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2/8/16 2:51 P

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Today’s Scripture
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.”
(Isaiah 60:1, NIV)

Arise Shine
I believe that God wants to exceed your expectations! He has amazing things stored up for you. He’ll take you places that you’ve never dreamed and give you breaks that seemed impossible. His glory is rising upon His people. Things are going to fall into place so that you can accomplish what God has placed in your heart. Even the hidden dreams that you’ve given up on, God has not given up on. He is going to do exceedingly, abundantly above and beyond all you could ask, think or imagine!

Your mind may try to talk you out of it, but if you’ll listen with your heart, it will resonate on the inside of you. Don’t let discouragement hold you back or keep you down. It’s time for you to arise. It’s time for you to shine. Let that sink down into your spirit today because it’s time for you to receive every spiritual blessing and move forward in the destiny He has prepared for you!

A Prayer for Today
“Heavenly Father, I come to You today with an open and humble heart. Thank You for choosing me and preparing a bright future for me. I will arise and shine. Let everything I do bring honor to 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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2/7/16 3:39 P

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Today’s Scripture
“You will also declare a thing, and it will be established...”
(Job 22:28, NKJV)

What Defines Your Future?
In the Old Testament, there was an Israelite woman who was about to give birth. She had just heard that the Ark of the Covenant which housed God’s presence had been stolen. She was so upset about it that she named her baby boy Ichabod, which means “the glory has departed.” Notice what she did; she named her future by what was happening in her present. She could have just as easily named him “the glory will return,” but she was so focused on the negative, so caught up in where she was at that moment, that she defined her future by it.

Friend, don’t ever name your future by your present-day circumstances. You may have had some hard times in the past, but get that “Ichabod” spirit off of you. It may look like you’re stuck in a rut and you don’t really see how you could ever rise any higher, but don’t speak defeat over your life. Instead, name your future: blessed, prosperous, successful, victorious, healthy, whole, strong, talented, creative, wise. Declare what God’s Word says so that you can move forward in the destiny He has prepared for you!

A Prayer for Today
“Father, thank You for the good future that You have prepared for me. Today I choose to come into agreement with Your Word and speak Your blessing over my life. Keep me close to You and show me Your ways 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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2/6/16 6:44 A

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - February 6

FREEDOM FROM FEAR

“Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don't you care if we drown?’ He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’" Mark 4:38-40 (Read Mark 4: 35-41)

Storms often bring out our true spiritual condition. Jesus was in the boat but the disciples still feared for their lives. He chastised them for their fear and their “little faith!” Thus our greatest need is not for the storm to end but to be freed from fear and have faith in Him while the storm rages.

At a Standing Strong Through the Storm (SSTS) seminar in Central Asia, our translator looked at us at the close of our three-day session and commented, “Thank you for teaching us how to stand strong. God spoke to me a lot through this seminar. I was afraid to die but not anymore. I have peace to go and spread God’s Word.” She is now serving the Lord in a strategic mission in her region.

A significant factor in dealing with fear—especially fear of dying—is realizing that we are already deadin Christ (Galatians 2:20). Former Open Doors colleague, Hector Tamez, says that this concept is clearly seen in the lives of Christians living in war zones of Latin America.

The Christians, who were caught in the civil war between the government and Shining Path guerrillas in Peru, are a classic example for us. Here is how Hector expresses their commitment:

“They know that they are going to be killed. And they say, ‘In order to be a Christian here, you have to recognize that you are already dead in Christ. Once you recognize this, then any day that passes by in your life is a gain.’”

In some countries, surviving one day or one year means that you have one God-given day or year to testify not only with your words but with your deeds. Fear should not control your life! Christ should control your life!

RESPONSE: When storms come my way, I will let them help me assess my own spiritual condition. I will affirm God’s power to overcome fear and live by faith in Him.

PRAYER: Ask God to forgive you for your times of fearfulness and lack of faith. Pray that all members of the Persecuted Church would have faith in Jesus like these Peruvian believers.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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2/5/16 12:52 P

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A Hope-Filled Heart - UpWords - Week of Feb. 5-11

by Max Lucado

You and I live in a trashy world. Unwanted garbage comes our way on a regular basis. Haven’t you been handed a trash sack of mishaps and heartaches? Sure you have. May I ask, what are you going to do with it? You could hide it. Pretend it isn’t there. But sooner or later it will start to stink. So what will you do?

If you follow the example of Christ, you’ll learn to see tough times differently. God wants you to have a hope-filled heart. . .just like Jesus. Wouldn’t you want that? Jesus saw his Father’s presence in the problem. Sure, Max, but Jesus was God. I can’t see the way he saw. Not yet, maybe. But don’t underestimate God’s power. He can change the way you look at life.

From The Lucado Inspirational Reader


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2/4/16 3:55 P

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Today’s Scripture
“For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.”
(1 John 5:4, NIV)

The Attitude of an Overcomer
Are you facing some challenges or experiencing some unexpected setbacks? We all have things that come against us, but God didn’t create us to be overwhelmed and overcome; He created us to be overcomers!

During the times when we face challenges, it’s our attitude that is most important. Think about it for a minute. When something isn’t going your way month after month, how do you respond? Are you tempted to get sour or start expecting the worst? Does your mind start going “ninety-to-nothing” playing out all the scenarios? It may be easy to get down and discouraged, but if we go around thinking it’s never going to work out, our attitude limits what God can do. But when we dig our heels in knowing that God is bigger than our problems, when we fight the good fight of faith, that’s what allows God to show up and turn negative situations around.

Today, remember, you are created to overcome. There is victory already in store for your future. Stand strong with the attitude of an overcomer and watch what God will do on your behalf!

A Prayer for Today
“Father, thank You for making me an overcomer in Christ Jesus. I trust that You are bigger than my problems and that You are working on my behalf. Thank You for the victory in store for my future 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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2/4/16 6:31 A

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Standing Strong Through the Storm-February 4

STORMS ARE INEVITABLE

“That day when evening came, he [Jesus] said to his disciples, "Let us go over to the other side." Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.” Mark 4: 35-37 (Read Mark 4:35-41)

We see from the disciples’ experience that storms can arise just by following the path of obedience. We know that when Jesus says, “Let’s go to the other side,” we will reach the other side in spite of any storms.

Ahmad was a respected Muslim leader and a brilliant scholar. While studying for his doctorate in comparative religions he began reading the New Testament and ultimately gave his life to Jesus. When Sharia, the law of Islam, became the law of the land, Ahmad was called in for questioning. When he admitted to being a Christian, he was arrested, put in chains, and thrown into solitary confinement.

The first night in prison, the authorities tried to kill him. Unexplainably, however, they could find no petrol for their car to drive him to the place of execution. The next day, he was to be arraigned before the Islamic High Court. A lawyer friend urged him to renounce his faith publicly and just keep it secretly in his heart. Ahmad refused. “Jesus is my only defence,” he said. “I cannot deny Him.”

Ahmad was sentenced to six months in prison, stripped of his military rank, and fired from his teaching position. His wife had already divorced him. He also lost his four children, his car, house, and bank account. If at the end of his sentence he still refused to return to Islam, the judges said, he would spend six more months behind bars. Ahmad organized small Bible studies and prayer groups throughout the prison. “By the end of three months,” he said, “there were 305 known Christians in our prison, at least seven from Muslim background.”

One night, the guards threw Ahmad into a truck with orders to drown him in the river. But as the truck neared the river, it stopped mysteriously. Terrified, the guards and driver refused the officer’s orders to kill Ahmad. Soon after, he was released.

RESPONSE: Today I will live in the awareness that storms are a normal part of life in this world and the wise disciple prepares for them.

PRAYER: Pray that you will be cognizant of the storms you face which simply result from your obedience to Jesus.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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2/3/16 3:02 P

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Today’s Scripture
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear...”
(1 John 4:18, NIV)


No Fear
Do you know what the anecdote for fear is? The first thing many people would say is faith; however, the scripture tells us that perfect love is what drives out all fear.

When we truly understand how much God loves us, what can we possibly be afraid of? The scripture tells us that God is love. When we are one with God through a relationship with His Son, Jesus, we are wrapped in perfect love. We can find security in His love. We can find peace in His love. We can find refuge, provision and joy in His love. His love knows no limits. It has no boundaries. His love never changes. There is nothing you can do to make Him love you any more, and there is nothing you can do to make Him love you any less.

Today, open your heart and receive His love. Meditate on His goodness and faithfulness. As you do, those old fears will melt away, and you will move confidently into the life of victory He has prepared for you.


A Prayer for Today

“Father, I come before You with a humble heart. Show me Your love and fill me with Your peace. Help me to be an example of Your love to the people around me. I bless Your name today and forever 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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2/2/16 2:55 A

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- February 1

GOD KNOWS WHAT IT IS LIKE TO LOSE A CHILD

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

Young Nam left his family behind in North Korea to search for money and food in China. Christians there helped him but on the way back he bumped into a North Korean patrol and was arrested on the spot. A prison official let Young Nam go after taking away all his money. Young Nam fled again to China, only to be arrested by Chinese policemen. And now Young Nam was back. In the same prison with the same official who took a bat which was wrapped in newspaper. After Young Nam had taken the beating, the guards dragged him back to an overcrowded cell.

He convinced the prison official that he was not going to betray him and was released a second time. If he wanted to survive, the only option was to go back to China and stay there. He was able to secure a job working in the kitchen of a Beijing restaurant.

There he met Eun Kyung who also came to work in the kitchen. Her husband had died in North Korea. Her sweet daughter died in her arms and her son was put in an orphanage. She and a bunch of other women were locked up in a house and sold into marriage to Chinese men. Eun Kyung protested. “I have just lost my husband. Don’t force me to marry someone!” The human traffickers listened to her and placed her on a Chinese farm, where she had to work for room and board, but the family treated her very well. She ultimately came to Beijing and met Young Nam.

There was chemistry between them. They took some secret Bible study classes together and they married, also in secret of course. After a while, the situation in Beijing became too tense for North Korean refugees, and the restaurant boss arranged false passports and put Young Nam and Eun Kyung on a plane to another country.

Now, Young Nam and Eun Kyung live in small apartment far away from their home country. There is little that reminds them of their painful past, unless it’s the eyes of their baby. Inevitably the eyes look similar to the eyes of the child she left behind in that wretched country with its love-wrecking system. Eun Kyung holds her few-months-old son tightly. The child is tense. Eun Kyung doesn’t seem to notice. She will protect this precious child with her life.

After their escape from China, Young Nam and Eun Kyung really got to know God by studying the Bible with a local pastor. They realized it was God who protected them. “God saved us, brought us together and gave us another child. We are very grateful for his love.”

Young Nam and Eun Kyung look to their son. For them, the child is a symbol of God’s hope and love. They know that God will not undo the past. However, God promises us that all tears will be wiped from our faces. That’s possible because the Son of God, out of love, let Himself be crucified. God Himself carried our pain. He knows what it is like to lose a child.

They conclude, “No matter what happened to us, we trust in God. We know that He is love.”

RESPONSE: Today I will forget the past, rejoice in God’s love and be thankful for all His gifts of life.

PRAYER: Thank You God that You can feel the pain of those who have lost a child. May Your love envelop them today and wipe the tears from their faces.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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1/31/16 5:34 A

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - January 31

LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighboras yourself.” Galatians 5:13-14

The Scriptures teach that God is committed to one major objective in the lives of all His people; conforming us to the image of His Son. What is the “image of His Son?” It is found in the words of Jesus, Himself, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

It makes sense then to say that God desires the same for us. After bringing us into His family through faith in His Son, the Lord sets His sights on building into us the same qualities that made Jesus distinct—a servant’s heart and a giving spirit. It’s so easy to lose sight of our primary calling as Christians. Even those who lead must do so with an attitude of genuine humility and an authentic desire to help others.

The best-known symbols of Christianity are the cross, the icthus (fish symbol), and the dove symbolizing the Holy Spirit. Probably the least known—yet most appropriate for the Christian—is the symbol of the towel and basin. The towel Jesus used when in humility and service, he washed and wiped his disciples dirty feet. Jesus instructed his disciples after washing their feet that they were to wash one another’s feet.

J. Dudley Woodbury tells a poignant true story in Christianity Today that occurred in the dismal refugee camps of Peshawar, Pakistan. The fighting between the Majahideen in post-Soviet Afghanistan and the rise of the Taliban resulted in thousands of refugees flooding into the camps near the border. Most of the children in the camps ran around barefoot in both the intense heat and intense cold.

A Christian organization brought in hundreds of sandals for the children but decided not to just distribute them but care for the children’s feet as well. So they utilized as many Christian volunteers as possible who washed the children’s filthy feet, put medication on their sores and prayed for them silently as they gave out the sandals.

As he tells the story, some months later a Muslim primary school teacher in the camp asked her students who the best Muslims were.

One little girl raised her hand and responded, “The kafirs.” (unbelievers).

After the teacher recovered from cardiac arrest, she asked, “Why?”

The little girl said, “The Mujahideen killed my father, but the kafirs washed my feet!”

Missions to the Muslims, he concludes, will be affected less by the flames of 9/11, or even the flames that started the Arab Spring, than by the inner flames that are ignited if we so follow our Lord.

RESPONSE: Today I will look for ways to serve others in genuine humility as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

PRAYER: Help me Lord, to love as You did, to serve others as You did and to give of myself as You did!

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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1/30/16 2:22 P

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Today’s Scripture
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
(Isaiah 55:9, NIV)

Trust God to Do it His Way
Every person has things they’re believing for, situations they want to see changed, and dreams God has placed in their hearts. But sometimes, we try to figure out how it’s all going to happen. If we’re not careful, we’ll try to take control and start to tell God how to do it, when to do it, and where to do it! Today’s scripture tells us that God’s ways are not our ways. They are so much higher and better.

If things don’t happen on your timetable, instead of getting discouraged, why don’t you believe that God has something better in store? Just because it doesn’t happen your way doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen. Remember, God has a plan. He’s got it all figured out. Don’t limit Him by trying to get it done your way. Instead, simply say, “God, I’m trusting You. I know You have my best interest at heart. And even if I don’t get my way, I’m going to stay open and believe that You’re still directing my steps.”

A Prayer for Today
“Father, I choose to trust in You. I cast my cares on You. I give You my plans, dreams and desires for the future. Thank You for working behind the scenes on my behalf. I receive Your peace as I wait patiently to see Your plan unfold 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 Storms- January 29

PEACE THAT OVERCOMES FEAR

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

Yesterday we shared the first part of the life story of Maulana the Islamic terrorist persecutor from Indonesia. Here is part two of his dramatic conversion story:

The first brigade of jihad conquered all of Ambon Island. Our focused activity was how to close churches. From the persecution, the Christian people do not fight back. When I see children with no parents running around the church, I feel guilty.

As time passes, my heart becomes softer, then love enters my heart. There’s a change in my heart that I become sensitive and start to love them slowly. The love becomes thick. One night, I was fasting and praying, I said, “God, you’re the one who create my heart, show me your righteousness.” In the middle of my heart-crying, I saw a man appear to me. There was fresh blood spattered on the bottom of his white robe, He greeted me with “Salaam Al I Kum,” (Peace be with you!) I tried to figure out who I had seen in my vision. It could be the angel of Gabriel, or Mohammed, or could be Nabi Isa, maybe He is Jesus.

To earn income, I became a distributor of an Islamic magazine in Solo, and then went to a small town called Desa Mangu. One day I was distributing magazines, and an old man called to me. He said, “Maulana, come here. I was waiting for you.” It was Friday at lunch time. He asked me to eat rice and noodle sarimi together with him. Then he prayed in the name of Jesus before eating. I was shocked!

After lunch, he brought me to a room, and he picked up a large Bible and opened it to John 14:27. It said, “I am leaving you with a gift, peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” The mystery of the voice is Isa (Jesus). I confess that Jesus is God! Jesus is great! And I cry, and I received Him, Isa, as the people of Ambon whom I’ve persecuted.

Now that I believe Jesus is Savior, there is a miracle that happens in my life. What I received from God is an assignment, instead of regrets. My first Christmas morning as a Christian, I was walking with courage and joy on my way to church. But all of a sudden there’s a group of young people standing in front of me. One of them knew me and asked, “Where are you going?”

I said, “To church.” They said, “Stop! You’re not going there!” Then punches from all directions come to my body. When I was there in the hospital, I prayed like Stephen prayed. “God, forgive them for they know not what they were doing.” Spiritual strength from within!

That is powerful and gives me strength to be brave and give testimony. I deliver to the people that this government is under His authority. God’s authority works in every believer so that we have the freedom to speak. The authority is from the Lord. God’s authority is in every believer, so you don’t need to be afraid.

RESPONSE: Today I will submit to the peace Jesus gives that overcomes troubles and fear.

PRAYER: Pray that many more terrorists will have an encounter with Jesus and become His follower.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Today’s Scripture
“...faith without works is dead.”
(James 2:20, NKJV)

Waiting the Right Way
Are you waiting for God to do something in your life? One thing I’ve learned is that waiting should not be a passive thing. When we’re waiting the correct way, we’re on the lookout. We talk like what we are believing for is going to happen. We act like it’s going to happen. We’re making preparations.

It’s just like when you’re expecting someone for dinner; you don’t wait until they show up before you decide to start cooking. Most likely you start early in the day. You make sure the house is clean, you go to the grocery store, and maybe buy some flowers for the table. You make preparations because you’re expecting someone. Well, that’s the attitude we need to have while we’re waiting for God’s promises to come to pass. As you put actions behind your prayers, your faith comes alive and opens the door for God to move mightily on your behalf.

A Prayer for Today
“Father, I choose to put actions behind my faith today. I trust that You are at work in my life. I will wait the right way—with expectancy knowing that You are leading me into the path You have for me 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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1/27/16 7:17 A

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - January 27

I Am Valuable

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalms 139:14

She hadn’t laughed for nearly two years, ever since her father’s tragic death in August, 2009. Even though she still liked sports and talking with her friends, Ruth’s eyes didn’t shine anymore, like other teenagers. And she never returned their laughter. Never again, Ruth thought, would she feel the joy she once had, before her father was killed. A fourteen-year-old girl at the time, she still believed two years later that she was to blame for the murder of her father, a well-known church leader in eastern Colombia.

The day the guerrillas shot him, he was waiting for her in an isolated place. Her parents had given Ruth permission to go play soccer. But she was late coming back, so her father had gone looking for her. Bitterness started to fill her heart, as she became angry with herself, convinced she had caused her father’s death. At her fifteenth birthday party, she couldn’t stop her tears from falling. “I don’t want to live anymore!” she sobbed. Suicidal thoughts became part of her daily life, as she kept fighting with her sisters and wrestling with an unhappiness about everything that made her life unbearable.

