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6/26/17 7:39 P

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- June 26

PERFECTED THROUGH PERSECUTION

“We can rejoice when we run into problems...they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady.” Romans 5:3-4

Here is another of five ways God uses problems and persecution in your life: God uses problems and persecution to PERFECT you.

Problems, when responded to correctly, are character builders. God is far more interested in your character than your comfort. Your relationship to God and your character are the only two things you are going to take with you into eternity.

Christian singer,Helen Berhane, wrote a song of victory while in the terrible conditions of an Eritrean shipping container cell for almost three years:

Christianity costs you your life
But at the end, its outcome is victory


The beating of the Hebrews with the whip was awful
The waves of the sea and the mighty wind
Crushed by the stone, suffering by day and night;
Paul’s faithfulness was tested by a sword.

Christianity costs you your life
But at the end, its outcome is victory

The journey of Ruth was a hope where there was no hope;
A sacrifice was paid even for a despised tribe.
Although there was nothing promised for Ruth
By faith she made her way toward Nazareth
And she entered into Jesus’ genealogy.

Christianity costs you your life
But at the end, its outcome is victory

Response:

God is at work in my life—even when I do not recognize it or understand it. It is much easier and more profitable when I cooperate with Him. This is the way to victory!

PRAYER:

Thanks be to God who gives us the victory!

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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6/25/17 7:46 A

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Standing Strong Through the Storm June 25

GOD INTENDED IT FOR GOOD

"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." Genesis 50:20

Here is another of five ways God uses problems and persecution in your life: God uses problems and persecution to PROTECT you.

A problem can be a blessing in disguise if it prevents you from being harmed by something more serious. Last year a friend was fired for refusing to do something unethical that his boss had asked him to do. His unemployment was a problem—but it saved him from being convicted and sent to prison a year later when management's actions were eventually discovered.

Eritrean Christian singer, Helen Berhane, testifies that God helped her at every turn during her almost three years of imprisonment in the infamous shipping containers. She saw God repeatedly turn evil plans into good:

One day they [the guards] brought two girls to my container. Their names were Rahel and Elsa. They were both in the army before they were arrested. They were supposed to spy on me and report back, because the authorities could not understand how, despite their treatment of me, I was still defiant. However, things backfired because the girls really liked me. Very soon we had become good friends and they even told me, “We were supposed to spy on you. But we like you, and so we won’t!”

…Since the girls were not spying as they had been told to, Rahel was released, but they left Elsa in the container with me for a while. Rahel left all her spare clothes for me. This was a blessing, as for a long time I had not been allowed any more clothes, even when the old ones were worn out. I felt that this was God’s provision for me, like the ravens he sent to Elijah. It was my experience that no matter what hardship I was in, God always sent someone to help me. So, although these girls were sent to spy on me, God used them to bless me.

RESPONSE:

God is at work in my life—even when I do not recognize it or understand it. It is much easier and more profitable when I cooperate with Him. This is the way to victory!

PRAYER:

God help me to trust You to bring good from the challenges, difficulties and persecutions I might be subjected to today.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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6/23/17 5:23 A

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A Cloak of Love - UpWords - Week of June 23-29, 2017

by Max Lucado

Do you know anyone who is wounded and afraid? Do you know anyone who is guilty and embarrassed? Do you know anyone who needs a cloak of love? “Love covers a multitude of sins,” the scripture says in 1 Peter 4:8. Love doesn’t expose. It doesn’t gossip. If love says anything, love speaks words of defense. Words of kindness. Words of protection.

Do you know anyone who could use some protection? Of course you do. Then give some. Pay a gas bill for a struggling elderly couple. Promise your kids that, God being your helper, they’ll never know a hungry day or a homeless night. Tell your husband that you’d do it all over again and invite him on a honeymoon. Make sure your divorced friends are invited to your parties. Do you know anyone who needs a cloak of love? Then, give it.

From A Love Worth Giving

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6/23/17 3:11 A

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - June 23

A NEW DIRECTION

“Sometimes it takes a painful situation to make us change our ways.” Proverbs 20:30 TEV

Here is one of five ways God uses problems and persecution in your life. God uses problems and persecution to DIRECT you.

Idris Nalos was an African animist converted to the Christian faith in southern Sudan. Soon after his conversion he became an evangelist. He went out preaching in the remotest places. Within a few years, he planted three churches. Soon considered as dangerous because of his activities, he was arrested by the Islamic authorities and put in prison. There he suffered torture to make him deny his Christian faith. Beaten for hours every day, he was also totally deprived of sleep.

About to collapse, Idris prayed, “Lord, prevent me from being like Peter. I am about to give up, help me.”

And God answered in giving Idris a vision where he saw all those to whom he had preached the Gospel and who, in turn, proclaimed the Good News to other people.

“I saw those who were saved,” he said. In this vision, he realized that even if his life was taken, others had already taken up the baton. From this moment, Idris was no longer afraid for his life. After three weeks of ceaseless torment, his torturers released him without explanation.

To avoid another arrest he immigrated to Khartoum in the north, where he founded three new churches in a fundamentalist Muslim territory. He had learned how to trust and wasn’t afraid anymore. God showed him where to go and what to do.

Sometimes God must light a fire under us to get us moving. Problems and pressures often point us in a new direction and motivate us to change. Is God trying to get your attention?

RESPONSE:

God is at work in my life—even when I do not recognize it or understand it. It is much easier and more profitable when I cooperate with Him. This is the way to victory!

PRAYER:

Lord, point me in the direction of Your will. May I not need problems and persecution for You to get my attention.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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6/21/17 3:23 P

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - June 21

THE WOODEN BOWL

“All your sons will be taught by the Lord, and great will be your children’s peace.” - Isaiah 54:13

A frail old man went to live with his son, daughter-in-law, and four-year-old grandson. The old man's hands trembled, his eyesight was blurred, and his step faltered. The family ate together at the table. But the elderly grandfather's shaky hands and failing sight made eating difficult. Peas rolled off his spoon onto the floor. When he grasped the glass, milk spilled on the tablecloth.

The son and daughter-in-law became irritated with the mess. "We must do something about Grandfather," said the son. "I've had enough of his spilled milk, noisy eating, and food on the floor." So the husband and wife set a small table in the corner. There, Grandfather ate alone while the rest of the family enjoyed dinner.

Since Grandfather had broken a dish or two, his food was served in a wooden bowl. When the family glanced in Grandfather's direction, sometimes he had a tear in his eye as he sat alone. Still, the only words the couple had for him were sharp admonitions when he dropped a fork or spilled food.

The four-year-old watched it all in silence. One evening before supper, the father noticed his son playing with wood scraps on the floor. He asked the child sweetly, "What are you making?"

Just as sweetly, the boy responded, "Oh, I am making a little bowl for you and Mama to eat your food in when I grow up." The four-year-old smiled and went back to work.

The words so struck the parents that they were speechless. Then tears started to stream down their cheeks. Though no word was spoken, both knew what must be done.

That evening, the husband took Grandfather's hand and gently led him back to the family table. For the remainder of his days he ate every meal with the family. And for some reason, neither husband nor wife seemed to care any longer when a fork was dropped, milk spilled, or the tablecloth soiled.

Children are remarkably perceptive. Their eyes ever observe, their ears ever listen, and their minds ever process the messages they absorb. If they see us patiently provide a happy, godly home atmosphere, they will imitate that attitude for the rest of their lives.

The wise parent realizes that every day the building blocks are being laid for their children's future.

RESPONSE:

Today I will purpose to live a life that exemplifies to everyone the love of Jesus…especially in my home.

PRAYER:

Help me, Lord, to be a positive Christ-like impact on members of the younger generation.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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6/20/17 11:44 A

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Today’s Scripture
"And Jesus answered them, "Truly I say to you, if you have faith (a firm relying trust) and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' it will be done.""
(Matthew 21:21, AMPC)

Speak Favor to Your Mountains
Everyone goes through seasons when the challenges of life feel overwhelming. During these times, it’s easy to be tempted to talk about how bad things are. Maybe you are facing a situation right now that looks impossible. Don’t get discouraged and give up because God wants to do something awesome in your life. Instead of talking to God about how big your problems are, talk to your problems about how big your God is. Be bold and start speaking favor to that situation. Every day say, “Father, thank You that Your favor is turning this around. Thank You that Your favor is making a way even though I don’t see a way. Lord, thank You that Your favor is doing remarkable, astounding, overwhelming things.” When you release your faith like that, you’ll see God show up and do amazing things that you’ve never seen happen before!

Remember, even if you don’t see how things could ever work out, God does. Just do your part and keep speaking to those mountains in your life. Declare favor over those situations and get ready to move forward in the victory and blessing God has prepared for you!

A Prayer for Today
"Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word which is life to my spirit. I receive Your strength today and choose to speak favor to the mountains. Thank You for preparing a path of victory as I keep my heart and mind stayed on You in Jesus’ name. Amen"



"I wish above all that you prosper and be in health even as your soul prospers" 3 John 1:2


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6/17/17 5:13 A

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - June 17

THE CROSS - SUFFERING Pt. 3

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” Matthew 5:10-11

Jesus assures his followers there is blessing in suffering for what is right. This blessing may take the form of inner peace and joy. This is the meaning of the word translated “blessed” or “happy” in Jesus’ teaching called the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12).

The New Testament writer, James, indicates that pressures are blessings in disguise and should be responded to with joyfulness (James 1:2-3). The MESSAGE paraphrase translates the verses this way; “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors.”

Helen Berhane was severely persecuted in Eritrea’s prison system because she would not deny her faith. No matter what they did, she refused to give in. She explains:

I told the chief, “I cannot abandon my faith. If you puncture a sack of grain, the only thing that pours out is the type of grain that was in the sack. It is the same with me. I can only say what is inside me; everything that is in my heart must come out of my mouth…The more you punish me, the stronger I will be. If you keep hammering on a nail’s head it just becomes harder to pull out of the wall…”

I could not understand how they expected me to stop believing; it was impossible for me. In fact, the guards were making their own situation worse, because people began to ask what was so special about this religion that Christians refused to give it up, and they also believed. Our suffering became a glory for our faith…I am convinced that the number of Christians has doubled or tripled since they closed the churches. So perhaps God is using this terrible situation for his glory.

RESPONSE:

Today I will stand for what is right because I know Jesus will be glorified and I will receive a blessing.

PRAYER:

Ask God to give strength and courage to those around the world being pressured to deny their faith today.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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6/17/17 3:52 A

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Real Love Changes People - UpWords - Week of June 16-22, 2017

by Max Lucado

Paul writes, “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15 NASB). Do you want to plumb the depths of your love for someone? How do you feel when that person succeeds? Do you rejoice or are you jealous? And when he or she stumbles or falls into misfortune? Are you really sorry? Or are you secretly pleased?

Love never celebrates misfortune. Never! Real love changes people. Didn’t God’s love change you? You know your love is real when you weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. Do you want to know what love is? “This is what real love is– It is not our love for God; it is God’s love for us. He sent his Son to die in our place to take away our sins” (1 John 4:10).

God passes the test! And well he should --he drafted it! He rejoices with you; may you rejoice with others.

From A Love Worth Giving

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6/10/17 3:30 A

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June 10

Psalms 73:26

My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.

Pete faced the idea of death with calm. In his day, Pete had been a strong, good-looking man. He had watched himself grow old, but that was okay. He had lived a wonderful life. Sometimes he wished he were young again, but mostly he was happy with where he was in life. Even though his flesh grew wrinkled and his heart didn't pump quite as well as it had before, his mind was still sharp and his spirit was good. To live was wonderful, but dying would be okay, too. He'd done well on earth; maybe it was time to see how he'd fare in heaven.

Christ makes us strangers to the earth. His home is in heaven, and when He dwells with us, He prepares us for our true, eternal home. The longer Christ is with us, the more He readies us to leave this place, to enter into heaven. Death need hold ho fear. On the other side waits God and an eternity spent in His loving care.

Prayer: With Paul, I can claim that to live is Christ, to die is gain. Whatever Your will for my life, Lord, whether long or short, help me to accept it. Amen.

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6/9/17 5:39 P

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Check Your Garbage - UpWords - Week of June 9-15, 2017

by Max Lucado

Life has a way of unloading its rubbish on our doorstep! Your husband works too much. Your wife gripes too much. Your kids whine too much. The result? Trash! Load after load of bitterness, anxiety, deceit, and distrust. It all piles up. Now, mark it down. Today’s anger is tomorrow’s abuse. Today’s lust is tomorrow’s adultery. Today’s guilt is tomorrow’s fear. Today’s thoughts are tomorrow’s actions. So, deal with the trash!

Could that be why Paul says, “Love. . .keeps no record of wrongs?” (1 Corinthians 13:5 NIV). Let trash pile up and people are going to smell it. Are we victims of the emotional bacteria of the season? Or do we have a choice? Paul says we have an option. “We capture every thought and make it give up and obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). We have a choice. You might want to check your garbage.

