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THE BEGINNING OF LEE

Lee, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune and a self-professed atheist was sitting at his desk on Christmas Eve. A slow news day he found himself reminiscing about the Delgado family that he had featured while writing a series of articles about Chicago’s neediest people a few days earlier. The Delgado’s were comprised of a grandmother named Perfecta and her two granddaughters, Jenny age 13 and her sister Lydia 11 years old.

He remembered how unprepared he was when he walked into their two room apartment on the west side of Chicago for the interview; bare halls and bare walls, no furniture, no rugs, nothing but a kitchen table and a handful of rice in the cupboards. He learned during the interview that Jenny and Lydia only had one short-sleeved dress apiece, plus a thin gray sweater that they shared. On cold days when the girls walked the half-mile to school, one of the girls would start with the sweater and then give it to the other at the halfway mark. It was all they had. Perfecta wanted more for her granddaughters and would gladly have worked, but her severe arthritis and age made work too difficult and painful.

Since it was a slow news day Lee decided to check out a car and drive to Chicago’s west side to check up on the Delgado’s. When Jenny opened the door he couldn’t believe what he saw! His article on the Delgado’s had touched the hearts of many subscribers who responded with furniture and appliances, rugs, dozens of coats, scarves and gloves. The girls wouldn’t have to share a sweater any longer. There was cartons and cartons and boxes of food everywhere. They had so much food that the cupboards and closets couldn’t contain it. Someone had even donated a Christmas tree, and under it were mounds of presents and thousands of dollars in cash!

Lee was astonished! But what astonished him the most was what he found Perfecta and her granddaughters doing. They were preparing to give most of it away. "Why would you give so much of this away?" Lee asked. Perfecta responded, "Our neighbors are still in need. We cannot have plenty while they have nothing. This is what Jesus would want us to do." Lee was dumbfounded.

After regaining his composure he asked Perfecta another question. He wanted to know what she and the girls thought about the generosity that was shown to them. Again, Lee was not prepared for the answer. She said, "This is wonderful, this is very good." "We did nothing to deserve this; it’s all a gift from God. But," she added, "It is not his greatest gift, Lee. No, we celebrate that tomorrow. Jesus."

Lee was speechless as he drove back to the office. In the quiet of his car he noted a couple of observations. He had plenty and along with it plenty of anxiety, while the Delgado’s despite their poverty had peace. Lee had everything and yet wanted more, but the Delgado’s had nothing and yet knew generosity. Lee had everything and yet his life was as bare as the Delgado’s apartment prior to the article running. And yet the Delgado’s who had nothing were filled with hope, contentment and had a spiritual certainty. Even though Lee had so much more than the Delgado’s, he longed for what they had in their poverty.

(From a sermon by Bryan Fink "Christmas is for all the Lees/Leighs of the World" 12/25/2008)

 
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A grandfather found his grandson, jumping up and down in his playpen, crying at the top of his voice. When Johnnie saw his grandfather, he reached up his little chubby hands and said, “Out, Gramp, out.”

It was only natural for Grandfather to reach down to lift the little fellow out of his predicament; but as he did, the mother of the child stepped up and said, “No, Johnnie, you are being punished, so you must stay in.”

The grandfather was at a loss to know what to do. The child’s tears and chubby hands reached deep into his heart, but the mother’s firmness in correcting her son for misbehavior must not be lightly taken. Here was a problem of love versus law, but love found a way. The grandfather could not take the youngster out of the playpen, so he crawled in with him.

God did not spare Paul and Silas the suffering and imprisonment, but He did come down into the prison with them.

God did not keep the three Hebrew children out of the fiery furnace, but He went into the furnace with them.

God will not always deliver us from trouble and heartache, but He has promised grace for every situation of life.—By Fred W. Parsons, These Times, March 1969.



