power over them is broken. So let them go to their churches; let them have their covered Dish dinners, but steal their time, so they don't have time to develop a relationship with Jesus Christ. This is what I want you to do", said the devil. "Distract them from gaining hold of their Savior and maintaining that vital connection throughout their day!"

"How shall we do this?" his demons shouted.

"Keep them busy in the nonessentials of life and invent innumerable schemes to occupy their minds," he answered.

"Tempt them to spend, spend, spend, and borrow, borrow, borrow. Persuade the wives to go to work for long hours and the husbands to work 6-7 days each week, 10-12 hours a day, so they can afford their empty lifestyles.

Keep them from spending time with their children. As their families fragment, soon, their homes will offer no escape from the pressures of work!"

"Over-stimulate their minds so that they cannot hear that still, small voice." "Entice them to play the radio or cassette player whenever they drive...to keep the TV, VCR, CDs and their PCs going constantly in their home and see to it that every store and restaurant in the world plays non-biblical music constantly. This will jam their minds and break that union with Christ."

"Fill the coffee tables with magazines and newspapers. Pound their minds with the news 24 hours a day. Invade their driving moments with billboards. Flood their mailboxes with junk mail, mail order catalogs, sweepstakes, and every kind of newsletter and promotional offering free products, services and false hopes."

"Keep skinny, beautiful models on the magazines and TV so their husbands will believe that outward beauty is what's important, and they'll become dissatisfied with their wives. Keep the wives too tired to love their husbands at night. Give them headaches too! If they don't give their husbands the love they need, they will begin to look elsewhere."

"That will fragment their families quickly!"

"Give them Santa Claus to distract them from teaching their children the real meaning of Christmas. Give them an Easter bunny so they won't talk about his resurrection and power over sin and death."

"Even in their recreation, let them be excessive... have them return from their recreation exhausted. Keep them too busy to go out in nature and reflect on God's creation. Send them to amusement parks!, sporting events, plays, concerts, and movies instead."

"Keep them busy, busy, busy!"

"And when they meet for spiritual fellowship, involve them in gossip and small talk so that they leave with troubled consciences."

"Crowd their lives with so many good causes they have no time to seek power from Jesus. Soon they will be working in their own strength, sacrificing their health and family for the good of the cause."

"It will work!" "It will work!"

It was quite a plan! The demons went eagerly to their assignments causing Christians everywhere to get more busy and more rushed, going here and there. Having little time for their God or their families. Having no time to tell others about the power of Jesus to change lives. I guess the question is, has the devil been successful at his scheme?

You be the judge! Does "busy" mean:

Being
Under
Satan's
Yoke?

12/23/2007

The Promised Woman

By Mother M. Angelica

Eve — The First Woman

In the beginning, when God created Adam, it was soon apparent there was something lacking. The magnificent beauty of the new creation lacked a dimension. Adam must have looked around and tried to find out exactly what was missing. The whole world was literally his and yet he was not completely satisfied. He needed someone to share the fruits of his work as he tilled the soil and made things grow. (Gen. 2:5)

God saw this and said, "It is not good for man to be alone, I will make him a helpmate." So He fashioned all the wild beasts and the birds and brought them to Adam to name.

Adam was filled with one of God's beautiful perfections—Goodness. He wanted to share his joy and happiness with someone—someone like himself. So God cast Adam into a deep sleep and from his rib formed Eve. God blessed them saying, "Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and conquer it." (Gen. 1:28) Adam and Eve were created in the image of God. They were above all creation because they were intelligent human beings. After the Fall they saw themselves as they really were—nothing—nothing but finite, weak, human beings, slow of comprehension, victims of their own passions and very much aware of themselves. The truth of what they were, without God's gifts must have been a shattering experience.

Seeing their nothingness, they were ashamed, and covering themselves, they hid because they suddenly realized the great difference between themselves and God.

Fear was born. It replaced the childlike simplicity they possessed when they were grateful children of a loving Father.

They had been told that if they ate the fruit they would die. They expected a physical death then and there, but pride is first a spiritual death and it brought with it all the consequences of that kind of death—evil tendencies, unruly passions, bitterness, regrets and darkness.

God told them the consequences of their decision. First, He addressed the serpent—master of pride—and told him that from henceforth he would crawl on his belly and eat dust.

Every human being would look down upon this once angel of light and regard him as dust—an enemy to be trampled on and avoided by everyone except those who, like himself, decided that dust was what they wanted to be.

His pride caused his fall from heaven; his pride incited Eve to imitation—but now, all men would see him as he is—a spirit of darkness. The war that ended in heaven—began on earth.

And then the Mercy of God came through as Beautiful as it is Infinite. He told the father of lies that He would set another Woman against him and her seed would crush his head.

A new Adam and a new Eve would come and these two would not disappoint Him. They would be mortal enemies of the serpent and crush his head—his pride—with their holiness and humility.

This Messianic prophecy declared war between the two kingdoms. Some of Eve's descendants would choose one side and some the other, but there would be two people who would crush the tempter's pride. The tempter rejoiced that he had seemingly spoiled God's plan through a weak woman. God would use a weak Woman to crush his head. Through Eve and her seed, pride came into the world and with it every other evil. Through another Woman and her seed, God would redeem the world. He would bless it with greater opportunities—so great that those who corresponded would be called "sons of God."

Mary — The Promised Woman

As the centuries passed and mankind lived in more darkness and became more depraved, God sent His prophets to encourage and enlighten His creatures. Though His creatures chose to rule themselves, He would not abandon them.

Through Noah, the Father showed His Mercy by preserving the human race because of the holiness of one man.

Through Abraham, He gave an example of Faith and Hope,—Faith in an invisible God and Hope in His promises. He tested that Faith when He asked Abraham to sacrifice His only eon, to prefigure the sacrifice He Himself would make by giving His Son to redeem the world.

Through Jacob, God brought forth the twelve tribes of Israel. From one of these would come His Son and the Woman.

Through Joseph, God prefigured His Son, Jesus, who would be sold for a few pieces of silver and the Father would use man's jealousy to redeem His people.

The burning bush which Moses saw prefigures the God-man, while the fire symbolizes the union of Divinity and humanity. Also there is the future role of the Woman who was on fire with love for God and became a Mother while remaining a Virgin.

