Thursday, February 28, 2013

Got Change?

The battle against remaining sin is not always easy, even for a Christian.  And yet it is so very important.  And the Bible holds out so much hope of victory for us!
No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.  (1 Cor 10:13, NASB)
To encourage you further in your own war against "the sin which so easily entangles", my church is hosting a conference that explores Biblical answers for many varieties of sin and results of sin, including sexual sin, depression, anger, and shame.  It's being held on a Friday evening and all day Saturday in April.  If you register before March 15, you'll get a better rate. 

Click here for more details or to register.  Hope to see you there!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Call to Worship: Jesus Shall Reign

Jesus Shall Reign is one of my favorite hymns, which Isaac Watts based on Psalm 72.  It anticipates the day when Jesus will be worshiped by the entire world.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Letter from a Senegal jail

Pastor Jose Dilson has been imprisoned for over 3 months in the West African nation of Senegal. 

Here's a link to an explanation of his legal case by his son.

And here's a video of the work his ministry is doing in Senegal.

But what I really want you to see is this letter he wrote earlier this month.

Dear precious brothers,
As you know, today (Feb 6) marks the ninetieth day we have been imprisoned for the cause of the Word of Truth, for the sake of the Way we follow and the One in whom we believe.
I am certain, nevertheless, that our affliction during this time has been far from the afflictions experienced by Jesus for us. We praise the Lord, because these simple afflictions have resulted in the salvation of several prisoners, as well as a means for us to testify to many of His lordship above everything and everyone. We have had the opportunity to distribute hundreds of Bibles, tracts and New Testaments. There are many stories and experience we could tell.  I know that I will have much to share with each one.
For 31 years I have been sharing the Good News of the Gospel, not only in Brazil, but 22 years here in Africa. Now the District Attorney and Judge have given me a new public. I have been chained (not literally, but jointly imprisoned) to persons that I would never have had access to share with otherwise. And of course I would never have chosen to be here of my own free will.  But during these three months here I have seen many experience new life and others become “twice freed” (what a joy!!!). Let’s pray that the Word preached may find good soil in these thirsty hearts, and that neither “birds” nor “weeds”  nor “rocks” destroy this seed, rather may the Lord make these seeds grow in His time.
On the most difficult days, the Lord gives us strength (I speak for myself, and also for our sister Zeneide) to continue encouraging, praying for, feeding and clothing various others who are passing through afflictions even bigger than ours (yet they do not know to whom they can turn). Our comfort is that we have Christ handcuffed together with us.  (He is sovereign and free, nevertheless I ‘m referring to the fact that He is right here with us every day and every moment) and He shows us this in so many ways, for example through the love of brothers and sisters who come from so far away to visit us on Mondays and Fridays, even if it’s only for 5-10 minutes.
I sense Jesus telling me He is with me through every sentence sent by mail, every email, every word of encouragement on Facebook, every prayer, every plate of food or dessert sent, every donation (either for our general expenses or to help in the construction of a new cell to help other prisoners who are suffering from being unable to sleep (I have 45 people in my cell and only have 30 cm (12 inches) of space to sleep in.  Imagine what it’s like in the next cell over which is the same size as mine, but holds 200 prisoners! It’s almost impossible to imagine the suffering of these men.
This love has impacted the whole prison and even the court, for the judge mentioned the fact that we have so many people visiting us. This has impressed him.
I have asked the Lord that these handcuffs might serve as comfort and encouragement to each one who has participated in praying for us – that this might help them value even more the person of Jesus and His presence in our lives and that you might experience even more of his love, presence and peace, which does not depend on circumstances. May you make known to each one God brings near you this great love of Jesus, and may you feel privileged to suffer in His name.
I can confirm that my imprisonment has become well-known: from the President of the Republic to the street sweepers. The newspapers have called Zeneide and me “the diabolic duo”, and because their accusations were printed on the two largest newspapers in the country, and transmitted on the local radio stations, we became hated by the whole country. Nevertheless everyone that we have had personal contact with always tells us: “You are people of God”, others say: “This prison will never be the same again after your stay here.”
Inside my cell, one after another has slowly gotten to know me. As I share with them my food, fruits and medicines they all have been impacted and begun to ask: “But why are you doing this? Why share with me? You thought of me?”  At Christmas I asked Marli to buy small presents to give to my cellmates, so they could have something to give to their children. Neither wives nor children ever expect to receive gifts from their imprisoned husbands or fathers. I can’t describe the joy that they felt upon receiving those presents. It was so good!  What happiness to be able to share with those who have nothing.
I share my 12-inch-wide mattress with one other man. We used to have two mattresses, one on top of the other. The prisoner in front of us also had two mattresses; however he was suffering from terrible back pains and was unable to sleep, so he asked me for one of my mattresses. The very instant he asked me I got to my feet and gave it to him. Now I sleep with my fellow cellmate on the single 1-inch mattress, and our colleague with back pains is now sleeping better. May the Lord be praised, because I feel God making my mattress more comfortable than it ever was before!
 There have been days when I’ve shared my food with 12 other prisoners, and you know the best part? I didn’t lose a single pound!
Two Italian prisoners who were freed were so appreciative of the help I gave them, the encouragement, and the prayers, that after they left they sent me cheese, salami, and sweets.  In a few moments 43 prisoners are going to be experiencing a little of that blessing!!
I am sharing these details in order to encourage you let nothing discourage you. It makes no difference the size of the battle that you might be facing.  Know that Jesus is with you, walking with you through the difficulty right to the moment of release. Seek Him. Love Him. Spend time with Him. Seek intimacy with Him. And the suffering won’t mean a thing. He will be your strong anchor, your salvation, the One who acts and works on behalf of His own. May His holy name be glorified!
When the judge was questioning me he finally said: “You are not a gang of evil-doers. You and I are on the same side.” He went on to say: “You are helping children at risk. “ When he heard the children, he became all the more impressed with the changes to their lives that we are providing them. One lawyer said: “These children live better than the majority of us. “ Later he said to me: “You, pastor, deserved to be given a medal for what you have done in our midst, not to be put in prison.” We hope that justice and truth will ultimately prevail.
This prison cannot stop me.  Nor can it stop my Christ or his Gospel. To the contrary, it awakens within me more love and passion for this work and for my Master. My heart is so thankful for all of you who in some way or other, directly or indirectly, are imprisoned with us. Thank you once again for all the affection, prayers and donations. May the Lord bless you and remember also your afflictions and comfort you in your sufferings, no matter how big or small, for I know He has pleasure in helping you. May our good and marvelous Savior comfort you and help you feel His presence with you.
Please pray for Friday (Feb 8) when the judge will be interviewing a father who asked us to help his son. Also on Monday, Feb 11, finally our request for release from prison will be submitted.
Your prisoner, for the cause of Christ,
Rev. Jose Dilson (“Ze”)

