A Restaurant, a Railroad, and a Resurrection: Theo's Story

A Restaurant, a Railroad, and a Resurrection: Theo's Story

I have a new, young friend. His name is Theo. Theo is 19 years old and special. Theo is special not just because he has a special way of thinking and seeing the world,  but because he is an amazing person.  Theo is smart, friendly, and interesting. And I like him a lot.  And I think Theo likes me too. In fact, he says I’m his favorite “Babci” (my Polish grandma name) because our grandson Evan is his best friend. 

I haven’t gotten to know Theo very well yet, but I have discovered that Theo loves people, biking, and trains. And one day around the holidays, I was offered the opportunity to experience all three with him.

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Lenten Meditation: a Word of Salvation

Lenten Meditation: a Word of Salvation

Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise. Luke 23:43

Jesus seems to have a special love for lost people.  I love the stories He tells in Luke 15.  The first is the beloved story of the shepherd who has a hundred sheep but leaves the ninety-nine to look for the one that is lost.  Then when he finds his lost one, he calls in his neighbors and friends to rejoice with him.

Read More

Lenten Meditation: a Word of Salvation

Lenten Meditation: a Word of Salvation

Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise. Luke 23:43

Jesus seems to have a special love for lost people ... This makes me think of the criminals executed with Our Lord Christ. They certainly were the lost sheep, ...the lost coins, ...the lost sons...and Jesus came to seek them.

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. Luke 19:10

They obviously had been running away from God...who knows what kind of crimes they had committed!  The Bible just calls them "criminals" [thieves, malefactors KJV].  Maybe God didn't come into their thinking...but that's the point.  They had gone their own way.

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Respecting the Holy Spirit in Other Believers...including (or maybe especially) Children

Respecting the Holy Spirit in Other Believers...including (or maybe especially) Children

During these closing weeks of the summer, many of us are focusing especially on the children in our lives. School is starting (or has already started), and we are longing for a rich year of learning, love, and acceptance...good friends, caring teachers and adults in their young, vulnerable lives. And our wish list for them and prayer list on their behalf go on and on. 

So whether a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle, teacher or caring friend, this is for you. I know it can be easy to discount or forget the glorious potential in those little lives that we love and care about.

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Jesus, I am resting, resting...or at least wanting to!

Ah! REST...what a glorious word!  I inhale and exhale deeply at just the sound of it!  And oh, how we humans need deep, glorious rest... Moms especially need it...as do dads.  Single folk need it; workers need it; retirees do too...even kids need it (although they would protest most loudly...especially after no-sleep sleepovers!).

I need it!

This is the time of the year that I begin to really drag, needing my rest!  The energy of summer has passed. (Maybe I'm really wanting to hibernate like the bears?)

But there is work to be done, students to teach, deadlines to meet, and of course, grandsons to love on...

So let me say it again -- we humans ALL (especially this writer!) need deep, glorious rest...no matter what our role in life.  And we need rest, not just for our bodies, but for our souls most of all!

I don't know about you, but I am going to the only Place I know to go for the rest I need...and that place is my Lord Jesus Christ!  HE is Rest!  I'm responding to His gracious invitation,

2 chairs...resting

2 chairs...resting

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30 NASB

We can receive eternal, spiritual rest as we come to Jesus and receive eternal life as a free gift. We don't work to exhaustion for it (through good works, religious or otherwise) but embrace it for the taking when we come to Him who is our rest.

And we believers who are burdened and work to exhaustion can also findanapausis (RESTin Greek). But this is not just the "take a nap" kind of rest...it goes much deeper:

In Matthew 11:28-29, the Lord promises "anapausis" (inner tranquility) to the weary and heavy laden who come to HIM while they are engaged in necessary labor. Spiro Zodiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary, New Testament, p. 156

Isn't that good news, dear friend? Even when we cannot take a break from our duties, we can have inner tranquility because of our relationship with our Lord Christ.

And there's an interesting emphasis in that short phrase, Come to Me, in the original Greek.  Literally, Jesus says,

HERE (Hither, KJV)...to ME!

That's right, the word COME isn't found in the original!  It's just implied...and I think, for a reason.

I picture Jesus Himself beckoning to the battered and beleaguered crowd of ordinary people following Him.  He points to HIMSELF as the source of spiritual rest:  HERE...to ME...for rest!

The religious rulers, who hounded them, burdened them with duties above and beyond what God required.  Jesus, on the other hand, joins (yokes) Himself to His people to give them rest on every level.  So in a sense, He says,

Don't go to THEM! HERE...to ME!

And the same is true for you and me, dear friend.  What is hounding and harassing you?