The Good News

Did the angel of darkness, the serpent, sense that the time the Prophets foretold had come? Surely with his great intelligence and memory he never lost sight of and never ceased hearing the curses heaped upon him in the Garden.

He must have stalked the earth looking for a Virgin who would conceive and bear a son. In his pride he looked for someone famous and popular with thunder from heaven proclaiming her birth. The great deceiver was about to be deceived.

In Elizabeth's sixth month the Angel Gabriel appeared to a young virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph. Her name was Mary—a very common name among the Jewish people.

It was the dream of every Jewish woman to be the mother of the Messiah. Why was Mary troubled when the Angel called her highly favored? "Listen," he said, "you are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called, 'Son of the Most High.'" Mary replied, "But how can this be since I am a virgin?" She was a virgin and intended to remain so.

"The Holy Spirit will come upon you," the Angel answered, "and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so, the Child will be holy and will be called Son of God.

As all of Heaven waited to see what choice this Woman would make, she folded her hands and said, "I am the Handmaid of the Lord; let what you have said be done to me."

And then the same Power that said to nothingness, "Be made," enveloped the Woman like a shadow—elevated her to a state of union with God unheard of before and unthought of since.

As our union with God must be with all Three Persons, so Mary's union progressed from Daughter of the Father to Spouse of the Holy Spirit, to Mother of the Son. The new Eve renewed what the old Eve had lost—union with the Trinity. We too are sons and daughters of the Father. We too can be spouses of the Spirit. We too can be mothers of the Son for her Son was one day to say that he who did the Will of His Father was His brother, mother and sister.

Concern

It would be natural after all this for the Woman to have remained in her home alone and undisturbed, but Scripture says that Mary made haste and went to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Her concern for her aged cousin carrying a child, drove her to leave her home and her espoused husband to help Elizabeth in her time of need. It must have been frightening and awesome, as she traveled to Judea to meditate on the Omnipotence she carried in a tiny chamber. In her modesty she would have kept her secret, but God had other plans. As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, she was filled with the Holy Spirit and with a loud voice proclaimed that Mary was the Woman, "Of all women you are the most blessed," she said, "and blessed is the fruit of your womb."

Like all fathers, God could not keep the wonderful secret too long. He had to tell someone and that someone was Elizabeth carrying the child who was to be His Son's forerunner.

The joy of the visit to Elizabeth soon gave way to anguish of spirit. Only one who has been under suspicion would understand the feelings of her pure heart when she arrived home and Joseph began to cast questioning glances.

It is not recorded in Scripture that she uttered one word in her defense. She had learned to trust every detail of her life to God. She carried His Son; He would uphold her honor.

But day after day it became increasingly obvious to Joseph that she was with child. He loved her too much and understood her too well to question her integrity, but he knew that the Child she carried was not his.

They were espoused, but Scripture says he did not know her. Had he also taken a vow of virginity? They were espoused at least six months and yet he was puzzled.

He saw Mary, the joy of his heart, day after day, and his heart ached. He could not sleep or work and the more attention she gave him at meals or in the shop, the more anguish filled his heart.

And what of Mary? Her loving heart must have been broken to see one so loving in such distress. Should she tell him what really happened? Would he believe such a mystery? Was it her place to explain? How many questions filled her mind!

No-one knew how the Messiah would come and although His coming was prophesied and foretold centuries ago, the reality was so different. No, she would pray and wait for God's time. What profound faith it took! What deep hope she needed to carry on her duties in silence and love.

To see Joseph suffer so much must have wrenched her heart many times. It is always difficult to see those we love suffer and we would go to any length to help alleviate their pain. And yet, Mary—the variant woman—would not explain, even though her silence meant more anguish for Joseph.

The one thing they had in common was their sorrow. Each wanted to speak to the other—one to ask "Why"—the other to answer "How" but neither one spoke a word of what weighed heavy on his heart.

She was too lovely, kind and holy to be doubted, but one thing Joseph knew—he was not the father. He was a just man who loved God above all things and it never crossed his mind that his espoused wife might be the Promised Woman. He knew she was special and this is what made it so difficult to do what he knew he must.

He could not bring himself to expose her to public ridicule but neither could he pretend the child was his, and so he decided to divorce her privately.

Mary must have sensed his dilemma and prayed to the Father for a solution that would set Joseph's heart at rest.

The time of suffering and purification was over and an Angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in his sleep and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name Him Jesus, because He is the One who is to save His people from their sins." What overwhelming joy and consternation must have filled his heart. He must have wept with joy and knelt in prayer before the living Ark of the Covenant—the Holy Temple in which dwelt, in a physical manner, the Son of God.

And now three people knew, but the Deceiver knew it not.

Mother And Widow

How different is the Wisdom of God compared to men! If we were in His place, we would have gone to the Temple and enlightened the Doctors of the Law, healed all the sick, made social reforms and written volumes for future generations.

Instead, the Lord of Heaven spent thirty years alone with His Mother doing common work and in union with the Father in prayer. It was necessary to spend so much time with His Mother because of her mission. Later, He would do the same with Peter, James and John, who also had a special mission.

Detachment

Mary's life was a perfect imitation of Jesus. She was humble, hidden, sorrowful and afflicted, but she also knew joys that never entered the heart of man. She is all things to all men that she might understand their failings, though she failed not. She is compassionate with their falls, though she fell not. She followed in the Master's footsteps in order to experience all the sufferings that poor human nature is subject to.

She marveled at His Wisdom as He gave the Beatitudes
—and she followed them.

She admired His zeal as He drove the moneychangers from the Temple
—and prayed for them.

She heard Him speak of His Father and the Spirit to come
—and she praised God.

She saw Him cure the deaf, the blind, the lame and lepers
—and she thanked Him.

She saw Him humiliated by the proud Pharisees and Doctors of the Law
—and she wept.

She heard Him reveal the secret of the Trinity within us
—and she bowed in adoration.

She heard Him one day finally tell His people, "Before Abraham ever was, I Am,"
—and she cried as they picked up stones to throw at Him.

She saw Him raise the dead
—and glorified God.

She saw Him cry over Jerusalem because it did not know the time of its visitation
—and she cried with Him.

