Do We Take The Bible for Granted?

 

 

Oh, how I love your instructions! I think about them all day long.” – Psalm 119:97.

The Bible is a one-of-a-kind book in many ways. It has impacted the countries and people all over the world ever since it was written. Reading it can leave you inspired, amazed, horrified, and challenged. The Bible is not just any old book that was written centuries ago and as a result, is no longer relevant today.  It is the inspired word of God. It is amazing just how much these texts are still immensely convicting and practical even though they are thousands of years old. It was written by 40 men from 3 continents over the course of 1,500 years yet is without contradiction. It is “alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” (Hebrews 4:12.)  

Every time that you read the Bible, God can speak to you and touch you in a new way. Our Bible is always there almost at arms reach for a lot of us and yes we do sometimes view our reading of it as a duty. It begs the question, do we take the Bible for granted?   

Last week, we looked at individuals and groups of people that have suffered for the gospel of Jesus Christ. When researching for those devotionals I came across a video of a group of Chinese believers who opened a suitcase that was full of Bibles (see video) Their expressions and emotions are like those you’d expect from people who had lost their children and had finally found them again, or maybe like those who escaped a life and death situation. No, their joy was a result of receiving their first Bible in a country where Bibles are illegal. A woman says, “this is what we needed most.” Before they received this suitcase they had a community Bible. They would tear out sections and pass them out so everyone would have a part of God’s Word.  Now they each have their own Bible and they are ecstatic. 

After watching these dear brothers and sisters hold their very own Bible for the first time, you have to pause for a second and do a Bible inventory. If we gathered all the Bibles in the house it would probably number well above 10. We probably have several versions including a children’s version, the ESV, NIV, and NLT,  and maybe a large type version because our eyes are not as good as they used to be. And then we need to add another 10 or more digital versions that are readily available on any device. 

So here’s the question I asked myself. If I have say 12 Bibles at home do I get 12 times as excited as they are? That may not be possible but taking the Word of God for granted is very possible. Am I more passionate about things that don’t really matter long term than I am for God’s Word?  The Psalmist reminds us “Turn my eyes from worthless things, and give me life through your word.” (Psalm 119:37)

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you take God’s Word for granted sometimes?  
  2. What can we do this week to ensure we don’t take God’s Word for granted? 

Thoughts On The Subject Of Materialism

“Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you. Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. Your gold and silver are corroded. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh like fire. This corroded treasure you have hoarded will testify against you on the day of judgment. For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.” — James 5:1-4.  

It might have been a good thing to give you some type of warning before I hit you with James’ harsh condemnation of greedy rich people. It is certainly not the typical way to start a devotional. In chapter 5, James continues his thoughts from Chapter 4 where he is talking about how some people trust in their arrogance, and make their own plans which do not include the Lord. James speaks about those who trust in their riches instead of in God. Not only do they trust in their riches, but they have obtained their riches at the expense of others.  

James 5 echos Matthew 6 where Jesus is teaching about prioritizing eternal things over earthly treasures. James is warning the rich new believers who aren’t using their resources for the glory of God. The question is what constitutes rich. When we hear the word “rich” we think of Bill Gates or Warren Buffett; the people who buy jets and yachts costing $100 million each. But many of us are rich as well. We live in a nation of abundance. We live in a house, drive a car, and have money in the bank. That alone puts us in the top 5 percent of the world’s wealthy. But James is telling us that money is not the issue. 

The heart is the issue. Matthew 6:21 says “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” Money is not the problem. We all have to have money to live and support our families. It’s not a sin to be wealthy. You see in verse 4 that James is talking to the rich who have exploited their employees to put more money in their own pockets. These verses in James redirect my heart to prioritize what really matters. People matter. People matter to God so they matter to us. Materialism and the material things we desire don’t matter. When I prioritize people in my mind and heart, money issues fade into the background. Helping people and changing hearts is what we should be pursuing not things.   

 Jesus is better than the perfectly decorated house, or a full closet, a fulfilled wishlist, an unlimited budget, or a substantial bank account. The material things we accumulate will fade and disappear one day. As Charles Studd sais, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What did you think of James words when you read them?  
  2. What can we do this week to prioritize people over possessions?  

Seek First What Matters Most

“For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return.“ – Philippians 1:10. 

During the Coronavirus, I realized how much I enjoy and miss one to one, face-to-face meetings. Face-to-face communication allows for open and heartfelt conversation: but intentional conversation not only requires speaking openly, but it also requires me to set aside all distractions and give the person my undivided attention. Undistracted, face-to-face time is an opportunity to truly listen to one another, and to truly be heard. Face-to-face time with God is an opportunity for us to know His heart. What if we took the time to listen, as well as a time for God to hear from us regarding those things that really matter to Him. How often do we consider what it is that really matters to God?

