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Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 Might Be Ending, But HOPE Keeps on Giving!

             

     2013 year-end



                         GIVING!




Signs for Hope

exists to share the Hope of Christ

by facilitating care for Deaf/HOH orphans

throughout the world

__________


All donations are tax deductible! 

Click the "DONATE"  button on this blog or visit the Signs for Hope website.


"Coordinating the Adoption

of Deaf Orphans in the World"

Traditional family adoption
of deaf orphans

Heart Adoption (monthly sponsorship)
of deaf children/orphans

His adoption of ALL deaf children

_______________________


Religion that God our Father accepts 

as pure and faultless is this:

to look after orphans and widows in their distress

and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world
.

                                            James 1:27


_________________________________________

Stay connected with Signs for Hope in 2014



828.691.2581

Signs for Hope

PO Box 460

Fairview, NC  28730


Friday, December 27, 2013

They Will Know We Are Christians, How? Part 2

They Will Know We Are Christians, How?  Read Part 1




As soon as I decided to follow my Lord, just days before my 15th birthday in 1974, I asked my brother and his wife if I could begin attending church with them.  You see, my brother had become a Christ-follower, too, about a year before.

My family was a little different from most, back in the 60's and 70's.  My parents had married in late 1939, following a blind date a few months prior, and my brother was born in late 1940, which made him almost 18 years older than my older sister who was born 14 months before me; I was born March 31, 1959.  As our brother was going off to college, our mother was starting the process of raising two daughters, another family, all over again.  My mom always told us my sister was a huge surprise for them, never thought they could have another child (or so the doctor told them) but they did not want another "only child", so they "planned" for me.  I am sure God knew all this, long before (Ephesians 1). 

When my sister and I were toddlers our family traveled to the beach, near where our brother was attending college in Florida.  He and his girlfriend (she eventually became his first wife) joined us in a day at the beach.  A passerby commented to my mother, "What beautiful granddaughter's you have!" From that time on, my mom began, diligently, dying her hair--to cover the gray we had caused--as she did not want any others to mistakenly think she was our grandmother and not our mother.
My brother had always favored me over my sister, or at least I was convinced of this,  and I believe it was because my sister was favored over me by so many other family members.  Or it could have been that she disrupted his senior year of high school so much, with her incessant crying, he wanted nothing to do with her.  Ha! 

I will never forget having pillow fights with my brother, when he would come home from college or come for a visit after he was married.  We also played "Gotcha Last"! I loved it, even when I peed in my pants from laughing so hard!  That bond continued as we grew older and was one of the strongest influences for my miraculous life-change that took place at the age of 14.

I will never forget the day I was riding in the car with my brother, when he point blank asked me if I was using drugs.  Without hesitation, I assured him I was not.  Liar, liar, pants on fire.  He told me he loved me and shared a brief story of how he recently started following Christ and how he did not want me to waste my life, as he had done.  Remember, he was 18 years my senior.  He wanted me to become a follower of Christ, too.  That was one of those times where a desire deep, deep down inside--the Holy Spirit at work (John 6:44)--was stirring and began to grow and prepare me for that decision that, ultimately, would change my life forever. For now, though, I was still enjoying the pleasure of my sin, for a season (Hebrews 11:25, KJV). 


My greatest regrets of rebellion against my God were the lives I led astray.  My boyfriend, at the time, and I, had lured so many others down the road of destruction which included alcohol, sex and drugs.  He was a junior and I was a freshman when we started "dating".  We didn't hang-out in those days, we called it what it was...dating.  Oh, and by the way, I was unfaithful to him with others.

As I said before, I so wanted to begin attending church with my brother and his family and my mom and dad allowed that, without hesitation, for a short time.  I will always remember the details of my going forward to become a member of their church by way of believer's baptism. It was an outward display of my inward heart change to, from now on, follow Christ.  It was just the week or two before when I had bent my knee on my bedroom floor to ask for forgiveness of my sin and to surrender my life to Christ.  So the picture, which was promptly displayed on the "New Member Board", at the church, was one of me in one of my "approved mini-skirts" (see Part 1).  Note: I thought I still had the picture, but I have been unable to find it to share with you.



