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8/21/17 3:57 P

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- August 21

THE CHURCH – EVANGELISM IN NORTH KOREA

“I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”Acts 20:2

Left in China, North Korean Gyeong Ju Son, who we first met yesterday, was adopted for a while by the family of a young pastor, and it was their love, care, compassion and protection that made a deep impression on her. When they left for America she was given the opportunity to go to South Korea.

While staying at the Korean Consulate in Beijing, waiting to go to South Korea, the young girl’s life was dramatically and irrevocably changed when Jesus came to her in a dream. She says:

“He had tears in His eyes. He walked towards me and asked ‘Gyeong Ju, how much longer are you going to keep me waiting? Walk with me. Yes, you have lost your earthly father, but I am your heavenly Father and whatever has happened to you, was because I love you.’”

Praying to God for the very first time, she gave Him her heart, soul, mind and strength, asking that she would be used at His will. A deep love for the lost people of North Korea and the need to bring the love of Jesus to them, has subsequently become her life purpose.

RESPONSE: Like Paul and Gyeong Ju, today I commit to use my energy and focus to share Jesus’ love with others.

PRAYER: Lord, help me pray like Paul that my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it to complete the evangelism task You have committed to me.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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8/19/17 3:34 P

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - August 19

THE CROSS – ACCEPTING THE AWFULNESS AND THE FILLING

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’” Psalm 42:1-3

Ron Boyd-MacMillan writes in his epic volume, Faith That Endures:

I remember interviewing a former Muslim extremist in Egypt. He had converted to Christ in his early twenties and led a Church for Muslim converts. This is illegal in Egypt, and the fellowship was betrayed to the police. Soon this young man found himself in prison. He was tortured. An electric cattle prod was pushed into his mouth. He was whipped and hung from the ceiling with his hands tied behind his back. But all this paled into insignificance compared to what other prisoners called "the experience". He was pushed into a stone box, a cube about five feet square. No light. No latrine. And he was left there for a month, food being passed through a grate every few days. Most prisoners went mad as a result of "the experience"—but not him.

He found Christ there, and the words he used to describe his experience are still the most brilliant description of the process of how persecution actually delivers more of God:

“In great suffering you discover a different Jesus than you do in normal life. Normally we are able to hide from ourselves who we really are and what we are really like. The ego is well defended. But pain changes all that. Pain and suffering bring up to the surface all the weak points of your personality. You are too weak to mount the usual defenses, and you just have to gaze at what you are really like. I was a wreck in that cell. I was reduced to tears all the time. Crying, weeping, sobbing, wailing in the never-changing utter darkness.

I came face-to-face with how awful I really was. I saw all the horrible things I had done, all the horrible things I was. I kept seeing myself again and again. But just as I was about to collapse into complete despair and self-loathing—and probably die—an incredible realization burst into the cell like an exploding star. It was this: ‘Jesus loved me even right then, as I sat in my own filth, weak, helpless and broken, empty and sinful. Even in that state, He loved me, and Christ rushed in and filled me, and the filling was so great because I was so empty.’”

RESPONSE: Today Jesus will be the one on whom I “fix my eyes” to accept my awfulness and His filling.

PRAYER: Lord, I want more of You in my life and I’m willing to be broken to make room for You.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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8/19/17 1:42 A

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What God is Doing - UpWords - Week of August 18-24, 2017

By Max Lucado

Changing direction in life is not tragic--but losing passion in life is! Something happens along the way. Convictions to change the world downgrade to commitments to pay the bills. Rather than make a difference, we make a salary. Rather than look outward, we look inward. And we don’t like what we see!

But God is not finished with you yet. Oh you may think he is. You may think you’ve peaked. You may think he’s got someone else to do the job. If so, think again! The Bible says, “God began doing a good work in you, and I am sure he will continue it until it is finished when Jesus Christ comes again” (Philippians 1:6 NCV).

Did you see what God is doing? A good work in you! Did you see when he will be finished? When Jesus Christ comes again. May I spell out the message? God ain’t finished with you yet!

From When God Whispers Your Name


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8/18/17 12:56 P

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- August 18

THE CROSS – POURED OUT LIKE A DRINK OFFERING

“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near.” 2 Timothy 4:6

On the last day of an Open Doors seminar in South Africa, students shared how they thought the church should prepare for persecution.One man shared his son’s story and its impact:

It was at the time when the pupils rioted, burning schools, churches, shopping centers, town councilors’ houses and mercilessly attacking anyone whom they regarded as a ‘sell-out.’

Each morning his sturdy, neatly dressed, thirteen-year-old Christian son wound his way through the mounds of rubble towards school, amidst the mocking of other youths wandering the smoke-filled streets. Later he would walk home, while the teachers, frightened by the threatening mobs, locked themselves in their homes.

One particular morning, after the family devotions, his parents watched as he walked off to school. At the school grounds, a mob blocked the gate. He walked undeterred through the gate and greeted them with a nod and a friendly smile.

He was in the center of the mob when they closed in around him blocking any further progress. One older gang leader, tall and powerfully built, grabbed the strap of his school bag and pulled him to a standstill. He glared at him and growled, “As a Christian you have always been on time for school, never late, never missing a day. You have always been praised by those ‘sell-out’ teachers for knowing and doing your school work in spite of our revolutionary slogan, ‘liberation now, education later’…Today, you will have to decide for our revolution or else.”

“I have decided to have nothing to do with your revolution,” the boy replied unwaveringly. He remembered what his father taught on compromise in times of persecution.

With a curse the bully pushed him backwards into the mob. Blows rained on him and he tried in vain to ward it off, then a knife flashed in the sun, a second, and a third...Hours later, a policeman knocked on the door of his parent’s home.

The father still lives in that house and preaches the love of Christ to the same community. Peace has returned to the township, but hardly a day passes without a passer-by, or a message scribbled on the garden wall, reminding him of that day.

The father says, “I greet them and smile at them in the hope that the testimony of my life and my willingness to forgive will eventually carry the light of Christ into their hearts, replacing the spirit of bitterness darkening their lives. I know by going back there to train the church leaders I am at risk of my life being ‘poured out like a drink offering’ just like the apostle Paul.”

RESPONSE: Today I will not live in fear nor compromise my faith no matter what Satan throws at me.

PRAYER: Pray for courage for those whose lives today may be poured out like a drink offering.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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8/16/17 12:54 A

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - August 15

THE CROSS – TRANSFORMING INITIATIVES

“But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” Matthew 5:39-41

When we read these verses about non-violent resistance we usually think this is a defensive directive of Jesus. For example, a leading church bishop in Nigeria, amidst severe Muslim-Christian conflict, has repeatedly been quoted in the press as saying, “We have turned the other cheek so many times, we have no more cheeks to turn!”

Palestinian Christians involved in peace, reconciliation and non-violence movements have helped me see this teaching differently. When Jesus teaches about “turning the other cheek,”it was an offensive—not a defensive—act of peace using a culturally relevant example of His day. A person who slapped another on the cheek normally used the back of the right hand as an act of insult by a superior to an inferior. Thus, by turning the “other” cheek, the one hit (the perceived powerless person) takes an initiative to force the aggressor to now return the swing and hit his face a second time. This time the “hit” must be with an aggressive open palm or fist thereby transforming the nature of the relationship.