Monday, February 18, 2013

Call to Worship: Psalm 103

I love singing Psalms because it is singing the actual words of Scripture (as nearly as they can be put into poetic form).  It is a puzzle to me why Psalm-singing, which for centuries after the Reformation dominated church music, is so rare today.  Sing this version of Psalm 103:1-7 from the 1600s!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Free: God's Smuggler audiobook!

God's Smuggler is one of a handful of books I've read that can be truly described as amazing.  The story of how God took an angry young Dutch man and turned him into a daring servant of suffering Christians in Soviet eastern Europe is far more unpredictable than the best whodunnit. 

I first read God's Smuggler as an unconverted but professing Christian.  Brother Andrew's walk with God is one of the things God used to show me that my own life was fake.

This book will compel you to trust God by taking bigger risks in your own proclamation of the gospel.

The professionally recorded audiobook is available this month for free from  Don't miss it!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Call to Worship: Before the Throne of God Above

This modern hymn is proof that "contemporary" music doesn't have to be bad or shallow.  We will never be able to tell God, "No new songs for you, we've already praised you in every way possible!" I pray that many more hymns of such depth and beauty as this one will be written during my lifetime.

Friday, February 8, 2013

How to Share Jesus with... My Neighbors?

I saw your prayer request about witnessing in your neighborhood. We prayed for you, of course. I also wondered what exactly you did and how it went.
 I have been praying about doing something in my own neighborhood, town. It bothers me that I am supporting Christians in spreading the gospel halfway around the world, but do not do likewise here.
Twice in the last 2 years I went with a group from my church to {my town's} fairs. We set up a booth and witnessed Way of the Master style. It was exhilarating, terrifying and fun all at the same time. I had a 45 minute conversation with the New Age Crystal dealer next to us about why the hippie movement in the 60's did not change lives, but the Jesus Freak movement did. I still pray for that man occasionally. No visible fruit though. I have been praying ever since.
Not sure what to do. I would appreciate hearing about your experience.
Blessings, L. 