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6/9/17 5:59 A

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - June 9

GOD-INSCIDENCES

"Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish." Esther 4:16

An old Chinese pastor used to say, “I find that coincidences stop happening when I stop praying.”The resolution of the book of Esther hinges on a massive coincidence, namely, that at the precise moment Haman expects to kill Mordecai, the king decides to honor Mordecai. Both men reach each situation independently. Take the king, for instance.
• The king just happens to have a sleepless night before Haman will pitch his plan.
• He just happens to read the annals to get to sleep, and just happens to find the part that tells of a good deed of Mordecai.
• He just happens to decide to honor Mordecai the following morning at the very moment Haman comes into the room.
• He just happens to select the first person who walks into his room at that time to carry out his plan.
• That person is Haman, who just happens to be ready to ask for the head of Mordecai.

And through a misunderstanding, the king decides to put Haman to death, as he thinks Haman is molesting Esther when in fact he’s only pleading.

The point is, all this is outside human control. It’s God’s doing. But He worked within Esther’s plan. And so the persecution plan is foiled!

RESPONSE:

Today I acknowledge that there are no coincidences, just God-incidences!

PRAYER:

Help me, Lord, to be faithful in prayer and fasting…and to look for evidences of Your control over my circumstances.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - June 7

HIDE THE WORD IN YOUR HEART

“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” Joshua 1:8

A co-worker who was teaching Christian leaders in Vietnam shares this experience.

I immediately realized that not one of these pastors owned a Bible and that they were waiting to hear from scripture. As I started sharing, one pastor raised his hand. “Excuse me brother, is that the Bible or is that you?”

“This is scripture,” I answered and immediately the leaders took out a notebook and eagerly started writing every word down. I then understood that this was the only way that they could collect scripture verses. I wanted to cry.

As I continued the teaching, the same question came once again. “Excuse me brother, is that the Bible or is that you?”

“This time it’s me,” I answered and suddenly everybody put their “Bibles” down and took out a different notebook and once again wrote down every word I said. Then came the lunch break and the leading pastor stood up. “We will now have a time to test our Bible knowledge,” he announced.

I wondered how my Bible knowledge, with more than ten Bibles at my disposal, would measure up with these leaders who do not have their own copies. The leader asked the first question. “What does it say in Obadiah 2:4?” I shrank in my chair. Please don’t look at me, I thought. I know there is a book of Obadiah but I must confess it has been some time since I read it. The pastors started laughing and then one raised his hand. “Obadiah only has one chapter, brother!” I felt so ashamed. How is it possible I did not know this and these believers without their own Bibles knew.

Then came the second question. “What does the Bible teach in Nahum 1:7. An elderly pastor in the front row raised his hand like an eager school child. He then started quoting the scripture: “The Lord is good, a strength in the day of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.”

“Well done brother,” said the leader. “You may sit down now.” But the elderly pastor was not finished yet. “Please,” he asked, “may I continue?” After a nod, he quoted the whole book of Nahum faultlessly.

I was also later introduced to another believer who came to know the Lord only during recent years. His passion for the Word of God is displayed in the fact that he has already memorized seventy-eight chapters of the Bible.

RESPONSE:

Today, I will begin a program to internalize God’s Word and hide it in my heart.

PRAYER:

Lord, give me a passion for Your Word like believers in Vietnam.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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6/7/17 2:53 A

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - June 6

INTOLERANCE

“Make every effort to live in peace with all men…” Hebrews 12:14

Other religious groups are one of the most threatening tactics Satan uses against the Church of Jesus Christ. In the book of Acts we see over and over that the primary opposition to the spread of the gospel in the early church was from religious groups. Again we must never view these groups as the enemy. We know who our real enemy is. In some parts of the world, the small percentage of extremists among Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims have encouraged mob violence and other forms of persecution against Christians. Our attitude toward them should be as one acronym for ISLAM suggests: I Sincerely Love All Muslims.

The tactic that our enemy uses in these major religions of the world is the same. It comes from his character of deceiving and lying. Some people are able to perceive elements of truth within the major religions of the world, but their essential teachings are deceivingly false.

Wherever possible, missionaries of cults and other religions do whatever possible to encourage Christians—usually those who are Christian in name only—to convert to their religion. Unfortunately, in countries such as Egypt, a significant number do convert to a cult or to some other religion. The lure to convert can be marriage, money, employment, social acceptance, and any other similar attraction.

Hardini was born to a devout Muslim family in Indonesia where everyone must go to the mosque every day to pray. Her father had strict rules for everyone in the family. One rule was that Hardini should never associate with Christians. Despite Hardini’s devotion to Islam, her heart was heavy and she longed for inner peace. A Christian with a great sense of joy and peace befriended Hardini.

Hardini had the courage to tell her new friend about her spiritual hunger, and the friend offered to pray for her in the name of Jesus. After the Christian girl prayed, peace filled Hardini’s heart and her life radically changed.

When Hardini’s family discovered she had become a Christian, they spent hours and hours trying to entice her with force to recant her new faith. Hardini remained steadfast. Finally her parents made a painful decision—they totally disowned their daughter. That left Hardini with the choices of either recanting her faith or fleeing from her home and family. She chose to flee.

RESPONSE:

Today I will pray for believers like Hardini who experience religious intolerance.

PRAYER:

Lord, help me to sincerely love all Muslims and people of other faith systems.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - June 5

FOREIGN RELIGION

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

Satan has inspired rulers to try to force Christians to return to their former folk religions or the pagan gods of their ancestors—all in the name of patriotism or nationalism. Religious nationalism is where a particular territory or culture is staked out exclusively in religious terms.

Leaders say, “Only Hindus are allowed to stay in India.” Or, “You are a true Sri Lankan only if you are a Buddhist.” In such cases where religious nationalism reigns, Christians either must accept second-class citizen status, face daily discrimination, or leave.

Research done by Open Doors indicates that to establish a “Religious State” the Religious Nationalists require four elements: a villain, a lie, a mob, and a vacuum. They need a “villain” who can unite the people with a powerful message; a “lie” (Christians are intolerant); a “mob” to create chaos (media support helps); and a “vacuum” (absence of moderates in power to control the nation).

Some in India and Nepal argue that their country is Hindu hence other religions are foreign and imperialist. State assistance is denied to those who convert to non-Hindu religions.

At one point, the Mongolian State Intelligence Bureau described Christianity as a “foreign religion.” And today, Mongolia’s new laws imply that Christianity is “against Mongolian customs.”

In Mexico, a mayor of a community in the southern state of Chiapas has tried to justify the ongoing persecution of evangelicals with the claim that they “attack…our culture and traditions.” In reality, tens of thousands of Christians have been expelled from their homes for not joining in the syncretistic community spiritual activities.

Christians in an area of Swaziland were told by their chief that each Christian would be fined a cow for not attending the annual cultural ceremonies at the king’s royal cattle kraal. The chief announced that he had compiled a list of all his subjects who deliberately avoided two yearly ceremonies: the umhlanga (reed dance) and the incwala (first fruit). Pastors of churches accused of preaching against Swazi culture are among those fined. Pastors in the area plan to challenge the chief’s fines in a court of law.

Christians must avoid the mistake of identifying religion with nation, and nation with religion—even in the West. To do so severely hinders the growth of the Body of Christ where there is “neither Jew nor Greek.”

RESPONSE:

I will not make the mistake of identifying religion with nation…and pray for those who do.

PRAYER:

Pray for Christians who struggle to survive in the midst of religious nationalism and extreme patriotism.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - June 3

MERCHANTS AND MOBS

“But the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason's house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd.” Acts 17:5

The next two groups of external tactics Satan used in the New Testament are merchants and mobs. Merchants or businessmen represent the economic establishment and are often opposed to Christians purely because Christians are a threat to their business.

The two clearest examples of opposition from businessmen in Scripture are when Paul visits Philippi and later Ephesus (Acts 16 and 19). In Philippi, Paul and Silas ended up in jail because of the actions of the owners of a demon possessed slave girl who was healed. Seeing their source of income disappearing because of her conversion, her owners pressed a false case against Paul, and had him jailed for “disturbing the peace.” But the Scripture makes clear their economic motive, “when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone…” (Acts 16:19).

Then when Paul gets to Ephesus the impact of his preaching is so great it causes the former members of the Artemis cult to hold a bonfire of their trinkets and shrines. A shop steward called Demetrius, on behalf of the silversmiths of the town, figures anything that reduces the appeal of the temple of Artemis is going to be bad for business. He stirs up a riot and Paul has to hurry out of the city.

Mobs play a major role in persecution, often when an elite group cannot induce the government to do their dirty work for them. Mobs are manipulated. They can be believers swayed by the heady rhetoric of clerics, or ruffians ready to commit grievous bodily harm for the sake of money.

Christians in Pakistan and Indonesia face the constant threat of annihilation of their property by mobs. A news agency journalist said, “I am amazed at how quickly a mob can get going in Pakistan. It just takes three phrases from a mullah at Friday prayers, and five minutes later thousands are streaming out into the streets bent on inflicting injury or even killing Christians.”

RESPONSE:

Our enemy, Satan, uses every tactic possible to come against those in the Kingdom of God.

PRAYER:

Pray for Christians in areas noted above that they will be protected from Satan’s arrows.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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June 3

Psalms 71:9

Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth.

Once, older people were revered for the wealth of knowledge and wisdom they possessed.

Today they are often treated as an inconvenience. They are shoved aside and ignored. Certainly, this is not true in every case, but that is happens at all is a tragedy. Older men and women are gifts from God. They are the conquerors in this life. They have fought the battles, and they have war stories to tell that can benefit us all. To have lived a full and fruitful life should be a joy, not a burden. In a society gone youth crazy, the need for the elderly is greater than ever. They provide the balance we need. Theirs is the voice of reason and experience. Theirs are the spirits of perseverance and triumph. They have walked our roads before us, and they can guide us when times get rough. Reach out to the older branch of God's family. Reach out and grasp the treasure.

Prayer: As I grow older, Lord, let me not worry whether or not I will be welcome. Open my heart to older people, and have me treat them as I will one day want to be treated. Amen.

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The Lord Heals All Diseases - UpWords - Week of June 2-8, 2017

By Max Lucado

The psalmist says, “The Lord heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:2-3 NIV). Do you think among those diseases might be the affliction of anger? God can help you get rid of your anger.

Do you want him to? This isn’t a trick question. You may be addicted to anger. You may be a rage junkie. Anger may be part of your identity. But if you want him to, God can change your identity.

Do you have a better option? Like moving to a rejection-free zone? If so, enjoy your life on the deserted island. When others reject you, let God accept you. Leave your anger at the tree of Calvary. He is not frowning. He is not mad. He sings over you. Take a long drink from his limitless love, and cool down!

From A Love Worth Giving

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - June 1

SINGING IN THE BATTLEFRONT

“After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the LORD and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: ‘Give thanks to the LORD, for his love endures forever.’ As they began to sing and praise, the LORD set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.”
2 Chronicles 20:21-22

The overflow of singing praises amid great difficulties has tremendous spiritual power for helping to win the spiritual battle. Paul and Silas set the biblical pattern in the prison in Philippi. Pastor Jack Hayford enjoys sharing the story as told by his favourite black preacher. Paul and Silas' prison cell singing was heard all the way to the throne room of God. He began to tap his toe to the music. And since heaven is his throne and the earth is his footstool, that toe tapping created an earthquake!!!

Ivan Antonov spent twenty-four years in Russian prison camps for preaching the Gospel. He later shared how he survived.

I would sing hymns. I was really glad that I knew so many. I had memorized about one hundred seventy hymns, and in order not to forget them, I reviewed several every day. So over a time, I sang through all of them. I want to emphasize to my young friends that you should worship God with songs and poems and memorize them. They will come in handy...I sang hymns every morning and at night before going to bed...In those quiet [morning] hours, I would go outside in the fresh air and sing hymns of praise to God and pray.

Then I went in for breakfast with everyone else.

China's notable pastor Wang Ming-dao shared upon his release from prison that he frequently sang praises to God to buoy his spirits. The songs that meant the most to him were "All The Way My Saviour Leads Me" and "Safe In The Arms Of Jesus." His contemporary, Allen Yuan shared with me two songs which he repeatedly sang aloud throughout his twenty two years in prison. One was "The Old Rugged Cross" and the other "Psalm Twenty-Seven" from the Chinese Psalter. It was always an emotional highlight to hear him sing these songs.

RESPONSE:

Today I will sing praises to the Lord my God.

PRAYER:

Lord, help me to rejoice and sing praises to You, especially when I feel the challenges of spiritual warfare.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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June 1

Psalms 69:21

They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

Sometimes we think things are going really bad in our lives. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking we're worse off than anyone else. When we feel sorry for ourselves, all we need do is turn to the story of Jesus' last few hours on earth. There the man who knew no sin became sin for us, so we might have eternal life. He was tripped, beaten, spit upon, and when, as His dying request, He asked for a drink to wet His lips, they put vinegar before Him instead of water. No kindness was shown the Prince of Peace, the one who had done nothing in His life to warrant such cruel mistreatment. Compared with the trial and misfortune of our Lord, we have very little to complain about. To even compare ourselves to Him is to open ourselves to shame. Christ endured torment and death upon a cross for our sakes. Now, He abides with us to help us endure every trial.

