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Standing Strong Through the Storm- December 10

PEACE IN THE FACE OF FEAR

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Isaiah 26:3

Twenty-nine-year-old Maryam Rostampour and thirty-two-year old Marzieh Amirizadeh spent 259 days in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison in 2009 in Iran. They had to overcome the fear of life imprisonment and the possibility of execution because they loved and followed Jesus Christ. They had to remain strong through weeks in solitary confinement, and endless hours of interrogation by Iranian officials and religious leaders. They had to endure months of harsh living conditions and debilitating sickness. In their first interview (with Sam Yeghnazar of Elam Ministries), they shared what life was like in prison and how they survived.

When asked about the worst part of the prison experience, Marzieh wept as she explained,

“One of the worst was the execution of two of my fellow prisoners. I had never experienced such a thing. One of those killed was my roommate. We had spent a lot of time together. And one day they took her to be executed. For a week I was in shock that killing a human being was so easy… After these executions the spirit of sorrow and death hung over the prison.

There was deadly silence everywhere. We all felt this. There was nothing we could do.

Everyone was under pressure. The sadness was overwhelming. We stared at each other but had no power to speak. This was the worst experience. It was horrifying and tangible.

When asked if she feared execution, Marzieh responded, “I never thought about execution, I thought we might be sentenced to life imprisonment because that is the punishment for women convicted of apostasy. I just thought this was something we would have to bear.

“Before prison we talked about execution, but when we got to prison and experienced the fear of it—our way of talking changed. The very first night that we were arrested, when they threatened us, we were really frightened. We never imagined we would be so frightened; we had talked about these things before. But the atmosphere there and what happened to us frightened us beyond our expectations. We were confined to a dark and dirty room and paralyzed with fear. We could see the fear in each other’s faces. We prayed and what calmed us was the presence of God and the peace that He gave us.

“It is easy to say that I give my life for the Lord and I will do anything for Him, even die. I always thought it would be a privilege to give my life for the Lord. You say these things. I know for sure that if this would happen to us we would rejoice ultimately. But human fears gripped us. The power the Lord gave us helped us to overcome these fears, just as when we prayed in the police station, God banished our fear and renewed our strength.”

RESPONSE: Today I acknowledge that God can grant His peace in every trying situation I face.

PRAYER: Thank You Lord for the promise of Your presence, Your peace and renewing strength.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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12/9/16 7:16 A

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - December 9

FAITH IS NOT A SECRET

And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ… Colossians 4:3

Some twenty-five years ago Boutros from a Middle East country became a Christian. Since then he has revealed a big heart for evangelism. Wherever he goes, he is always very open about his Christian faith.

A couple of years ago he was arrested and questioned by the police. They asked him if he had baptized people and he replied, “I told them that I had baptized 1,000 people—the real figure at that time was only 700 but I increased the numbers because I knew I would probably soon reach that number.” Boutros is a secret believer that when guided by God doesn’t make a secret of his faith.

An Open Doors co-worker reported it was a great joy to meet him. After a visit with Boutros he commented, “At his work place he has a cross hanging. Everyone who comes to his place sees the cross. Recently his chief started asking Boutros if he could go and work for another company. Family members who work for the government told Boutros’ brother that certain people wanted Boutros killed. Our co-worker asked him if he was afraid at all. He paused for a second and then nodded and said, ‘A little bit, now.’”

Boutros meets many people who want to know more about his Christian faith. They ask him, because he openly and clearly is a Christian. “I don’t have enough time in the day to talk with them. I have to work hard to make enough money for my living”, he apologizes. “I earn just enough to buy my daily food.” But even though he has to work hard, sometimes he can work and speak at the same time. “Then I have long conversations about the Christian faith.”

Boutros shared a vision he had recently. “I was lying in a pool of water in a beautiful garden and all around me were many people that I’ve known previously who had since left my country and were living in other countries. All of them were praying for me. Through this I felt that God was assuring me that many people around the world were praying for me.”

Our co-worker was impressed and encouraged meeting Boutros. “What a great testimony of how God uses our prayers for the persecuted Christians. The prayers really are a comfort and support to the secret believers,” he concludes.

After some prayer time together, Boutros and the co-worker moved to a safer place where no one would overhear what they were praying about. “It seemed important for him to have some form of physical contact, so we held hands and prayed for just a few moments before he indicated that we should get back. Although admitting that he was a little afraid at that moment, he seemed in a good mood, and very much encouraged by the vision he had of people praying for him. He did add though that he really needed prayer.”

RESPONSE: Today I will not keep my faith a secret but share openly with everyone I contact.

PRAYER: Pray for Boutros and other secret believers who are so bold in sharing their faith and winning many to Jesus.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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12/9/16 7:15 A

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I Love Christmas - UpWords - Week of December 9-15

by Max Lucado

Let the sleigh bells ring! I love Christmas. Let the carolers sing. The more Santas the merrier. I don’t complain about the crowded shops. I don’t grumble at the jam-packed grocery store. Well--it’s Christmas.

I love it because someone will ask the Christmas questions. What’s the big deal about the baby in the manger? Who was he? What does his birth have to do with me? The questioner may be a soldier stationed far from home. She may be a young mom who, for the first time, holds a child on Christmas Eve. The Christmas season prompts Christmas questions...and answers.

Because of Bethlehem, God is always near us. Always for us. Always in us. We may forget Him, but God will never forget us. He called Himself “Immanuel”--God with us!

From Because of Bethlehem


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12/3/16 2:22 A

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Everybody Gets a Gift - UpWords - Week of December 2-8

by Max Lucado

Joshua said: “Tribe of Judah, take the high country. Manasseh, occupy the valleys. People of God, inhabit the land east of the Jordan.”

Jesus says: Joe, take your place in the domain of medicine. Mary, your territory is accounting. Susan, I give you the gift of compassion. Now occupy your territory.

Everybody gets a gift and these gifts come in different doses and combinations. 1 Corinthians 12:7 says, “Each person is given something to do that shows who God is.” Our inheritance is grace-based and equal. But our assignments are tailor made. No two snowflakes the same and no two fingerprints the same. Why would two skill sets be the same? No wonder Paul said in Ephesians 5:17 to make sure you understand what the Master wants! Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that.

From Glory Days


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12/3/16 1:34 A

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Standing Strong Through the Storm-December 2

THE MYSTERY OF REDEMPTION AND RESCUE

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves… Colossians 1:13

The imagery of God’s intervention in the suffering of the Israeli’s in Egypt recorded in Exodus 3:7-8 has captured the imaginations of many oppressed people. For example, African-American believers see a strong parallel between American slavery and the bondage of the Jews in Egypt and God’s personal and powerful exodus rescue of His people.

New Testament writers saw a powerful parallel with our sinful, lost, human condition and God’s redemption through the sending of His only Son who “pitched his tent” among us and purchased our salvation with His shed blood. For example, in Colossians 1:13, the Apostle Paul states it clearly. We have been “rescued from” Satan’s dark domain and “brought into” the kingdom of God’s Son.

The Exodus passage also brings great hope to persecuted Christians today. God has feelings. He cares. He sees. He hears. He knows. He’s concerned. And in His time, He rescues! The mystery of this rescuing action is God’s timing. Galatians 4:4 tells us it was when “the time had fully come” that God sent His Son to redeem us. We saw two days ago that the Israelis waited hundreds of years for deliverance from oppression in Egypt and entrance to the promised land while “the sins of the Amorites reached full measure” (Genesis 15:16). God alone sees the end from the beginning. We wait for His timing in His promise of coming down to rescue us.

Iranian Christian leader, Mehdi Dibaj, spent over nine years in prison for his faith as a believer from Muslim background. He was emotionally prepared to die a martyr’s death. His day was indeed to come. In late 1993, he was tried on charges of apostasy (from Islam) after being a Christian for over forty years. He made his own defence and used his written statement to share his commitment to Jesus Christ. In early 1994, he was sentenced to execution. There was a great international outcry when the news of Mehdi Dibaj's scheduled execution was publicized. Suddenly on January 16, 1994, the Teheran government released Mehdi Dibaj from prison and denied it had sentenced him to death for converting from Islam to Christianity over forty years earlier.

It was a great day of rejoicing for the believers in Iran. When Mehdi Dibaj first met with them, their immediate response was to burst into song, “In the name of Jesus, we have the victory!” Even TIME magazine reported the release under the title “Answered Prayers.” Yet in God’s perfect timing this man who had experienced God’s rescue multiple times was martyred after six months of freedom from prison.

RESPONSE: Today I will acknowledge God’s timing is best for me as I await His rescue.

PRAYER: Thank You Lord for my deliverance from the kingdom of darkness to Your kingdom of light through Your Son, Jesus.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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12/1/16 1:48 P

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Standing Strong Through the Storm-December 1

WHEN LIFE STINKS, OUR PERSPECTIVE SHRINKS

The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land…” Exodus 3:7-8

God’s chosen people were enslaved in miserable bondage and were crying out to Him in their suffering. God speaks to Moses about it at the burning bush and reveals His sustaining care for His people.

First of all, they were in Egypt because God cared for them. He rescued the Israeli nation from death by famine during the time of Joseph who himself was rescued from injustice and suffering to bring a solution to the coming famine crisis. This saved both the Israeli and the Egyptian nations. But a Pharaoh came in time when many did not know about Joseph and chose to persecute the growing Israeli population.

In this situation they were not forgotten by the God of their fathers. Though, for wise reason, He delayed to appear in their behalf for several hundred years, yet He was not indifferent to their sufferings. Every tear they shed was preserved and every groan they uttered was recorded as testimony against their oppressors. Only God sees the beginning from the end. We are time-bound creatures and as problems arise, our perspective becomes diminished. African-American preachers articulate it this way; “When life stinks, our perspective shrinks!”

Years earlier God spoke to Father Abram in his sleep; “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there…In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure” (Genesis 15:13, 16). In this situation God reveals His plan to Abram ahead of time and explains the “why.” He does not always do this, but from this example we learn we can trust His Father-heart.

So today we pray for the persecuted church members who are suffering severely from Satan’s tactics of deceit and intimidation; loss of family members (Nigeria), economic deprivation (India), incarceration in metal shipping containers (Eritrea), lack of personal peace (Pakistan), fear of discovery (Middle East). As we pray, we can rest in the fact that they (and we) are part of God’s wise and caring plan, no matter how inscrutable that plan may appear to human eyes. There is hope because He hears the cry; He sees the misery; He is concerned about the suffering. When it seems dark and hopeless, the persecuted testify “God is good—all the time!”

RESPONSE: I will live in the light of God’s loving care and view my problems from His perspective.

PRAYER: Pray that persecuted believers will trust God and not suffer from shrunken perspectives.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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12/1/16 2:36 A

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Just Started a brand new Devotional entitled Daily Christmas Devotions for December 2016 hope you enjoy...



Edited by: JUDITH316 at: 12/1/2016 (02:37)
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11/28/16 5:59 P

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Standing Strong Through the Storm-November 28

THE WORK OF MINISTRY TO OTHERS

Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ Acts 27:23-24

We’ve been learning personal lessons from prison from Pastor Okok Ojula in Ethiopia as he shared them with Jim Cunningham.

He says, “The third lesson I learned is that imprisonment is for ministry to people in need. The thirty-six people who were imprisoned with me from Gambella in the Addis Ababa prison–777 kilometres (483 miles) away from our families–had no strong faith in the Lord.

“I began to realize that the Lord put me there to minister to these people, to feed them with the Word of God in the prison. I ended up baptizing some of them in the prison although I was not an officially recognized pastor, for no pastor was allowed to come in to do this work in the prison.”

I am always amazed at the positive lessons from reading prison memoirs of followers of Jesus. And so many times they come to this similar conclusion. They were there to serve others.

Mama Kwang of Project Pearl in China is a wonderful example. Carl Lawrence tells her story in his award-winning book, The Church in China:

As she sat quietly in prison singing a hymn, the Lord gave her a message: “This is to be your ministry.”

“But,” she objected, “I am all alone. Whom can I minister to?” She continued to pray that her ministry would be fulfilled. Suddenly an idea came to her. She stood up and called for the guard.

“Sir, can I do some hard labor for you?”

The guard looked at her with contempt, mingled with surprise. No one had ever made that kind of request before.

“Look!” she exclaimed, “this prison is so dirty, there is human waste everywhere. Let me go into the cells and clean up this filthy place. All you have to do is give me some water and a brush.”

Not to her surprise, she soon found herself on her hands and knees cleaning and preaching. She was looking into the faces of people no longer recognizable as human beings. Through continuous torture, they had lost all hope of ever seeing another human being who did not come to beat them.

“Oh, when they realized that they could have eternal life, they would get so excited. They would fall down on the dirty floor and repent of their sins, and do you know that very soon all the prisoners believed in Jesus Christ.”

RESPONSE: Today I acknowledge that God can enable me to minister anywhere for Him—even prison.

PRAYER: Thank You Lord that even in a filthy prison dungeon you give ministry opportunities.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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11/25/16 5:09 A

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- November 25

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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11/23/16 1:45 A

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- November 22

HATE

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:5

Rami Ayyad was assassinated a few years ago for his work as the head of the Bible Society in the Gaza Strip. His murder left his wife, Pauline, burdened with three young children and a heart full of hatred for his killers.

While Rami was locking up the bookstore owned by the Palestinian Bible Society in Gaza, a vehicle pulled alongside him, and several men forced him in the back seat. Rami, remaining calm and trusting in the Lord, was allowed to call his wife. “I’m going with some young men somewhere, but I’ll be home soon,” he tried to reassure her. That was the last time Pauline would hear her husband’s voice.

Hours later, his body was found. He had been brutally tortured and shot twice, a bullet in the chest, and one in the head. A spokesman for the Palestinian Bible Society said, “He’s a martyr for Christ.”