Her widowed mother, who was receiving regular emotional and material support through Open Doors’ program for martyrs’ families, admitted that although all four of her children were struggling with problems over their father’s death, Ruth’s condition was the worst.

But God turned things around for Ruth in July, when she was one of thirty widows’ children invited to an “orphan encounter” camp sponsored by Open Doors for children and teenagers from six different regions of Colombia. For three days, God used counselorsto confront Ruth with the reality of her pain and start her on the path of healing.

At one point, she was asked to write down on some papers all the things that she wanted to fill her heart. “I want to fill my heart with forgiveness for myself, and for those who killed my father,” Ruth wrote. Then she went on to tell the others what she had written, something that she had not had the courage to talk about publicly before. Together the children and teens sometimes smiled over what they’d shared, along with tears as they released their need to cry out their pain. As they faced the words of Scripture taught to them and prayed together, the walls that Ruth had built up in her heart started to fall down.

Overjoyed, Ruth said, “It is so hard to find people who really take care of me. I thought there weren’t any! But now I realize that there are some, and even that I’m valuable for those who I don’t even know! I would like to be a good Christian and serve the Lord with all my heart.”

RESPONSE: Today I will recognize that I am also valuable to God who loves me.

PRAYER: Pray for the many children in the persecuted church who need emotional healing.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Today’s Scripture
“...time and chance happen to them all.”
(Ecclesiastes 9:11, NIV)

Good Things in Store
The scripture talks about how time and chance will come together for every person. In other words, there are moments of favor that God has already released into your future. If you’ll let that sink down into your heart today, it will change your whole outlook on your future.

So many people miss out on the good things because they allow fear to distract them and hold them back. They say, “What if I fail?” “What if they don’t like me?” “What if I make a mistake?” However, “What if you do succeed?” “What if they do like you?” “What if you do it better than anyone else?” That’s expecting God’s goodness and favor. And when you go out each day with an attitude of faith and expectancy, you’ll see those good things He has in store. You’ll walk into divine moments of favor, moments of blessing, moments of increase and embrace all the good things He has in store for you!

A Prayer for Today
“Father, thank You for the good things You have in store for my future. Thank You for Your peace and joy that surrounds my every step. I choose to keep my heart focused on the blessings in my future 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 - January 26

THE BODY OF CHRIST AT WORK

…so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. Romans 12:5

Training for Christian women in Pakistan, where poverty and illiteracy abound, has proven to reflect the character of the body of Christ.

A student says, “It’s important for me to be here so I can learn to read and write. Then I can read the Bible for myself, which is the most important thing for me. I want the Gospel to spread throughout our country. Now I study hard and I can write my name. I intend to stand before the people and read the Bible by myself so that other people may be encouraged to learn to read and write in the same way.

One teacher named Gladys says, “I have a gift for sewing, cutting, and embroidery. The other gift God has given me is to share with other people and tell them about Jesus. That is the opportunity I have and that is what I am doing here. When I began here, I said to them, ‘I am not educated. I can’t teach anyone.’ But then the Lord said to me, ‘This is My work. I will use you.’

“We do face discrimination because we live in the midst of people who don’t want us to move forward, people who keep trying to push us down so that we will always be in slavery. But the women testify to what God has done for them in their lives. From the time they first come here, I can see God changing their lives because the way they speak changes and they talk about the love they’ve been shown and how that has affected their lives. If someday a mother’s children are Christian because I taught her, I would be so happy because I would know that God had done His work through me.

Another teacher reports, “I first came to the center to learn sewing skills. But my father took me out of the center. He sent me to work for a Muslim family who lived in Turkey. The family said that I should give up my faith because it was no good. I told them that God had blessed me through this faith, and that I could not find such a blessing anywhere else, and that my faith meant everything to me.

“Then one time, when their daughter was ill, they taunted me and said I better pray for her and see what Jesus would do. So I did pray for her, and she was healed. They knew I had prayed to my God for her and so they exclaimed, ‘Glory to God! Surely your Jesus does answer prayers.’

Before I left them, I testified to them, and they said that my prayers work, but I told them, ‘It’s not my prayers. It is the Lord who causes us to pray and it is the Lord who heals.’ And they had to admit that it was true, and that my God truly does work.”

Another student concludes, “The church is the body of Christ. We have to help each other to share the love of Jesus as He has shown us.”

RESPONSE: Today I will share my giftedness with others and help build up the body of Christ.

PRAYER: Pray for the Open Doors training sessions around the world—especially among poor and illiterate Christian women.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - January 25

GOD’S PROMISES ARE STRONGER THAN FEAR
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Psalm 91:1-2

“Two days ago the police raided our house. They took away all the Bibles and Christian books that we had in the house, says Lazar, a church leader in Uzbekistan. The roots of Communism seem not to have withered yet. Uzbek Christians are balancing between fear of surveillance, intimidation and imprisonment and faith in God’s promises.

The penalty which Lazar may receive for possession of the “illegal books” he had in his house is a prison sentence of fifteen days or a hefty fine.

“I would prefer a prison sentence,” says Lazar. He knows comparable cases when fines equivalent to over a year’s salary were imposed. Leila, his wife seems bewildered by her husband’s response. “I don't want you to go to prison,” she responds.

Lazar counters, “The Pharisees persecuted Jesus, but still He went on with His work. The evening after the raid, I read Psalm 91. God is my refuge and my strength. I can hide in Him. I don’t want to allow myself to be governed by fear, because that doesn’t help you at all. After my arrest, one of the neighbours telephoned me. ‘Lazar,’ he said, ‘we’ve packed our things and we’re ready to leave for Moscow. Should we go?’”

Lazar can understand this, but he resolutely teaches his church members to take a different approach. “We must oppose people who are sowing fear. God’s promises are stronger,” he emphasises. “We have difficulties, but we believe that God is with us and that His promises are stronger than fear.”

Still this fear may suddenly take a grip on you if you’re in the middle of a situation of direct persecution. A few days later Lazar suddenly says, “I’m leaving the city tonight. My lawyer has advised us to take a break. It may be the case that another raid is conducted on our home. We can’t cope with this now and so we’re leaving. Please pray for me and my family.”

In the space of a few days Lazar struggles with the horribly hard hand of the regime and with the values of his faith. He’s balancing between fear and faith. Pray that the fear which the government is trying to sow shall not take root in his heart.

A few weeks later, Lazar reports that he and his family are back at home. But the problems are not over. Legal proceedings have been taken against him and he has been threatened with death by the authorities.

RESPONSE: Today I will boldly affirm that God is with me and His promises are stronger than fear!

PRAYER: Pray for Christians like Lazar and Leila who are on the teeter-totter between fear and faith. Pray that Satan’s tactic of fear will not take root in their hearts.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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1/24/16 11:42 A

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Today’s Scripture
“...Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
(James 2:13, NIV)

Receive His Mercy
We’ve all made mistakes. We’ve all made wrong choices, but as believers in Jesus, that doesn’t change our heritage. God doesn’t kick us out of the kingdom because we’re not perfect. Maybe you don’t feel like you deserve God’s goodness, or you think you’re supposed to suffer through life and just endure that problem. But this is what mercy is all about. His mercy will renew and restore you!

No matter what you may have done wrong, you are still the apple of God’s eye. You are still His most prized possession. You can still access God’s promises by faith today. Why don’t you shake off the guilt and condemnation? Put your shoulders back and say, “I may not be perfect, but I am forgiven. I may have made mistakes, but God knows my heart is to please Him, and I am changing my ways. Even though I may have brought this trouble on myself, I’m going to stay in faith and expect God to turn it around.” Access His mercy today and let Him empower you to move forward in every area of your life!

A Prayer for Today
“Father, thank You for Your love and mercy. Thank You for receiving me, cleansing me and changing me. I dedicate every area of my life to You and invite You to have Your way in me as I shake off guilt and condemnation 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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1/23/16 8:27 A

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Be Renewed

by Joyce Meyer - posted January 23, 2016

God selected . . . what the world calls weak to put the strong to shame. And God also selected (deliberately chose) what in the world is lowborn and insignificant and branded and treated with contempt, even the things that are nothing, that He might depose and bring to nothing the things that are, so that no mortal man should [have pretense for glorying and] boast in the presence of God.
—1 Corinthians 1:27-29

If you are weak in faith, in mind, in body, in discipline, in self-control, or in determination, simply wait on God. He will be strong through your weakness.

Isaiah 40:31 teaches that if you expect God, look for Him, and hope in Him, you will change and renew your strength and power; you will run, and not faint or become tired. The Bible doesn’t say “hope so, it could be, or it may be”; it declares that you will be renewed.


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


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1/22/16 3:08 P

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Today’s Scripture
“...faith without works is dead.”
(James 2:20, NKJV)

Faith that is Alive
Did you know that faith can be alive or dead? Dead faith doesn’t do anything. There are a lot of people who love God, but they aren’t overcoming obstacles or accomplishing their God-given dreams simply because they are not putting any action behind their faith. Their faith is simply dead.

What can you do today to keep your faith alive? It doesn’t have to be something big. By simply obeying God’s Word and doing your best, you are keeping your faith alive. When you go to work every day and give it 100%, you are demonstrating your faith. Sometimes just putting a smile on your face when you feel discouraged is putting action behind your faith. Taking time to go to church—that’s faith that is alive. That’s faith that activates God’s power. That’s faith that opens the door for God to move on your behalf! With faith that is alive, you’ll rise up higher. You’ll overcome obstacles, and you’ll move forward into the blessing and victory God has in store for you!

A Prayer for Today
“Father, thank You for Your Word which is life to my soul. Show me ways to put my faith into action. Guide my steps and keep me close to You so that everything I do brings honor to 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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1/21/16 6:07 A

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - January 21

I KNOW WHO HOLDS THE FUTURE

I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul. Psalm 31:7

Yesterday we read of the faith of Bahar from Central Asia. Pregnant with her sixth child, she lost her husband, Bahtiyar, to cancer. But the Muslims would not allow her to bury him in the town. She continues her story:

“We were all desperately trying to find a solution. In neighboring Kisul, a plot of land had been given to the Christians to be used as cemetery, so the believers started to dig a grave. Before they had finished, a crowd of people arrived on horseback and in a truck. Three mullahs, many young men, even women and people from the village administration, were shouting and threatening the believers. The atmosphere was grim and the believers had to leave the area to escape a beating.

“We were not able to bury my husband that day. The next day the believers secretly took his body and took it to a completely different place, much farther away from our village and buried him there at a Christian cemetery.

“Bahtiyar’s mother, with her addiction to alcohol, was targeted as the channel to put pressure on the family. She is seventy and not a believer in Christ. The Mullah convinced her that the family was a shame and blemish on the village and that she had to kick her daughter-in-law out of her house. She was very angry and told them to leave. She no longer even wanted to see her own grandchildren.”

During the months that the family were trying to find a solution for their situation, they got a visit from a pastor who lives in the capital city. He had heard about their situation and inquired how they were going to live.

“How? I don’t know! But one thing I know that God will not abandon us! He promised that in His Word and He is true to His Word. I think the pastor was touched by our situation; he started to help us and several other believers as well. They offered us a house in a nearby town. We were thrilled and we moved. Now we have our own place, with a small garden to grow vegetables. There will always be plenty of needs for the kids, but I have seen that God is faithful.

“When my little son was born I was so happy! Even though my husband is no longer with us, we make an effort to stay close as a family. The youngest ones do not realize yet that their dad has died; they think he has gone on a trip. We have not been able to visit the grave as we don’t have a car to go the cemetery.

“I don’t know what the future holds for us, but God is taking care of us. Thank you for praying for us. Pray also for the other families of believers who are still in the village and face hostility every day. Please pray for my mother in law; I would like to see the relationship restored, so that she can enjoy her grandchildren!”

RESPONSE: Though I also do not know what the future holds, I will trust in Him who holds the future!

PRAYER: Continue to pray for Bahar and her family, especially reconciliation with her mother-in-law.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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1/19/16 12:01 P

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Christ Is Our Confidence

by Joyce Meyer - posted January 19, 2016

For we [Christians] are the true circumcision, who worship God in spirit and by the Spirit of God and exult and glory and pride ourselves in Jesus Christ, and put no confidence or dependence [on what we are] in the flesh and on outward privileges and physical advantages and external appearances.
—Philippians 3:3

God is merciful toward us and wants to bless and prosper us. He sees our heart attitude and our faith in Jesus. When we have confidence in God and His love and kindness, we can progress to living confidently and enjoying the life He wants for us. Note that I said confidence in God, not in ourselves. Usually, people think of confidence as self-confidence, such as TV self-help gurus or athletes promote when urging us to "Believe in yourself!"

I beg to differ. I want to make it clear, right from the start, that our confidence must be in Christ alone, not in ourselves, not in other people, not in the world or its systems. The Bible states that we are sufficient in Christ's sufficiency (see Philippians 4:13), so we might also say that we are confident through Christ's confidence. Or another way to say it would be, "We have self-confidence only because He lives in us, and it is His confidence that we draw on."

Lord, I know that far too often I put my confidence in my own abilities, or other people, or the place I work to provide for my needs. I fix my eyes upon You. You alone are worthy of being my confidence. 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 - January 18

EVANGELISM OPPORTUNITIES EVERYWHERE

“In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:10

Pastor Joseph Bondarenko sat on the sunny deck of the Russian river boat as it pulled out of Tyumen in Siberia and headed north up the river. The leaves on the trees were already changing color in a blaze of autumn beauty. But this was no Love Boat. On board this old river scow were over one hundred and fifty other Christians joining this adventure. The passengers were there to assist in a one-month evangelism outreach in northern Siberian cities—places where the gospel had not been preached before.

As Joseph soaked in the beauty of the sun and God’s creation, he thought back on his early ministry years in the nineteen fifties and sixties. His aggressive evangelism in those days resulted in imprisonment three times. Yet there in those filthy prison cells, God was still present and his ministry continued. Joseph led so many to Christ in prison that they kicked him out each time. In total he lived nine years in a prison cell, isolated from his beloved wife, Mary.

He smiled to himself as he recalled that eventful day in 1989 when the KGB agent who had him imprisoned came to talk. The officer had been watching him for years and now articulated his desire to know Jesus too. Joseph’s spirit leaped with joy as he thought back on the day that KGB agent and his family were baptized. Nothing is impossible with God.

He relived the many crusades in recent years when Open Doors provided as many as twenty thousand Russian Scriptures for new believers who responded to the call of God on their life.

And now with a group of musicians, preachers and follow-up personnel his vision for evangelism was continuing to be fulfilled; one whole month stopping and preaching at twenty cities along the main rivers of Siberia. At the end of the month, Joseph’s “cruise-ade” had seen over 10,000 people pray the sinner’s prayer and commit their lives to the Lord! And even more exciting is the fact that Christian young people were left behind in sixteen communities to do follow-up training and establish new churches.

On the walls of a hall in Joseph’s church is the missionary journey history of this local body and the missionary vision maps. Joseph becomes very animated and excited as he traces the color-coded missionary journeys for the past summers that young evangelists he is training had made into Siberia and onward toward the Far East. But more exciting for him are the dotted lines that lay out next summer’s trip plans. They reached right to the Pacific Ocean!

Like his Master, Joseph went through much suffering and deprivation in his life. But like his Master, nothing gives Joseph more joy than knowing the angels in heaven were rejoicing.

RESPONSE: Today I will recommit to share the good news of the gospel with everyone wherever I am.

PRAYER: Pray that the many Joseph Bondarenko’s of our world will continue to bear much fruit.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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1/18/16 9:57 A

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No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV

"But you, be strong and do not lose courage, for there is reward for your work." - 2 Chronicles 15:7


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Today’s Scripture
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”
(2 Timothy 1:7, NLT)

Finished with Fear
So many people today are missing out on God’s abundant life of joy, peace and victory because they are living in a spirit of fear. They are afraid to make a decision, afraid to confront issues, afraid to step out, afraid of the past, and afraid of the future. But as believers, we don’t have to live that way. Fear is not from God. God has given you power, love and a sound mind!

Today, make the decision that you are no longer going to walk in fear. Scripture says that perfect love casts out all fear. Ask God for a deep revelation of His love. Meditate on His Word and let it fill you with faith. Equip yourself spiritually to stand strong in the face of fear knowing that God has good things in store for your future!

A Prayer for Today
“Father, thank You for giving me power to overcome fear. I receive Your love and choose to stand strong in faith. Fill me with peace and joy as I keep my 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 - January 16

FAITH IN THE MIDST OF ASHES

But now, this is what the LORD says…“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. Isaiah 43:1-2

Twenty-eight-year-old evangelist Wako Halekie works in the town of Tuka Argiso in the border area between Ethiopia and Kenya. This small town is mostly inhabited by Borena livestock herders and is effectively divided between Oromia and Somali regional states. As a result both states are claiming ownership over Tuka Argiso. The Federal government tried to hold a referendum to resolve the dispute, but they were unsuccessful.

Three years ago, Wako Halekie was assigned by his church to work as a missionary among the livestock herders in Tuka-Argiso. Despite their nomadic existence, Wako was able to plant three churches with an average of fifty members in each congregation. He attributes the positive growth to God’s blessing on the ministry. But Islamic presence in Tuka-Argiso is growing progressively. Muslim missionaries from neighbouring villages are determined to Islamize all Borenas which rouses concern in the Christian community.

Wako says, “They regard my activities as an obstacle to their mission. I was alerted by some villagers about their antagonistic feelings towards me. Recently the Muslim missionaries criticised the Christian faith openly and tried to confuse our members.”

On March 30th, 2011, Wako left home for a routine visit to new Christian converts. In the early morning hours of March 31st, one of the three houses at his residence was set afire. The fire spread to the second and third house where his wife, newborn baby and their two older children were sleeping. Both the first and second house burnt to the ground. By the grace of God neighbours managed to rescue Wako’s family from the blaze just in time before the third house’s roof crashed in. None of their belongings were spared.

Mrs. Haleki said, “I heard a distant noise but thought I was dreaming. The next thing I knew, people broke through the door and dragged me and the children from the smoke. I was shocked and speechless.” She was still recovering from the birth of their third child a week before.

Wako says, “I know the purpose of this fire was to destroy me and my family. But God intervened and saved my wife and children. God is faithful to His words! As it was written in the book of Isaiah 43:1-3; we will not fear their threats. God is our Redeemer. They thought I would leave the village, but I will not wave from the calling God bestowed on me. I took my wife’s hands and together we stood in the midst of the ashes and gave thanks to the name of the Lord. By His grace I will continue serving Him right here in this village until the day He has helped me reach the entire village.”

RESPONSE: Today I will trust God to fulfill His promises even when going through fire and flood.