Is it the pressures of mothering? ...the stress of financial needs? ...the guilt of not being spiritual enough: reading the Bible, praying enough? ...the confusion and grief of relational rifts? ...the concern for struggling/straying loved ones? ...the fatigue/uncertainties of your job? ...struggles with ill health? ______[fill in the blank]______?

In every situation and in every stage of life on this earth, He Himself is our Rest. Join me in responding to His invitation:   HERE...to ME!

yoked animals

yoked animals

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly. Matthew 11:28-30 MSG

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Suggestions for your COMING...from the mundane to the sublime [and I am practicing what I preach :) ]

Play instrumental hymns/praise/classical music softly in the background all day.  It's amazing how the music sets a peaceful atmosphere.  This is one of my favorite things to do when I'm home...keeping my music softly playing all day!

Memorize and recite often Psalm 23.  This is especially good when falling asleep or waking in the middle of the night! Visualize the scene, and let the peace of your Shepherd wash over you!

Take a break from social media for a period of time...however the Lord leads.  Call it a fast if you like and slow down the inner craziness to focus on the Lord.  Maybe just fast from it each day until after you meet with the Lord :) And if you are a blogger and hit bloggers block, let it be for awhile until the Lord breaks through with something fresh :)

Moms...get up earlier than your children, even if that means putting the coffee pot in the garage to brew (my son as a toddler/preschooler would wake up within 15 minutes of brewing my morning Joe).  Have your Bible, journal, devotional, &/or hymnbook in a handy spot.  And commune with your God...COME to HIM for your anapausis (rest while you go about your needful work) for your day! If little people do interrupt your time, let them join you...with their own Bible and journal :)

Home-school moms...when I was homeschooling and hit exhaustion, I would "take to my bed" for a whole day... homeschooling my son and daughter from the place of rest (my bed!).  They were a bit older and worked well on their own.  So I'd give them assignments, read with them, checked work (or have them check their own) etc. with them sitting next to me on the bed.  Then they would go off to complete assignments on their own.  Trust me, it really worked.  Then I'd be refreshed to continue on normally the next school-day!

Singthis wonderful hymn...focusing on the words to help in focusing on the Lord:

Jesus! I am resting, resting In the joy of what Thou art; I am finding out the greatness Of Thy loving heart.

Thou hast bid me gaze upon Thee, And Thy beauty fills my soul, For, by Thy transforming power, Thou hast made me whole.

Jesus! I am resting, resting In the joy of what Thou art; I am finding out the greatness Of Thy loving heart.

Oh, how great Thy loving kindness, Vaster, broader than the sea: Oh, how marvelous Thy goodness, Lavished all on me!

Yes, I rest in Thee, Beloved, Know what wealth of grace is Thine, Know Thy certainty of promise, And have made it mine.

Simply trusting Thee, Lord Jesus, I behold Thee as Thou art, And Thy love, so pure, so changeless, Satisfies my heart,

Satisfies its deepest longings, Meets, supplies its every need, Compasseth me round with blessings, Thine is love indeed.

Ever lift Thy face upon me, As I work and wait for Thee; Resting 'neath Thy smile, Lord Jesus, Earth's dark shadows flee.

Brightness of my Father's glory, Sunshine of my Father's face, Keep me ever trusting, resting, Fill me with Thy grace.

The Beauty of the Incomparable Christ...the Son of Man (Hebrews 2:5-18)

Incarnation
Incarnation

CS Lewis calls the Incarnation "The Grand Miracle."

The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation...God became Man.  Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this….it was the central event in the history of the Earth–the very thing the whole story has been about. Miracles, “The Grand Miracle,” C.S. Lewis

In chapter 2 of Hebrews, we continue the thought that Jesus Christ is better than the angels...not just because He's the Son of GOD, but because He's the Son of MAN.  What an incredibly important truth for fallen man!

Our destiny that was lost (Hebrews 2:5-8) is now regained in the God-Man Jesus Christ (Hebrews 2:9-18).  Here are a couple suggestions for your study of this passage:

  • Go through Hebrews 2:9-18 and see if you can give 5 descriptions of Jesus as our God-Man.  They are listed for you below,* but why not try them on your own first.
  • Spend time reflecting on how your Great High Priest has come to your aid in the past and how you need Him to come to your aid today.  Praise and pray!

*Descriptions of Jesus Christ, the God-Man:

1.  He is my Substitute (2:9)

2.  He is my Savior (2:10-11a)

3.  He is my Brother (2:11b-14a)

4.  He is my Deliverer (2:14b-15)

5.  He is my Helper / High Priest (2:16-18)

The Rest of the Gospel: Welcome to the Summer Book Club & the Gates (ch 1)

Welcome to our first ever Summer Book Club here at A Branch in the Vine! Thank you for joining us in the study of The Rest of the Gospel: When the Partial Gospel has Worn You Out, by Dan Stone and David Gregory.