Prayer: I can hardly be lieve all that You did for me, Lord. You walked this earth so that I might one day walk with You in heaven. Thank you for giving me so much. Amen.

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5/31/17 12:57 A

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - May 30

BATTLEFRONT

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
Ephesians 6:12

A Filipino pastor, who is a former Muslim, lives on the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines. He was a notorious gang leader and spent years in prison for robbery and murder. But there in prison he met Jesus Christ.

After his release, he was so effective in leading Muslims to Jesus back home in Mindanao that Muslim extremists in his area kidnapped his fourteen-year-old daughter. They would only return her, he was told, if he stopped preaching about Jesus and returned to Islam.

He and his wife prayed intensely about this and felt they could not give in to this blackmail. He continued to preach faithfully for three years with no definite news about his little girl.

He concludes, "Despite the terrible things they have done to my daughter, I fear no one but God alone! Pray for my daughter and that I will continue to preach Christ."

Three years later, he received a letter from his daughter. She shared with her parents that she had been sold into prostitution in neighboring East Malaysia. But God had helped her escape. She was then taken in by a sympathetic Malaysian family and hidden for her safety. And then she fell in love with a young man and married him. She and her parents planned to visit together in a safe place.

Spiritual warfare is the cosmic conflict that rages between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. Remember we are not talking about two equal kingdoms battling-it-out for victory. Satan is only a created being. Christ has all authority and power. Satan's power was broken at the cross. The Apostle Paul records for us in Colossians 2:15, "And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross." So the only power Satan has today is the power to deceive the people of the world - to blind them from seeing the glory of God (II Corinthians 4:3-4).

Satan's primary strategy is to divide and conquer. His key tactics include accusation, deception, and the interruption of our relationships with the Father and with each other. He is actively leading mankind to defile the land, which is God’s, in order to keep humanity in darkness. This is one reason unity in the Body of Christ is so critical for the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

Why would someone lost in the chaos of the world want to be part of a fellowship of people that is disorderly, dysfunctional, and even destructive? The Church of Jesus Christ must be ruled by love. We must be a refuge, a place of safety!

RESPONSE:

I will be alert to Satan’s spiritual warfare tactics today without getting distracted from the Lord’s primary ministry directions.

PRAYER:

Pray for witnessing brothers and sisters on the frontlines who experience Satan’s greatest fury.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - May 27

FOR THE GLORY OF JESUS

“They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” Revelation 12:11

Within overcomers is the ultimate secret of victory that destroys any consideration for reputation, safety, comfort or freedom. They make themselves a willing self-offering patterned on Christ’s own life—a repeated message in the Gospels. Not just martyrdom, but loyalty to Jesus ahead of comfort, safety and security.

In March 2007, a co-worker had the joy of training a group of Arab Christians who were preparing for an outreach to various Muslim countries in North Africa. His teaching focused on bringing glory to God and also on a biblical understanding of opposition, persecution, hardship and possible martyrdom. The students ended the week with a declaration, as they stood up one by one, committing themselves to live to the glory of God. They declared to live a life to be forgotten so that Christ can be remembered.

A month later two outreach teams from the school travelled to Sudan. One team was sent to the Juba Mountains in partnership with a local church. The team was staying in a village and went out to a rural area to show the Jesus Film. While they were travelling in a truck back to the village at about 10:30 pm, they were ambushed by armed gunmen. The truck driver drove away as quickly as possible, but a number of Sudanese and Egyptians on the truck were wounded in the shooting. Three Sudanese and one Egyptian were killed.

They first drove franticly to the nearest town looking for a clinic to tend to the wounded and the dead. With no facilities or medicine there, they then had to drive a further five hours to the nearest hospital for help. The darkness and hopelessness turned the journey into an eternity. The questions, the fear and yet the serenity of it all made it seem surreal. When they finally reached the hospital it was too late for Daniel, one of the wounded Egyptians. Daniel died in the arms of one of the leaders. His last words to his faithful friend reflected the words of his commitment to his beloved Savior: “Tell my father that I died for the glory of Jesus.”

Two years later, our co-worker trained another group who were again on their way to Sudan. The group committed themselves to go back to the very region of the traumatic event, not despite the tragedy but because of the tragedy.

Our co-worker concluded, “I realized anew that the battle is real but also that victory only belongs to those who participate. So often I hear Christians say ‘we are more than conquerors!’ You can only say that if you are part of the battle.”

When martyrs meet torture and death without fear, they demonstrate power over Satan’s attempts to try and control us by fear. Evil is defeated because it cannot ultimately win. Then you are an overcomer!

RESPONSE: Today I recommit myself to live a life to be forgotten so that Christ can be remembered.

PRAYER: Jesus I adore You; lay my life before You; how I love You.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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A Deposit of Power - UpWords - Week of May 26-June 1, 2017

by Max Lucado

Many Christians view their conversion something like a car wash. You go in a filthy clunker, and you come out with your sins washed away--a cleansed clunker. But conversion is more than a removal of sin. It is a deposit of power! It is as if a brand-new Ferrari engine was mounted in your frame. God removed the old motor that was caked, cracked, and broken with rebellion and evil; and he replaced it with a humming, roaring version of himself.

The Apostle Paul described it as being “a new creation, old things have passed away; behold all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). You are fully equipped. Do you need more energy? You have it. More kindness? It’s yours. Hebrews 13:21 promises that God will equip you with all you need for doing His will. Just press the gas pedal. God has given you everything you need for living a godly life!

From Glory Days

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - May 26

CONQUERORS

“They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” Revelation 12:11

Overcoming believers also declare Christ’s love and forgiveness aloud to themselves, to Satan, and to the world. It is the second way we become “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37).

Daniel was called by the Lord to the north of Vietnam where he soon found himself in the midst of a revival. People were coming to know the Lord and Daniel immediately started a training program to equip these new believers. He also witnessed the power of God as people were healed and many were delivered from their addiction to opium. The inevitable soon happened and Daniel was sent to prison, his “training school,” for three years. With a smile that illuminated the room, Daniel shared his experiences in prison.

“After my arrest I was put in solitary confinement and chained to the ground for six months. This was a very hard time for me. The cell was small, there were no lights in the cell and I only had one bowl of rice and salt a day. A piece of bamboo was stuck over my crossed legs and chained to the ground. Being chained to the ground for such a long time also resulted in my body swelling and creating a lot of pain. I felt totally deserted. I asked the Lord to take my life. It was too much for me. I prayed a lot but thankfully the Lord did not do what I asked.

“One night in my prison cell, chained to the ground, I saw a vision of the Lord. He did not speak a word. He just placed his hand on me and I felt how new strength filled my body. I cried and repented before the Lord. Then I knew the Lord was saying to me that He would not allow me to leave this world defeated, that when He takes me ‘home’ it will be victoriously.

“The next day the police came and took me to another cell with other prisoners. Today I can see why God allowed this difficult time. I could share the Gospel with many people in prison.

After three years in prison there is a church in every area where I spent time in a prison and more than 200 inmates came to know the Lord while I was in prison. Three other prisoners who came to know the Lord also started churches in prison. When I was released from prison, I found my church in the village had grown to 500 people.”

As Daniel concluded his testimony co-workers could positively see the grace and love of the Lord in this humble man. He looked at them and summed up a life of sacrifice with the following words. “I know that God has a good plan—He sent me to prison to preach the Gospel and to become a strong warrior for Him.”

RESPONSE: I will overcome today by speaking out the word of my testimony to myself, to Satan and to the world.

PRAYER: Lord, even though I am not in prison, I can be a faithful overcomer today by sharing your love with others I meet through the word of my testimony.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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May 26

Psalms 68:2

As smoke is driven away, so drive them away: as wax melteth before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.

The conference room was a fog of cigarette smoke. Everyone sat red-eyed, both smoker and nonsmoker alike. It was hard to utter a sentence without choking. Finally, someone discovered switches that turned on exhaust fans. The room cleared, and breathing was possible once more.

Evil is as oppressive as a thick cloud of smoke. It envelops people and chokes them, making it impossible for them to function. The Lord will one day dispel all evil as a fan dispels smoke. On that day, all good people will breathe richly of the fragrance of God, and no more will we be covered by the haze of sin.

Prayer: Lord, send the breath of Your Spirit to cleanse me of all sin. Free me from the oppression of all that I have done wrong, through Your blessed forgiveness. Amen.

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - May 20

DISCIPLESHIP

“…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." - Matthew 28:20

Another related function of the church is discipleship. Once we have seen a friend or loved-one come to Christ we have a responsibility to see that they grow in the Lord. In some cultures, if a person saves another’s life, that person becomes responsible for the one saved. This is a good concept for the Christian. If we lead someone else into new life in Christ, we are responsible to see that person learns what the Bible teaches about the Christian life.

The Bible is so important to Christian growth that many Christians want to immediately give a Bible to anyone they may lead to the Lord. In some countries, like China or North Korea, faithful Christians have carried on for years without Bibles, but it was very difficult. They had to depend on Scripture verses that one of their members memorized at some earlier time, or perhaps heard on a Christian radio broadcast. The almost desperate hunger for the Bible among Christians who have been cut off from it for an extended period, dramatically illustrates just how important the Bible is to the Christian life.

If formal training centers have been closed, it is especially imperative that local churches take very seriously their responsibilities to teach (11 Timothy 2:2). This teaching may have to be done on a one-to-one basis whenever a mature Christian and a young Christian can get together.

There are many examples in the Bible of leaders being trained in this way. Besides the clear example of Christ teaching His disciples, we see Barnabas teaching Mark (Acts 12:25; 15:39), Priscilla and Aquila helping Apollos (Acts 18:24-26), and Paul training Timothy (Acts 16:1-3). Paul gives us the most detailed approach to “disciple” a young believer. He taught first by example (I Corinthians 4:16), then he openly gave himself to his disciples, living with them and sharing all he had (Acts 20:34). His relationship with them was not just "student/ teacher." Rather, he became very personally involved with them (I Timothy 1:1-2). He gave them responsibilities while they were still in training, and kept in close touch with them even after they had become leaders themselves (I & II Timothy and Titus).

In a prison in Sudan, a pastor quietly discipled a young believer from Muslim background as they were forced to work together. After his release, the young Christian became a dynamic witness for Christ.

RESPONSE: Discipleship is another function of the church and is crucial in the life of a follower of Jesus.

PRAYER: Pray for those in difficult circumstances—such as prison—trying to disciple new believers.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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5/19/17 5:55 A

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- May 18-19

COMMIT IT ALL TO THE LORD

“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12

The Bible makes it clear that Christians will suffer. Some pastors have the idea that teaching this fact will drive away new believers. Note that when Paul traveled throughout Asia Minor, he told the new believers, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). He was preparing them for the future as well as explaining their present situation. We should prepare for the same. Paul showed us an example of this when he prayed three times for the removal of his “thorn in the flesh.”Then he saw that it was God’s will for him, and he accepted it. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

When suffering Christians are not sure they are in the will of God they will be unsure if their suffering is really God’s will. However, our great God “works for the good of those who love him...”(Romans 8:28). If we consciously submit to His will, He will give His divine direction. Our suffering and persecution can be placed in His hands by an act of our will. No believer needs to suffer alone and in doubt. Commit it all to the Lord (Proverbs 16:3).

As a young Muslim boy, twelve years of age, Abdul, experienced a tragedy that would change his life forever. Abdul drowned and was dead for more than an hour.

During his death he had a vision of angels coming to fetch him and then bringing him to a closed door. A man met him at the door and asked him where he was going. Abdul answered that he was on his way to heaven. The man answered that he would not be allowed in because Abdul still had a lot of work to do on earth. He woke up on his bed to find a pastor praying for him.

This happened twenty years ago and ever since, Abdul’s life has been changed. Even though Abdul only completed fifth grade in school, he is currently the pastor of a small church in a very poor village on the island of Mindanao in the Philippine Islands.

In his own words Abdul says, “I don’t understand God’s purposes in my suffering, but I now know the Lord.”

Abdul has a ministry in healing and is a source of great encouragement in his village.

RESPONSE: Today I will accept that suffering accomplishes purposes unknown to us now.

PRAYER: Pray for Christians who are suffering today and cannot accept this as God’s will. Praise God that someday we will understand all things fully.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- May 17

SPIRITUAL WORK

“Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.” Philippians 1:14

A pastor imprisoned for his faith in Eritrea recently wrote to his wife:

God, by His holy will, has prolonged my prison sentence to five years and four month. I very much long for the day that I will be reunited with you my dear wife, our children and God's people in the church.

My dear, listen to me—not only as a wife, but also as a Christian woman who has come to understand who God is and how deep and mysterious His ways are. Yes! I love you, I love the children, and I would love to be free in order to serve God. But, in here, God has made menot only a sufferer for His Name's sake in a prison of this world over which Christ has won victory, but also a prisoner of His indescribable love and grace. I am testing and experiencing the love and care of our Lord every day.

When they first brought me to this prison, I had thoughts which were contrary to what the Bible says. I thought the devil had prevailed over the Church and over me. I thought the work of the Gospel in Eritrea was over. But it did not take one day for the Lord to show me that He is a sovereign God and that He is in control of all things - even here in prison.