Pauline recalls, “I was so broken after the death of my husband, and I hated the people who did it.”

There has been no progress in the hunt for Rami’s killers. A local Christian commented, “Many of the Muslims believe that Rami was evangelizing people so it was OK to kill him.”

In such an environment of hatred, Pauline’s resentment festered. However, the Holy Spirit in His gentle but insistent way kept whispering to her until she could carry the hatred no further. “It was then,” she recalls, “that the Lord poured over me forgiveness for those who killed Rami and those who I used to blame.” Her heart was set free and she heard the Lord say, “It’s not everybody who gets to be called a martyr’s wife.” Deep in thought, she reflected, “That’s a great honor.”

Brother King from International Christian Concern (ICC) writes, “Pauline’s experience reflects that of the persecuted church in general. Abused, spat upon, beaten, tortured, raped, and killed, these believers suffer as Jesus did. Sometimes they respond in very human ways, but when they listen to and follow the Holy Spirit, a great power comes into them and they possess what they could not have imagined previously – peace, love for their enemies, and forgiveness for those who delivered only pure evil to their lives…This is the gift of the persecuted Church. In the furnace of affliction, the Spirit of God is set ablaze in their hearts. In turn, their hearts become a beacon to all they come in contact with.”

RESPONSE: Today I will thank God for the gift of His Holy Spirit. I will listen to Him and follow Him.

PRAYER: Thank You, Lord, for the example of Pauline. Strengthen her as she raises her children.

-A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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11/20/16 3:59 P

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- November 20

GLAMORIZING PERSECUTION

For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:5

Reg Reimer, a veteran missionary in Vietnam and with the World Evangelical Alliance, counters the idea that some people glamorize persecution and conclude that it is therefore good. He says that deprivation, cruelty and dehumanization suffered by victims of persecution are NOT good but from the enemy! He writes in the book Suffering, Persecution and Martyrdom:Theological Reflections:

In Vietnam, for example, it is well documented that in the past 30 years Christians have been harassed, discriminated against, arrested without cause, starved, beaten, imprisoned, raped, dispossessed and chased from home and fields, and even killed for Christ’s sake. Only the Evil One takes pleasure in inflicting these injustices on those made in the image of God!

In September 2005, a Vietnamese pastor was released from a terrifying 15-month imprisonment. He had been rotated to five different prisons, was sometimes in rooms with 100 criminals and other times in a solitary cell. He had been attacked by prisoners with HIV/AIDS. He confessed to feeling alienated from his family and his church after his release. The feeling worsened. Six months after release he uttered the words, “I only discovered real loneliness when I got out of prison. My colleagues, my own brother and even my wife don’t understand and won’t believe what I tell them.” Persecution is not good!

People much prefer the more positive reports of those who seem to flourish in persecution. It is truly amazing that for many, the persecution they suffer becomes a means of receiving grace! They testify of God’s strengthening presence in the harshest conditions. They report on God’s miraculous provisions in times of extreme need. And so persecution and suffering become an occasion for God’s comfort, often through others.

RESPONSE: Today I will resist the temptation to glamorize persecution and the persecuted. Instead I will pray unceasingly for those being traumatized.

PRAYER: Lord, please bring Your comfort to our brothers and sisters who are hurting from persecution today. And bless those who provide much needed trauma counseling for the persecuted church.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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11/20/16 1:43 P

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You at Your Best - UpWords - Week of November 18-24

by Max Lucado

Call it what you wish. A talent...a skill set...a gift. The terms are different, but the truth is the same. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:7, “The Spirit has given each of us a special way of serving others.”

You aren’t the only person with your skill. But you are the only person with your version of your skill. You entered the world uniquely equipped. Psalm 139:13-15 describes it as “knit together, woven together in the dark of the womb, intricately and curiously wrought.”

Each of us! Not some of us, a few of us, or the elite among us. Each of us has a beauty that longs to be revealed and released. It is you at your best! When you stand at the intersection of your skill and God’s call, you are standing at the corner of Promised Land Avenue and Glory Days Boulevard.

From Glory Days


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11/17/16 5:57 A

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - November 17

THOSE WHO ARE MISTREATED

Continue to remember those…who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. Hebrew 13:3b

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 who are mistreated. And again he adds an empathy and personalized application. Remember them as if you yourself were the one suffering!

Dr. Jan Pit often shared the poignant story of a young Christian in Egypt he met named Timothy. Through the Christian radio broadcasts of TWR Timothy was introduced to Jesus whom he received into his heart and began to follow.

But when he shared his new faith with his Muslim family, they reacted so strongly that he was told to leave home and never come back. After several years of living with other Christians, he decided to try and make contact with his family again. On his mother’s birthday, he bought some flowers and walked to his family’s home. When he knocked on the door, his mother opened it.

“Happy birthday, Mother!” Timothy said. “I brought you these flowers because I love you!”

Timothy’s mother turned to him with a stern look and said, “I don't know who you are!” And she slammed the door.

Timothy said to Jan with tears streaming down his face, “I don’t have a family any more. Will you be my family?”

Today you can be a surrogate family for Christians treated this way. You can also remember to pray for Christians like fifteen-year-old Shirin who has gone through a difficult time of persecution.

When Shirin became a believer he also met with much opposition from his relatives. They shouted at him, threatened him and finally gave him a choice; Jesus or the family.

He chose Jesus and then left his home. He was living on the streets. Alone, hungry and very poor. A local Christian saw him, had pity on him and took him into his house.

Shirin loves God with all his heart! His mother and father are in prison now for being drug addicts, but he is witnessing to many about God’s great love which has been revealed to him.

RESPONSE: Today I will remember those believers who are mistreated and do everything possible to assist them in the way I would want assistance if I was in their shoes.

PRAYER: Lord, grant me empathy and a giving heart for those being severely persecuted today.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- November 16

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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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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Standing Strong Through the Storm- November 13

THE ROOT OF BITTERNESS

See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. Hebrews 12:15

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 a growing root of bitterness which defiles and causes trouble and disunity.

A group of believers in rural Hubei Province in China came to Christ as a result of listening to Christian radio programs. When a local woman was healed of appendicitis after prayer, two whole families converted to the way of Jesus enlarging their group to twenty. Five years later a “Brother Chen” arrived in the village on a sunny spring day. One believer shares this report:

Some said Brother Chen was “sent straight from God to our company.” He said so too. Looking back over a year later, I think he was Satan’s man. But who knows, I may be harsh in my judgment.

I remember that night so clearly. We were all gathered in my father’s house. The gas lamp flickered strange shapes against the whitewashed walls, on which we had stenciled “JESUS IS THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE.”

I remember Brother Chen saying, “Jesus needs our gold to build our mansion in heaven…the more gold we give him now, the bigger your mansion will be.”

Well, we were poor. And because we were poor, the idea of having a golden mansion in the afterlife was very tempting to us. We handed over all we owned; family heirlooms, money, some expensive textiles from a distant ancestor. One member of our group even gave his motorcycle, which he had saved for years to buy. Anyway, after all the “gold” had been collected, Brother Chen said he had to go and “open the gate for us.” He left, on the donated motorcycle. He took most of our savings. He hasn’t been back.

Now the fellowship is ruined. Some of our group believes he is coming back, and was indeed sent by God to help us know Jesus better. Others of us believe he was a deceiver. It has split my family. My father thinks Chen was a good man. The rest of the family thinks differently, but we dare not disagree with my father openly.

We still can’t read the Bible very well. We really don’t know that much about Jesus, to be honest. We know he has saved us, and healed a family member. But we know little else. Brother Chen’s deceit has made me bitter.

RESPONSE: Today I will not allow Satan to grow a root of bitterness in my life or in my fellowship.

PRAYER: Lord, help new believers around the world to recognize Satan’s tactics and the bitter root.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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November 13

Psalms 137:4

How shall we sign the Lord's song in a strange land?

College was a foreign land for Diane. Even after three years, she felt alienated and alone. Her values just didn't mesh with the values of the people she went to class with. Sometimes she wondered why she even bothered having morals, with all the immorality rampant on campus. She was thankful that she was a Christian, but there were times when even that was small consolation. God was hard to find in a strange place that obviously didn't know Him very well. Face it, Jesus Christ was not big man on campus. It was hard, but down deep inside Diane knew things would get better. She just hoped it would be soon.

It is hard to be in a strange land. That is what we become when we ask Christ into our lives. He transforms us into Kingdom people while we are yet in our earthly existence. What that does is make us homesick for the one true home above. Thankfully, God is ever with His children, and He will hear our cries. In our times of silence we will hear His song, and we will be able t o sing forth ourselves, no matter how strange the land.

Prayer: Lord, hear my prayers. Let me know that I am not alone; that You are truly close to me. When I feel most lonesome, fill me with Your presence. Amen.

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11/11/16 10:32 A

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Spill Your Heart Before God - UpWords - Week of November 11-17

by Max Lucado

As a member of God’s family, come to Him-- not as a stranger, but as an heir. Earnestly make your requests known to him; not because of what you have achieved, but because of what Christ has done! Jesus spilled his blood for you. You can spill your heart before God.

Jesus said if you have faith, you can tell a mountain to go and jump into the sea (Mark 11:23). What is your mountain? What is the challenge of your life? Call out to God for help! Will he do what you want? I cannot say, but this I can say, “He will do what is best.” That includes any force that is seeking to drive you out of the Promised Land. “Ask and it will be given to you,” Jesus said in Matthew 7:7. It is a battle, but you do not fight in vain. Call on God for great things!

From Glory Days

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11/10/16 2:09 A

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- November 9

REJOICING IN PERSECUTION

Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets. Luke 6:23

This scripture verse follows Jesus’ statement about the blessings of persecution: hatred, exclusion, insult and rejection in Luke 6:22. This description is of persecution that is like Indian curry. It can be mild, medium or hot! And this verse parallels Jesus teaching in Matthew (5:12) about how we should respond when persecution comes our way.

Jesus does not just say accept it or receive it gracefully. He seems to almost go overboard in indicating that we should be glad and rejoice by leaping for joy when we receive this kind of treatment. Some would say Jesus goes over the top here.

The reason for rejoicing is because the persecuted disciple of Jesus is going to receive a great reward in heaven and is in the company of the prophets of old who also received this kind of treatment.

Can we realistically “jump for joy” in the face of persecution?

Pastor Richard Wurmbrandt was languishing in a Romanian prison cell after months of torture and isolation. He was meditating on this scripture and decided to make a literal application. So Richard danced —as much as anyone could dance in a cell three paces square— leaping about the room like a madman. The first time he did it, the guard really did think he had gone mad. It was one of the guard’s duties to watch for signs that a prisoner’s mind was beginning to crack under the strain of imprisonment, for if he went to pieces a prisoner would be of no more use for questioning. So the guard rushed off to his canteen and came back with a hunk of bread and some cheese and sugar, and broke the rule of silence as he tried to soothe this strange, laughing, capering figure. Richard ate the food gratefully. It was a very large hunk of bread, far more than he usually had in a whole week!

In his book, In God’s Underground, Richard Wurmbrandt shares how encouraged he was at responding literally to Jesus’ direction to react to persecution with great joy and rejoicing! He had received a reward on earth as well as in heaven.

RESPONSE: Today I will respond to even mild persecution because of Jesus with great rejoicing realizing I will receive a wonderful reward in heaven.

PRAYER: Thank you Lord that You expect me to take Your word literally. Help me to be joyful in the face of any persecution for You.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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November 7

Psalm 134:2

Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the Lord.

It was weird. Jane had never been to a service like it before. All the people murmured the Lord's name during the prayers, raised their hands, and rocked back and forth in the pews. At first, she had been very uncomfortable, but as she got accustomed to the goings-on around her, she began to relax. Suddenly, she realized that everyone didn't have to express their faith the same way. Though she didn't feel comfortable displaying her faith with physical expressions, she found that she readily accepted others who did. The sincerity of the worship and the energy of the congregation excited Jane. A whole new aspect of her faith was opening up to her.

Open-mindedness is the greatest need in our churches today. Somehow we must learn to affirm and respect the other members of the body of Christ who don't choose to function as we do. There is room for any and all honest expressions of love and devotion to our Lord. Whether we approach Him on bended knees deep in the silence of our o wn hearts, or with hearts, hands, and heads lifted in jubilant praise, we can know beyond doubt that God accepts us and is honored by our expressions of worship.

Prayer: Receive me as I am, Lord. I worship You in the best way I know how. Help me to be open to new and different expressions of faith, and teach me to grow. Amen.



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11/7/16 2:43 A

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Standing Strong Through the Storms- November 6

Be A Good Steward Of Your Trials

Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. 2 Thessalonians 1:4

The Apostle Paul praises the church in Thessalonica for their faith and love in the face of persecutions and trials. In essence he is telling them that they are good stewards of their trials, not letting them impact their faith negatively.

I recently heard Gospel singer Lynda Randall express this same thought of “being a good steward of the trials I face,” as she introduced her next solo “It is Well With My Soul.” The lyrics of this hymn were written by Horatio Spafford, a lawyer of some prominence in Chicago. He and his wife Anna had one son and four daughters, and were good friends of D.L. Moody and Ira Sankey for many years. Mr. Spafford’s children had come to Christ through the influence of Ira Sankey’s music. When the Spafford’s son died, the family went into deep mourning.

After two years of ministering to the homeless and needy people of Chicago, Mr. Spafford thought his family needed a vacation. D. L. Moody and Ira Sankey were in England holding evangelistic so Mr. Spafford decided to take his family to England, where they could vacation and also be a help to his friends Moody and Sankey.

He booked passage for his family on the ship SS Ville de Havre, but at the last minute was unable to go with his family due to business. He promised to follow them within a few weeks and they would all be reunited in England.

