Be Prepared For Jesus’ Return

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A Devotional Thought from Great Commission Ministries

written last winter by Sharon Harms

Be Prepared

The National Weather Service has issued an ‘Ice Storm Warning’ for our area. They are telling people to have a winter survival kit in your car if you have to travel, and enough food and water in the house in case of power outages. We have well water, so having containers of water is very important for us to have if we lose power. No electricity means no pump, no pump means no water.

Like us, people have filled water containers at the artesian well. And, I am certain some have been at the store buying batteries, milk and food. They have been making preparations for the ¼ to ½ an inch of ice.

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I want to pause Sharon’s devotional thought to add an experience Jill and I had while we were in Texas in 1988.  Just like Sharon’s experience, there was a massive storm coming, and people were scrambling to make preparations for the storm.  The main difference between the ice storm mentioned above, was that this was a Category 5 hurricane named Gilbert that was bearing down on Texas.

At that time, Jill was a nurse in one of the hospitals of Beaumont, Texas.  I was working at planting a new church in the city.  (More about that in a couple of weeks from now.)  Like most people, we were watching the news and keeping an eye on the weather as this storm front was gathering its strength in the Atlantic and starting to head into the Gulf of Mexico.

Up to this point of living there for one year, we had seen a few very nasty storms, and had come close to being near a tornado touch down.  But this hurricane was going to dwarf all those experiences.  We knew that it was very serious when the hospital called Jill in to work (along with a lot more doctors and nurses) and was told that they may have to stay and sleep at the hospital for up to three days if the brunt of the hurricane hit our area.

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Meanwhile, I went around and visited the people of our fledging church, as well as tried to visit a number of other people with whom our church had previously had some contact.  Many said they appreciated my call, and definitely would appreciate my prayers for them and their families.  But for the most part, many of them had to excuse themselves while they went and made preparations for the storm.

Now I had never experienced a hurricane before, so I didn’t know what to do or what to expect.  I turned on the radio and listened to all the local news I could.  Even though the weather was still warm and calm, reports were already coming in that there was a critical shortage of plywood, generators and other emergency supplies.  And there were long line ups at gas stations.

But I think I got a better understanding of the degree of panic and impending doom when I went to the local grocery store.  It looked like people were calmly doing their shopping.  But I stood there transfixed as I saw some people calmly reach their arms out on to the shelves and push huge piles of canned food and other items into their grocery carts.  The shelves were literally becoming empty.

The people were afraid, and they were doing all they could do to prepare for the worst.  Now let’s pick up again on Sharon’s devotional thought.

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What kind of preparations are we making for Jesus’ second coming? Are we standing around looking up into the sky for Him? Or are we working for Him? After Jesus’ resurrection, He appeared to the disciples and gave them the ‘Great Commission’:

“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 28:19-20

These verses plainly tell us that we are supposed to teach others about Jesus, whether it is next door or in another country. It is not an option, but a command to all who call Jesus, ‘Lord’. We are not evangelists in the formal sense, but we have all received gifts that we can use to help fulfill the Great Commission. And as we obey this command, we have comfort in the knowledge that Jesus is always with us.

Jesus also taught about remaining watchful in Matthew 24:36-51:

(v. 36) “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (v. 44) So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

It is good that we don’t know exactly when Christ will return. If we knew the precise date, we might be tempted to be lazy in our work for Christ. Worse yet, we might plan to keep sinning and then turn to God right at the end. Heaven is not our only goal; we have work to do here.

So while we wait for that glorious day of our Savior’s return, prepare to be working for Him. He has given us a job to do – to teach others about Him.

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God’s Little Salesman!

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I can still remember my first experience of trying to present something of value to another person and hoping that the person would want what I was offering.  I was very young at the time, probably only about eight or nine years old.  And thankfully I was not alone in this endeavor, as I was out with my older brother at that time and we were doing this together.