PRAYER: Pray for Evangelist Wako and his family working in difficult circumstances and pressures.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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1/16/16 3:13 P

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Today’s Scripture
“And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness...”
(Romans 8:26, NLT)

He is Strong in You
Sometimes, people get distracted by what they consider to be a disadvantage or weakness in their lives. It may be something about their personality or looks that they don’t like. Or, maybe they’ve been through an unfair situation: a divorce, a bad business deal or a bad break. We all have things that can feel like disadvantages, things that make it harder on us. It may even be a physical handicap.

But just because you have a “disadvantage,” just because you’ve been through a tough time doesn’t mean you’re supposed to sit back and settle where you are. God still has something great for you to do! He wants to show Himself strong in and through you. The Holy Spirit wants to help you when you feel weak. Stay in faith and let God take what you see as a disadvantage and turn it around to an advantage so you can move forward into the abundant life He has for you!

A Prayer for Today
“Father, today I give You all that I am. I invite You into the weak places in my life so that You can make me strong. Thank You for working in my life and using me for Your glory 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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Today’s Scripture
“May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.”
(Psalm 20:4, NIV)

Make the Right Plans
The Bible tells us that faith has action with it. A lot of times people say they believe something, but with their actions, they’re doing just the opposite. For example, some people make plans to get the flu. They believe it and speak it. They say, “Every year I get the flu.” Or, “It’s going to be bad this year.” They expect it, and a few months later, they’ve got it. Their faith worked!

Instead of making plans for the worst, why don’t you make plans for the best? Why don’t you make plans for the Word of God to come to pass in your life? The scripture says, “No weapon formed against me is going to prosper...a thousand may fall at my side, ten thousand at my right hand; but it will not come near my dwelling!”

Today, make plans according to the Word of God. As you make right plans, you’ll see right things come to pass in your life. You’ll rise up in victory and enjoy the blessings God has in store for you!

A Prayer for Today
“Father, search my heart. Help me see any area where my faith is working in the wrong direction. Let my plans be Your plans so I can walk and live in the abundant life You have prepared for me 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 - January 15

RECONCILIATION IN THE MIDST OF PAIN

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19

The first of September is a memorial day for the people of Beslan in North Ossetia as they remember the awful events of September first 2004. More than one thousand children and adults were taken hostage in School Number One and two days later more than three hundred and thirty of them were killed in the violence.

Memorial services are held and memories of the nightmare overwhelm everyone in town. Beslan’s cemetery is unique; it has the youngest average age in the world (7-12 years old). The sight of so many graves of children deeply affects any visitor. One said, “People who do not live in Beslan have often forgotten the tragedy already, but as soon as you enter the city, you cannot escape the atmosphere of grief and deep mourning that is still enveloping the city.”

When the tragedy occurred at School Number One, almost every family in Beslan was affected. A peculiarity in Ossetia is that nearly everybody is related to one another, so the catastrophe has affected many people in a personal way. Even those who were watching television during the event suffered diseases, heart attacks and strokes.

Pastor Taimuraz Totiev and his wife Ria had their five children at school; only the eldest daughter, Madina, survived the attack. Their four other children, Larissa, Luba, Albina and Boris, were buried on September 7, 2004.

The pastor’s brother, Sergey Totiev, also had children at the school. Sergey and his wife Bela buried two of their children on the same day; Dzerassa (15) and Anna (9). Their son Azamat lost his sight in one of his eyes and is having surgery to save his other eye.

Both men are pastors of the Beslan Baptist Church. At the children’s funeral Sergey spoke of forgiveness and advised people not to seek revenge, but to serve as peacemakers. His exact words were: “Yes, we have an irreplaceable loss, but we cannot take revenge. As Christians, the Bible teaches us that we must forgive. Vengeance is in God’s hands.” According to a Christian worker in the area, a demonic plan was broken when those words were spoken!

Since that time they have been doing everything they can think of to minister to families of the victims. Other churches and ministries have also taken up the enormous task of counseling and helping the survivors and the bereaved. Others decided to reach out to Chechen people (nationality of the neighboring terrorists) and are finding ways to minister God’s love to them.

RESPONSE: Today I commit to being a messenger of God’s reconciliation through Christ—even to those who may cause harm to me or my family.

PRAYER: Pray for the church to be an instrument of reconciliation and restoration in this volatile area of Central Asia.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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Today’s Scripture
“...an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. ‘Joseph, son of David,’ the angel said, ‘do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.’”
(Matthew 1:20, NLT)

Do Not Be Afraid
Have you ever felt overwhelmed or even afraid of what God has called you to do? Maybe you were pursuing a dream or goal, and things didn’t turn out the way you planned. Joseph had planned to take Mary as his wife, but when he found out she was pregnant, he didn’t know what to think. He was afraid that he might be making a mistake because things didn’t turn out the way he planned, but God sent an angel in a dream to reassure Joseph that he was on the right path.

Today let me reassure you that God knows right where you are, and He knows how to get you where you need to be. Even when things don’t go the way you planned, His hand is on you. Do not be afraid. Trust that God is working behind the scenes on your behalf, and He will lead you into the life of blessing that He has prepared for you.

A Prayer for Today
“Father, I choose to trust in You. Even when things don’t go the way I’ve planned, I know that You are at work in my life. Thank You for leading me forward in Your plan for me 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 - January 13

BEAUTY FOR ASHES

…and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. Isaiah 61:3

This scripture has special meaning to Christian women in Central Asia. Some of their “ashes” are; domestic violence, battering of women and sexual abuse, kidnapping of young girls (for marriage purposes) which is culturally accepted and (in some countries) honor killings. Trafficking and prostitution are a well-known phenomenon; many Uzbek girls find themselves in Thailand, Tajik girls in Dubai and Azeri girls in Turkey, without passports, without rights, forced into the sex industry. Central Asian women are often treated as objects of men’s desire or as the possession of men.

Poverty is everywhere in Central Asia. It adds to the heaviness of life together with serious health issues, a lack of available health care and drug and alcohol addiction. Some of the Christian women have unbelieving husbands, and rejected by relatives, become social outcasts in their villages. Others have a husband who is on the run from the authorities, is in prison for his faith or is constantly monitored by the security police. How does she deal with all the pressure and what does she feel when there is a knock on the door? Add to this all the issues related to honour and shame, and the influence of folk Islam with its occult practices and curses. There are plenty of reasons to feel overwhelmed, overburdened and depressed.

Open Doors sponsors regional conferences for these Christian women in Central Asia. The impact of the women’s conferences is like a ripple effect growing into ever widening circles. For many women who come, just to worship openly and to be able to sing loudly in a big group is already a great encouragement as many come from areas where this is not possible. During the conferences there is a lot of dancing, worship, and celebration.

Several years ago some Central Asian Christian women gained the vision for starting work among women in situations of domestic abuse, trafficking and prostitution. All that was learned at the conferences was shared at home with the women in their area. Plans and teaching resources were drawn up, local churches were challenged and equipped and a start was made with various projects that are of great value to the local community.

A pastor’s wife, who spent three years in prison where she became a Christian, shared that she wanted to start ministering to women in prisons but she didn’t know how to start. “Now I have an idea how to minister to women,” she said after having attended the conference.

As God heals the pain and releases the women from their sorrows, He sets them free into a new love for Jesus and for ministry to others, both in the church and in society. They grow as mighty trees, providing shade and covering for others; all of this for the glory of God.

RESPONSE: Today I will live in the freedom Christ brings and become a mighty shade tree of ministry.

PRAYER: Pray for these women’s conferences in Central Asia that God will bestow beauty for ashes.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Today’s Scripture
“But those who wait for the Lord [who expect, look for, and hope in Him] shall change and renew their strength and power; they shall lift their wings and mount up [close to God] as eagles [mount to up to the sun]; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint or become tired.”
(Isaiah 40:31, AMP)

Run and Not Grow Weary
Do you sometimes feel like there is so much on your plate that you are constantly running to get it all done? There are seasons when we need to go the extra mile and give it our all, and there are seasons to rest and rejuvenate. Today’s scripture tells us that during those times when it’s necessary, we can run and not grow weary!

Are you facing something that seems to be taking all of your energy? Wait on the Lord! Expect, look for and hope in Him. The Bible promises that when you live with expectancy, when you stay hopeful, when you make preparations for the goodness of God, you’ll rise up higher. Your strength will be renewed, and you’ll be empowered to overcome life’s obstacles!

A Prayer for Today
“Father, thank You for giving me Your strength and power. I receive it right now by putting my trust and hope in You. I know that with You, all things are possible 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 - January 12

DISCOVERING JESUS

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. 2 Timothy 2:2

Camping experiences for me were always positive experiences. There you must live and practice your Christian faith twenty-four hours a day. And that deeply impacts the other campers.

Around the world, Open Doors sponsors camps—especially for discipleship training for young people. Twenty-three-year-old Roton is one of those youths who attended a camp in Bangladesh in early 2011 for young believers from Muslim background (MBB). He said, “To attend this camp, I traveled for seven hours. I walked thirteen kilometers before getting on the bus. It was exhausting, but I wanted to know more about Jesus.”

In a brief encounter with Open Doors during the camp, Roton shared that he felt pressure when he was just a new follower of Christ. “Many times, my Muslim friends would ask me why my family and I became Christians. They wanted to know how much [money] we got for converting. They asked me if the people who converted me stepped on the Koran or ate pork. I lost all my Muslim friends; everyone hated me and my family.”

Roton’s father was the first believer in the family, and boldly shared his faith with others. He read from the Koran, searching for portions that mentioned Jesus. Later on, however, his eye sight deteriorated to the point of blindness. So, he asked young Roton to read to him every day some passages from the Koran that specifically talked about Jesus.

“I just followed what I was told to do. In the beginning, I was reading for my father. But after few days, I realized that I was becoming more curious to find the truth myself. Because of the witness of the Koran, I found myself believing Jesus as the Holy one, the Messiah. I became a Christian soon after; I gave my life fully to Jesus,” Roton testified.

Discrimination soon followed Roton’s new found faith. His religion teacher mistreated him. When the school principal learned of his conversion, he was watched and compelled to recite Muslim prayers. People questioned him about Jesus Christ, but all that Roton knew about Christ he learned from the Koranic passages he read for his father. It was time to learn more. Instead of succumbing to the religious pressure he experienced, Roton—with encouragement from his father—set out on a journey to learn more about his Lord and Savior.

“I am so happy to be in this MBB youth camp. It’s my first. I saw that I am not alone! Many work together for Christ. In this camp, I discovered Jesus in the Old Testament. I will read the Old Testament more…together with the New Testament...so that I am prepared to answer questions people ask me. Someday, I want to study in a Bible school, so that I can help others who are on the same road as I am.”

RESPONSE: Today I will pass on to others all that I have learned and experienced in my relationship with Jesus.

PRAYER:Pray for young believers around the world who are in the process of developing their knowledge and discipleship in following Jesus. Pray too for camp leaders and trainers.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - January 11

HOPE FOR THE MIDDLE EAST

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. - Matthew 18:1-3

In the summer of 2011, Musalaha held an Israeli-Palestinian summer camp attended by seventy Palestinian and Israeli children from Christian families. A visitor shares poignant observations:

For me, after six months in the Land, this camp gave me real hope like nothing else I have experienced. There was hope in the Bible studies, in the competitions, in the craziness and laughter, and in the worship. There was hope as the children were creative with their crafts and reckless in their play. There was hope as they were just being girls and boys – having fun, making friends, getting a break from the pressures of their everyday environment.

When they arrived, many of the children found friends they had met at last year’s camp. A group of two Palestinian and three Israeli girls negotiated to be in the same room. Upon receiving permission, they pulled five bunks together to make one huge bed where they could sleep together.

At the camp I realized that I wasn’t noticing who was Israeli and who was Palestinian. I saw my brothers and sisters from both sides of the conflict demonstrate a love of Christ and each other above their love of sticking with their side. Leaders cared for kids, loving and instructing them regardless of where they came from. We were all there as believers in Jesus, and as should more often be the case, during camp no other identity really mattered.

One day after craft time, a Palestinian boy from the West Bank proudly pulled me aside to show me his pencil case. On it, he had painted an Israeli flag. I am not sure how his parents would feel about it, but it showed me how much more simple this situation is for the children. He loved his new friends and leaders and therefore had fond feelings about the place they are from.

As my coworker Tamara and I reflected on the camp, she said, “Innocence breaks down all this hatred that we have around us. You love the good things that you see in the other side. Like Jesus said, we should be little children.”

For them, the “enemy” will never be faceless, inhuman, or distant. For them, the situation will never be easy or black and white. That is good. With open eyes they can help bring change. They are the hope.

RESPONSE: Today I will look at the problems of our world through child-like eyes and see the challenges as Jesus sees them.

PRAYER: Thank you, Lord, there is HOPE for even the greatest challenges of our troubled world.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Today’s Scripture
“Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen.”
(James 5:7, NLT)

As You Wait
God has put dreams and desires in every person’s heart. But most of the time, there’s a season of waiting involved. Maybe you’re waiting for a relationship to improve; waiting to get married; waiting for a promotion, or waiting to overcome an illness. Much of life is spent waiting. But there’s a right way to wait and a wrong way to wait. Too often, when things don’t happen on our timetable, we get down and discouraged or anxious and fretful. That’s because we’re not waiting the right way.

Notice that today’s verse doesn’t say if you wait, it says as you wait. The fact is that we’re all going to wait. It goes on to say that we should consider how the farmer waits—patiently and eagerly. We’re not supposed to sit around discouraged; we’re supposed to be hopeful, positive and full of expectancy!

No matter what you are believing for, expect things to change in your favor. Today could be the day that God turns it all around. As you wait with patience and expectancy, you’ll open the door for God to move. He’ll fight your battles, and you’ll see that abundant harvest He’s promised in every area of your life!

A Prayer for Today
“Father, today I choose to wait expectantly for You. I trust that You are working behind the scenes on my behalf. I put my trust and hope in You knowing that You have good things in store for my future 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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Today’s Scripture
“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
(Ephesians 3:20–21, NKJV)

Exceedingly Abundantly
God wants to do exceedingly abundantly above all you can ever ask, think or imagine. In another place in scripture, it says that no person has ever seen, heard or even imagined the wonderful things that God has in store for those who love the Lord. But notice that it’s “according to the power working in us.” God’s power works in us by our faith, how we believe. Do you believe that God wants to work in your life exceedingly abundantly above all you could ask or think? Do you believe He wants to overwhelm you with His goodness and blessing?

The Bible says that if we have faith the size of a tiny mustard seed, we can move mountains. And no matter how much faith we have, faith can grow in us as we hear, study and receive the Word of God.

Today, make God’s Word a priority. Believe that He will do exceedingly abundantly above all you can ask or think. He is faithful to His Word, and He will be faithful to fulfill every promise He’s made to you!

A Prayer for Today
“Father, thank You for Your goodness in my life. Thank You for blessing me and doing exceedingly abundantly above all I can ask or think. Thank You for increasing my faith as I focus on Your Word 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 - January 9

PRAY AS A WARRIOR

Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. Colossians 4:12-13

Today’s devotional comes from a Bible study prepared by a church leader in North Korea. Because prayer is such an important subject for North Korean Christians, this church leader is encouraging his fellow believers to “pray as a warrior.” It is fascinating to see how our persecuted brothers and sisters in North Korea regard prayer. He begins in Colossians 4:12-13:

What can we learn from this? That Epaphras wrestled in prayer. He prayed as a warrior. The word “wrestling” in the text means “battling, fighting.” We, too, must pray as warriors. I must do so. In the past, I often went to the mountains and prayed all night…God uses this prayer to open doors. It is not for nothing that Paul tells us at the beginning of chapter four that we must be watchful and thankful and must keep praying. Then…God opens doors to proclaim the mystery of Christ.

What does “praying as a warrior” entail?

1. Discovering God's will - Just like Paul, we must take our strategies from the Lord God. Paul wrestled in prayer in order to discover the will of God. This meant that God was able to lead him…When we make plans, we must pray according to His will. The Spirit knows what Satan is intending. God will reveal it to us and warn us if there is any danger.

2. Concentrated prayer - We must pray in a concentrated way, and for a long time…while I was praying in a concentrated way, a sentence came to my mind: “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” I did not know this text. When I spoke to a friend about it, he told me that it is in the Bible, in Philippians 4:13. There was much sin in my life. I had to pray long and often in order to break down the barriers between God and me. This, too, is praying as a warrior.

3. Prayer of sacrifice - The prayer of a warrior is also the prayer of sacrifice. Praying is the most important thing you do in a day. Whatever you do each day, begin everything with prayer. Prayer is the shortest way, not the longest! By sacrificing yourself and applying yourself to praying as a warrior, God will open the hearts of people and break through their thinking…this type of prayer helps us to conquer evil with good. This is why we pray that Kim Jong-Il will become a Christian. And even more, that he will combat the evil in our society.

Epaphras remained faithful to Jesus Christ until the end. He was a prayer warrior. In this, he followed our Lord Himself…How can we manage without this prayer?

RESPONSE: Today I will pray as a warrior…especially remembering Christians in North Korea.

PRAYER: Thank You, Lord, for the example of Epaphras in the hard work of wrestling in prayer.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Today’s Scripture
“...we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.”
(Psalm 66:12, NIV)

Receive the Overflow
Friend, no matter what your circumstances may look like today, God’s plan is to bring you through to a place of abundance. He wants you to have an abundance of peace, an abundance of joy, an abundance of resources—He wants you to overflow with His blessings so that you can be a blessing to the people around you.

If you want to live in the overflow of God’s blessings, you have to have an attitude to receive the overflow. Remember, as a believer in Jesus, you are a child of the Most High God. Royal blood is flowing through your veins. You were not created to be average. You were not created to barely get by and drag through life. You have seeds of greatness on the inside. You are well able to do whatever God has called you to do!

Today, put your shoulders back, hold your head up high and start thinking like a victor. When you’re a victor, you know that any adversity in your life is not permanent; it’s temporary. Have the attitude to receive the overflow of God’s abundance. Keep believing and keep expecting because it’s just a matter of time until He turns things around in your favor!

A Prayer for Today
“Father, today I open my mind and heart to You. I choose to believe that You have a good plan for me. By faith, I receive the blessings You have for me so that I can be a blessing to others 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 - January 8

REFUSING TO COMPROMISE

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28

When do you compromise and when do you refuse to? On the one hand, Jesus instructed us to make friends with our enemy before any court case can develop; and on the other, he teaches us to be true to the principles of the Kingdom of God.

The history of Christian persecution is filled with inspiring stories featuring people of principle—those individuals who are immortalized for refusing to compromise their beliefs. John Bunyan was one of those.