She listened as He taught His disciples the mysteries of the Kingdom
—and watched many of them walk away when He revealed the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

She shuddered as He revealed His suffering and death to His Apostles
—and realized they did not understand.

She rejoiced when He told His disciples He would rise on the third day
—only to see that they did not comprehend.

And then
She knew it was over all too soon
—and she prayed.

She, who was filled with grace, could stand beneath the Cross, for she had accepted its burdens with the same love as her Son. She would offer Him as He offered Himself and she would offer herself as He offered her to the world.


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Provided Courtesy of:
Eternal Word Television Network
5817 Old Leeds Road
Irondale, AL 35210

12/22/2007

Grr-face Miracle


By Gary Swanson

The mother sat on the simulated-leather chair in the doctor's office, picking nervously at her fingernails. Wrinkles of worry lined her forehead as she watched 5-year-old Kenny sitting on the rug before her. He is small for his age and a little too thin, she thought. His fine blond hair hung down smooth and straight to the top of his ears. But while gauze bandages encircled his head, covering his eyes and pinning his ears back. In his lap he bounced a beaten-up teddy bear. It was the pride of his life, yet one arm was gone and one eye was missing. Twice his mother had tried to throw the bear away, to replace it with a new one, but he had fussed so much she had relented. She tipped her head slightly to the side and smiled at him. It's really about all he has, she sighed to herself.

A nurse appeared in the doorway. "Kenny Ellis," she announced, and the young mother scooped up the boy and followed the nurse toward the examination room. The hallway smelled of rubbing alcohol and bandages. Children's crayon drawing lined the walls. "The doctor will be with you in a moment," the nurse said with an efficient smile. "Please be seated." The mother placed Kenny on the examination table. "Be careful, Honey, not to fall off." "Am I up very high, Mother?" "No dear, but be careful." Kenny hugged his teddy bear tighter. "Then I don't want Grr-face to fall either." The mother smiled. The smile twisted at the corner into a frown of concern. She brushed the hair out of the boys face and caressed his cheek, soft as thistledown, with the back of her hand.

As the office music drifted into the haunting version of "Silent Night," she remembered the accident for the thousandth time. The Wincing Memory! She had been cooking things on the back burners for years. But there it was, sitting right out in front, the water almost boiling for oatmeal. The phone rang in the living room. It was another one of those "phone offers." At the very moment she returned the phone to the table, Kenny screamed in the kitchen, the galvanizing cry of pain that frosts a mother's veins. She winced again at the memory of it and brushed aside a warm tear slipping down her cheek. Six weeks they had waited for this day to come. "We'll be able to take the bandages off the week before Christmas, the doctor had said.

The door to the examination room swept open, and Dr. Harris came in. "Good morning, Mrs. Ellis," he said brightly. "How are you today?" "Fine, thank you," she said. But she was too apprehensive for small talk. Dr. Harris bent over the sink and washed his hands carefully. He was cautious with his patients but careless about himself. He could seldom find time to get a haircut, and his straight black hair hung a little long over his collar. His loosened tie allowed his collar to be open at the throat. "Now then," he said, sitting down on a stool, "let's have a look." Gently he snipped at the bandage with scissors and unwound it form Kenny's head. The bandage fell away, leaving two flat squares of gauze taped directly over Kenny's eyes. Dr. Harris lifted the edges of the tape slowly, trying not to hurt the boy's tender skin. Kenny slowly opened his eyes, blinked several times as if the sudden light hurt. Then he looked at his mother and grinned. "Hi, Mom," he said.

Choking and speechless, the mother threw her arms around Kenny. For several minutes she could say nothing as she hugged the boy and wept in thankfulness. Finally, she looked at Dr. Harris with tear-filled eyes. "I don't know how we'll ever be able to pay you," she said. "We've been over all that before," the doctor interrupted with a wave of his hand. "I know how things are for you and Kenny. I'm glad I could help. The mother dabbed at her eyes with a well-used handkerchief, stood up, and took Kenny's hand. But just as she turned toward the door, Kenny pulled away and stood for a long moment looking uncertainly at the doctor. Then he held his teddy bear up by its one arm to the doctor. "Here," he said, "take my Grr-face. He ought to be worth a lot of money." Dr. Harris quietly took the broken bear in his two hands. "Thank you, Kenny. This will more than pay for my services."

Christmas visitors the last few days before Christmas were especially good for Kenny and his mother. They sat together during the long evening, watching the Christmas tree lights twinkle on and off. Bandages had covered Kenny's eyes for six weeks, so he seemed reluctant to close them in sleep. The fire dancing in the fireplace, the snowflakes sticking to his bedroom windows, the two small packages under the tree -- all the lights and colors of the holiday fascinated him.

And then, on Christmas Eve, Kenny's mother answered the doorbell. No one was there, but a large box was on the porch, wrapped in shiny gold paper with a broad red ribbon and bow. A tag attached to the bow identified the box as intended for Kenny Ellis. With a grin, Kenny tore the ribbon off the box, lifted the lid, and pulled out a teddy bear -- his beloved Grr-face. Only now it had a new arm of brown corduroy and two new eyes that glittered in the soft Christmas light. Kenny didn't seem to mind that the new arm did not match the other one. He just hugged his teddy bear and laughed.

Among the tissues in the box, the mother found a card. "Dear Kenny," it read. "I can sometimes help put boys and girls back together, but Mrs. Harris had to help me repair Grr-face. She's a better bear doctor than I am. Merry Christmas! Dr. Harris." "Look, Mother," Kenny smiled, pointing to the button eyes. "Grr-face can see again -- just like me!"

*This reportedly is a true story, and really touched my heart. It just makes one realize how we take things for granted, like our eye sight. Live each day as if it were your last... lay up your riches in Heaven. 'Cause we are not guaranteed a tomorrow... And no amount of earthly money can buy our way to Heaven....

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The picture shown above is not that of Kenny, but rather it is a picture of Youssif the 5-year old Iraqi boy. His story has some similarity to Kenny's story.

Click here to read Youssif's story.

A Christmas Story


Author Unknown

Herman and I locked our general store and dragged ourselves home. It was 11:00 p.m., Christmas Eve of 1949. We were dog tired. We had sold almost all of our toys; and all of the layaways, except one package, had been picked up. Usually we kept the store open until everything had been claimed. We wouldn't have been happy on Christmas knowing that some child's gift was still on the layaway shelf. But the person who had put a dollar down on the package never returned.