My prayer is that we will all come to experience to a greater depth the truth of the key verse of our study: Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27)...that is, our only hope that the glory of God will be manifest in our lives right now on this earth...not just when we get to heaven!

Through His grace and revelation, may each of us be set free from our religious self-effort and Christian "to do lists."  And may we consent to His living His indwelling, abundant, resurrection life in and through us, as us, all to the praise of His glory!

So let's get started!  Here's the plan if you follow along with us here at A Branch in the Vine:

  • 2-4 chapters a week (I'll let you know which ones)
  • Read the chapters.  I'll post study questions for each of the chapters.  You can just read and think through them or answer any or all of them in a journal or notebook.
  • I'll post some thoughts, quotes, songs, other books/readings etc. as we go along.
  • Then we'll start again the next week...it's that easy.

Please feel free to post your comments, personal applications, questions, insights, etc in the comment section below...they don't have to be profound.  The simple, straight-forward truths are the best!

So here we go!

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Chapter 1  The Gates

Key verse:   For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.  Matthew 7:14 NASB

Key Question: Where is the life? I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.  John 10:10

Read the Preface and the first chapter.  Then answer the following questions:

1.  Have you gone through the first gate -- the gate of salvation?  Do you know you are a child of God and your sins are forgiven? Click here to read my journey through that gate (plus a few others). You can also learn what it means to be saved.

2. What "externals" were life to you before walking through the salvation gate?

3.  What "externals" are life to you now that you are a Christian?  How do you draw life from these externals now?

4.  Have you walked through any other gates since salvation?  How would you describe each of them?  What externals did you shed in the process?  What did you gain by walking through?

5.  What would your life be like if you were an internal person rather than an external person?

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Here are more extensive study questions by the authors.  I've enjoyed going through every question and writing out my answers in a notebook.  Most of the answers are right within the text, except for personal application questions.

PREFACE

1. What would you say is Dan Stone’s main purpose in writing this book?

2. Why do most Christian books run the risk of being man-centered? How is that problem avoided?

3. What is the Father’s overarching plan throughout the ages?

4. What does “Christ in you” have to do with this plan?

5. What effect does it have on our lives to know that we exist for God’s glory? This being the case, how might God want your life to change?

6. In what sense was the cross God’s work on His own behalf? What is the result of Christ’s work on the cross?

7. How does God want us to cooperate with Him in that result?

CHAPTER 1: THE GATES

1. What is the difference between being an external person and being an internal person (p. 16)?

2. Why can we not experience all that God has for us as long as we are holding onto externals?

3. What does it mean for us to, in Dan’s words, take off our outer garments and shed an external? What does that look like?

4. Why did Dan's choosing to thank God in everything open the door for God’s work in his life?

5. What was it about Norman Grubb’s message that Dan had never heard before? Why was this different from what he had been previously taught?

6. Tell the group your own story of the “gates.” What externals were you holding onto before you came to Christ? What externals were you still holding onto after you came to Christ? What process has God taken you through to lay down some of those externals?

7. What externals are you still holding onto instead of trusting Christ fully as life?

8. What is it that Christ wants to do through you? What does that mean to you?

Lenten Meditation: a Word of Salvation

repentent thief
repentent thief
lost sheep
lost sheep

Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise. Luke 23:43Jesus seems to have a special love for lost people.  I love the stories He tells in Luke 15.  The first is the beloved story of the shepherd who has a hundred sheep but leaves the ninety-nine to look for the one that is lost.  Then when he finds his lost one, he calls in his neighbors and friends to rejoice with him.

lost coin
lost coin

The second story is of a woman who has 10 coins but loses one.  She is so distraught that she searches high and low for it.  When she finds the coin, she calls in her neighbors to rejoice with her.

prodigal son
prodigal son

The last story is of a father who had two sons.  One of the sons decided to go his merry way, away from his father's love and provision. The son then squandered his inheritance with loose living in the far country.  The father never stopped watching for and longing for his beloved son.  So when the lost son finally came home, his father threw a party so all could rejoice with him.

At the end of each of these stories, Jesus says,

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent...I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents...we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.

Jesus & 2 thieves
Jesus & 2 thieves

This makes me think of the criminals executed with Our Lord Christ. They certainly were the lost sheep, ...the lost coins, ...the lost sons...and Jesus came to seek them.

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. Luke 19:10

They obviously had been running away from God...who knows what kind of crimes they had committed!  The Bible just calls them "criminals" [thieves, malefactors KJV].  Maybe God didn't come into their thinking...but that's the point.  They had gone their own way.