Paul, writing to the believers in Philippi says,“For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return.” (Philippians 1:10) This verse indicates there is a benefit to us to understand what really matters. Knowing and loving God is our greatest privilege. And being known and being loved by God is our greatest pleasure. And then to seek what matters to God first in our lives.  

I do not believe God intends for us to live our lives being self-absorbed. I believe He created us with intentionality; for us to live an intentional life for His purpose. To know His purpose is to know Him; to know Him is to know what is important to Him; to know His heart. And to put those things first in our lives. 

A.W. Tozer said this about what matters most: “Yes, worship of the loving God is man’s whole reason for existence.  That is why we are born, and that is why we are born again from above.  That is why we were created, and that is why we have been recreated.  That is why there is a genesis at the beginning, and that is why there is a re-genesis, called regeneration.  That is also why there is a church.  The Christian church exists to worship God first of all.  Everything else must come second or third or fourth or fifth.”   

What would happen if I began to lean into God, to be intentional enough to discover the things of God that truly matter to Him? Maybe it begins with setting aside distractions for just 10 minutes each day, to become comfortable in solitude. It takes discipline on our part to position ourselves to know God’s heart. Be willing to create some space – some margin – in the midst of your busyness in which God can reveal the unexpected work of His Spirit.

Face-to-face time with God equips us and positions us to know His heart and the things that matter to Him; heart to heart. When we are aware of the things that matter to Him, we are able to partner shoulder to shoulder with Him more effectively.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you need to re-prioritize your life so that getting to know God better is your number one priority?
  2. Based on what you talk about most, what would people say is most important to you?

The Insanity Of God: Nik Ripken

“Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. 

The Insanity of God tells a story—a remarkable and unique story to be sure yet, at heart, a very human story—of Nik and Ruth Ripkens’ own spiritual and emotional odyssey. After spending over six hard years doing relief work in Somalia, and experiencing life where it looked like God had turned away completely and they were clueless about the tragedies of life, the couple had a crisis of faith and left Africa asking God, “Does the gospel work anywhere when it is really a hard place? It sure didn’t work in Somalia. Their story and the insightful stories of the remarkable people of faith Nik and Ruth encountered on their journeys, serves as a powerful case study for anyone who wants to know whether God truly is enough.

Nik compared his experiences to the Bible. “You got on the plane to go was the New Testament and when you landed you were in the Old Testament. It was hell.” They saw real darkness in Somalia. After their son died they returned to the mission field in some of the toughest places for the gospel and asked a simple question: Is Jesus worth it?  That began their journey of sitting at the feet of believers being persecuted and ask them to teach them. They witnessed the sacrifice of believers. 

One powerful scene in The Insanity of God movie is the story of Dmitri, the pastor of a small house church in the former Soviet Union. One night, communist officials burst into his home during worship. They arrested Dmitri and sent him to prison for 17 years, more than 600 miles from his family. Dmitri was the only believer among 1,500 hardened criminals. The isolation from the body of Christ combined with the physical torture tested his faith and strength. But he found a way to endure. For 17 years in prison, every morning at daybreak, Dmitri would stand at attention by his bed, Nik wrote. “As was his custom, he would face the east, raise his arms in praise to God, and then he would sing … to Jesus. … The other prisoners banged metal cups against the iron bars in angry protest.  Then, one day, after finding a piece of paper on which Dmitri had written every Scripture reference, Bible verse, story, and song he could recall, his jailers beat him severely and threatened him with execution. As they dragged him from his cell down the center corridor toward the courtyard, Dmitri heard a strange sound.”

The 1,500 criminals who had long ridiculed him stood at attention by their beds. They faced the East, raised their arms, and began to sing the song they had heard Dmitri sing to Jesus every morning. The guards returned Dmitri to his cell. Sometime later, he was released. 

“I went looking for tools from God and what I found was the resurrected Christ himself,“ Nik said. 

About the Author: Nik Ripken is the world’s leading expert on the persecuted church in Muslim contexts. He is a missions veteran of 36 years, having served primarily in North Africa and the Middle East. He is the author of The Insanity of Obedience and The Insanity of Sacrifice. He and his wife have conducted extensive research in approximately 72 countries with believers in persecution including how they view suffering through a Biblical lens.