Early Christmas morning we and our twelve-year-old son, Tom, opened gifts. But I'll tell you, there was something humdrum about this Christmas. Tom was growing up; I missed his childish exuberance of past years. As soon as breakfast was over Tom left to visit his friend next door. Herman mumbled, "I'm going back to sleep. There's nothing left to stay up for." So there I was alone, feeling let down.

And then it began. A strange, persistent urge. It seemed to be telling me to go to the store. I looked at the sleet and icy sidewalk outside. That's crazy, I said to myself. I tried dismissing the urge, but it wouldn't leave me alone. In fact, it was getting stronger. Finally, I couldn't stand it any longer, and I got dressed. Outside, the wind cut right through me and the sleet stung my cheeks. I groped my way to the store, slipping and sliding.

In front stood two boys, one about nine, and the other six. What in the world? "See, I told you she would come!" the older boy said jubilantly. The younger one's face was wet with tears, but when he saw me, his sobbing stopped. "What are you two doing out here?" I scolded, hurrying them into the store. "You should be at home on a day like this!" They were poorly dressed. They had no hats or gloves, and their shoes barely held together. I rubbed their icy hands, and got them up close to the heater.

"We've been waiting for you," replied the older boy. "My little brother Jimmy didn't get any Christmas." He touched Jimmy's shoulder. "We want to buy some skates. That's what he wants. We have these three dollars," he said, pulling the bills from his pocket. I looked at the money. I looked at their expectant faces. And then I looked around the store. "I'm sorry," I said, "but we have no --" Then my eye caught sight of the lay-away shelf with its lone package.

"Wait a minute," I told the boys. I walked over, picked up the package, unwrapped it and, miracle of miracles, there was a pair of skates! Jimmy reached for them. Lord, let them be his size. And miracle added upon miracle, they were his size. The older boy presented the dollars to me. "No," I told him, "I want you to have these skates, and I want you to use your money to get some gloves." The boys just blinked at first. Then their eyes became like saucers, and their grins stretched wide when they understood I was giving them the skates. What I saw in Jimmy's eyes was a blessing. It was pure joy, and it was beautiful. My spirits rose.

We walked out together, and as I locked the door, I turned to the older brother and said, "How did you know I would come?" I wasn't prepared for his reply. His gaze was steady, and he answered me softly.

"I asked Jesus to send you."

The tingles in my spine weren't from the cold. God had planned this. As we waved good-bye, I turned home for a brighter Christmas.

12/21/2007

Who Started This Christmas Stuff?


Author Unknown

A woman who was out Christmas shopping with her two children. After many hours of looking at row after row of toys and everything else imaginable; and after hours of hearing both her children asking for everything they saw on those many shelves, she finally made it to the elevator with her two kids. She was feeling what so many of us feel during the holiday season time of the year. Overwhelming pressure to go to every party, every housewarming, taste all the holiday food and treats, getting that perfect gift for every single person on our shopping list, making sure we don't forget anyone on our card list, and the pressure of making sure we respond to everyone who sent us a card.

Finally the elevator doors opened and there was already a crowd in the car. She pushed her way into the car and dragged her two kids in with her and all the bags of stuff. When the doors closed she couldn't take it anymore and stated, "Whoever started this whole Christmas thing should be found, strung up and shot."

From the back of the car everyone heard a quiet calm voice respond, "Don't worry we already crucified Him." For the rest of the trip down the elevator it was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop.

Don't forget this year to keep the One who started this whole Christmas thing in your every thought, deed, purchase, and word. If we all did it, just think of how different this whole world would be.

12/20/2007

Seeing Christmas through Mary's Eyes

By Betsy St. Amant
Crosswalk.com


This Christmas, everything is exactly like it’s always been. Icicle lights drape off my roof. My artificial, pre-lit tree, adorned with a wide variety of beloved Hallmark ornaments, stands in its usual place of honor in front of the red living room drapes. My nativity scene sits on the entertainment center, and my vast penguin collection decorates every unoccupied corner of the house.

Yes, everything is exactly the same—but at the same time, everything is completely different. This Christmas offers a greater impact than usual, and it has nothing to do with the warm glow of holiday cheer or the toasty feeling I get when drinking hot chocolate and melted marshmallows. Instead, it has everything to do with the fact that I’m two months pregnant.

It is very strange to think that next Christmas, Lord willing, I’ll have a five-month old in my lap while opening gifts with the family. There will be a car seat in the back of my Sebring, next to the pile of presents on the way to my grandmother’s house. There will be toys and tiny clothes and pacifiers everywhere—oh, I can’t wait! Yet even though I realize that next Christmas will be radically different, I can’t help but feel that this Christmas is the most unique of them all.

And it’s all because of Mary.

I can’t stop thinking about how she must have felt. The Christmas story in the Bible has become real to me in a sense that is hard to explain. My pregnancy differs from Mary’s in oh, maybe a thousand ways, yet I feel that I can now understand her a little bit better. Growing up, hearing the nativity story in church, Mary always seemed somewhat distant. She was a nice girl, chosen by God, to bring Jesus into this world. She was young, yes, and a virgin, which is mind-blowing the miracle of God’s ways, but I never really got her.

Until this year. Now, I think of her situation and tears fill my eyes as if on cue. Mary was a teenager, alone, scared, and with a huge mission. Overwhelmed doesn’t even begin to describe what lay before her! When I found out I was pregnant, it was from a home test. Mary didn’t have one line or two pop up in a little circular window—she had an angel of the Lord break the news! My husband and I were planning a pregnancy—Mary hadn’t ever known a man. Our family and friends were ecstatic with our news—Mary’s family and friends scorned her and doubted her integrity and purity. My husband and I have drawn closer together through the discovery of this new adventure—Mary almost lost the man who loved her because of disbelief and shame.

The differences continue to amaze me. Just because Mary was pregnant through a miracle doesn’t mean she didn’t experience the regular symptoms every pregnant woman experiences. Every ache, every hunger pain or craving, every cramp or sore muscle or mood swing must have reminded her of the incredible task to which she’d been assigned. I feel a random twinge of pain and immediately wonder if something might be wrong. How much more would Mary worry, knowing the importance of the child in her womb? Then again, Mary realized her son was blessed by God, and would be protected. Still, as a woman, I don’t know if that would have kept me completely anxiety-free!