As the ship sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, it collided with the English ship Lochearn, and sank within 12 minutes. 226 lives were lost, including the four Spafford daughters. Mrs. Spafford was rescued from a floating piece of debris. When she arrived in Wales 10 days later she cabled a message to her husband, “Saved Alone...”

Mr. Spafford booked passage on the next ship heading to England. As the ship crossed the area where the SS Ville de Havre sank, taking his daughters to the ocean’s depths, Mr. Spafford felt the Holy Spirit fill him with a comforting peace. Leaving the ship’s railing he went into his cabin where he penned the hymn that has soothed so many souls who have been brokenhearted...and one which I often hear sung in the meetings of the Persecuted Church:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

RESPONSE: Today I will be a good steward of the trials I face…with faith, love and perseverance.

PRAYER: Thank you Lord for Your faithfulness in all the trials I face. Help me not waste them.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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November 6

Psalm 133:1

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!

Rob had been through the death of one congregation; he didn't want to see it happen again. There really weren't any problems that couldn't be worked out in Christian love. This church had been through a lot, and there was no reason to believe that it couldn't weather a lot more storms. If everyone would just remember that they were there to serve Christ, then everything would work out fine. If Christ could calm the Sea of Galilee, He should have no trouble with the First Church.

Christ built His church as a place for harmony and unity. It is a place for people to come together in celebration and love. Christ rejoices when His family lives together in peace. We, too, can rejoice, for there is nothing better than being able to dwell together in His love.

Prayer: The best friends in the world to have are those who are bonded together with me through my faith. Bring joy to my relationships, Lord, and bless me with harmony and unity. Amen.


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11/5/16 5:18 P

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- November 5

SINGING IN THE STORM

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me. Psalm 13:5-6

The Psalmist expresses his praise in the context of asking God for deliverance from his enemies. His trust results in rejoicing; which then results in singing God’s praises.

A simple peasant girl from the countryside in China has used her musical creativity to encourage the house church movement all across China and touch the lives of millions of believers. Xiao Min was born in a village in Henan Province in central China and has experienced much persecution. Though only receiving a junior high level education, she has been able to compose over 1,270 different hymns – both music and lyrics -- that are sung by the Chinese churches in China and now throughout the world. They are known as the Canaan Hymns. Amazing creativity for a young lady with no musical training!

Xiao Min shares that twenty years ago many believers were arrested by the Chinese government. At that time, she prayed to the Lord asking if she could also be arrested and suffer together with these fellow believers. Soon after, she was arrested and sent to prison. She says that she wasn’t scared at all.

One summer day in prison when it was extremely hot she requested the guard to let everyone wash their hair. But she received a rude response telling her to ask the Lord Jesus to wash their hair for them. She used this discouraging response as an inspiration to write hymn number 56, “Lord, We Know Deeply” in the Canaan Hymns series.

In this hymn, Xiao Min sings:

Lord we know deeply that in every moment Your love never, never diminishes.
Lord we know deeply that in every moment, our only friend is You.
Our hearts long for You, our hearts long for You,
Because You’re the first in millions, no one can be compared with You,
No one can be compared with you.”

Not only was Xiao Min arrested because of her faith, she was also persecuted by her family members. But she still testified to them that God healed her sinusitis and that He is her Savior. She concludes, “Even though we experience suffering, the Lord Jesus gives us strength.” Her strength enables her to sing to the Lord in the face of all difficulties.

RESPONSE: Today I will sing praises to the Lord no matter how difficult the journey.

PRAYER: I ask, Lord, for the grace to be able to vocalize my trust and joy and praise of You!

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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11/3/16 2:54 P

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- November 3

WHAT’S YOUR STRUGGLE?

They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.Psalm 73:4

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

I’m often questioned about the main difference between a persecuted Christian and a western Christian. My answer has not changed in twenty years. In the persecuted church, Christians realize they are in trouble, and go to God about it. In the western Church, Christians forget they are in a fight, and even if they do remember, never manage to find the time to go to God about it.

Persecuted Christians know they are in a fight. Every day they struggle. Not being conscious of a daily struggle may be sure sign that one is losing the battle of life. The ancient Psalmist looked at the rich elite of Israel and said, “they have no struggles.” They should have struggles if they wish to please God. But so many Christians in the world today seem surprised at the language of struggle today.

What struggles do the persecuted awaken us to? There is, first of all, the struggle we are always in. Everyone that visits persecuted communities comes away with a renewed appreciation of the spiritual battle we are always engaged in.

Secondly, there is, the struggle we must awaken to. A persecuted Christian in Palestine said, “When you become a real Christian, you get reawakened to the fact that ‘the whole world lies in the hands of the evil one,’ and this reflects in your own culture.” She added, “What your culture worships, you have to struggle against.” In her case, it was a worship of extremist terrorists, who risked everything to kill Israelis. In standing out against that, she struggled to communicate to her neighbors who thought she was being “unpatriotic.”

We have to face up the same question. What is our culture worshipping? Is it, as Francis Schaeffer once said, “the god of personal peace and affluence,” where we don’t mind what goes on in the world so long as our space and prosperity is not affected?

Finally, there is, the struggle we must create. Brother Andrew tells the story of meeting Pastor Haik of Iran, who said to him in 1993, “Andrew, when they kill me, it will be for speaking, not for being silent.” Haik was killed in 1994. If he had stayed silent about the treatment of his Christian friend, Mehdi Dibaj, Haik would be alive. But he chose to enter, even create, the conflict. The fact is we can avoid struggle if we want. Each of us has to make a choice to speak up, defy the powers-that-be, and bring a struggle into being. Otherwise Satan wins.

Persecuted Christians are always in a fight. They struggle all the time, against their own sins, against idolatries in their own societies, and against the orchestration of the evil one who is out to take our worship away from God. Yet these struggles should mark our own lives and churches as surely as the devil does not live exclusively in China or Columbia. This world is the place of struggle.

What’s your struggle? The persecuted force us to ask. Everyone ought to have one!

RESPONSE: Today I will affirm and engage in the struggles I face in standing strong againstthe enemy.

PRAYER: Thank You, Lord, for the struggles the persecuted awaken in me. Help me not avoid them.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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November 3

Psalm 132:4, 5

I will not give sleep to mine eyes, or slumber to mine eyelids, Until I find a place for the Lord, and habitation for the migh ty God of Jacob.

Rachel closed the door and hung her head. Three o'clock in the morning. She wondered whether the project was ever going to get done. All she wanted to do was collapse in bed, but first there was something she had to do. She dressed for bed, then took the Bible from her dresser and went to the kitchen table to read and to pray. In all of her adult life, she had never gone to sleep without first spending time with God. She was determined that nothing would ever come between her and this special time. It made no difference how tired she was, God came before sleep.

When days become hectic and full, it is easy to allow God to be pushed aside. We need to protect our time with the Lord and give it top priority. If we will keep the Lord close to us, he will sustain us and give us strength in tough times. Without Him, we can never hope to be our best.

Prayer: Convict my heart with the determination to spend time with You. Let nothing come between us, Lord. When other things demand my time, remind me that I gave myself to You first. Amen.

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- October 30

OUR SPIRITS BLOSSOM WHEN WE SING

God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land. Psalm 68:6

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

Chinese evangelist, Mrs. Yang, was visited by another full time preacher who was very downcast. The preacher wanted to buy a tape player, but had no money. Mrs Yang sat down and just began to sing to him. Her voice was deep and scratchy, the tune barely discernable, the words simple:

I am a wanderer, my home is in heaven/ Life is fleeting/ Our home is in heaven/ In this world we have many trials/ And sadness and sickness/ True happiness is not in this world/ But in heaven.

Mrs. Yang sang as if before the Lord himself. Every word poured out from her core with total conviction. Tears rolled down her cheeks, her hands clenched the air, and she beat time on her hip. Soon the visiting preacher had joined in, and I watched them, roaring out the hymn together, smiles over both their faces. The preacher left, still with no money for his longed for tape player, but refreshed and encouraged.

Then again, I watched one morning as Mrs. Yang went out into the hills to pray. I followed her at a discreet distance. First she prayed for twenty minutes, then she sang, walking around, for another twenty minutes. For the next hour she read her Bible, making notes, planning the day’s sermons. After that she sang again, for another half hour.

I confessed I had been spying on her, and asked “Why do you sing so much when there is no one to hear?” She said, “My father once told me, ‘One of the sweet things about the Christian life is that you will do things because they are commanded, and then you will spend the rest of your life gaining deeper insight into why God’s commands are so good.’ So singing is a command. In the Psalms we are constantly exhorted to sing praises to our God. But as for why, I confess it is one of those wonderful mysteries my father told me about. You see, while in prison, I could pray and read scripture, but nothing raised my spirits like singing. Maybe it’s because singing somehow concentrates all of the body on the praise of God, but I have found it essential to the maintenance of a positive spirit.”

Then she looked embarrassed. I said, “What is it? You were about to say something, but you have gone all reticent.” She replied, “Well, it’s just that an old lady told me something that really sums up the main reason I sing.

She said, ‘Our spirits are like flowers, and song is the sun. Just as flowers only truly open when the sun shines, so our spirits only blossom when we sing.’ I believe that. I don’t know how, but it’s true. Since my prison cell, I cannot do without song, and I am very frightened that as China gets more open, and the churches get more organized, we are going to leave the singing to the professionals. This would be terrible. The only way you can have a full blossoming spirit is to sing to it.”

RESPONSE: Today I will make my spirit blossom positively by singing to the Lord in the Spirit.

PRAYER: Ask God to impact all Christians with this valuable insight of singing praises to Him.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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10/28/16 6:57 A

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God Uses Failures - UpWords - Week of October 28 - November 3

by Max Lucado

What was I thinking taking this job? I should have done better. It’s all my fault. The voices--you’ve heard them all. When you lost your job, flunked the exam, or when your marriage went south...when you failed. The voices began to howl, laughing at you. You heard them and you joined them. You disqualified yourself and berated yourself. You sentenced yourself to hard labor in the Leavenworth of poor self-worth. Oh, the voices of failure. Failure finds us all.

But God’s Word is written for failures. It’s full of folks who were foul-ups. David was a failure, yet God used him. Jonah was in the belly of a fish and God heard his prayer. Perfect people? No. Perfect messes? You bet! A surprising and welcome discovery of the Bible is this: God uses failures! Miss this truth and you miss your Glory Days. God’s grace is greater than your failures.

From Glory Days

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - October 27

LOSE THE FEAR OF DYING

We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
2 Corinthians 5:8

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

There is a famous book called The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker. It is his contention that the whole of the western world is really a gigantic playground to distract us from ever facing the fact that we will all die! Thinking about death is all but forbidden. Preparing for it is seen as a sign of morbidity. We arrange for the elderly to die out of sight in hostels and hospitals. And huge multinational companies produce products that promise to keep the effects of aging at bay.

Inevitably, when we are too scared to face death we end up being a slave to it. Even Christians can show the same dread of it as others. But an encounter with the persecuted can go a long way to diffusing this sense of dread.

Over twenty years of reporting on the suffering church, I have interviewed literally hundreds of Christians who thought they were going to die for their faith. All of them—and I really do mean all of them—exhibited two amazing characteristics; they experienced unspeakable peace and joy in the midst of the pain as they began to feel death draw near; and they were as surprised as anyone that they were not afraid of death at the time.

Take Pastor You Yong, kidnapped by Islamic extremists from his church outside Madiun, central Java in December 2001. Furious that his church was full of Muslim converts, the extremists showered him with questions, trying to provoke him to attack them. They beat him and finally held a long machete to his throat. He assumed he was about to die. But what was going on inside Pastor You? Deeper than all the pain or fear? This is how he put it:

“I was amazed that throughout the ordeal I felt an incredible peace. I was also amazed at the answers I was able to give them. That verse came true—‘when you are brought to trial, do not worry about what to say, for when the time comes, you will be given what to say’ (Mt 10:19). The more they tried to provoke me, the more peace I felt.”

And so when death reaches out its icy hand in everyday ways—when the plane hits an air pocket, or the results of the suspected cancer scan are due—I remember the experiences of my persecuted friends and I am strengthened to think, “If they have been where I am about to go, and still testify that Jesus gives unaccountable peace, well, it is no tragedy to tread this well-worn path.” Their experiences in the face of death help to take the dread away.

Of course, I know all this from the Bible, where Paul says that to be with Christ is “far better.” And I have read that wonderful passage in Acts 7 when Stephen has the face of an angel when he is stoned to death. But the truth comes with more power when a flesh-and-blood person who has faced death puts their arms around you and says, “You will have peace, and Jesus will be with you in the midst of it all.” Death just cannot be that bad if Jesus is that great!

RESPONSE: Today I will live in the peace of God that takes away the fear of dying.

PRAYER: Thank You, Lord, for the encouragement of the persecuted to trust You in life and death.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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Standing Strong Through the Storm - October 24

HOPE IN THE FACE OF BAD NEWS

“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

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

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have an idea of what God is really up to in this world? One thing we can be very sure of—that the story of the world as we find it in history books and newspapers, is not to be confused with the real story of what God is doing underneath. But what is God’s story as opposed to history? What’s he really up to? Must the daily diet of wars, murder and mayhem in my newspaper always get me down. Can I ever be sure something is going on underneath? Well, we can’t know perfectly as “his ways are so much higher than our ways” (Isaiah 55:9). But we are afforded glimpses. This glimpsing really excited the early Christians. You can hear the delight in Paul when he writes, “God’s secret plan has now been revealed to us...” (Ephesians 1:9). The persecuted seem to get more glimpses than most.

I think of China. The headlines said in June of 1989 a terrible massacre took place. Five thousand young people were mown down by the Chinese army. The headlines all mourned the death of the pro-democracy movement. It was terrible, but what was God up to underneath? Out of that massacre came a remarkable turning to Christ among China’s students for the first time in history! The headlines never saw it. It’s not part of history. But “His story” went on.