The moment I entered my cell, one of the prisoners called me and said, “Pastor, come over here. Everyone in this cell are [unsaved]. You are very much needed here.” So, on the same day I was put in prison, I carried on my spiritual work.

My dear, the longer I stay in here, the more I love my Savior and tell the people here about His goodness. His grace is enabling me to overcome the coldness and the longing that I feel for you and for our children. Sometimes I ask myself, “Am I out of my mind? Am I a fool?” Well, isn't that what the Apostle Paul said, “Whether I am of sound mind or out of my mind, I am Christ's!”

My most respected wife, I love you more than I can say. Please help the children understand that I am here as a prisoner of Christ for the greater cause of the Gospel.

RESPONSE: Today I will live in the awareness that God is in control of all that happens in my life. My suffering can contribute to the spiritual strength of others.

PRAYER: Please pray for the wives and families of pastors imprisoned for their faith. Pray that they will be strengthened and an encouragement to others, despite their own pain.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - May 16

FLY TO JESUS

“Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.” Hebrews 12:10

Christmas is a time of peace and joy for those who are fortunate enough to celebrate the birth of their Savior in freedom. For Marko and his two fellow believers it was the fifteenth Christmas that they had to celebrate behind the bars of a prison cell in a Muslim country.

The next day some colleagues felt they had to visit Marko and his friends as an encouragement and confirm to them once again the love of Immanuel—God with us.

Even though they often heard the saying that a prison cell in the Middle East is the closest to hell that you will experience on earth, nothing prepared them for the sense of hopelessness that they experienced in that waiting room of despair.

As the prisoners entered, it was not difficult to recognize Marko and his two friends. Beaming eyes and smiling faces immediately assured them Marko and friends knew they had not been separated from the love of God.

Tears flowed freely as they shared how lonely they were on Christmas day and how joyful they were to know that they were not forgotten.

“It was so difficult yesterday.” Marko spoke softly. “Apart from being Christian prisoners in a Muslim prison, it was also a fast day of Ramadan. We were not allowed out of our cells and we were not allowed to talk to anyone. Fortunately, a week ago the three of us got hold of pieces of a cake and we hid them underneath our cushions especially for Christmas day. Yesterday, when the fast was broken, we simply walked to one another, held the slices of cake together and said “Merry Christmas!”

The visiting hour flew past and soon it was time to say goodbye. Before being marched back to his prison cell, we looked at Marko and asked him a final question. “What are you going to do when you get to your cell and are once again all alone?

Marko smiled and answered, “I will simply spread the wings of my spirit and fly to Jesus.”

RESPONSE: Today I will seek to understand the biblical principle that suffering makes our lives more holy.

PRAYER: Lord, help me, like Marko, to keep my eyes fixed on You regardless of my circumstances.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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May 16

Psalms 63:9-10

But those that seek my soul, to destroy it, shall go into the lower parts of the earth. They shall fall by the sword: they shall be a portion for foxes.

Tracy couldn't believe the girls at school would be so cruel. She never did anything to any of them, but they were always finding some way to hurt her. It was all she could do to keep from telling them all off. Her mother told her to ignore them, but that was hard to do. Her mother also said that they would eventually have to pay for all the nasty things they did, but Tracy wished that day would come soon.

No one likes to be picked on. Some people love to spend time making others unhappy. These people will have to answer to God for their actions. We are called to love one another and to look for ways to give one another encouragement. While the nasty people will answer in shame for their deeds, the kind will rejoice with Christ in heaven.

Prayer: Help me to shrug off the unkind words and actions of the pe ople around me. Lift me above the hurts that come from unthinking and cruel people. Teach me to respond in love, no matter how I am treated. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture
"…take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."
(2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV)

Take Your Life Back
Everyone has days when they feel like life is out of control. Oftentimes, this happens when we allow our circumstances to dictate our thoughts and attitudes. You might say, “Well, Joel, the economy is wreaking havoc on my business,” or “This relationship is just too far gone.” But I say, today is the day to take your life back!

You take your life back by choosing to take your thoughts back. Even though we live in this natural realm, as believers, we are not limited by this natural realm. We can tap into God’s power by making every thought line up with the Word of God. We don’t have to let circumstances control us. Instead, meditate on His Word and let His truth set you free!

Today, as you take captive every thought and boldly declare His promises over your life, you are setting yourself up for victory. You are positioning yourself to partake of His blessing. You are taking your life back and positioning yourself to embrace the abundant life He has prepared for you!

A Prayer for Today
"Heavenly Father, thank You for empowering me to live in victory today. I choose to take my life back by taking captive every thought and submitting it to You. Help me live a life that is pleasing to You, Jesus, today and every day in Jesus’ name. Amen."



"I wish above all that you prosper and be in health even as your soul prospers" 3 John 1:2


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5/12/17 7:03 P

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - May 12

JESUS, HELP ME

“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Matthew 6:12

Corrie ten Boom often thought back over the horrors of Ravensbruck prison camp and realized that it was hard to find forgiveness in her heart—the true Christian attitude for the former Nazis that would reveal through her the Spirit’s goodness. Where was love, acceptance, and forgiveness in a horror camp where allegedly more than 95,000 women died? How could she ever forget the horrible cruelty of the guards and the smoke constantly coming from the chimney of the crematorium?

A few years later, Corrie was speaking in a church in Munich, and when the meeting was over she saw one of the cruelest male guards of Ravensbruck coming to speak to her. He had his hand outstretched. “I have become a Christian,” he explained. “I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein, will you forgive me?”

Conflict raged in Corrie’s heart. The good Spirit of God urged her to forgive. The spirit of bitterness and coldness urged her to turn away. “Jesus, help me. I can lift my hand. I can do that much.” As their hands met it was as if warmth and healing broke forth with tears and joy. “I forgive you, brother, with all my heart.” Later Corrie testified that “it was the power of the Holy Spirit” who had poured the love of God into her heart that day.

Philip Yancey gives a pragmatic reason why we must forgive that seems very foundational.

Forgiveness alone can stop the cycle of blame, pain as well as vengeance and violence. The meaning of the New Testament word “forgiveness,” he says, is literally “to release, to hurl away, to free yourself.” The only way to break the chain or cycle of hurtfulness is to stop and ask forgiveness. This allows a relationship to start over and begin anew. The Russian writer, Solzhenitsyn, believed this forgiveness is what truly makes us different from animals. Only humans can perform that most unnatural act of forgiveness that transcends the relentless law of nature.

The only thing harder than forgiveness is the alternative. A teacher once told each of her students to bring a clear plastic bag and a sack of potatoes to school. For every person they refused to forgive in their life's experience, they chose a potato, wrote on it the name and date, and put it in the plastic bag. They were then told to carry this bag with them everywhere for one week, putting it beside their bed at night, on the car seat when driving, next to their desk at work. The hassle of lugging this around with them made it clear what a weight they were carrying spiritually, and how they had to pay attention to it all the time to not forget and keep leaving it in embarrassing places…Too often we think of forgiveness as a gift to the other person, and it clearly is for ourselves as well!

RESPONSE: Today I will give myself the gift of forgiveness. Is there someone I need to forgive?

PRAYER: Father, I pray today for the power of Your Holy Spirit to enable me to release any cycles of hurtfulness in my life by forgiving others.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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5/12/17 5:21 P

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Certain Victory - UpWords - Week of May 12-18, 2017

by Max Lucado

“It’s time to declare war on the pestilence that goes by the name, I can’t. It attacks our self-control with...I can’t keep a job and it attacks our marriages... I can’t forgive. It even attacks our faith...I can’t believe God cares for me.

Had Joshua mumbled those words, who would’ve blamed him? Joshua 1:1 begins with bad news, “Moses, my servant, is dead.” To lose Moses was to lose the cause. Imagine the dismay, the grief, the fear! And yet, God told Joshua, “Moses is dead. Now therefore, arise.” Moses may be dead, but God is alive! Even so, Joshua had reason to say, I can’t. Moses was dead. And the Canaanites ate folks like the Israelites for breakfast! But Joshua never declared defeat. God gave him reason for faith. Victory was certain because the victory was God’s! The same is true for you.

From Glory Days

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May 10

Psalms 58:3

The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.

Larry had developed quite a reputation over the years. Most people in his life said he couldn't be trusted. If there were a way for Larry to rip them off, he would do it. It had been Larry's nature from the time he was very small. As a child, he had told lies with unbelievable ease. He bullied other children without the least bit of guilt or remorse. In school he had cheated his way to the top of his class. He bought answers to tests in college, and entered the business world believing that anything he wanted could be gotten my means both legal and illegal. It was all the same to Larry.

There are people in our world who have lived their entire lives by selfish and evil means. It's as if something good was left out of them, and they are incapable of doing what is good. The way we deal with people like that is to forgive them and vow we will never be like them. Evil people are not to be hated, but pitied. They are our mission in life. Lives devoid of the Good News are lives not worth living. Reach out to people who do wrong through your prayers. They need them most of all.

Prayer: Lord, show me how to love even the most unlovable people. Instead of showing anger, let me show compassion, and grant me a deeper understanding of why people can be so bad. Fill my heart with Your love to share. Amen.

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - May 10

A SPONTANEOUS ACT

“Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:24

On January 23, 1999, 58-year-old Australian Baptist missionary Graham Staines and his two sons were burned to death when the vehicle they were sleeping in was doused with gasoline and set on fire, allegedly by members of a Hindu fundamentalist group in the Indian state of Orissa. Graham Staines had been working with leprosy patients for 34 years.

Hundreds of millions witnessed his widow, Gladys Staines; forgive her family’s murderers in the name of the gospel on Indian television—a scene which moved many to tears. And according to an Indian evangelist, “may have achieved more for the gospel in India than many years of missionary work.”

Describing her prompt forgiveness of the killers as a “spontaneous act,” Gladys Staines says, “it took away the bitterness” that otherwise would have remained in her heart. Since the incident she has people coming to her door asking how they can become Christians.

The imagery she used was also powerful. “Let us burn hatred…and spread the flame of Christ’s love.”

Forgiveness is to be given even when it is not asked for. On the cross, forgiveness was one of the first words of Jesus. The soldiers doing the crucifying had not asked for forgiveness but Jesus realized their need of it.

Forgiveness can only be truly accomplished in the power of the Holy Spirit. But when given, it communicates most powerfully the love of God. And we are called to be like God, to bear God’s family resemblance.

Forgiveness is a personal transaction that releases the one offended from the offense. The forgiveness required by the Scriptures is more than detached or limited forgiveness, it is full and complete forgiveness in which there is a total cessation of negative feelings toward the offender and the relationship being restored has the possibility to grow.

RESPONSE: Today I will show Christ’s love by forgiving those who do not even ask for forgiveness.

PRAYER: Lord, may I be like You and through the power of Your Holy Spirit forgive completely those who bring offenses against me.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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5/10/17 4:52 P

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Putting Smiles on Faces

by Joyce Meyer - posted May 10, 2017

Therefore encourage (admonish, exhort) one another and edify (strengthen and build up) one another….
—1 Thessalonians 5:11

God created Adam and Eve, He blessed them, then told them to be fruitful and multiply and use all the vast resources of the earth that He gave them in the service of God and man.

Are you being fruitful? Is your life causing increase? When you get involved with people and things, do they increase and multiply? Some people only take in life, and they never add anything. I refuse to be that kind of person. I want to make people’s lives better. I want to put smiles on faces.

We must all make sure that we are not like the rich man in the Bible who had so much that all of his barns were full with no room for more. Instead of giving any of it away, he decided that he would tear down the barns he had and just build bigger ones and collect more stuff for himself. He was a foolish man. He could have decided that he would use what he had to bless others, but he must have been a fearful, selfish man, who only had room in his life for himself (see Luke 12:16-20).

God called the man a fool, and said, This very night they [the messengers of God] will demand your soul of you; and all the things that you have prepared, whose will they be? The man was going to die that night, and all he would leave behind was “stuff.” He had an opportunity to make the world a better place. He could have added to many lives and put smiles on thousands of faces. Instead, he fearfully and selfishly only cared about himself.

Forget about yourself and start doing all you can to help others. Encourage, edify, lift up, comfort, help, give hope, relieve pain, and lift burdens. If that is your goal, you will be one of those rare individuals who actually make the world a better place and put a smile on every face.

Trust in Him: What are you going to do today to put smiles on faces? It won’t just happen—you have to be intentional about it. Listen for God to show you what to do and then trust that it will bless them…and you!



"I wish above all that you prosper and be in health even as your soul prospers" 3 John 1:2


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5/9/17 10:08 A

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Too Good Not to Share
May 9, 2017
Too Good Not to Share
Read: John 1:6–14 | Bible in a Year: 2 Kings 7–9; John 1:1–28



[John] came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. John 1:7

During court proceedings, witnesses are more than onlookers or spectators. They are active participants who help determine the outcome of a case. The same is true of our witness for Christ. We are to be active participants in a matter of absolute importance—the truth of Jesus’s death and resurrection.

When John the Baptist came to tell people about Jesus, the light of the world, he did so by declaring his knowledge of Jesus. And John the disciple, who recorded the events, testified of his experience with Jesus: “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The apostle Paul would elaborate on this idea as he told young Timothy, “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Tim. 2:2).