In the midst of my sympathy for Mary’s situation, for the emotional roller coaster she surely rode, for the unknown stretched before her like a giant canyon, lies a sense of deep respect. I don’t know about you, but if I had been in Mary’s sandals, I might not have responded to the angel so politely. Luke 1:38 - "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said.”

I have to admit, my response would have probably been something more like “Are you kidding me? That’s impossible. I haven’t even had my first kiss! I’m too young. Don’t you know what everyone will think of me? What this will mean to my future? No one will want to marry me if I’m pregnant. I’ll have no security, no husband, no means of taking care of myself…” And probably would have gone on and on until the angel hushed me up like the Lord did to Zechariah!

But one thing I’m certain of is that my God is bigger than my mood swings. Despite any doubts Mary had, any fear or anxiety, I know God gave her peace and strength to get through it all. She carried a miracle in her womb, and would go down in history as a chosen woman of God. To be such an essential part to a life altering, world-changing event such as Christ’s birth was surely worth the midnight food cravings and the swollen ankles. Something tells me that Joseph, good man that he was to stick with her throughout those scandalous nine months, probably rubbed Mary’s feet for her!

I’m only getting started in my pregnancy. Still in the first trimester, with lots to look forward to and also worry about it, if I let it consume me. I’ll possibly worry a little anyway, but just like Mary, I know God is in charge of things here! He’s got it all under control. Just like Mary probably sobbed with relief when she heard those piercing first cries in the stable that star-studded night, I’ll cry for joy when I receive the first glimpse of my own little miracle.

This year, my nativity scene is right where it belongs on my entertainment center. But I can’t quite look at the figurines the same. I can’t see Mary and baby Jesus the way I did last year. My heart has been opened, and I think that’s the best Christmas present I could have ever unwrapped.

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Betsy Ann St. Amant resides in northern Louisiana with her husband, Brandon. Betsy has a bachelor's degree in Christian Communications from Louisiana Baptist University and is actively pursuing a career in inspirational writing. Her first published Christian Fiction novel, Midnight Angel, is now available on amazon.com. You can contact her at betsystamant@yahoo.com.

12/19/2007

The Trail of Tears

Author Unknown

Many of you may think you know what the Trail of Tears was all about, perhaps some of you do. This is just a brief recap of what happened. There are numerous stories that are heart breaking. Remember, this was but four generations ago.

On September 15, 1830, at Little Dancing Rabbit Creek, the Chiefs of the Choctaw Nation and representatives of the U.S. met to discuss the impact of a bill recently passed by the Congress of the U.S. This bill, with all the same good intentions of those today who believe they know better than we how to conduct our lives, allowed for the removal of all Indian peoples to the West of the Mississippi River.

It had been made clear to the Choctaw, that the Whites in Washington cared little for our situation, that either we willingly moved, or by military force we would be moved. We were not ignorant savages, but industrious farmers, merchants, and businessmen of all types. We were educated people, many were Christians. We had an organized system of government and a codified body of law. Some of these people were not even Indians, many strangers and orphans had been taken in over the years.

The Chiefs and Warriors signed the treaty, realizing they had no option. For doing this the government officials guaranteed, in the body of the treaty, safe conveyance to our new homes. (Do not forget for a moment that in this treaty, the Choctaw traded 10.3 million acres of land east of the Mississippi for 10.3 acres in Oklahoma and Arkansas that we already owned under previous treaties) Further, it included provisions and monetary annuities, to assist the people to make a new start. One half of the people were to depart almost immediately, the rest the next year.

After the signing of the treaty, many saw their land and property sold before their own eyes. The "conveyances" promised turn out to be a forced march. At the point of a gun, the pace killed many of the old, exposure and bad food killed most. Rotten beef and vegetables are poor provisions, even for the idle. Many walked the entire distance without shoes, barely clothed. What supplies were given had been rejected by the whites. This cannot directly be blamed on the government; nearly all of this was done by unscrupulous men, interested only in maximizing their profits. The government's fault lies in not being watchful of those taken into their charge. Many of the old and the children died on the road. At each allowed stop, the dead were buried. Hearing of this many escaped. They knew that as they signed the rolls, to be "removed", that this might as well be their death warrants. They took refuge in the hills, the swamps, and other places too inhospitable for the whites. Even as this occurred, those in charge reported their "peaceful progress" to Congress, who looked no further.

Those of us who evaded the rolls were accepted by neither the whites nor the "papered" Indians. Still others claimed to be "Black Dutch," Spanish, Creole, or Black. (My own grandfather later lied to the census taker, saying he was one sixty-fourth. At that degree, he could still live and own land on the reservation. He was "enrolled" at that number. Granny claimed to be Black Dutch). Many others fled to Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana, even into the swamps of the Okeefenokee.

The "fertile lands, alive with game, lush with forests" turned out to be bone-dry and covered in alkalai pits, and a strange black ooze that stank and caught fire easily. Blistering hot in the summer, freezing in the winter, this land was still their own. And then the whites decided they needed more land. Again, pressure was brought to bear on the Choctaw. By this time the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Cree, Kickapoo, Seminole, Wyandotte, Lenapi, Mohawk, and others whose names you would not recognize, had their reservations shrunk around them. The Choctaw had only been the first to be removed, the government drunk with power and in fit of lust for land, had removed nearly all. The Mississippi Band of the Choctaw had temporarily avoided displacement, but had their land stripped down to 500 acres, but within five years none of that land was in Indian hands. Already Arkansas had begun to be settled by whites, who ignored the treaties. Even those who fled to California were being displaced by miners, farmers and ranchers. The discovery of gold galvanized the vise forming around the Indian people, so that expansion from the East was equaled by expansion from the West.

The altruistic government, in love and charity removed many of the young to "boarding schools" where they were "civilized," which meant being given white names, speaking only English, and being forbidden to worship their "pagan" gods. To this day most Indians, even full-bloods, are not fluent in their own mother-tongues.

The final blow came when the white decided he needed the black ooze and again the process accelerated. By that time, Custer, making illegal sorties into the Black Hills, had discovered gold there too. The Lakota watched their lands, cut to almost a third and then again until nearly all was gone.

