The Cross: Celebrate and Cheer

With Thanksgiving over, I think it’s safe to say that the Christmas Season has “officially” begun!  Decorations are up, the scent of hot cocoa and cookies are in the atmosphere, and some of us are even excited to strut around in those beloved knit seasonal sweaters (you know who you are)!  In the midst of all the yuletide cheer it can be all too easy to lose sight of the Real Reason for celebration and cheer.

I’d like to share with you a bit of a devotional written by a young man, which recently reminded me of why I can and should celebrate and cheer this and every other season of the year…

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THE CROSS

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.'” (Matthew 16:24)

The cross is a symbol of redemption, hope, and victory over sin and death.  “The cross of Christ is the most revolutionary thing ever to appear among men” (Tozer).  The cross was used to kill, but Christ uses it to give life.

A.W. Tozer said, “[The cross] was permitted to remain what it had been originally, a cross.  Its power departed when it changed from a thing of death to a thing of beauty.  When men made of it a symbol, hung in around their necks as an ornament…then it became at best a weak emblem”.

We have hung our crosses around our necks, placed the crucifix atop our beds, we have cried when we watched The Passion of the Christ, and we have become sad when we read the account of the crucifixion during Easter time.  But we have lost the true meaning of the cross.  The cross cannot save us, it’s the man, Jesus, who died on the cross who has the True and Only Power to save us!  Jesus died on the cross for our sins, to save all mankind!

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To think that Christ came to be born of a virgin, living to give His life upon the cross so we might live, is utterly mindboggling.  The power of sin and death over us IS broken!  We don’t have to be slaves to sin- neither its “power”, “pollution”, nor “guilt” are able to keep a hold on us (A.W. Pink)!

Why can (and should) we celebrate and cheer this and every other season of the year…?  Because Christ Jesus, who died on the cross and who has the True Power, has offered Salvation from sin and death to us as a free gift!  WOO HOO!

So as we take up our crosses in obedience to Christ throughout this Christmas and every other season of the year, let us be reminded of why we can follow Christ and do so with celebration and cheer!

-Victoria

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Exclusive Interview!

I recently had the privilege to sit down with my good friend, Emily who graciously agreed to be interviewed by me and share some of her recent missions experiences with you− the With True Hope readers!  Enjoy…

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So Emily, you had the opportunity to travel abroad recently.  Where did you go?

“The Lord allowed me to visit Beijing and Ji Xian, in China. Ji Xian is about halfway between Beijing and the coast of the Pacific Ocean on the Eastern side of China.”

Could you describe your initial thoughts or reaction when you arrived in China?

My very first thought was “I’m not in Kansas anymore.” As we were sitting on the plane that first night we arrived, there came a special announcement about how they were going to spray down the interior of the plane before they allowed us to disembark. This would take care of any germs we were bringing with us, apparently. Nothing like that has ever happened to me flying in the States before, so yes, Kansas was far behind. When we stepped off the plane, I saw uniforms. Not a lot. But they were there, and it made me a little concerned. Did they know about the Bible in my backpack? But they were quick to smile and seemed friendly. That helped.

My first real impression of China itself came with the daylight. Wherever you are, whether the grocery store, the street, the subway, the bus, or even just traffic, there is no such thing as personal space. What was great, though, is that you didn’t feel that anyone was being rude. They didn’t just shove into you. They saw you, they smiled, and you felt acknowledged. It wasn’t a mass of humanity that just swallowed you up. You feel connected.”

What would you term as the most interesting thing that you ate while in China?

Or did not eat (laugh)!  The food was really, really good!  The way that they serve meals is different.  The tables are round with a raised lazy Susan in the center of the table that the food is placed on.  And they don’t serve the food all at one shot or in ordered courses, but they keep on bringing fresh and new dishes.  In China, you don’t put all your food onto your plate either.  You just eat bites at a time, making sure that you aren’t spinning the table for a dish while someone else is eating from another dish!

There were a lot of veggie, and especially mushroom, dishes.  I ate a scorpion which tasted salty, a frog which tasted very spicy, and “fried milk” (a twinkie-like, cream or pudding filled donut) which was great!  The only thing I couldn’t eat was chickens feet whether they were pickled or raw in the market, they were just not appealing.”

What were some of your favorite that places you visited?

“The homes!  Whether it was one of the most humble or affluent homes, the hosts were overwhelmingly generous.  They each served with their best!  And the church!  It was like Christmas morning every time I went- the level of joy cannot be described.  Most of the church members seemed to come without the rest of their families, whether because they had come into Beijing from the outlying provinces to work, or because their family members weren’t saved, but they considered the church to be “home”. These believers are family to each other!

I also went to the Dragon Gorge, which is a pretty neat river in an immense cannon.  It was in one of the most primitive areas that I visited. Cold, cold green water, massive stone walls with Chinese characters carved in red on their sides, sharp peaks, and sunlight streaming down everywhere. It was incredible.”

You mentioned in a previous conversation that beyond the place, the people were the best part of your trip.  If you could sum up your experiences with the people in three words, what would those words be?  Feel free to expound.    

