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Archive for January, 2018

Charles Colson in his book, The Body, gives a vivid description of the horrors that took place during World War II at a place called Auschwitz. It is here that trains arrived regularly loaded with Jews and others who were regarded by Nazi Germany to be worthless — and they were quickly exterminated.

Every time a trainload of prisoners arrived they were told to take off their clothes, enter a large building labeled “BATHS,” and take a shower that would delouse them. They had no idea that the Nazi orderlies would drop small quantities of blue crystals into the sealed rooms from above containing a potent poison. The panicked victims would quickly vomit, suffocate, empty their bowels on the concrete floor, and die. Their cities were to be erased and their industry appropriated for Germany.

By 1941 Auschwitz was working like a well-organized killing machine, and the Nazis congratulated themselves on their efficiency. Earlier methods of execution – mass shootings, gas dispersed into vans, and lethal injections — had been less efficient. They made it difficult to effectively dispose of the corpses. But Auschwitz was working like clockwork. The camp’s five chimneys never stopped smoking. The stench was terrible, but the results were efficient. Eight thousand Jews could be stripped, gassed, cremated, and their possessions appropriated for the Reich – all within twenty-four hours – every twenty-four hours.

To the Nazis, the Jews and Slavic peoples were subhuman. They had to be exterminated and gotten out of the way. One of those taken prisoner was a Catholic priest named Maximillian Kolbe. He had clearly and strongly objected to what the Nazis had in mind. Thus, he was arrested and carried to Auschwitz.

One July night the air at Auschwitz was suddenly filled with the baying of dogs, the curses of soldiers, and the roar of motorcycles. A prisoner had escaped from Barracks 14. Camp Commandant Fritsch ordered all the prisoners in Barracks 14 to stand in line. Hours passed. The summer sun beat down. Some of the prisoners fainted and were dragged away. Some were beaten with the butts of guns. Fritsch began to speak, the veins in his thick neck standing out with rage. “The fugitive has not been found,” he shouted. “Ten of you will die for him in the starvation bunker. Next time, twenty will be condemned.”

One prisoner who had been condemned to die groaned, sweating with fear. “My poor wife! My poor children! What will they do?” As the ten doomed prisoners began their march toward the starvation bunker suddenly there was a commotion in the ranks. It was the frail priest, Father Maximillian Kolbe. “ When Commandant Fritsch asked him what he wanted, he said, “I want to die in the place of one of the ten men.” When asked which, he pointed to the man who had bemoaned his wife and children who was now crying.

Thus, Maxilillian Kolbe entered Barracks 11 with the other condemned men prepared to die. As he did so, he said to the Commandant, “Christ died on the cross naked. It is only fitting that I suffer as He suffered to gain the glory He gained.” He took off his clothes as he was ordered to do, entered Barracks 11, and died.

Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15:13-14). You have likely never been to Auschwitz, and probably would not go if you were given the option of doing so. However, the important question is this: Have you ever been to the hill called Calvary? If you haven’t, it is a journey well worth putting on your schedule.

I highly recommend it.

 

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Many years ago, Jewish physician Boris Kornfield was snatched from his family and medical practice and incarcerated in a Soviet Union prison in Siberia. There he was no longer among the people he knew and who needed him, but he had been trained to provide medical help to anyone who needed it. So, even though a prisoner in Siberia, he worked in surgery, helping both the prison staff and prisoners. One of the prisoners was a Christian whose name is unknown to us, but whose quiet faith and frequent reciting of the Lord’s Prayer made such an impression on Dr. Kornfield that he also became a Christian.

Several months later Dr. Kornfield was asked to suture the slashed artery of one of the prison guards. He seriously considered suturing the artery in such a way that the guard would slowly die of internal bleeding. The violence he recognized in his own heart appalled him, and he found himself saying, “Lord, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Afterward, when he had endured about as much as any man can stand, he refused to obey various, inhumane, immoral, prison-camp rules. He knew that the prison guards would consider this to be unacceptable rebellion, and that his life would be in danger.

