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What does it mean to live here in light of there?

Solomon states in the book of Ecclesiastes that “God has set eternity in our hearts” (3:10, 11). Living in the light of eternity enables us to make choices here on earth that dramatically affect every part of our lives.

Such a choice was required of a woman named Vibia Perpetua who lived in the second century A.D. She had a husband and a newborn baby. They were new Christians, and were members of the struggling persecuted church in North Africa. Linda Holland tells Vibia’s story in her book, Alabaster Doves.

The day came when people moved from the center of the street in Carthage to make way for a procession of Roman legionnaires. The lead Roman soldier unrolled a scroll and read it to the people who had gathered. The message denounced those who were Christians because they would not sacrifice to the emperor. Wherever they were to be found they were to be taken, held, and brought before the consul.

Meanwhile, outside of town, Vibia and her husband had just become new members of the Christian church in Carthage. She was twenty-two, and could not have known at that time that her commitment to Christ would demand of her the ultimate test of courage.

The Roman Emperor Septimius Severus had issued an edict prohibiting Jews and Christians alike from converting or making converts. The Roman procurator Hilarianus faithfully and fanatically attended to the execution of this edict. If these new Christians would not deny their faith, they had to be executed.

The new church had entered the martyr age. Men, women, and children were torn from their homes, judged to be dangerous citizens, and condemned to die. Spies lurked in neighborhoods who reported the names of those who became followers of Jesus Christ. Not only had Vibia Perpetua and her husband become Christians, but several of her friends had also accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior.

Vibia’s father came to the prison again and again to plead with her. With tears in his eyes, he kissed her hands and fell at her feet, asking her to recant her faith. For this he was taken out and beaten. Vibia watched as her husband denied his Christian faith, placed the lighted sacrificial incense on the altar to the emperor. He then ran away, leaving his wife to be executed.

The day came for the execution to be carried out. Vibia and her fellow Christians were led before Hilarianus, Procurator of Carthage. “Are you a Christian?” Hilarianus demanded.

“I am,” Vibia answered. “I cannot forsake my faith for freedom. I will not do it. For Christ is my life, and death to me is gain.”

Hilarianus signaled the executioners, who herded Vibia and her friends to the entrance of the arena to be executed. Vibia and her friends met their deaths on March 7, 203 A.D. and stepped into the arms of Jesus. The blood and tears of these dedicated early Christians were hot wasted, though. They moistened the ground into which new seed would fall and produce a harvest for Christ’s kingdom.

They knew what it meant to live here in the light of there. The day could come in our country when Christians would be asked to deny their faith or die. If so, will your faith be strong enough to stand the test?

 

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Very few things in the world are as awe-inspiring or give as much joy as the birth of a child. To see a child function – instilled by God with the spirit and soul of an individual – should be testimony enough for any person to believe that there is a God. As children grow and we witness the innocence of their character and personality, we can understand the answer Jesus gave when His disciples asked Him who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. He called a little child to stand beside Him, and said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:2).

Every child is a gift from God. So, what is a boy? And what is a girl? A few lines from the writings of Alan Beck point out some of the delightful pleasures of children:

“A boy is truth with dirt on his face, beauty with a cut on his finger, wisdom with bubble gum in his hair, and the hope of the future with a frog in his pocket . . . And when you come home at night with only the shattered pieces of your hopes and dreams, he can mend them like new with two magic words, ‘Hi, Dad!’”

“A girl is innocence playing in the mud, beauty standing on its head, and motherhood dragging a doll by the foot . . . But when your dreams tumble down and the world is a mess…she can make you a king (or queen) when she climbs on your knee and whispers, ‘I love you best of all!’”

Children are a constant reminder of many attributes we should all strive to develop. Andrew Gillies expressed it this way:

“Last night my little boy confessed to me

Some childish wrong;

He prayed with tears—

‘Dear God, make me a man

Like daddy — wise and strong;

I know you can.’”

Then while he slept

I knelt beside his bed,

Confessed my sins,

And prayed with low-bowed head –

‘O God, make me a child

Like my child here—

Pure, guileless,

Trusting Thee with faith sincere.’”

May we all live our lives with a sizeable portion of that childlike innocence, that we may be always teachable. Jesus said that it is the best way to know Him, serve Him, and one day reserve a place in our Father’s eternal kingdom.

 

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John Ruskin wrote: “How much I owe to my mother for having exercised me in the Scriptures, and above all, having taught me to reverence them as transcending all thought and ordinary conduct.” What a treasure he had to be able to say he had a godly mother. As Abraham Lincoln said, “No man is poor who has had a godly mother.”

Many women today are upset and disappointed when they learn they are pregnant. They say it will interrupt their lifestyle, so they get an abortion. They say, “This is my body; I will do with it as I choose.” I could understand this sentiment if only their body were involved. The Bible teaches that our bodies belong to the Lord, not to ourselves. Thus, Christians are to use their bodies in a way that will honor and serve the Lord.