I think of Afghanistan. When the Soviet Union invaded that country in 1980 the world was outraged. The headlines were all full of fierce denunciations of the action, and rightly so. But I remember meeting a missionary from Kabul who said, “Yes, what the Russians did was wrong, but the fact is it is now much easier under the Russians for Christians to evangelize than it was before under the Islamic regime.” Again, another more significant story, of God building his kingdom, was going on undetected by the world at large.

I think of Sudan. The headlines in the 1980’s were full of a dreadful civil war which isolated the Dinka people from the outside world. It was terrible. There was untold suffering on vast scale. But underneath, God was bringing the 2 million Dinkas to himself. By 1993, 80% of them were Christians and this among a tribe that was historically very resistant to the Gospel.

Notice that these are all stories from the persecuted. They seem to be better placed to notice the real story. And so I need to keep in touch with them because this glimpse delivers me from despair. In 1989 in China, there was not just a massacre, but a revival. In 1980 in Afghanistan, there was not just an occupation, but new missionary opportunities. In Sudan, there was not just a brutal war that killed millions, but a new kingdom of believers among an unreached people.

So every day when I open my newspaper, I remind myself of two things, thanks to the persecuted; the story I see is not to be confused with the kingdom story; and underneath even the saddest news, God is surely up to something good. There is hope because God is always at work.

RESPONSE: Today when I read or hear the news, I will thank God that He is at work behind the scenes.

PRAYER: Thank You Lord, for Your promise to bring good out of the terrible events of this world.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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October 23

Psalm 127:1

Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.

A great cathedral was constructed to God's glory, while hungry and sick people sat outside its walls. The cathedral was called, "The Greatest Achievement in the Name of God." Millions flocked from all over to enter its doors. Thousands went away disturbed that the ministry of the church was contained completely within its walls. As the years passed, the church lost its luster, and it became just another church. The poor were still there, but nothing had yet been done to help them. God looked down on the cathedral and said, "This is the poorest excuse of a church I have seen."

When men and women try to take the church out of God's hands, it ceases to be the church. Only churches built upon the spiritual rock of salvation can claim to be God's churches. Our achievements in the name of God must bear His signature, not our own, otherwise they have been done in vain. God is the author of all that is good; we are merely His helpers. Whatever God builds will last forever, while hum ankind's creations crumble to the dust.

Prayer: Use my talents to do Your will, Lord, not my own. Remind me that I am doing Your work with You, not my own work for You. Bless all my endeavors in Your name. Amen.

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - October 23

DISCOVER YOUR HEROIC SPIRITUAL ANCESTORS

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised… Hebrews 11:39

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

It was early 1980’s in a village in Czechoslovakia, and I had just given the pastor of a rural church a Bible in his own tongue. It was leather bound, with a gold zipper, and was the first complete Bible he had held. I remember him sniffing it, marveling at the leather smell, playing with the zip and being almost afraid to touch the thin precious pages. Then he began to talk to the members of the church. Pointing at me he said, “This gentleman is your heroic spiritual ancestor. Every time the Bible comes into a culture, it is a threat, and is opposed. So it takes men and women to risk all to bring it to us. This man has taken such a risk.”

I was embarrassed, but he went on to say to me, “The Bible also came into your culture. It was also a threat. Tell me, who are your heroic spiritual ancestors?” I am ashamed to say I did not have a clear idea of who these men were in my country of the United Kingdom.

So I returned to my country with his challenge ringing in my ears, “Find out the story of how your Bible came to you, and you will discover your heroic spiritual ancestors.”

What a dramatic story I uncovered. Full of spies, deaths and power politics. I learned so much about John Wycliffe, the first man to translate the Bible into English in the world of the 1300’s, when most clergy could not even recite the Ten Commandments. He formed a cadre of guerilla preachers to comb the country, with hand copied versions of the Bible, a book banned by Parliament. Wycliffe died of a stroke from the strain.
In the 1500’s, William Tyndale benefited from the invention of the printing press. He had to leave England to accomplish the task, never to return. At age 29 in 1524, he settled in Cologne, and by 1526 was ready to smuggle 6000 copies of the Bible in English into Britain.

The whole British naval fleet was put on alert, and boats were stopped and searched. First tens and then hundreds of the Bibles got through. The bishop of London tried another tack. He sought to buy the entire print run through an intermediary. His intention was to burn them all.

Tyndale got wind of it, and approved the sale, saying, “Oh he will burn them. Well, I am the gladder, for I shall get the money from these books, and the whole world shall cry out upon the burning of God’s Word.” And so it was. He burned them, and Tyndale used the money to improve the translation and print more…at the church’s expense.
Tyndale was captured by assassins and then strangled and burned in August 1536 for “heresy.” His last words were, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” This prayer was swiftly answered, and the English reformation was quickly fueled by a spate of translations. What a story it was. And what heroism from my spiritual ancestors!

RESPONSE: Today I will thank God for my spiritual ancestors who brought God’s Word to my land.

PRAYER: Ask God if you may somehow, someday, be used to bring His Word to needy people.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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10/21/16 5:43 P

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Our Strongholds - UpWords - Week of October 21-27

by Max Lucado

Does a stronghold have a strong hold on you? Do you feel nothing but despair? Do you think thoughts of defeat? A stronghold is a false premise that denies God’s promise. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says “it sets itself up against the knowledge of God.” It attempts to magnify the problem and minimize God’s ability to solve it.

God could never forgive me-- That’s the stronghold of guilt.
Bad things always happen to me-- That’s the stronghold of self-pity.
I have to be in charge– The stronghold of pride.
I don’t deserve to be loved– The stronghold of rejection.

Most Christians don’t recognize strongholds. But we don’t have to be among them. Our weapons are from God and have divine power to demolish strongholds. Isn’t that what you want? Keep God at center stage. Turn off the computer and open the Bible more! And turn to God for help.

From Glory Days


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10/20/16 9:15 P

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Amen my Friend, God's Word is Precious....We are Blessed indeed!!!

Standing Strong Through the Storm- October 20

LIVE EACH DAY AS YOUR LAST

[God] comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 1:4

On that fateful Sunday morning in January 1996, Joy Dimerin’s beloved fiancé, Severino Bagtasos, was killed when a lone gunman stormed into the church that he pastored and shot him twice. Severino was killed on the first day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, in the predominantly Muslim town of Alat on Jolo island, in southern Philippines. He had zeal in reaching Muslims for Christ. Joy and Severino were supposed to get married in May 1997. They looked forward to serving God together.

“By the grace of God, I am doing well and still enjoying the ministry,” testifies Joy. She admits that feelings of loneliness and emptiness were the most difficult things she faced after her beloved Severino died. “I was afraid that I wouldn’t find a godly man like him again,” confides Joy. “I learned to see God’s purpose in my life,” Joy added. “I learned to accept whatever circumstances come my way and look at them as God’s instruments in molding me and in making me a better person. Through [Severino’s] life I learned commitment to the ministry and to prayer. Through his death, I learned to always be prepared to face the Author and Finisher of my faith. Through this tragedy, I learned to live each day as though it were my last.”

Severino’s killer was a Tausug. “God had intended it to be so,” she says. As a Tausug she feels compassion for her people because they are blinded by their beliefs. She now serves the Lord by reaching out to them and the Sama Muslims of southern Philippines. “I have forgiven the one who killed my beloved. It’s hard to live with the hurt, the pain, and an unforgiving spirit, especially as I work with Muslims. I have learned to look at them the way God does. It’s only through the Gospel that they will change,” said Joy with no trace of bitterness in her voice. The people who wanted Severino dead had the opportunity to hear the Gospel during Severino’s funeral service, perhaps the only time they would hear the love of Christ preached openly.

Joy received thousands of letters from all over the world through Open Doors, giving her words of comfort and assuring her of prayers being said for her. In a letter to her encouragers, she wrote, “Two years of being broken-hearted led me to spiritual wholeness.” This was one of the paradoxes in her life. “I learned to be independent but dependent upon God, especially with regards to my daily walk with Him. I learned to be courageous and tough, but soft-hearted to the needy and suffering Christians.” Perhaps, only those who have suffered can truly understand those who are suffering. And those who have experienced healing can truly empathize with those who are hurting.

Four years later, God brought Joy on staff with Open Doors. “I never thought that God would call me to minister to the suffering church through Open Doors. God had allowed the great pain in my life for me to understand those who are in pain. He allowed me to suffer that I may best minister to the suffering.”

RESPONSE: I will live today as though it were my last: loving, forgiving, serving!

PRAYER: Pray for Joy in her important ministry in the Muslim areas of the southern Philippines.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks



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10/18/16 12:34 P

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WOW, Judith, God's Word truly is more precious than gold. It is often taken for granted that we will always have one at our disposal. Most of us have multiple versions. The lengths these men went to in order to get God's Word to the people is inspiring!

"Beloved, I pray that you may prosper and be in health, just as your soul [mind, will and emotions] prospers" (3 John 1:2 NKJV).


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Standing Strong Through the Storm - October 17

PROJECT PEARL PERFUME BIBLES

They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.Psalm 19:10

In 1977, Peter Xu became the leader of the Born-Again Movement—a large house church network today in China. Ten years ago he was visiting in the United States and shared a devotional at the Open Doors-USA office. When he saw a sample of a Project Pearl Bible on the shelf, he became very animated. Then a long story developed:

After Project Pearl Bibles were stored in depositories in southern China in the early 1980s, Peter Xu sent three men every month by train to the depository contacts to bring back about 1,000 Bibles per trip for his growing house church movement. One month the three men were discovered with their Bible load by the local police of the depository city. The police threw the 1,000 Project Pearl Bibles into the cesspool of the public latrine and the three men were interrogated and jailed for the weekend.

Monday they were released and commanded to return straight home and never return. Instead they waited inside the latrine until darkness fell. Then they climbed down into the filthy cesspool of human waste carefully retrieving each of the foul smelling books. They washed them off under the local water tap and carried them home. There they dried them out, sprayed them with perfume and circulated them through their network. Such was the hunger and importance of every copy of God’s Word.

Project Pearl certainly had an impact on the future printing of Bibles inside China which continues today. Shortly after the project was completed, China’s Three Self Patriotic Movement announced the first official printing of Bibles inside the country. Noted author and China watcher, David Aikman, wrote in his book, Jesus in Beijing, “[Project] Pearl had a major long-term impact on the overall availability of Bibles in China.”

But more important are the personal evaluations from Chinese believers; “These gifts are more precious than gold!”

RESPONSE: Today I will treasure God’s Word as more valuable than any precious metal or gem.

PRAYER: Thank You, Lord, that Your precious Word is being made available in countries where it is not valued by those in authority.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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October 15

Psalms 122:7

Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces.

Some people's homes are war zones. Families in conflict abound in our society. So much unhappiness comes from people no longer knowing how to share and give. Too many people are looking out for themselves, and they aren't willing to look out for each other. Mothers fight with daughters, sons with fathers, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, each feeding the beast of hurt and discord. We are lost without a peacemaker, one who knows our hearts and can pave the way to reconciliation. Luckily, Christians have such a peacemaker. Christ came to unite all God's children, brothers, and sisters in the faith. He works in the home to call us to a deep love that is consecrated in blood. If we strive for peace within the walls, then we are one step closer to peace between our nations. God will heal all wounds, if we will only welcome Him in.

Prayer: Christ, You have broken down the dividing walls of hostility, and You are waiting to build bridges of love. Begin with me, Lord, and move forth in love. Amen.

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Doubt Storms - UpWords - Week of October 14-20

by Max Lucado

Sometimes I wonder...how can our world get so chaotic? And I sometimes wonder why so many hearts have to hurt? Do you ever get doubt storms? Do you have turbulent days when the enemy is too big, and the answers too few? Every so often a storm will come, and I’ll look up into the blackening sky and say, “God, a little light, please?”

The light came for Jesus’ disciples. A figure came to them walking on the water. It wasn’t what they expected. Maybe they were listening for a divine proclamation to still the storm. One thing is for sure, they were not looking for Jesus to come walking on the water. “It’s a ghost,’ they said and cried out in fear.” And since Jesus came in a way they didn’t expect, they almost missed seeing the answer to their prayers. And unless we look and listen closely, we risk making the same mistake!

From In the Eye of the Storm


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Standing Strong Through the Storm - October 10

FAMINE CANNOT SEPARATE US FROM THE LOVE OF CHRIST

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall…famine…? Romans 8:35

The question asked is a personal one. Not “what” can separate us but “who”? The inference is our enemy, Satan, who tries every tactic he can garner to make us think we can be separated from Christ’s love. Today we look at his tactic of “famine.”

Wilson Chen from Vietnam spent five years in one of those harsh and primitive re-education camps. He was forced to spend long hours of hard backbreaking work clearing jungles for farmland, cutting trees for lumber and farming the fields. He had looked forward to a successful secular career and also to marrying his lovely girlfriend. In his final year in camp, he received the crushing news that his girlfriend had given up hope, married another and escaped from Vietnam.

The camp food was barely enough to keep him alive. “The constant brutality attacked our minds and spirits; the malnutrition attacked our bodies,” he recalls. The constant hunger drove them to eat anything. He would search the ground with other prisoners for rats, toads, worms, snakes, insects and birds to supplement their diet and keep them alive and to simply ease the feeling of constant hunger.

Wilson remembers companions who went insane from the pressure of hunger. Others committed suicide. Many died from diseases caused by the malnutrition.

Every night they were subjected to mental torture and political indoctrination. Always in their minds were thoughts of escape. But Wilson Chen says, “It was hope in the Lord Jesus that kept me alive. I fed this hope by secretly reading the Scriptures...” In that camp situation, Wilson promised the Lord that he would serve him if he ever received the opportunity. The Holy Spirit whispered to him, “You have opportunities right here!” Very soon three fellow-prisoners came to know the Lord.