The Christ-like response of turning the other cheek says the person does not assume the inferior place of humiliation the striker had in mind but views himself as an equal. The supposedly powerless person has redefined the relationship and forced the oppressor into a moral choice: escalate the violence or respond with repentance and reconciliation.

Other transforming initiatives are to give your cloak when sued for your tunic and to carry a load for two miles for a person who can legally demand that you carry it for only one mile.

We all must seek “transforming initiatives” within our own particular context.

RESPONSE: As a peacemaker for Jesus, I will seek out “transforming initiates” wherever I see conflict.

PRAYER: Lord, give me the attitude of Your peace and Your methods of not resisting an evil person that will prompt repentance and reconciliation.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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8/14/17 3:26 P

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- August 14

THE CROSS – NO ORDINARY LIFE

“And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Matthew 5:40-42

An Open Doors co-worker shares this personal experience from the Middle East:

The serenity of the pastor walking beside us seemed to calm the hustle and the bustle of the small village. He suddenly came to a stop, carefully looked around and then said, “Some time ago, exactly on the spot where you are standing now, a Christian brother was slaughtered to death because of his faith. He was abducted and brought here to be executed. Life in a mid-east village like this is not easy if you confess Jesus to be the Son of God. It could cost you your life.”

I looked at this servant of Christ and asked him the obvious question “Why do you choose to live here? Why do you choose to follow Christ under such severe circumstances?”

Without hesitation he looked at me and his reply became a challenge and guideline for my walk with the Lord, even if it is in the safety of my home. He replied “I refuse to live an ordinary life in Christ.”

As Christians we are called to refuse an ordinary life in Christ. We are commanded to reject worldly standards, to reject mediocrity, to reject compromise and to value people more than possessions, even more than our own lives.

To truly follow Jesus means His will is more important than my life. As well, while alive, I must adopt a lifestyle that puts people ahead of possessions, even one of my most valuable possessions—time! We tend to cherish stuff and comfort more than souls. In the Shepherd of Hermes, an early church writing, we are urged, “Instead of fields, buy souls that are in trouble according to your ability.”

RESPONSE: Today amid the comforts of my environment I will refuse to live an ordinary life but seek to be more like Jesus.

PRAYER: Lord, I want to live the Jesus way, valuing people more than things even to the point of sacrifice. Help me to escape the bonds of the ordinary Christian life.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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8/11/17 3:17 P

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- August 11

TRAINGING – TAKOOSH LEARNS FORGIVENESS

“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25

Hatred of her enemies is something Takoosh Hovsepian, the wife of an Iranian pastor murdered in 1994 no longer has. She says; “I’ve learned a lesson at God’s University about how to love your enemies.”

As a teenager, Takoosh prayed that she might be allowed to marry a pastor, so that she could spend her life in the service of God. Her wish was fulfilled, but the way would not be easy.

Her husband, Pastor Haik Hovsepian, was forty-eight years old when one day he did not come home. After twelve days, it became apparent that he had been killed at the behest of the Iranian government. About that time, four other Iranian pastors were also murdered in a cowardly way. They refused to sign an official declaration that they would not evangelize among Muslims.

In Iran, ninety-eight percent of the population is Muslim. After the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in particular, the problems for Christians became increasingly great.

Takoosh says, “During the revolution, hundreds of people threatened to set fire to the churches, which fortunately did not happen. The Islamic government does not want Muslims to go to church and evangelism among them is forbidden.”

Pastor Hovsepianheld important positions in the Iranian Church. On various occasions, he stated that he was willing to go to the utmost for his faith and for the church. His wife reflects, “Haik repeatedly said, ‘We don’t have to be afraid. We must trust in God.’ But in my heart, I was afraid. Haik was full of love for people, even for his Muslim neighbors. They were welcome at the church; they knew that he would help them even in times of difficulty.”

The day that Haik leftto collect a friend from the airport and never came back is deeply engraved on the memory of the widow and her children. At the police station, the eldest son, Joseph, was only shown a photo of his father. According to the police, the body of Pastor Hovsepian had been found in an alleyway in Teheran.

Takoosh says, “I only had hatred in my heart, hatred for my enemies who had murdered Haik. I was not able to forgive them. I prayed with my lips, ‘God, give me the strength to forgive,’ but before I prayed, in my imagination I saw myself throwing mud at them. But one day a miracle happened. God taught me how I could forgive my enemies. I was asking for something which on the deepest level I did not want to ask for. But gradually, in a process of ups and downs which took months, God gave me the strength to pray more and more with my heart for those who had murdered my husband. God answered this prayer.

“Then I was no longer prayingonly with my lips, but from the depths of my heart. I had learned not only to trust in God and to lean on Him, but also how I can forgive my enemies.”

RESPONSE: Today I will forgive offences against me so God will forgive my sins.

PRAYER: Pray for many Christian brothers and sisters of the persecuted church who have difficulty forgiving those who hurt them or their family.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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8/11/17 2:43 A

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- August 10

TRAINING – EGYPTIAN CHILDREN AND PRACTICAL LOVE

“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:18

In his book, The Upside Down Church, Pastor Greg Laurie says, “The first Christians didn’t out-argue pagans—they outlived them…Christianity made no attempts to conquer paganism and dead Judaism by reacting blow by blow. Instead, the Christians of the first century outthought, outprayed and outlived the unbelievers.

“Their weapons were positive not negative. As far as we know, they did not hold protests or conduct boycotts. They did not put on campaigns to try to unseat the emperor. Instead, they prayed and preached and proclaimed the message of Christ, put to death on the cross, risen from the dead, and ready to change lives. And they backed up their message with actions: giving, loving.”

A co-worker shares a significant event he witnessed among Christian children in Egypt:

A crowd of smiling faces awaited us as we entered the small stuffy room. The ages of the children ranged from 8 to 11 years and they were seemingly oblivious and unaware of the circumstances surrounding their village - poverty, problems and persecution. To be a Christian, let alone a Christian child, was not an easy life.

It was Saturday evening and the excitement that filled the air overwhelmed any feeling of self-pity and despair that might have existed. Between 30 and 40 young boys, each equipped with a large maize bag, excitedly awaited orders.

As we entered the room the youth leader saw the frowns on our faces and answered our questions even before we could ask. “Yes, it’s Saturday evening,” he started explaining, “and tonight the children will once again ‘invade’ our little village. They will go to every house in every street. They will ask the inhabitants whether they have enough bread to eat or not. If there is more than enough bread in the house they will ask the families to place any extra bread in the bag for those who do not have enough bread.

The children will continue until all the bags are filled to the top. Then the fun part of the evening starts. They will then go back to all the homes where there was not enough bread to eat and distribute so that every family in our village will have enough bread to eat for the next week.

They do not have the means to provide it themselves, but regardless of their own needs, they have become instruments to eradicate all hunger in our village.

RESPONSE: I will live this day showing love to those in need in the most practical ways.