The women to whom our world is most indebted are godly mothers, for they believe in prayer and often pray. Monica, a North African Christian in the fourth century AD was 23 years old when her son, Augustine, was born. Augustine was destined to become one of the greatest Christian leaders and thinkers of all time – in spite of his father’s unbelief. Though Monica’s husband was frequently unfaithful to her and possessed a violent temper, she trained Augustine in the Scriptures and prayed for him every day.

According to Augustine’s Confessions, at sixteen he plunged into sexual immorality. For the next sixteen years he tried to extricate himself, but could not. Finally, his mother’s prayers were answered, and Augustine came to the cross a penitent sinner, was forgiven of his sins, and his life was totally transformed. Monica’s prayers for her husband were also answered, for he became a Christian shortly before his death.

God-fearing mothers recognize that their children are gifts from God. The Old Testament mother, Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel, was such a mother, for “she gave her son to the Lord.” She did it while he was yet a child. She was not willing to stand idly by and wait for him to grow up. I can identify with Samuel because my mother also gave me to the Lord when I was very young. She saw that I was in church each Sunday. She didn’t send me, or make me go; she took me to church. I am eternally indebted to her.

God-fearing mothers take advantage of their children’s curiosity by teaching them the important things they need to know in order to develop their skills. Because children are curious, they are loyal to those they love, and are teachable. This is where a God-fearing mother has her greatest opportunity to serve God and touch the world. To come to Christ at an early age is to miss the bondage of evil habits: alcohol, drugs, immorality, etc. It is important that both parents set the proper example for their children. More is caught by children from their parent’s example than is taught to them through their words.

When Robert Ingersoll, the notorious skeptic, was in his heyday, two college students went to hear him lecture. As they walked down the street after the lecture, one said to the other, “Well, I guess he knocked the props out from under Christianity, didn’t he?” The other said, “No, I don’t think he did. Ingersoll didn’t explain my mother’s life, and until he can do that, I will stand by my mother’s God.”

No mother has ever had a more important job than raising her children. Therefore, to every mother reading these words, ask yourself this question: “What would it profit me if I could gain the whole world, and lose my own sons and daughters?” It takes a great deal more than just having children and attending church to make you a godly mother. It asks that you dedicate your life, your home, your work, and your children to God – and that you pray daily for His leadership.

 

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I suspect that you, like me, receive a lot of telephone calls every day. Imagine that one day when your phone rings, you pick it up and say, “Hello . . . to whom am I speaking? You mean the real, er uh . . . I mean, the One who . . . who created the entire universe and hung the stars in place? The One who . . . Holy Catfish! . . . What do I mean by ‘Holy Catfish?’ It’s only an expression, honest to . . . uh oh . . . Well, what I mean is, I didn’t expect You to answer . . . And by the way, why do You answer your own phone? I know lots of people who aren’t nearly as important as You are who don’t answer their own phone.

“In my work here on the earth I have had secretaries for more than sixty years in the churches I have served as pastor who answered incoming calls, then buzzed me on the intercom to tell me who was calling. Don’t You have a secretary in heaven? You don’t? But surely You have an official receptionist? Of course, I should have remembered . . . your receptionist is Simon Peter. I knew that all the time. I was just pulling your leg . . . Oh my goodness, that is not what I intended to say . . . please forgive me.

“You must get a tremendous amount of calls . . . You don’t? . . . That surprises me . . . I thought a lot more people than that would talk to You every single day . . . What? . . . And You say this is the first time that I have talked to You in three months and ten days? . . . Really, God, You didn’t have to mention that, did You? . . . Er, uh . . . What I meant to say, Lord, is that You have every right to mention it.

“Let me get back to why You don’t have a secretary. You say you enjoy answering the phone? . . . Really? . . . But God, You could have any secretary You want. There are some excellent secretaries down here – including Brenda, the current secretary at our church. She is one of the finest. You could zap up any secretary You choose. . . . What? You don’t find that to be funny? I thought it was pretty funny . . . Ha Ha — see, I’m laughing. Yes, of course You are right. Brenda would not appreciate my joke either.

“What’s that? You have a bookkeeper in heaven? And among the things You keep on record are how often church members attend worship, and how much they give in their Sunday offerings . . . Really? I don’t believe most church members are aware that everything they DO and DON’T DO . . . and the amount they GIVE or FAIL TO GIVE is all recorded in your book. And You say that the Internal Revenue Service would be very surprised at how little some church members give to support the work of your Kingdom?

“Lord, would You like for me to tell church members about the books You are keeping? You would? I will also include this information in an article that I have written every week since 1959 for publication. After I have done these things I will get back with You and let You know if it has made any difference in worship attendance each Sunday in the church I attend, and if the level of giving to the work of your Kingdom has increased. . . . Oh, I forgot . . . You will know this before I will. Yes Sir! I mean, Yes, Lord.

“You want me to tell people that when history has come to an end and Judgment Day has arrived that your books will be opened to reveal everything that is in them . . . Really? And that those whose attention You have been trying to get for a long time are going to be greatly surprised? . . . And also embarrassed? And that especially those who don’t even believe You exist will be the most surprised? I can understand that!

“Come to think of it, Lord, knowing that your books are going to be opened on Judgment Day, I’ve got to run. I’ve got to begin doing several of the things You have asked me to do that I have let slide far too long.”