Eventually, my parents became jealous over the time I spent with my brother and his family and forced me to attend their church with them.  Their rationalization was, "If I was a Christian, then I could worship Christ at any church." I won't say I didn't learn anything while attending my parents church, but it was obvious the teaching of the scriptures, verse by verse, at my brother's church was so much more rich and I would devour every word.  My parents' restrictions were cause for me to move out, secretly, soon after I turned 18. I had found a job at a local bank, as a teller, and moved into government housing with an older single woman who was a member at my brother's church. Eighteen and on my own!

When my parents found out I had moved out while they were away for the weekend, I begged my dad to not take my car.  Really it was his, and I was SO surprised when he let me keep it. That was my only transportation to and from work and to and from church and had he taken it, which he threatened, I would have no way to support myself and continue attending the church I preferred. 

I had become a sponge for hearing the Word of God.  I LOVED going to my brother's church, now my church, on Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, and Wednesday nights.  Discussion with my brother and sister-in-law also fed my hungry soul.  That deep inner feeling of knowing, without a doubt, my sins had been forgiven gave me a zeal to invite my girlfriends to go to church with me. A few of them made commitments to follow Christ, too, at least for a time.

I really cannot explain in words how one day I was seeking only to satisfy myself and my desires and then suddenly I have this innate desire for the welfare of those around me, especially relating to their experiencing the unexplainable peace I now had. 

They will know we are Christians, how?



Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. ~John 13:14




Sunday, November 3, 2013

They Will Know We Are Christians, How?

Hmmm! How do I start this blog post?  

I should go ahead and warn you, this will probably be one of those...Part 1 of some number.  LOL! 

Additional warning:  It may take several posts before you understand why I am titling these as such.  Hopefully, it will make sense, eventually.

As a young, new believer, at the age of almost 14, my life did a 180 after I got on my knees in my bedroom to surrender it all to Him, whatever that meant, in Feb/March of 1974.  No, I don't remember the date, exactly, but He does.  But the life-change is unmistakable!

He had been pursuing me for a while and I just kept telling Him, "Not now!" I was having too much fun!  "Wait until I get married."  So thankful His pursuit was relentless! 

Back then...I could never have imagined the change that would overtake me in the next few weeks, months and years to come following my surrender of all to Him. 

I was a "good" girl.  Went to church regularly.  Made good enough grades.  Didn't have too many arguments with my parents.  Never let adults hear me cuss.  Never used God's Name in Vain, NEVER!  And I was masterfully skilled at deceiving others.
At this young age, I already "loved" wine and beer.  Apparently, I came by this naturally as both my mother and brother qualified as alcoholics.  My brother and his wife would let me sneak sips of their mufti-flavored Boone's Farm Wine (all were yummy!) and I would announce to my parents I would be washing my hair in beer to make my hair clean and shiny, with every intention of drinking the beer instead.  Of course, I would pour a small amount on my hair so my parents could smell it.  So many have told me, through the years, how they hate the smell of beer...not me, I loved it.

From that time forward, even though my study of the bible revealed drinking, within moderation as long as you were sober-minded, was not a sin, I gave it up completely.  This was one of those specifics, from my rebellious past, that I felt I wanted to sacrifice for the blood that Christ had shed for me.  No, it wasn't my drinking the wine and beer that was my sin, but it was the attitude in which I drank it.  First, it was against the law, second it was against my parents, therefore it was against my God.

Maybe you are wondering how hard it has been for me to refrain from doing something I loved so much?  It truly has NOT been a sacrifice for me, at all.  By God's grace, only once, in the past 38 years, was I tempted to "sneak" a glass of wine and that was about 6 years ago.  My mind said, "No one will know" but, my heart said, "He will."  Again, drinking the wine would not have been the sin, but my motive, my attitude...was sin!  Temptation for self-indulgence...averted.  Now, if I could avert the temptation to eat unhealthily, as easily, that would be awesome!

Not everything about my former life changed instantly, but some things did.  First, were those short mini-skirts I would wear, dropping my shoulders as much as I could to make sure they passed my parents test of "long-enough", as long as I could touch the hem with my fingertips.  Funny, how I now wanted to cover up the very things I wanted to flaunt before knowing Him, and at the age of 13. 