In 1660, England’s experiment as a Republic came to an abrupt end with the return to monarchist rule under Charles II. With this change, religious freedom also ended and Anglicanism was once again designated as the official state religion. It became illegal to conduct church services outside of the Church of England and unlicensed individuals were forbidden from addressing a religious gathering.

With these new laws, John Bunyan was arrested for preaching without a license. His growing popularity, though, prompted the judge to seek some sort of a compromise. Promising Bunyan immediate release if he only promised not to preach again, the judge’s leniency was met with the reply, “If you release me today, I shall preach tomorrow!”

Three times in his life Bunyan was arrested, convicted and jailed for preaching without a license. In the end, he spent over twelve years in prison. At any time during those years he could have secured his freedom by simply promising not to preach. But Bunyan knew God’s calling on his life and so he adamantly refused to compromise his convictions.

Those prison years were certainly not wasted. It was during this time that Bunyan wrote the book Pilgrim’s Progress. Its immediate success and ongoing popularity has made it a Christian classic, the second most read book in English literature next to the Bible.

Today Christians around the world still languish in prison because they will not compromise their faith and give in to government suggestions for release. Christians in Laos are accused of following an “American” religion and would be released from prison and left in peace if they would sign a document recanting their commitment to Christ. Most refuse.

Christians in “shipping container” prisons in Eritrea would be released if they also signed such a document but prefer to suffer indefinitely for the cause of Christ than deny Him.

Compromise is not always bad, but when it comes to issues of faith, we are expected to stand for Christ and His kingdom principles.

RESPONSE: Today I will stand strong and true to my convictions and faith in Jesus and His kingdom principles.

PRAYER: Pray for those Christians in prison today mentioned above, that they will not give in to Satan’s temptations to deny their faith.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - January 7

OPEN DOORS OF OPPORTUNITY

But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me. 1 Corinthians 16:8-9

The Apostle Paul was always focused on opportunity. Yet he was a realist who knew the opposition he faced from the enemy of our souls. He expresses here an interest in visiting the Corinthian Church for a significant period of time. But it would not be until after Pentecost because of great open doors for effective work in spite of much opposition. In doing kingdom work we should always expect opposition but that should not blind us to the great opportunities.

A young pastor in the southern Philippines who attended a Standing Strong Through The Storm (SSTS) seminar, shares his personal experiences with this principle:

“The SSTS taught me a lot of things. First, it taught me to stand firm in the Lord during tough times. Second, it taught me to establish my relationship with God and not to focus on difficulties. Third, it taught me to lead my whole family to serve and obey God even though hardship and persecution come. And also it taught me to continue on with the ministry, even if others abandon us.

“My wife and I were newlyweds and fresh graduates of a Bible school when God called us to start a work among the Muslims. We were afraid of them and did not know how to minister to them. Open Doors gave us books on how to love the Muslims. In one community we started literacy classes among the children.

“But the more we grew in our desire to obey God, the more our faith was tested. In 2004, I was diagnosed with stage-four pancreatic cancer. But my sickness did not stop the Lord in accomplishing His purpose for our lives. In 2008, He led us to permanently settle in a place where most Christians dared not go. As we obeyed God, we experienced His great power—that same year, my doctor told me that I was cancer free!

“The Lord also paved the way for us to reach one Muslim tribe through an adult literacy project. We built relationships with our students and eventually shared the gospel with them. We seized every opportunity to help them with their needs, more so with their relationship with Jesus Christ.

“I would say that the biggest test of our faith was not when I got sick, but when our sending church abandoned us and cut our support. I felt alone, but God sustained me and my family.

“The Lord is continuously opening more opportunities for us to minister to our Muslim brothers. Right now, with Open Doors’ help, we are holding literacy classes among the three Muslim tribes in our area. We are also distributing the Jesus film when there is any opportunity to do so.”

RESPONSE: Today I will not allow opposition to blind me to the opportunities of service God provides.

PRAYER: Lord give me strength to walk through open doors of effective work in the face of opposers.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Today’s Scripture
“And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’...”
(2 Corinthians 12:9, NKJV)

Keep Pressing Through
We all go through seasons of difficulty that can sometimes feel overwhelming. But during these times, we have to remember that Almighty God is greater than the struggle we face! He’ll take those challenges and use them to strengthen us, but we have to do our part and get into agreement with Him.

Think about the caterpillar before it becomes a butterfly. When it’s wrapped in its cocoon in the dark on the backside of some tree, it doesn’t look like it has many options. But after it becomes a butterfly, it doesn’t just sit and wait for someone to come and drill a hole and let it out. No! That butterfly knows that it has to make a move if it’s going to be set free to fly. In the same way, we have to do something to get out of the confining places we are in. We have to pray; we have to believe and keep pressing through to victory.

Today, no matter what you may be facing, remember His grace is sufficient for you. His strength is made perfect in you. Keep believing, keep praying, keep hoping and keep pressing through. Before long, you'll break free and rise to the new levels of victory God has prepared for you.

A Prayer for Today
“Father, thank You for the strength to make it through any challenge I may face. I choose to put my trust in You. I declare that You are good and thank You for working behind the scenes on my behalf 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 - January 5

Can You Sleep while the Wind Blows?

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

During a recent hurricane storm, the following story circulated on the Internet:

A farmer on the Atlantic seacoast constantly advertised for hired hands. Most people were reluctant to work on farms along the Atlantic because of the awful storms that wreaked havoc on the buildings and crops. One applicant for the job was a short, thin man, well past middle age.

“Are you a good farm hand?” the farmer asked him.

“Well, I can sleep when the wind blows,” answered the little man.

Although puzzled by this answer, the farmer, desperate for help, hired him. The little man worked well and kept busy from dawn to dusk. The farmer felt satisfied with the man’s work.

Then one night the wind howled loudly from offshore. Jumping out of bed, the farmer grabbed a lantern and rushed to the hired hand’s sleeping quarters. He shook the little man and yelled, “Get up! A storm is coming! Tie things down before they blow away!”

The little man rolled over in bed and said firmly, “No sir. I told you, I can sleep when the wind blows.”

Enraged by the response, the farmer was tempted to fire him on the spot. He hurried outside to prepare for the storm. To his amazement, he discovered that all of the haystacks had been covered with tarpaulins. The cows were in the barn, the chickens were in the coops, and the doors were barred. The shutters were tightly secured. Everything was tied down. Nothing could blow away. The farmer then understood what his hired hand meant, so he returned to his bed to also sleep while the wind blew.

When you’re prepared, spiritually, mentally, and practically, you have nothing to fear. Can you sleep when the wind blows through your life? The hired hand in the story was able to sleep because he had secured the farm against the storm.

We secure ourselves against the storms of life by soaking ourselves with the Word of God, being obedient to it and then placing our faith and trust in God’s goodness. We don’t need to understand, we just need to hold His hand to have peace in the midst of our storms.

RESPONSE: Today I will prepare myself practically, mentally and spiritually so that I can sleep when the storms blow in my life.

PRAYER: Thank You, Lord, for the peace only You can give when the strong winds try and wreak havoc in my life and daily situations.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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Standing Strong Through the Storm - January 4

THE PROCESS OF PERSECUTION-4: MISTREATMENT

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him… Philippians 1:29

When the process gets to persecution [mistreatment following disinformation and discrimination], no one will do anything because, ‘You know they are bad people anyway,’” says Rev. Dr. Johan Candelin referring to his three-step process of persecution model.

Once the first steps in the process occur, mistreatment can be practiced without normal protective measures taking place. Persecution can arise from the state, the police or military, extremist organizations, paramilitary groups, anti-Christian sub-cultures and even representatives of other religious groups. The irony is that in many parts of the world, the accusations of the attackers turn the victims into the villains.

This stage is the end result and includes the “big three” - torture, imprisonment and martyrdom which are most often the examples used for persecution.A specific example would be the imprisonment of hundreds of evangelical Christians in Eritrea without formal charges -many kept in metal shipping containers.

In Iran, a Christian couple were detained and physically and psychologically tortured for four days. The authorities even threatened to lock up their four-year-old daughter in an “institution.” Twenty-eight-year-old Tina Rad from Teheran was accused of “activities against the holy religion of Islam,” because she was reading the Bible with Muslims. Her thirty-one-year-old husband, Makan Arya, was accused of having endangered national security. Both of them had only been Christians for three months. Muslim converts meet together in small groups to talk about the gospel, to grow in the Christian faith and to encourage one another. They have made a vast transition from Islam to Christianity and they have a great need of training, security and a sense of belonging. The church tries to provide for this need and becomes the new “family.”

When they were released, the threats started. “If you don’t stop with your Jesus, next time we will charge you with apostasy,” Tina was told. In Iran, this can mean the death penalty.

Jamaa Ait Bakrim in Morocco is also serving time for his faith. Moroccan Christians and advocates question the harsh measures of the Muslim state toward a man who dared speak openly about Jesus. An outspoken Christian convert, Bakrim was sentenced to fifteen years prison for “proselytizing” and destroying “the goods of others” in 2005 after burning two defunct utility poles located in front of his private business in a small town in south Morocco.

Advocates and Moroccan Christians said, however, that the severity of his sentence in relation to his misdemeanor shows that authorities were determined to put him behind bars because he persistently spoke about his faith. “He became a Christian and didn’t keep it to himself,” said a Moroccan Christian and host for Al Hayat Television who goes only by his first name, Rachid, for security reasons. “He shared it with people around him. They will just leave him in the prison so he dies spiritually and psychologically,” said Rachid.

RESPONSE: Today I will do everything possible to represent my persecuted brothers and sisters.

PRAYER: Pray for Christians experiencing mistreatment and persecution around the world today.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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Today’s Scripture
“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
(Psalm 90:12, NIV)

Every Day is a Gift
Sometimes, our days can be so full and busy that we forget how fragile life really is. It can be easy to allow little things to creep in and steal our peace and joy. Maybe something doesn’t go your way, or someone says something upsetting. Even traffic can cause us to lose focus if we let it. We have to remember that each day is a gift. If we choose to focus on what’s wrong, we’ll miss the beauty that each day has to offer.

I encourage you today to not let the precious moments of life pass you by. Don’t wait for holidays and birthdays to show people that you care. Remember, each day is unique and irreplaceable. You have been given time that can be invested or wasted, hours that can be used or misused. That’s why the psalmist prayed to God, “Teach us to number our days.” He was saying, “Teach us to value every moment that we’ve been given.” As you daily keep a proper perspective, you’ll gain a heart of wisdom and experience the full blessing that He has for you each and every day!

A Prayer for Today
“Father, thank You for the gift of today. I choose to focus on the blessing of each moment instead of allowing the little things to steal my joy. Keep me close to You always as I submit every area of my heart and mind to 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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Change the Way You Look at You - UpWords - Week of January 1-7

Max Lucado

Unnoticed? Neglected? Ignored? Not even close—to how God sees you! If you’re feeling unnoticed and under-appreciated, take a look at how God sees you as recorded in 1 Peter 2:9: “You are a chosen people, royal priests, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.” Or how about this description from Isaiah 61:10: “He has covered me with clothes of salvation and wrapped me with a coat of goodness, like a bridegroom dressed for his wedding, like a bride dressed in jewels.”

When your self-esteem sags—remember what you’re worth! Remember that you were bought with a price, not with something that ruins like gold or silver, but with the precious blood of Christ, the pure and perfect lamb. Remember that! Meditate on it! Focus on it! Allow God’s love to change the way you look at—you!

From Grace for the Moment

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - January 3

THE PROCESS OF PERSECUTION-3: INJUSTICE

In his humiliation he [Jesus] was deprived of justice. Acts 8:33

Christians experiencing persecution are following in the footsteps of their master, Jesus. In Acts chapter eight, Philip revealed to the Ethiopian eunuch that the passage from Isaiah 53 he was reading referred to Jesus who indeed was deprived of justice. Today in the Western world, we would describe His trial before crucifixion as occurring in a “kangaroo court!”

If disinformation about any group, including Christians, is disseminated long enough, no one will help when that group or person is discriminated against. Discrimination relegates Christians to second-class citizenship with inferior legal, social, political and economic status. Once discrimination takes place, no one will intervene when mistreatment comes.

Examples of such injustice against Christians abound around the world; ID cards in a country where Christianity is an unacceptable entry in the religion column, daughters abducted and their father’s unable to receive justice from the courts because they are Christians, expulsion from the community just because you are evangelicals.

Christians in Pakistan are a small minority among a large Muslim majority and often face such discrimination. The problem is compounded by the fact that many Christians are illiterate and poor. One Christian teacher at a center training Christian women recently said, “We do face discrimination because we live in the midst of people who don’t want us to move forward; people who keep trying to push us down so that we will always be in slavery.”

But there is one repeated scene of injustice against Christians that occurs in Pakistan which brings me to tears which involves young Christian girls. As a father of two daughters and having six granddaughters, I shudder every time I read news reports that describe Christian family injustice in this land. The stories usually work out this way:

Muslim women must marry Muslim men but Muslim men are allowed to marry any woman they wish with the proviso that any children must be raised as Muslim. Consequently in Pakistan there are Muslim men who often desire some of the very beautiful young Christian girls in the community but realize there is no way their Christian families will agree to marriage. So these men resort to abduction.

The Christian father’s only option is to go to court where the judge—usually a Muslim—hears the case and pronounces to the Christian father, “Your daughter voluntarily converted to Islam and voluntarily married this Muslim man so you are to have no more contact with her. One of the most recent cases involved two young Christian sisters aged thirteen and ten. In this case, the judge allowed the ten-year-old to return home to her family but not the thirteen-year-old.

Safwan, a secret believer in Algeria, found a Christian pamphlet between the paperwork given him at work and started reading it. Upon discovering him reading the pamphlet, his boss reported him to the police. Later that night the police visited him and searched his entire home. They found Christian CD’s, several Christian movies and a New Testament. “It was clear to them that I had become a Christian. My boss fired me.”

RESPONSE: Today I will work toward justice for everyone in my own country and around the world.

PRAYER: Lord, be with those experiencing discrimination today because they love and serve You.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - January 2

THE PROCESS OF PERSECUTION–2: DISINFORMATION

Blessed are you when people…falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Matthew 5:11

This stage of persecution is characterized by unchecked ridicule and disinformation against a targeted group (Christian or others) most often spread through media. In this stage Christians are robbed of their good reputation and the right to answer the accusations made against them. Media, politics, entertainment, publications and schools are most often the avenues used to spread such insinuations or lies.

If disinformation about any group is disseminated long enough, no one will help in later stages because of this negative brain-washing about them. It essentially dehumanizes the person and is a pattern of thinking that may make it easier for milder wrongs to ignite a chain reaction of events. It creates an “us-versus-them” mentality.

A classic historic example is the gross disinformation the German Nazis spread about the Jews which then developed into a literal negative symbol when Jewish homes and businesses were marked with Stars of David and then targeted.

This also can result in verbal stereotyping. In the Rwanda genocide, the term “cockroach” became a negative classification of all Tutsi as conspirators against the government

There are many significant global examples of disinformation used against our Christian brothers and sisters. The influence and impact of negative television programs against Protestant Christians in an autonomous region in Central Asia is very strong. A local pastor was shown on TV and, without reference to any evidence, labelled “an enemy of the state.” His family members’ pictures were also shown at the same time causing them to be despised by their community.

Recently a Christian woman who was shown on TV was not able to continue her work in a kiosk in the market. Other vendors forced her to leave the bazaar.

One local pastor says, “Since the program is shown regularly on TV, persecution has become worse. Some people have left the church out of fear. When you start to preach (to the public), people close up and say, we have heard about you, we don’t want to listen.”

In North Korea, the entire society is controlled by propaganda and disinformation. Persecution is so severe that in many Christian families, children are not even told about the family’s faith in Jesus until they are young adults because they are encouraged and expected to inform on their parents while in their school years. Christians are considered enemies of the state and the disinformation about this is wide spread.

Similarly, in countries like Laos, the government disinformation is that Christianity is an American religion being used to infiltrate their country rather than the former military methods. All Christians are thus portrayed as being traitors and working for America.

RESPONSE: Today I will work for truth and quash all attempts at disinformation against followers of Jesus everywhere.

PRAYER: Lord, grant Your blessing today on Your followers suffering from lies and untruths.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Today’s Scripture
“Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.”
(Romans 12:11, NIV)

Overflowing with Passion for Life
Zeal is simply another word for passion. Sadly, too many people today have lost their passion and enthusiasm for life. At one time, they were excited about their dreams and woke up every day with purpose and passion. But now, because time has passed and they’ve experienced disappointments, they’re not as excited about those dreams anymore. They’ve lost their fire.

Today know that God wants you to live with passion! You weren’t meant to live a stagnant, ordinary life. You serve an extraordinary God, and you are called to be a reflection of Him.

The truth is, most of life can be very routine. We have to work to keep things fresh. We have to put forth effort to stay passionate about our jobs, relationships, and our walk with the Lord. Every day we need to stir ourselves up. Just like the apostle Paul told Timothy, we have to fan the flame! In other words, don’t let the fire go out. Stay passionate about your life and the dreams God has placed on the inside of you!

A Prayer for Today
“Father, thank You for Your Word which is truth that sets me free. Help me to stir up the passion in my heart so that I can stay on fire for You. Thank You for guiding and directing my steps so that I can embrace every dream and promise You have for me 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 - January 1

THE PROCESS OF PERSECUTION-1: OPPOSITION

Consider [Jesus] who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:3

Whenever we ask audiences in free societies to word-associate “persecution,” most responses are what we refer to as the “big three”: torture, imprisonment and martyrdom. Many would agree that persecution is much more than the “big three” which are often only experienced in the final stage of the process of persecution.

Jesus repeatedly warned his followers that if the world hated Him, it would hate them also (John 15:18). In Luke 6:22, Jesus reminds his disciples that this opposition is a blessing. Not one I hear many Christians praying for.

So the very basic and first step in this process is awareness that as a follower of Jesus, you can expect opposition, just as Jesus Himself experienced (Hebrews 12:3). He indicated that it will come from the world and possibly even from your own family and friends.

So do we walk around with a persecution complex, chip on our shoulder attitude, because of this? Absolutely not. The good news is that Jesus says we can live a life of joy in the midst of these troubles because He has overcome the world and so can we (John 16:33).

And this opposition is in every country and culture, not just those where severe persecution is being experienced. A few years ago Jim Cunningham and I wrote a little booklet about experiencing mild persecution right here in North America entitled Red Skies @ Dawn. It is a dialogue between two young couples. Here’s a relevant excerpt:

Sam responded, “Ultimately Satan, our real enemy, wants to destroy the Church of Jesus Christ, wherever it’s located. And Jesus Himself is the stumbling block to those who don’t believe. When we say He is the only way, we are labeled as exclusivists and on this basis we are then considered intolerant.”