Now you are probably asking by this point, “What in the world was Norm doing?”  So I will tell you.  My brother and I were out trying to sell raffle tickets at a bowling lane.  I don’t remember what the prize was, but for about a dollar per ticket, people had a chance to win some nice item and also help the Youth Bowling Association.  You see, all the guys in our family were bowlers – my father, my two brothers and myself.  And selling raffles tickets was one way we raised money for the youth programs and to go on special outings in western Canada.

So there we were, my brother and I, going from lane to lane asking people if they would like to buy a ticket.  On the first time we went out, to my recollection, my brother sold about five tickets after going down the twenty or so lanes of bowlers, while I had sold about five books of tickets totaling about fifty tickets.  This seemed to work so well that we came back a few more nights and found the same thing happen, where I would sell five to ten times as many tickets as my brother.

Now an interesting fact about this story is that there was to be a special award given out to the top youth sellers of these tickets.  The prize was to go on a Greyhound trip to Banff.  So guess what happened?  Yes, you guessed it.  I was one of the top sellers of tickets, if not the number one seller.  But when it was time to turn in all the proceeds and the ticket book sales, it turned out that there was an age restriction for the youth that could go on the trip.  And I was too young.  So my brother was credited with all the sales and got to go on the trip instead of me.  Oh double darn and rats!  : )

But the question was asked later, “Why was Norm able to sell so many tickets, especially after his brother had just gone down the row of lanes and asked the same question to the bowlers, but who had not bought a ticket?”  Well, what can I say.  I was a cute kid.  : )  But I think there was another answer.

As I have been involved in church and mission ministry over the years, many people have commented to me that I have a real passion when I am presenting something that I really believe in.  There is a fire and a deep conviction within me that what I have to offer is something that you would also want to have.

I think that if I had chosen a business vocation, that I could have been a great salesman.  (Anyone want to buy a prime piece of swampland?  No worries about traffic congestion or problems with your neighbors.)  But God has always had something else in mind for me.  I was not to be focusing upon presenting an excellent product to other people, but rather I was to be single-minded in presenting a unique and excellent Person to other people.

Ever since I met Jesus when I was 12 years old, I have whole-heartedly believed in the Person of Jesus and what He has to offer to the world.  Namely, our redemption (paying the price for our sins), and forgiveness of those sins (He has removed them as far as the West is from the East), and our adoption (we have become children of the Living God and heirs to the riches of Heaven).

Now that is something to get excited about.  And whenever I get the chance to share about God’s mission to bring the world back to Himself, I get really fired up with a zeal and a passion that has attracted many people to what I have to say.  For they can tell that this is not just a casual interest in Christ that I have, but a true and living relationship with the Everlasting God.  And that is something worth talking about and offering to the world.

“When I came to you brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.           1 Corinthians 2:1-5

Where is Baby Jesus?

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Our First Village Christmas

Our family has had the privilege of having Christmas in many different countries, provinces, states, cities and villages around the world over the years.  In fact, since Jill and I were married 26 years ago, this year will be very unique, for this will be the first time we have had Christmas in the same home in the same city two years in a row.

But of all the Christmases that we have had, I think we would both say that our most memorable one was in 1997, the year we had our fist Christmas in our village in Papua New Guinea.  We had been living only 6 months in the village by the time Christmas came around.  Everything was still fresh and exciting.  But we also felt so cut off from the outside world, which made sense, seeing as we were living by an airstrip cut right out of the jungle, many miles from any other town.

And it certainly didn’t feel like the “Christmas season” as we sweltered in the 30+ Celsius weather.  There were no stores to go Christmas shopping in our village, no lights being put up on other houses in our neighborhood.  There was a church in our village, a Catholic sponsored village meeting-house made from bush material.  There was not much to look at in our village, not even our own western-style house with its corrugated tin roof, but bush material siding was that attractive.