Of course, when my attire changed my friends began to ask me why I was dressing so differently.  It wasn't just my clothes that had changed, but everything about me was changing.  





For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.  And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  2 Corinthians 5:14-17



Friday, November 1, 2013

CHRISTMAS HOPE FOR DEAF ORPHANS!

And the WINNER IS...

M. Bradler, SC 

Congratulations!!

Thanks to all who help give Hope to Deaf orphans around the world!

Merry Christmas!!


DEAF CHILDREN NEED HOPE!

1ST ANNUAL  

SIGNS FOR HOPE

"MATTHEW 25:40"


‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’


100% of the proceeds go to share the 

HOPE OF CHRIST

as we facilitate care for deaf/HOH
orphans throughout the world.


YOU COULD WIN A

TRIP-FOR-TWO

TO

HAWAII !
(Retail Value:  $5,999)

OR 

$5,000 CASH


 $20 per ticket!
(only 2,000 tickets for sale)

Click on the "Donate" button to purchase ticket(s)
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(Name/Address/Phone/Email must be included)

Or 

Mail your check made payable to
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****All ticket sales must be completed/received 
by December 23, 2013 at NOON(EST), 
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winner will be notified via email****

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Is It God's Face or God's Hand That We Seek?

Often I go back and re-read the PrayerLetters I send out to those who have expressed an interest in following God's leading Signs for Hope, step by step.  In some ways, these PrayerLetters have become my journal, as such.  It blows my mind to be reminded of the things God has done, last year, or even just a couple of months ago and even yesterday.  This ability to go back and see, again, what God is doing gives me encouragement to persevere, no matter my circumstances or the circumstances surrounding those God has brought into my world because of His call.  Not only does God continue to do some miraculous things, His Holy Spirit also invades my writings of what I am learning in the midst of the miraculous.  The section of the PrayerLetter labeled "From My Heart to Yours..." has sort of evolved, over time.  Most often, it is how God is refining me as He leads me on this path.  As I read again, those words I share with you from my heart, I am convicted, again, to keep my focus on Him and Him alone.  I have decided to share some of those heart-stories here on the blog.  Today's post was originally shared in the June/July 2012 PrayerLetter, after a 27-day trip to Africa.  There have been a few revisions and additions. 

From My Heart to Yours...


As always, I truly felt your prayers the entire time I was in Africa. I know that without your partnership with me in this ministry to Deaf orphans, I will never be able to accomplish what He desires. He alone will be able to thank you for those prayers you prayed.

The experiences you and I have had over the past 3 months have all been filtered by our heavenly Father. Some of those experiences have been bittersweet and some…down right frustrating, and often painful. Some have been outright joyous occasions when we were so filled with happiness we thought we might burst. What I do not want to miss and what I do not want you to miss is this… everything, and I do mean everything, He brings us to and through is preparing us for the future. 

His greatest desire for us is conforming us to the image of His Son! Not because it is painful, mind you, but because it is for our good and for His Kingdom’s good. This is a perspective I find myself being challenged in time and time again. Will I accept ‘everything’ as His best for me or will I not? It really boils down to a question of FAITH! 

Another question I have been asking others for some time now, is, "What is the difference between seeking God's face and seeking God's hand?"  Many of my questions come from translating hymns and worship songs into ASL.  Over a 9-year period (2001-2010) I probably translated more than 500 worship songs, as I was signing them weekly for our interpreted services.  Desiring to know and conceptually convey accurately the meaning behind the writer's words were always of great concern to me.

From my perspective, His hand, in scripture, often represents His power to give or take away earthly things.  But His face represents His love for you and for me and His presence with us, which is beyond anything my mind can comprehend.


Will I accept everything He allows to come my way as coming from His face and not His hand or will I not? 

You see, if it is His face that I seek and not His hand then my perspective becomes an eternal one, but if it is His hand that I seek then it is one of a temporary/earthly perspective. Seeking His face, it is His eyes of love, approval, and encouragement to persevere that I gain.