PRAYER: Lord, bless those Egyptian Christian children who love others and demonstrate it in practice.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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8/9/17 3:28 P

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- August 9

TRAINING – ENDURANCE AND ENCOURAGEMENT

“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had…” Romans 15:5

Zinaida Vilchinskaya was a grandmother at the time she was arrested in the Soviet Union while carrying Christian literature. She shares a poignant episode of how one believer can encourage another in endurance during difficult circumstances:

When the police first took me to the police station, I was put in a very cold cell with bare iron bunks. The guards took my scarf and my coat, and I lay on the bunk in just a dress. I was shivering, and I started to pray. When my cellmate saw me pray, she, too, got on her knees and said, “Oh, I can't stand it. I'm freezing too.” She started to cry softly.

“Lord,” I prayed, “if you want me to be frozen here, may your will be done; just enable me to endure this with love, submission, and meekness. But you can help me. You can even take me out of here if that’s your will.”

I lay back down and felt such warmth. I told the other woman, “Here, let me put my arm around you, and you’ll get warmer.” We warmed up together. Later when they transferred us to different cells, she told everyone in hers, “God warmed up Aunt Zhenya (as they called me) in our cell, and she warmed me up.”

RESPONSE: Today I will seek to find ways to encourage others going through the same challenges I have faced.

PRAYER: Lord, give me the mind of Jesus toward others in order that Your endurance and encouragement may flow through me.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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8/4/17 11:37 A

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Give Thanks - UpWords - Week of August 4-10, 2017

by Max Lucado

Some things just weren’t made to coexist. Long-tailed cats and rocking chairs? Bulls in a china shop? Not a good idea. Blessings and bitterness? That mixture doesn’t go over well with God. Combine heavenly kindness with earthly ingratitude and expect a sour concoction. Perhaps you’ve sampled it. Gratitude doesn’t come naturally. Self-pity does. Bellyaches do. Grumbles and mumbles--no one has to remind us to offer them. Yet they don’t mix well with the kindness we’ve been given.

Gratitude gets us through the hard stuff. To reflect on your blessings is to rehearse God’s accomplishments. To rehearse His accomplishments is to discover His heart. Gratitude always leaves us looking at God and away from dread. So practice gratitude! As Ephesians 5:20 puts it, “Give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

From You’ll Get Through This


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8/2/17 5:21 A

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - August 2

RESOURCES – BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS

“Stand firm then…with the breastplate of righteousness in place.” Ephesians 6:14

The soldier’s breastplate of the Roman times was to protect his vital organs. It was usually made of hardened slabs of leather or pounded bronze or a combination of both. The soldier’s rank and his country’s seal were affixed to it. It covered the soldier’s chest and stomach but not his back. So it was designed to face the enemy, not for retreat from the enemy.

Because we are waging a war against an invisible enemy, we must always be armed. Our breastplate is made not of heavy metal but is molded by the Spirit of the living God to fit us properly in our inner being. Our righteousness is not a metal front, but given by Christ to show to everyone in all our day-to-day relationships and circumstances.

Our enemy will point out your failures and shortcomings. He will try to convince you that you are unworthy to be a child of God. He is right. But your relationship with God is based on Jesus’ uprightness before God, not yours. Your sins have been wiped out. When God sees you, he sees Jesus. Stand tall before the enemy…in your breastplate of righteousness.

Mikail Khorev, a very effective evangelist in Russia, spent many years in prison for his continued public ministry. On one occasion his family was refused visiting rights and sent home. When the prison guard was taunting him about it, he replied:

“I would like to tell you that my God is fulfilling his plans through you and will use you for our blessing. I love my family very much and being together with them means a lot to me, but if it brings more honor to the Lord for us to part rather than be together, then why should I insist on seeing them? If his name is glorified more through my being in prison than through my being at liberty, then I tell you that there is no greater joy for me than to die on this prison bunk as a prisoner, as my father did and as many of my brothers in the faith have done.”

Mikhail is also quoted as saying, “I have to admit to you that prison is a very useful school for our education and for the testing of the genuineness of our faith...I’m grateful to the Lord for this school and for his leading.”

RESPONSE:

Today I put on the breastplate of righteousness…protected under the blood of Jesus Christ.

PRAYER:

Lord, may my breastplate of righteousness guard my heart from evil so I will remain pure and holy in the face of trials.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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7/31/17 11:58 A

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - July 31

RESOURCES – HOLY SPIRIT CALLING

“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” - John 16:13

Johnny Li of Nexus ministry shares today the story of his “calling” by God’s Holy Spirit:

“Your son asked me to come and visit you!” As I spoke these words to the elderly man in front of me, I could see the utter surprise and even confusion in his eyes. Suddenly the man grabbed me and quickly jerked me inside the small room.

My mind began to retrace my steps and all the events that had led to this; first meeting young Brother Wang in Hong Kong after his daring escape from China; then the challenging request from my pastor to take Bibles to the family of Brother Wang in China; then the daring and dangerous expedition that led me here.

Mrs. Wang quickly excused herself and I spent the next hour bringing greetings and love from Brother Wang as well as all the other believers from our small church in Hong Kong. Curious about the sudden disappearance of Mrs. Wang I enquired where she went. “She is in the room next door praying for our safety,” Brother Wang’s father replied.

After memorable fellowship, the final words of Brother Wang Sr. pierced my heart. “You must come again,” he pleaded.

I smiled politely but in my heart I knew I would not likely return. The trip was much too risky and dangerous for my liking. Being Chinese I knew that my destiny would be prison if I were caught. “You must come again and bring more Bibles,” old Brother Wang pleaded as if he could read my troubled mind.

I gave the only correct answer I could think of. “I will pray about it.”

In a daze I walked to the train station and boarded the first train home to safety. My heart was torn because this was the country responsible for arresting my mother and causing me to grow up as an orphan. I decided I would not return!

Then I heard the unmistakable voice of the Holy Spirit, “Do you need a calling, Johnny?”

“Lord what do you mean,” I asked? “You have seen the need. You have heard my voice. Why do you need a ‘calling’ to respond?”

I knew I had no choice. The Lord had spoken. I knew this was the way for me.

This was 30 years ago and Johnny Li has been an immense blessing in assisting the fast-growing church in China. He’s been responsible for producing the first Chinese Children’s Bible in modern Chinese and has delivered thousands of Bibles and other Christian literature into China. Today he trains Chinese missionaries committed to take the Gospel to the Muslim world.

RESPONSE:

Today I will listen to the Spirit’s voice before making decisions and plans.

PRAYER:

Lord, help me to listen to Your Spirit’s direction in my life since He will direct my steps.

-A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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Let God Define Good - UpWords - Week of July 28-August 3, 2017

by Max Lucado

Nothing in the Bible would cause us to call a famine good or a heart attack good or a terrorist attack good. These are terrible calamities, born out of a fallen earth. Yet every message in the Bible compels us to believe that God will mix them with other ingredients, and bring good out of them. But we must let God define good. Our definition includes health, comfort, and recognition. His definition? In the case of His Son, Jesus Christ, the good life consisted of struggles, storms, and death. But God worked it all together for the greatest of good: His glory and our salvation.

