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Nick and his son, Kiyoshi

Nick and his son, Kiyoshi

Born without arms and legs, Nick Vujicic is a living demonstration of the power of God to use our human weaknesses and failures to transform our lives, inspire others, and fulfill God’s purpose in our lives.

Nick is a young man who uses his limbless body to achieve many activities that we take for granted throughout our lives—walk, swim, surf, kick a ball, sky dive, develop careers, fall in love, marry, and have children.

Nick knows hardships, struggles, failures, depression, self-doubt, and thoughts of suicide, yet through his faith in God, he is able to overcome his trials and inspire millions of people around the world as an author, evangelist, motivational speaker, and now as an actor.

In this short dramatic film, “The Butterfly Circus,” he portrays a young man who, despite being considered a “freak” by others, discovers that he is a person of value with a unique purpose in life. Please enjoy this video, and be sure to view it in full screen mode.

(If the video frame does not appear on this page or doesn’t respond, please view the video by placing your cursor on the title of this post, then clicking the title.)

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That is the question that the apostle Paul asks in 1 Corinthians 2:16, paraphrasing the prophet Isaiah who concluded that the thoughts of God are so amazing that they are beyond our comprehension (Isa 40:12-13).

While admitting that it’s impossible for anyone to understand God’s decisions and methods (Rom. 11:33), Paul declares that God has given us access to God’s “secret wisdom” or “secret plan,” and allowed us to know what the Lord is thinking—for we have the mind of Christ! (1 Cor. 2:16)

In letters to both the Corinthian and Ephesian churches, Paul explains that the secret wisdom or secret plan of God was made before the world began, and was hidden from mankind throughout human history until it was revealed at the right time—first to Paul and later to the other apostles and prophets. (1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 3:3-5)

God’s secret plan was to save all people from sin and eternal death, not just people from the nation of Israel as the Jews believed. It was to be a salvation through the virgin birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ who would save all people who believe in him. Jesus has power over sin and death, a power that he offers to all who believe in him. (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 16:25-26; 1 Tim. 2:3-7)

This revelation, Paul says, came through the Holy Spirit who searches out everything and shows us even God’s deepest secrets, so that we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us. (1 Cor. 2:10, 12)

Acknowledging that there are many skeptics to these truths, Paul adds:

“But people who aren’t Christians can’t understand these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them because only those who have the Spirit can understand what the Spirit means. We who have the Spirit understand these things, but others can’t understand us at all.” (1 Cor. 2:14-15, NLT)

While Paul and the apostles, led by the Holy Spirit, used their preaching, teaching, and writing to reveal the good news that all sinners can find forgiveness and have a new and abundant life in Jesus Christ, those of us who follow Jesus also have the privilege and responsibility in sharing this good news of God’s love and salvation to our generation.

And since we, too, have the Holy Spirit living with us—from the very moment that we believed in Christ as our savior—we have been given access to the mind of Christ through the Spirit who leads us to all truth (Jn. 14:17), never leaves us (Jn. 14:16), teaches us (Jn. 14:26), reminds us of Jesus’ words (Jn. 14:26; 15:26), quickens our conscience regarding sin and righteousness (Jn. 16:8), gives us insight into future events (Jn. 16:13), and glorifies Christ by revealing to us what the Spirit receives from Christ (Jn. 16:14).

The Holy Spirit has not only given us access to the mind of Christ for our personal spiritual development and enrichment, but has endowed each of us with various spiritual gifts with which to serve our Christian brothers and sisters in the church, and to take the Gospel to the rest of the world.

So, as we seek to live in tune with the mind of Jesus Christ, may the following advice from Paul to the Colossian church inspire and encourage us:

“Let the words of Christ, in all their richness, live in your hearts and make you wise. Use his words to teach and counsel each other. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father.” (Col. 3:16-17, NLT)

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As we prepare to celebrate Christmas amid the rampant commercialism, hectic shopping, decorating, wrapping, cooking, and frayed nerves, may we pause to reflect on the significance of John. 1:14 to our celebration.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14, NRSV

Here in this text, the Apostle John distils the entire message of the Bible and declares that the Word—the eternal God who existed before time and history, who spoke into existence the universe and all living things—became flesh and appeared among us as a human baby! The invisible, infinite, supernatural Creator became the visible, finite, flesh-and-blood Jesus of Nazareth! In one sentence, John covers the 33-year life span of Jesus and reminds us that we actually saw the glory of God in Jesus.