Yvonne added, “I heard a program host on the radio the other day and he was obviously upset by this. When someone told him that Jesus is the only way to God, he shouted that we evangelicals are the scum of the earth!”

“Whoa,” Sanjit reacted. “That’s a little heavy, isn’t it?”

Yvonne continued, “Well, he went on to say that it wasn’t the belief to which he objected so much but he objected to the arrogance of any person claiming ‘my way or the highway’ and writing off the rest of the human race to eternal damnation.”

All of this discussion clearly points out, “Sam concluded, “we are facing—and will face even more—attacks because of Jesus in us. Persecution may not be just for those brothers and sisters across the seas in places like East Africa and China, but perhaps even for us.”

RESPONSE: Today I will rejoice that in the face of general opposition to Jesus in me, I can be an overcomer like Jesus.

PRAYER: Help me, Lord, to be aware of any opposition without it negatively affecting my witness.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Today’s Scripture
“Where there is no vision...the people perish...”
(Proverbs 29:18, AMP)

Get a Vision for Overflow
What is the vision you have for your life? Do you see yourself rising higher? Do you see yourself increasing and growing in the blessing of God?

If we are going to live the abundant, overflowing life that God has promised us, we have to have a vision for it. We have to see ourselves so blessed and so filled that we overflow on to the people around us. We should have so much joy that others are joyful just being in our presence. We should have so much peace that people just feel calm when they come around us. We should overflow in our resources so that we can turn around and be a blessing to others. But it all starts with having a vision for overflow.

I want to challenge you today, start seeing yourself living the abundant life God has promised. Start seeing yourself increasing in influence. Get a vision for overflow and receive His overflow so you can experience the abundant life He has prepared for you!

A Prayer for Today
“Father, thank You for Your increase and blessing in my life so that I can be a blessing to others. Help me to have a vision for overflow. Help me see my life the way You see it so that I can embrace the abundant life You have promised 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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Your Story, God's Story - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 31

Luke 1

Why is Christmas such a magical time of year? I think its because everyone is expecting a miracle at Christmas. Consider all the popular movies. Each one has a miracle as it's central plot. Whether it's a boy hoping his parents get back together, a shop-owner hoping he can keep his business running, or a town who needs a new hero to help "save Christmas."

You might be reading this and wishing for your own miracle this Christmas. It's probably much smaller than what makes a holiday movie. But it no less important to you.

Maybe you're hoping our prodigal comes home. Maybe you're wishing for a job. Some are yearning for a special someone to sit next to you by the fire.

2,000 years ago, there was a couple who hoped for their own miracle. But like many, they had long given up on this dream. Zacharias and Elisabeth prayed for a child, but year after year, that prayer went unfulfilled. So, they gave up on the dream.

But this couple didn't give up on God. They stayed faithful. Then, one ordinary day, the extraordinary happened. Zacharias, a priest in Israel, was chosen to give the incense at the altar. This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, a rare honor for such a common man. Then, as he performed this sacred duty, an angel of God appeared, breaking God's 400-year silence with Israel.

The angel told Zacharias that he and his wife, Elisabeth would have a son after all. He would have a special purpose an would prepare Israel for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus.

This all sounded impossible to Zacharias. Not the miracle itself—that Jesus would come, that John would be the forerunner. Zacharias, as a believing Jew, knew the Scriptures and believed this.

He just had a hard time thinking God could use silly old him. After all, he and his wife were well past the child-bearing age. But, true to His word, God performed this miracle in the lives of Zacharias and Elisabeth. You know the rest of the story. John the Baptist led revival in Israel and would later baptize Jesus Christ, the very son of God.

But let's focus on Zacharias and Elisabeth. They were faithful people in a time of unfaithfulness. And yet they had given up on the dream God had planted in their hearts—the dream of having a son. What's interesting is that Zacharias had no problem with the big miracle: God sending a Son to be born of a virgin and be the Savior. It was the little miracle he had trouble with, the miracle in his own life. Even though God had done a similar thing in Sarah and Hannah and Rebekah and Rachel, Zacharias refused to believe his wife, Elisabeth could bear a child.

He did something we often do. We believe in the big things of God—sending a son to be our Savior, Creation, Heaven—but when it comes to littler miracles, we limit Him. It's as if we say, Yes, God can create the earth in six days, be born of a baby, and send us to Heaven, but He can't possibly change me, fix a relationship, get me a job.

And God's answer is Yes I can. You see, the biggest miracle has already been done—Jesus. Everything else is small to God.

So maybe today, like Zacharias, you're letting God know that there is something too big for Him. Something even He can't fix.

And the story of Zacharias tells us that there is nothing too hard and that God is still in the business of doing miracles. Even in your own life.

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - December 30

HAS GOD FORGOTTEN HIS CHILDREN?

How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Psalm 13:1-2

If any believers can identify with this cry of David, it is those in North Korea. Today we hear from our co-worker, Jan Vermeer:

Looking at the desperate condition of the scattered North Korean church is a test of faith. Was the church meant to be underground or to be a bold witness? Should the name of Jesus Christ be proclaimed or whispered in silence? And if Jesus is King, why doesn’t He come to the rescue of his followers? Why do hundreds or even thousands perish in prisons or death camps each year?

An Open Doors contact in North Korea talks about their prayer meetings. “If you could attend one of those rare prayer meetings, your hearts would break,” he says. “We cover the portraits of the leaders on the wall and then we kneel down in a circle. We pray for strength and endurance. We pray that God will keep our country. ‘Father,’ we say, ‘The Israelites sinned and you made them wander in the wilderness for forty years. But for us, Lord, after more than fifty years we are still being punished. However, we have sinned and You are just. We bowed before the idols of Kim Il-Sung and before that to the idols of the Japanese. Forgive us. Please Father; restore the churches of past times in North Korea.’”

Feeling that sense of guilt in the North Korean believers is utterly painful. It makes you cry out with them the words of David, “How long, oh Lord? Will you forget me forever?” It’s a heartfelt cry, but is it the truth? Has God forgotten His children in North Korea? For that answer we have to investigate the spiritual life of North Korean Christians.

The Open Doors contact adds, “If you do that, you’ll find North Korean Christians are very mature. They know how to approach unbelievers and how to train new Christians, including their children once they are old enough. The Christians don’t mind to be tested. In fact, they are determined to sacrifice themselves for the Kingdom of God. They see trials as purifying.”

North Korean Christians know that when they pray earnestly, God will answer. The contact continues, “Whenever we do a project with Open Doors, first we fast for seven, sometimes ten days. Only when God tells us separately that we can continue with the project do we give the green light and carry out the project. Sometimes we have a very vivid dream in which God tells us what to do and sometimes we all just feel exactly the same about the project. Our believers are bolder and stronger than before, even though the persecution is also stronger.”

Where people love and follow Jesus, there is always hope!

RESPONSE: Today I bask in the sunshine of this hope. God does not ever forget His children!

PRAYER: Pray today for isolated believers in North Korea who do not have the warmth of Christian fellowship and group prayer.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Today’s Scripture
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
(Matthew 11:28, NIV)

Release Your Cares and Rest
God wants to give you rest. He wants to refresh and restore your soul—your mind, will and emotions. It’s so easy to get caught up in the “busyness” of life, and before long, your mind, will and emotions are so “spun up” that you can barely think straight! But even in the hustle of life, you can find rest, ease and relaxation. God wants to take care of everything that concerns you so that you can find rest in your innermost being when you come to Him.

Imagine how you would feel if someone came up to you today and said, “Give me all of your monthly bills; I’m going to pay them.” You’d get pretty excited, wouldn’t you? But it wouldn’t happen until you did your part to actually hand that person your bills. They can’t pay them for you if you never release them. In the same way, when we release our cares and concerns to God, He promises to take care of them.

Today, release your cares to the Lord. Let Him fill you with His peace and joy. Receive the rest that He promises and enjoy the fulfillment and blessing He has for you!

A Prayer for Today
“Father, today I humbly come to You. I choose to cast my cares on You so that I can live in Your rest. Thank You for Your goodness to me. Help me find ways to share Your goodness with those around me today in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

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


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How Close Can You Get, and Miss it All - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 28

How Close Can You Get - And Miss it All

The saddest story of Christmas is how those closest to Christ's birth completely missed that first Christmas; and that tragedy has continued to this day. You can be so close and yet so far away!

The real purpose of Christmas was shown by God at Christ's birth, God confronted the world with the only gift everyone really needs.

Christmas is about the gift no one seeks but everyone needs.

God so loved the world that He sent Jesus to save lost people from their sins.

God came to provide the only gift that everyone absolutely, critically needs—the substitutionary death of His Son, who came to meet our critical, eternal-life-threatening need prompted by our sins.

So the gift of Christmas is Christ's work of salvation. That gift involves meeting the critical needs each of us have in our lost, sinful and fallen condition.

Today as we continue to see those elements of salvation that Christ's birth has brought, we do so by asking the question, "How close can someone get to Christ and His gift of Christmas and not be saved?"

The answer is sadly that you can get very close. Missing Jesus and His salvation is seen most vividly in the story of Christmas. Those closest to the coming of Christ were most untouched by it! In both Luke and Matthew's record we find that you can grow up in the shadow of God's Temple, hear God's Word every day of your life, meet the Wise men themselves, explain the Old Testament to them—and still miss everything, if it is not inside your heart and mind.

ACQUAINTANCE vs. KNOWLEDGE

Christmas is a time to remember that Jesus came to save us from sin and live within us. Beware of getting so close in every way—but in your heart, to Christ. Beware of being acquainted with Christ but never knowing Him. Webster's Dictionary says that knowledge has three levels: recognition, acquaintance, and experience. Knowing Christ means a personal experience of His grace that leads us to partake of His salvation.

How close can you get to Jesus and still be too far away? That is what the religious leaders of Christ's day demonstrate to us this Christmas. So close they got, and yet so far away they remained. It is possible to be as close as them, and yet miss all that Christ and Christmas have to offer.

Matthew 2 and Luke 1 introduce us the chief priests and scribes, with daily immersion in the Scriptures, endless hours of singing and serving, and constant exposure to all that God had left to point to Him and His salvation—they only held God's Word externally—never in their wills and souls. God was only near in their mouths—and not in their hearts.

Christmas is a time to remember that Jesus came to save us from sin and live within us. Beware of getting so close in every way—but in your heart, to Christ. Beware of being acquainted with Christ but never knowing Him.

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Living for Christ the Rest of the Year - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 27

Living for Christ the Rest of the Year

And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever."

Luke 1:46-55

It's always a little sad, isn't it? Christmas is over, and soon decorations will come down and be put away in boxes for the next 11 months. It's like we experience this feel-good high that crashes to the ground.

Unfortunately, that's the way many live the spiritual life, just waiting for the next big event so they can get their feel-good fix. But Mary's first Christmas was anything but feel-good.

Mary sang and praised God for the same reasons that we ought to be singing every day of the year: She sang because of her salvation. Mary knew the challenges that were on the horizon and was getting ready to face some severe scrutiny for turning up pregnant and unwed! And never mind the anguish she was going to cause her family, who would be forced to disown her or face the same rejection.

True praise isn't grounded in your circumstances. So as you unwind from Christmas, don't just settle back into business as usual. Take something special from this Christmas like a better appreciation of who Christ is and what he did. Because while you may celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th, you should experience the life of Christ every day as he lives through you.

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE SHOULDN'T BE BASED ON FEEL-GOOD EVENTS BUT ON YOUR DAILY RELATIONSHIP WITH CHRIST.

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Today’s Scripture
“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
(Romans 8:38–39, KJV)

Nothing Can Separate Us
People may come and go from your life, but God is always with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you. His love goes way beyond any human love you have ever experienced. Human love may be conditional, but God’s love is supernatural; it’s unconditional and knows no limits. There’s nothing you can do to earn His love and nothing you can do to stop His love.

The scripture tells us that His love is patient and kind; His love believes the best. His love redeems and restores you. No matter what you’ve been told or what you may think about yourself today, you are His most prized possession. There’s nothing that can separate you from His love! Remember, faith is activated by love. As you allow Him to flood you with His love, your faith will be ignited, and you’ll be empowered to live the abundant life He has for you!

A Prayer for Today
“Father, thank You for loving me and setting me free. Thank You for working in my life and restoring the broken places. Everything I have I surrender to You. Fill me with Your perfect love 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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A Christmas Prayer for the Merry... and Not-So-Merry - Christmas Devotional - Dec.25

Proverbs 31 Ministries

A Christmas Prayer for the Merry ... and Not-So-Merry

"But the angel reassured them. 'Don't be afraid!' he said. 'I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior — yes, the Messiah, the Lord — has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!'" Luke 2:10-11 (NLT)

Editor's Note: Today, and always, we pray you experience God's love through the gift of His Son, Jesus. We wish you a very Merry Christmas! From your friends at Proverbs 31 Ministries.
Father God,

We thank You and praise You today for the miracle of Your Son's birth. Thank You for bringing great JOY to the whole world!

Thank You for giving us the assurance that because You came to us in the form of a human, we who believe in Jesus can know with absolute certainty that we'll spend eternity with You.

We thank You, Lord, for the many reasons we have been given a merry Christmas. And we rejoice for each blessing. New life. New love. A home. A job. New opportunities. Second chances. And more.

We know, Lord, that You bring the sun and the moon and set the stars in motion. You tell the ocean where to stop and the snow when to start. And we thank You for the mighty gift of Your creation.

Thank You, Father, for spiritual leaders and faith-filled friends who keep encouraging us when we are close to giving up.

And although we have many reasons to rejoice today, Lord, we also know December 25th can be not-so-merry for a whole host of reasons. We pray for those who are experiencing loss this Christmas: relational, financial, spiritual and physical.

We pray for those who are coping with loving a prodigal and our friends and family members whose hearts are far from You. We pray for those dealing with unemployment and addictions and chronic sickness ... and unending pain and frustrations of all kinds. Thank You, Lord, that You are The Wonderful Counselor and Prince of Peace, even in the midst of our not-so-merry circumstances.

Finally, Lord, we ask You to grant us peace. Peace in our homes, peace in our churches, and peace in our hearts, when the world all around us spins out-of-control.

Help us to stay focused on You, this Christmastime and always. Thank You for loving the whole world enough to send the greatest gift, Your Son, so that we might truly have a very merry Christmas.
In Jesus' Name,
Amen.

TRUTH FOR TODAY:

John 3:16, "For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life." (NLT)

Luke 2:10, "But the angel reassured them. 'Don't be afraid!' he said. 'I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.'" (NLT)

1 John 5:13, "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life." (NIV)

Psalm 95:1-2, "Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song." (NIV)

Job 38:8-11, "Who kept the sea inside its boundaries as it burst from the womb, and as I clothed it with clouds and wrapped it in thick darkness? For I locked it behind barred gates, limiting its shores. I said, 'This far and no farther will you come. Here your proud waves must stop!'" (NLT)

Psalm 72:12-14, "He will rescue the poor when they cry to him; he will help the oppressed, who have no one to defend them. He feels pity for the weak and the needy, and he will rescue them. He will redeem them from oppression and violence, for their lives are precious to him." (NLT)
Isaiah 9:6, "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (NIV)

1 Thessalonians 5:23, "Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again." (NLT)

Prayer by Steph Raquel.


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Today’s Scripture
“On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him gifts...”
(Matthew 2:11, NIV)

Choose the Right Gifts
Can you image how the wise men felt as they first looked upon our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! As part of their worship, they wanted to give Him gifts. They gave valuable presents to symbolize the love, honor and appreciation in their hearts. In the same way, you show your love and appreciation to God with gifts of worship, and you can show your love and appreciate to others by the gifts you bring.

As you celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ during this holiday season, don’t just focus on the gifts you bring in the natural; focus on gifts of love, kindness and encouragement. Go out of your way to show honor to others just like the wise men went out of their way to show honor to Jesus. When you walk in love and peace, that is the place of blessing.

A Prayer for Today
“Father, today I set my mind and heart on You. Help me to choose the right gifts this holiday season—gifts of love, kindness and peace. Have Your way in my heart and let Your goodness shine through me 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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How You Can Have 'A Wonderful Life' - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 23

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us. Acts 17:26-27

One thing I love about this time of year is the traditions we have in our family. One of them is sitting down to watch the Jimmy Stewart movie, It’s A Wonderful Life. You may have seen it, but it’s about this fellow named George Bailey who grows up in a small town and has great dreams and aspirations of seeing the world and making lots of money.

But through a series of circumstances that he couldn’t control, George never could get out of that little one-horse town. Every time he tried, something happened to keep him there. And to top it off, through a mistake one day it appeared that he would be sent to jail.

He was ready to end it all when an angel came to show him what the world would be like if he’d never been born. And George Bailey came to understand that even though he didn’t get to achieve his dreams, he did have a wonderful life that impacted many more people than he realized.

I’m convinced there is a little George Bailey in all of us. We want to achieve significance on a huge scale and often forget the small ways that our lives have deeply impacted those around us. Thank God for where He’s placed you and the people you’ve been able to impact. And one day when you meet the Lord, you’ll realize you really did have a wonderful life.

THANK GOD FOR THE LIFE YOU’RE LIVING AND IMPACT OTHERS HE’S PLACED AROUND YOU!


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Today’s Scripture
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
(Psalm 23:6, NKJV)

What’s Chasing You?
In the Bible, David was known as a man after God’s own heart. What kind of attitude did he have? Here in Psalm 23, he says, “Goodness and mercy are following me.” David lived with an attitude of expectancy. One translation says, “God’s kindness chases me everywhere that I go.” David’s attitude was “something good is going to happen to me. Everywhere I go, I know God’s blessings are chasing me. Favor is following me around.” No wonder he saw God’s goodness! No wonder he overcame his obstacles and accomplished great dreams. He knew good things were chasing after him.

Do you know what’s chasing you right now? Not debt. Not failure. Not mediocrity. Not defeat. Not lack. Not at all! You are a child of the Most High God. You have been crowned with favor. You have been redeemed from every curse. God has set you apart as His own special treasure. When you look back in your rearview mirror, you’d better get ready because you have a tailgater! There’s something coming toward you at a high rate of speed. You know what it is? Blessings, favor, supernatural opportunities, restoration, divine connections—God’s goodness and mercy following you all the days of your life!