That supernatural transformation from our hearts that ‘are desperately wicked’ to His all-consuming perfected righteousness cannot be an easy one. Brothers and sisters, it is circumcision of the heart!

When we place false expectations and assumptions on what that transformation requires we will be left feeling betrayed. But when we embrace what we know to be true from scripture and recognize the fact that "all things [do] work together for good", then we can take a deep breath or two and resolve as Job did, "The LORD gives and the LORD takes away.  Blessed be the name of the LORD."

Will you and I ever be able embrace what James instructs?

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”

I am striving to seek God's face, daily...will you join me? 

I am adding this part as I believe it to be so timely!
   

I want to share with you a blog that is telling the God-story of a young woman, as she and her family are living it.  She was recently paralyzed from the armpits down. We are often touched by such a story many years later as it often takes much time to reach the point of praising God for something as life-altering as this.  Kaitlin Wanberg, and her husband, John, were married June 1 and on Sept 1 she was injured in a dirt-bike accident in the mountains of Colorado.  The families of these two and they themselves are walking this road laid out for them with a grace that only comes from an intimate relationship with their Lord.  I have joined their blog so I will not miss what God wants to teach me through them.  You might want to do the same.  These are some of Joseph's friends made during his Kanakuk/Kivu Camp summers.

Kaitlin shared her debut blog post last Thursday.



Thursday, September 19, 2013

Are You Blessed?

Matthew 5, 6, & 7.  This is a scripture passage I have been contemplating and meditating on, for several months now.  It's one of those scriptures that keeps coming up in Bible studies, on the radio, is shared in conversations and then, randomly, His Spirit brings it to mind.  And Matthew is also this year's focus for Bible Study Fellowship. 

This portion of the Bible is most notably known as Christ's Sermon on the Mount.  The first 12 verses of chapter 5 are referred to as the Beatitudes.  


Jesus said:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.


11“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

I wanted a deeper understanding of the word beatitude/blessed, so I did some research.  The limitations of the English language will not allow for an accurate translation of the Greek word makarios or 'blessed' which means so much more than our English fortunate or happyMakarios has a much deeper meaning and one that is related to the condition of the soul and not based on our outward circumstances or conditions.  It is more deeply related to an inner joy and peace that only comes from a right relationship to God. 

I wonder, today, when we use the word "blessed" or "blessings" when speaking or writing to others, do we fully intend the deeper meaning or are we thinking more superficially and thinking more about physical blessings?

Apparently, the attitudes and actions Jesus describes as blessed or makarios (poor in spirit, mourn, meek, hunger and thirst for righteousness), are some, if not all, what we as God's children should be experiencing and emulating, especially if we want to experience the benefit of the blessings each brings.  Jesus does not mention asking for any of these things to be removed from our lives, which could be causing these attitudes and actions.  Nor does He promise He will remove them, but rather states when we experience them...we ARE blessed and exactly how we ARE blessed or makarios by each one.  Let me list for us the benefits/blessings/makarios Jesus mentions:

Yours is the Kingdom of Heaven

You will be comforted


You will inherit the earth

You will be filled

You will be shown mercy

You will see God


You will be called children of God

Yours is the Kingdom of Heaven

The above is how Jesus defines makarios, blessed!

I purposefully left the last one, verses 11 & 12, off the list above.  “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Once again, our Lord's perspective on markarios of the Christian's life seems to be in direct opposition to what most of us think it should be.  People insulting us and then saying all kinds of evil against us BECAUSE OF HIM, we should rejoice and be glad? 

He did not say we should feel offended.  He did not say we should become indignant.  He did not say we should demand our rights.  He did not say He would come to our aid and remove the evil and injustice being done to us.  He also did not say we should become prideful because of any of these things. 

What DID He say? 

"REJOICE AND BE GLAD!  BECAUSE YOU ARE MARKARIOS!" 




Sunday, September 1, 2013

So You Want to Adopt a Deaf Child, Part 8...

What is BEST for the Deaf Child and Beyond?

The blogpost below was originally shared in September of 2013 under the title, "What is BEST for the Deaf Child?".  I have decided to include it, in its updated form, to become Part 8 in the series, "So You Want to Adopt a Deaf Child?"