But here is an incredible thought:

Of all the possible condemned criminals in the Roman world (and there were many!)... through all the centuries that Rome practiced the cruel punishment of crucifixion... God in His sovereignty placed those two, side by side...with the SON OF GOD!

Jesus & the good thief
Jesus & the good thief

And this, at the time of the victorious Crisis of the Ages -- the redemptive death and resurrection of Christ!  Hardly a coincidence!

But of the two hanging there next to the Son of God, only one was saved! What made the difference?

They each perhaps heard Jesus' "Father, forgive them..." but only one responded in repentance and faith:

Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left...

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly ["we are sinners"], for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong ["He is the sinless Messiah"].”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Luke 23:32-42

Look at our Lord's response:

Truly I say to you, TODAY you will be with ME in Paradise [heaven]. Luke 23:43

So one desperate, believing lost one was found...captured by the seeking, pursuing Lover of Sinners!

We are not unlike these criminals (or the straying sheep, the lost coin, or the prodigal son, for that matter)...

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:6

We all go our own way -- wandering off and needing God's rescue.  And we're all faced with a choice (as these two criminals were), God's salvation or our own.  Yes, even as believers, "saved ones."

The Divine Pursuer is always on a "Rescue Mission"...sovereignly orchestrating our circumstances (as He did for the thieves on the cross) so we can encounter HIM in new and life-giving ways.  He rescues us from our self-centered attitudes and ways of doing life [SIN].

As C.S. Lewis once said,

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.   C.S. Lewis

Where in your life today, dear friend, is the Divine Pursuer seeking you out, perhaps even shouting at you? Is it in your relationships? ...in your finances? ...in your attitudes and thought life? ...in your health? ...in the health crises of loved ones? ...in _______[fill in the blank]_____?

Call out to HIM in your distress...TODAY!

For God says, "At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you." Indeed, the "right time" is now. Today is the day of salvation. 2Cor 6:2

Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. Romans 10:17

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Listen, view, and reflect on our suffering Savior [with scenes from The Passion of the Christ]:

jesus with crown of thorns
jesus with crown of thorns

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down, now scornfully surrounded with thorns, thine only crown: how pale thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn! How does that visage languish which once was bright as morn!

What thou, my Lord, has suffered was all for sinners' gain; mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain. Lo, here I fall, my Savior! 'Tis I deserve thy place; look on me with thy favor, vouchsafe to me thy grace.

What language shall I borrow to thank thee, dearest friend, for this thy dying sorrow, thy pity without end? O make me thine forever; and should I fainting be, Lord, let me never, never outlive my love for thee.


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reading the Bible
reading the Bible

Bible Students:

Salvation is much more than just going to heaven when we die...and just doing the best we can in the meantime.Salvation is the NT Greek word sozo.  In its broadest sense, sozo means "to save, to deliver, to preserve safe from danger, loss, destruction, to make whole."

The Bible uses the word salvation in three tenses:

  1. past = I have been saved from the penalty of sin. (Eph 2:8; Titus 3:5)
  2. present = I am being saved from the power of sin. (Rom 6:14; Gal 2:19,20)
  3. future = I will be saved from the presence of sin. (Rom 5:9,10; 8:18-24)

Spiro Zodiates summarizes it this way:

Salvation of the soul is deliverance from death unto life through Christ (John 6:56-57; 14:20; Rom 6:7,11; 1Cor 1:30; 9:1.2; 2Cor 5:17; Eph 2:13). The believing sinner receives the spiritual life of a new nature from God (2Pet 1:4) and is freed from the power of sin (spiritual death) while having to endure its presence until the resurrection.  Deliverance of the body will occur at the resurrection when an entire creation will also be renovated (Rom 8:21-23).  The Complete Word Study Dictionary

Another way to look at salvation is through Ephesian 2:*

  1. I am saved from__________________________ (vs 4-5).  See also Rom 6:23.
  2. I am saved by________________________ through __________________ (vs 8-9)
  3. I am saved for_______________________(vs 10).

Hebrews 2:5-18 -- The Beauty of the Incomparable Christ...the Son of Man

CS Lewis calls the Incarnation "The Grand Miracle."

The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation...God became Man.  Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this….it was the central event in the history of the Earth–the very thing the whole story has been about. Miracles, “The Grand Miracle,” C.S. Lewis

In chapter 2 of Hebrews, we continue the thought that Jesus Christ is better than the angels...not just because He's the Son of GOD, but because He's the Son of MAN.  What an incredibly important truth for fallen man!