Just as the Shechinah—the glory and presence of God—appeared among the Israelites in the wilderness (Ex. 16:10; 24:16; 40:34), so was God’s glory revealed in Jesus at his birth (Lk. 2:14, 30-32), transfiguration (Mt. 17:2; Mk. 9:3), death, resurrection, and ascension (Jn. 7:39; 12:16, 23, 28; 13:31,32).

The glory seen in Jesus came from the unique Father-Son relationship that he had with God before the universe was created (Jn. 17:5), and permeated his earthly life and ministry. We not only saw the glory of God in Jesus, but also the fullness of God’s grace—the limitless mercy, kindness, and love of God for sinners—and the embodiment of the truth of God’s nature and characteristics.

And as Jesus prepared to return to his Father, he promised that he would not leave us alone, but that his Holy Spirit of truth would be with us to teach, guide, comfort, and help us.

So as we gather with our families and friends this Christmas, may we find time to give thanks to God that he did not stay remote and aloof from us in his heavenly realm, but, through Jesus, identified with our humanity, loved us, suffered for us, and ultimately died for our sins in order to redeem us and give us fullness of life—now and for all eternity.

*****

Early last month I was invited to write a guest post for ReDEFINE, a blog about race, religion, justice, and culture in the United States. Below is a version of that post.

 

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When I immigrated to the United States from Jamaica in 1969, one of the first challenges I faced was selecting the racial categories on college, government, and job forms and applications. One could check the box labeled “Negro,” “White,” “Hispanic,” “Native American,” or “Asian,” if one were one of those, but there was no category that allowed me to accurately list my racial makeup. So I always ignored the boxes and wrote in the margins “OTHER.”

I am of a black-white-Chinese mixture: My maternal grandmother was black, a descendant of Maroons—former runaway slaves who fought and won their independence from Britain 170 years before that country abolished slavery in 1808 and emancipated slaves in Jamaica and other British colonies in 1838; my maternal grandfather was a Hakka Chinese immigrant from the Kwangtung province in South China, who immigrated to Jamaica in the early 1900s and became a grocer; my mixed-race paternal grandfather was a descendant of an English barrister who came to Jamaica in the early 1800s and became a plantation owner and magistrate; and my paternal grandmother was white, a descendant of German immigrants to Jamaica.

My mixed race is a common characteristic of many in Jamaica, a small Caribbean island nation whose national motto is “Out of many, one people”—people whose Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 3.02.09 PMfaces and skin colors reflect the intermingling of the races of our ancestors from such diverse countries as Africa, England, Whales, Scotland, Ireland, China, India, Germany, Spain, Lebanon, Syria, and from the Jewish diaspora, some coming to the island under the Spanish control in the 1500s, others coming under the British in the 1600s, and still others coming under the indentured program that Britain started in 1838 to fill the sudden labor shortage on plantations after the emancipation of slaves.

My first encounter with racism was in 1967 when our Jamaican youth choir toured America. While in Washington, D.C., the members of our choir stayed in the homes of various American families. My hosts were a white couple who welcomed me to their high-rise apartment, and, at one point during my stay, invited me to go swimming in the pool on the building’s ground floor. However, when I entered the gated area of the pool, the building’s manager stopped me and told me that I could not swim in the pool because it was a “whites only” pool. When I went back up to my hosts and told them what had happened, they were embarrassed and very apologetic.

Two years later when I returned to the U.S. and enrolled in my denomination’s small, predominantly white liberal arts college in Indiana, I was surprised by the reaction I received half way through the semester—not from the whites on campus, but from a group of black students. They were highly critical of me and other foreign students of color because we did not choose to sit exclusively with them in the cafeteria and at other social events. They accused us of being “uppity” or “Uncle Toms” for associating so much with white students. The parents of a black student went so far as to warn her not to date African students because they acted as if they were superior. This was at a time when there was a segment among the black population in America, including some of these students, who had grown impatient with the pace of the civil rights movement and had become more militant and separatist under the “Black Power” slogan and intolerant towards any minority who fraternized with whites, whom they called “Whitie” or “The Man.”