In an effort to inform and equip adoption agencies, especially faith-based ones, as they seek to provide the best possible family environment for the raising of deaf children and to expand their understanding of the Biblical Worldview concerning the Deaf Peoples around the world, I have decided to write this post. 


 
Having numerous dDeaf family members (d meaning a form of deafness and D meaning a member of the Deaf Community) I often thought my husband, Charles, and I would end up giving birth to and being given the responsibility of raising a deaf child.  However, Rachel and Joseph are both hearing and we never had to face that all-encompassing question, "What is best for our deaf child?"   
 
Thirteen years ago when God led me to return to school in the fall of 2000 at the age of 41--2 yr. Interpreter Training Program degree and then 4-yr. degree in ASL Studies,--the answer to the question, "What is best for the deaf child?" became a personal quest of mine. At that time, I did not understand why I was so obsessed with wanting to know the answer to that question, but I do now, at least in part. 

I researched and researched and researched some more...I still do.  I talked to numerous educational interpreters, they are on the front lines and see what deaf children are faced with day in and day out...I still do.  I have also listened to many dDeaf people share their stories of frustration and pain with hearing family members who never learned sign language...and I still do.  
And I listen to the stories of those who experience deafness, but do not know sign language or were not exposed to it until much later in life and do not feel accepted by hearing people or by Deaf people, to this day.  They do not really "fit" anywhere! 

 
Sometimes, I feel embarrassed to admit that it took me several years to come to my conclusion. However, that uncertainty forced me to develop a strong and sure foundation for why I can boldly say, today, without reservation or hesitation, that providing the deaf child a sign language rich environment, as their strong foundation, is by far...BEST!


In addition, over the past 14 years, I have become heavily involved with the Deaf Community.  I have learned they are among one of the top three unreached people groups locally and around the world.  An unreached people group is an ethnic or ethnolinguistic people in which less than 2% of their population know of and follow Christ.
 
Often, Deaf people remind me of this story in the Old Testament, Exodus chapters 3 & 4, where the LORD (Yahweh) is speaking to Moses from the burning bush and Moses is making excuses as to why he should not be the one to do what God has called him to do.


"Then Moses said to the Lord, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.
The Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? (Exodus 4:11, NASB)

Many Deaf people who do follow Christ, believe it is no accident God has allowed them to be deaf and that He clearly has a plan for each of their lives within their deafness.

This additional knowledge has led me to see more clearly, another reason, possibly even a stronger and more important one for granting the deaf child the right to be allowed to learn ASL and that is for the purpose of impacting those who are dDeaf with the gospel of Jesus Christ.


We know, from much research, the ability to share the hope of Christ by others within their own people group is much more successful than when those from outside their group try to do the same.  If ASL-fluent and Deaf Culture-immersed families adopt deaf children and then provide them with a sign language rich environment there will be many more opportunities for God to lead some of those children to share their beliefs with other Deaf people as they become adults.   I already know stories of adopted deaf children who feel called to return to their home lands to share the gospel with the Deaf people there.  Their sign language fluent hearing adoptive family members will also have influence on the Deaf Community and vice versa.  However, if families never give their deaf children the opportunity to learn sign language or interact with other Deaf people, the possibility of them ever influencing the lives of Deaf people for Christ is minimal to none, at best. 

Maybe more of us hearing people should follow Paul's example, learn sign language and become immersed in the Deaf Community:

"Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings." ~1 Corinthians 9:19-23

Some challenging questions for us to ponder:


For the sake of the gospel, should Christian hearing parents of deaf children learn ASL?  To date, in the US, 90+% of hearing biological parents never learn to sign with their deaf children. 

For the sake of the gospel, should Christian adoptive parents provide a sign-language rich environment for their deaf children? 

And, finally, should any and all hearing people learn ASL and be immersed in Deaf Culture, to possibly 'win the Deaf' and some how 'save some'?

Before I am misunderstood, let me go ahead and say clearly, I believe the BEST for the deaf child is knowing and embracing both ASL and English, as best they can. In addition, I also believe they should be given every opportunity to embrace both the hearing and Deaf cultures, as well. 