Amy Carmichael: Rescuer Of Precious Jewels

“Let us not be surprised when we have to face difficulties. When the wind blows hard on a tree, the roots stretch and grow the stronger, Let it be so with us. Let us not be weaklings, yielding to every wind that blows, but strong in spirit to resist.” — Amy Carmichael

There are many people who set out to change the world and there are those that actually do it. Amy Carmichael was such a person. Now she has faded from the scene and millions of people have never heard her name. She lived a quiet, sacrificial life for the cause of Christ and personifies the spirit of missions and of rescuing helpless people. Amy was born in 1867. She died in 1951. Amy Carmichael is one of India’s most beloved missionaries. She spent 53 years in South India without a furlough, earning the nickname “Amma” or “Mother” from the underprivileged children she regarded as God’s jewels.

Amy really found her true calling in India. She had heard about young girls who were sold by poor families. They were sold to the temples in order to get money for the temple priests through prostitution in Hindu worship. Sometimes they were kidnapped and indeed they were kept there for the rest of their lives. They could never leave. So, she began to pray and ask God, “How can we help these girls?” One day, a woman literally came to her doorstep with a young seven-year-old-girl named Preena. It is a famous story of Amy Carmichael’s. This woman said, “This is Preena. This is her second attempt to escape from the temple. Her mother sold her into prostitution. She escaped from the temple and I found her on the streets. I took her home and her mother returned her again to the temple. As punishment, they branded and burned her palms to where they were just black. They punished her for leaving, for running away.” This little girl must have been a spunky little thing. She ran away again the second time and this woman said, “I found her again and I did not know what to do with her. I know that you want to help us. Maybe you could help this little girl?” She began to take in other young girls. Dozens of young girls were rescued from temple prostitution and hundreds of others from poverty and neglect. 

She established an orphanage. She eventually established a medical clinic for them. She established a school for the girls, and she also ended up establishing a school for young boys. Her ministry call, was to rescue these girls, to redeem them, to win them to Christ, to give them a Christian upbringing, and to help them to fulfill their calling in the world. 

All this time she was constantly harassed by the temple priests. They burned down buildings. They called her demon woman. They started all kinds of rumors about her. They abused her. They were always reporting her to the government or to authorities. But she stayed. And she stayed focused on taking the light of the gospel to this foreign land. Amy spent 56 years in India. She never went home. She never returned to her family. She remained focused on her ministry.  

Amy was also a writer. She wrote something like 40 books. 

What Is It Like To Be A Christian In A Country That Is Hostile to Christians?

“One in every nine Christians in the world lives in an area, or in a culture, in which Christianity is illegal, forbidden, or punished. That’s a 14 percent increase over the previous year.” – The latest report on global persecution by Open Doors USA.  

Every Sunday, Christians in North America gather for worship (online during the pandemic). We sing. We pray. We give. We listen to a message. With rare exceptions, we do this in complete safety, never thinking someone would want to do harm to us for our faith. Yet, that is not the case around the world. It is estimated that approximately 300 Christians die each month simply because they believe in Jesus. That’s nearly 11 every day.  

These numbers are heart-breaking. And yet, they do not tell the whole story. Persecution is now truly global. There are many reasons why Christians are persecuted. Sometimes, religion may be tied to ethnic or cultural identity. In other places, governments who thrive on power view Jesus as competition and those who follow Him as threats. Still, other areas put such a high value on their majority religion that any other faith is seen as something to be rooted out and violently oppressed. From Somalia to India, from Nigeria to North Korea, from Iran to Pakistan, followers of Christianity are targeted for their faith. They are attacked; they are discriminated against at work and at school; they risk violence, torture, arrest, and much more.

Most of us reading this know this: We know that persecution happens, but we probably don’t know what Christians all over the globe are experiencing because of their faith in Jesus Christ. We need to know. 

The writer of Hebrews tells us this in Hebrews 13:3 (TPT), “Identify with those who are in prison as though you were there suffering with them, and those who are mistreated as if you could feel their pain.” God has called us to remember and support those suffering through persecution. Please pray that these believers will not only stay committed to the call of Christ but also will respond in love to the evil shown by their aggressors.

Pray and ask God to comfort families who many times do not receive updates about their loved ones and are not allowed to visit, or it’s simply not safe enough to do so. Pray they, too, will remain faithful to the calling God has placed on their lives.

And pray that world leaders would do all they can to fight this persecution.  Pray God would stir their hearts, and they would not only draft but enact the necessary policies and procedures to make a lasting, global difference.  

A Martyrs Grace: Signe Amelia Erickson

A Martyrs Grace: Signe Amelia Erickson    

“Have you grace to be a martyr,” D.L. Moody was once asked. “No,” he replied, “I have not. But if God wanted me to be one, he would give me a martyr’s grace.”