Hi L,

I very much identify with your uncertainty about how to reach out in our own community.  Like you said, if they can do it in India, why can't we do it here?

Doing evangelism at community events sounds great.  I have evangelized at July 4th, Halloween, and Christmas events.  Anytime you can find people sitting or standing around, it can be a good opportunity.  But it's hard to find people who aren't in motion. 

My latest evangelism idea, the one you've been praying for, is starting a neighborhood Bible study.

There are about 100 homes just in our immediate neighborhood, what I call the North Mesa.  We have developed relationships with some of our neighbors with the hopes of sharing the gospel with them, but I began realizing that I would never have time to build relationships with most of them.  I wanted a way to quickly find the people in the neighborhood who are most spiritually receptive/interested, so that I can focus my limited time on them.

I went around to the homes where we don't know the people and asked, "Do you know of any one in our neighborhood who has a Bible study?"  No one did.  Then I asked them "If there was one, would you be interested?"  Only a few people were potentially interested.  (But it was really interesting to ask people these two questions -- a very fast way to take someone's spiritual temperature.)

Now I am praying about what sort of Bible study to lead (I'm thinking of starting with a 6 week basic introduction to Christianity based on the book of Mark called Christianity Explained) and where to host it (I'm thinking of asking a Christian neighbor if she would be willing to host it in her home). 

Thanks for your prayers, and let me know if you have any questions or suggestions!

Because of Jesus' mercy,


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Baseball in Heaven?

Randy Alcorn's book Wait Until Then is a beautiful story for children, particularly boys.  Through the short and simple story of a grandpa dying of cancer while mentoring his wheelchair-bound grandson Nathan, Alcorn models a Christian view of suffering, death, and eternity.  This would be a good book to read with a child who is experiencing the sickness or death of a good friend or beloved relative.

This is a hard book to criticize (the illustrations alone are so beautiful you almost want to put them on the wall) but I do have a few concerns.

Dr. Alcorn uses baseball as a common interest that both Gramps and Nathan share.  Nathan wonders whether they will play baseball in heaven.  Gramps says, "Well, there's a lot that I don't know.  But I do know God is our Father and fathers love to see their children play.  Since we'll have new bodies on the New Earth, we know we'll be able to play baseball... and since they'll be better bodies, I'm pretty sure our best baseball is still ahead of us."

I have two concerns here.  One is that baseball like many sports has become something of an idol in our culture.  Visit a major league game sometime and you'll see what I mean.  Neighbor boys playing ball in the empty corner lot is one thing (do any American boys still do that? or do they all play ball on their Xbox now?), but the billions of dollars and hours spent in watching other people toss the ball around is another thing.

Dr. Alcorn anticipates concern this by having Gramps tell Nathan, "It's fine to enjoy baseball.  But remember, everything we love should cause us to love Jesus more, not less."  But he doesn't explain how baseball should help us love Jesus more, and young readers could easily get the idea that we should love Jesus because He will, ultimately, feed our idols.  Baseball on the New Earth becomes the child-sized version of '72 virgins in paradise when you die'.

My second concern is that this actually diminishes the joy of heaven.  I am sure we will be able to play baseball on the New Earth, but I'm not sure anyone will want to.  Dr. Alcorn would probably accuse me of 'Christo-platonism' here (a fancy term he coined for being overly spiritual), but I'm not disputing that the New Earth will be very physical.  I just think the physical things we will be doing will be far more joyous and exciting and fulfilling than knocking a white ball around.  Baseball on the New Earth will probably be as attractive as playing pinocle is for most of us today.

Dr. Alcorn also intimates that our old pets will be with us on the New Earth.  The same two concerns apply.  I think that getting to see Rover again will not be high on our minds there, about as exciting as getting back our past fingernail clippings.

Lastly, the gospel presentation is short: "We need to say we're sorry for our sins, and accept {Jesus} as the one who died on the cross for us and came back to life.  Then God will forgive us."  While true, this is deficient.  In the context of the story, the gospel could easily be taken by children as simply a procedure they must follow to get their ticket to heaven.

But, if used by a parent who will take time to explain these "missing pieces", the book can still be a wonderful tool for teaching children that because of Jesus, we need not hate suffering or fear death.