A Prayer for Today
“Father, thank You for Your abundant grace and mercy. Today I look for Your goodness. I look for Your favor and blessings. I set my heart on You. Show me Your love in a new way today in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

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


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The Christmas Tree - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 21

THE

CHRISTMAS TREE

I KNOW WHO I AM

I am God's child. (John 1:12)

I am Christ's friend. (John 15:15)

I am united with the Lord. (1 Cor. 6:17)

I am bought with a price. (1 Cor. 6:19-20)

I am a saint (set apart for God). (Eph. 1:1)


I am a personal witness of Christ. (Acts 1:8)

I am the salt & light of the earth. (Matt. 5:13-14)

I am a member of the body of Christ. (1 Cor. 12:27)


I am free forever from condemnation. ( Rom. 8: 1-2)

I am a citizen of Heaven. I am significant. (Phil. 3:20)

I am free from any charge against me. (Rom. 8:31 -34)

I am a minister of reconciliation for God. (2 Cor. 5:17-21)

I have access to God through the Holy Spirit. (Eph. 2:18)


I am seated with Christ in the heavenly realms. (Eph. 2:6)


I cannot be separated from the love of God. (Rom. 8:35-39)

I am established, anointed, sealed by God. (2 Cor. 1:21- 22)

I am assured all things work together for good. (Rom. 8: 28)


I have been chosen & appointed to bear fruit. (John 15:16)


I belong to God


And that is who He says I am. How about you?

“The LORD bless you and keep you;


the LORD make His face shine upon you

and be gracious to you;

the LORD turn His face toward you


and give you peace…”

Numbers 6:24-26

MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM HOMEWORD!


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The Strains of Christmas - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 20

by John UpChurch

But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)

Christmas at my house meant preparing for the worst. The worst didn’t always come, but you couldn’t be too careful.

You see, the thing about holidays is that people tend to be together, pushed into the same room by tradition and baked turkey. My family spent most of the year avoiding such things, as we hurried off to school or work, buried ourselves in music and books, and generally enjoyed the comfort of a closed door.

We could usually navigate the raging Scylla and Charybdis of Thanksgiving because it only meant a day together before we scattered again. But while we chewed stuffing, my father would chew on his disappointment over his life and his family. My older brothers would try not to notice. The tryptophan made us all too sleepy for much more—at least, that’s what I like to think.

But then Christmas came lumbering into the UpChurch household with all its vacation days. We had too much time off, and too many unspoken issues. We were like a pot of boiling potatoes with the water sloshing out on the stove. There’d be some sizzling over a lack of job, a splash or two over how much something cost, and then boom… the lid blew off.

An hour and two new holes in the wall later, we surveyed the wreckage of the yuletide cheer. My brothers would fume back into the basement, my father would escape to his computer, and my mom would try to figure out what to do. Usually, the anger just sunk back into the pot for another year.

When I moved out of my house, it took years for Christmas to reclaim its festive atmosphere. Even when the war ended, the shellshock didn’t. There were too many things unsaid, too many things not dealt with. The embers of home-fought battles wouldn’t die down.

Then, Christ.

Describing salvation couldn’t be better summed up than in those two words set apart in their own paragraph: then, Christ. There was no choir of angels singing (audibly to me, at least) or a special star shining light down on my apartment, but it was a moment that clearly separates time into two epochs. That separation is for both BC/AD and OJ/NJ—Old John and New John.

As this New John, though, I noticed something that might as well have been as miraculous as angels breaking out the tunes over my head. When Christmas came, the dread didn’t. I’d plucked the Christ off Christmas, and the mass didn’t seem so heavy. In fact, I even looked forward to it.

No, the tension didn’t suddenly melt away. The tempers weren’t all snuffed out. There were still moments that stretched tightly across our gatherings. But I now knew something just slightly flip-the-world-upside-down, mind-blowingly awesome: A baby, born poor and away from home, had taken the worst this world had to offer. A king wanted Him dead, and His country had no place for Him. But still He came… for me.

For you.

Intersecting Faith and Life: Christmas has no shortage of strains. It’s a holiday that seems perfectly designed for stress—at least, in the way we Westerners celebrate. Family tension has a way of bubbling up with the egg nog, and old arguments never seem to die.

But my prayer is that you aren’t afraid to face the day, and not just face it, but be filled with the mystery of it all. Here is a day to remember our God adding humanity to deity and giving up the sweet spot in heaven to plop Himself into our world. He came because He didn’t hold our sin against us; He wanted to hold it for us.

And when you keep that perspective, family arguments and stress suddenly seem trivial amid the menagerie of hams and yams and red velvet cakes.


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Today’s Scripture
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”
(1 Corinthians 2:9, NIV)

Greater Than You Imagined
Because God loves you, He has supernatural blessings in store for you: increase, favor, good breaks, supernatural opportunities. His dream for your life is so much greater than you ever imagined. You haven’t seen anything yet!

You may have a dream to get well again or be able to walk without pain, but God’s dream for you is not only that you will walk, but that you be able to run and play like you did when you were a child. Your dream may be to just keep your marriage together, but God’s dream is that your marriage would be happier, healthier and more fulfilling than you ever thought possible! Your dream may be to just pay your bills and make it through each month, but God’s dream is that you have an abundance, that you be totally out of debt, pay your house off, pay your credit cards off, and have so much overflow that you can be a blessing to everyone around you! Get ready because God has greater blessings in store for you than you ever imagined. Open your heart today and keep an attitude of faith and expectancy, and you will live the abundant life the Lord has prepared for you!

A Prayer for Today
“Father, thank You for Your hand of blessing on my life. I open my heart and receive by faith all You have for me. Fill me with Your peace and joy as I put my trust in 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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Today’s Scripture
“[In His love] He chose us [actually picked us out for Himself as His own] in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy...”
(Ephesians 1:4, AMP)

Handpicked by God
Before you were ever born, before the very foundation of the earth, God chose you. He approved you and called you His own. You may have been overlooked by people in your life. Maybe you were passed up for a job or overlooked by someone whose opinion you valued; but remember, God won’t ever overlook you. In fact, He handpicked you. He chose you to be holy, or set apart, for Himself. Let that truth sink down in your heart today. You are God’s most valued possession. You are special. You are the apple of His eye. He knows everything about you; He even knows the number of hairs you have on your head. He gave you the gifts and abilities you have for a purpose. You carry great value and significance. Don’t ever lose sight of the treasure He’s placed within you. Remember, you are handpicked by God. Meditate on His goodness today knowing that nothing can change His love for you!

A Prayer for Today
“Father, thank You for loving me. Help me understand Your love so that I can extend that love to those around me. Let me see others as valuable the way You see me 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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The Origin of Christmas - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 18

Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. --Luke 2:11

When Pope Julius I declared December 25 to be celebrated as the birthday of Jesus in A.D. 353, who would have ever thought that it would become what it is today? And when Professor Charles Follen lit candles on the first Christmas tree in American in 1832, who would have ever thought that decorations would become as glamorous as they are today?

Even before these two events that shaped what Christmas means today for most, there was a bright, special star that lit the dark night thousands of years ago letting the world know that Jesus the King was born. Usually, we don't celebrate historical figures as children, but in the case of Christ, it is appropriate.

When Christ was born, shepherds came to honor Him, wise men from the East brought Him gifts, and the earth rejoiced at His birth. These people who came to worship Him had no idea what Christ would accomplish as an adult. But they were right in traveling to worship the King because His birth was the most remarkable event in human history. Wise men and women today worship not only the Child of Bethlehem, but the Christ of Calvary.

As we approach the holiday season again, we are faced with yet another opportunity to pause in the midst of all the excitement, decorations, and commercialization, to consider again the origin of Christmas--the One whose birth we celebrate. Let's not forget the true meaning of why we celebrate during this time of year. Celebrate the baby Jesus and trust Him as Savior today.

PRAYER CHALLENGE: Thank God for sending His Son that glorious night to be born of a virgin, live a perfect life, die on the cross for your sins, and rise from the dead three days later to give you eternal life through Him.


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"Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created."

Revelation 4:11 (KJV)
I am going through the books of Romans and Proverbs. :)

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Forgive Us Our Christmases - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 16

Sharon Jaynes

Today’s Truth
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given… (Isaiah 9:6, NIV).

Friend to Friend
Once upon a time, a little girl named Mary Beth found herself caught in the pre-Christmas swirl of activity, all of which seemed to be coming to a head on Christmas Eve. Her dad was always scurrying about, loaded down with bundles and burdens. Her mom, under the pressure of getting ready for the great occasion, had succumbed to tears several times during the day. The little girl tried to help her weary parents, but always found that she was in the way.

“Not now, Mary Beth! Can’t you see I’m busy!” her parents would say.

Finally, near tears herself, she was hustled off to bed. There kneeling to pray the Lord’s Prayer, her heart and tongue became intertwined, “Forgive us our Christmases as we forgive those who Christmas against us.”

Perhaps Mary Beth’s prayer was not such a great mistake after all. Many times we leave Christ out of Christmas. Many times our Christmas spirit is not of good will but of exhaustion, causing us to trample on our loved ones’ feelings. And many times we are so busy planning the birthday celebration that we forget to invite the guest of honor.

Imagine for a moment, that you have never heard the Christmas story and you visit a shopping mall on December 22. You listen to the music being played over the intercom system and eavesdrop on a few shoppers’ conversations. Next, you stop by a greeting card shop and browse through the rows and rows of red and green envelopes with cards sporting colorful and comical messages. Window displays grab your attention, enticing you with promises of low prices for the last minute shoppers. Stress laden faces rush by carrying stacks of boxes in various shapes and sizes. What conclusions would you draw about the event that culminates on December 25?

Much has changed since the God of the universe decorated the night sky with the star of Bethlehem and directed the choir of angels in a chorus announcing the birth of Our Savior, Jesus Christ. But the commercialism doesn’t have to rule in our hearts and homes. This year, let’s focus on the Christ Child and remember the true meaning of the holiday season. As we turn our eyes to the Babe in the manger, we will not view Christmas as a dreaded obligation or a major retail event. It will be a time of joyous celebration, honoring the One Who came to give us eternal life and worshipping our Heavenly Father.

Let’s focus on celebrating a Christ-centered Christmas!

Let’s Pray

Dear God, sometimes I get too caught in the Christmas commercialism. OK, a lot of times. Today, I’m going to refocus my heart and remember why I’m celebrating this wonderful day in the first place. I’m celebrating Jesus today…and every day!
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Now It’s Your Turn

What stirs in your heart when you see how retailers are trying to cash in on Christmas?

What do you think Jesus would say about all that?

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Today’s Scripture
“I have seen that everything [human] has its limits and end [no matter how extensive, noble, and excellent]; but Your commandment is exceedingly broad and extends without limits [into eternity].”
(Psalm 119:96, AMP)

Take Off the Limits
Did you know you can limit your life by dwelling on the wrong things? So often, wrong thinking keeps people stuck right where they are. If you think you’ll never accomplish your dreams, then you’ll stay stuck where you are. If you think you don’t have the talent, the connections or the funds, then you are limiting yourself. We have to remember that God’s promises never return void. His Word stands true forever! Don’t limit what God can do in your life by focusing on what you see in the natural realm. You have to realize that you serve a supernatural God, and just because you don’t see a way doesn’t mean that God doesn’t have a way. God can bring one opportunity across your path that will launch you to a whole new level. He has explosive blessings in store that can blast you out of where you are and into a place of abundance! Shift your focus from this limited realm, start looking at God’s supernatural realm, and see His unlimited possibilities for your future!

A Prayer for Today
“Father, today I lift my eyes to You. You alone are the source of my strength, peace and provision. I choose to delight myself in You knowing that You will give me the desires of my heart 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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I'll be Home for Christmas - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 13

by Alex Crain

“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”
Hebrews 13:14

Recently, I got my parent’s old Christmas records out of storage and began making mp3 files of them so that we could play them again around the Christmas holidays. Bing Crosby’s classic rendition of "I’ll Be Home for Christmas" came on. Its melancholy sound filled the air.

I pictured the war-weary allied troops hearing this song the year it was recorded in 1943, listening to it on their radios at night, spellbound by the sound; longing to be back at home with their loved ones.

I'll be home for Christmas, you can plan on me.
Please have snow and mistletoe, and presents on the tree.
Christmas Eve will find me, where the love light gleams.
I'll be home for Christmas… if only in my dreams.

Does any other version of the song capture the sense of sadness to the same degree that he did?

Believers in Christ are soldiers engaged in war (Ephesians 6:10). And deep within us there is a longing that nothing can suppress. We want to be home. It’s great to know that we are on the winning side, but we often get weary of the fight.

Hebrews 13:14 encourages us to remember and find strength in the fact that “we seek the city that is to come.” It’s a losing battle to pursue lasting satisfaction in this life. The words "Here we have no lasting city" drive us to only source of contentment: the promise that Christ is always with me (Matthew 28:20) and that He’s bringing me home to a place where love, joy, and satisfaction never end.

Intersecting Faith and Life: In the words of author, Randy Alcorn, "Things won't always take a better turn on an Earth that is under the curse. Sickness, loss, grief, and death will find us. Just as our reward will come in Heaven, laughter (itself one of our rewards) will come in Heaven."

Further Reading
The Christmas Bible Reading Plan
Heaven: Home of Laughter

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Today’s Scripture
“Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”
(Genesis 15:6, NIV)

Faith and Righteousness
So many people today are looking for ways to be righteous or to be in “right standing” with God. The Bible simply says that when we believe God, that’s righteousness.

The proof, or evidence, of our faith in Him is found in our actions. Faith without works is dead. That means, when we really believe something, our actions will support what we believe. Because Abraham believed God, he obeyed His word and left his father’s land even when he didn’t know where he was going. In the same way, when we believe God, we have to leave some things behind in order to embrace the new life He has in store. As you let go of the old and, by faith, embrace God’s promises, know that He is leading you down paths of righteousness for His name’s sake! Keep believing and keep stepping out, knowing that your best days are ahead of you!

A Prayer for Today
“Father, today I choose to accept and believe Your Word by faith. Thank You for making me righteous and help me to follow You all the days of my life 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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Christmas Lights - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 10

by Ryan Duncan, Crosswalk.com Entertainment Editor

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. – James 1:12

When I was still a child living in Illinois, my father drafted me into his yearly Christmas decorating. Every December, with the snow heavy on the ground, the two of us would bundle up and tramp outside to begin putting up the Christmas lights. I hated putting up Christmas lights. The process always took forever, robbing me of my well-deserved break from school. To make matters worse, my father had a fondness for those icicle-styled lights that were supposed to drip down from the rooftop in merry "winter-wonderland" fashion.

Except the high winds always blew the strands of light up into the gutters, so once again we would have to go outside and set them right. It got to the point where I would do anything to avoid putting up Christmas lights. I hid, I threw tantrums, I’d sulk, and eventually my father decided dealing with both me and lights was too much work and set me free. Looking back now, I regret how short-sighted I was. I was so upset at having to do a few hours' work that I never realized how beautiful our house looked when it was all lit up, or how fulfilling it was to know I had helped my father make it that way.

It’s funny how our Christian walk can mirror the experience of setting up holiday decorations. At times it can be difficult, and we can resent what we believe we're being denied, but take a look at what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:

"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Life offers us plenty of easy roads, and when it comes to living out the Christian life, these paths can be especially tempting. The world will tell us to go with the flow of the current of culture, to follow the past of least resistance, but God calls us to do differently. Christians are meant to reflect Christ’s glory on Earth, and this cannot be done without hard work, sacrifice, and grace. So whether you serve God through ministry, or simply through your everyday life, remember to live in a way deserving of the prize.

Intersecting Faith and Life: Consider whether you are running in such a way as to win the prize.

Further Reading

Matthew 6:19-21



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Keeping it Simple - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 9

Melanie Chitwood

"…his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6 (NIV)

Devotion:
My excuses for not decorating my home, not cooking a big meal on Christmas day, and not shopping till I dropped were valid ones. Our new business would be opening two weeks after Christmas, and I was working furiously to meet a book deadline. My husband and I had more to do than we had hours in the day.

When December approached, my neck stiffened and my heart skipped beats as I anticipated the stress more activities would bring to our already overstuffed lives. The thought of more clutter, even my favorite Christmas decorations, in our topsy-turvy home with all the undone laundry and crowded kitchen counters about sent me over the edge. So I began to think about how we could eliminate some stress to have a peaceful Christmas.

"Keep it simple" became my catchphrase. With my family's assurance they'd join me with the simple Christmas idea, I gave myself permission not to do it all. I wouldn't say yes to every invitation or fill the calendar every night, and I didn't even send the annual Christmas photo and newsletter. These choices brought me a large measure of peace.

Each family member named some traditions they wanted to keep. We included a live Christmas tree, a wreath on the front door, reading the Christmas story from the Bible, Christmas Eve church service, limited gifts, helping with a toy drive, favorite Christmas movies, and a few get-togethers with good friends. Being more selective about our Christmas traditions brought us less stress and more peace. In addition, because we weren't caught up in the seasonal frenzy, the activities we did include became more meaningful. We were able to focus on what really mattered: time with our family and hearts centered on the birth of Christ.

At the end of Christmas day we agreed that despite the stressors of a new business and meeting my deadline, and despite giving up some of our usual Christmas activities, we hadn't missed out on a thing. Simplicity had given us breathing room and fresh hearts to celebrate the Prince of Peace.

Dear Lord, don't let us miss You this Christmas season. Help us to simplify our activities and traditions so we can focus our celebration on Your birth. Thank You for being the Prince of Peace, and I ask You for that supernatural peace to reign in our hearts. Thank You for the simple but life-changing message of Your love for us. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:

Do You Know the Prince of Peace?

Pair Melanie's books as a Christmas gift! What a Husband Needs from His Wife and What a Wife Needs from Her Husband

A Recipe for Christmas Joy (E-book) by Marybeth Whalen

"A Simple Christmas" - Our "free" feature article from The P31 Woman magazine (December 2010 issue)


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Today’s Scripture
“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.”
(Isaiah 40:29, NIV)

He Gives Strength
Have you ever felt backed into a corner about a particular situation and couldn’t see a way out? We’ve all felt overwhelmed by the circumstances of life at one time or another. Be encouraged today because the Bible says in Isaiah that when you cry out to God for help, as soon as He hears, He will answer you! He will give you strength when you are weary and increase your power when you feel weak.

No matter what is going on in your life today, God is greater than any obstacle or difficulty you may be facing. Do you need strength today to overcome a challenge in your life? Do you need power to stand strong in the midst of a storm? Call on Him and He will hear you. The answer is on the way while the words are still on your lips!

A Prayer for Today
“Father, thank You for hearing and answering my prayers. Fill me with Your strength and power today. I give You my whole heart. Remove anything from my life that isn’t pleasing to 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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A Homerun Christmas Gift - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 6

A HOMERUN CHRISTMAS GIFT

I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.
3 John 1:4

The Christmas season is here! It is time to pull out the shopping list and find the perfect gifts for those special people in your life.

I remember one of the best Christmas days we ever had as a family. My wife, Debbie, loves gifts. It is one of her love languages. I don't speak that language too well, so communication on that end has not been stellar over the years. But this one Christmas several years ago, I jacked it out of the park.