 

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In Winston-Salem the Moravian Christians hold a major celebration annually at Easter. In that community they call the cemetery “God’s Acre.” The saints of God from prior generations have been buried under simple white stones – a reminder to the Moravians of the “democracy of death.”

During Holy Week the people come with brushes and pails to scrub these stones. On Saturday, they put a bouquet of fresh flowers on every single grave. Before dawn on Easter morning the whole community meets at the church. Then, to the subdued sound of a brass band, they march to the cemetery. There among the orderly rows of white stones they joyfully celebrate the resurrection of the dead.

Every Easter the Moravians in Winston-Salem, along with Christians around the world, celebrate the hope that the apostle Paul expresses so well in the powerful and poetic eighth chapter of Romans: “If God is for us, who is against us? . . . Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? . . . For I am sure that neither death, nor life . . . . nor things present, nor things to come . . . nor anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The Christian hope of resurrection to eternal life rests solidly on the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

God is at the heart of Easter – not you, not me – but God! Easter affirms, among its many affirmations, that those who are dead may – and by a new creation of God – have new life. It is what Benjamin Franklin affirmed prior to his death when he wrote his own epitaph:

The body of Benjamin Franklin, Printer,

 (Like the cover of an old book,

 Its contents torn out,

 And stript of its lettering and gilding)

 Lies here, food for worms!

 But the work shall not be lost,

 For it will, as he believed, appear once more

 In a new and beautiful edition

 Revised and corrected by the Author.”

For centuries, the motto of Portugal was a Latin phrase meaning “Nothing More Beyond.” Only that part of the world that wrapped around the Mediterranean Sea was known at that time. It was believed that if one sailed beyond Portugal out into the Atlantic Ocean he would fall off the edge of the world. The Portuguese prided themselves in being at the extreme end of the world. Thus, they proudly displayed the phrase, “Nothing More Beyond.” It was shattering news when they learned that a new world had been discovered on the far side of the Atlantic. They decided to strike out the negative in their motto so that it read “More Beyond.”

That is precisely what the Easter message is all about: Individuals who know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord do not have to fear when their journey on earth is coming to an end, for there is “MORE BEYOND!

Hallelujah!

 

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The determination by Jesus to complete the mission assigned to Him by our Heavenly Father was severely tested in the Garden of Gethsemane. People had come from every direction of the compass to be in Jerusalem to participate in the Passover Feast, one of the great feasts annually celebrated by God’s people. The Passover lamb had already been chosen that would be sacrificed later that week on the Temple altar.

Jesus had come to Jerusalem fully aware that He would become the Passover Lamb that would be sacrificed for the sins of the world. He had seen many people charged with a crime, tried, found guilty, and crucified. Dying on a Roman cross would definitely not be an easy thing to do. He asked the Father if there might be another way to redeem and reconcile humanity.

There was no other way, for “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Since we are all sinners, we must either die or have someone die in our place. That is precisely what God’s Son had come into the world to accomplish. “God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Scripture tells us that Jesus sweat great drops of blood as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. This is a medical condition known as hematidrosis, associated with only the most severe cases of psychological stress. No human has ever been asked, or will ever be asked, to do what Jesus was asked by the Father to do.

Jesus faced not just an agonizing death but probably the most agonizing death ever devised by man. Those who were crucified often took several days to die. At the moment of our Lord’s death He was carrying the weight of the sins of the entire world – past, present and future tense:

  • Every rape, every murder, every lie, every betrayal, every adulterous relationship, every act of child abuse, every act of spousal abuse.
  • Every selfish thought and evil deed, every attempt to gain an advantage at the expense of others, every expression of envy, jealousy, and prejudice.
  • Every addiction, every image from the sordid world of pornography, every rattle of slavery’s chains of whatever form.
  • The hunger pangs from every famine, every shudder during the winter by those who are homeless and live on the streets.
  • The evils of terrorism and genocide, war and oppression.

Could there possibly be a more agonizing death than that of crucifixion? But that was not all Christ had to face as He hung on that Roman cross. During those excruciatingly painful hours up until the moment of His death, He lost fellowship with the Father for the very first time ever.

God, being holy, could not look upon His Son during those moments when He became sin for us. The community of the Trinity was broken, and Jesus was left utterly and terribly alone. That is why He cried out, “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).

No wonder great drops of blood oozed through the pores of his skin the night before He was crucified as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was fully aware of the events that would take place in the following twenty-four hours — but He would not turn back. After a night of heart-wrenching prayer had confirmed the desire of the Father’s heart, Jesus willingly submitted to the goal of fulfilling His mission. With the struggle settled, He prayed: “Not my will, Father, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

Jesus embraced what every Christian throughout history has been called upon to accept: (1) God’s sovereignty over our personal desires, and (2) our radical trust in His leadership.

Have you accepted Him as your Savior and Lord? If not, He is standing at the door of your heart knocking to gain entrance (see Revelation 3:20). He will not knock the door down to gain entry. He does not force Himself upon anyone. You must choose to open the door and invite Him in.

If you come to the end of your life on earth without having made that decision you will regret it throughout eternity.

 

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