Angst or peace: it's your choice

Based on a sermon by the Reverend Canon Anne Moore

“We live in a culture where snipers live behind laptops and smart phones. Fewer people are interested in debate and more are looking for enemies to eviscerate. Some have become unhinged and others are on the ledge.”

Anne quoted these words from a blogger (whose name she hadn’t taken note of) in a recent sermon. Do you feel you are among the ‘unhinged’? She confessed to the same feelings she sees affecting so many others these days: anxiety, despair, anger, fear, disgust, frustration, embarrassment, hostility, and panic. Perhaps angst best sums it up.

Upsetting and unsettling information bombards us from all directions, and as Christians we know we really can't, really shouldn’t, simply turn off the news. We need to be aware of what’s going on firstly, to pray, but also to be able to engage others in conversation.  

While we can never understand ‘what in the world is going on’ or how to fix it, we must refuse to be bent out of our Christian shape by it. None of the mess is of God, who is still in control and who alone has the solutions. Earthly governments can only put band-aids on people’s problems, Anne reminded the congregation. But the gospel can bring healing to souls.

Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.... Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God.” (Psalm 146:3,5)

“We want and need hope here,” she made clear after reading the above scripture. “Hope is not dreaming or a vague aspiration. It’s not simply wanting things to turn out well while remaining uncertain whether they actually will. Hope is the absolute certainty we have that God is good and that God’s promises are true.”

Further, we can use the hope we cultivate in ourselves to help the troubled around us. “The despair, anxiety and fear we see in people around us is the very opportunity we have to share the hope and good news of Jesus with them.”

The Almighty will accomplish His purposes, no matter the political leaders and disasters cramming our newscasts. We see in scripture how God has been able to use some exceptionally evil rulers such as Cyrus, Nebuchadnezzar, Caesar and Nero to fulfill His will. He has worked out His purposes under every condition imaginable, from Egypt through Babylon and onto Rome and beyond. We must keep the hope, and cultivate peace.

“We don’t need to pray for peace, we have it,” she concluded. “It is in us. We have that peace but must use it and share it.” 

Seek peace and pursue it.” (1 Peter: 3b)

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

Jesus rescues Christians AND Muslims: an astonishing tale from the Middle East straight from the book of Acts

Little did the Bibles for Mideast organization know of all the coming connected miracles when they published a story on the Arabian Sea baptism of 24 new believers early last October (you can read that here).  

The fact 24 Muslims had converted to Christianity at the risk of their and their families’ lives alone attests to a miracle-working God. As the baptismal service ended, the new converts and workers—50 in all—boarded a bus to return to their house church for worship and communion. 

A small convoy of militants suddenly appeared behind them and opened fire. All they knew to do was pray to the Lord for protection as they sped away, the gunmen in hot pursuit.

When a massive dust storm formed behind them, they now feared being trapped in the dark, churning grime and becoming easy prey for their pursuers. 

Then, just as suddenly, Jesus materialized in the storm clouds and dust.

“He appeared as a mighty and wonderful man showing his protecting and lovely hands towards us with a sweet smile,’ exulted newly-baptized Rizwan. “Jesus saved us! He himself blocked the road of militants in the form of a dust storm.”

The gunfire slowed and stopped, enabling the bus to drive safely back to the church.

Two months later, the same mission organization released a story of how an Arab woman from a prominent Muslim family (her father a top religious authority in the region) found herself near death after being bitten by a highly poisonous Saharan snake. While her sharp-shooting brother Haroon (not his real name) managed to kill the viper, it nearly killed her (that story in full here).

Hajira (not her real name) spent the next four days near death in a coma. In a few minutes of wakefulness, she heard doctors discussing the renal failure and increasing fibrinolysis certain to take her life. Losing hope, she turned to the wall, weeping, and tried to prepare herself for death.  She fell asleep hoping to never wake up.

As she slept, an angel appeared before her. “Call on Jesus, the son of the Most High, who was crucified for you, died and rose from the dead.”

“Prophet Jesus, the son of Mary?” she asked with irritation. “He was not crucified; and he was not greater than my prophet.”