At some point we all stand at this intersection. Is God good when the outcome is not? Do you want to know heaven’s clearest answer to the question of suffering? Take a look at Jesus!

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- July 25

THE CHURCH – MEMBERS OF ONE BODY

“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
1 Corinthians 12:26

It is a beautiful picture when the church of Jesus Christ operates as the Bible teaches for the benefit of the body.

On January 21st 2007, Dimitri from Uzbekistan was arrested and subsequently sentenced to four years in a labor camp because of his “illegal religious activities.” The labor camp in which he is being held is 850 kilometers from where his wife Marina and their three daughters live. They are allowed to visit him just a few times a year.

Marina is gratefulfor all the prayers for them and for all the encouragement which they have received through letters and cards.

“We’ve really experienced God’s faithfulness. He’s protected and blessed us, and He’s always been close when we’ve needed Him. We want to thank God, because He doesn’t leave us on our own. He helps us through tough times.

“I’ve visited Dimitri a few times and also taken the children with me a few times. His health is good and he’s even trying to encourage others. They have to get up early in the morning to start work. Often he doesn’t have the strength to pray, but then he senses that others are praying for him. He finds his strength in the Lord Jesus, tries not to become oppressed by the circumstances, and he thinks a lot about us. This helps him to survive.

“His Bible was confiscated by the guards and now he is writing out Bible texts from memory in a little notebook. In this way he has his own handwritten Word of God. He’d like to have his Bible back, but permission is still being refused.

“We’re thankful for the many friends who are supporting us and writing to us at this difficult time. I’d also like to thank everyone for their many prayers. Now I’m coming to understand what the Bible means when it says, ‘we are one body,’ because ‘if one part suffers, every part suffers with it.’”

RESPONSE:

Today I will not just think about myself, but function as a vital member of the body of Jesus.

PRAYER:

Lord, bless prisoners like Dimitri who today may be feeling lonely. May they experience the blessing of realizing they are part of Your body.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - July 24

THE CHURCH IN NORTH KOREA

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25

In the summer of 2010, I led an excellent team of Open Doors staff and supporters on a visit to North Korea. We were allowed to pray publically in the areas we visited and of course were presented with a formal church service on Sunday morning at one of the three churches functioning in Pyongyang. It was a well-executed performance–especially the choir. On its website, the Korean Christian Federation claims that there are ten thousand Protestant Christians in North Korea meeting at five hundred designated centers. In reality, Christians in the country experience tremendous challenges in worshipping publically.

Brother Simon, the leader of the Open Doors work in North Korea, says that the true church must operate underground in the country. “They can’t simply go to church to sing and to listen to the sermon. It is clear that being a Christian in North Korea is a lonely business.”

Simon’s thoughtsturn to Sundays in North Korea. “It happens only sporadically that Christians consider themselves safe enough to meet together in small groups. Usually gatherings consist of only two people. For example, a Christian goes and sits on a bench in the park. Another Christian comes and sits next to him. Sometimes it’s dangerous even to speak to one another, but they know they are both Christians, and at such a time, this is enough. If there is no one around, they may be able to share a Bible verse which they have learned off by heart and briefly say something about it. They also share prayer topics with each other. Then they leave one another and go and look for a Christian in some other part of their town or village. This continues throughout the Sunday. A cell group usually consists of fewer than twenty Christians, who encourage and strengthen one another, plus one-to-one meetings in people’s homes.

“Only if the whole family has turned to Christ is it possible to have something like a real fellowship gathering, as long as you keep your faith hidden from the neighbors. Besides this, it is sometimes possible to hold a meeting in remote areas with a group of ten to twenty people. Very occasionally, it is possible for Christians to go unobtrusively into the mountains and to hold a ‘service’ at a secret location like a cave. Then it may be the case that there are as many as sixty or seventy North Korean Christians gathered together.”

In spite of severe limitations, believers can fulfill all five biblical functions of the church.

RESPONSE:

I will thankfully take my place in the assembly of believers to fulfill the church’s functions.

PRAYER:

Thank you Lord for the faithfulness of Your church in North Korea against all obstacles.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- July 22

THE CROSS – TORTURED FOR CHRIST

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalms 23:4

The first thing most Christians think of when they hear or read the word, “persecution” is torture. And indeed torture is what many persecuted believers experience. Helen Berhane was kept in shipping container prisons for almost three years because she would not deny her faith. She was beaten so severely she could not even walk. Other times Helen was chained for hours outside in the severe heat of the sunshine.

One time after a full day of being chained outside, she was handcuffed and thrown into an old rusty shipping container full of holes. She lay on the icy floor in her thin dress. With no blanket, she soon began shivering. Her whole body ached from the cold and the beating she had received. She feared she might die from the freezing cold so she composed this song and sang it repeatedly throughout the chilly night:

I love you, that’s why I draw myself closer to you
I know that it’s worth following you.
I am not only ready for prison, but I trust you until death.
Even in a closed space or in a pit I will not surrender to evil spirits,
Not even if I am bound or I am chained and I am suffering from cold,
I will sing and I am not going to tire of singing, nor give up.
My heart is burning with your love,
And my heart declares I will never stop respecting you or lifting you up.
I will sing again and again,
I will sing a melody for you,
My soul is pleased to sing for you.

RESPONSE:

I will praise the Lord today and every day – regardless of my circumstances.

PRAYER:

Pray for all Christians who today are persecuted by being tortured. May they respond as Helen did.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Keep Waiting–God is at Work - UpWords - Week of July 21-27, 2017

by Max Lucado

I’m convinced the Sabbath was created for frantic souls like me, people who need a weekly reminder that the world will not stop if I do. In one of the most dramatic examples of waiting in the Bible, Daniel prays for people who’d been oppressed for seventy years. He abstained from food and drink for twenty-one days, as he labored in prayer, persisted, pleaded, and agonized. No response. On the twenty-second day an angel of God appeared. He revealed to Daniel that his prayer had been heard on the first day. From an earthly perspective, nothing was happening. But from a heavenly perspective a battle was raging in the heavens. God was working.

What if Daniel had given up? Lost faith? Walked away from God? Better questions: What if you give up? Lose faith? Walk away? Don’t! God is at work. Keep waiting!

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- July 21

THE CROSS – CHOOSING TO FOLLOW JESUS

“Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’” Mark 8:34

They stood out like lighthouse beacons. We spotted them while walking through the tables of artisan wares in old Havana. Two oil painting portraits side-by-side propped in front of the table. Portraits of two famous revolutionaries: Che Guevarra and Jesus Christ.

The Cuban people are well acquainted with Che. The Argentina-born socialist revolutionary joined Fidel Castro in the Cuban revolution of 1959. Fidel made him Minister of the Interior for the first five years. Then Che disappeared only to surface in Bolivia where he was captured and executed. Cuba has made him out to be a martyr for the revolution. His face and sayings are even more wide-spread than Fidel's.

Jesus is also becoming well-known in Cuba due to revival that has swept the island since the late 1980’s.