“That’s a hard one!  “Indescribable”…is that cheating (laugh)?   Okay.

Humbling.

Joyful.

Belonging.

Humbling because the Christians there live Christ.  They love the Lord so much that their lives become a living Gospel.  It is their life.  Their love is overflowing.

Joyful because when Christ is the center and you are where you are supposed to be, there is nothing but joy!  You don’t want to be anywhere else.  It reminded me of the movie Chariots of Fire, when missionary Eric Liddell told his sister that when he ran, he could feel God’s pleasure. God is pleased when we follow Him and are in the center of His will.

Belonging because not only did I know that I belong to the Lord and was in His will, but the people loved me too.  Before I got there, the people told me that they were praying for me and loving me.  And when I was there, they were praying for me and loving me even more!”

Is there a particular song or Scripture that has gained new meaning as a result of your experiences in Beijing and Ji Xian?  

“There’s an old hymn, “Like a river glorious, is God’s perfect peace/Over all victorious, in its bright increase… Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest/Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest”.  This song was with me the whole time, and I haven’t quit singing it since I got home!  Also, the reality of Psalm 138:8 -which I’ve shared with you before- hit me on the last day.  “The LORD will accomplish what concerns me; Your lovingkindness, O LORD, is everlasting; Do not forsake the works of Your hands.”  I’m excited about what God has in store!  I was in the airport, ready to depart, and had a moment of extreme doubt. Had everything I had felt and learned been only emotion? Was God really working in me? Had He really spoken to me? And then I knew God was right next to me!  The Bible says that He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think. It says He is faithful to complete the work which He starts in us. I believe that. The moment was pretty special.  I now know these verses better.  They meant a lot to me before, but God answered my prayers!  This trip was the culmination of everything that I had been bringing before the Lord.”

What would you say is your ‘most memorable memory’?   

“Can I have two?  My most memorable is definitely singing hymns on the bus in Chinese!  I love music, I love to sing.  It was one way to sit next to someone who didn’t speak the same language, yet be singing the same song and worshiping the same God!

My other memory was of the Chinese young people. They are raised in Communism, which teaches them that they have no intrinsic value as an individual. No worth apart from the collective. But Jesus loves them each so very, very much! They struggle with depression and purposelessness often, but the Gospel has changed so many of their lives. This is only one of many needs there, but it is the one that struck deepest into my heart.”

Final Remarks…

“The Chinese church prays for us every day!  They are prayer warriors for us and our churches a lot more than we are for them.  Please, please remember them and their churches in your prayers!”

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On behalf of the True Hope Ministry team and the With True Hope readers: “Thanks a million Emily for sharing your trip with us; may God bless you, as you have been a true blessing to us!”

Victoria

sparrow…

‘HIS EYE IS ON THE SPARROW

AND I KNOW HE WATCHES ME’

What a profound thought!  If God cares for the littlest of birds, how much more does He care for us!  Jesus says, “…DO NOT WORRY…LOOK AT THE BIRDS OF THE AIR; THEY DO NOT SOW OR REAP OR STORE AWAY IN BARNS, AND YET YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER FEEDS THEM.  ARE YOU NOT MUCH MORE VALUABLE THAN THEY?” (Matthew 6:26, NIV84).  And He says again, “ARE NOT TWO SPARROWS SOLD FOR A PENNY? YET NOT ONE OF THEM WILL FALL TO THE GROUND APART FROM THE WILL OF YOUR FATHER …SO DON’T BE AFRAID; YOU ARE WORTH MORE THAN MANY SPARROWS” (Matthew 10:29, 31, NIV84).

Beyond sparrows, these passages are also linked by a common theme of worrying.  Worrying in these passages is in relation to food, drink, clothing, threats, and death.  A parallel passage to the one recorded in Matthew 6 is found in Luke 12:22-31.  It is interesting to note that the word form used for worrying in Luke’s text is meteōrizomai, which means “to be very concerned about, with the implication of placing too much value upon something“. [1]  Jesus is telling us we need not be inappropriately concerned with things and thoughts that only cause anxiety.

But how does this start? And how can it be stopped?

Worrying and fear and anxiety occur when we fail to seek and revere Christ and instead seek and revere those things and thoughts which lead to such worrying and fear and anxiety.  “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’  For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:31-33, NASB95).

Remember you are valuable to Christ.  “[Cast] all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7, NKJV82).

Victoria

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1. Louw, Johannes P. &  Nida, Eugene Albert. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996). 313.

Are YOU Ready? – Part 2

Last week I posed the question “Are You Ready?” and we took a look at what it means to be ready.    Today I would like to take a look at the second question:  “What do we need to be ready for?”.  The obvious answer is ready for the Return of Christ, but I believe there are several additional things we need to be ready for as well.  Let’s take a look…

Are you ready to defend your home?    I think we can all agree that we are in wicked days.  We are seeing things that I never thought I would see in my lifetime.   It is interesting to note that the Bible actually prophesied these days.  2 Timothy 3:1-7 says:

This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Sounds like something right out of today’s news…doesn’t it?  Are we ready to protect our homes from all of the attacks all around us?  Are we ready to defend our homes and families against the spiritual wickedness we see all around us?  Are we willing to take action today to defend our own homes…or are we going to sit back and wait to see what happens?