“You are wrong,” the angel replied.  “Jesus is the Lord of the prophets. He is the true saviour. He can heal you from all sickness and save you from sin and death. Call on him with your heart and mouth.”

The angel disappeared. She awoke to see her brother Haroon standing beside her. “Were you dreaming?” he inquired. “I heard you say something about the prophet Jesus.”

She dreaded his anger as she told him about the angel and what he’d said. To her amazement, Haroon then related his own experience in a dust storm several months earlier. Yes, THAT dust storm!

He’d received information at dawn one morning that a Christian group planned a baptismal service in the Arabian Sea that day. Alerting his wing of 18 armed militants, the gang rushed to the seashore. Planning to kill everyone in the sea during the service, they aimed to terrify the world into realizing death awaited any Christians attempting to evangelize in their region.

But the service had already ended when they arrived.  Seeing a bus leaving the scene, they opened fire and the chase began. As they fired away, he explained that within seconds a giant dust storm formed directly in front of their vehicles. Unable to see or move forward, they climbed from their cars and kept shooting into the dust.

To their astonishment, the angry face of Jesus appeared in the swirling sand, eyes ablaze. “Why are you persecuting me?” his voice thundered. “It’s hard for you to kick against the pricks.” Jesus’ voice literally blew the fighters over and sent their guns flying.  Haroon explained they somehow managed to get themselves back on their feet, but couldn’t utter a word. 

[Note the similarities to the story from Acts 26:14, where Jesus appears to murderous Saul—equally intent on killing Christians and eventually to be the Apostle Paul—with the same plea and the same results.]

Jesus' voice thundered again. “I came to the world not to destroy anyone, but to save you. Go in peace.” He then vanished, the dust storm disappearing with him.

Haroon tried to explain the dreadful fear, yet abundant peace, they all felt simultaneously—nothing like anything he or they had ever known.

When their voices returned, all but two of the men praised and thanked God. The two argued it couldn’t have been from God, and all left the place confounded.

Haroon shared the story with their father, who warned him not to tell others. His own band of militants, however, laid down their arms. "This all happened a few days before you were bitten!" he shared with Hajira. Overwhelmed and overjoyed, brother and sister joined hands in prayer. 

“Lord Jesus, if you are the true saviour, show us the way,” prayed Haroon. “Jesus, if you are the true saviour, forgive our sins. Jesus, if you are the true saviour, heal both our physical and mental sickness. Jesus, if you are the true saviour, send someone to us for further guidance. Amen”.

The siblings wept in joy and gratitude. A couple of hours later, Hajira still at his sister’s side, two strangers arrived in her room unexpectedly. While neither had seen them before, the elder man addressed each by name. 

“The Lord Jesus heard your prayers which you both prayed together,” he began. “The angel who visited you appeared before me also, and asked me to visit you, guide you to salvation, and pray for you. So I left my house at once to come see you.”

He introduced himself as Pastor Paul of the Bibles for Mideast organization, and then explained to them who Jesus is, and why he was crucified and died. 

Hajira and Haroom repented of their sins and accepted Jesus as Lord and saviour. As Pastor Paul put his hands on Hajira’s head and prayed for her deliverance and healing, tremendous power flowed through her body. She rose, completely healed.

Hospital tests proved her healing, and doctors could not help but acknowledge a miracle had happened. Neither could the siblings’ family, who soon all came to Christ. They now ask our prayers for protection and strength to survive the persecution sure to come.
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You can visit Bibles for Mideast here and read more remarkable stories of rescue and salvation. They work secretly in highly restrictive areas, evangelizing, distributing bibles (free of charge), and establishing house churches. Many on their teams have converted from Islam.

A revolution in New Year’s resolutions

Few of us would disagree with the idea of New Year’s resolutions. They do seem to work for some people, sometimes. Did you make any? Break any yet?

Perhaps it’s the perfect time to remember that, for many of us, a major reason we decided to become Christian, to accept the help and spirit invasion of Jesus, was because we knew we couldn’t do it on our own.