 
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THE POWER OF FORGIVENESS

An African woman gave her heart to Christ. Her husband was the chief of a Zulu tribe. When she told him what she had done, the chief beat her brutally. As she was lying in the floor bleeding, the man mocked her and said, “Now, what can your Jesus do for you now?”

The woman picked herself up and tearfully said, “He can help me to forgive you.”


 
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AN EASTER PARABLE: EDITH EASTER

Edith Burns was a wonderful Christian who lived in San Antonio, Texas. She was the patient of a doctor by the name of Will Phillips. Dr. Phillips was a gentle doctor who saw patients as people. His favorite patient was Edith Burns. One morning he went to his office with a heavy heart and it was because of Edith Burns.

When he walked into that waiting room, there sat Edith with her big black Bible in her lap earnestly talking to a young mother sitting beside her.

Edith Burns had a habit of introducing herself in this way: "Hello, my name is Edith Burns. Do you believe in Easter?" Then she would explain the meaning of Easter, and many times people would be saved. Dr. Phillips walked into that office and there he saw the head nurse, Beverly. Beverly had first met Edith when she was taking her blood pressure. Edith began by saying, "My name is Edith Burns. Do you believe in Easter?" Beverly said, "Why yes I do." Edith said, "Well, what do you believe about Easter?" Beverly said, "Well, it's all about egg hunts, going to church, and dressing up." Edith kept pressing her about the real meaning of Easter, and finally led her to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Phillips said, "Beverly, don't call Edith into the office quite yet. I believe there is another delivery taking place in the waiting room."

After being called back in the doctor's office, Edith sat down and when she took a look at the doctor she said, "Dr. Will, why are you so sad? Are you reading your Bible? Are you praying?" Dr. Phillips said gently, "Edith, I'm the doctor and you're the patient." With a heavy heart he said, "Your lab report came back and it says you have cancer, and Edith, you're not going to live very long." Edith said, "Why Will Phillips, shame on you. Why are you so sad? Do you think God makes mistakes? You have just told me I'm going to see my precious Lord Jesus, my husband, and my friends. You have just told me that I am going to celebrate Easter forever, and here you are having difficulty giving me my ticket!" Dr. Phillips thought to himself, "What a magnificent woman this Edith Burns is!"

Edith continued coming to Dr. Phillips. Christmas came and the office was closed through January 3rd. On the day the office opened, Edith did not show up. Later that afternoon, Edith called Dr. Phillips and said she would have to be moving her story to the hospital and said, "Will, I'm very near home, so would you make sure that they put women in here next to me in my room who need to know about Easter."

Well, they did just that and women began to come in and share that room with Edith. Many women were saved. Everybody on that floor from staff to patients were so excited about Edith, that they started calling her Edith Easter; that is everyone except Phyllis Cross, the head nurse. Phyllis made it plain that she wanted nothing to do with Edith because she was a "religious nut". She had been a nurse in an army hospital. She had seen it all and heard it all. She was the original G.I. Jane. She had been married three times, she was hard, cold, and did everything by the book.

One morning the two nurses who were to attend to Edith were sick. Edith had the flu and Phyllis Cross had to go in and give her a shot. When she walked in, Edith had a big smile on her face and said, "Phyllis, God loves you and I love you, and I have been praying for you." Phyllis Cross said, "Well, you can quit praying for me, it won't work. I'm not interested." Edith said, "Well, I will pray and I have asked God not to let me go home until you come into the family." Phyllis Cross said, "Then you will never die because that will never happen," and curtly walked out of the room.

Every day Phyllis Cross would walk into the room and Edith would say, "God loves you Phyllis and I love you, and I'm praying for you." One day Phyllis Cross said she was literally drawn to Edith's room like a magnet would draw iron. She sat down on the bed and Edith said, "I'm so glad you have come, because God told me that today is your special day." Phyllis Cross said, "Edith, you have asked everybody here the question, 'Do you believe in Easter?' but you have never asked me." Edith said, "Phyllis, I wanted to many times, but God told me to wait until you asked, and now that you have asked..."