Sensing God leading her to missionary service, Signe entered Moody Bible Institute for a year’s training in 1923. Following Moody, Signe taught at a country school that was notorious for its undisciplined students that three teachers in succession had resigned the previous year. Single-handedly she so mastered the unruly boys throughout the winter months that by spring their hearts were softened by her caring Christian example. After attending Gordon College and earning a Bachelor of Theology degree she applied to and was accepted to be a missionary in the Philippines preparing young women for church ministries and missionary work on Panay Island.  On a furlough she obtained a master’s degree at Columbia University, New York. She returned to the field in May 1941 with her new degree in hand and worked as a professor of religion at Central Philippine College in the School of Theology. 

As war became more likely, Signe was under no illusion as to what the prospect of war could mean to them and their work. They frequently discussed what measures they would take if the Japanese were to invade the islands. Signe said ”that she wanted to stay with the Filipinos unless her continued presence endangered the lives of the people she had come to serve.” 

The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and overran Manila in January 1942. By April they reached Panay Island. Soon the entire coastal area of the island was in their grasp. Signe had no place of escape except for the interior of the island. She joined the other American missionaries in the mountain hideout they named Hopevale. Here she and the others waited out the war. As her seclusion passed from months to a year and then to a year and a half, the rigors of isolated living took their toll on her. Signe patiently hoped for either the end of the war or for rescue by American forces. As it turned out, neither happened in time to save either her or the others hiding from the Japanese.

The end of all hope came to Hopevale on a fateful December morning just days before Christmas in 1943. A battalion of Japanese soldiers crept through the mountains and made a surprise assault on the little hamlet. It took the soldiers less than an hour to round up all eleven unsuspecting missionaries who had been caught completely off guard. The Japanese waited a day to make sure they had caught everyone.

That was the last communication anyone would receive from Signe. The Japanese granted them an hour to prepare to die. Then systematically, one by one they were blindfolded and taken into a hut where they were ruthlessly beheaded. Signe’s life ended in the midst of that heartless slaughter.

The story is taken from A Martyrs Grace: 21 Moody Bible Institute Alumni who gave their lives for Christ by Marvin J. Newell; Moody Publishers, Chicago. 

The Killing Fields: The Story Of Pastor Dareth Ly

“Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” — 2 Timothy 3:12.   

On the edge of a rice paddy the soldiers bound the hands and feet of four boys. Encircling them were hundreds of other paper-thin boys too weak and scared to put up a fight. Starvation, forced labor, and torture have a way of doing that to kids. Dareth Ly, then 9 years old, stared at the bound boys. They were his co-laborers and co-sufferers. More importantly, they were friends. Now they were going to die. The Khmer Rouge soldiers were killing for the sake of killing and were intoxicated by the power they had been given. With no remorse and machine-like efficiency, the soldiers pulled clear plastic bags over their victims’ heads. Within minutes they were dead. Tomorrow, they promised, more boys would die.

After four years of captivity Ly’s resolve to live was high, but physically he was waning. Each day he and the 30 boys who were still alive were dragged into the rice patties though too weak to work. One day, mortar rounds rained down on the rice patty. The Vietnamese had invaded Cambodia to eradicate the Khmer Rouge. Though freed from the labor camps, Ly and the others were far from safe.

Ly and his stepsister were put on a plane and flown to Minnesota. His stepsister eventually moved to Boston and Ly was put in child protective custody until a woman took him in and introduced him to church. He became involved in the church’s youth group. At a Bible retreat he committed his life to Christ. The nightmares had finally disappeared.  As Ly grew in his faith he promised to serve God any way He desired. Though he wanted and was willing to serve in ministry, he never considered going back to Cambodia to do so. Missionaries working in Cambodia asked him to return to Cambodia to help them. His life would never be the same.

Ly wanted the people of Cambodia to hear the message of hope that is the gospel. Upon returning to Minnesota, he married, had children and settled into his occupation as a counselor in a Minneapolis group home. Though he tried to forget about Cambodia, he dreamed of it often and felt burdened for the people. In 1995, he applied to become a missionary to Cambodia.

Today, Ly is busy training Cambodians to become leaders not only in the church but also in the country. His main goal is to spread the good news because he believes the future of the country is in Jesus Christ.  As Ly ministers in Cambodia he sometimes drives past the Killing Fields where he almost died. It is estimated the Khmer Rouge regime killed nearly 2 million Cambodians.

“What Satan intended for evil the Lord is using for good,” says Ly. “Someday revival will come to Cambodia.”   

God Is At Work: The Story Of David Wilkerson

The Cross and the Switchblade is the dramatic and inspiring true story of a small-town minister called to help inner-city kids everyone else believed were beyond hope.