Nowhere in the New Testament do we find admonishments to  'strive and make every effort’ to start and keep an exercise or eating program, begin a stringent daily Bible reading series, or whatever. We are told over and over, however, to ‘strive’ and ‘make every effort’ to be faithful followers of Jesus.  As we accept Christ and the realization we cannot do much of anything worthwhile on our own, he provides all the help we need to persevere, discipline ourselves, and so vastly increase the likelihood of successful resolutions.

As Mark Galli explains so well in Christianity Today:

“It also has to do with what enables people to do the very thing they fail to do when they strive to do it: freedom. You cannot enjoy freedom when you feel you have to do such-and-such to be good. That's not freedom but oppression. Only when you realize that you do not have to do or be anything can you know freedom, and only when you know freedom can you really choose the good.”

Paul in a number of his letters does seem to advise many personal resolutions for better, stronger lives. We’re to "put on the new self" (Col. 3:10), "put on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 13:14), "put on the whole armour of God" (Eph. 6:11), put on "the breastplate of righteousness" (Eph. 6:14), "put on … compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience" (Col. 3:12), and above all, to "put on love" (Col. 3:14). Sounds like an awful lot of effort, no?

Galli helps mitigate that by comparing it to how a store clerk gets us to try on something or other in the store.

“Why not try on the blue one?” he or she suggests, taking it off the rack and holding it open for you to slip your arms into. You button it up and have a look in the mirror. You’ve put it on, but really the clerk has put it on you.

“Work out your salvation,” says Paul, and in the next breath, adds, "for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12–13).

The Clerk approaches us daily. "Why don't you put on love," he says. "Here, let me get it for you. Just hold out your arms."

To read Mark Galli's entire article, please click here.

Syrian woman had dream for six nights of men coming with Good News; on the seventh day they arrived

By Mark Ellis, Godreports

Syrian refugee woman and child from Aleppo, Syria at a makeshift tent camp in Turkey ( Christian Aid Mission )

Syrian refugee woman and child from Aleppo, Syria at a makeshift tent camp in Turkey (Christian Aid Mission)

As the Syrian civil war continues after a failed cease-fire, many Muslims are encountering God, including a mother with confounding dreams that left her in a state of anticipation.

“The woman dreamt repeatedly of a man who told her that three people would come and bring her good news,” according to a ministry director for Christian Aid Mission (CAM).

“She continued to have this dream for six nights in a row,” the director told CAM. “On the seventh day, one of our teams was doing home visits and decided to visit a new house.”

The three men approached her door, not knowing that God had already prepared the way. The woman’s eyes widened when she opened to see the three, and she quickly ushered them inside.

“When they opened their Bible, she instantly fell to her knees,” the director told CAM.

As her husband and children walked in, she could not contain herself. “These are the people that the man in my dream told me to meet!” she told them excitedly.

The followers of Jesus spoke to her about His saving death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. Then they prayed with the family.

“They all put their faith in Him,” the ministry leader recounted. The entire household was saved!

“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.”  (Acts 16:30-31)

“We have continued to disciple them since then, and they are like sponges – eager to learn and know everything they can,” the ministry director said.

Killing Christians: Living the Faith where it's not safe to believe

Book review by Anne Moore

 I recently read another gripping book which challenged and educated me: Killing ChristiansLiving the Faith Where It's Not Safe to Believe (2015) by Tom Doyle. The book describes the lives of eight believers living in various Muslim countries, all converts to Christianity. They are our brothers and sisters, our family. Their lives are brutal but represent what goes on, daily, in other parts of our world.

The stories tell how the individuals came to be followers of Jesus, what happened to them immediately after their commitment, and what they are doing now. All look forward to the day when their persecution will end and they will enjoy life in heaven. For some, that may already have happened.

The book challenges my pitiful, little faith, and leaves me questioning if I am even a real follower. 

Some quotes from the book:

“What I thought was sacrifice was actually just inconvenience.”

“There is remarkable freedom in having no expectations, no plans for tomorrow [because I might die before then].”