Edith Burns took her Bible and shared with Phyllis Cross the Easter Story of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Edith said, "Phyllis, do you believe in Easter? Do you believe that Jesus Christ is alive and that He wants to live in your heart?" Phyllis Cross said, "Oh I want to believe that with all of my heart, and I do want Jesus in my life." Right there, Phyllis Cross prayed and invited Jesus Christ into her heart. For the first time Phyllis Cross did not walk out of a hospital room, s...

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NOT MY JOB

The names in this story have been changed out of respect for their privacy. Julie W told her family's story in a magazine article.

[My daughter], Allison, came home for the weekend. She opened the door, didn't speak, and dropped her duffel bag. Smudges of mascara circled her eyes. I whispered a "God-please-no" prayer.
"Come tell me about your classes." I patted the sofa. She muttered,
"Gotta take a shower."

As she clomped upstairs, I analyzed the recent changes in her: complaints of not having any money, rarely answers the phone, weight loss, pinpoint pupils, and a "who gives a rip" [facade]. I searched her purse and found a leopard-colored pipe and the unmistakable sweet odor of pot. My heart fluttered wildly like a bird stuck inside my chest.

She plodded down the stairs, hair in a towel, wearing the same wrinkled clothes. Be still and talk in a sweet voice, I told myself. You must convince her to stop. "We need to talk, honey."

"Not now. I'm tired."

"I found your pipe."

She stared at me with death-row eyes. "Chill, it's not that big of a deal."

The tightness in the den suffocated me. I needed air. "Want to walk?" I asked brightly. "Like we used to?"

"Whatever."

I knew I could talk some sense into her. "Honey, please. You've gotta stop." I grabbed her hand.

"Mom!" She jerked away.

"We have a strong family history. You don't want to..."

I never got to finish the sentence. Allison stormed out of the room and within minutes was headed back to college. I knew what I had to do--abandon everything in my life and start to worry/fix/control full-time.

I began spending most days by the phone. I evaluated Allison's reactions, gestures, and comments. Thoughts circled my mind like buzzards: What if she never stops? What if I never see her again? What if she overdoses? Or goes to jail?

I lured Allison into therapy by promising we'd go to an Italian restaurant before visits. Her first appointment day arrived. She played with her spaghetti, and I couldn't eat. "So, what do you plan to say to the counselor?" I asked.

"How should I know?"

When they called her name at the office, I hurried in to make sure the counselor understood. Allison refused to sign for me to have any information. I considered eavesdropping, but too many people were around. An hour later, she walked past me as I paid.

"What'd you talk about?"

"Just stuff."

Our therapy/lunch charade continued that way for a few weeks. Then Allison's sister informed me she was still using. She denied it, refused to see the counselor, dropped out of college, and stopped answering my calls.

I was convinced if I forgot about Allison, even for a second, or enjoyed anything, something bad might happen. Several months later, after another night of little sleep, I glanced in the mirror. I could have passed for the addict: dark circles under hopeless eyes.
I called my friend Linda. Her son, also an addict, had been sentenced to state prison. "You can't imagine all that's going on here," I said.

"Come over for coffee," she urged.

I wanted to stand guard at home but knew she'd listen and understand.

"Hey, girlfriend." Linda hugged me. I didn't touch my coffee as I blurted the saga. Linda didn't sweet-talk. "You need help."
"You haven't heard the whole story," I argued. "I'm fine--my daughter, she needs help."

"You're addicted to worry and control," Linda said. "I've been where you are." She stretched out on the sofa. "The only one you can control is yourself."

The possibility that she might be right terrified me. "It took me years to realize that I'm not in charge. God is," Linda admitted. "By worrying, you're telling God he can't handle things. Go to Al-Anon with me." I'd heard of Al-Anon but didn't see how it applied to me. But I agreed because I was in awe of Linda.