So we decided that we would go all out, as much as possible, to make Christmas come alive for us, and for the people of the village.  We had brought over with us quite a few strings of lights with us, so we hung up our Christmas lights on the edge of our roof and covered most of the front and side with the lights.  And because we had solar panels and deep-cell batteries, we could turn on our lights at night.  Wow!!  You should have seen the curiosity and the excitement of the people in the village.  They were so fascinated by these blinking lights, that some of them sat on the airstrip and just stared at them for hours on end.

Well, the next important item for us was to set up a Christmas tree and our little nativity scene.  A church had sent us a Christmas tree to use while we lived in PNG.  What a special present that was for us to get.  And so, in the little entry way at the front of our house we put up all our inside decorations, the tree, and our nativity scene.  (The picture below is actually from 2000).

Now the tree and nativity scene were close enough to the front screen door that when children from the village would come up our outside stairs, they would see them while sitting on the platform.  And Jill would come and explain to the children what Christmas was about, and especially would point out the manger scene where Jesus was born.  But one bright young boy said to her one day, “But where is Baby Jesus?  I see Mary, and Joseph, and the Shepherds, but I don’t see Baby Jesus!”

It was very hard not to smile at the question, because it was a good one.  We had kept the little figure in the box.  And Jill’s answer was, “It’s not the 25th yet.  He wasn’t born until Christmas Day.  But if you come back on the 25th, I’m sure he will be here.”  And for the next week up until Christmas, the kids would run up the stairs to see if, just in case, the Baby Jesus figure had arrived.

Now what do you think happened on Christmas morning?  Just as dawn was breaking (about 6 a.m.), we heard some noise at our front door.  I looked out the window, and crowded on our platform was over a dozen little kids from the village, and just as many down below.  When we opened the door, the kids looked in directly at the nativity scene, and there was the little figurine in the manger.  And with a squeal of excitement the kids all broke out, “Baby Jesus!  Baby Jesus!  He did come!”

Well, I must say that made our day, that Christmas morning 13 years ago.  To see such excitement among the children as they ran back through the village telling everyone to come to our house to see Baby Jesus.  It made me feel like we were back there at the Manger 2000 years ago and witnessing the first burst of joy of the angels, and then of the shepherds, as they announced the birth of the Messiah, the Emmanuel, God with us.

May you too rejoice on this Christmas Day, and celebrate the Good News, that in the town of Bethlehem, a Saviour has been born for us.  Hallelujah.

Please, Let Me Read!

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A THOUSAND WORDS ARE WORTH A PICTURE

There is one story from my childhood that stands out head and shoulders above all my other stories as you will see in a minute.  This is probably my mother’s favorite story, and I smile too whenever I think about this one.  It has to do with my love for reading.

My mother had read books to all of us as we were growing up in the family and from her I learned that books could be exciting to read.  They say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  And when you are a beginning reader that is probably true, for you look at the big picture, you see the few words underneath, but the picture helps to transport you to another world.  In time, you switch from looking at the pictures to reading more and more words.  But the idea remains the same, the story opens up all kinds of possibilities in your mind.

So when I was just turning 6 in Grade One, one of my favorite places was the school library.  There never seemed to be enough time to read books at the school, so I would sign out a pile of books each weekend and read them all by Monday.  Each story would take me to places that fueled my imagination and increased my thirst for knowledge.  It was a wonderful experience…..until the day I discovered there was a restriction.

One day, when I went to sign out some books, the librarian asked me, “Aren’t you in Grade One?  You are only allowed to check out books on that one shelf.  All the other books are for older children.”

Needless to say, I was totally broken-hearted at this news.  And when I got home and my mother saw how distressed I was, she had me tell her the whole story.  “Well!  You and I are going to have a talk with the principal on Monday about this,” she said.  At the same time, I was excited to think we could find a solution to my situation, and scared to think I would be going to the Principal’s Office on Monday.

Sure enough, on Monday we talked it over with the principal.  And guess what?  The three of us marched over to the library and the principal duly informed the librarian, “Mrs _____, I am here to inform you that this young man is now allowed to take out any book he wants from the library.”  Wahooo!!!  I was so excited, I immediately started into the Grade Two section and kept on taking out books and reading anything I could get my hands on.