Our destiny that was lost (Hebrews 2:5-8) is now regained in the God-Man Jesus Christ (Hebrews 2:9-18).  Here are 3 suggestions for your study of this passage:

  • Play and read through the lyrics of your favorite Christmas carol or enjoy the one below.  Take 2 colored pencils and mark in one color, references to Jesus as God and in another color, references to Jesus as Man.  If you are really ambitious, do the Bible study associated with each line.
  • Go through Hebrews 2:9-18 and see if you can give 5 descriptions of Jesus as our God-Man.  They are listed for you below,* but why not try them on your own first.
  • Spend time reflecting on how your Great High Priest has come to your aid in the past and how you need Him to come to your aid today.  Praise and pray!

Homework --   Read Hebrews 3:1-4:13 Answer questions in Hoping for Something Better, p. 190-192 Read chapter 3, p. 37-53, Hoping…

Hark!  The Herald Angels Sing!

Hark!  The herald angels sing,        Luke 2:13 “Glory to the newborn King!            Luke 2:14 Peace on earth and mercy mild,      Luke 2:14 God and sinners reconciled.”   Luke 2 :14; Rom 5:8-11; II Cor 5:18-19 Joyful, all ye nations rise,                 Luke 2:10; Luke 2:32 Join the triumph of the skies; With angelic host proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem.            Luke 2:11 Hark!  The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ by highest heaven adored;    John 17:23-26; 15:9; 3:35; Matthew 3:17 Christ the everlasting Lord!              Luke 2:11 Late in time behold Him come,        Galatians 4:4 Offspring of a Virgin’s womb.           Isaiah 7:14; Luke 1:34,35; Galatians 4:4 Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;       Hebrews 10:20; Romans 8:3; John 1:14 Hail the incarnate Deity.            Colossians 2:9 Pleased as man with man to dwell, Philippians 2:5-8 Jesus, our Emmanuel                   Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23; Matthew 1:21,25 Hark!  The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!  John 1:14; Isaiah 9:6 Hail the Son of Righteousness!               Malachi 4:2 Light and life to all He brings,       John 6:35, 8:12, 10:2, 10:11, 11:25, 14:6, 15:5 Ris’n with healing in His wings.             Malachi 4:2 Mild He lays His glory by,                       Philippians 2:5-8 Born that man no more may die            John 3:16; 1John 4:9, 3:2 Born to raise the sons of earth;  I Corinthians 15:20-28, 35-49; Philippians 3:20-21 Born to give them second birth. Hark!  The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

Words: Charles Wesley (1707-88), George Whitfield (1714-70), Music: Mendelssohn, from a chorus by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-47), adapted by William H. Cummings

 

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TiP6HtIaJ70[/youtube]

 

For the story behind the carol, click HERE

 

Just for fun...a story and a song.  We closed with this in our group this week :)

A Cake and a Savior:  Welcome to our World

 

 

 

 

*Descriptions of Jesus Christ, the God-Man:

1.  He is my Substitute (2:9)

2.  He is my Savior (2:10-11a)

3.  He is my Brother (2:11b-14a)

4.  He is my Deliverer (2:14b-15)

5.  He is my Helper / High Priest (2:16-18)

Lenten Meditation: a Word of Salvation*

Jesus, thief
Jesus, thief

Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise. Luke 23:43

lost sheep
lost sheep

Jesus seems to have a special love for lost people.  I love the stories He tells in Luke 15.  The first is the beloved story of the shepherd who has a hundred sheep but leaves the ninety-nine to look for the one that is lost.  Then when he finds his lost one, he calls in his neighbors and friends to rejoice with him.

lost coin
lost coin

The second story is of a woman who has 10 coins but loses one.  She is so distraught that she searches high and low for it.  When she finds the coin, she calls in her neighbors to rejoice with her.

prodigal son
prodigal son

The last story is of a father who had two sons.  One of the sons decided to go his merry way, away from his father's love and provision. The son then squandered his inheritance with loose living in the far country.  The father never stopped watching for and longing for his beloved son.  So when the lost son finally came home, his father threw a party so all could rejoice with him.

At the end of each of these stories, Jesus says,

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent...I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents...we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.

Jesus & 2 thieves
Jesus & 2 thieves

This makes me think of the criminals executed with Our Lord Christ. They certainly were the lost sheep, ...the lost coins, ...the lost sons...and Jesus came to seek them.

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. Luke 19:10

They obviously had been running away from God...who knows what kind of crimes they had committed!  The Bible just calls them "criminals" [thieves, malefactors KJV].  Maybe God didn't come into their thinking...but that's the point.  They had gone their own way.