When Debbie's mom died, Debbie was given all her jewelry. Debbie's mom had redone her wedding ring some years earlier, taken the diamonds out of her original set and placed in another ring. Debbie never liked the new arrangement. She had mentioned a time or two about her desire to restore the original wedding set. So, as a surprise to Debbie, I had the original wedding ring redone. It looked GORGEOUS and had so much sentimental value to her. When she opened the box and saw that ring, she began crying big tears of joy. (Then I started crying, and the girls started crying, but they were good tears.) It was the perfect gift for Debbie. I was so thrilled that I blessed her heart with something so special.

THE PERFECT GIFT FOR JESUS

Wouldn't it be awesome to give Jesus a gift this Christmas that would bring great joy to His heart? Did you know that special gift is out there? It is within reach of every single one of us.

John said, "I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth" (3 John 1:4). The thing that rejoices the great heart of God is not diamonds or gold (remember that He paves the streets of heaven with gold), but simple obedience to Him. Jesus said, "He who has my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me" (John 14:21). Walking in the truth shows God you really love Him, and that brings Him great joy!

I believe the key to walking in the truth is to walk honestly and humbly before the Lord. God is not looking for sinless perfection from you or me. That is a good thing, since you and I cannot live a life of sinless perfection. What God is looking for is openness and honesty before Him. When we mess up, He wants us to fess up. God hates it when we cover up. He cannot work in a heart that is full of cover up. Proverbs 28:13 tells us, "He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion."

This Christmas season make it your goal to give to God what He really wants - to see you walking in the truth. Take Him at His Word and start doing what He says. It is a home run gift for God this Christmas and every day following.

Love,

Jeff Schreve
Pastor

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Bigger Than a Stable - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 5

by Katherine Britton

"In that day you will say: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world.'" - Isaiah 12:4-5

My felt Advent tree gains one velcro ornament each day until Christmas. I love this calendar, because each unique ornament tells a little bit more about the story of redemption from Genesis onward. A grey felt heart stands for the Fall into sin. A beaded crown reminds of the Prince of Peace and Wonderful Counselor foretold in Isaiah. A fuzzy lamb represents John the Baptist's announcement of Christ's purpose.

The calendar is paired with devotional readings for children, which have surprised me in their simplicity and breadth. Like the ornaments, these readings tell a continuing story, in which Christ's life is not the beginning or the end, but the event that makes sense out of both. With this bigger context, an otherwise chaotic history becomes simple enough that a child can understand.

How often do we take time to contemplate the magnitude of this story, which began in the Garden of Eden and won't finish until Christ's second coming?

I think my Christmas cheer is too often confined to the stable. To use a loose analogy, I'm a bit like the dwarves in C. S. Lewis's "The Last Battle," who convince themselves that their dingy stable-prison could not possibly hold the miracle of a whole new Narnia. And so, the dwarves get left behind in their imaginary confinement with nothing to celebrate when everyone else begins to explore the beautiful new world. Like the dwarves, I can put my little Christmas story in a little room, and forget to see the whole miracle of redemption.

Sunday's sermon about Herod's massacre in Bethlehem reminded me why the grander picture is so vital. You'll remember the story - only a short while after the angels announced "peace on earth," Herod's blazing temper led to the mass murder of baby boys in Bethlehem. The arbitrary deaths of these little ones seems so disconnected from what we celebrate, so outside the realm of God's grace. That event - like so many other injustices - seems to overwhelm the baby sleeping peacefully.

We can compartmentalize Christmas so it remains untainted by such events, can't we? But that's just it - as the grey heart on my felt Advent tree me, Christmas has to begin with an understanding of sin. We have to see the world's desperate need for grace before we understand why a baby requires such a hullaballoo, and we have to look back at God's plan to see how a baby can redeem even those situations. Therein lies the astonishing glory of what happened at Christmas, and the beauty of what we proclaim to the world.

As the days go by and my calendar grows fuller with symbolic ornaments, I get more and more excited about Christmas Day. Into this world with so much baggage came a child who remained in it and not of it, who knew what we are and loved us anyway. By God's grace, my understanding of Christmas keeps getting bigger - and with it, my reasons to "let [it] be known to the all the world" what he has done, is doing, and will continue to do!

Intersection of Faith and Life: Christ's incarnate birth makes little sense if we forget why he had to come and what he came to do. As you focus on the manger scene with your family, encourage each other with the bigger story of Genesis to the end of time, knowing that this little baby redeemed every moment in time. May your Christmas be big as your consider the grandeur of redemptive history on both sides of the manger!

Further Reading:

The Forgotten Chapter of the Christmas Story & the Women in Jesus' Family Tree

White Christmas

John 1:1-18


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Today’s Scripture
“And He Who is seated on the throne said, See! I make all things new...”
(Revelation 21:5, AMP)

He Makes All Things New
When God places a dream in your heart, when He puts a promise on the inside, He deposits within you everything you need to accomplish that dream. He wouldn’t give you the desire to do something without giving you the ability to fulfill it. In fact, scripture tells us that God gives us the desires of our heart. In other words, He puts the desire inside of us and then He works with us to bring it to pass.

Oftentimes, people set out to accomplish their dreams, but they face a setback or disappointment, and then they feel like their time has passed. But let me tell you today, no matter where you’ve come from, no matter what’s happened, God wants to make you new. He wants to give you a “do over,” a fresh start. If you feel like you’ve missed opportunities in your life, if you feel like your time has passed, remember, today is a new day. If one dream has died, it’s time to dream a new dream.

A Prayer for Today
“Father, thank You for making all things new. I give You this day and invite You to have Your way in every area of my life. I choose to receive all of the promises You have in store for me 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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Celebration Time - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 4

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.’”

Luke 2:9-11 KJV

EXPLORATION

“Celebration Time -- Heaven’s Glory Comes to Earth”

“It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.”
Charles Dickens

What emotions fill my heart this Christmas season?

How and where will I look for God’s glory to fill the earth?

“O the strength of infant weakness, if eternal is so young.
God all-bounteous, all creative,
Whom no ills from good dissuade,
Is incarnate and a native:
Of the very world He made.”
Christopher Smart

INSPIRATION

“Glory” – “Great honor, praise and distinction, reflecting the splendor and perfect happiness of heaven.”

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.”
Isaiah 6: 3
K.J.V.

Here at Transformation Garden we are studying about the lives of all the women in the Bible from beginning to end – Genesis to Revelation. Every time we come to a story about a woman, named or unnamed, we stop and study and dig into the Biblical truth about her life.

However, for the next few weeks, I want to divert from our regular studies on the lives of women instead focus instead on devotional messages which tell of heaven’s gift of Jesus to this earth.

Every year, the world celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ on a holiday we call Christmas. Amid all the glitter and tinsel, it is easy for our vision to become distracted from the real meaning of this annual celebration.

And so I want to look at the gift of Jesus Christ which we have been given and the eternal blessings this gift has brought into your life and mine.

This has been a very tough year for all of us. The financial world has continued to implode in ways few of us could ever have imagined. For many of us, our health has continued to challenge us on a daily basis. Many individuals have suffered the loss of a job and this situation has left so many adrift. While for others, the loss of a loved one has blanketed you in inconsolable grief. Sadly, 2010 has been a harsh year, as you may well attest to.

This is why I feel so impressed to bring you some good news as the year draws to a close.

While shepherds were in the field watching their sheep, nearly 2000 years ago, the Bible says the angel of the Lord appeared. This was an unexpected event, and the response of the shepherds was absolutely normal. We are told they were, “afraid.” As I read this text, I thought about how normal it is to be afraid today. I find myself afraid at times and I’m certain you do, too!

But I have to tell you, my fear completely lifted as I read the words of the prophet Isaiah which encourages us with the reminder that, “The whole earth is full of the glory of the Lord” (Isaiah 6: 3).

So often, the reason I am afraid is that I forget to recognize that Christ my Lord is filling every corner of this earth with His glory – all I need to do is look for it. And it is my prayer, that amid the continual sounds of Christmas bells and sights of holly-filled windows and jolly Santas, your eyes and mine will see clearly the glory – the splendor of heaven’s unlimited and unending gift of love to this earth, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Our Affirmation today comes from the words of a very familiar Christmas carol, It Came Upon The Midnight Clear. But I hope as you sing or hum this tune, the words to this song will help you reflect on God’s gift of glory to each one of us.

AFFIRMATION

“It Came Upon The Midnight Clear”

“It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth
To touch their harps of gold;
“Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From heaven’s all gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hovering wing.
And ever o’er its Babel-sounds
The blessed angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the heavenly hymn have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And warring humankind hears not
The tidings which they bring
O hush the noise and cease your strife
And hear the angels sing.

For lo! The days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And all the world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.”

Your friend,

Dorothy Valcàrcel, Author
When A Woman Meets Jesus
Dorothy@Transformationgarden.com

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Today’s Scripture
“The path of the [uncompromisingly] just and righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines more and more (brighter and clearer) until [it reaches its full strength and glory in] the perfect day...”
(Proverbs 4:18, AMP)

An Exceptional Future
We all face challenges. We all have obstacles to overcome. But if we can keep the right perspective, it will help us stay in faith so that we can move forward into victory. You may feel, right now, like the challenges you face are too big or too overwhelming. One thing I’ve learned is that average people have average problems. Ordinary people have ordinary challenges. But remember, you’re not average. You’re not ordinary. You are extraordinary. God breathed His life into you. You are exceptional, and exceptional people face exceptional difficulties. But the good news is that we serve an exceptional God! When you have an incredible problem, instead of being discouraged, you should be encouraged knowing that you’re an incredible person, and you have an incredible future. Your path is shining brighter and brighter because of your incredible God!

Be encouraged today because your life is on an extraordinary path. Keep standing in faith, keep declaring victory, keep declaring the promises of God over your life because you have an exceptional future!

A Prayer for Today
“Father, today I lift my eyes to You. I know that You are the One who helps me and has given me an extraordinary future. I choose to stand in faith today knowing that You have a wonderful plan in store for me 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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The Christmas Plan - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 2

Christmas was required in God’s plan because the righteous life he requires was not attained by Adam or any of his fallen descendants. God, prompted by grace, chose to fulfill the holy human standard himself. The incarnate Deity chose to live the life we should have lived – the perfect childhood, the spotless teenage years and the righteous adult life.

Had we been able to present to the Father the righteous life he requires so that we could perfectly enjoy his presence and his presents, God would not have needed to become a man and live among us. But we couldn’t, so he did. Were it only our sins that needed a payment, Christ could have arrived on the day of his crucifixion. But our deficiencies were more than our acts of transgression (doing the things we shouldn’t do), our problems included the “Romans 3:23” (failing to do the things we should do).

It is with gratitude that we celebrate his advent as an infant, because we know that as our sins were atoned for on the cross, so it was that all our human deficits began to be rectified by one perfectly-lived life starting that very night in Bethlehem.

-- Pastor Mike

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The Grinch - Christmas Devotional - Dec. 1

The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel—which means, "God with us".
Matthew 1:23

Are you a Grinch around Christmastime or do you know a Grinch? Maybe these words of Dr. Seuss sound familiar:

"Every Who
Down in Who-ville
Liked Christmas a lot..."

"But the Grinch,
Who lived just north of Who-ville,
Did NOT!"

"For,
Tomorrow, he knew...
...All the Who girls and boys
Would wake bright and early. They'd rush for their toys!
And then! Oh, the noise! Oh, the Noise! Noise! Noise! Noise

That's one thing he hated! The NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!"

Now I'm a Who at heart—I love Christmas, but I can certainly relate to the Grinch. Sometimes there's so much noise around Christmas, you begin to think Christmas is about the noise…and friend, that will make you Grinchy every time! When that happens, remember the Grinch's wise discovery:

"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store."

"Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!"

What does Christmas mean to you? Can you get past all the noise and consider what it meant for Jesus to come to earth as a babe in a manger?

http://www.crosswalk.com/devotionals/chr
istmas-devotionals/


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Today’s Scripture
“Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—this is God, whose dwelling is holy.”
(Psalm 68:5, NLT)

Father to the Fatherless
Many people today carry hurt and insecurity because they didn’t have a relationship with their earthly father the way God intended. But no matter how you were raised or where you are in life today, you do have a wonderful Heavenly Father; and you were born with a purpose and a destiny. God promises to meet all of your needs because He is the Father to the fatherless and defender of widows!

Every morning when you get up, look up toward the heavens and just imagine that your Heavenly Father is smiling down on you. He loves you. He believes in you. He will guide and protect you. He will never leave you. You are His most prized possession. He has you in the palm of His hand. Open your heart and allow Him to heal you with His love. Choose forgiveness and let Him strengthen and empower you to fulfill the wonderful destiny He has in store for you!

A Prayer for Today
“Father, thank You for choosing me as Your own. I open my heart to You today and ask that You fill me with Your peace, love and forgiveness as I follow Your ways. Thank You for being my Heavenly Father 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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Under the Influence of Love - Christmas Devotional - Nov. 29

by Mary Southerland

Today's Truth

Matthew 5:43-44 NIV "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."

Friend To Friend

Dan and I once lived in a neighborhood of predominantly retired people who became surrogate grandparents, aunts and uncles for our two children since both of our families lived several states away. The one exception was the older couple that lived behind us. They complained about almost everything we did. Our kids were too loud. Our dog barked too much. Our garbage can was six inches over their property line. It was not unusual to find cryptic notes and warnings taped to our front door or wedged under the windshield wipers of our car. I not only considered them to be sandpaper people, I thought of them as a nuisance. In dealing with these neighbors, our children taught me an important lesson about the power of identifying and meeting a need in the life of a sandpaper person.

The Southerlands have many family Christmas traditions. When our two children, Jered and Danna, were young, we made Christmas cards for special friends and family members. Since we lived in South Florida, cold weather rarely ushered in the holiday season and I could not get past the idea that when Christmas rolled around, the grass was supposed to be brown - not bright green, and the climate was supposed to be cold - not hot and humid. Our solution was to turn the air conditioner on and lower the temperature until the house was cold enough to turn on the gas fireplace. We listened to Christmas music while baking sugar cookies and making our special Christmas cards. In the midst of one of those Hallmark moments, Jered, looked up at me and said, "Mom, are we going to make them a Christmas card?" I had an idea who them was but desperately hoped I was wrong. I wasn't. "You know, Mom, the Smiths," Jered explained.

Being the spiritual giant that I am, I responded, "Son, why would you want to make them a Christmas card? They are mean!" How is that for loving your neighbor? But the Smiths had complained about something we were doing wrong almost every day that week, and I had just about reached the end of any patience I had ever had with them. "But Mom, I never see any kids at their house. Nobody ever comes to visit them and they don't even have a dog," Jered insisted. We made Christmas cards for the Smiths.

When the kids wanted to deliver those cards, I suggested that they wait until their dad came home so he could get in on the fun. I know. I am evil. Nope! Those cards had to be delivered immediately. I was clearly outnumbered. As we headed out the door, Danna yelled, "Wait! I forgot the books!" Okay. I was clueless. Why in the world would we need books? With a sigh of exasperation, Danna said, "Because they might want to read to us, Mom!" She didn't say it, but I could hear the silent "duh."

Books and cards in hand, we once again headed out the door when Jered suggested, "Mom, we should take them some of the cookies we made." Now that was asking too much! My sugar cookies are a "must" for every special holiday and considered by many to be "scrumptious." And now my children wanted to waste some of those precious cookies on people who would probably toss them in the garbage.

However, the silent plea of our son's blue eyes persuaded me to add a Christmas tin of my delicious sugar cookies to our quickly growing stack of nice things to take to people who were definitely not nice. With every step, I prayed that the Smiths would not be home. I rang the doorbell and after a whole thirty seconds, turned to Jered and Danna and said, "Too bad! They are not home. We can come back later." At that precise moment, Mr. Smith opened the door and barked, "What do you people want?" I could see the headline, "Pastor's Wife Arrested in Neighborhood Disturbance." It was one thing to be mean to me, but when someone is mean to my kids - well, let's just say it isn't pretty.

As I counted to ten for the second time, Jered thrust the Christmas cards into the man's hands and said, "We made you something and it's free!" No way! It was not possible! I thought I saw the beginning of a smile on Mr. Smith's face. Danna chose that particular moment to hand Mr. Smith the cookies. "And these are for your mother," she said, her big, brown eyes sparkling with excitement. Great! With six words, my daughter had just aged Mrs. Smith by twenty years.

And then it happened. Mr. Smith smiled, stepped back into the house and called, "Mother, we have company." For two hours, the Smiths read books, ate sugar cookies and raved about the beautiful cards the kids had made. When we finally left, Mr. Smith said, "Such lovely children. You should have more!" Mrs. Smith hugged the kids and asked, "Why didn't you bring the dog?" I was speechless. And I was ashamed. My heart cried out to God, "Lord, I am so sorry for being so blind to the needs of these people. Please forgive me." But that is not the end of the story.

The Smiths became friends and great neighbors. Weeks later, Mr. Smith had a heart attack and was hospitalized for several days. Dan was able to visit him and share Christ with a man who simply needed someone to recognize the deepest need of his life - and do something about it. Our children led the way and taught me a powerful lesson about the depth and height of God's stubborn love and what can happen when we are under the influence of that love.

Let's Pray

Father, please forgive me for refusing to love the sandpaper people in my life. Right now, I choose to let Your love flow through me as I deal with difficult people. Let me see them through Your eyes. Show me how I can meet a need in their lives and then give me the wisdom and strength to meet that need.

In Jesus' name,

Amen.

Now It's Your Turn

Ask God to let you see one need in the life of your sandpaper person that you can meet.

Pray for that person and then make a specific plan for meeting that need.

Read and memorize Matthew 5:22-24.

How does this passage of Scripture apply to your difficult relationships?

http://www.crosswalk.com/devotionals/chr
istmas-devotionals/

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Daily Christmas Devotions 11/28/2015 to 12/31/2015

Star - Christmas Devotional - Nov. 28

STAR

When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
Matthew 2:10

FROM THE FATHER'S HEART
My child, search for Me daily with as much diligence as the wise men on the night of My birth. My "star" still shines. I still bring hope. I continue to light the way for anyone who seeks to worship Me. And as long as you keep Me on the throne of your life, you won't have to look far to find Me.

A GRATEFUL RESPONSE
In search of the star, I journey far to see my heart's delight. There, all along, in the day or the night, You wait to receive my gifts of praise and adoration. I have seen the light; I have found love wrapped in a manger. You, Lord, will always be the star of my life.