I want you to know that I still have this passion for reading today.  I probably have anywhere from 3 to 5 books on the go at a time.  But the book I keep reading again and again is God’s Word.  It is still the Book of Books.  In many ways, it is my love for reading, and my love for God, that has combined to lead me into this profession of doing Bible translation.

And you know what?  The same thrill and joy I used to get when I read children’s books so long ago, is the same kind of thrill and joy I see in people of minority languages when they get their hands on Scripture in their own language.  Even if it is only a small portion of the Bible, or even a children’s level story book of Bible stories, the people will make great efforts to get a copy and try to read it themselves.

I will never forget the time I announced that the plane coming to our village to bring some brand new story books in their language was going to be delayed.  But I said, it should be here tomorrow by midday.  Well, the next morning came, and people started to gather around our house next to the airstrip.  I asked what they were waiting for, and they said they were waiting for the plane, waiting to get the new reading books.

Hours later, the plane finally arrived.  By this time, close to 80 people had gathered and waited the whole time.  We got the boxes from the Cessna plane, plus other supplies.  As soon as the plane had taken off, the people gathered around the book boxes and eagerly laid their hands on them.  I think there were 50 copies each of 10 simple story books that had been translated into their language.  And then the next thing was amazing.

No sooner had a person gotten a story book, but he or she just sat down right where they were and started to read.  By our house, under our house, on the airstrip, they all sat down and tried, slowly and carefully, to read the stories written in their language.  The only time they moved was when they got up to trade a booklet with someone else.  And they did that for the rest of the afternoon until finally the sun had set and they could no longer read.

Now remember, these stories made up into ten or twelve page booklet form, were either small Bible related stories, or nice cultural stories.  But the people ate them up as if their lives depended upon it.  Just imagine what it is like when they get a full book of Scripture.  (The book of Mark was finally made available in 2003.)  Then picture the excitement and joy when they will get the entire New Testament in their language.  I have heard of villages putting on celebrations that run a whole week long, there is just so much joy at receiving God’s Word in a language they can understand, they can’t contain their joy to just one day.

“Dear God.  Thank you for the ability to read.  And thank you so much that we can read about You and Your great love in a book called the Bible.  Help us Lord, to continue to get more of Your Word translated and made available to those who have not had the Bible in their language up until now.”

Tunnels, Caves & Claustrophobia

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Claustrophobic – Who Me?  Never!

One of crazy things I remember doing as a kid was to climb down into sewer and water drainage tunnels and crawl through them to see where they would lead me.  Some of the drainage pipes were the large corrugated steel  man size under-the-street ones which led from one open gully part of the hill to the other open gully on the other side of the road.  So they were tall enough to stand up inside, stooped over a bit, and only about fifty feet long.  Fun to hide in, but no challenge to an adventurer.

No, it was the small concrete drain tunnels that I liked to crawl in.  These tunnels would be just a bit larger than shoulder width and could be hundreds of feet long.  I would find an opening to one of these drainage tunnels in one of the gullies and start crawling, head first, wriggling my body to squeeze my way down the tunnel until I got to one of the junction rooms that had rungs on the vertical tunnel that led up to the manhole on a street level high above.

Looking back, I know it was rather insane doing what I did.  I was more than 20 feet underground, crawling though drainage pipes that if they had been a couple of inches in diameter smaller I would have been stuck there like a cork in a bottle.  And just imagine if after crawling for hundreds of feet head first I had come to a dead-end.  No way to turn around.  I would have had to wriggle backwards the same distance to get out.  Needless to say, I never told my parents about this adventure, at least not until I was an adult and moved away from home.

And I have had the same fascination with caves.  I’ve only gone into a few though, the most famous ones being the Mark Twain caves on the western edge of Illinois, and the cave in the center of the town next to Mount Rushmore.  I loved crawling through tight spaces, and climbing up or down on areas where there were just toe and finger holds.