Ideally, I also believe it is also BEST for all hearing people and all dDeaf people to do the same. 

God has purposefully given us family members who experience deafness.  This is no accident nor is it only a result of the fall of mankind or sin which we should simply accept as a part of this life.  Why else would He continue allowing 95+% of deaf children to be born to and/or raised by hearing parents?  And why else would He be allowing as many as 70% of our aging population of hearing family members experience debilitating deafness in their final years? 

We are long overdue for asking God, specifically, what His will is concerning the dDeaf in our midst.  Over the years, we, hearing and Deaf people alike, have constantly been separating these two groups of people, but God is constantly trying to ensure that the vast majority of deaf people (old and young) always have hearing family members.  The family is a part of God's design from the very beginning.  When will we stop separting what God Himself has put together?  What are we missing when we separate ourselves from each other?

If you are an agency or a family not focused on adoption being, solely, His work and ultimately to spread His gospel, I urge you to do some soul searching and ask God to reaffirm to you why it is you are involved with adoption and more specifically the adoption of children who experience deafness.





James 1:5

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.



Monday, May 6, 2013

Persecution! Should We Be Outraged? Or...Should We Shout Praises To God?

The outrage--righteous indignation--some Christians voice against the persecution of those who faithfully follow Jesus, appears to be an accurate response, from our human perspective.  But, have you ever pondered God's perspective on Christ-followers who are persecuted or even martyred for their faith?

I did some research on the word, martyr.  In the original Greek the word was martus and it means "witness" or "one who saw".  It was later, when the word witness or martus became synonymous with our word "martyr".  Today, Webster defines the word martyr as "a person who voluntarily suffers death as the penalty of witnessing to and refusing to renounce a religion." I suspect the persecution and murder of numerous Christ-followers and other religious fanatics helped to shape the now meaning of our word, martyr

In New Testament times, when someone became a follower of Jesus Christ they KNEW they would be persecuted for their faith and the possibility they would be forced to choose between life and death was very real.  Jesus Christ, Himself, was the first martyr, in the New Testament.  Stephen followed close behind.  Persecution was a part of the everyday Christian life, back then!  When you made the decision to follow Jesus you accepted the fact you would suffer for it, it was the norm, not the exception.

John 15:8 - If the world hates you, keep in mind it hated me first."

Matthew 5:11-12 - "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

Matthew 5:43-45 - “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."


Wow!  According to Jesus, we are to expect to be persecuted, we are blessed because of it, and we are to pray for our persecutors.  He does not teach us to pray against persecution nor does He teach us to try to prevent it.  Is this an oxymoron from what we thought should be a right response to persecution?


As I look back, when I was saved or became a follower of Christ, thirty-nine years ago-- March of 1974 to be exact --the thought never occurred to me that I could be put to death or martyred for placing my faith in what Jesus had done for me by dying on the cross.  At that time, in America, it was popular to become a Christ-follower, during The Jesus Movement, and many willingly surrendered to His call during that time. 

When Rachel was old enough, two or three years old (she is now 28), Charles and I began to have devotions and prayer with her every night before bed. A few years later, when Joseph was about one, he joined us.  We tried to keep them, age-appropriate for topic and time.  In the beginning, it was not easy and they were easily distracted and did not always pay full attention, but we persevered and often had some great times of sharing and praying together, just before bedtime.



We would also pray nightly for missionaries on their birthday. We had an inflatable globe that Rachel and Joseph would take turns locating the country where each missionary was serving.  Oddly enough, it was during that time when the FMB (Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and since 1997 the International Mission Board or IMB) began assigning aliases to their missionaries who were serving in especially dangerous places, for their protection.  And the names of the countries where they were serving were no longer shared, as well. 

We used a variety of devotional books and resources through the years, but when the kids were older one of the most impacting resources we used for our family devotion times were the "Jesus Freaks" books, compiled by the Christian music group "dc Talk".  You can still purchase these books, today, and I carried one of them to Liberia with me, two years ago, to give to our 19-yr old, then Heart Adopted deaf son, Amara, a Muslim.
 