I didn't open my mouth during the meeting. Every word spoken sounded like my own thoughts:

"I worried myself sick about my alcoholic husband."
"My peace comes only when I let go and let God."
Then the speaker said, "To change, you'll have to leave behind some familiar lifelong habits." But how? This is who I am--what I do. "An alcoholic can't drink, and those of us in this room can't allow an ounce of worry. For us, it's every bit as dangerous and addictive. Worry robs our serenity."

I didn't think change was possible. Not for me. But I knew one thing for sure--I was destroying my life. That night at home I got real. "Help me, God. I can't do this without you." I began to ask God for help each morning. I whispered, "Not my job," as worry, fear, or control tried to needle back in.

Two years after that first Al-Anon meeting, Allison and I met for an impromptu lunch. She'd gone back to the same therapist. On her own.
"You can't imagine how easy it is to study when you're not high," she laughed.

"Nope, I guess not." I blinked back happy tears.

"Thanks, Mom."

"For what?"

"When you didn't fix my problems, it scared me. A few times I had to dig change out of the seat of my car for gas money. Some days," she paused, "I didn't have food." My throat felt warm with pride. She'd done it on her own. "I'm making A's. And look," she handed me her checkbook. "I have money again."

Recovery defies logic. It means doing the opposite of what feels natural. When I took care of myself and my addictions, Allison did the same.

Citation: Condensed from our sister publication Today's Christian,© 2008 Christianity Today International Julie W., "Not My Job," Today's Christian (July/August 2008)

Everyone needs a hero. For the mother who told this story it was her friend, Linda. Then she turned to God as her ultimate hero. We all could do with someone to help us work through our troubles. We need a victorious warrior to fight our battles. No one knows that better than God himself.

From Mark Haines' Sermon "Our Mighty God"

 
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THE 40 MARTYRS

"History knows them as the forty martyrs of Sebaste. They were soldiers in the famed Twelfth Legion of Rome’s imperial army, around A.D. 320. One day the captain informed his troops that Emperor Licinius had sent down an edict commanding all soldiers to offer a sacrifice to his pagan god. Forty of the soldiers were followers of Christ, and they refused. 'You can have our armor and even our bodies, but our hearts' allegiance belongs to Jesus Christ,' they said.

"The emperor decided to make an example of the soldiers, so in the middle of winter he marched them onto a frozen lake and stripped them of their clothes. 'Renounce your God and you will be spared from death,' he told them. Not one man came forward. So he left them there, huddled together to contemplate his offer. Throughout the night the man stayed together, singing their song of victory: Forty Martyrs for Christ. When morning came, thirty-nine of the men had frozen to death. The one survivor finally relented and crawled to safety, recanting his confession of faith in order to live. The officer in charge that night had been so moved by the scene that during his watch he’d come to Jesus, so he broke rank and walked out onto the ice. Stripping his clothes he openly confessed his faith in Christ. The furious emperor demanded that he renounce Jesus, but he refused. When the ordeal was over, the Roman soldiers carried forty frozen men off of the ice."

(Ref: Lahaye, Tim, Jerry B. Jenkins and Frank M. Martin ed., Embracing Eternity, Living Each Day With a Heart Toward Heaven: The Persecuted, Matthew 5:10- February 15. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 2004.)

 
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THE BLOOD AND WATER

Before I became a minister I attended a secular college for a couple of years. While I was there I took several classes I thought would help me when I went to Bible college, and some of those classes were in Philosophy.

Now Philosophy and Christianity are somewhat at odds. Christianity exalts Christ, Philosophy tends to exalt man. Thus, teachers of Philosophy tend to spend a fair amount of their time undermining the faith of their students whenever possible.

In one class the professor said: "Jesus didn't die on the cross... and I can prove it!"