SIMPLE TRUTH

At the center of Christmas is the heart of God.

www.crosswalk.com/devotionals/christmas-
devotionals/

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Edited by: JUDITH316 at: 11/28/2015 (17:25)
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Today’s Scripture
“...honor God with your body.”
(1 Corinthians 6:20, NLT)

Honor the Lord with Your Body
Scripture says that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and we are to honor the Lord with our bodies. How do we do that? By taking care of it, respecting it, and treating it as valuable. That means you use your body to bring Him glory. It means standing against temptation. It means getting proper rest and nourishment. When you take care of your temple, you are saying, “Lord, thank You for this gift of life. I am choosing to take care of myself so that I can serve You with my whole heart, mind and strength.”

As we enter into this holiday season, remember to honor the Lord by taking care of your body. Enjoy the treasures of the season, but don’t allow the hustle and bustle of the season to rob you of simply enjoying the blessing of your friends, family and loved ones. Honor the Lord with your body and walk in His blessings.

A Prayer for Today
“Father, today I choose to honor You with my body. Thank You for the gift of life. Thank You for empowering me against temptation. Show me Your plan for me today so that I can glorify You in everything I do in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

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


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Standing Strong Through the Storm November 26

REFINER’S FIRE

“…I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’” Zechariah 13:9

In 2004, my colleague Jim Cunningham was in Ethiopia teaching Standing Strong Through The Storm (SSTS). His teaching assignments took him to the far western province of Gambella where many Christians of the Anuak tribe had been killed in recent fighting. The believers there told him about one of their pastors, Okok Ojula, who was in prison in the capital, Addis Ababa.

Okok had been head of the Bureau of Social Rehabilitation in Gambella. He was falsely accused of corruption and taking three million Ethiopian Birr. No evidence was presented so the trial was moved to Addis—three days away by bus—to a federal court. He had been sitting in jail for two years waiting for a trial date to be set! His wife Nuno and their six children were patiently waiting back in Gambella. They asked Jim to visit Pastor Okok in prison.

Jim went to the Administrator’s Office of the main federal prison back in Addis to try and see Pastor Okok. “Why do you want to see him?” the administrator asked. Jim responded, “Because I was in Gambella, met his wife Nuno and their six children and I told them I would come and give him greetings from them.”

He replied rather directly, “Why do YOU want to see him?” Jim looked him in the eye and said, “Okok is a Christian and a pastor in Gambella, I am a Christian and a pastor in Canada. I want to meet him and pray with him!” At that moment the administrator’s countenance changed. He turned to Jim and said, “You may meet him next door in the Deputy Administrator’s office.”

Okok was brought in for forty-five minutes—with coffee provided—and they shared and prayed together! It was a great time of blessing for both men.

After three and a half years, Okok was released from prison as a free man completely exonerated. He then shared with Jim by mail that he hadearlier conformed his life around serving the Lord, resuming his education at the highest level, doing research work, and other valuable good things to help people. But he had never thought of imprisonment at any time. Time was very precious to him and he never thought of wasting it in prison sitting under a hostile situation. But having been in prison he learned many lessons.

Commenting about Moses’ burning bush, he said, “Prison to me, is a place where the Lord can appear to us in flames of fire to refine us—but never ‘burn us up.’ I see that the Lord is more concerned with our perfection obtained through walks in all levels of patience, endurance, character, and hope in order to expel fear and self-centeredness in our lives—and prepare us to see and believe that He is God Almighty as He appeared to Moses. He intends for us not to put Him in our little box to use Him as an instrument to suit our release from the prison.[Rather] patience, endurance, character, and hope have to finish their work to perfection.”

RESPONSE: Today I will accept that God may have to put me through the refiner’s fire to perfect me.

PRAYER: Lord, build patience, endurance, character and hope into my life in Your way and purpose.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - November 25

LOVE MYSTERY

This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed.1 Corinthians 4:1

An Open Doors colleague, Ron Boyd-MacMillan, shares the following insight from his teaching, “Why I need to encounter the Persecuted Church.”

However we splice it, the Christian life involves living with mystery. Many times the will of God is utterly incomprehensible to us. This is as it should be, since God’s ways are so much higher than ours, but it doesn’t make it any easier to live with. Living with mystery is hard.

Mystery should make us silent, humble, careful. We should not rush to explain what cannot be explained. But I remember on a visit to China meeting a famous house church leader. We were talking about revival. Revival is a mystery. Why does God bring it to some countries and not to others? We don’t know. This leader said he knew: “Oh, there is no mystery to revival. Revival is brought about by persecution. You pray for persecution, and you will get revival later on.”

But this is quite untrue, and one has to make allowances for persecuted Christians, for though they may know the history of their own churches well, they are often unaware of the history of the church worldwide. It is obvious that God has brought many revivals about without persecution. The Great Awakenings of 18th century America and Britain for example were brought about largely as a result of the preaching of Whitefield and Wesley. It is also obvious that there are places where persecution has not brought revival. One thinks of the whole of North Africa and the Middle East, which provided so many of our early church leaders like Tertullian and Augustine. Now there are only the sandy ruins of churches, and Islam.

Mysteries also should make us honest. We have to admit “we don’t know” to God. But all too often we beg for answers we simply could not handle. But if I look at the experiences rather than the explanations of the persecuted, I see that at the heart of mystery is not frustration, but joy and grace.

The same Chinese leader—so confident he knew the formula to revival—also shared a prison experience; “I had lost my church, my freedom, and I was starting to lose my health, and I cried to God why are you letting me go through this?” He received no formal answer, but said, “I felt a light within me that chased away the darkness, and I received the companionship of Christ. I cannot explain it any more than that, though God knows I have tried. It never comes out right. But the mystery of God’s will was the means I rested on the bosom of Christ.”

Mysteries appear dark, like black holes on the outside, but as we enter them, we are in for a wonderful discovery. At their center is not darkness, but light. This light is the light of Christ. Don’t be afraid of a mystery. It is dark on the outside, but full of light on the inside.

RESPONSE: Today I will not fear mystery but love it by entering to find the light of Christ.

PRAYER: Lord, keep me silent, humble, careful and honest as I explore the mystery of Your grace.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Today’s Scripture
“I will give You thanks in the great congregation; I will praise You among a mighty throng.”
(Psalm 35:18, NASB)

Praise Him in the Sanctuary
There is tremendous power available when we worship the Lord! The Bible says that God inhabits the praises of His people, and when God’s presence manifests, the enemy must flee. When we worship together in a corporate setting at church, prayer meeting or Bible study, that power is multiplied. One can put a thousand to flight, but two can put ten thousand to flight. That’s why it’s so important that we give thanks and worship when we come together in our church services.

Worship begins with a choice. We have to choose to give God praise and thanks even if we don’t necessarily feel like it. Choose to worship Him today with your whole being—body, soul and spirit. Practice praising Him at home or wherever you are, and always be ready to praise Him in the sanctuary.

A Prayer for Today
“Father in heaven, today I choose to bless and magnify You. I will praise and honor You because You are worthy. Thank You for Your goodness and faithfulness to me 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 - November 24

NO TURNING BACK

Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62

One of the blessings of teaching Standing Strong Through The Storm (SSTS) is the opportunity to meet special people in ministry who, though unassuming at first glance, have experienced deep riches in relationship with Jesus. Such a person I met in a jungle camp seminar in central Sri Lanka.

His English name was Samuel and he was a seasoned church planter. From Samuel I learned that church planting in a Buddhist country is no easier than anywhere else religious intolerance raises its head. I always thought Buddhism was a pacifist religion and philosophically it is. But try and plant a church in a dominant Buddhist community and you will see something different.

One day Samuel began to share with me about his ministry. He had been dedicated to the Buddhist temple as a young child by his mother; just like his biblical namesake. As a young monk he was impressed by the witness of a Christian youth who led him to faith in Christ. He left temple life and felt called to be a Christian church planter. With his wife and two small children he moved to a new community and began to share Jesus. The villagers stoned his residence and when he would not desist, they burned it down.

He moved to another community and was attacked physically with severe wounds. In the next location the villagers schemed against him and his family. They cut the main posts of his home and worship center. At night they tied rope to the posts and pulled them out while the family was asleep. He knew God was with him. Two large structural beams fell down parallel to where the children were sleeping and neither of them was touched.

He continued on and I finally interrupted with the question, “How many times did this happen and you had to move on?”

Samuel smiled and answered, “Thirteen times!”

Of course, in my western way of thinking I asked, “How could you continue on and persevere through so many attacks?”

He replied, “It’s like the song we sang this morning at the SSTS seminar, I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back!” And he quickly went on to say with a bigger smile, “Last month twenty-five people in my new community were baptized and I currently have another twenty-five in a baptismal preparation class.”

Jesus gives strength to carry on and not turn back.

RESPONSE: Today I resolve to not allow petty challenges dampen my commitment to follow Jesus.

PRAYER: Thank You, Lord, for Samuel’s testimony of Your faithfulness. Help me never to turn back from following and serving You.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Today’s Scripture
“The way of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, which shines ever brighter until the full light of day.”
(Proverbs 4:18, NLT)

Brighter Days Ahead
Are you facing a situation that seems dim today? Maybe you can’t quite see what’s going to happen in the future. As a believer, God promises that your path will shine brighter and brighter as you seek Him. He promises that the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn shining brighter to the full day!

What does it mean to be righteous? Righteousness is simply being in “right standing” with God. Being in right standing with God is about surrendering your life to Him. It’s about obeying His commands and seeking His plan for your life on a daily basis.

No matter what you may be facing today, know that God has a bright future for you. He wants to show you His ways and lead you down a bright path! Seek Him in all things and trust that you have brighter days ahead!

A Prayer for Today
“Father, thank You for giving me a bright future. I know that You have a wonderful plan and purpose for me. Show me Your ways as I put You first in all things 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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Today’s Scripture
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”
(1 Corinthians 2:9, NIV)

Greater Than You Imagined
Because God loves you, He has supernatural blessings in store for you: increase, favor, good breaks, supernatural opportunities. His dream for your life is so much greater than you ever imagined. You haven’t seen anything yet!

You may have a dream to get well again or be able to walk without pain, but God’s dream for you is not only that you will walk, but that you will run and play like you did when you were a child. Your dream may be just to keep your marriage together, but God’s dream is that your marriage would be happier, healthier and more fulfilling than you ever thought possible! Your dream may be to just pay your bills and make it through each month, but God’s dream is that you have an abundance, that you be totally out of debt, pay your house off, pay your credit cards off, and have so much overflow that you can be a blessing to everyone around you! Get ready because God has greater blessings in store for you than you ever imagined!

A Prayer for Today
“Father, thank You for Your hand of blessing on my life. I open my heart and receive by faith all You have me. Fill me with Your peace and joy as I continue to trust in 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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Today’s Scripture
“It is an honour for a man to cease from strife...”
(Proverbs 20:3, KJV)

A Mark of Honor
Many challenges in life are merely distractions meant to keep us from pursuing our destiny. Maybe someone in the office isn’t as friendly to you as you’d like. Maybe you have a neighbor who always parks in front of your house and blocks your mailbox. Those things may be frustrating, but they have little significance when you look at the big picture. You can’t allow the little things to steal your joy and cause strife in your life.

Just before David fought the giant Goliath, his brother Iliab tried to confront him. But David knew that arguing with Iliab wasn’t even worth his time and strength. He knew his real battle was with Goliath, and he didn’t want to be distracted. He simply “turned away” from Iliab and kept his focus on what he was called to do.

Truth be told, most frustrations aren’t even worth fighting over. Let’s keep our focus and turn away from strife because it is a true mark of honor!

A Prayer for Today
“Father, thank You for Your hand of victory in my life. Give me the wisdom and courage I need to walk away from strife and honor You. I love You and bless You today and always 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 - November 16

Remember Those In Prison

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison… Hebrews 13:3a

As we see in Hebrews chapter 12, once we “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus,” we will be aware of how we should then live. The writer now turns to the issue of remembering those in prison.

Matta Boush, an outspoken evangelist in South Sudan was arrested on political charges under questionable circumstances. He was given a sentence of thirty years at a local military prison. Many people around the world prayed for him… and his family at home.

He asked prison authorities for permission to hold prayer meetings. At first they declined, saying, “We already have a mosque; you should go there.” But Boush persisted and eventually the authorities relented. For the first prayer meeting, only six people showed up. In a few weeks, more people were going to the prayer meeting than the mosque.

A few years later, he was transferred to another city prison. As he had in the first prison, he asked for, and received permission to conduct prayer meetings. Again he was told to limit his work to non-Muslims, yet as he continued to minister to non-Muslims, they, in turn would talk to Muslims. The result was that during his five years of ministry in that prison, he helped lead between 150 and 200 people to Christ.

Transferred again to another prison, he was able to help build a prison chapel there. After several months, prison officials told him that he did not really belong in prison, so he was given the freedom to leave the prison by day and return by night. Boush was glad to get out and meet with friends he had in Khartoum, but soon he realized that he could not effectively witness to his fellow prisoners if he had freedoms they were denied. He told the prison officials he would no longer go out. He knew it was not God’s time.

Later, he was offered private air-cooled sleeping quarters (summer temperatures exceed 100º F). But Bousch’s most productive time for witnessing was at night, so he declined the offer. He saw fruit for denying his own comfort to do what he felt God was calling him to do. In ten months, 200 more people came to the Lord in the prison.

Without warning, he was one day released early and returned to his family. Matta Boush’s enemies had hoped to steal his life from him by throwing him into prison, but God had given him a true “life” sentence; to share the hope of eternal life that comes through Jesus Christ.

RESPONSE: Today I will keep my eyes fixed on Jesus remembering to identify with my brothers and sisters in prison for their faith.

PRAYER: Lord, meet the needs of Christians in prison for You today around the world. Help them to glorify You in their situation. Bless their family members waiting patiently at home.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - November 15

HOSPITALITY TO ANGELS

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2

As we see in Hebrews chapter 12, once we “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus,” we will be aware of how we should then live. The writer now turns to the issue of entertaining strangers. After reminding us to keep on loving each other, he now shares that love should also be extended to the strangers in our midst. They could possibly be even angels. I’m sure the Jewish background believers hearing or reading this letter would immediately hearken back to Father Abraham when three strangers passed by one day. He extended full hospitality to them only to discover they were heavenly beings on a special mission.

Aunty Alice was the wife of Pastor Allen Yuan in China, known for her gracious hospitality to everyone who entered her door right until her death in the summer of 2010. Pastor Allen was imprisoned for twenty-one years and eight months for refusing to join the government controlled Three Self Patriotic Movement – the official Protestant church under the Communist regime.

Alice had five children and her mother-in-law to care for during those many years of her husband’s absence. She was also branded a “counter-revolutionary” and thus could only secure a hard-labor job moving construction rubble from one site to another by heavy push wagons. This still did not generate enough resources to provide for the all the family’s needs.

One night her mother-in-law informed her, “Alice, there is no rice left to feed the children tomorrow morning!” Alice was angry and complained to the Lord that He had promised to care for her. She opened her Bible and her eyes fell on the Matthew scripture when Jesus says that if God cares for the birds, will He not also care for you? Her heart was rebuked. She asked forgiveness from the Lord and went to sleep peacefully.

The next morning before six o’clock there was a knock on the door. Alice slipped on her house coat and shuffled to the door. There stood a stranger with a big box in her hands. As was her custom, Alice invited her in. She stoked up the fire in the central heating oven and put the kettle on for tea. But the stranger just walked to the table, set down the box and began to leave.

Alice said, “Wait a minute. What’s your name?” The lady replied, “I have no name. Just thank God for that box!” And the stranger disappeared.

With trembling hands Alice opened the box to find rice, meat and vegetables. Also in it was an envelope with more money than two month’s salary. She knew it was truly an angelic visit.

RESPONSE: Today I will be open to entertaining strangers realizing that God may be in the relationship.

PRAYER: Thank You Lord for the way You work. Help me be an active participant in Your plans.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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11/14/15 6:48 A

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - November 14

BROTHERLY LOVE

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.Hebrews 13:1

As we see in Hebrews chapter 12, once we “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus,” we will be aware of how we should then live. The writer now turns to the issue of brotherly love and he uses the verb form of repeated action. Keep on loving…over and over. Jesus Himself said that this would be the sign to the world of true discipleship – love for one another.

In China a house church network leader was being pursued by the Public Security Bureau (PSB) due to his active ministry. He had to be on the run and couldn’t go home because the PSB were waiting for him at his house.

His wife went through much emotional suffering since she didn’t know where her husband was. Other believers were afraid to come to the meeting held at the house and even other co-workers didn’t come near due to fear. The wife had no money and eventually ran out of food. That was the hardest time in her life.

In spite of the PSB officers standing outside, an elderly Christian lady approached the house and boldly entered. The wife was surprised and asked the elderly woman why she was willing to take the risk. The lady said she wasn’t afraid because she knew the woman’s husband was serving the Lord and she was also serving the same Lord. The old lady prepared some noodles for young wife and her child. The young wife was really impressed with this love. Also the old lady told her that many outside were praying for them so this also brought tremendous strength and encouragement as they continued to suffer isolation.

Another house church leader in China spent time in prison. He wrote to his fellowship, “It is because of your prayers that I could go through the most difficult times while in prison. My mother, who also prayed for me every day, knew that there were many brothers and sisters who did the same for her son and that she was not alone. She too, would like to express her thanks to those who prayed for me.

“Following my release, I spent two weeks with my whole family. My daughter shared that she thought I was a bad person because she had seen the policeman arrest me right before her eyes. She was very angry with me until the day she received a card from a fellow Christian. In the card were the words, ‘Your father is a hero for he has suffered for Christ.’ Immediately all her anger dissipated and she became very proud of having a father who is a hero and willing to suffer for Christ.”

RESPONSE: Today I will make an extra effort to show love to any needy Christian brothers and sisters.

PRAYER: Help me, Lord, to make love for the brethren a daily repeated action…for Your glory!

-A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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11/14/15 6:08 A

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Today’s Scripture
“Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing shall make them stumble.”
(Psalm 119:165, NIV)

Love the Word
Everything you need in this life is found in the Word of God—direction, healing, peace, joy and provision. No matter what situation you may be facing today, you can live in peace and victory by knowing God’s Word and applying it your life. Notice this verse says that the people who love God’s Word have great peace. How do you show your love for God and His Word? By studying it, meditating on it, and obeying His commands. When you choose to obey God’s Word, it activates His promises in your life. It activates His great peace in your heart. It activates His blessing, power and provision. When you hold God’s Word in your heart, nothing that can take it from you! When you love the Word of God and apply it to your life, you will have great peace and nothing can make you stumble!

A Prayer for Today
“Father, I humbly come before You, giving You all that I am. I choose to follow Your Word because I love and honor You. Give me Your strength and great peace for today in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

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


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