We can be active witnesses, telling others about the reality of Jesus in our lives.
All Christians have been summoned before the courtroom of the world. The Bible says we are not mere spectators but active participants. We testify to the truth about Jesus’s death and resurrection. John the Baptist was the voice of one calling in the desert. Our voices can be heard in our workplace, neighborhood, church, and among our family and friends. We can be active witnesses, telling them about the reality of Jesus in our lives.

Do our actions enable us to witness for Jesus?
In what creative ways might we witness today?

The gospel is too good not to share.



INSIGHT:
The Bible uses various metaphors to describe the believer’s role as a witness for Christ (John 15:5; 2 Cor. 3:1–3; 5:20; 1 Peter 2:5, 9). In one of His teachings, Jesus used two common household items—salt and light—to emphasize the positive influence a Christian ought to have on the community he lives in (Matt. 5:13–16). Salt is a preservative, a flavor-enhancer, and a thirst stimulant. A lamp is intended to illuminate the darkness. The light too serves as signage, giving information and direction to a destination. Therefore, the light must be placed in a conspicuous position to attract and to be effective. Bible teacher Henry Morris says we are “expected to bring the salt of preservation and joy to a bland, tasteless, and otherwise decaying world, and the light of salvation to a dark, sinful world.”

"I wish above all that you prosper and be in health even as your soul prospers" 3 John 1:2


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Your Promises-Land Life - UpWords - Week of May 5-11, 2017

by Max Lucado

Think about the Christian you want to be. What qualities do you want to have? More compassion? More conviction? More courage? What attitudes do you want to discontinue? Greed? Guilt? Endless negativity? Here’s the good news. You can. With God’s help you can close the gap between the person you are and the person you want to be--indeed, the person God made you to be. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that we can live “from glory to glory.”

The walls of Jericho--they are already condemned. The giants are already on the run. The deed to your new life is already signed. It just falls to you to possess the land. Joshua 21:43 says, “So the Lord gave to Israel all the land of which He had sworn to their fathers--and they took possession of it and dwelt in it.” Your promised-land life-- It is yours for the taking.

From Glory Days


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Standing Strong Through the Storm-May 3

FREEDOM IN CHRIST

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. “ Galatians 5:1

Claiming one's freedom in Christ is central to the faith and fighting fear. For example, in China when authorities threaten house church leaders with the confiscation of their property, they reply, “If you want this farm, you need to talk to Jesus, as I have given it to Him. But if you do take it, I am free to trust God for my daily bread.”

When Chinese Christians are threatened with torture, they claim they are “free to trust God for healing.”

When they are imprisoned, they proclaim that they are then “free to share their faith with other prisoners.”

When Chinese believers are told they will be killed, they state that then they are “free to be with Jesus.”

The country of Bulgaria is plagued by a prevailing spirit of fear. Even many Christians suffer from it. It’s a country that was occupied by the Turks for five centuries (1396-1878) followed by several wars. After 1946, it was ruled with an iron hand by the Communists. This long story of repression and sufferings passed on for generations from the parents to the children has left durable marks in their spirits which results in a deep anguish. It acts like a spiritual yoke and creates, as a consequence, the fear of taking any initiative. In families, this anguish has been passed on through generations like a legacy. It has become a vicious circle from which it is difficult to escape. A popular Bulgarian proverb says, “Fear has big eyes!”

Our co-workers were thus surprised when they delivered Bibles to Bulgarian Pastor Simeon Popov. He appeared radiant and serene. The absence of anguish could be explained as much by the action of the Holy Spirit, who releases us from yokes, as by the influence of his study time in Germany. According to the pastor, he not only studied theology, but he also learned to claim his freedom in Christ.

So this draws me to a significant conclusion and principle. If you are a Christian, filled with the Holy Spirit, and have lost your fear of death, you are unstoppable until God calls you home to Heaven!

RESPONSE: Today I will claim my freedom in Christ and live in the power He gives me.

PRAYER: Thank You Lord for freedom from fear that comes only from You.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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He is Mindful of Your Gratefulness
Post by Victoria Osteen on April 28, 2017



There's a story in scripture about how Jesus healed ten lepers. Leprosy, as you probably know, is a terrible skin disorder. Back then, you especially had to hide because no one wanted to be around a leper, but Jesus healed ten of them! Jesus told them, "Go show yourselves to the priest." One of the lepers, as he was going to show himself to the priest, saw that his leprosy had gone! His skin was completely clear. Can you imagine having something so horribly wrong with you and then looking down and realizing the sickness was completely gone? The man got so excited about it that he ran back to Jesus and said, "Look at me, Jesus, I'm healed! Jesus, thank You for healing me!"

Think about this for a minute: Jesus was very aware of who He healed that day. When the leper came back, He said, "Didn't I heal ten and only one came back?" Sometimes we stand in a crowd like this and think, "God is blessing so many people. I'm just part of the crowd." I want you to know today that God is very aware of the blessings that He's placed on your life. He's also very aware of your gratefulness!"

You are not just part of a crowd. God knows exactly who you are! He knows the blessings that He's bestowed upon you, and He wants your grateful heart because your grateful heart will open doors for many more blessings to come.

A parent loves for their child to come and say, "Thank you." When my children come to me and say, "Thank you, Mom. I appreciate that. Can I have something else, Mom?" I'm not thinking, "You greedy kid, what are you doing?" No, I'm saying, "Absolutely!" It makes me want to bless them when they show appreciation. It's the same way with God. He sees our gratefulness, and He's mindful of it. When you are grateful, it shows your faith and trust in Him and opens the door for His hand of blessing to move in every area of your life!

"Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever." (1 Chronicles 16:34, NIV)



"I wish above all that you prosper and be in health even as your soul prospers" 3 John 1:2


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Standing Strong Through the Storm May 1


BE NOT AFRAID!

"I sought the Lord and he answered me; He delivered me from all my fears.” Psalm 34:4

The one positive fear that the Bible endorses is the fear of God. Wise Solomon said fearing God is the beginning of wisdom. It was Oswald Chambers who added, “The remarkable thing about fearing God is that, when you fear God, you fear nothing else; whereas, if you do not fear God, you fear everything else.”

In Eritrea, Helen Berhane was frequently tortured during her almost three years in the shipping container prison. In spite of that she had no fear. Once when interrogated for teaching the Bible to the guards outside her cell, she replied, “I am always looking for opportunities to talk about my faith and to spread the news about Jesus. I am not ashamed of the gospel and I will talk to anyone and to everyone. Jesus does not just want me to tell the prisoners about him, he wants me to tell the guards too. Even if the president were to visit the prison, I would tell him about the gospel.

“I am not afraid of you. You can do what you want to me, but ultimately all you can do is kill my body; you cannot touch my soul. You cannot even kill me unless it is God’s will that I should die.”

Her persecutors had no answer and returned her to her shipping container.

David Aikman writes in his book Great Souls about the personal life of Pope John Paul II—especially his personal prayer life. When he became pope in 1978, the result of all that personal prayer was evident in his inaugural sermon. “Be not afraid!” he said.

He recognized that fear is a sin because it denies the sovereignty of God. And he recognized that as a leader of a large Church, and unwaveringly opposed to the powerful communist Empire, he had to give people the courage to resist evil.

And courageous he was. When he saw Russian tanks poised to invade Poland, the Pope announced he would go and stand with his people if the Soviets crossed the border. The Soviet tanks did not move.

The Pope knew he might face assassination—and indeed, someone did try to assassinate him—yet he continued to tell the world, “Be not afraid.”

RESPONSE: Today I will live in the fear of God so that I will not fear anything or anyone else.

PRAYER: Pray that all Christians in fearful situations today will have the attitude of trust in the Lord and not fear for their lives.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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April 29

Psalms 51:17

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

Thomas was a proud man. He had never liked admitting that he might need help from someone else. His daddy had taught him that the only way a man was worth his salt was to stand on his own two feet. Thomas had always tried to live by that rule, but now he was at a loss. His wife was sick, and he didn't know where to turn. The doctors were doing all they could, but Thomas felt helpless. Though it felt strange to him, Thomas got down on his knees to pray. Self-consciously, Thomas asked the Lord's help, and in his hour of quiet desperation, he was answered.

God wants us to need Him. He made us to need help, not to try to do everything on our own. When times get tough, God wants us to open our hearts to Him, that He might be made real to us. Call upon God from your brokenness, and He will be faithful to answer.

Prayer: When all else fails, I turn to You, Lord . I should not wait until situations get bad, but I do. Be with me to help me in the hardest of times, and stay with me in all times, that I might know You better. Amen.

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - April 29

PRESSURE COOKER FAITH

“…for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” 1 John 5:4

We often think that faith is our duty, or something we can give back to God. In reality, we cannot even do that on our own. There is nothing we can give to God. We must rely on Him for everything - even our faith. When we accept it as His precious gift, we find victory over sin and trials. We could never have this victory if we relied only on our own tenuous faith. “Faith does not always provide exemption from suffering, but it does keep us from being defeated at the hands of suffering.”

One Christian leader in a restricted country shared the situation there in these words:

In our country, we live in the midst of a pressure cooker. To survive as Christians, we must have a pressure cooker faith. Our young people decide for Christ not because He offers them the most, or because it is fashionable, but because they consider that here is One worth dying for. That may even be what their discipleship may have for them.

Standing Strong Through The Storm examines persecution and the results of persecution – suffering and martyrdom. Satan wants to dishearten us and create hopelessness because of persecution and suffering. We will expose Satan’s lies and show how by faith we can experience God’s restoration of our hope—“the oxygen of the human spirit.”

RESPONSE: Today I will rely on the Lord to walk by faith and not by sight, no matter what happens.

PRAYER: Lord, help me to ignore Satan’s lies and live victoriously today by faith in the hope which only You can give and restore.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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April 28

Psalms 51:10

Create in my a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

I remember seeing a healthy and diseased heart side by side in one of my college classes. The healthy heart looked strong and fit. The diseased heart was a sickly color, and looked bloated and spongy. That image sticks in my mind. The diseased heart symbolizes for me the sin-sick heart, discolored by evil emotions and intentions, bloated by selfishness, and spongy through lack of love giving and compassion. The only solution for a sin-sick heart is a transplant by the Giver of all new life. God can take a diseased heart and make it new, fresh, and alive. Pray for God to remove the disease of sin, and He will heal you.

Prayer: Lord, I want to be made new and alive. Remove the dead tissue caused by sin and replace it with tissue that is strong and healthy. Create in me a new heart, and renew my spirit within me. Amen.

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God's Vision in God's Land - UpWords - Week of April 28-May 4, 2017

by Max Lucado

God's Vision in God's Land

Joshua 21:45 says, “Not a word failed of any good thing which the Lord had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass.” Joshua and his men went from dry land to the Promised Land, from manna to feasts, from arid deserts to fertile fields. They inherited their inheritance: the glory days of Israel. This is God’s vision for your life. You, at full throttle. You, as victor over the Jerichos and giants.

Paul describes it as a life in which “Christ’s love has the first and last word in everything we do” (2 Corinthians 5:14). A life in which Paul says, “we do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:16). A life defined by grace, refined by challenge, and aligned with a heavenly call. In God’s plan, in God’s land...God’s promises outweigh personal problems. Victory becomes a way of life! Your glory days await you!

From Glory Days

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4/28/17 11:36 P

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Hello Team!

This is not a Bible Study per se, however a spiritual discussion question.... emoticon emoticon Gal: 6:9

Currently I'm going through a stage in my life where I'm becoming weary, I know we all have had our obstacles and trials and I have always persevered through them yet it's like my spiritual energy is being drained from the strength that I have exhibited towards others as well as myself since I was a child, I have the spirit of power, love and self-control these are not an issue for me, it's just the emotional side of the pain of the scars I have to carry from others.....along with my spiritual wounds...

In addition, I never really studied Galatians 6:9 until now, this scripture has been weighing heavily on my heart because it describes where I'm in my life right now. I'm just curious to know if others have been through this at anytime along their spiritual journey...and what have helped them as well as any links or Bible verses that addresses the passage....again my Faith & Hope is strong....however; my heart is getting weary...it's kind of hard for me to articulate it but the below verse pretty much sums it up! Hopeful that someone can share some light on this subject for me!
emoticon emoticon




Faith & Consistency = Results :)

Pressure Makes Diamonds!! Yaaaaas! WE GOT THIS


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Acceptable Words

by Joyce Meyer - posted April 28, 2017

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my [firm, impenetrable] Rock and my Redeemer.
—Psalm 19:14

It is acceptable to God when we use our mouths to bring joy, love, and good to others. It is not acceptable to God when we use our mouths to bring hurt and destruction. We are still acceptable to Him, but our behavior isn’t because it will not produce the good results in our lives that God desires for us.

Ephesians 4:29 teaches us not to use our words to cause the Holy Spirit any grief and gives clear instructions concerning what grieves Him: Let no foul or polluting language, nor evil word nor unwholesome or worthless talk [ever] come out of your mouth, but only such [speech] as is good and beneficial to the spiritual progress of others, as is fitting to the need and the occasion, that it may be a blessing and give grace (God’s favor) to those who hear it.