So being interested in caves, I looked up in the Bible references to caves and I found some interesting connections in most of the verses.  Due to the rocky nature of the ground in the land of Canaan, one of the primary uses for caves was to use them as tombs and to bury the dead there.  The second main use for caves in Scripture was to use them as hiding places.  Samson hid after killing Philistines, David his from King Saul who was trying to kill him.  And Elijah hid from the wicked Queen Jezebel.

Even today, we jokingly talk about men retreating from the stresses of life and going into “their caves”.  So caves seem to be places to go to get away from others and anything connected with life and real living that is perceived to be a threat.  If this is even half-true, then it forces me to ask myself this question, “Why did I like to spend hours on end crawling around down in tunnels and caves underground?”  A big part of me says, “It was wild, crazy and fun.  It was an adventure!”

But another part of me which is honest says, “I didn’t know how to handle my life (which involved being picked on by my peers, made fun of at the church youth group, and not being paid attention to at home by my family).  So I think I can say now that partly I was running towards an adventure, but I was also partly running away from the troubles I was having in life.

Today, I don’t crawl through narrow tunnels.  And I don’t know if I can climb through any more caves.  But I still can retreat from life emotionally and crawl into a cave deep in my mind.  I must resist this, and work with people, not avoid them, and most of all trust in God to help me face whatever issues I need to deal with in my life.

So how about you?  Are there caves you run to which you hope will keep you safe from the troubles of this life?  I hope not.  And believe me, eventually you have to come out.  And whatever you may have run away from, in all likelihood, it is still there, and it may have grown bigger and worse than when you first went to hide in your cave.  May God give you the strength you need to face your world.

For My Tears, Jesus Died

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One of the categories I am going to use on my blog that I am excited about is going to be called “I Remember”. There will be lots of things I can share under this category – funny things, sad moments, unusual events that occurred.  Above all though, there is one thing that I want to remember well, and share with any who will read this blog.  Namely, to remember the many times that God has been good to me, and the times that He has been close to me.  And even as I thought of this new category, it caused me to remember the very first time that God was really “real” to me.

I was attending my first youth conference in Northern Alberta.  It was in October of 1972, and I was only 11 years old.  I was thrilled to be out on the highway on my own so to speak.  (Actually we traveled as a Youth Group and filled a big yellow school bus.)  I thought it was so neat to go on a weekend trip where over 500 young people would gather to have fun.

Now this conference was sponsored by our churches of Western Canada and some northwestern States.  I knew there would be Christian “stuff” happening as part of the weekend.  But I was just going to have a good time.  And that’s exactly what I did, not caring much about anyone or anything until the evening banquet on Saturday.  I hadn’t listened to any of the preaching or teaching up till this point, but God found a way to still reach this stubborn heart of mine.

It was a song.  But not just any song.  The lights in the auditorium went down, only candles on each table gave out a little light, and then the girl stepped up to the microphone and sang her special solo.  I will always remember what happened next.  Something broke within me and my stubborn heart which refused to hear God’s strong voice began to melt as I heard His voice in the beautiful quietness of that song.  And I silently wept as God spoke to me through that song.   The song that night was “For Those Tears I Died”.

I still know those words today, and they still speak the same message to me.  I was a sinner, and yet Jesus died for me.  I tried to ignore Him, but He was there, inviting me to drink deeply of his love and saving grace.  I knew for the first time that Jesus was real, and as I wept tears of repentance for my ignorance and rebellion against God, I heard the message – that for my tears He died.

“Saviour, I give you my heart and my soul.                                                                                                        I know that without you, I’d never be whole.                                                                                                Saviour, you’ve opened all the right doors.                                                                                                    And I thank you, and praise you, from earth’s humble shores,                                                                  Take me I’m yours.”

“And Jesus said, ‘Come to the water, stand by my side.                                                                                  I know you are thirsty, you won’t be denied.                                                                                                    I felt every teardrop, when in darkness you cried.                                                                                       And I strove to remind you, that for those tears I died.’ ”

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