But here is an incredible thought:

Of all the possible condemned criminals in the Roman world (and there were many!)... through all the centuries that Rome practiced the cruel punishment of crucifixion... God in His sovereignty placed those two, side by side...with the SON OF GOD!

Jesus & the good thief
Jesus & the good thief

And this, at the time of the victorious Crisis of the Ages -- the redemptive death and resurrection of Christ!  Hardly a coincidence!

But of the two hanging there next to the Son of God, only one was saved! What made the difference?

They each perhaps heard Jesus' "Father, forgive them..." but only one responded in repentance and faith:

Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left...

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly ["we are sinners"], for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong ["He is the sinless Messiah"].”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Luke 23:32-42

Look at our Lord's response:

Truly I say to you, TODAY you will be with ME in Paradise [heaven]. Luke 23:43

So one desperate, believing lost one was found...captured by the seeking, pursuing Lover of Sinners!

We are not unlike these criminals (or the straying sheep, the lost coin, or the prodigal son, for that matter)...

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:6

We all go our own way -- wandering off and needing God's rescue.  And we're all faced with a choice (as these two criminals were), God's salvation or our own.  Yes, even as believers, "saved ones."

The Divine Pursuer is always on a "Rescue Mission"...sovereignly orchestrating our circumstances (as He did for the thieves on the cross) so we can encounter HIM in new and life-giving ways.  He rescues us from our self-centered attitudes and ways of doing life [SIN].

As C.S. Lewis once said,

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.   C.S. Lewis

Where in your life today, dear friend, is the Divine Pursuer seeking you out, perhaps even shouting at you? Is it in your relationships? ...in your finances? ...in your attitudes and thought life? ...in your health? ...in the health crises of loved ones? ...in _______[fill in the blank]_____?

Call out to HIM in your distress...TODAY!

For God says, "At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you." Indeed, the "right time" is now. Today is the day of salvation. 2Cor 6:2

Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. Romans 10:17

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Listen, view, and reflect on our suffering Savior [with scenes from The Passion of the Christ]:

jesus with crown of thorns
jesus with crown of thorns

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down, now scornfully surrounded with thorns, thine only crown: how pale thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn! How does that visage languish which once was bright as morn!

What thou, my Lord, has suffered was all for sinners' gain; mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain. Lo, here I fall, my Savior! 'Tis I deserve thy place; look on me with thy favor, vouchsafe to me thy grace.

What language shall I borrow to thank thee, dearest friend, for this thy dying sorrow, thy pity without end? O make me thine forever; and should I fainting be, Lord, let me never, never outlive my love for thee.


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reading the Bible
reading the Bible

Bible Students:

Salvation is much more than just going to heaven when we die...and just doing the best we can in the meantime.Salvation is the NT Greek word sozo.  In its broadest sense, sozo means "to save, to deliver, to preserve safe from danger, loss, destruction, to make whole."

The Bible uses the word salvation in three tenses:

  1. past = I have been saved from the penalty of sin. (Eph 2:8; Titus 3:5)
  2. present = I am being saved from the power of sin. (Rom 6:14; Gal 2:19,20)
  3. future = I will be saved from the presence of sin. (Rom 5:9,10; 8:18-24)

Spiro Zodiates summarizes it this way:

Salvation of the soul is deliverance from death unto life through Christ (John 6:56-57; 14:20; Rom 6:7,11; 1Cor 1:30; 9:1.2; 2Cor 5:17; Eph 2:13). The believing sinner receives the spiritual life of a new nature from God (2Pet 1:4) and is freed from the power of sin (spiritual death) while having to endure its presence until the resurrection.  Deliverance of the body will occur at the resurrection when an entire creation will also be renovated (Rom 8:21-23).  The Complete Word Study Dictionary

Another way to look at salvation is through Ephesian 2:*

  1. I am saved from__________________________ (vs 4-5).  See also Rom 6:23.
  2. I am saved by________________________ through __________________ (vs 8-9)
  3. I am saved for_______________________(vs 10).

*Thank you to my friends at Abiding Christ Church for the title and additional thoughts to the Bible study section.

More "Moi Joy" -- a Response

Many of you have read my December post on what the Lord is doing among the Moi people of Papua, Indonesia through the Browns and other New Tribes missionaries. This week I received a response to that post from a dear family friend, Ron Hoffman.  Ron and his wife Eileen are themselves retired missionaries.  Ron was moved, after reading Rich's story, to share his meditations.

You may want to take a peek at Rich Brown's post to refresh your memory.  Then read and be encouraged by Ron's inspiring devotional response:

After reading the Browns’ experience with the Moi People, my mind went to the Apostle Paul when he visited the city of Corinth. Here was a city known to be without the true God.  It was common to hear at the time that when one was self-indulgent and controlled by sensuality, he was said to be “living like a Corinthian.”