Are you ready to defend your faith?   Are you willing to stand up for what you believe?   This is a day and age when what is good is called evil and what is evil is called good.  Matthew 24:4-14 states:

…take heed that no man deceive you.  For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many…

There are false prophets and false teachings everywhere today.  It is necessary to take a stand for what we believe in and know to be the truth.  Of course, this requires that we actually know what we believe in.   How well do you know what you believe in?   Are you ready to stand for the truth?

Are you ready to share your faith?   As Christians, we often speak of the “Great Commission” found in Matthew 28:18-20, but are we really living it?  Are we going into all the world to make disciples of all nations?  We need to be ready to teach the truth of God’s word and we need to persuade people to be ready to meet the Lord.

Are you ready to ACT on what HE is telling you to do?   If we hear HIS voice and don’t act on it, we are not doing all that we are called to do.  Of course this implies that we are listening to the voice of the LORD.   Once you know what HE is asking you to do, will you be willing to do it?

Are you ready for the Lord’s coming?    Jesus is coming back and HE is coming back soon.   Are you ready for HIS return?   Will you be found looking forward to the return of Jesus Christ or will you be left behind?  Are you ready for HIS return?

Are YOU waiting anxiously for HIM to come back?  Have you given your life fully to JESUS CHRIST?

Have you made PREPARATION, WITHOUT HESITION, LIVING IN ANTICIPATION, so that you will experience JUBILATION?

Be Ready because JESUS is coming back soon!!!

–Stephen

A Note

Hello,

This is just a note to let my family and friends and all the folks on the northeastern coast affected by hurricane Sandy and the transpiring noreaster -and those going through difficult times- know that you are in our thoughts and prayers!  Here are some encouraging lyrics from one of my favorite songs, “Promises”:

Sometimes it’s hard to keep believing/In what you can’t see/That everything happens for a reason/Even the worst life brings/If you’re reaching for an answer/And you don’t know what to pray/Just open up the pages/Let His word be your strength/And hold on to the promises/Hold on to the promises/Jesus is alive so hold tight/Hold on to the promises
All things work for the good/Of those who love God/He holds back nothing that will heal you/Not even His own Son/His love is everlasting/His faithfulness unending/Oh, if God is for us who can be against us/So if you feel weak/And hold on to the promises/Hold on to the promises/Jesus is alive so hold tight/Hold on to the promises (Sanctus Real).

Victoria

And the True Hope Ministry Team

Are YOU Ready? – Part 1

One of my favorite Christian Contemporary Bands from the ‘80’s (and yes, they are still one of my favorites) was a group called Degarmo & Key.  Their 1984 release “Communication” included a song called “Are You Ready” which inspired me to contemplate the question, “am I ready?”.    So I ask you…”Are You Ready”?   Now before you answer that question, I think that there are two questions that have to be answered:

  • What does it mean to be ready?
  • What do we need to be ready for?

Let’s take a look at the first question:   “What does it mean to be ready?”    The dictionary definition of “being ready” is being “COMPLETELY PREPARED” or “DULY EQUIPPED”.    There is a portion of scripture which details four critical factors required to “be ready”.   Luke 12:35-40 says:

35 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. 39 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Up until this point in Luke 12, Jesus is teaching about material things.   As we get into verse 35, there is a shift away from the material things to what is really important – the eternal things.  These verses show us four of the factors required for readiness.

  1. Preparation:   Verse 40 tells us that the servants must not get ready, they must BE READY.   This is something that is not done as an afterthought, it must be done proactively.
  2. No Hesitation:   Verse 37 speaks of the urgency that comes with being ready.    The wording actually implies that it happens now.   What’s described here is not a “getting ready after you see the master coming or hear his footsteps”…it is a proactive action.
  3. Anticipation:  Verse 36 tells us that this “being ready” is something that the servants MUST be looking forward to.   The imagery that is used is that the master shouldn’t have to stand banging on the door, waiting for his slumbering servants to open the door, the servants must be ready and looking for HIM as if HIS coming is their #1 priority.   After all, they are servants.   This is not just a “dutiful waiting”, but an anticipation of one who is hoped for, expected and looked forward to.
  4. Jubilation:   Verse 38 tells us that as a result of being ready and waiting properly, there is a reward.   Now that is exciting!   I like the way that the New Living Translation puts it:   “He may come in the middle of the night or just before dawn.  But whenever He comes, He will reward the servants who are ready.”

So “are you ready”?   What specific actions can you take to be sure “You are ready”?   I believe it starts with repentance –  turning FROM the sin in our lives and turning TO God.  When we sin, we immediately dull our sensitivity to the LORD and are prevented from walking closely with the Lord.  We must also be sure to spend time in prayer and communion with JESUS if we are to be spiritually prepared for the return of the Master.  Then we must have faith and believe that HE will keep HIS promise.

Are You Ready?   Next week we will explore the second question, What do we need to be ready for?

–Stephen