Properly chosen words can actually change lives for the better. What you say can tear down or build up, so choose words that are agreeable with God’s will.

Power Thought: My words are wholesome and acceptable to God.

"I wish above all that you prosper and be in health even as your soul prospers" 3 John 1:2


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April 27

Psalms 51:4

Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.

Sin is not merely doing what is wrong, but doing what is wrong in the sight of the Lord. God has offered us suggestions for living full and happy lives. Our being disobedient to those suggestions doesn't hurt God, it hurts us. God is saddened by out refusal to be obedient, but He is always willing to hear our petition for forgiveness, and He will show us His mercy. When we sin, it is a private matter between God and ourselves. Take your sins before God, repent of each one, and glory in the grace of God, by which we receive full pardon of all we do wrong.

Prayer: Forgive me, Lord. Make a new creation out of this old soul. Prepare me for the Kingdom to come, each day of my life. Amen.

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4/24/17 4:25 P

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Tender Time - One Year Devotions for Women - April 24 - Monday,

A time to grieve and a time to dance. - Ecclesiastes 3:4

Jesus said that it’s hard to mourn when the groom is with you. On the other hand, it’s hard not to mourn when the groom is taken away (see Matthew 9:15)! When the wedding is in full swing, it is time to dance. If the groom were to die, it would be time to mourn.

I heard a true account of a wedding of two young Bible school students who really loved the Lord and were preparing to serve him together. On their way to their honeymoon hotel, the groom was killed in a car crash. How soon the dancing turned into mourning!

Sometimes the two things come so close to each other it shat-ters the soul. The parents of the young man who met such an untimely death did not believe their son’s home call was some freakish accident. The Christian doesn’t believe in accidents of that magnitude. Actually, there is no such thing as “untimely” death for the Christian, for we believe there is “a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:2).

Time is a kind cushion, separating the good days from the bad days, preparing us for change. Time heals. Time gives us perspective we’ve never had before. Time taken for grieving eventually helps us to dance. Time taken for dancing helps us to prepare ourselves to grieve. Time ripens us, like cheese, making us sharp. Time does not usually demand such instant adjustments as in this sad incident of such unexpected death. But when such things do happen, tender time takes care of the wounds.

For Further Study: Ecclesiastes 3:1-4

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - April 23

THE TRUE CHURCH

“Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.” Acts 5:42

The place in which a church meets varies. The use of big buildings, complex organizations, involved programs, huge budgets that provide for schools, hospitals, orphanages and other social activities are only possible in financially strong unrestricted societies.

Although the Lord has blessed these activities in many places in the world, we must recognize that they are not essential to the existence of the church. In some countries these activities are forbidden by the government, while in others, the local economic situation makes them impossible. Still the church can thrive, because it is not dependent on these things. Serious problems have arisen when Christians have become confused on this point.

A number of years ago, for example, some Vietnamese leaders thought that their lack of funds for such things was the cause of the slow growth of Christianity there. On one occasion, the following conversation was overheard.

"Do you have communists in your part of the country?" the observer asked.

"Most assuredly. They are there," the leader replied.

“Are they growing in numbers and influence?" he then asked.

The leader hesitated momentarily, then admitted sadly, “Yes, they are growing very fast."

“Can you show me their meeting places and schools or introduce me to their leaders?" the observer continued.

"Certainly not," the leader said in disgust. "If they are known, they will be arrested."

"You mean they are secret, without buildings or property and still they grow in number?" the observer asked in amazement.

"Yes, you could say that," the leader responded.

"Then it must be that their growing influence does not depend on such things. If they can be wrong in their beliefs and still grow without money and buildings, why do you think the church of Jesus Christ needs these things?" the man concluded.

If God provides these things, then use them for His glory. If He does not, remember that the New Testament church had none of these things, but they turned their world upside down (Acts 17:6). The early Christians did not confuse the church’s functions with methods. If they had done so, the church would have died in the bondage of Jewish legalism. The early churches were not encumbered by the presence of buildings, nor hindered by the lack of them. They met in public places, when they were permitted to do so, but when they were not, they went from house to house.

RESPONSE: I will no longer confuse the forms of the church with the biblical functions of the church.

PRAYER: Thank you Lord for those who use their homes as centers for Your worship and declaration of the good news of Your love.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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April 23

Psalms 47

O clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph.

What a wonderful feeling. Greg had wanted to tell his friends what he thought for a long time, but he had been afraid they would make fun of him. Drinking and driving was stupid, but he had always done it in the past so he could fit in. Finally, it just got to him. He didn't want to do it anymore. He told them how he felt, and instead of making fun of him, two of his friends agreed with him, and they had made a deal to not drink and drive anymore. His other friends had been as afraid as he was. Sure, some wouldn't ever understand, but that was their problem. Right now, Greg felt great that he had done something good and right. He wanted to shout about it.

When we do what is truly right, we need to rejoice. God celebrates with us, and He will honor our righteousness. To do right is to affirm who God wants us to be. The peace that comes from doing right is wonderful.

Prayer: Give me the courage I need to be the person I want to be. Let me know the triumph that comes from standing up for my values. Let me feel the power You share with hose who strive for what is right. Amen.

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - April 22

SECRET WORSHIP

“And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” Ephesians 1:22-23

Rene looked carefully both ways as he turned the corner. No one seemed to be watching. Wiping the perspiration from his forehead he glanced at his watch. He was five minutes early. He walked slowly around the block a second time to arrive at the large gate at exactly 7:14. He pressed the bell three times; short...long...short. It was the newly changed code to indicate he was a fellow-believer. The gate and closed quickly as Rene slipped inside. In two hours time there were several hundred believers gathered secretly in the basement for fellowship.

Rene sat quietly waiting for the others. He remembered reading in a magazine about a small group in China that gathered weekly in the back room of a small store to worship together. It was the era of the infamous Cultural Revolution. Since the believers could easily be overheard by anyone entering the store, they "sang" hymns together without words or music. Someone whispered the name of the song and they would silently move their lips and simply think of the words and music.

He chuckled out loud. The memory came of Pastor Wally saying, "We are an underground church like the believers behind the Bamboo Curtain, but the difference is that we can praise in full voice because the facilities are sound proofed. Not even our closest neighbour can hear us." This is a description of a church group in Saudi Arabia - a country that has not had an official church in over fourteen hundred years. And yet many believers meet together secretly and at great risk all over the country.

The most common way for the church to express its faith in western societies has been through the institutional pattern. Consequently, this is the only pattern with which many Christians are familiar. But this form can be easily eliminated by a repressive government, is difficult to maintain in other hostile environments, and may not be appropriate to local cultural needs. There are other options if you and your fellow believers were under the rule of those who were trying to repress Christianity.

RESPONSE: Today I will accept that there are many forms of church to fulfill the five biblical functions of the church.

PRAYER: Pray for those around the world who must meet in secret for worship services.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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4/22/17 1:41 A

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We Have a Choice - UpWords - Week of April 21-27, 2017

by Max Lucado

In so many areas of life we have no choice. “It’s not fair,” we say. But the scales of life were forever tipped on the side of fairness when God planted a tree in the Garden of Eden. All complaints were silenced when Adam and his descendants were given free will, the freedom to make whatever eternal choice we desire.

Any injustice in this life is offset by the honor of choosing our destiny in the next. Wouldn’t you agree? It would have been nice if God had let us order life like we order a meal. It would’ve been nice, but it didn’t happen. When it came to many details of your life on earth, you weren’t given a choice, a voice, or a vote. But when it comes to life after death, you were! In my book that seems like a good deal. Wouldn’t you agree?

From He Chose the Nails

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4/21/17 9:49 A

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Today’s Scripture
"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."
(Joshua 1:9, NKJV)


Dream Boldly
When you look out into your future, what do you see? What are the dreams and desires that you hold close to your heart?

So many people start with bold dreams, but then opposition comes. Life doesn’t turn out the way they planned. They lose a loved one or encounter difficulty they didn’t anticipate. Today, if that’s you, I want to remind you that the Creator of the universe designed you with specific gifts and talents that no one else has. He has you on this planet for a specific purpose. When you commit your life to Him, He promises to be with you wherever you go. Even though some things in life may have caught you by surprise, they didn’t catch God by surprise. His good plan for your life remains. You can trust Him because He loves you with an everlasting love, and He doesn’t want to see you settling for anything less than His very best.

I want to encourage you to be bold, be strong and be courageous. Put aside the past and lift up your eyes to Jesus. He is the Author and Finisher of your faith. Live boldly and dream boldly so you can embrace the good things He has in store for you!

A Prayer for Today
"Father, today I come boldly to You. I open my heart and mind to Your Word. Fill me with Your strength today; fill me with Your hope, and keep me close to You always as I put You first in everything I do in Jesus’ name. Amen."


"I wish above all that you prosper and be in health even as your soul prospers" 3 John 1:2


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April 20

1 Corinthians 15:55-57

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thoughts on today's verse

Victory! Ultimate Victory!! If you don't have the answer for life's biggest test, death, then you have no victory. The Super Bowl and World Series are played every year. The champion is a victor for only one year. But a Christian is a champion forever because of Jesus. A Christian has victory over death.

Prayer:

Thank you God for giving me victory in Jesus Christ. Make his will triumphant in my daily struggles with sin. Through my Triumphant King I ask it. Amen.

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4/20/17 9:15 A

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Never Give Up
Post by Victoria Osteen on April 7, 2017


We all want our prayers to get answered right away. When we don't see the answer immediately, we can be tempted to stop praying. I've had people ask me, "How do I know when I should give up on a prayer. My answer is always the same…never! We can never quit turning to God. If you quit talking to God, you might start looking to man, and man can never do what God can!

Scripture says the fervent prayer of the righteous avails much. Fervent prayers are powerful and effective, but do you know who prays fervent prayers? Someone who is passionate, and you know what makes a person pray passionately? When they believe what they are praying!

In Luke 18, we see this type of person. Jesus is talking about a widow woman who is alone. She doesn't have anyone fighting for her, and she needs some justification. So she goes by herself to the judge who wasn't a just judge. He didn't really like people and didn't fear God. So this widow woman brought her petition to this unjust judge, and he denied her request. But she didn't give up. She didn't "tuck her tail" and go home. No, she tried again.

Day after day, she went back and presented her case. She was passionate and determined. She kept showing up and not giving up. Jesus tells that one day that judge said, "I'm tired of this woman. I have to get her off my back." So he granted her request simply because she was so persistent! It wasn't about her, her request, who she knew, or what she had or had done. Her request was granted because she kept asking.

Notice this woman didn't put any limits on her request. She didn't say, "I'm going to try three times and if it doesn't work, I'll stop asking." No, she was a passionate woman, and she was going to ask until she got what she needed.

The Bible says that God is pleased with the passionate prayer of the righteous. It's not about the length of your prayer, it's the strength of your faith—your passion. Today, I want to encourage you to keep knocking and don't give up. Be the type of person who is passionate about prayer because that is the kind of person who will also be effective in prayer!

"And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you." (Luke 11:9, NLT)



"I wish above all that you prosper and be in health even as your soul prospers" 3 John 1:2


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April 20

Psalms 46

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

The cross I wear around my neck is not there for show, nor is it the object of my worship. I would not be lost without it, though I do like it. I do not believe it has some mystical power, nor does it protect me. The cross that I wear reminds me of the great love that God has for me. Christ's gift of eternal life is made real to me each time I look down at the cross or feel it lightly resting on my chest. In difficult times, I look at the cross and feel warmth and comfort. From its gentle reminder I draw strength when I am weary, refuge when I need to rest. Whether I wear my cross or not, God is with me, but sometimes it is nice to have a small reminder.

Prayer: I run to You when I need rest, Lord. You take me in Your arms and protect me from the pressures of the day. In every time of trial, You are the source of my help. Thank You. Amen.

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4/15/17 10:59 A

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - April 15

TALE OF TWO SONS

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4

Brother Andrew loves to tell this parable from the Middle East.

A certain man had two sons. One was rich and the other was poor. The rich son had no children while the poor son was blessed with many sons and many daughters. In time, the father fell ill. He was sure he would not live through the week, so on Saturday he called his sons to his side and gave each of them half of his land for their inheritance. Then he died. Before sundown the sons buried their father with respect.

That night the rich son could not sleep. He said to himself, “What my father did was not just. I am rich and my brother is poor. I have plenty of bread while my brother’s children eat one day and trust God for the next. I must move the landmark which our father has set in the middle of the land so that my brother will have the greater share. Ah – but he must not see me; if he sees me, he will be shamed. I must arise early in the morning before it is dawn and move the landmark!” With this he fell asleep and his sleep was secure and peaceful.

Meanwhile, the poor brother could not sleep. As he lay restless on his bed, he said to himself, “What my father did was not just. Here I am surrounded by the joy of many sons and daughters while my brother daily faces the shame of having no sons to carry on his name and no daughters to comfort him in his old age. He should have the land of our fathers. Perhaps this will in part compensate him for his indescribable poverty. Ah – but if I give it to him, he will be shamed. I must awake early in the morning before it is dawn and move the landmark which our father has set!” With this he went to sleep and his sleep was secure and peaceful.