He then went on to set up his premise: "When a person dies," he said, "their heart stops pumping and gravity takes over. If you were to die right now, seated at your desks, your blood would drain to the lowest part of your body -- and settle somewhere around your waist. But the Bible says that when Jesus died, a Roman soldier pierced his side with a spear ... and blood and water came out. Jesus was supposedly dead. He was nailed to a cross. And yet when He 'died' there was blood where there shouldn't have been blood. That proves He hadn't died."

That shook me. I went back to my dorm and had a little talk with God. I said to Him "This sounds pretty convincing. If you can't answer it, I'm gonna go sell insurance. I can't justify spending my life preaching about a God I can't defend against accusations like this one."

Now, that was fairly rude of me. But God was gracious.

I don't know why, but I didn't go to a preacher, or to a campus minister to ask for them to explain this to me. I guess I just waited to see what God would do. And I didn't have to wait very long.

About a month or so later, I was in another philosophy class. The class was over and a few students were gathered around the teacher's desk. Wandering what they were talking about, I made my way into the group in time to hear the teacher say: "I just heard the most intriguing thing this last weekend. Do you remember where the Bible says that Jesus died on the cross?"

That peaked my interest.

He continued "Do you remember where it said that a Roman soldier pierced His side and blood and water came out"

Now, he really had my interest.

"There's a condition known as cardiac tamponade. It happens when a person undergoes enough stress in their life that their heart literally bursts from the strain. When this happens, the blood from the heart mixes with the fluid in the sac that surrounds the heart known as the pericardium. That fluid looks a lot like water. So -- if you were to pierce that sac after person died of cardiac tamponade, what you'd see come out would be 'blood and water.'"

Now that made sense for a couple of reasons:

1) If I cut your arm, you'd bleed. But you wouldn't bleed blood and water. Only blood.
2) The Bible says that when Jesus was on the cross... all of the sins of mankind were brought to bear on His body in that one place, in that one time. The only thing that held that body up under the strain was the power of Son of God. But when Jesus died, He didn't die from the cross itself. Scripture says: "Jesus called out with a loud voice, 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.' When he had said this, he breathed his last." Luke 23:46
Thus, when Jesus gave up control over His body, it was like a snapping a rubber band. All the sins of mankind bore down now on a body that was no longer held by His power, and it makes sense that its heart burst.

I went back and explained that to my original Philosophy professor, and he hemmed and hawed, but had no real comeback for that. I doubt that he'd ever heard anything like it before.

I was excited. This was great stuff!

So when I went to Bible College the next year, I was determined to share this gem of knowledge with the professors there. But... there's a reason why Bible college professors are professors. They've heard most of this before.

So when I mentioned this discovery to one of my professors, he replied "Oh Jeff, it's even better than that! When Jesus died on the cross, He was placed on the cross at 9:00 in the morning, and He died at 3:00 in the afternoon. At the Temple, the first sacrifice was made at 9:00 in the morning... and the last sacrifice was offered at 3:00 in the afternoon.

"Now, Passover was a major day of sacrifice. People were lined up around the block to offer their lambs and other sacrifices to God. With all that sacrificing, there was a lot of blood on the altar, the floors and the utensils. How do you think they removed all that blood?

"Well, they'd developed a technique where they would pump water up from underneath the Temple and they used this water to wash down the altar, the utensils and the floor. This liquid then was carried by trenches out beneath the city walls into the Kidron Valley (the Kidron Brook ran between the city of Jerusalem and the Garden of Gethsemane).

People that have visited the Holy Land tell me that the banks of the Kidron are still red from all the blood from the many sacrifices over the centuries. Farmers would go to the Kidron and collect mud from its banks to spread on their fields -- it was a rich fertilizer for their crops.

"Now, if you'd been standing outside the walls of Jerusalem about 3:30 in the afternoon... what do you think you'd have seen coming out of those pipes? (Blood and water)."

Now, if I'd been God, there'd have been more than 21 chapters in the book of John. If I'd been God there'd have been at least another 10 chapters talking about all the applications of that one verse.