One afternoon Dr. Kornfield performed an operation on a fellow prisoner to remove a cancerous tumor from his body. He saw in the man’s eyes a depth of spiritual misery he had not seen in any other prisoner. He was so moved by compassion for the man that he felt free to tell him the story of his own life, including the time he had accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord.

That very night Dr. Kornfield was murdered as he slept. The patient on whom he had performed surgery became a Christian as a result of having heard his testimony. In fact, he survived the prison camp and went on to tell the world about life in a communist gulag. His name was Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who became one of the leading Russian writers of the twentieth century. Except for his writings the world would not know the full story of the horrors of the Siberian prison camps and the perils of Russian communism.

What if Dr. Kornfield had not shared his faith with this sick prisoner? What if he had thought, “This man is too sick to listen to anything I have to say? He is probably going to die tonight.” The world would be without the brilliant writing of Solzhenitsyn, and that would be a tragedy of immense proportions.

What can we learn as Christians from this true story? The first thing we should learn is that, even should we not know it, or even accept it, each of us can make a difference in our world. God places in our path on a regular basis persons who do not know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and Lord. The fact that we know them gives us an opportunity to share the story of what God has done in our lives.

We know other individuals who are lonely, or depressed, or hungry, or in trouble, or who just need a friend. This gives us the opportunity to make a difference. We may never know the full impact of the seeds we sow when we share our faith with others, but God could begin a chain of influence that lasts for generations.

Whether you believe it or not, you can make a difference. You can change the environment in which you live. You can make a positive impact – on your family, on people where you work, on a neighbor, on your classmates, or on your circle of friends. Jesus said to His disciples: “You are the light of the world.” There is a song many of us learned when we were children: “This little light of mine . . . I’m gonna let it shine!”

Dr. Kornfield let his light shine! Think of the difference he made. You and I can make a difference also! Believe it! And do it! You can decide to let your light shine every day until the Lord calls you home. In other words, you can aspire to inspire until you expire. You will not have lived in vain.

 

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One of my favorite comic strip theologians is Charles Shultz, creator of the Peanuts cartoons. In one of the installments, Lucy storms into the room and demands that Linus change the television channel, threatening him if he doesn’t:

“What makes you think you can walk in here and take over?” Linus asks.

“These five fingers,” says Lucy. “Individually they are nothing, but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold.”

“Which channel do you want?” Linus asks disgustedly. Then, after a moment or so, he looks at his own fingers and says, “Why can’t you guys get organized like that?”

Like Linus, many of us need more discipline and organization in our lives. How do we cope with the tyranny of the urgent, not allowing the immediate claims on our time and energy to sidetrack us from the mission Christ has given us? The answer: we use the resource available from beyond ourselves – prayer.

Paul affirms this possibility in his epistle to the Christians in Rome. “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will” (Romans 8:26-27). In other words, it is when we are most aware of our helplessness that we see the importance of turning to God in prayer. He helps us do what we could never do by and for ourselves.

We remember Gethsemane and the anguish of Jesus as he embraced His human limits. The author of Hebrews says, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). Facing what we face prepared Him to be our priest, our great intercessor.

Jesus prayerfully interceded in our behalf in Gethsemane; we prayerfully intercede in behalf of others. Some very special things happen when we pray – things that would not happen if we did not pray. Lives are transformed, individuals are healed, situations change, conditions are altered, people find direction, revivals come, and even nations have been empowered to move in a more positive direction.

In his Cotton Patch Gospel version of the New Testament, Clarence Jordan translates II Corinthians 5:19 in this way: “God was in Christ, hugging the world to himself.” That is what prayer is, isn’t it? We put our arms around another person, another family, our church family, a relationship, a situation, our community, and even the world. Through prayer we hug the person or persons to ourselves and to God in love. In a mysterious way we may never understand, something always happens not only to us but also to those for whom we pray.