On the first day of the week – very early in the morning, a long time before it was day, the two brothers met at the ancient land marker. They fell with tears into each other’s arms. And on that spot was built the New Jerusalem.

RESPONSE: Today I will focus on the needs and interests of others rather than on my own.

PRAYER: Pray that this biblical attitude of love, humility and selflessness will pervade the church of Jesus Christ around the world.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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4/15/17 10:53 A

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God So Loved the World - UpWords - Week of April 14-20, 2017

by Max Lucado

Can a holy God overlook our mistakes? Should a kind God punish our mistakes? From our perspective there are only two equally unappealing solutions. But from God’s perspective there’s a third. It’s called “the Cross of Christ.” The cross is where God forgave his children without lowering his standards.

How could he do this? In a sentence: God put our sin on his Son and punished it there. “God put on him the wrong who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 MSG). Why did he do it? Because “God so loved the world that he gave his only son” (John 3:16 NLT). Aren’t you glad the verse doesn’t read: “For God so loved the rich”? Or “For God so loved the famous?” No we simply (and happily) read: “For God so loved the world!” And you are included in that love!

From He Chose the Nails

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4/14/17 2:43 A

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - April 13

TRAINING

“Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” 1 Corinthians 9:25

A young Romanian Christian was called in to the secret police for interrogation. He had dreaded this moment. Fear gripped him throughout and he was unable to give a categorical rejection to the police offers of good treatment and security if he would only inform on his fellow-believers. He did not accept the offer either, but his inability to reject it unquestioningly brought personal agony.

He could not sleep that night because of his fear and guilt. The next morning led of the Holy Spirit, an older Christian came to visit the family. He was unaware of the young man’s dilemma. Being a former prisoner for his faith, he was able to counsel the young man from Scripture about his situation. He built up the young man in fellowship, training him for the next ordeal. It came the same afternoon when the youth was taken in for his second interrogation. The same thing happened and the young man was still upset by his answers. Again the older believer came to encourage him.

Three days of more interrogations passed. Eventually the young man was able to reject the police offer completely. With no further hold on him, the police let him go. Counsel, prayer and patient caring had brought him through and trained him in righteousness.

To maintain biblical integrity, let us consider training as a prescribed course in righteousness in which each individual is disciplined through practice to be obedient to God’s direction for mankind and able to withstand the schemes of the devil.

People who commit themselves for a cause have a right to expect training in the job for which they have been selected. In some of the trades, this is called “apprenticeship.” In medicine, it is known as “internship.” In the military, it is referred to as “basic training.” In Scripture, it is referred to as “discipleship.” However, in our modern day, training is often by-passed due to the pressures of time, need and a low value placed upon the office to be filled. This was not the case with Jesus in His selection and training of His disciples.

After calling His men to be with Him, he challenged them to commit themselves to following after Him – to be “fishers of men.” Jesus then began to train them to become His kind of “fishers of men.”

RESPONSE: I want to be a trained disciple of Jesus Christ. I will submit to His guidance and discipline.

PRAYER: Lord, help me to realize and accept Your “training” process as I follow You today.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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4/13/17 1:00 P

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Today’s Scripture
"And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love."
(1 Corinthians 13:13, NKJV)

The Greatest Love of All
In our culture today, so many people are confused about what love is. We love pizza, movies and sports, but we also love our family or spouse. If we look to the Word of God, we see God’s definition of love. First Corinthians 13 tells us that “love is patient and kind. It does not envy nor boast. It is not proud. It is not rude. It does not seek its own way, is not easily angered, and keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not rejoice in evil, but rejoices in the truth. Love believes, hopes and endures. Love never fails.” This is how God responds to us, and this is how we should respond to the people in our lives—with patience, kindness, hope, humility and love. Scripture tells us that God is love, and His character never changes!

Today and every day, know that God loves you with an everlasting love. He will never leave you nor forsake you. He is for you and has a good plan for you. Receive His perfect love today and let Him transform you from the inside out. His love is the greatest love and will last throughout all eternity!

A Prayer for Today
"Father, thank You for loving me. Thank You for doing a work in my life. Help me to be more like You. Help me to see others the way You see them and respond in love because You are love. I bless You and honor You today in Jesus’ name. Amen."


"I wish above all that you prosper and be in health even as your soul prospers" 3 John 1:2


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4/13/17 3:17 A

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April 13

Heartlight Daily Devotions

Romans 3:23-24

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Thoughts on today's verse

"I blew it!" Come to think of it, we've all blown it! We don't measure up. We're not divine. We might be decent, but decent won't do. Only the divine, the truly righteous, make it past the grave in glory. Thank God that grace is freely given and the price for our sin was paid by Jesus. While I "blew it" he renewed it!

Prayer:

Kind and Loving Father, thank you for being so generous with your grace. May I be as passionate for your righteousness as you were in redeeming me from my sin. Through Jesus I ask this. Amen.

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4/12/17 5:53 P

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - April 12

ONLY WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT

“My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” Psalm 84:2

A few months ago a North Korean man successfully waded across the Tumen River into China looking for food, money and work in order to return later to his home country with help for his family. He was befriended by Korean-Chinese Christians (not an uncommon scenario among refugees there). As he sat in Christian meetings, an older woman said to him, “Receive the Holy Spirit or you can’t go back into North Korea; it’s too dangerous!”

After many discussions with believers, he confessed Jesus as Lord of his life and received the Holy Spirit. He packed Bibles along with his food cargo and crossed the river back to North Korea. Though it was a full moon night, there were no guards since everyone was watching North Korea play football (soccer) against Brazil in the World Cup games in South Africa.

As soon as he arrived home, he began talking about his new relationship with God. His family became irate. The young man’s uncle tried to beat this “new idea” of God and Jesus out of him shouting, “How can you believe these things?”

The young man replied, “How can you not? Without God how do the sun and moon rotate?” The Holy Spirit gave words to the surprised young man. Soon the beating was forgotten and the uncle was listening intently. The whole family of this young man ultimately received Jesus as Savior and Lord.

On returning to China for further training, he commented that unless people are filled with the Holy Spirit they should not go back to North Korea because the spiritual warfare is worse than ever.

He concluded, “Only with the Holy Spirit’s help can we be bold. Pray for me that when I am caught I may be bold in my faith.”

RESPONSE: Today I will rely on the Holy Spirit to make me bold in my witness.

PRAYER: Lord, my soul, my heart, my flesh, cry out to You for the filling and power of Your Holy Spirit.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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4/9/17 8:53 A

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Luke 19:28-44

Hindsight is always 20/20. Yet while we are in a particular situation, we often make things out to be what they aren’t and infer wrong meanings. Later, we kick ourselves, thinking, If only I had known then what I know now!

Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem must have been one of those moments for the disciples. It probably appeared to be a wonderful day for them—and it was, but for different reasons than they realized. They thought the Messiah had come to reestablish Israel’s power in the world. But God had something else in mind.

The disciples weren’t the only ones who had misconceptions about the Messiah. Many Jews expected Him to be an earthly king. When the crowds heard Jesus was coming, they shouted, “Hosanna,” which means “save now” (John 12:13). They saw Him as their new king, come to bring salvation from political and societal oppression. He raised the dead, so they assumed He could also restore the kingdom of David and free them from Roman rule.

Seated upon a donkey, Jesus resembled a ruler returning to his city in peacetime, whose loyal subjects lined the path with coats and palm fronds. Even the Pharisees were there watching in indignation, saying, “Look, the world has gone after Him” (John 12:19).

This week, think back to those times when circumstances looked one way but turned out to be something else. Recall what it was like to realize God was different than you imagined and to see His will unfold in surprising ways. Look for an opportunity to share your insight with a friend or loved one.

In Touch Ministries

"I wish above all that you prosper and be in health even as your soul prospers" 3 John 1:2


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April 8

Psalms 37:11

But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.

Marchers circle in front of the atomic plant. Not everyone agreed with the sentiments of the protesters, but at least they were getting out and speaking their minds, which was more than most did. One woman was concerned for the future of her children, another worried about the ecological effects, and a man carried a petition with signatures of over 9,000 citizens from the area, voicing outrage at the sloppy safety standards.

It did not good to sit idly by while others made all the decisions. Peace and safety were worth speaking out for. What is worth defending, if not peace? We live in a world of war and fighting. Battlegrounds pop up in every nation of the world. Our Lord, however, is the Prince of Peace. How can we remain unconcerned about world harmony? We cannot. Our mission in this world is to spread the peace of Christ wherever we go. As we spread peace, we find comfort in facing the future, and we come to know the peace which passeth all understanding: God's own peace.

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4/8/17 11:25 P

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - April 8

THE WARRIOR’S PRAYER

“Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.” Ephesians 6:11

The Bible clearly says to use the full armor. We usually feel we are doing okay if we have most of the pieces of armor in place. Yet, if even one piece is missing, we have a weak spot where Satan can injure us, causing us to lose ground rather than standing firm. (1 Peter 5:8-9)

The New Living Translation in Ephesians 6:11 puts it this way; “Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies and tricks of the Devil.”It further says in verse 13, “Use every piece of God’s armor to resist the enemy in the time of evil, so that after the battle you will still be standing firm.”

RESPONSE: Today I will put on the full armor of God to stand strong against Satan’s darts of doubt, denial and deceit.

PRAYER: “The Warrior’s Prayer”

Heavenly Father, Your warrior prepares for battle.
Today I claim victory over Satan by putting on the whole armor of God!
I put on the Belt of Truth.
May I stand firm in the truth of your Word so I will not be a victim of Satan’s lies.
I put on the Breastplate of Righteousness.
May it guard my heart from evil so I will remain pure and holy, protected under the blood of Jesus Christ.
I put on the Sandals of Peace.
May I go out and proclaim the good news of the Gospel so your peace will shine through me and be a light to all I encounter.
I take the Shield of Faith.
May I be ready to deflect Satan’s fiery darts of doubt, denial and deceit so I will not be vulnerable to spiritual defeat.
I put on the Helmet of Salvation.
May I keep my mind focused on you so Satan will not have a stronghold on my thoughts.
I take the Sword of the Spirit.
May the two-edged sword of your Word be ready in my hands so I can use it to take authority over the Enemy.
By faith, your warrior has put on the whole armor of God.
I am prepared to live this day in spiritual victory.
Amen.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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4/7/17 6:33 P

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The Greatness of God

Psalm 139:1-18

God is infinite. It’s difficult for us, with our limited human minds, to imagine exactly what that means, but it’s important to think about His greatness. His love is immeasurable. And He is boundless in righteousness, mercy, and justice. Time and space cannot contain Him.

Can we go anywhere that our God is not? There may be times when we feel as if we want to hide from Him, but thankfully, there’s nowhere we can go that is out of His reach. The last thing we should want is to be separated from Him. As believers, we are forever connected to the Father because He is eternal. He calls Himself the Alpha and Omega, which means the beginning and the end. That is not to say the Lord started at some point in eternity past and ends somewhere in the future. Instead, it means that when time and space began, He is the one who created it. When it ends, He will still be there—He is the one “who is and who was and who is to come” (Revelation 1:8). This was a revolutionary concept for the crowd of Jews to whom Christ announced, “Before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58). They understood that Jesus, in saying He was one with Yahweh (the name of God, which means “I am”), claimed to be eternal—and they attempted to kill Him for what they considered blasphemy (John 8:59).

Not only is God infinite and eternal; He is also unchanging (James 1:17). So much of what we believe is based upon this characteristic of God. We can trust in His promises because they never change, and we can trust in His love because it never ends.

Edited by: PURPLEPEONY at: 4/7/2017 (18:34)
"I wish above all that you prosper and be in health even as your soul prospers" 3 John 1:2


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Our Harshest Judge - UpWords - Week of April 7-13, 2017

by Max Lucado

When it comes to shame, we are our harshest judges! Marred by hurt and humiliation, we don’t see the situation clearly. We listen too much to the voices that got us into this mess. The abuser still abuses our self-esteem. Our judgments are limited.

At these times who makes a better judge? You or Jesus? Jesus knows the situation inside and out. He sees from every perspective and feels all the pain. He knows when lines were crossed and when motives were just. Jesus is the best judge. So when he says, “I don’t judge you guilty” (John 8:11 NCV), that verdict is based not on a whim, but on a careful examination of all the hearts; all the guilt; and all the genuine repentance. So if Jesus declares you not guilty, then who keeps whispering guilt in your ears?

From Max on Life

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - April 6

STAND STRONG THROUGH ALL STORMS

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither… Psalm 1:1-3

Ours is the Kingdom. No matter what setbacks we see or experience, in the end the Kingdom will revert to our Lord and we will reign with Him.

Ours is the victory through dying and living again – victory through being able to drink the cup of evil and injustice poured out and not being consumed by it.

Ours is the responsibility of caring for our suffering brethren, especially converts and those in countries more restrictive and repressive than ours.

Ours is the responsibility of reaching those who still sit in darkness.

Ours are the lives that should manifest purity and Christlikeness.

Ours are the hearts that should be willing to pay the price to bring peace and understanding among men and between men and God. Hearts willing to be proactive. Hearts willing to stand at the end of the day and having done all, stand.