“How could I leave the religion I had so faithfully studied and taught with passion all those years? .... I followed Jesus because he is the only one who could fill my empty soul. I may have been a religious zealot, but I ached to know God and could not find Him even though I had searched all my life.”

Bless you as you read this demanding volume.

Could YOU retain your faith even if it meant losing your life? Your family’s lives?  [Further insight from the book’s introduction--Ed,]

To many Christians in the Middle East today, a 'momentary, light affliction' means enduring only torture instead of martyrdom. The depth of oppression Jesus' followers suffer is unimaginable to most Western Christians. Yet, it is an everyday reality for those who choose faith over survival in Syria, Iran, Egypt, Lebanon, and other countries hostile to the Gospel of Christ. In Killing Christians, Tom Doyle takes readers to the secret meetings, the torture rooms, the grim prisons, and even the executions that are the 'calling' of countless Muslims-turned-Christians.

Each survivor longs to share with brothers and sisters ‘on the outside’ what Christ has taught them. Killing Christians is their message to readers who still enjoy freedom to practice their faith. None would wish their pain and suffering on those who do not have to brave such misery, but the richness gained through their remarkable trials are delivered—often in their own words—through this book. The stories are breathtaking, the lessons soul-stirring and renewing. Killing Christians presents the dead serious work of expanding and maintaining the Faith.

Lacking power? How long will you go limping with two different opinions?

[inspired by a sermon by the Reverend Canon Anne Moore and the OT reading for the day]

 “Elijah came near to all the people, and said, ‘How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.’ The people did not answer him a word." (1 Kings 18:21)

Could Elijah’s challenge to the ancient Israelites back in the 9th century BC be at all relevant to us today? While the Hebrews responded with silence, I can hear you, me, all of us, arguing how nonsensical that would be with respect to our lives. “I believe in God!” we respond.

The Israelites could say that too, and often did. The 'one true God’ was theirs. But as they acclimatized to the lands they had moved into, they gradually adopted the lifestyle and customs, social and religious, of the native Canaanites. 

What could be wrong with ‘adding on’ the gods of our neighbours? Isn’t that being inclusive, open-minded, and neighbourly?

In her sermon on the reading, Anne mentioned many of these other idols: status, wealth, career, power, popularity, appearance, possessions, ‘bragging rights’ (could even be for our good deeds!), celebrities, pro athletes, New Age practices, buildings, ‘up-to-date’ morality and so forth. Yet, cherishing and idolizing them diminishes our reliance on and reverence for God. We distance ourselves from our heavenly Father, and so are deprived of the power, love, joy and security to be found only in an exclusive relationship with Him.

In the case of the Hebrews, adapting Baal worship entailed all manner of spiritual and moral debauchery, totally against everything God had been trying to instill in them since the time of Abraham. Rampant sexual sin in fact was a ‘hallowed’ part of venerating Baal.

“I don’t need to follow biblical teachings to the letter to be a good Christian,” many believe. “What’s the harm in adding a bit of astrology, exercise and meditation classes rooted in Hinduism, or in sleeping with my boyfriend/girlfriend?”

Elijah’s subsequent dramatic challenge to the prophets of Baal, and the outcome, left no doubt in any of the onlookers’ minds or spirits who the 'one true God' was. If they were to stop limping painfully and aimlessly, they would have to get both feet in HIS camp. (I Kings 18:30-39 tells the dramatic story.)

Perhaps it’s time to reconsider where you are and where you would rather be, now and for eternity. Our merciful and loving God does have standards, and as we choose to ignore them, we choose a twisted, crippling path.

Could it be God is talking to you? Trying to love you back to Life before you, yourself, make it too late? He loves you, and wants only the best for you.  Renounce the ‘idols’. Some may be more entrenched than you realize. The deep interconnectivity of our society means all manner of profound bonds have been forged, and it may take some ‘spiritual surgery’ to break free of the wrong ones.

For an excellent short article on how to liberate yourself and others from all and any of those wrong ties that bind, please read, Soul ties, and how to be free of the unhealthy ones.