These two portraits depict the major choices for the most people today. One revolutionary says, “Follow me and I will make you a liberator of men—teach them how to fight!” The other says, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men—teach them how to really live!”

One revolutionary says, “Follow me and USE your life for the sake of the revolution!” The other says, “Follow me and LOSE your life for my sake and the gospels (and you will find it)!”

The one says “Follow me and we will build a utopia on earth!” Jesus says, “Follow me and we will build the kingdom of God on earth (and the world will be a better place)!”

Those who have chosen to follow Jesus in Cuba are making a significant impact for the Lord. I met a 23-year-old Cuban young lady who is a committed follower of Jesus. She ministers to four churches in the mountains where no male graduate from the seminary is willing to serve. The one mountain-top church we visited with her required forty-seven crossings of the winding mountain river in climbing the eight kilometers distance. In rainy season the mud is up to her knees. I asked her what the last message was she had shared with believers. She replied, “Take up your cross and follow me!”

We also saw a young male evangelist en route to a meeting point which would take him seven hours to walk. That’s commitment!

Today Jesus is also calling you and me to truly follow Him. It may mean leaving behind our favorite time-waster and our comfort zones. But Jesus promises his personal presence and his abundant blessing. It’s an adventure like no other. If you listen carefully, you can hear his voice right where you are this moment. He’s saying, “FOLLOW ME!”

RESPONSE:

Today I choose to follow Jesus, regardless of the cost.

PRAYER:

Lord, may Your call on my life ever draw me closer to You and Your kingdom.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- July 20

THE CROSS – LIVING SACRIFICIALLY – SELLING BLOOD

“In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”
Luke 14:33

Johnny Li, a former colleague and current missionary trainer in China shares about his meeting with two young pastors there.

As I entered the house, I surprised to observe the humble existence of these two mighty men of God. They were the leaders of house churches in their provinces, which had grown the past nine years to more than 200,000 Christians. They were both in their late twenties and even though they have been in the ministry since they were nineteen their enthusiasm reflected beautifully.

Everybody knew about the work of the Lord through these faithful servants. I also knew that they both spent several years in prison in extremely harsh conditions, but nothing prepared me for this humble home and modest lifestyle.

There were no ornaments, and no beds in the small house. Their clothes were hanging on the wall due to a lack of cupboards. The only furniture was a table and a chair to sit on. There was a blanket on the ground that was obviously used as the bed. Together we sat down and I started questioning them about their activities and work that was bearing much fruit.

“How often do you travel to neighboring villages?” I asked.

“As often as possible,” they replied.

“Where do you obtain your finances to do so?”

“We sell what we have,” they replied and supplied me with an explanation to the question about the empty house which I dared not ask. “We sold the chairs and we sold the cupboard,” they continued. “And that supplied much-needed funds for our outreach.”

“What happens when you have nothing more to sell?”

One pastor looked sadly down to the ground and answered softly, “We find something else to sell.”

“But what?” I kept on pressuring them. “You have already sold everything and have nothing left to sell. How will you raise money now?”

Then came the startling answer. “We sell our blood on the black market. We get about five dollars but the need is so great that we have to do something to tell the people around us about Jesus.”

“How can you do this” I asked. “How can you justify selling your blood to send out missionaries?”

Without hesitation they answered, “We have no choice! The need is so great!”

RESPONSE:

Today I will not complain about what I lack but think of what I can sacrifice for Jesus.

PRAYER:

Lord, I reaffirm today my decision to follow You. I give You everything I am and have.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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Standing Strong Through the Storm- July 19

THE CROSS – TAHIR’S MARTYRDOM

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law - a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.’”

Matthew 10:34-36

In the early morning of July 20, 1992 handicapped Pakistani Christian, Tahir Iqbal, died a martyrs death at age 32 in prison. He was charged with slander of the prophet Mohammed and desecration of the Koran. His death occurred under mysterious circumstances. According to fellow-prisoners Tahir vomited blood before he died which could point to poisoning or another form of violence. His stepmother declared, “Allah never forgives those who blaspheme against his holy prophet. Tahir received what he deserved.”

When Tahir Iqbal, a direct descendant of the prophet Mohammad, became ill and paralyzed from his waist down as a young adult, his family abandoned him. It would be a foretaste of things to come. Christians befriended him and he gave his heart and life to Jesus.

Tahir was quite bold about his new found faith and this stirred up the anger of the imam at the mosque. The imam started a slander campaign against Tahir, which resulted in a police rescue on December 7, 1990 when a crowd of Muslim extremists were out to murder him.

In order to protect Tahir he was transferred to the prison. He would never leave it. Tahir was under continuous pressure to return to Islam. “They want me to say that I was forced to change my beliefs, that it was because of money, or for a good job, or to get a wife. They must know that I only changed my faith because I did find the Truth.”

His most famous statement when threatened with death was,“I’ll kiss that rope but I’ll never deny my faith.”

When his pastor was notified of his death, he went to the prison. It turned out that Tahir’s stepmother had already arrived to claim the body. Members of the church inquired the next day and to their shock they were informed that Tahir had been buried already. His stepmother had received and taken the body without a post-mortem. In less than 36 hours after his death Tahir received an Islamic burial ceremony performed by the same Muslim cleric who had demanded the death penalty.

Now he praises his Savior in heavenly glory, where all tears have been wiped away.

RESPONSE:

Today I reaffirm my commitment to follow Jesus even if none go with me.

PRAYER:

Lord, be with my brothers and sisters suffering unjustly in Pakistan today under the blasphemy law.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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Standing Strong Through the Storm- July 18

THE CROSS – TURNING THE OTHER CHEEK

“If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.” Luke 6:29

An Open Doors colleague shares the following incident from an SSTS seminar in Indonesia.

I remember standing in front of nearly 800 pastors on the island of Timor facing a serious dilemma. Most of the pastors were victims of attacks by Muslims on the island of Ambon. They had lost homes, churches and even family members during these attacks. They were hurt, devastated and needed answers to the challenges they faced.

As soon as I started preaching, one pastor stood up and interrupted me; “Must we accept the persecution from the Muslims or must we retaliate? We are tired of forgiving just to be attacked again. We believe it is time to defend the honor of God and retaliate. What must we do?”

I understood perfectly the challenges. I had met those who were attacked and I have seen the scars on the bodies of those who simply accepted it. I understood there was no easy answer. Then another pastor interrupted; “No, pastor, tell this brother he is wrong. The Bible tells us to accept our suffering. We will dishonor God if we retaliate. Seventy times seven we need to forgive. Isn’t this true?”

I looked at the pastors and replied, “The Bible is clear. You MUST retaliate!”

There was silence. I sensed the division. I could see the smiles on the faces of those who agreed and saw those who disagreed getting ready to leave the hall.

“Wait, brothers!” I intervened. “Before you leave, let me finish my sentence. Luke 6 teaches us clearly to retaliate, but in doing so, we need to choose our weapons. When someone curses you, you don’t just accept it. You retaliate by blessing him. When someone mistreats you and persecute you, you don’t just accept it. You retaliate by praying for him. When someone takes your cloak you retaliate by giving your undercoat. When someone slaps you in the face, don’t stand for it. Retaliate! Turn your other cheek.”