But John didn't care. He didn't care! His comment about seeing blood and water come out of the side of Jesus wasn't all that important to him. All John wanted to prove was that there had been no need to break Jesus' bones. Why? Because Jesus was the sacrificial Lamb. John knew that that kind of lamb would be unacceptable to God if it's bones were broken. So, John says "I KNOW Jesus was dead! I SAW the Roman soldier pierce His side, and blood and water came out."

 
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PRECIOUS BLOOD

Several years ago in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, George and Vera Bajenksi’s lives were changed forever. February 16, 1989. A very normal Thursday morning. The phone rang at 9:15 a.m. "There’s been an accident..." It involved their son Ben.
As they approached the intersection of Adelaide and Simcoe Streets near the high school, they could see the flashing lights of the police cars and ambulance units. Vera noticed a photographer and followed the direction of his camera lens to the largest pool of blood she had ever seen.
All she could say was, "George, Ben went home--home to be with his Heavenly Father!" Her first reaction was to jump out of the car, somehow collect the blood and put it back into her son. "That blood, for me, at that moment, became the most precious thing in the world because it was life. It was life-giving blood and it belonged in my son, my only son, the one I loved so much."
The road was dirty and the blood just didn’t belong there. George noticed that cars were driving right through the intersection--right through the blood. His heart was smitten. He wanted to cover the blood with his coat and cry, "You will not drive over the blood of my son!"
Then Vera understood for the first time in her life, one of God’s greatest and most beautiful truths...why blood? Because it was the strongest language God could have used. It was the most precious thing He could give-- the highest price H...

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THE MARK OF JESUS

When I was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Levelland, there was a man in our church, the owner of a local business and a highly intentional Christian. The apostle Paul once said of himself that he bore "on [his] body the marks of Jesus" (Gal. 6:17). Well, this man bore the marks of Jesus on his life. His wife was the most annoying woman I have ever known. She was chronically ill, and her sickness had embittered her spirit. She demanded almost all of this man's time and energy, and she was never grateful for a single thing he did for her. She complained about life, and she complained about him. For his part -- I don't know how he did it -- but he remained gentle and serene, and he had the utmost patience with this woman. He never spoke ill of her. He never sighed under the burden of her criticism. He was truly a man of God. He had an intimacy with God that was not showy but nevertheless evident. If life had not rewarded him with outward happiness, he was deeply and inwardly joyful. God was his "portion," as the Bible says (e.g., Lam. 3:24; Ps. 16:5; 73:26), and he was satisfied.

How could he do this? How could he be so patient and kind and committed to the welfare of his wife despite her ingratitude? I'll tell you: he was in covenant with his wife, but he was also in covenant with God. And here's what I learned from him. This man partnered with God in his own process of sanctification. Now, let me tell you what I mean. This man's highest interest was not in being happy in some conventional way. No. Instead, the longing of his heart was to be the kind of person God wanted him to be. And God has to work on a person to make them like he wants them to be. And what this man did is: he yielded to God's program of overhaul in his life. God not infrequently uses suffering and adversity. How does the old hymn say it? "When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie, my grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply; the flame shall not hurt thee; I only design thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine."

That's what this man wanted. He wanted his dross consumed; he wanted his unloving tendencies to be burned in the fire of affliction if need be, and his gold refined, his character refashioned to be like that of his Lord, who "loved the church and gave himself up for her."

 
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THE HEART IN SCRIPTURE

Heart is used in Scripture as the most comprehensive term for the authentic person. It is the part of our being where we desire, deliberate, and decide. It has been described as "the place of conscious and decisive spiritual activity," "the comprehensive term for a person as a whole; his feelings, desires, passions, thought, understanding and will," and "the center of a person. The place to which God turns."

(Fan The Flame, J. Stowell, Moody, 1986, p. 13 — 10,000 Sermon Illustrations)

 
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