Camp experiences helped him reflect on the significance of the sufferings of Jesus. In that context he found refreshment and exhilaration in his own weakness. And he says, “...Jesus gave me peace in the midst of tribulation.”

RESPONSE:I will live this day aware that famines can never separate me from Christ’s love.

PRAYER:Thank you Lord that You give peace in the midst of tribulations

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Facing God - UpWords - Week of October 7-13

by Max Lucado

The Hebrews did what God commanded--and God protected them. Joshua 5:1 says, “So it was, when all the kings of the Amorites. . .and all the kings of the Canaanites. . . heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of the Jordan. . .their heart melted, and there was no longer any spirit in them because of the children of Israel.”

Devotion prompted divine protection. Don’t face Satan by facing Satan. Face Satan by facing God. Don’t give Old Scratch the time of day. Colossians 2:15 says, “God stripped the spiritual rulers and powers of their authority. With the cross he won the victory and showed the world that they were powerless.”

Satan is a fallen angel whose time is short. Don’t let him mess with your glory days. Neutralize him. Join me at GloryDaysToday.com to remember what God has done!

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October 5

Psalm 119:105

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

Nick and Davy thought it would be fun to explore deeper in the cave. When they saw their chance, they separated from the rest of their class and headed down a corridor that was roped off. They walked on through twisting and turning shafts until they were no longer sure how to get back. They stood in total darkness, feeling the cavern close in around them. Just as they verged on panic, Davy looked down and noticed a fine, dim glow. Phosphorescent stone was embedded in the cave floor, and it cast off a dull shine. By following the path of light, the boys made it back to the safety of the well-lit shafts.

Darkness can close in around us quickly in this world today. It seems to be getting darker all the time. However, we are recipients of the light that cannot be put out and will never fade away. The Word of God will guide us through even the darkest times, and He will be close by to comfort us in time of trouble. Rely upon the light of the Lord.

Prayer: Light my way, dear God, and keep me from stumbling down the wrong path. Keep me from my own folly. Amen.

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - October 3

UNLIKELY ALLAINCES

“Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him.” Matthew 26:3-4

In the New Testament we see Satan using five external tactics against the church; rulers, priests, merchants, mobs and families - and of course, these often occurred in combinations. The followers of Jesus tend to unite the enemies of Jesus, so that quite unlikely alliances can be created. Jesus himself saw this when the Pharisees and the Herodians—two groups that never spoke to each other—got together to plot his assassination after he healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath (Mark 3:6).

Surprising to some, the rulers are not the biggest persecutors of Christians in the New Testament. That dubious honor falls to the Jewish priestly caste. But there is no doubt that strong opposition came from the rulers. Pontius Pilate was complicit in the death of Jesus; Herod Agrippa killed the apostle James in Jerusalem (Acts 12:2); and of course Nero initiated a terrible persecution against the Christians of Rome in AD 64—the community most think Mark’s Gospel was written to encourage.

Though it was Pilate’s order, it was really the Jewish high priest who pushed Pilate into giving the order for the persecution when he was inclined to let Jesus go (see John 18:31), and tried to accomplish this by arranging a crowd clemency scene. All throughout his ministry, Jesus’ bitterest enemies were the priests. And so it proved for the early church. The first flogging of Christians was administered under the auspices of the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:40), and the first martyrdom of a Christian (Stephen) was carried out by enraged clerics (Acts 7:54-59). And so it continued also for Paul, the main character of the early church, ironically a former Pharisee and a witness to the stoning of Stephen.

But it is a sad fact that the class threatened most by radical Christian faith is the clerical class, whether of one’s own religious persuasion or of a rival one. This is not to say all clerics are persecutors. Many Pharisees became followers of Jesus, and some, like Nicodemus and Simon, were the very model of courtesy and open-mindedness. Nevertheless, in the history of the church, other “believers” have perpetrated most violence on Christians.

RESPONSE:
Satan uses external as well as internal tactics to attack the advance of the Kingdom of God.

PRAYER:
Lord, help me show love to other “believers” who do not hear Your voice but are used as tools of the enemy.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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October 2

Psalm 119:99

I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation.

Jesus amazed the learned men in the temple when He was just twelve years old. He had never received professional schooling in the history and law of the Hebrew people, and yet He displayed an incredible insight into even the most complex meanings of Holy Scripture. His understanding far surpassed that of many of the elders present. Where did His incredible knowledge and wisdom come from? God, of course.

True knowledge is not found in books. God has granted us each a measure of common sense and logic. He is willing and able to instruct us in all His ways, if we will take time to contemplate His mysteries. We, too, can amaze the learned of our age by speaking forth the truth of God, which surpasses even the most complex knowledge. Like Christ, we can know more than we ought, through the guidance and counsel of God Himself.

Prayer: Instruct my mind, heart, and soul in all of Your ways, O Lord. Teach me those things that are truly important, and enable me to spread what I learn to others. Amen.

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- October 2

SINGING IN THE BATTLEFRONT

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

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

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

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

Then I went in for breakfast with everyone else.

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

RESPONSE:
Today I will sing praises to the Lord my God.

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

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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Standing Strong Through the Storm- October 1

WHERE HAS THE LORD CALLED YOU?

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

Fear of dying is the number one universal fear for human beings. Virtually every fear has a relationship to death and a connection to dying. For example, why are we afraid of flying? The plane may crash and we may die. Here are seven scriptural principles that enable us to conquer our fear of death:

1. God is in control. Read Psalm 91. (Mark 4:35-41; Phil 4:6-7)

2. Focus on fearing God and dying to self. (Acts 5:29; Galatians 2:20)

3. We are strangers and pilgrims on this earth. (Hebrews 10:32 ff)

4. God always brings good from evil. (Genesis 50:20)

5. The enemy can only harm our body, not our soul. (Matthew 10:28)

6. Absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:8; 2 Timothy 2:11-12)

7. There is a crown of life for the faithful to death. (Revelation 2:10)

Co-workers had just finished an SSTS seminar on the island of Timor when a young pastor suddenly jumped up and proclaimed before all his colleagues “Now I am ready to die for Jesus!” These were no idle words. Every single pastor attending the seminar was directly or indirectly impacted by the massacres on the island of Ambon. Many of their churches had been burned and several had lost loved ones in the attacks on Christians.

As the meeting concluded, our colleague saw that young pastor making his way towards him. “Your being here has inspired me to go out and share the gospel in other areas,” he announced.

“I am happy to hear that brother. Where has the Lord called you to?” he enquired. “To Ambon!”

“My brother, are you sure. This is like signing your own death certificate. You know that most Christians are fleeing the massacre and you want to return?”

His response was simple and without pretense. “If I don’t go back to tell the people about Jesus, who will do it? I am willing to give my life for Jesus!”

RESPONSE: Today I will live prepared to die, and die prepared to live!

PRAYER: When I fear you, Lord, I fear nothing else—even death. Today I pray for those who do not fear You and thus fear everything else—especially death.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- September 30

BE NOT AFRAID!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- September 29

CONFESSION

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

Satan’s internal tactics against us fall into two broad categories; deceit and intimidation. He continually accuses us in our own hearts to bring feelings of guilt and failure into our lives. True guilt is that which comes from disobeying God. One reason that this approach is so effective in crushing the witness of a saint is because it is partially true. We all have failed the Lord. None of us has triumphed in power over every circumstance as we could and should have done. So when Satan accuses us, we know in our hearts that there is much truth in his accusations.

But God has provided us with a way to cleanse ourselves of this sin and the guilt that accompanies it. When we realize we have failed the Lord, we confess it and He forgives and cleanses us. Once we have confessed it, the sin is gone, and our feelings of guilt are relieved.

David's experience shows us God's method of dealing with sin; conviction, acknowledgment, confession, seeking forgiveness, receiving forgiveness, praise and joyful service (Psalm 51; Psalm 32:3, 4; II Samuel 12:1-13). Once sin is dealt with in this manner, true guilt will disappear.

The revolutionary army told a young Christian in Chad, Africa that he must submit to old animistic tribal rituals. They wanted to destroy Christianity and stimulate patriotism and loyalty by reviving the ancient pagan customs. The leaders of the churches of the area agreed together that Christians must refuse to participate in the animistic rituals. When the young man refused and was beaten, he stood firm in his faith. But when the authorities stripped him naked and beat him in front of his mother, sisters and other young ladies, his courage failed and he permitted them to perform the pagan rituals.

Then he felt terrible. He had failed the Lord. His guilt was heavy. Satan tried to convince him that the Lord could never again accept him. But he knew the scriptural promises of God, and he confessed his sin. The Lord forgave him and restored his joy.

He began to publicly witness to his neighbors and he was arrested. The authorities demanded that he denounce Christ or be buried alive. This time, his faith was strong and he refused to deny Christ. He was beaten and thrown into prison to await execution, but his faith grew stronger and the Lord delivered him. The oppressive government was overthrown and he was released.

RESPONSE: Today I will confess my sin and receive God’s forgiveness from the guilt so that Satan cannot use this tactic against me.

PRAYER: Pray that this simple and straight-forward process of relieving guilt through confession of sin will be the experience of every believer so Satan loses one more tactic today.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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Standing Strong Through the Storm - September 27

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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Standing Strong Through the Storm - September 26

LIGHTHOUSE

“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” John 12:46

One of the strongest images of standing strong in a storm is the lighthouse. In the era before radar, satellite navigation and GPS systems, lighthouses were vital to protect ships from crashing onto rocks, shoals and shores. Building lighthouses can be considered one of man’s most noble endeavors. Since the beginning of seafaring, families and friends have lit bonfires at night to guide sailors home.

George Bernard Shaw said, “I can think of no other edifice constructed by man as altruistic as a lighthouse. They were built only to serve.”

And evangelist D.L. Moody commented, “Lighthouses don't fire cannons to call attention to their shining—they just shine.”

Jesus used this imagery of light to describe our role in His kingdom. We are the light of the world, He said, after claiming Himself to be the true light. Therefore we function much like a lighthouse, both internally and externally.

The first aspect of a lighthouse is the internal function of generating light. Early lighthouses used a literal fire that had to be constantly fed and watched. Later electric lights were utilized and ultimately laser lights. But this light still has to be internally projected. So we too as followers of Jesus project internal light, the outer expression of the inner life under the control of the Holy Spirit.

The other aspect of a modern lighthouse is that it also is an external reflector. Over the years of improvements, revolving lenses have been developed to reflect that internally generated light further into the darkness. As the moon reflects the light of the sun, so we reflect the light of the Son in a world of darkness.

And finally, lighthouses remind us of God’s love. Like the bright shining beam of a lighthouse, His love reaches out…piercing through the darkness of any storm.

RESPONSE: Today I will be a lighthouse for Jesus, projecting His inner light and reflecting His light externally.

PRAYER: Lord, may Your love and Your light pierce the darkness of the world around me as I stand strong and faithful for You today like a lighthouse.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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Standing Strong Through the Storm- September 25

WHICH ARE YOU?

“I can do all this through him who gives me strength. ”Philippians 4:13

A young woman went to her mother and told her how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved a new one arose.

Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water. In the first, she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs and the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil without saying a word. In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.

Turning to her daughter, she asked, “Tell me what you see?”

“Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied.

She brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. She then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, she asked her to sip the coffee. The daughter tasted its rich aroma.

The daughter then asked. “What does it mean, mother?”

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity—boiling water—but each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard and unrelenting. After being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior. But, after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water they had changed the water.

“Which are you?” she asked her daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity, do you wilt and become soft and lose your strength? Or are you an egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Do you have a fluid spirit, but after a loved-one’s death, a relationship breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have you become hardened and stiff? Does your shell look the same, but on the inside you are bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and a hardened heart? Or are you like a coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If I am like the bean, when things are at their worst, I get better and change the situation around me through Christ-likeness.

When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest do you elevate to another level? How do you handle adversity?

RESPONSE: Christians are like carrots, eggs or coffee beans. They don’t know how strong their response is until they get into hot water. Which are you?

PRAYER: Lord, help me realize that every experience You gives me, every person You put in my path, is the perfect preparation only You can see.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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God’s Faithfulness - UpWords - Week of September 23-29

by Max Lucado

Life has many unanswered questions, but be settled about God’s faithfulness to you! Romans 8:32 declares, If God “did not spare his own Son but gave him for us all,” will he not also give you all you need for a Promised Land life? God’s Word is sure!

And 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is the reminder that Scripture is powerful and a useful weapon against any stronghold. “All Scripture is God-breathed...useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

I invite you to join me in a Scripture Memory Challenge. Let’s memorize together the verses in 2 Timothy 3:16-17!

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- September 21

PAYING THE PRICE

“Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” Ephesians 6:19-20

Martha was a young Chinese Christian engaged to be married but decided to postpone her marriage for two years to answer the call of God to deliver Bibles where they were urgently needed in her country. David Wang shares her story:

I recall meeting her once in the city of Xian. We had arranged to meet at 9 p.m., but she did not turn up until about 1 a.m. She was delayed because she had been delivering Bibles in a nearby village. But the local commune leaders discovered what she was doing. They beat her up, robbed her, and threw her on a deserted road. It was a miracle that she was able to make it to our appointment.

I noticed something was wrong with Martha. She was thin as a wire and her face was bloated. I asked, “What is the matter with you? Did they beat you up?”

“Oh, no,” she said, “I've had this problem for some time now.” Then she rolled up her pants to show me legs covered with stings and mosquito bites. As she traveled in the remote countryside of China, often she had to sleep in deserted huts or even out in the fields. She was literally eaten up by bugs and mosquitoes.

“Tomorrow we must go to a doctor,” I urged her.

“No, no,” she said, “I have to catch an early train tomorrow to go to Inner Mongolia. Where are the Bibles?” Her only concern was to get Bibles delivered!