In the 1880's, came Wovoka, who offered a message of hope and peace. With him he brought the Ghost Dance and all tribes listened to that Siren song. At the peak of this frenzy came Wounded Knee. There, unarmed and innocent men, women, and children were murdered by scared Cavalry, who never took the time to find out what this was all about. Adding insult to injury, Medals of Honor were given to these men. Every white child knew, "the only good Indian is a dead Indian."

Even now, when the tribes speak of sovereignty, men like Senator Gorton wonder why. All we ever asked for was the dignity of free men, to live at peace, and worship God in our own ways.

12/08/2007

God Leads Us Into Waiting Rooms


By Bob Reccord

Have you ever noticed that rooms speak for themselves? Walk into a freshly decorated nursery and the room speaks of joy and excitement. On a cold winter evening, enter a cozy den, with a large fire playing percussion in the fireplace and shadows dancing in syncopated rhythm on the walls and ceiling. The room invites you to sit down and succumb to its atmosphere. Or walk into a festive holiday dining room. Plates at each chair await a sumptuous feast. Friendly voices and warm laughter drift from down the hall. The room sings with the theme of celebration and reunion.

Other rooms aren't nearly as inviting - for example, waiting rooms. For all of us, life brings many experiences that develop into "waiting rooms." Maybe you're launching into a new arena of education. Or maybe you've completed your formal education and are waiting for employment. Maybe you are waiting to have children, or at the other end of the spectrum, maybe you are waiting for them to leave home. Maybe you're waiting for a long-anticipated trip.

It's impossible for a person not to be waiting for something. And waiting is never easy. I'm sure it's always been difficult, but I truly believe that our culture has made it even harder. We live in a society that has ready-made frozen dinners and instant potatoes. Our phones are touch-tone and mobile, so we can do two things at once. Our ovens are microwaves. Our information is generated on a computer screen at the touch of a keyboard. Our culture demands instant gratification and immediate success.

Yet all of us face times when God seems to hit the "pause" button in our lives and He invites - and sometimes forces - us to accept a posture of waiting. This is true for the biblical character Joseph. He lived in a "waiting room." Imprisoned on false charges, his deliverance didn't come quickly.

Joseph met the Pharaoh's chief baker and cupbearer in prison and interpreted their dreams. Joseph requested that when the cupbearer was released from jail, that he would speak to the Pharaoh on his behalf. But the cupbearer forgot his imprisoned friend and Joseph's life continued in a holding pattern for two years.

Then, suddenly, the holding pattern was interrupted. Pharaoh had a couple of dreams: seven sickly, skinny cows devoured by seven fat cows, then seven scorched and dry ears of grain swallowed by seven picture-perfect ears of grain. Suddenly the cupbearer remembered Joseph and told the Pharaoh about the young man in jail who had successfully deciphered his and the baker's dreams.

Joseph was immediately summoned and he rocketed from the pit to the pinnacle in one quick step. The time of waiting in the stone-cold dungeon had finally expired. He had been in Egypt for 13 years. His arduous ordeal had put him to the test and he had passed with flying colors.

Joseph's principles for coping with the rigors of waiting are still valid today.

1. Wait alertly. During waiting periods, we should be especially sensitive to God's intentions and actions. God often uses cool-downs and waiting rooms to prepare us for something we will encounter later in life. If we are docilely folding our hands and enduring these faith-stretching times, we are wasting valuable time. We either choose to draw close to the Lord or we drift from Him.

2. Wait expectantly. When circumstances require patient endurance, the Bible is the best source of encouragement and hope. From the examples recorded in His Word, we learn that waiting is part of His plan for preparing His people. When we are in the midst of waiting, we can honestly say, "I know that God has a reason for this and He will bring me through."

3. Wait quietly and patiently. Patience is a commodity in short supply. The word most often used in Scripture for patience is a word that means to "abide under." It means that we are unwilling to surrender and collapse under trying circumstances. Abiding under has an active quality in that it indicates pressing on and not giving in; it has a passive quality often referred to as endurance. Once we have done all we can, we must also trust God to accomplish His purposes.

4. Wait realistically. God is never in a hurry. He works from and toward eternity. He will take every bit of time needed to make a person the best he or she can be. Nothing that lasts happens quickly. God is not the author of shortcuts.

5. Wait cautiously. Our natural instinct is to complain when the delay lengthens. When we test God in our waiting we have the tendency to look toward Him as a last resort, rather than a first source. We can also veer toward deliverance by our own timetable and method rather than His. We also border on preferring not to have an answer if God's answer does not agree with ours.

In the midst of waiting, we are never without hope. If you are waiting for something right now, remember that nothing is impossible with God. If God has you in a time of waiting, be sure to wait effectively. But if the time of waiting is drawing to a conclusion, be sure you are not numbed into inactivity. Be willing to step out in the boldness of faith. Remember, life's cool-down periods and waiting rooms not only have entrance doors, but exit doors as well.

What are you waiting for right now? Why is it hard to wait, and how are you trying to rely on God while you have to wait? How have you grown in the past during times of waiting?

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Excerpted from Forged by Fire: How God Shapes Those He Loves, copyright 2000 by Bob Reccord. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, Tenn., www.lifewaystores.com, 1-800-448-8032.

Bob Reccord serves as president of the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.

10/24/2007

In God We Trust


Author Unknown
FoodForThought


Several years ago, a friend of mine and her husband were invited to spend the weekend at the husband's employer's home. My friend, Arlene, was nervous about the weekend. The boss was very wealthy, with a fine home on the water-way, and cars costing more than her house. The first day and evening went well, and Arlene was delighted to have this rare glimpse into how the very wealthy live.

The husband's employer was quite generous as a host, and took them to the finest restaurants. Arlene knew she would never have the opportunity to indulge in this kind of extravagance again, so was enjoying herself immensely. As the three of them were about to enter an exclusive restaurant that evening, the boss was walking slightly ahead of Arlene and her husband.

He stopped suddenly, looking down on the pavement for a long, silent moment. Arlene wondered if she was supposed to pass him. There was nothing on the ground except a single darkened penny that someone had dropped, and a few cigarette butts.