The burden of just accepting suffering was broken. They were satisfied.

RESPONSE:

Today I will retaliate against attacks upon me using the spiritual weapons of Jesus.

PRAYER:

Lord, may I always remember how You want me to respond when others treat me badly.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- July 17

THE CROSS – RESPONDING WITH WORDS

“But before all this they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourself. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.” Luke 21:12-15

During her years of imprisonment in Eritrea’s wretched shipping containers, Helen Berhane was often interrogated and pressured to deny her faith. The Lord gave her supernatural answers each time as documented in her book Song of the Nightingale.

Yet another official visited and accused me of being anti-government.“Political agents are just using you,” he said. “Why do you let them do this? Why do you risk your life to please other people and support their cause? Why make yourself a sacrificial lamb? Perhaps you are a genuine believer, but the ones who have asked you to stick so rigidly to this rebellious religion are just taking advantage of you for their political agenda.”

I said, “If I may speak for myself; I have no other agenda but believing in the Bible. Since my childhood I have never had any other intention. This Bible is not new – my fathers and forefathers read it. I am reading the same Bible my grandfather read; the only difference is that he read it in Geez [old dialect] while I can read it in my language. He used to treat his Bible with special reverence and keep it in a sacred box, but I do not worry about handling mine. My grandfather went to church for fifty years but he didn’t understand the Bible; we know it better because it is in our language. If you are trying to take us back to the days of the older generation, then you cannot care about what is best for our country. Everything is changing and we have to adapt and move with the times. Each generation of inventors must bring new ideas, otherwise we will have nothing new and nothing will change or improve. In our generation, because we can understand the Bible, people are changing.”

RESPONSE:

Today I will trust the Lord for wisdom and words to answer those who challenge my faith.

PRAYER:

Lord, give me grace to answer all challenges against You and your Word with Your love and wisdom.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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Standing Strong Through the Storm- July 16

THE CROSS - RESPONDING WITH SINGING

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Helen Berhane spent almost three years in the shipping container prisons of Eritrea. In her book Song of the Nightingale, she shares about the first time she and other women were put in an old container that was very hot and filled with fleas and lice.

“Everyone was very despondent, and many of the women were angry. They asked me what we should do and I knew they were expecting me to say that we should shout or bang the container, to let our captors know that we were not going to tolerate this treatment. But I remembered [reading] about how Christians, like nightingales, could not be prevented from singing even in captivity, and I suggested that we sing, ‘We should praise God in spite of the fleas, in spite of the lice, in spite of the heat. We should thank God despite our circumstances.’ So I began to sing with them, and pray, and share the Word of God from memory.”

Pastor Ung Sophal sat in a filthy Cambodian prison badly beaten. His hands and feet were chained for five months. "Only my mouth was unchained," he said.

“...So I sang to God in prison all the time. Another prisoner heard me singing through a small hole in the wall, so I taught him the song—a bit at a time. He passed it on and soon eight of us were singing.”

Archbishop Dominic Tang spent twenty-two years in prison in China for his faith. He reports:

“Besides my prayer and meditation, every day I sang some hymns in a soft voice: ‘Jesus I live for you; Jesus I die for you; Jesus I belong to you. Whether alive or dead I am for Jesus!’ This hymn was taught to me by a Protestant prisoner who lived in my cell.”

RESPONSE:

Today I will respond to all the challenges of life with praise and thankfulness.

PRAYER:

Pray that all Christian prisoners around the world will respond to their circumstances as those documented above.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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God Shapes His Servants - UpWords - Week of July 14-20, 2017

by Max Lucado

Compassion matters to God. This is the time for service, not self-centeredness. Cancel the pity party. Love the people God brings to you. This test will be your testimony. Second Corinthians 1:4 reminds us, “God comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, He brings us alongside someone else who’s going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us” (MSG).

You didn’t sign up for this crash course in single parenting or caring for a disabled spouse, did you? No, God enrolled you. Why? So you can teach others what He has taught you. Rather than say, “God, why?” ask, “God, what?” What can I learn from this experience? Your mess can become His message!

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- July 13

TRAINING - ALICE YUAN’S PERSEVERANCE

“You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For, ‘In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.’” Hebrews 10:36-37

The greatest example of Christian perseverance for me is Sister Alice Yuan from China. Her pastor husband, Allen Yuan, was imprisoned for almost 22 years for refusing to join the government controlled church in the middle 1950’s. She says:

“When my husband Allen was sent to prison in April 1958, I was told that I would never see him again. I felt completely miserable and continually blamed God. The future looked so terribly bleak. I had the care of six children and my mother-in-law. I was only earning 80 cents a day. How could I keep my family alive on that?

“When it all became too much for me, one night I heard a voice: ‘My child, I have everything in My hands. These things come from Me.’ I replied, ‘If these things come from You, please protect me and my family. Do not allow me to dishonor Your name. I want to serve You and glorify Your name’

“Then I received peace in my heart. I was encouraged by Psalm 68:19, Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. In those difficult years, people let me down, but God never abandoned me. But he did put me through trials.

“The first trial was the struggle to survive. I was only earning 80 cents a day. How could we get by on that? But God took care of us, in the same way that he took care of Elijah. He promised to be my shepherd and provider.

“One evening, my mother-in-law said that there was no food anymore in the house. The next morning, at five to six there was a knock on the door. ‘Are you sister Alice?’ asked a woman in her sixties, whom I didn’t know. ‘God wanted me to give you this.’ She put a package in my hand and disappeared. When I opened the parcel I found there was rice in it and some other food and a banknote to the value of about four month’s salary of a professor! Praise the Lord. Where man comes to an end, God begins! This was only one of the many miracles which kept us alive all those years.”

Tomorrow we’ll conclude her story of faithfulness and perseverance as well as God’s miraculous care for His own.

RESPONSE:

Today I will not complain about discomforts but thank God for all His blessings!

PRAYER:

Lord, You desire faithfulness and perseverance. Help me develop these qualities in my life.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- July 11

TRAINING – LOVING YOUR ENEMIES

“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” Luke 9:24

One of the Anabaptists of the 16th Century who died in flames was Dirk Willem. His story is particularly touching, because he forfeited a real chance to escape prison and death when he turned back to help one of his pursuers.

Dirk was captured and imprisoned in his home town of Asperen in the Netherlands. Knowing that his fate would be death if he remained in prison, Dirk made a rope of strips of cloth and slipped down it over the prison wall. An alert guard began to chase him.

Frost had covered a nearby pond with a thin layer of ice. Dirk risked a dash across it. He made it to safety, but the ice broke under his pursuer who cried for help. Dirk believed the scripture that a man should help his enemies. He immediately turned back and pulled the floundering prison guard from the frigid water.

In gratitude for his life, the man would have let Dirk escape, but a Burgomaster (chief magistrate) standing on the shore sternly ordered him to arrest Dirk and bring him back, reminding him of the oath he had sworn as an officer of the peace.