When Paul began preaching at Corinth, the Lord spoke to him in a vision one night,

Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.  For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city. Acts 18:9, 10 NIV

As with the Browns, Paul was seeking to “see a church born from ashes.”  Apparently, fear that this might not happen crept into Paul’s life.   The Lord was reminding Paul that it was His Church and His people.  Paul’s responsibility was to present the Gospel, and it was the Holy Spirit who would bring the Corinthians to salvation.  The results – Paul stayed a year and a half teaching the Word of God as the church continued to grow.

Isn’t it wonderful to realize that the Lord is still bringing people to Himself from all over the world through men and women like the Browns?  We all agree with Rich in speaking about our part in this process:

"He desired to use people like me, who are naturally selfish and unloving to show the Moi His entirely selfless and loving Son. The plan really didn’t make sense, but strength being made perfect in weakness is a foreign concept anyway.”

The thrilling results of their ministry encourage all of us.  It is wonderful to hear,

“I am totally overwhelmed…I thank you, I praise you Creator.”

And, this is from a man who all his life lived in a society “full of fear, hate, and treachery” one that had “frequent sickness and homicides” and “had lost all knowledge of God.”  Then we hear that not only do the Moi believers call out “Thank you Creator!” and “Praise you Creator!” but also have written countless songs of praise and thanksgiving.

These words of praise invite us to visit the future scene in Heaven found in Revelation 4 and 5.  As we cast our crowns before God, all believers will be exclaiming:

You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you have created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being…You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation…worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise…To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power forever and ever. Rev. 4:11; 5:9, 12, 13 NIV

Isn’t it exciting?  We might be standing next to a Moi as we experience this ultimate praise service!

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Ron shares his own story:

Ministry did not begin for me until later in life.  I was raised in a somewhat religious home but did not trust Christ as Savior until I was 20 years old at a religious retreat in Berchtesgaden, Germany while serving in the U. S. Army.

Ten years later, after marrying my wife, Eileen, and as a father of Tim and Sharon, I was called by the Lord to get further Bible training at Moody Bible Institute.  At that time, a friendship was nurtured from a one-time meeting in PA with John and Jan Loyd.

Ron & Eileen Hoffman
Ron & Eileen Hoffman

After graduation from Moody Bible Institute in 1976, we began ministry with American Missionary Fellowship – locating in S IL as Area Missionaries to local rural churches andCamp WE WO SE JE.  In 1992 – locating near Nashville TN - we began ministry as a Regional Director with AMF.  This involved leadership with AMF missionaries in 7 Mid South states. Our son and family continued the ministry in S IL and at Camp WE WO SE JE.

Since retiring in 2007 from the Regional Director position, Eileen and I have enjoyed visiting with family and friends in TN and IL.  I also enjoy writing, assisting in camping ministries, woodworking, gardening and home improvement projects.

Ron Hoffman 1/22/12

"Moi" Joy!

I'm so excited to share this story with you.   Some of you may have read my Christmas post MEGA-JOY.  Well, here is a real life sequel...with all the drama and joy of a present day coming of Emmanuel. Rich Brown (my first "guest branch") is our real life storyteller.  He and his wife Karen, along with their sweet daughters Atalee, Alyssa, and Ashlynn, are church planters with New Tribes Mission among the Moi people of Papua, Indonesia.  After years of seeming fruitlessness, the Lord has brought forth an amazing harvest of new believers among the Moi.

Now that the frenzy of Christmas shopping and wrapping and unwrapping is over, take a few moments to read Rich's account of this incredible work of God.  And be sure to witness the joy and thanksgiving that broke through for one man at the moment of salvation (shown in the video at the end).

Rich speaking:

What would it be like if you were born among a small people group of 1000 surrounded by beautiful jungle covered mountains?  Doesn’t sound too bad, maybe.  Well, what if the 1000 people you lived among were full of fear, hate, and treachery?  What initially might have sounded like a romantic setting suddenly becomes dark and oppressive.  This is the setting that the Moi people were born into.

Before the year 2000 the Moi were totally untouched and unknown by the outside world.  They were literally stuck in time; living just like their ancestors from centuries before.  Death was all too real with an infant mortality rate of 75%.  If they managed to be the one in four that survived childhood they likely weren’t going to live long because of frequent sickness and homicide.   Their world was sad. What makes their story even more heart wrenching is the fact that they were not just victims of circumstance, but rather, reapers of what they and their ancestors before them had sown.  They lost all knowledge of God.  In fact they did not even have a name for God, fearing only the evil spirits.  Their ancestors had followed after a course that led to a hopeless eternity from God.  All the generations that followed had also fallen headlong into the depths of a world without the knowledge of God.