David Wilkerson was a minister of a small church in Pennsylvania in 1958 when his life would change dramatically. He was brought to tears after looking at a pen drawing of seven New York City teenagers in Life Magazine. The article detailed the court trial of these young boys, all charged with murder. The boys were members of a teenage gang called the Dragons who were accused of brutally attacking and killing a fifteen-year-old who had polio.

Two days later, after hearing a clear call from the Holy Spirit telling him “Go to New York City and help those boys”, Wilkerson arrived at the courthouse in New York City. His plan was to ask the judge for permission to talk to the boys to share God’s love with them. The judge refused his request and Wilkerson was removed from the courtroom. Over the next few months (March – June 1958), Wilkerson returned to New York one day each week, driving over 350 miles from his home in Pennsylvania. He sought God’s direction while walking the streets, preaching, and meeting with gang members and drug addicts. That is when David met Nicky Cruz, leader of a Brooklyn gang called the Mau Maus. The Mau Maus were the most violent teenage gang in New York. Nicky threatened to kill Wilkerson the first day the two met. David told Nicky that “God has the power to change your life.” Nicky cursed, hit Wilkerson, spit in his face, and told him, “I don’t believe in what you say and you get out of here.” Wilkerson replied, “You could cut me up into a 1000 pieces and lay them in the street. Every piece will still love you.” Nicky couldn’t stop thinking about David Wilkerson’s words of love.

In July 1958, Wilkerson scheduled an evangelistic rally for New York gangs, at the St. Nicholas Boxing Arena. Nearly every member of Nicky’s gang, as well as their rival gangs, attended the rally. When he gave an altar call, Nicky and most of his gang surrendered their lives to Jesus. “David Wilkerson came with a message of hope and love,” Cruz said. “I felt the power of Jesus like a rushing wind that took my breath away. I fell on my knees and confessed to Christ.” Nicky went on to say, “He can take a bullet, he can be killed, but he stood because [he was] obedient to Jesus. His story is a powerful lesson of what can be achieved when a young person fully commits his life to God.” This story is the basis for the book and movie The Cross and the Switchblade. 

After his conversion, Nicky went to a Bible College in La Puente, CA, where he met his future wife, Gloria. After graduation he became an evangelist, returned to Brooklyn, NY, and led more of the Mau Maus to Christ. He founded Nicky Cruz Outreach and began traveling around the world ministering to hundreds of thousands each year. In a 1998 article, the Wall Street Journal proclaimed Nicky as the “Billy Graham of the streets.”  

David also formed Teen Challenge which stands alone as the most effective substance abuse recovery program to date. The success of this ministry is attributed to its foundation in Biblical principles. Many graduates of Teen Challenge are so completely transformed they decide to go to seminary, then into ministry. Many return to Teen Challenge as staff members to help others overcome their addictions and find new life.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What strikes you the most about the story of David Wilkerson?
  2. What could you achieve if you live your life fully committed to God? 

Be content With What You Have

“Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. 

Are you content with your life right now? Whether you would answer yes or no to this question, the more important question is this: When was the last time you stopped and asked yourself “Why am I (or am I not) content?”

Being “content” in society today is based on having favorable circumstances. One day we are content because our 401(k) is rising and the next week we are no longer content because our 401(k) is going down. Or we are content because business is good, but are no longer content when business is bad. In our culture, we want to be happy, and through that find contentment. God has called us to view contentment differently. 

In his letter to the church in Philippi, the Apostle Paul shares the secret to being content: “ Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”  (Philippians 4:11-13)

At the time of writing the letter, Paul was living in a Roman prison. Before that, he’d been beaten within an inch of his life, betrayed, and left for dead. Despite all this, Paul expressed his joy and appreciation for the church. Paul realized that contentment is an attitude we learn and not a thing we achieve. He had learned to be content regardless of his circumstances.

Contentment is not about our circumstances. Contentment is God doing something inside of us. The good news is that we all can learn how to become fully content with who we are, what we are, and what we’re doing.  We can learn how to be content by thanking God for what we do have instead of focusing on what we don’t have.  

When the author of Hebrews wanted to teach his readers about contentment, he reminded them what God had said. “Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said,“I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” (Hebrews 13:5).

Do not be like the world, unwilling to change because they are afraid that if their circumstances change, then so will their happiness. Be content with what you have and live the life that God has called you to live.  

Questions to Consider:

  1. What feelings or experiences do you have related to managing money?
  2. What keeps you from developing a successful budget?
  3. Who is someone you could consider asking for help? (Friend, mentor, financial person)