Back to prison went Dirk. He was condemned to death for being re-baptized, allowing secret church services in his home and letting others be baptized as adults there. The record of his sentencing concludes; "all of which is contrary to our holy Christian faith, and to the decrees of his royal majesty, and ought not to be tolerated, but severely punished, for an example to others; therefore, we the aforesaid judges, having, with mature deliberation of council, examined and considered all that was to be considered in this matter, have condemned and do condemn by these presents in the name; and in the behalf, of his royal majesty, as Count of Holland, the aforesaid Dirk Willems, prisoner, persisting obstinately in his opinion, that he shall be executed with fire, until death ensues; and declare all his property confiscated, for the benefit of his royal majesty."

Dirk was burned to death on May 16, 1569. He showed love to his enemies and “saved” his life.

RESPONSE:

Love for our enemies even surpasses the love of our own lives. This is the Jesus way of the cross!

PRAYER:

Help me, Lord, to show love to those who are my enemies—even giving up my life.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - July 6

CONFLICT – SATAN’S TEMPTATION

“Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’” Matthew 16:23

A western co-worker was visiting the Chinese city of Dandong which borders North Korea. He shares his challenging experience at a local house church meeting:

It was the first time I had ever been called “Satan!” But no one could fault the careful exegesis as this fiery Korean preacher bellowed to the 200-member house church.

“The third temptation of Jesus,” he declared, “was when the devil offered him the kingdom without the cross. The devil was basically saying, ‘Don’t go off and make all those sacrifices, touch all those lepers, spend nights in agony praying, and end up being tortured by soldiers and dying a horrible death. Just take it all now…from my hand!’” He went on, “The church often has the same temptation. The devil offers us power without suffering. And…I’ve got to say this even though our western friend is here…this is a temptation one part of the church tempts another part of the church with. We have to call that part of the church ‘Satan,’ just as Jesus had to call Peter ‘Satan’ when he made the same suggestion later in his ministry.”

Good rip-roaring stuff, and thoroughly biblical. But I was intrigued as to why this pastor had singled out the western church as the tempter. He was happy to explain over a meal.

“I hosted five pastors from North America last year. All Koreans. They came with reading material. Good stuff as far as it went, and they were supplying a sort of formula for church growth. But could one of them even bring himself to mention suffering? No! And when I heard those Korean pastors preach, it was also absent.”

He leaned forward and whispered, “When these pastors preach to the persecuted church, and mention everything but suffering, they are taking away the cross from the Christian life.

That’s why I have to say that they are bringing a satanic suggestion. Anyone who says you can follow Christ but not carry your cross is no better than the old deceiver himself. Jesus said so. He said it to Satan, and he said it to Peter. And I’m going to say it to anyone else who dares to think they can be a witness for Christ from anywhere else but on a cross.”

RESPONSE:

Today I will focus on the things of God realizing they will always require me to carry my cross.

PRAYER:

Lord, I will no longer try and eliminate the way of the cross from my Christian living. May I never again attempt to substitute power for suffering.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- July 5

CONFLICT - MATERIALISM pt. 3

“Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!’” Luke 18:24

How is the god Mammon conquered? The Bible offers a perspective from which to view all of life’s economic decisions. The Holy Spirit is with us; Jesus is our present Teacher. The following are some suggestions.

• Get in touch with our feelings about money. Get in touch with our fear, insecurity, guilt, pride or envy. We are afraid to be short of money. And our fears, though irrational, are real. We need to face up to these feelings before we can apply God’s promises to our financial situation.

• Stop denying our wealth. Instead of seeing the small picture of our situation, let us become world citizens, looking at ourselves in relation to all humanity.

• Create an atmosphere in which confession is possible. Much of our preaching about money has been either to condemn it or to praise it but not to help each other relate to it. Many of us feel isolated and alone. How much better if we could confess our fears and temptations.

• Discover one other person who will struggle with you through the money maze. Together form a covenant to help each other detect when the seductive power of money is beginning to win. This needs to be done in a spirit of love and graciousness but also rebuking and prodding.

• Discover ways to get in touch with the poor. One of the damaging results of affluence is allowing us to distance ourselves from the poor so that we no longer see their pain.

• Give with glad and generous hearts. Giving has a way of rooting out the tough old miser within us. The very act of letting go of money, or some other treasure, destroys the sin of greed.

Chinese house church leaders recently met together to discuss their problems. They concluded that their number two problem (after gossip) was money and the lure of materialism. There are two main sources of this. One is the rising standard of living in the coastal areas, which is tempting good teachers into commerce, depriving the church of much-needed leaders. The other is the kind, but often indiscriminate, giving of some wealthier Christians and missions to house church networks.

RESPONSE:

Today I commit to living a simple life style and not give in to materialism.

PRAYER:

Lord, I want to follow You all the way. And I want to be obedient as You direct and instruct.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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Standing Strong Through the Storm- July 3

CONFLICT - SYNCRETISM

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools…” Romans 1:21-22

Satan has led many quasi-religious groups to unite around a mixture of religious teachings and then brand honest Christian believers as bigots for clinging to salvation in Christ alone. An outgrowth of the postmodern era in which we live is that many people no longer believe in absolute truth. A natural extension of this lack of absolutes is the widely held view that there is good in every religion and all roads lead to heaven. Individuals can then pick and choose the elements they wish from whatever faith and mix them all together. This is true syncretism. Chuck Colson refers to its impact on our faith as “salad-bar Christianity!”

Satan is delighted when people believe and expound on his lies. He does not want anyone to know the truth and come to a personal relationship with Jesus who is the truth, the way and the life (John14:6). Jesus is the only way.

One man reportedly traveled the world to find one name for God that would be universal and bring all people together. Instantly the word love came to his mind. He later wrote, “Give God the universal name of Love and we will create a golden cord to tie together the truths of all the religions of the world.”7 But love is not God’s name. It is His nature. And God expressed it most fully when He sent His Son to die for our sins (John 3:16). Only when we accept Christ’s sacrifice for us will we know the love of the one true God that can bind people together.

A few years ago, an inter-faith group of 10,000 people met at the Vatican in Rome. The group included the Pope, the Dalai Lama and Muslim Imam W. D. Mohammed. An outspoken Hindu woman was quoted as saying, “It was refreshing to note that the idea that all religions have universal truths, and are merely different paths to the same goal was accepted as a given from the outset by all delegates without a single dissenting voice.” The same delegates also endorsed a general condemnation of “aggressive” proselytizing. This is the prevailing thinking of our day and age. Satan will do all he can to cause this thinking to even invade the church and individual Christian thinking and action.

The end result of syncretism in free societies will be anti-conversion laws and a prohibition of Christian witnessing. The euphemism for this law will probably be called “religious freedom.”

RESPONSE:

Today I will guard carefully against the deceptions of Satan leading to syncretism.

PRAYER:

Lord, help me to fix my eyes on You and Your Word today so that I will not stumble.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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6/30/17 9:01 A

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Show Up - UpWords - Week of June 30-July 6, 2017

by Max Lucado

God believes in you! And I wonder if you could take some of the belief he has in you and share it with someone else? Could you believe in someone? One German poet said, “Treat a man as he appears to be, and you make him worse. But treat a man as if he were what he potentially could be, and you make him what he should be.”