Ours is the challenge to stand strong through all the storms we face and come through the fire refined and purified to walk the way of the cross before a dying world.

RESPONSE: Today I will accept the challenge to stand strong through all the storms I may face!

PRAYER: Pray for Christians living in severe persecution areas that refined and purified, they may experience all of the victory which is available through Christ.

Daily Devotionals from Standing Strong Through the Storm by Paul Estabrooks

©2011 Open Doors International. Used by permission

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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4/2/17 7:46 A

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - April 2

SAMUEL AND HIS CRIPPLED SON

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law… Galatians 4:4

Samuel was a schoolmaster in a small city in central China. One night he overheard his head teacher praying. The teacher was saying, “Lord, please help Samuel to love his son. It’s so sad the way he treats him so cruelly, cutting him off, refusing to spend time in the home, ashamed of his crippled boy. Lord, we don’t know what goes on in the mind of his son, but we do know he is very sad. His wife says the boy weeps all the time when the father comes in and leaves. He may not know much, but he does know he’s not loved, and doesn’t know why he’s not loved.”

Deeply moved by the prayer, Samuel went home late that night and sat beside his sleeping son for hours, just stroking his hair and whispering, “Forgive me.”

He took his son to school the next day and showed him a black book hidden in the school basement. His son suddenly cried out the word, “God!” and pointed at the book. The boy spoke very little, as his mouth was deformed, but the word was clear. He had said, “God.”

Smiling, Samuel said, “You might be right, my son. We will read and see.” And so every night Samuel stayed late at his son’s bedside, reading him portions of scripture. He would hold his son with one hand, and hold the Bible with the other. When he had finished a page, he would signal to the boy, who loved to help by turning the page. They felt warm together. Soon his wife joined them for the readings, and the family grew closer and closer.

Samuel felt new feelings of love well up inside him as he read the truths of the Bible. He felt a power to love his son more and more. That’s when tragedy struck. His boy was run over by a truck and badly injured. There was nothing the medics could do. They took him home to nurse him through to the end. Christians came and prayed for his healing, but the boy continued to deteriorate. By this time Samuel was praying to God, and crying out for Him to spare his son’s life. But in December, after a sudden power failure, the boy finally died.

Samuel asked the Christians to hold a service for his boy. A pastor came and prayed, saying, “Lord, you knew this boy was going to die. How kind of you to reconcile father and son before he died. Thank you for your work of grace. And we thank you for your eternal work too. You watched your son, helpless in flesh, die and grow cold—all because you knew we could not love you otherwise, as we are so blind in our selfishness.”

Samuel pondered the meaning of this prayer. He didn’t understand it all. But he did get this: God had lost a son too. Unlike Samuel, God lost a son He had cherished, a son that was perfect. How much harder for God.

He went to church the following Sunday, a small house church an hour’s ride from the city. They were celebrating an event unknown to Samuel, called “Christmas.” A banner in the makeshift church read, “The Son of God for the world in need.”

Samuel testified on that very Sunday, “I see that I went through what God went through. He had a son He loved, and watched him die that life may come to everyone. I too had a son, but I did not love him. Then God broke my heart, so that I could love him. Then He took him. But I have life now, life that will last so long that one day I know I will be reunited with my son. And he will not be lame. And he will be able to speak. And we will fellowship together not in freezing rooms of fear and pain, but on beautiful planets of peace and harmony. I can love again, and this is the joy of Christmas for me. Even in my grief, with my poor son gone, I can love again. We can all love again.”

RESPONSE: Today I will express my love for God even in the midst of pain and loss that I may have suffered.

PRAYER: Pray for people like Samuel who have suffered deeply and may feel God cannot forgive them.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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3/31/17 4:22 P

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Confess and Believe - UpWords - Week of March 31-April 6, 2017

by Max Lucado

Can we know we are truly saved? The Bible says, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Confess and believe...and you will have salvation.

Catch what the verse does not say: live perfectly, be nice to everyone, don’t mess up, always smile--and you will be saved. Can’t do it. Impossible. Just confess and believe. Salvation will follow. It’s so easy. . .yet so hard.

God wants us to know we are saved, for saved people are dangerous people, willing to face off with the world, unafraid of the consequences since we know that, whatever happens, we will have eternal life. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 NIV). Watch out, world!

From Max on Life

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3/31/17 7:37 A

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - March 31

THE COURAGE THAT MADE THE INCARNATION POSSIBLE

“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:20-21

Chinese evangelist, Brother Xi, was travelling one very cold evening g in the rugged province of Gansu. As he came to the next village he sensed something was wrong. People were huddled together talking in low tones, glances darting accusingly at each other.

He introduced himself as a bearer of good news. A small man interrupted, “Well we have only bad news here right now. A couple has just had their baby stolen.” In the poorer areas of China, where couples are restricted to one child, it is not uncommon to have child snatching. Indeed there are even gangs that roam the countryside stealing babies for wealthy childless couples in the cities.

He stepped inside the house to find both husband and wife staring quietly at him. Other villagers crowded at the doorway. There was silence. The couple’s grief hung heavy in the air. He said, “I’m so sorry to hear about your plight, but I know someone who may help...God. Let me pray to Him.”

There was no reaction on the couple’s faces, so he went into prayer, feeling very uncomfortable indeed. “Dear Father, many years ago at this same time of year you sent a child into the world and rescued us all; we ask today that you will send back this child to us, and deliver this village from the sadness which grips it, Amen.”

Suddenly the young husband spoke, “Shut up and go away. We have prayed to our gods and nothing has happened. Why should yours be any different?” He was grabbed from behind by the other villagers and propelled out of the village. “Don't you dare come here again!” they bawled.

He wandered the hills in a daze of humiliation, tears, and crying to God. Then he thought, l went to that village expecting a hero’s welcome, or at the very least, I relied on being a curiosity, quizzed and entertained by people who live very dull and isolated lives. Instead, I had only been treated a little like Christ was treated.

Kneeling there in the snow, he knew what he had to do—go back to that village, knowing for sure he would be despised. This was to follow in the Master’s footsteps. With a pounding heart he turned and began to walk slowly back towards the village. Suddenly, across the still late afternoon air, he heard a baby’s cry coming from what appeared to be an old well shaft.

Sure enough six feet down was a little baby, wrapped in a thick blanket, lying at the bottom of the dry-well. He climbed down to hug some warmth back into it. It was a baby girl. Those who snatched it did not know it was a girl, and finding later that it was, left it in this old well to die.

The city couples that finance this hideous trade invariably want only male babies.

He walked back to the village with the precious bundle of life clasped to his breast. The villagers came running. They were amazed and overjoyed. Loving hands led him to the cottage of the poor couple, and the smile on the mother’s face as he placed her baby into her lap was unforgettable. “Come, warm yourself by the fire” said the husband. They drew up a chair for him, and as the other villagers crowded round, he asked, “Who was that God you prayed to?”
What an invitation. Here he was, the honored guest, looking at thirty eager people, waiting with bated breath to hear the Gospel. “Well,” he began, “He came to earth in the form of a little baby, just about this time 2000 years ago...”

RESPONSE: Today I will praise God that He is truly in control and can work out all situations for good.

PRAYER: Thank God today for the coming of His Son to earth in humble yet powerful glory!

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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3/29/17 5:33 A

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - March 29

WHAT WOULD JESUS SAY TODAY TO THE PERSECUTED CHURCH?

I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Revelation 3:11

Today we share a message composed by Steve Haas for Prayer for the Persecuted Church and published in Christianity Today:

To the angel of the church of the despised, incarcerated, separated, raped, and martyred; the persecuted church. These are the words of him who knows your patient endurance, understands your distress, and like you has been faithful to the shedding of his own precious blood.

You say you are isolated, cut off, that no one acknowledges your state. I see the terrors you face: the raids of your house churches in Laos, Indonesia, and China; the assault and murder of your leadership in Iran, India, and Chechnya; the indiscriminate bombing and enslavement that ravage your villages in Sudan.

I register every tear that is cried, record each longing conceived, hear each desperate plea confessed. I identify intimately with your plight. I have not forgotten you. Nor have many others who, although unfamiliar with the gravity of your suffering, draw hope and strength from your noble sacrifices for me. I have revealed your plight to your brothers and sisters in Christ and have called thousands of churches to pray for you and to serve you.

You say you are afraid. Recognize what you have that cannot be taken away. I have given you new life, an irrepressible joy, and an ever-present Spirit. Your transforming faith in me cannot be crushed but instead shines like a lighthouse, drawing those who sincerely search for the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

You say you are losing hope. Know that these afflictions are not the final word, that I am sovereign and just. In time, I will repay. Although these tribulations threaten to overwhelm you, I have prepared an eternal place of peace for you, a permanent sanctuary of refreshment and true freedom that begins the moment you recognize me as Lord and serve me as King. I am with you always.

Beware of those who come from outside your fellowship, who masquerade as teachers of the church but elevate personal comfort over godly obedience. Many travel from long distances and present themselves as spiritual masters of the faith, proclaiming that temporal health and security are your due. Do not listen to them. Theirs is a false teaching, only shackling you to the unrequited masters of greed and disquiet. In the midst of your suffering, I will prove to be your only true peace and anchor.

Beware of those who are among you, immature in their belief, who mix notions contrary to my word with selected elements of saving truth. Like weeds among healthy grain, their subtle heresies pollute your fellowship, leading many to believe there are means other than a relationship with me to insure one’s eternity. Strive to know my Word and remain rooted in my loving commands.

I delight in your resourcefulness with little, your dignity in suffering, your joyful endurance in the midst of adversity. It is these things that give witness to a power above all earthly kingdoms, a source of strength stronger than the might of any human power.

Remain faithful, and I will raise you up in victory. Patiently endure, for I will not tarry long.

RESPONSE: Today I will reaffirm my commitment to be faithful to Jesus and patiently endure ‘till He comes.

PRAYER: Pray that members of the persecuted church will understand the deep reality of patient endurance.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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3/25/17 6:47 A

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March 25

Psalms 31:18

Let the lying lips be put to silence; which speak grievous things proudly and contemptuously against the righteous.

Lisa couldn't quite believe everything the preacher was saying. He went on and on about how members of other Christian denominations were misguided and on the road to destruction. That didn't make sense. How could the pastor know that he was right and everyone else was wrong? He said that God had told him, but surely God talked to others, too. It was awfully confusing.

One day, everyone who speaks in order to hurt others will have to pay for what they say. So many things are said and done in the name of Christianity that are in no way Christian. Our law is the law of love and forgiveness, not judgment and narrow-mindedness. Ask the Lord to open your heart to those you disagree with and wonderful things will begin to happen.

Prayer: I know so little and I say so much, Father. Help me to reach out to people that I don't understand or agree wit h. Make me an instrument of unity and fellowship. Amen.

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3/23/17 4:19 P

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - March 23

ASHAMED OF JESUS

Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. - Luke 9:26

Young believers in the Lord in Muslim cultures often struggle with the issue of publicly declaring their new faith in Jesus. Shadiya is the youngest of five children in a Muslim family. At the age of eighteen she came in contact with a group of young people in the church of Pastor Jamil. During the summer of 2011, the church was visited by a group of other young Christians. During that time Shadiya decided to follow Jesus.

One day she forgot to hide her Bible and her younger brother found it. He asked his father about this striking book with a large cross prominent on the cover. Father was shocked. He soon found out that Shadiya brought the book into their house.

Initially dumbfounded by the hostile attitude of her father, Shadiya stood firm for what she believed. She admitted that she had become a Christian, that she received the Bible from some friends and that she no longer is a Muslim.

Her father interpreted this as denying her identity. This, in his opinion, was a betrayal of the entire family and the Muslim community. In other words, the shame for the family was unbearable. So in her father’s eyes there was only one option; force Shadiya to deny her faith in Christ. “If you refuse to deny your new faith, you are no longer welcome in our home!” he yelled at her. Shadiya still held on to faith in Jesus.

The situation deteriorated even more after her father went to the mosque and shared the “apostasy” of his daughter with the local imam. They decided she had to deny her Christian faith openly and confess the Islamic faith in public. If she refused to do so, she would have to pay with her life. She would be stoned by the Muslim community.

She asked her apostate brother-in-law, Amir, for advice. He suggested that she do what they asked of her and remain a secret follower of Jesus. In her heart she could remain a believer in Christ, although she would openly deny her faith to save her life. Shadiya was not really convinced that this was the right thing to do and was full of doubt. In the end she followed the advice of Amir.

The prospect of becoming a martyr at the age of eighteen was now over but Shadiya remained doubtful about her decision. She and Amir asked Pastor Jamil what he thought about it.

“This could have been an opportunity for the whole family or the entire village to see God working in the life of an eighteen-year-old girl,” he replied. “It is a great challenge to deal with our fear; still we should rely on Jesus, rather than basing our choices on fear.”

The situation for Shadiya now seems less tense but the risk of escalation remains.

RESPONSE: Today I will not allow fear to control me…especially regarding the public declaration of my faith.

PRAYER: Pray for Shadiya and the people surrounding her. Ask our Father to further His kingdom through her and fellow-believers who are cautiously trying to help her to grow in faith.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Team Leader God's Amazing Grace
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