Still silent, the man reached down and picked up the penny. He held it up and smiled, then put it in his pocket as if he had found a great treasure. How absurd! What need did this man have for a single penny? Why would he
even take the time to stop and pick it up? Throughout dinner, the entire scene nagged at her. Finally, she could stand it no longer. She causally mentioned that her daughter once had a coin collection, and asked if the penny he had found had been of some value.

A smile crept across the man's face as he reached into his pocket for the penny and held it out for her to see. She had seen many pennies before! What was the point of this? "Look at it." He said. "Read what it says." She read
the words "United States of America." "No, not that; read further." "One cent?"

"No, keep reading." "In God we Trust?" "Yes!" "And?" "And if I trust in God, the name of God is holy, even on a coin. Whenever I find a coin I see that inscription. It is written on every single United States coin, but we never
seem to notice it! God drops a message right in front of me telling me to trust Him? Who am I to pass it by? When I see a coin, I pray, I stop to see if my trust IS in God at that moment. I pick the coin up as a response to
God; that I do trust in Him. For a short time, at least, I cherish it as if it were gold. I think it is God's way of starting a conversation with me.

Lucky for me, God is patient and pennies are plentiful!

When I was out shopping today, I found a penny on the sidewalk. I stopped and picked it up, and realized that I had been worrying and fretting in my mind about things I can not change. I read the words, "In God We Trust," and had to smile. Yes, God, I get the message. It seems that I have been finding an inordinate number of pennies in the last few months, but then, pennies are plentiful!

And God is patient...

9/26/2007

Grace Greater Than All Our Sin

By Scott Wilder

I think most people who have lived long enough have regrets. For most of us, hopefully, they are about the small things, but for some they are not.

There is a sadness that settles on the soul that regrets. Grace can absolve and forgive, but in the deepest recesses of the heart, the person knows what they’ve done.

Like a body heals from an injury, but a scar remains, the soul remembers. It’s a scar that reminds a person of the grace that has been offered and received, but it also reminds a person of the ongoing need of grace.

I recently met a man who knows this well. We sat in a little church in Cambodia with other members of our mission team. His story evidenced the scars of a life that knows the grace of forgiveness. We were there to hear about this grace and about our continual need for it.

The church was a simple building on a dirt road. Every time I meet Christians in other parts of the world it’s the same. In America we like to get down to business quickly—to cut to the chase. But in other cultures, that would be deemed rude. So things take longer, and we’re better for it.

A scarred soul needs “breathing room” to tell its story. We often miss the stories because we don’t give the time. We want what we want and we want it now. But this is not the land of drive-thru’s and microwaves. This is a place where a scarred soul can breathe.

In 1975 Pol Pot led the bloody Khmer Rouge. He was a murderous thug and killed millions of people. He forced many men and boys into his army to kill his enemies. To resist was essentially siding with the enemy, and that meant death for you and your family.

Some who fought for Pol Pot fought to save themselves and their families. But fighting in the Khmer Rouge also meant killing—in some cases your own countrymen. Such was the case for Sukah, the man sitting before us in this little cement church on a dirt road in Southeast Asia.

Sukah had done unspeakable things. He’d killed men, women and children.

“Many of the people we killed were Christians,” he said. “We always looked forward to getting their Bibles because the pages were thin and good for rolling our cigarettes.”

After killing Pol Pot’s enemies, they would gather the Bibles, rip the pages out, roll their cigarettes, and enjoy a relaxing smoke. That killing can come so easy and without remorse is an awful window into the human heart.

But during this killing spree an amazing thing happened: Sukah began reading portions of the pages he ripped out of Bibles. Moreover, even though Sukah knew what he was doing was in part to save his family, he also began to realize what he’d done was evil and wrong. So evil, he thought, that even if there was a God, he could never be forgiven; he could never be clean again.

One day as he got ready to roll a cigarette using a page from a Bible that had belonged to a man he’d killed, he stopped to read the words from Isaiah 1:18: “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

Scarlet ... Red ... Rouge ... Khmer Rouge. Crimson like the blood he’d spilled, like the blood on his hands.

At that moment Sukah knew that even after all he’d done, God could still love him; he could be clean again. Even Sukah could be redeemed.

As Sukah told us his story, tears were streaming down his cheeks. Even in the hands of killers the Bible makes a difference around the world.

The next time we read Isaiah 1:18 perhaps we’ll pause for a moment and let those words breathe and remember the grace offered to us in that text. This is no cheap grace. Our sins are worthy of death and deserving of the wrath of an infinitely Holy God. But this is a grace greater than all our sin.

Dark is the stain that we cannot hide.
What can avail to wash it away?
Look! There is flowing a crimson tide,
Brighter than snow you may be today.

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.


God’s grace is able to save the worst killer, to pardon and cleanse even a man like Sukah. This is what we learned from one scarred soul in a little cement church on a dirt road in Southeast Asia.

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Scott Wilder is host of “The Scott Wilder Show,” recognized by the National Religious Broadcasters as Talk Show Host of the Year in 2004. His program is heard weekday afternoons in Dallas/Ft. Worth on The WORD 100.7FM. Contact Scott at column@wildershow.com. To join Scott sending Bibles to people around the world, go to www.wildershow.com/sendbibles.

9/23/2007

All About Repentance & Forgiveness

Asking For Forgiveness

Satan was complaining to the Lord. "You're unfair! So many sinners do wrong and you take them back. In fact, some come back half a dozen times and you always welcome them. I make one big mistake and you condemn me forever; it is unfair."

The Lord replied, "Did you ever repented and asked for forgiveness?"

- Christopher Notes


Rehabilitation, Forgiveness

A young man secretly misappropriated several hundred dollars from the business where he was employed. When the shortage was discovered, the senior partner called the young man into his office.

Immediately he knew he would be fired and sent to prison.

His employer asked the worried man if he was guilty. He replied that he was. Then the executive surprised him.

"If I keep you in your present capacity, can I trust you in the future?", he asked.

"Yes, sir, you surely can. I've learned my lesson," replied the astonished employee.

His boss must have detected the repentant man's sincerity. "I'm not going to press charges and you can continue in your present responsibility," he said. Then he added, "I think you ought to know, however, that you are the second man in this firm who succumbed to temptation but was shown leniency. I was the first. What you have done, I did. The mercy you are receiving, I received. It is only the grace of God that can keep us both."