In August 1983, Martha disappeared - as though she had just vanished into thin air. That was during China’s ‘Anti-Crime Campaign’ when many people were arrested and executed throughout China. We became concerned for Martha.

Later we got a letter from her through her friends. It was not really a letter - just a little piece of paper. She had been arrested and charged for distributing “superstitious materials” in the People’s Republic of China.

The little note read: “I don’t know what the penalty will be, but please pray for me.” She quoted Paul’s words in Ephesians 6:19-20. A few weeks later, we received word that 24-year-old Martha had been executed. She paid the price.

RESPONSE: Today I will pay the price in serving Jesus in my area regardless of the risks.

PRAYER: Lord, Martha’s story humbles me. Help me love and serve You as much as she did.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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Standing Strong Through the Storm- September 18

IN CHAINS FOR CHRIST

“As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.” Philippians 1:13

Authorities in Afghanistan arrested Said Musa on May 31, 2010, days after the local TV station broadcast images of Afghan Christians being baptized and worshipping the Lord. A Christian for eight years, he is married and the father of six. Before release from prison he wrote:

Hello my dear brothers and sisters, lovely and strong in faith. On Saturday I went to court, but my session was not held. I met then two persons. I became very happy when they introduced themselves [as my] defense attorneys…I immediately felt joy in my heart, like somebody gave me comfort, like stars, like lights. I one hundred percent believe it was the Holy Spirit healing my heart.

On Thursday some high officials came from the Attorney General’s office. They asked me, “What is your name?” I introduced myself to them. After that they asked me, “Are you truly a Christian?” I replied to them, I am one hundred percent Christian. I believe in the Son of God Almighty, He is my Savior and Lord. I told them the only way to come to God is to have faith in Jesus Christ, He’s the way, He’s eternal life, He’s truth, He’s love, He’s really God.

After that they asked me, “What is wrong with being a Muslim that you converted to the Christian religion?” I told them, it’s the plan of God. God chose his people to complete his work on the earth. Muslim is not bad. The Christian people are never against any religion in the world. Our fight is just with Satan. We love our enemies, like ourselves. They joked and mocked me. “You want to make us Christians now?”

Today a new person came. He asked me, “Why do you not accept Islam; why is this religion better?” I replied to him, the golden thing is this, love your enemy as yourself. In which religion do you find this word? Just in Christianity.

He told me, “You know your punishment. It’s death.” I told him, I am one hundred percent ready for the sake of my faith. My Savior gave his life for me. I am not afraid of a human; he just kills my body, but does not hurt my soul. I am afraid of my Lord and Savior; He will be able to punish my soul too. I told him I am holding on to my faith. I will never betray my faith. Without Jesus, what does the life in this world or the afterlife mean? Nothing!

RESPONSE: Today I will pray for those like Said Musa who are truly in prison for their faith.

PRAYER: Lord, may I have the strength and courage to confess You even under severe pressure.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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The Key to Spiritual Growth - UpWords - Week of September 16-22

by Max Lucado

The key to spiritual growth isn’t increased church attendance or involvement in spiritual activities. People don’t grow in Christ because they’re busy at church. They grow in Christ when they read and trust their Bibles.

Desire some “Glory Days?” Engage with the Bible. Think and re-think God’s Word. Let it be your guide. Set your sights on the unchanging principles of God. Let God’s Word be the authoritative word in your world.

To begin, join me in our Scripture Memory Challenge. It’s an adventure to hide God’s Word deep in our hearts.

This week let’s memorize Joshua 1:9, God’s promise of power. “Have I not commanded you be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go!”

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- September 15

THE WAY OF THE CROSS

“And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:27

Two days before the SSTS Seminar in a restricted Central Asia country, Pavel, a Christian leader discovered the garage he was using to store restricted (illegal) Christian literature in the tribal language was broken into by youths and over 2000 pieces of literature stolen. Ironically, police discovered the literature being distributed at a nearby school by the mischievous youths and traced the ownership of the literature to Pavel.

He was “invited” to come to the police station. There he discovered that the authorities were open to receiving a bribe of one month’s salary in exchange for having the remaining literature returned and the case closed. It was also suggested that because he was lacking the appropriate registration papers for being in this community, he should pay the money before the police “found some drugs in his home” and he be sent to jail for a longer period of time.

Pavel now had two choices: pay the bribe and redeem most of the stolen literature which had come into the country at great personal and emotional risk past many police checkpoints; or wait and see how God intervened to bring glory to His name even if it meant a fine or imprisonment. Pavel knew that to pay the bribe would open the door to a pattern of further blackmail, as the police would now own him as “their man.”

During the 3-day SSTS seminar, the group met with Pavel and his wife and prayed with them each morning before he went to the police station for further interrogation in the afternoons. Pavel had to make a decision by the third day. As he left for the police station he told the group, “This SSTS seminar has changed my entire thinking on this matter. I am not paying the bribe. I am choosing ‘the way of the cross.’”

Latest reports are that Pavel’s case was resolved without a bribe and he is still active in effective ministry in his country.

RESPONSE: Today I again choose to walk “the way of the cross” as I make my decisions and choices.

PRAYER: Lord, help me never to choose the easy way of the culture but to walk “the way of the cross!”

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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September 15

Psalm 116:3

The sorrows of death encompassed me, and the pains of hell laid hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow.

Julie didn't want to think about dying, but ever since her third heart attack, she could think of little else. She was so afraid of dying, and she simply hated the hospital. Worrying was the worst thing she could do. She needed a positive frame of mind, but try as she might, her thoughts always turned to gloom and despair.

It is unfortunate that so many people are ignorant of the everlasting life that can follow this one. Through God's promise of glory in eternity, we no longer have anything to fear from death. Whatever befalls us in this lifetime, it is nothing in relation to the eternal home that awaits us. We need to focus on the life to come in times of trial and sorrow. In the face of death we can feel secure that everything will be just fine.

Prayer: In times of fear, dread, and sorrow, shine Your light of love upon me, God. Help me to remember that I have life everlasting, and nothing that occurs now can keep me from it. Amen.

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - September 12

THE PERSECUTED

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you
because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they
persecuted the prophets who were before you.”Matthew 5:10-12

With our hunger and thirst for righteousness comes the promise of persecution for those who take a stand for God. We have not been called to safety and comfort but to serve in the midst of conflict. Persecution is not to be strenuously avoided, for it is the result of righteous living. To avoid it, one would have to cease living righteously.

The early church went through much persecution for their faith in Christ. It affected their livelihood. They had to ask themselves, Should a Christian craftsman create idols for the temples? Or should a tailor sew robes for heathen priests?

Persecution affected social and family life. Most feasts were held in the temple of some god. A common invitation would be dining at the table of such a god. Even an ordinary meal in a home began with a cup of wine poured out in honor of the gods, like grace before a meal. Could a Christian share in such a meal like that?

Severe persecution meant being flung to the lions, burned at the stake, or being wrapped in pitch and set alight to provide light for Nero’s palace gardens. Or it meant being sewn in animal skins and set upon by Nero’s hunting dogs. Christians were tortured on the rack; scraped with pincers; had molten lead poured on them; had red-hot brass plates fixed to the most tender parts of their bodies; had eyes torn out; had limbs cut off and roasted before their eyes; had hands and feet burned while cold water was poured over other parts to prolong agony.

Most of us have never in our lives made a real sacrifice for Jesus. To have to suffer persecution is to walk along the same road as the prophets, the saints, and the martyrs. To suffer persecution is to make things easier for those who are to follow. To suffer persecution is to experience the fellowship of Christ, as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did in the furnace (Daniel 3:19-25). It is not always so dramatic, but it is nevertheless real. Most of us enjoy the blessing of liberty today because men and women in the past were willing to buy it for us at the cost of their own blood, sweat and tears.

RESPONSE: I will accept persecution, whether mild or hot, which comes as a result of righteous living.

PRAYER: Lord, encourage those today who are experiencing severe persecution for Your name.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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God’s Vision in God’s Land - UpWords - Week of September 9-15

by Max Lucado

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

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

From Glory Days


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September 8

Psalms 112:4

Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness: he is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous.

Jerry and Ed were different as night and day, though they were the best of friends. Jerry loved fun and games, and it was difficult for him to be serious about anything for very long. Ed was studious and hardworking, and nothing swayed him from his course once his mind was made up. The two boys decided they were going to enter a ten-mile run sponsored by their school. Ed practiced every day, exercising and running, and eating foods that would get him in shape. Jerry exercised occasionally, ran a few times, and paid little attention to his diet. When the race came and went, Ed led the pack and Jerry couldn't even finish.

Leading an upright life prepares us for the race that God has waiting for us. Our spiritual fitness puts us in shape to run that race of life. Without a healthy spirit, we cannot hope to finish. Life without God beats us down and defeats us. Life in the Spirit lifts us above any obstacle and empowers us to meet every challenge.

Prayer: Like Paul the Apostle, I want to run the good race and fight the good fight. Make me fit to be a member of Your team, Lord. Inspire me to prepare my spirit to meet all the challenges which might come my way. Amen.


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Standing Strong Through the Storm-September 7

THE MEEK

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5

Meekness is not to be confused with weakness. In Scripture, meekness means “power under control.” In this context, the contrite, praying person is blessed with the indwelling control of the Holy Spirit and the inheritance promised to the believer even in conflict.

History shows that it is the people who have learned this, people with their passions, instincts and impulses under disciplined control, who have been great (see Numbers 12:3 and Proverbs 16:32). Thus:

Blessed are those whose every instinct, every impulse, and every passion is under the control of God’s Spirit! They will be right with God, self and others and enter the life which God alone can give.

Pray for this meekness when entering into dialogue with those of opposing positions. There will be times when patience and self-control will be sorely tested. There may also be times when the Spirit will suggest a change of direction in the dialogue or a strategic retreat that looks suspiciously like defeat. To be meek is to be able to willingly accept temporary defeat in order that there may later be victory in the Spirit.

A co-worker in China was struggling with the attitudes of a house church group who forbade hand-clapping during the singing of hymns. One leader complained bitterly. Every evening in the brothers’ sleeping quarters, he would complain further. The group would then debate endlessly on whether or not clapping hands during singing was permissible. It was like the black smoke pouring out from the weeds.

This continued until the afternoon of the last day, when God used His Word, and the Holy Spirit did an amazing work. This brother stood up and admitted his wrongdoing. He asked God to forgive his ignorance, stubbornness and defensiveness. With his confession, Christ’s love tore down an invisible wall. It was as if the Lord “broke down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron.” The response of the workers as they prayed together was, “The glorious King has come.” Thank and praise the Lord. He was completely victorious.

RESPONSE: Today I will quit calling the shots and surrender complete control to God.

PRAYER: Lord, today I completely surrender to the control of Your Spirit in my life. Help me to be meek.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - September 6

MOURNING

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4

Mourning is the kind of grief that cannot be hidden. It can be a deep sorrow for our own unworthiness that leads us to trust the Lord as our total Provider, seeking His presence and counsel (authority). Such action is rewarded by the Father’s gracious comfort.

It can also be for grief over the sorrow and suffering of this world. Blessed is the man who cares intensely for the sufferings, sorrows and needs of others. And so again we can paraphrase this Beatitude:

Blessed are those whose hearts are broken for the world’s suffering and are deeply sorry for their sin and unworthiness, for they will find the joy and comfort of God.

As we meditate on this, what comes to mind is the need to mourn for the state of the church and Christians generally. In many countries, churches are weak and nominal, or are split by internal conflicts. There is need to mourn. There is need to mourn also for believers who have quit the struggle and crossed to the other side.

Mourn for the poor quality of preaching, the lack of prayer and the deficiency of spiritual power. Mourn for those who come to the church only to find they are unwelcome. Mourn for Christians unwilling to introduce the light of Christ to them. Mourn for a church hiding its light, too scared to let it shine. Yes, there is much to mourn for. Yet, the promise is, if we mourn, comfort will come.

A self-sufficient Bible trainer from the West, spent time in China with young leaders needing biblical training. He felt inadequate at first but later wrote, “As I left them, I wept. I wept because I had to go back to a world where God was not taken half as seriously. I wept to return to a church where if I do not insert enough clever illustrations, eyes glaze over and no one listens to my talks. I wept to go back to a world of unread Bibles and dry eyes. I wept to return to a lifestyle that would regard me as mad if I kept trying to rise at 4.30 a.m. for prayer. I wept because I really wanted to stay with those fifty teachers and learn to love God as they did.

RESPONSE: Today I will repent of my self-sufficiency.

PRAYER: Lord, I truly mourn over my own sin and unworthiness. And I mourn too for the deep and painful suffering that I see around our globe. May I receive Your joy and comfort.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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September 4

Psalms 110:1

The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.

Ben was a diligent worker in his firm. He put forth his best effort in all he did, but unfortunately he lacked the assertive personality so many of his co-workers possessed. Promotions came and went, always passing Ben by, falling to the men and women whose personalities caused them to be noticed. After thirty years of service, Ben struck out on his own, forming a new company. Within months the new company rose to the top of the field, and many of Ben's former co-workers came to work for him.

It is easy to begrudge others their fortune when they are no more deserving to them than we are. Yet, God calls us to rejoice in the triumphs of others, and to await His justice rather than seeking our own. Often we must wait a long time, but the justice of the Lord will prevail, and those who once kept us down will be made a footstool for our feet. Have faith in the Lord, and He will set all things right.

Prayer: Fill me with Your patience, Lord. When I see others receive rewards, help me to rejoice in their benefit rather than be bitter that I did not receive it. Amen.

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - September 4

THE BEATITUDES

“Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.” Matthew 5:1-2

For the next nine days we’ll look at Jesus’ greatest training program—the Beatitudes. It is important to remember that each of the eight Beatitudes has a two-fold nature: a “knowing” and a “doing” response. We must not only know them, we must also respond to what we learn from them.