Intercessory prayer is the power base on which meaningful relationships with others take place. It opens the way for us to invest time, energy, and resources in what God is doing to build His kingdom on the earth. One of the reasons why both individual Christians and some churches lack power today is that intercessory prayer is neglected. Make no mistake: the ministry of intercession is very demanding.

The Prophet Isaiah gives us these words from God: “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24). What a powerful promise – God hears and answers our prayers! Claim that promise and, like Lucy in the Peanuts cartoon, you can become better organized to serve God.

 

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“Can my life be changed? Is there any hope for me?” These two questions have been asked countless times by individuals who were living on what they perceived to be a dead-end street. Those who turn to God will discover that they can and will be answered in the affirmative.

God has been lighting candles of hope through many centuries of darkness, and He is not about to stop at this stage in history. The prophet Micah proclaimed, “He (God) will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities under foot. Yes, He will cast all our sins into the depth of the sea” (Micah 7:19). Also, those who seek a better way and a brighter day will be strengthened by words Moses spoke to Israel: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27).

Who among us would dare claim to have lived a perfect life? Anyone making such a claim would undoubtedly lie about other things too. Though we may claim to be perfect, our thoughts and deeds would always speak out against us. “All we like sheep have gone astray . . . . “(Isaiah 53:6). The Apostle Paul declared, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

When I read in the Bible that “whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” I am fully convinced that God said what He meant and meant what He said. No one is excluded from receiving God’s measureless mercy and complete forgiveness. Literally no one — no matter how numerous or dark their sins may be! There is nothing anyone can do to earn God’s forgiveness. All that is required is to accept it by faith.

This means that life can definitely be changed! God’s forgiveness is of such magnitude that finite minds have always found it difficult to understand or believe. Even so, there are three things you and I can know with absolute certainty about God’s offer of forgiveness:

It is a divine act. It is the supreme way in which God expresses His love for us. We acknowledge our wrongs and repent of our sins. We come, asking Him to forgive. The next move is then His, and He never disappoints us. He covers our ugly sins with His love. That is forgiveness. It is His nature to forgive.

It is an outright gift from God. There is nothing we could ever do or know that could demonstrate in any way that we merited His forgiveness. Sin robs us of inner peace and separates us from God. It will eventually cost us our soul, unless we repent of our sins and accept God’s forgiveness.

Its goal is the restoration of a relationship. Once God forgives us of our sins, we are no longer separated from Him. When the prodigal son was forgiven of his sins, I doubt that his father ever mentioned his being away from home again. That did not mean that his brother did not remind him of his evil ways. Unfortunately, we humans tend to be much less forgiving than God.

God’s first business is the restoring of broken relationships. Through the offer of forgiveness He seeks to make obedient children out of those who are separated from Him. He stands at the door of every heart, waiting for us to open it and invite Him into our lives to bring hope and healing. He knocks and waits patiently. The door to every person’s heart is opened from the inside – and that includes yours.

Do you have any relationships that need restoration? Some may be filled with resentments and unwarranted prejudice. Others may have a deep sorrow that needs divine healing. Others may be caught in the grip of a destructive habit that is difficult to break. Some may involve the burden of guilt resulting from things that happened in the past.

If you are experiencing difficulties in your life, believing you live at the end of a dead-end street, perhaps you are at this very moment asking the question, “Can my life be changed?” If so, know this: your life definitely can be changed! Whatever your spiritual needs are at the current time, they can be met in Jesus Christ. No life is beyond His help and healing. “For God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27).

Nicolaus Copernicus was a great mathematician. His studies and calculations revolutionized the thinking of mankind about the universe. At death’s door he saw himself, not as a great scholar or astronomer, but only as a sinner in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness. He chose his own epitaph: “I do not seek a kindness equal to that given to Apostle Paul, but the forgiveness which God granted to the penitent thief. That I earnestly seek.”

If your life needs to be changed, I John 1:9 tells you where to begin: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

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