Romans 1 so clearly shows this downward spiral mankind is on.  We, like the Moi, had chosen a path 180 degrees from Him.  In Romans 1:21 it says, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” The desire to worship and thank God had been lost.  Although man did not seek God, He in His goodness had sought man.  He promised a Deliverer through Eve and many generations later that promise was fulfilled through His Son, Jesus.  After Jesus presented himself as a perfect sacrifice for mankind through his death, he rose from the dead three days later.  In His final words on earth he sent his followers to share the Good News about Him to all mankind.  He had made a way for people who were lost in their sins and blinded by Satan, the ruler of this present darkness, to be freed once and for all.  Hebrews 2:14b-15 says, “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”

In God’s goodness and love He had a plan for bringing the Moi people back to Himself.  For hundreds of years God had been looking down at this people group, with their own distinct language and culture, desiring that they might know Him.  Yet the Moi continued to live as they had for centuries without the knowledge of God.

Romans 10:14 says, “But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?

Before we were ever born God knew who would go and tell the Moi.

He would use a total of four different families to reach this small people group.  He desired to use people like me, who are naturally selfish and unloving to show the Moi His entirely selfless and loving Son.  The plan really didn’t make sense, but strength being made perfect in weakness is a foreign concept anyway.

In June of 2000 three families, with New Tribes Mission, left their relatives and homes to live among the newly discovered Moi people.  Supported by a network of believers around the world they intended to see a church born from ashes.

They began the long process of learning the language and culture of the Moi so when God’s Word was finally taught it would speak to their hearts.  Day in and day out they were salt and light to the Moi.  Medical care was one of the means of showing God’s love and compassion.  Sadly, only three years after living among the Moi, one of the families had to leave for health reasons.  In August 2005 we joined the team.  By this time the Moi language had been analyzed and reduced to writing.  Chronological Bible teaching lessons were being developed into Moi and accompanying scripture portions were being translated.  We actually had to come up with a name for God since they didn’t have one.  Taking the verb “anegite”, to create, we made the name, “Anegitemee”, the Creator.  It literally meant, “the one who creates”.

Finally, after years of hard work the time had come to present the truth about the Creator.  None of the Moi knew who this “Creator” was, but eight of the Moi were curious enough to find out.  For seven weeks they sat through the teaching.  Listening to nine lessons a week they were taken from Creation to Christ.  They were blown away by power and majesty of the Creator.  He was so powerful he could speak the worlds into existence and yet so loving He would walk in the garden with Adam and Eve, the pinnacle of His creation.

The faith of the eight who would believe continued to grow.  As they intently listened to the unfolding of God’s plan they saw His awesome power not only displayed in creation, but also in judgment of sin.  He wiped out the world with a flood and saved the eight who believed in Him.  He set a bow in the sky as a promise to never again destroy the world by flood.  They learned for the first time that the rainbow wasn’t an evil spirit’s walking stick, as they had always heard.  Right after the lessons on Noah and the flood, as we were leaving the small schoolhouse, we looked up and saw a beautiful rainbow.  The Moi for the first time in their history spoke words of praise and thanksgiving, “Thank you Creator!  It is a sign of your promise.  Praise you Creator!”

That day marked the first day where words of praise and thanksgiving were finally given to the one to whom all praise and thanksgiving are due.

A few weeks later the first eight of the Moi understood and believed in the substitutionary death of Jesus on their behalf.  He was their spotless lamb who had taken away their sins.  They were forgiven.  It was fitting that the Creator would make them into new creations in Christ.  They were never the same.

God used those first eight Moi believers to turn their world upside down.  They were radically changed by “The Creator’s Talk”.  From the testimony of their changed lives the Moi church has grown from eight to more than 120 believers.  The believers have written countless songs of praise and thanksgiving.

It says in Psalm 107:22, And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of JOY!

Here is Mbanapeoma’s testimony only moments after understanding and believing what Christ had done for him on the cross.  Notice his first ever words of praise and thanksgiving given to Him who alone is worthy.  Praise you Creator God!

If you would like to contact Rich and Karen and learn more about their lives and ministry among the Moi, please visit Rich's blog.

To read a response by Ron Hoffman, an AMF missionary...

6--brown_family
6--brown_family

URGENT PRAYER NEED for the Moi: Rich received word that there's a tribal war going on right now.  It's possible that some of the new Moi believers may have been killed in that war. Isn't it amazing to think that some of those who not long ago were in darkness and without God could now be in the arms of their Savior! Read Rich's Christmas letter to learn more...but above all, please PRAY!!!!!