Eight times in the Beatitudes it says, “Blessed are….” To understand the Beatitudes, we need to know the meaning of those words. Blessed are refers to Jesus’ evaluation of the kind of person He names in each Beatitude. Jesus was referring to His esteem for that kind of person. His meaning is, “I esteem highly any person who….” He was urging us to have that kind of attitude. His deeper meaning is, “All you who hear Me, choose to become like these kinds of people.”

One noted author calls the Beatitudes, “God’s radical reconstruction of the heart!” We must never consider that Jesus was promising happy conditions, as though He meant, “The one who is poor in spirit will feel good and always be joyful.”

The first four Beatitudes focus internally—that is, they speak to the heart of the one who wants to obey God. They can be viewed as four stepping stones to becoming an obedient servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. They are: humility, mourning, meekness and hunger for righteousness.

The second four Beatitudes focus on the external behavior of the servant who follows Jesus. They are: mercy, purity, peacemaking and persecution.

This teaching has particular relevance for Christians who live under Islam. Restricted, deprived, regarded as second class citizens, laughed at, despised, often living in fear, many times persecuted, the words of encouragement are precious and give fresh hope of another place and time when things will be put right.

While in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, there are greater freedoms and life is not so difficult, there are restrictions nonetheless. In others like Pakistan, Christians have suffered unjustly and are denied many basic rights. In Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Sudan, Nigeria and Morocco, the story is similar though the extent of suffering may vary. To all, Jesus gives this important message. We will look at each of the eight Beatitudes individually.

RESPONSE: I will study Jesus’ Beatitudes so that I live the way Jesus lived.

PRAYER: Pray for Christians in Islamic countries that they will receive great encouragement as they seek to know and live the Beatitudes in their regions of restriction.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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What Matters is Who God Is - UpWords - Week of September 2-8

by Max Lucado

When God announced Moses was to deliver the Israelites, Moses wasn’t convinced! God demonstrated that who Moses was didn’t matter. What mattered was who God was.

“Moses,” spoke the voice from the bush, “throw down your staff” (Exodus 4:3).

God you may not know...well, you don’t go around throwing down your staff. You never know when. . .

“Throw it down.”

When the rod became a snake, Moses began to run.

“Moses! Pick it up by the tail.”

God, out here, well, you don’t pick up snakes too often and never by the tail.

“Moses!”

Yessir!

As Moses touched the squirmy scales, it hardened. Moses lifted up the rod--the same rod he would lift up to divide the water and guide two million people through the desert. If God can do something with stubborn hearts and a stiff-necked people. . .he can do something with the common!

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - September 2

DEFEATING THE ENEMY’S ATTACKS

“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” 1 John 4:4

Ung Sophal established eight house churches in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and the surrounding provinces. He and his wife lost their third and youngest child during the Pol Pot genocide. After many close calls, he was separated from his wife and children and sent to work in the fields. During these very difficult times, he still was able to lead sixty-five people to Jesus and even water baptize them. God miraculously spared his life on numerous occasions.

When the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia in 1979, Ung Sophal was able to return to Phnom Penh. It was now a ghost town. With a handful of other Christians, he started a house church, which grew from five members to six hundred in eight months.

That Christmas he invited some Christians to his home for a fellowship - including some Christian westerners working for aid organizations. Two weeks later he was arrested for this “illegal” activity and accused of holding a political meeting with CIA participation.

He was interrogated for days and beaten severely. When the interrogation proved profitless, he was left in prison for five months chained hand and foot. He lost seventy-five pounds and was very sick but he heard the Lord instruct him to fast and be silent for three days.

The authorities became alarmed at the end of his fast and took him to the hospital thinking he was dying. There he constantly heard the sounds of other people being tortured with electricity and being beaten and kicked. “Even without the beatings it was very hard,” he said, “I had a taste of hell, but God protected me.”

Ung Sophal was successfully treated by a Cuban doctor who was also a Christian (God has his people everywhere). One night when the electricity went out because of a tropical storm, the doctor helped Ung escape. Later he fled with his wife and children to Thailand and spent ten years ministering to other Cambodian exiles - the last five years as a widower.

In 1990, as restrictions against Christianity began to be eased in Cambodia, Ung made his first visit back to his homeland to encourage and teach the church. Word of his return spread quickly and three hundred people came to see him. He is eager for the task ahead. “I want to build my people,” he said. “God has a great work yet to do in Cambodia.”

RESPONSE: Today I will stand strong in Jesus’ strength no matter what Satan throws at me or against me.

PRAYER: Lord, thank You for encouraging testimonies of faithful people like Ung Sophal. Continue to grow Your Church in Cambodia, I pray.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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September 1

Psalms 109:17

As he loved cursing, so let it co me unto him: as he delighted not in blessing, so let it be far from him.

The young tennis star was known both for his fiery play and his fiery language. Whereas he excelled in the mastery of the game, he had not yet matured in the art of sportsmanlike conduct. His wrath was vented each time he disagreed with the umpire's call. He cursed, stomped, screamed, and kicked. Never was he known to back down and admit his own fault. In time, he lost even his own following of fans, because they tired of his childish outbursts.

People who live by selfish emotions find themselves empty and alone most of the time. Their bitterness causes them to curse their life, their friends, their God. Finally, they find it nearly impossible to utter any kind words at all. Those people will not find blessing in their own lives, because they refuse to bring it to others' lives. It is a fact that the blessing we share is the blessing that comes back to us. Likewise, the curse we impart comes back on us, to make us unhappy and guilty.

Prayer: Though things don't always go the way I would like, Lord, help me to accept all that happens with grace and peace. Amen.

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - August 31

DEAD ALREADY – AND HIDDEN IN CHRIST

“For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” Colossians 3:3
Kefa Sempangi was pastor of the large Redeemed Church of Uganda. Easter Sunday 1973 was his first serious brush with death at the hands of Idi Amin's goons. After an all-day worship service he went exhausted to the vestry to change clothes—too exhausted to notice the five strangers (government secret police goons) following him into the room:

They stood between me and the door, pointing their rifles at my face. For a long moment no one said anything. Then the tallest man, obviously the leader, spoke. “We are going to kill you,” he said. “If you have something to say, say it before you die.” He spoke quietly but his face was twisted with hatred.

I could only stare at him. For a sickening moment I felt the full weight of his rage. We had never met before but his deepest desire was to tear me to pieces. My mouth felt heavy and my limbs began to shake. Everything left my control. They will not need to kill me, I thought to myself. I am just going to fall over dead and I will never see my family again.

From far away I heard a voice, and I was astonished to realize that it was my own. “I do not need to plead my own cause,” I heard myself saying. “I am a dead man already. My life is dead and hidden in Christ. It is your lives that are in danger; you are dead in your sins. I will pray to God that after you have killed me, He will spare you from eternal destruction.”

The tall one took a step towards me and then stopped. In an instant, his face was changed. His hatred had turned to curiosity. He lowered his gun and motioned to the others to do the same.

They stared at him in amazement but they took their guns from my face.

Then the tall one spoke again. "Will you pray for us now?" he asked. I thought my ears were playing a trick. I looked at him and then at the others. My mind was completely paralyzed.

“Father in heaven,” I prayed, “you who have forgiven men in the past, forgive these men also. Do not let them perish in their sins but bring them into yourself.”

RESPONSE: Realizing I am dead in Christ brings boldness to proclaim truth even in fearful situations.

PRAYER: Lord, help me to trust You in times of fear and challenge and allow Your Spirit to take control of every situation.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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Standing Strong Through the Storm - August 29

NEVER FAILS TO BEAR FRUIT

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream……and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8d

Trees were not plentiful in Israel and most grew by sources of water like an oasis or a stream. Jeremiah’s simile indicates a person with confidence in the Lord is like a deep-rooted tree by the stream (see Psalm 1), that bears fruit faithfully year after year in all circumstances of weather.

The most remarkable report I’ve heard from China is about a Christian lady in prison during the "anti-spiritual pollution campaign" in the mid-eighties. She spent her time in prison hand carving Scripture verses in miniature lettering with a sharpened end of a toothbrush on the walls and even on the frame of the cot in her cell. Years later she actually met another person who subsequently spent time in the same cell and came to Christ through reading those verses over and over.

One year when visiting Christians in the north of China, I asked the whereabouts of Aunty Mei Bo. This short octogenarian medical doctor, I was told, was away on a missions outreach in spiritually needy Tibet. The next summer she was home and very anxious to hear of our group experience in Tibet - the rooftop of the world - since she was planning another mission trip there soon. She concluded, “Jesus is saying, ‘Hurry up and get the job done so I can come back again!’”

Aunty Mei Bo often stored Bibles from foreign couriers in her home where she lived alone. One day the Public Security Police raided her home and confiscated all the Christian materials they found. Later in the day she found a JESUS video they had missed. So off to the police station she headed with the video.

The young lady at the desk looked askance in her direction. “I want to talk to the Chief of Police!” Mei Bo demanded firmly. “Today his men were at my house and they did not see this,” she said waving the video tape in the air. The receptionist ushered Mei Bo into the police chief’s office. He acted oblivious to her arrival yet grunted a question of intent.

“Sir,” Mei Bo began slowly. “Earlier today your men raided my house and took all the Bibles I had stored there. I understand that they were just doing their job. But after they left, I noticed that they missed this video tape. I need to know from you if this is acceptable material or not. Would you and your staff check it for me?”

“Very well, come back in two weeks,” he muttered dismissing her with a wave of the hand. Mei Bo almost skipped out the door with overflowing joy as she headed toward home. “Thank you Lord! How else could I get the Beijing chief of police with his staff to watch the JESUS video?”

RESPONSE: I want to be a tree that bears fruit without fail, regardless of age and weather conditions.

PRAYER: Lord, may my deep rootedness in You cause me to never fail to produce lasting fruit.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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Standing Strong Through the Storm - August 27

LEAVES ARE ALWAYS GREEN

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream……its leaves are always green…” Jeremiah 17:7-8

Trees were not plentiful in Israel and most grew by sources of water like an oasis or a stream. Jeremiah’s simile indicates a person with confidence in the Lord is like a deep-rooted tree by the stream (see Psalm 1), whose leaves never die but are always green.

Aunty Esther is the first Christian I met inside China. She is adiminutive elderly Chinese medical doctor with a soft, kind voice that masks the many years of suffering through which she has passed.

“During the Cultural Revolution,” she says, “I was called in by my superior one day. At that time I was in charge of eight large pediatric wards in my hospital.

“The communists were cracking down on people who did not toe the current party line. My superior warned me that I should deny my faith and join the communist party or I may have to face the serious consequences of job demotion and salary reduction.

“A few days later, I was rudely awakened by four nurses who roughly pulled me from my bed and marched me to the hospital. En route they stopped at a barbershop and shaved off half of my hair. In front of the rest of the staff, I was confronted to renounce my faith in Christ and join the communist party.

“I responded, ‘I can’t deny Jesus. I love Jesus!’ At the mention of his name they threw me down on the ground and cursed. Later, the communist cadre at my hospital tore the stethoscope from my neck and said, ‘You are no longer Esther; you are now The Fool.’

Esther continues. For the next eleven years she lived in the basement of the hospital and obediently submitted to her new task—cleaning the floors and toilets of the hospital wards that she previously headed. Her already meager salary of 50 dollars per month was reduced to 15 dollars. And she had to buy the cleaning materials from it. The rest was used up on food.

But Esther practiced the presence of Jesus in her job. She sang as she toiled. With a twinkle in her eyes she adds, “My hospital had the cleanest floors and cleanest toilets in all of China!”

Hospital staff would come to her and with great envy question her source of joy in spite of her troubles. Esther responded, “When you have Jesus in your heart, it doesn’t matter what job you do or what position you have. It only matters that you love him and are faithful and loyal to him!”

When the Cultural Revolution period ended, Aunty Esther was reinstated in her original job and given back pay for all that she had been deprived during those eleven years. This amount enabled her to send one of her children to the USA for higher education.

RESPONSE: I will allow my roots to grow deep in the Lord so that my leaves will always be green.

PRAYER: Lord, thank You for the example of faithful Aunty Esther whose life reflected Your love.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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August 26

Psalms 107:14

He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and brake their bands in sunder.

Mabel made sure that children in her neighborhood got a better start than she had. Each day she would invite children into her home, and she would help them with their reading. She would labor long and hard with some, but she was determined that they would never have to face a life lived in darkness and ignorance. Illiteracy was a terrible kind of slavery that no one should suffer under. Mabel's special ministry of love helped children in her area break free from the bonds of ignorance and led them into a bright and exciting light.

God has given us minds to use and wonderful technologies. There is no excuse for living in fear and darkness in our world today. He has liberated us from ignorance and has granted us knowledge and wisdom beyond measure. Take hold of the great gift of the mind, and thank God daily for it.

Prayer: Shed Your light upon my heart and mind, fath er, that I might know all that I can about You, Your creation, and Your will. Be the source of my understanding and my liberation. Amen

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August 25

Psalms 107:2-3

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy; And gathered them out of the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north, and from the south.

The missionaries were prepared to share the Word of God with the natives of the small isle off the North Africa coast. They were well stocked with crosses and Bibles, and they had become well versed in the native tongue. Nothing, however, prepared them for the shock when they deplaned and were greeted by a band of natives singing out, "God bless you; Jesus loves you!"

The reality of God has spread to the four corners of our globe. Voices sing out His praises continually, and it is often true that our poorer brothers and sisters have the clearest and loudest voices. We can learn a great deal from those people who live day to day in the shadow of poverty, who truly understand how fortunate they are to be alive. Let every woman, man and child sing forth in praise to God. He has been good to us all.

Prayer: I have been transformed by a love far beyond my understanding. Thank You, Lord, for taking my life and making it something holy and special. Make my life a glory to Your name. Amen.