How do we show people that we believe in them? Show up! Nothing takes the place of your presence. Do you believe in your kids? Then show up...at their games...and at their plays. It may not be possible to make each one, but it’s worth the effort. Do you believe in your friends? Show up at their graduations and weddings. Spend time with them. You want to bring out the best in someone? Then show up. And let God’s word be the authoritative word in your world.

From A Love Worth Giving

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6/29/17 5:07 A

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- June 29

CONFLICT – DOUBT AND FEAR

“But as for me, I keep watch for the Lord, I wait in hope for God my Savior; my God will hear me. Do not gloat over me my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light. Because I have sinned against him, I will bear the Lord's wrath, until he pleads my case and establishes my right. He will bring me out into the light; I will see his justice.” Micah 7:7-9

Chinese Pastor Wang Ming-dao was under tremendous pressure after his first arrest in the mid-1950’s. He was promised release from prison and return to his pulpit if he would just “preach for the government.” In his mind this would be lying and he was certain he could not live a hypocritical life.

Pastor Wang was firm in his resolve, until he heard that his beloved wife, Debra, had also been arrested and was in grave danger. He heard that she was not eating properly and was growing critically weak because of the poor food she was receiving in prison. She would not survive if something were not done. This news so disturbed him that he broke and agreed with his persecutors that he would preach “a lie” and join the government-controlled church.

His plan was to get his wife to safety with her mother and then he would commit suicide. He reportedly wandered the streets murmuring “I am Peter...I am Peter...” and his heart sickness began to affect his body.

When the authorities realized that he would not compromise himself by preaching in the government-controlled church, Pastor Wang and wife, Debra, were re-arrested. She received a fifteen-year sentence and he life imprisonment.

Early in this second imprisonment, God brought these verses from Micah 7:7-9 to his mind, which he had memorized at the age of twenty-one.

Wang Ming-dao was no longer afraid - for himself or his wife. He was finally released in 1980 at eighty years of age - very frail, nearly blind and all-but-deaf. He had served over twenty-three years in prison. His wife Debra had been released three years earlier for health reasons. For the remaining eleven years of his life he was a great encouragement to the church in China as well as the many foreign visitors he and Debra entertained.

RESPONSE:

Today I will not give in to Satan’s tactics of doubt and fear. I will concentrate on the greater cost to Jesus of my redemption.

PRAYER:

Thank you Lord for the reminder that Persecuted Christians are not super-heroes but they show us how our failure must turn into repentance and renewal with deeper dependence on You and not into self-condemnation.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- June 28

GOD IN CONTROL

“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”Psalm 118: 22-23

Ron Boyd-MacMillan writes in his epic volume, Faith That Endures, “Your life’s purpose may remain a mystery to you, as may the events of your world, but that’s okay. God is in control. We are relieved of the responsibility of understanding everything and the need to change it.”

R. J. Thomas was a Welsh missionary with a burden for the xenophobic hermit kingdom of Korea in the middle of the nineteenth century. In 1865, while in China, the opportunity he had been waiting a lifetime for arrived. An American ship, the SS General Sherman, was going to steam up the Taedong River to the capital, Pyongyang, in hopes of luring the Koreans into trade. Thomas bought a berth on the ship, hoping to meet some scholars in Pyongyang who spoke Chinese, and took as many Chinese Scriptures with him as he could carry on board.

When they reached Pyongyang, they were not welcomed. They got stuck on a sandbank and the ship was set afire. As they waded to shore, they were killed by the waiting Koreans. Thomas also waded to shore. Before he could speak, a club swung with murderous force dashed his brains into the water, but his killer noticed he had emerged with books. He picked up a couple of the sodden books. Drying them off, he separated the leaves and saw that they were nicely printed. He could not read but decided to paper the outside of his house with the pages, as was the custom at the time. Imagine his astonishment when he returned from the fields a few weeks later to find a clutch of scholars earnestly reading his walls. One of these scholars became a Christian by reading a Gospel portion plastered onto the wall. A generation later his nephew assisted in the first translation of the New Testament into Korean in Shenyang, China under the supervision of another little-known missionary, John Ross from Scotland.

R.J. Thomas never lived to see the fruit of his labor. He died, his life’s purpose unfulfilled, his potential unrealized. For anyone aware of Thomas’s death, his life was a mystery for years afterward.

But his life was not in vain. The meaning of life does not consist in what we make of it, but in what God makes of it. Success is not about achievement or what we make of ourselves. It’s about placement, or what God makes of us. We take the lesson from the Persecuted Church that it is okay to die quite unaware of our life’s meaning. We can rest in trust that God, in His mercy, has used us to help build His eternal kingdom.

RESPONSE:

Today I leave my placement, my purpose, my potential in the hands of a good God.

PRAYER:

May I ever realize that You are in control and thus truly allow You to be Lord of my life.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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6/27/17 10:49 P

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- June 27

THIS IS GOOD

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

A tribal king had a close friend with whom he grew up. The friend had a habit of looking at every situation that ever occurred in his life (positive or negative) as well as the lives of others and remarking, “This is good!” He based it on two scriptures; one that says that it is God’s will that we be thankful for ALL circumstances and Romans 8:28 which assures us that God can turn every situation (good or bad) into ultimate good. The king loved his friend’s positive outlook and took him with him wherever he went.

One day the king and his friend were out on a hunting expedition. As the king fired his gun at a pheasant that flew up from the long grass, the rifle backfired and blew off his right thumb. Looking at the king’s bleeding hand; his friend remarked as usual, "This is good!"

The king was angry and replied, "No, this is NOT good!" and proceeded to send his friend to jail for his insensitivity.

About a year later, the king was hunting all alone in an area that he should have known to stay clear of. Cannibals captured him and took him to their village. They tied his hands, stacked some wood, and were going to cook him in a big pot. As they set fire to the wood, they noticed that the king was missing a thumb on his right hand. Being very superstitious, cannibals never eat anyone who is less than perfect. So releasing the king, they sent him on his way home.

Walking home he kept staring at his right hand without a thumb. “This IS good!” he said out loud. He was reminded of the event that had taken his thumb and felt remorse for his shabby treatment of his friend. So he went immediately to the jail to speak with his friend.

"You were right," he said, "it was good that my thumb was blown off." And he proceeded to tell the friend all that had just happened. "And so, I am very sorry for sending you to jail for so long. It was bad for me to do this."

"No," his friend replied as usual, "This is good!"

"What do you mean, 'This is good'? How could it be good that I put my friend in jail for over a year?"

"Well,” replied his friend, “if I had not been here in jail, I would have been out there with you!"

In our SSTS seminars we share this story early in the sessions and for the rest of the time holding up four fingers on the right hand (with a hidden thumb) communicates clearly the message: THIS IS GOOD!

RESPONSE:

Today I will focus by faith on the potential good that God wants to bring out of the negative challenges I face in my life.

PRAYER:

Pray that all persecuted Christians will respond to their daily challenges with this faith perspective.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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5/27/17 1:03 A

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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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