Isn't it true that those who love best are those who know best that they are loved? Those who forgive best are those who are forgiven. Our best efforts only reflect the deep, deep love of God. But how they reflect!

- Steve Goodier in QUOTE


Rise Again

A young preacher was supposed to preach in the prison. Day after day he tried to find some message or formula that would move hard hearts.

As he entered the room, he shuddered under the gaze and stares of the crime-hardened faces. He said a silent prayer for light as he walked up to the pulpit. He stumbled on the second last step and rolled down the steps head over heels right to the floor. The audience broke out into loud laughter.

For a brief minute the young preacher felt himself hindered by pain and shame. The light he prayed for came upon him, and then suddenly he got an inspiring idea amidst the whole embarrassment.

He jumped up, moved up to the pulpit taking the steps two at a time and laughed right back at his captive audience, telling them, "Men, that's exactly why I came here today: I wanted to show you that a man can stand up again after he has fallen flat on his face."

- Willi Hoffsuemmer


False Repentance

Two neighbors had a lifelong quarrel. One of them took seriously sick. His wife called the pastor and explained to him, "Sir, my husband Pat has been fighting with our neighbor Mike for years. Pat's going to die. Can you patch up their quarrel?"

After much persuasion the pastor induced the dying Pat to call in Mike for a reconciliation. In a few minutes Mike was at the bedside. He suggested, "Let's make up, Pat. Let bygones be bygones."

Pat agreed rather reluctantly. Mike prepared to leave. As he approached the door, Pat raised himself on one elbow in bed, and shaking his other fist at Mike he shouted, "Remember, Mike, this counts only in case I die."

- Tonne


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[Luke 15:2-32]

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man [Jesus] receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. And he [Jesus] spake this parable unto them, saying, What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.

I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.

The Parable of the Lost Coin

Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost.

Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.

The Parable of the Two Sons: One Prodigal, the Other Unforgiving

And he [Jesus] said, A certain man had two sons: And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.

And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.

Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.

Change Self First

By De Mello

A great Indian mystic says this about himself: "I was a revolutionary when I was young, and all my prayer to God was: 'Lord, give me the energy to change the world.'

"As I approached middle age and realized that half my life was gone without my changing a single soul, I changed my prayer to: 'Lord, give me the grace to change all those who come into contact with me. Just my family and friends, and I shall b satisfied.'


"Now that I am an old man and my days are numbered, I have begun to see how foolish I have been. My one prayer now is: 'Lord, give me the grace to change myself.' If I had prayed for this right from the start, I should not have wasted my life."

9/18/2007

The Trial Of Faith

Author Unknown

A number of years ago, my wife and I were taken on a tour of the Rand Refinery in South Africa. There we saw gold that was 88 percent pure being heated in crucibles to 1100 degrees centigrade. It was at this extreme temperature that this gold became 99.996 percent pure, which is the purest form of gold possible. To our amazement, we learned that the last metal to be purified from gold is silver. Silver is very valuable in itself. However, it must be refined from the gold if the gold is to be totally pure.

Even in our lives, quite often the last things the Lord purifies and removes from us are those things that are very precious and good in themselves. He removes from lives those things that may be good and yet are not part of God's perfect will for us. Therefore, He asks us to lay them upon the altar before Him and to allow Him to consume them. God wants to purify our hearts so all that is left in us is His character and His faith.

The director of this refinery told us that when they boil gold at 1100 degrees, it is a very crucial moment. Refiners have to be extremely careful not to overheat gold at this temperature because gold cannot hold up under any higher temperature. That is why the refiner must sit and watch the gold while in process. He cannot just walk by and casually monitor this refining process. He must concentrate on the gold. The director went on to tell us that when the refiner can see his own image reflected in the melted shining gold, then he knows the work is finished.

This is similarly how the Lord Jesus deals with His people. He tries our faith through many fiery trials. Yet He is sitting in the heavenlies watching us ever so carefully to make sure that our crucible is not overheated, for we can be ruined if the heat of our pressures becomes too hot. Many times we think we are at our breaking point where we cannot take any more. However, the Lord says to us, "Yes, you can take a little more."

All of our trials and pressures are working for our eternal good. The Lord's image is being produced in us, and faith is being created in our hearts so that we do not trust in ourselves, but only in Him.

Another very important aspect of the trial of our faith is that there is a specific time for our trial to begin and specific time for it to come to an end. Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven." Some preachers say: "You can be healed anytime -- just have faith!" Yet the Lord spoke through Solomon and said that there is a specific "time to heal" (Eccl.3:3).

God has appointed time for everything in our lives to happen. Remember that trials have a beginning, but they also have an ending. God never leads His people into caves, He always leads them through tunnels. The reason for this is that there is always light at the end of a tunnel. All tunnels come to an opening of light at the end, whereas caves do not.

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Like the surgeon's knife that cuts and removes the part of the flesh that is corrupted, so is God's purifying fire. While it may be very painful, yet it brings healing to the whole of your being. No one can escape the chastening of the Lord, therefore do not resist but be humble instead, and submit to His refining heat.

9/17/2007

Who Can Plant the Seeds?


By Paul Wharton

A man once stole a piece of food and was ordered by the king to be hanged. When asked if he had any last words, the thief replied, "Know, o king, that I kept some seeds which when planted in the ground will grow and become mature plants overnight. It is a secret that my grandfather gave me and I thought it would be a pity if it died with me."

A time was appointed the following day for planting the seeds. The thief dug a hole and said, "These seeds can only be planted by someone who has never stolen or taken anything which did not belong to him. But since I had stolen some food, I cannot, of course, do it."

The king asked his prime minister to plant the seeds, but he hesitated and said, "Your majesty, when I was young, I recall keeping an article that did not belong to me. I cannot plant the seeds."

The treasurer, when told to plant the seeds, begged the king's pardon, saying that he may have cheated someone out of some money. The king, in his turn, recalled that once he took and kept a precious object belonging to his father.

The thief turned to them and said, "You are all mighty and powerful persons. You are not in want of anything, yet you cannot plant the seeds. Yet I, who stole a little food to stay alive, am to be hanged."

The king, pleased with the wisdom, spared the man's life.