I got this book for free through the Tyndale Rewards program.  I was not even required to write a review, but I earn points for more books by doing so!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Friday, February 1, 2013

To the Edge of the River

This update from a dear friend on the death of his father was an encouragement and example to me.   Names and personally identifiable information have been changed or omitted, but otherwise this letter is unchanged. Daniel
Dear Friends & Family,
Last week we sent out our Family Update and requested prayer for my father’s condition. Five days later, at __ a.m., Dad passed away with my hand on his shoulder, and with Mary and David standing together with us.
Since we sent our update last week, many people have prayed with us as we dealt with this difficult situation. Thank you for your involvement and words of encouragement as we hoped in His mercy.
We believe that these past five days were an expression of God’s mercy, extending Dad’s life and giving us many more opportunities to share Christ with him. In those final days, my Dad was surrounded by our visiting family members each night, and then with Mary and I staying “on watch” through the nights with him after everyone left.
We needed wisdom as we handled Dad’s care in our home. Two times this week one of the visiting nurses came from hospice strongly encouraging us to use the low-dose morphine to “ease your father into the next life,” even though we and other nurses who had observed his heavy breathing felt that my father was not in any distress or pain. We opted against her advice and believe that minimizing the medicines allowed us to have more opportunities to talk to him.
Mary and I continued daily to witness to my father through singing hymns, sharing God’s Word, praying with and for him, relating memories, expressing forgiveness and release, and including each suggestion that came to us from those of you who wrote to encourage us. Even David talked with his grandfather and told him that he wanted Grandpop to go to heaven.
During these last days of my father’s life, he was unable to communicate with us, except through an occasional hand squeeze, slight shake of the head, or almost inaudible word which we could not understand. Even though we had to rely on these minimal and subtle signs of demeanor, we believe that in the final 24 hours of Dad’s life, several special things occurred.
On Monday afternoon, David and I had visited with a Christian neighbor, Mr. Smith, who I had only met twice before, to ask if he could help my mother in the future with little household needs. Mr. Smith is a building contractor and handyman, and as a believer, he agreed to be available in the future if he could help.
As I awakened early Tuesday morning, I was impressed by the Lord to call Mr. Smith and to ask him to come to witness to my father. When I called him to make my request, he said that his last prayer the night before was that he would have an opportunity to come and witness to my Dad. He was just waiting for my call!
He came to our house around 8 a.m. before going to his first job for the day, and with the hospice nursing aide standing nearby, presented the Gospel to my father. Mr. Smith talked directly with my Dad, using words of encouragement, including the way that Mom would be taken care of when my father was gone. My father seemed to hear and respond in a more affirming manner, which was unlike the many other times Mary and I shared with him before, when he would often show signs of agitation.
Finally, that last night, after my brother, sister, and Mom had all gone, Mary and I talked with my father again about the Lord, and the salvation available through Jesus Christ. I affirmed that we all loved him very much, and he was the very best Dad I could ever have. I held him in my arms, and hugged him so he could feel our love for him. I told him that if he had believed in Christ, he could go in peace, but if he did not, then I believed God was keeping him alive until he would surrender.
As I stepped back, we saw a tear come out of his left eye, and almost all of his facial expressions while we were sharing were peaceful, similar to the ones earlier that morning when Mr. Smith  spoke with him. After hugging him again, and telling him repeatedly that we loved him, forgave him, and many other special things, he seemed to go to sleep. Through the night and early morning hours, Mary and I sat with him, again sharing, singing, praying, and pleading with Dad to cease struggling and receive the peace Christ wanted to give him through faith.
On Wednesday morning after the nursing aide was gone, Dad’s breathing slowed. Mary called me from watching David downstairs (who often bounded through the house with great energy and noise enough to alarm my Dad), and I came upstairs to hold my Dad and talk gently with him. He winced twice, and then quietly slumped back down as his failing heart gave way and his breathing came to a stop. It was a very peaceful departure.
In reflecting on the past few days since the last Family Update, we wanted to thank you for your prayers as we put our hope in God’s mercy. We cannot say for certain that Dad received Christ, but a few days before, whenever he seemed to resist or grimace as we shared, Mary and I had prayed that the Lord would “shew me a token for good” and I believe God has answered those prayers.
Thank you again for your prayers, love, and support during this precious season we have had with my Dad.