There were more than a few stories, of those who experienced a martyr's death, whose captor's and executioners became followers of Christ after watching their victims refuse to renounce the name of Christ...no matter what they were forced to endure. Were these brothers and sisters "super Christians" and not afraid of suffering?  Not necessarily, but through their fear and their pain they remained resolute to never recount the name of Christ.  So, their physical death, full of pain and suffering, meant eternal life for others. Sound familiar?  Often the stories of these martyrs were told by their captors who were so impacted by these believers, willing to die for their beloved Lord, they, in turn, became Christ-followers as did others they shared their new found faith with!  Persecution meant...the gospel spread!

There are numerous stories from the Bible and other historical writings of those who died because of their faith in Christ and relentless following of their Savior and their Lord.  Paul's list of persecutions and perils he experienced, during his earthly life and while imprisoned for the sake of Christ is extensive, and are recorded in 2 Corinthians 2:11.  For a list of what the other apostles, themselves, endured and how they died check these links:





"On that day [the day of Stephen's stoning] a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria." Acts 8:1

Another event which forced believer's to scatter from Rome, in the AD 60's, was Nero's deliberate, burning of a significant amount of that great city.  Peter's two books are written specifically to those who had been scattered making it possible for the gospel to spread even further.  Read "Walk Through the Life of Peter:  Growing Bold Faith" for greater insight into this event, when "
Christian-killing became an acceptable and popular indulgence."

As Christians, we must not form opinions about events in this world without applying the truth of scripture.  If we are careful to do so, our "Christian world view" will become vastly different from what we think is right...based on scripture and not based on our own opinions and this world. 
"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth."  2 Timothy 2:15

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Oh, To Be Like...Joseph!

As I was listening to Chip Ingram this week, I was reminded that one of the most important things we can do, if not THE most important, as Christians, is to never be in a hurry.  We have been studying the book of Genesis this year in BSF (Bible Study Fellowship), and I have been struck time and time again by the actions of God's children who want to "help" God's plan along, by "hurrying", only to cause much greater harm than good, in the end. 

Oh, to be like Joseph! 
(Genesis 37-50)




There is no record of Joseph questioning God about anything that unjustly or unfairly happened to him.  As a young boy, God gave Joseph dreams where his brothers and family bowed to him, but the fulfillment of his dreams would not be experienced until he was in his 30's.  And it was not until Joseph experienced a life of humility and obedience that this came to pass.  I wonder, what if, Joseph had demanded that his brothers and family bow to him before God's perfect time was accomplished?  Suppose Joseph had "hurried" God's plan instead of waiting patiently for it to come to pass?  We will never know, since Joseph did neither and allowed God's perfect plan to unfold in His perfect timing.  

 
Joseph's brothers were planning to kill "the dreamer", but brother Reuben intervenes and, instead, they sell Joseph to a caravan of Ishmaelites on their way to Egypt.  Sold into slavery, by his brothers, at the age of 17, Joseph became a slave in Potiphar's house and then a prisoner, falsely accused, when "the LORD was with him and gave him success in whatever he did." We would say Joseph had every right to demand justice, but obviously God had other plans.

Could it be that God's greatest plans for our lives are IN the suffering or what is produced in and through us by the suffering?

I doubt many of us will experience slavery and imprisonment, in our lifetime, but slavery and prison could be equated with financial hardships, chronic health issues, dysfunctional families, 24/7 pain, job-related injustices, prodigal children, the "untimely" death of a child, mental illness, and the list goes on. 

Obviously, Joseph never took anything that happened to him, personally, and was an incredible witness for God in these places of disdain.  His goal was to benefit others, no matter their status in life.  Self was not his focus, but rather the lives of...others.

Let's just suppose a few things.  Let's suppose, Joseph was filled with "righteous indignation" for his brothers' hatred and unjust treatment of him.  Certainly, God had already revealed through his dreams they would bow to him, why not now? Let's suppose, Joseph began to doubt God's plan and he chose to embrace a "victim" mentality and became a complainer.  Let's suppose, Joseph, rightly, defended himself when Potiphar's wife accused him of trying to rape her.  Let's just suppose, Joseph was a whiner, while in prison, instead of one who tended the needs of the other prisoners.  Let's just suppose, Joseph took credit for his ability to interpret dreams.  What do you suppose would have been the outcome of all of the above...in relation to Joseph and in relation to those Joseph's life touched? 