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- August 25

VICTORY – COMMISSIONING COMMITMENT

“Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’” Luke 9:23

The personal and trusting relationship between God and His followers now leads the believer to the commissioning aspect of commitment—a task that is characteristic of being His true followers—“and follow me.” This commitment is not to a task but to a person. To be a follower of Jesus is to be a disciple of Jesus. A disciple is one who follows the teaching of another; one who is like another; one who models after another.

What is the task to which he has called us? The task is none other than the words of what we call “The Great Commission”:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” ((Matthew 28:18–20)

The Christian’s task is nothing short of being a servant of Jesus Christ proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ and helping others become followers of Jesus. Our primary responsibility is neither overthrowing governments nor opposing ideologies but a proactive one of making disciples of all nations.

In the course of our obedience to God’s authority, we may come in conflict with the existing government. We have been called to be good citizens and history has proven that Christians are generally law-abiding and hard working. But when conflicts come, the Christian is ready to choose his commitment to Christ over his or her commitment to local authorities (Acts 4:19–20).

RESPONSE: Today I complete my commitment to follow Jesus in sharing His love with others.

PRAYER: As a true disciple, I give myself, Lord, to the task of world evangelization starting where You place me today.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Standing Strong Through the Storm-August 22

THE CHURCH – NORTH KOREAN TESTIMONY

“Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Romans 8:17

Gyeong Ju Son, a young woman from North Korea who lost her mother and father, gave her moving testimony at The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Cape Town, South Africa in October 2010. The 4200 participants from over 190 countries, went away stunned—many moved to tears. She said:

“I look back over my short life and I see God’s hand everywhere. Six years in North Korea, eleven in China and now in South Korea. Everything I suffered: all the sadness and grief, all that I have experienced and learned; I want to give it all to God and use my life for His Kingdom. In this way I also hope to bring honor to my father.”

Still a student, the intention of this young and vibrant follower of Christ is to go to university to study political science and diplomacy, and then work for the rights of the voiceless in North Korea. She concluded:

“Brothers and sisters here in this place, I humbly ask you to pray that the same light of God’s grace and mercy that reached my father and my mother and now me, will one day soon dawn upon the people of North Korea, my people!”

RESPONSE: Today I will continue to believe that God takes terrible situations and turns them into good.

PRAYER: Lord, we pray that you will call many youths like Gyeong Ju to minister among the needy people of North Korea.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - August 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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The Beginning of Joy - UpWords - Week of August 19-25

by Max Lucado

In Matthew 11:28 Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and I will give you rest.” You’ve been there. You’re turned your back on the noise and sought his voice. You’ve stepped away from the masses and followed the Master as he led you up the winding path to the summit. His summit. Clean air. Clear view. Crisp breeze. The roar of the marketplace is down there, and the perspective of the peak is up here. Gently he invited you to sit on the rock and look out with him at the ancient peaks that will never erode.

Just remember, he says, you’ll go nowhere tomorrow that I haven’t already been. Truth will still triumph. Death will still die. The victory is still yours. And delight is one decision away--seize it! Joy begins by breathing deep up there before you go crazy down here!

From The Applause of Heaven

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - August 17

THE CROSS – SOURCE OF PEACE

“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

Five Christian students were walking home from an Open Doors seminar in east Africa and passed a young Muslim man walking into the bush with a rope in his hand. He tied the rope around a tree. The students asked, “What are you doing?”

“I want to kill myself,” he replied.

“Why?”

“I say my prayers five times a day and I read the Qur’an. I have money, a wife and children, but I have no peace. I want peace. That is my one big wish.”

The students applied what they have learned and witnessed to this man named Keder. They told him that the Qur’an teaches that Jesus is a prophet but He is also the Savior of everyone who accepts Him as Lord. He is the Prince of Peace. Keder left the rope in the tree and decided to give this Savior a try. The students took him to church and after prayer Keder said, “I’ve found the peace I was seeking.”

The following day Keder showed up at the seminar. A stranger wearing a Muslim hat scared the teacher at first but he continued. In the afternoon, Keder asked to give his testimony. “Until now, Islam was the only genuine religion for me because it was straightforward. I studied the Qur'an for five years and I did my rituals daily but none of that gave me peace. That is why I decided to kill myself. Then I met five of you Christians yesterday. I used to hate Christians, but when you witnessed and prayed for me, everything changed. Muslims are hurting without the knowledge of the Scriptures, therefore pray for them."

Keder is now secretly studying the Bible and attending church. He is the first Muslim in his area to accept Christ. His Bible study leader says that he attends regularly and arrives early to talk about Jesus before the Bible study starts. Jesus’ peace makes him unafraid and he wants to witness. He is even prepared to die for Jesus.

RESPONSE: Today I will rest in the promises of the Prince of Peace and not be fearful.

PRAYER: Pray for Muslims who are hurting from the lack of knowledge of the Scriptures and the source of true peace.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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August 15

Psalms 103:15

As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.

Deanna built a career on her looks. She had been the dream girl of Hollywood and had loved living the fast life. Now, her looks were fading and Deanna had nothing to fall back on. She had believed her charmed life would never end, but the hard reality was that she no longer could bank on her beauty.

We are given each day as a gift. Once a day is gone, it can never be recaptured. Too often we live our lives as if they are going to go on forever just as they are. Lives change, and we need to be ready to change with them. God helps us to accept where we are and to grow to new levels of maturity. Before this day passes and is gone, call upon the Lord to help you make the most of it. Then, when the new day dawns, be ready for the challenges it brings.

Prayer: Help me to live for what is important this day, so that I might truly be ready for all the days to come. Your gifts are so won derful, Lord. Please don't allow me to take them for granted. Amen.

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Standing Strong Through the Storm- August 14

THE CROSS – NO ORDINARY LIFE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - August 13

THE CROSS – DOING THE HARD THING

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

Jesus was the last person Sundar Singh was looking for as a late teenager in India at the turn of the 20th Century. After all, Jesus was the “foreign god” of the Christian teachers at his school. A zealous Sikh, Sundar had publicly torn up a portion of the Bible to protest its claims. One night as he prayed he became conscious of a light shining in the room. He looked outside to make sure it was not someone shining a light. Gradually the light took the form of a globe of fire and in it he saw the face of Jesus. Sundar threw himself on the ground and surrendered His life to Jesus.

The following months proved to be very difficult for Sundar and his family. Becoming a follower of Christ was not taken lightly by his family nor his community. He was excommunicated. He cut his hair, a gesture that did not make things any easier with his family who were convinced he had renounced his Sikh heritage.

A month after he was baptized in the year 1905, he took the vow of a sadhu. He gave away his meager possessions, put on a saffron robe and became a barefooted wandering man of God. Among Christians the world over, this barefoot Sadhu was later called the “apostle of the bleeding feet” because the soles of his feet were often covered in bloody blisters. The life of a sadhu is hard and entirely dependent on God. Sadhu Sundar Singh’s needs were met entirely through the kindness of people he met wherever he went.

Sundar Singh is credited as the first missionary to cross the Himalayan Mountains to take the gospel to Nepal and Tibet. At 36 years of age he made his last trip over the mountains. He never returned and is assumed to have been a martyr for Jesus.

In his diary left behind he had written, “It is easy to die for Christ. It is hard to live for Him. Dying takes only a few minutes—or at worst an hour or two—but to live for Christ means to die daily to myself.”

RESPONSE: Today I will do the “hard” thing: die to myself and live for Jesus and others who need His love.

PRAYER: Help me Lord to live worthy of the calling as Your disciple. Show me the cross You want me to carry today.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks


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Standing Strong Through the Storm - August 12

THE CROSS – REJOICE IN PERSECUTION

“He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…” John 1:10-12

The most recent edition of the famous prayer manual, Operation World, was published in November 2010 and was quick to highlight as a global trend, “...The rise in levels of persecution – especially for Christians.” The editors of the Operation World explained why:

“The end of the European colonial era, the end of Christianity’s status as state religion in most of the West and the resurgence of religious sentiments globally, especially fundamentalism, all mean that Christians generally no longer operate from a position of power or privilege. Christians are subject to persecution in much of the world. Evangelicals are subject to even more due to their proselytism and commitment to the uniqueness of Christ. The presence of persecution and hardship in the life of the Church appears to be normative in Scripture; contexts where persecution does not exist at all should be as much a cause for concern as places where it is intense.”

Open Doors’ Dr. Ron Boyd-MacMillan concludes:

In the end, the rise of persecution is paradoxically for Christians something to protest and to celebrate, for as a Beijing house church pastor says, “The church is always persecuted when it does something right...it shows Christ to a world that rejects him.” Persecution is the continual replaying of John chapter one verses ten and eleven: “[Jesus] came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, but even they rejected him.” And so in the challenging words of a Palestinian pastor, “Every Christian must rejoice to be persecuted, and fight for Christ to be recognized in the midst of suffering, for suffering is the gift by which we see our need of Him who came for us and loves us.”

RESPONSE: As Christians, persecution is not something to avoid but to celebrate.

PRAYER: Lord, help me to rejoice when persecution comes my way – whether mild, medium or hot! And help me to fight for Christ to be recognized in the midst of the suffering.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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A Radical Reconstruction - UpWords - Week of August 12-18

by Max Lucado

God promises a special blessing. A sacred delight. It’s not a gimmick to give goose bumps or a mental attitude that has to be pumped up. No, Matthew 5 describes God’s radical reconstruction of the heart. Observe the sequence in the Beatitudes. We recognize we are in need--we’re poor in spirit. Next, we repent of our self-sufficiency--we mourn. We quit calling the shots--we’re meek. We are so grateful for his presence that we yearn for more--we hunger and thirst. We forgive others--we’re merciful. We change our outlook--we’re pure in heart. We love others--we’re peacemakers. We endure injustice--we’re persecuted.

It’s no casual shift of attitude. It is a demolition of the old and a creation of the new. The more radical the change, the greater the joy. And it is worth every effort, for this is the joy of God! A special blessing....a sacred delight.

From The Applause of Heaven

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - August 8

RESOURCES – EFFECTIVE PRAYER

“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”James 5:16B

For 15 years from 1981 to 1995, in one Chinese city there were many cases of murder, armed robbery, rape, gangs of thieves, local village local tyrants were rampant and small children were being kidnapped, taxis were being robbed and taxi drivers being killed. People’s hearts were nervous. Traffic related disputes were increasing and society was not in a peaceful state. There were less than 3000 believers in the city.

At this time, the Holy Spirit moved Sister Zhou to the city. This Christian sister helped the church there for over one month. She received a burden while praying that the church should set up a prayer watch. So, the first prayer watch group was established. When it started, there were only 6 people. On Sundays these 6 people would all watch and pray simultaneously.

After almost six months of this kind of prayer, the national police cleaned up and eliminated the triad gangs and local village tyrants and brought about a change for a better environment in the city.

At the time when children were being kidnapped, old Sister Chang began to fast and pray. Every day she would pray saying, “O Father God, save and rescue these children. Send an old granny to look after them!” After a year’s time, the problem of children being kidnapped was transformed.

One problem would be solved and then another problem would come up for prayer. The rate of deaths in that city due to traffic accidents was an average of 1 –2 people per day. Many more than that were injured daily. They then decided to make the city’s traffic safety to be a special prayer topic. They prayed and relied on God to solve the traffic problems.

From 1995 until now, small groups of prayer watches have expanded from one to three core groups. Each person prays at a designated time and the time for prayer rotates to another person in the group. It has now expanded into a large prayer network. Now the city is peaceful and safe. The work of the gospel is stable and steadily expanding. There are more than 30,000 Christians in the city attending meetings.

The people’s attitudes and appearance all seem like they are renewed. Although there are many laid-off workers, they seem to be able to find enough work to still be able to feed their families. This truly is the effect of prayer. It is the work done by our Father for the city.

RESPONSE: Today I will recommit myself to believe in the power of prayer and practice that belief.

PRAYER: Pray for the problems in your city or community. Ask God for like-minded partners.

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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Standing Strong Through the Storm - August 7

RESOURCES - PRAYER

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” Ephesians 6:18

Prayer is mentioned in the context of the wardrobe of the Christian warrior but not as a specific weapon of war or a piece of armor. That’s because prayer is the key to consistent victory in our warfare. Therefore, prayer is one of the most important things we can do when fighting the enemy.

David's battle with Goliath was not won when the stone flew from the sling. It was won in David's close relationship with the Living God. Our battles are won or lost in the way we walk with God. Prayer is talking with God and letting Him talk with you. Prayer is taking a stand against the spiritual forces of darkness that influence events and circumstances in the world.

Prayer is asserting God's victory before we walk into battle. But prayer is more than kneeling before God. Prayer is as much an attitude as it is an act. Prayer is keeping your heart open to His leadership. Prayer is the constant communion with God needed to face the challenge of completing Jesus’ mission.

A Bible courier recounts; “We walk up to the customs with our suitcases full of Bibles. We know that at that moment there are as many as a hundred people praying for us. And can you feel it! We feel peace and joy as we push our trolley of suitcases towards the customs desk. I am absolutely certain that we are surrounded by angels. It sounds strange, but I just know.

‘Excuse me, ladies, do you have anything to declare?’ At that moment, a good friend rushes up to the customs officer. They greet each other profusely. The customs man no longer sees us. We walk on, and a moment later we are standing with all our suitcases, which have not been opened, waiting for a taxi.

“I feel small and think, ‘Who am I? I only walk past the customs with my suitcases and I don't even have to answer any questions. That’s all that God asks of me. And it’s He who does the rest - incredibly!’”

RESPONSE: Today I commit myself to being a person of prayer as I put on the whole armor of God.

PRAYER: Pray today with all kinds of prayers for all of God’s people. A great challenge and a great opportunity!

A daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks

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