Allow me to point out that the "success in whatever he did" was directly related to causing pagans, those who did not know/follow Joseph's God, to recognize the One True God!  The Pharaoh proclaimed, "Can we find anyone like this man, one in who is the spirit of God?"  Joseph was careful to give God alone the glory for the things he accomplished, including his interpretation of the Pharaoh's dreams.  Joseph appears to have no pride.  Some label Joseph a "tattler" and a "boaster", when he was young, but his actions in Egypt, as a slave and prisoner, were those of a wise and humble man and God blessed him for it.  Joseph not only surrendered to the WHATEVER God planned, but he embraced it fully.

As the story of Joseph unfolds, God orchestrates events, unjust as they may seem to us, so the Pharaoh ultimately puts Joseph in charge, second-in-command, over all of Egypt, "lord of his entire household and ruler of all of Egypt".  Joseph's resume' stated he had just been released from prison and he was a foreigner in the land.  But...God!  Only Pharaoh was to be considered above Joseph.  This is in the land of Egypt, not the land of Israel.  God continued to be with Joseph in this new position of Egyptian authority, as I am sure Joseph continued to point others to Him, in a way that was attractive and appealing with wisdom and discernment.

The climax of Joseph's story comes when his brothers come seeking food from him, during a time of severe famine.  The same brothers who plotted for his demise, those who hated Joseph were begging him for food so their family could survive.  This was the fulfillment of the dreams Joseph had as a young lad.  When they realized Joseph was their brother, whom they had sold into slavery so many years before, they were petrified.  Joseph explained, "Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.  So, it was not you who sent me here, but God."  



So, Joseph is completely assured that all that has happened to him was directly from God.

Wow!  Most of us would be in awe of this high-level of "forgiveness", but let me remind you, the scriptures never mention Joseph "forgave" his brothers.  Apparently, Joseph had no reason to forgive them, since he saw their actions as being part of God's divine plan, not actions against him.  Interesting, to say the least, huh?  Remember, our "battle is not
against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." 
 
Oh, to have that level of "faith" and the ability to live above our circumstances, like Joseph.  Not to take anything that happens to us...personally.  But rather, recognizing it, all of it, as being from the hand of God and for a greater purpose than we can comprehend.  I know we want God to remain the "God of love" who, of course, would never want us to experience and suffer "bad things".  Sarcasm intended.  But He IS the "God of love" since He loves us too much not to allow us to experience those "bad things" He knows is necessary for our own good, our own spiritual growth.  God teaches us, clearly, through His Word, if we simply will believe and embrace it:  "We know ALL things work together for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose"(Rom 8:28).  By the way, those things we tend to label "bad", in God's perspective are not bad.  We are the ones who "label" our circumstances as either good or bad.  God simply calls them "all things". God's greatest desire is for each of us to become like His Son, Jesus (Rom 8:29).  He knows just what each of us needs to provide the best possible circumstances to promote that kind of spiritual growth in us.

How is it that Christians grow in their faith and become like Christ? "...Though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:67).  God desires for us " to rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us" (Romans 5:3-5). Then James has the audacity to tell us, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness."  And why should we do such a thing?  James continues,  "And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:2-4). 

Suppose we looked at every situation as being "sent by God" with a greater purpose than our own self preservation?  Suppose we saw the world through the eyes of Joseph; all this happened to me "to save lives"?  How would we be different if we had this perspective?  What could lower our stress-levels more? How would our world look different, IF we had the same attitude as Joseph and never tried to manipulate something to happen sooner than God's perfect timing for it? 

So often, I have asked God to remove my circumstances when I should be praising Him for them.  He, alone, knows what is best for me and for my spiritual growth.  He, alone, knows the full scope of what my circumstances mean for others...possibly "to save lives."

The ultimate Joseph attitude?

Reassuring his brothers after their father died, Joseph said,

"What you meant for evil, God meant for good, to accomplish what is now being done the saving of many lives."