While we foreign students of color understood the defensive mindset of the black students because of the centuries of white racism against blacks and other minorities in America, most of us were from countries where we were in the majority and were far less likely to be defensive about our relationship with whites. The biases and prejudices of our home countries were more about differences in social class, religion, clans, or tribes. So as someone from a multiethnic family and culture, I was unwilling to take a separatist approach to my new life in America.

However, what defined me was not so much my multiethnic Jamaican heritage, but rather my personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I fell in love with him as a result of a dramatic spiritual conversion at age 17 when he led me from out of a life of violence and juvenile delinquency to follow him in a life of discipleship, and of loving and serving people. During nearly five decades living in the United States, the image of myself as a beloved and valued child of God was the main factor that sustained me through the ups and downs of finding my way in a society and culture that sometimes could be harsh, cruel, and racist.

This image sustained me through the lean college years as I pursued undergraduate and graduate degrees by working a combination of part-time jobs supplemented with education loans and grants; through entry-level jobs, job layoffs, periods of unemployment, including one that lasted 23 months; through bankruptcy, divorce, depression, near-homelessness; and through racist encounters with people, including a white former father-in-law who refused to acknowledge or speak to me and never accepted his first grandson, the only child of his daughter and me. Throughout all this, I have tried to mirror the grace, love, and forgiveness of Jesus Christ to all individuals I encountered.

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 1.04.02 PMThat approach has served me well, for at 71, I can truly say that life in the United States has been good for me and has allowed me to achieve my version of the American Dream—a solid educational foundation, university degrees, fulfilling jobs and careers, home ownership, U.S. citizenship, strong family and church ties, community leadership and respect, a healthy lifestyle, worldwide travel, and a comfortable retirement that is allowing me to volunteer with faith-based partners to serve the poor in Los Angeles, India, and the Congo.

Although much of America’s overt racism of the past has disappeared, it still exists inconspicuously in hiring, job advancement, housing, and in various levels of society. While I live in a very racially diverse San Fernando Valley suburb of Los Angeles, and often take four-mile power walks at various hours of the day or night in my neighborhood, even sometimes at 4 a.m. when I cannot sleep, I would not risk such an early morning walk in nearby Beverly Hills because I would surely be stopped and frisked by the police. And while I enjoy playing golf at various courses around the country, there are still certain courses where I would not be welcomed or allowed because of my color.

Yes, while I am thankful for the opportunities that America has given me, I am also very aware that for millions of individuals of various races and colors living in
the U.S., the American Dream is still not a reality. They still face prolonged unemployment, poverty-level wages, injustice, police profiling and brutality, discrimination, suppression of their voting rights in various cities and states, and part of a political system that favors the rich over the poor. Recent events in Ferguson and in major cities around the country reflect the anger and discontent that people feel over these conditions.

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Nevertheless, I remain hopeful for my adopted country, for just as she has progressed to where there is now a space for “OTHER” on application forms, and “WHITES ONLY” signs have officially been removed from public places, I’m optimistic that her growing racial and cultural diversity will eventually reflect Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream in which our “children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

******

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As you celebrate this Thanksgiving Day, may you take a moment to enjoy this song of thanks by our friends and fellow singers at our partner church, Christian Assembly, Eagle Rock, California, and may you be inspired by the prayer, “The Canticle of the Creatures,” by St. Francis of Assisi.

May the words of the Apostle Paul encourage you to remember each day to “Always be joyful. Keep on praying. No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (I Thess. 5:16, NLT)

The Canticle of the Creatures

Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord,
All praise is yours, all glory, honor and blessings.
To you alone, Most High, do they belong;
no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.

We praise you, Lord, with all your creatures,
especially for Brother Sun,
who is the day through whom you give us light.
He is beautiful and radiant with great splendor,
and bears a likeness of you, Most High one.

We praise you, Lord, for Sister Moon and the stars,
in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.

We praise you, Lord, for Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather,
by which You cherish all that You have made.

We praise you, Lord, for Sister Water,
so useful, humble, precious and pure.

We praise you, Lord, for Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night.
He is beautiful, playful, robust, and strong.

We praise you, Lord, for Sister Earth,
who sustains us
with her fruits, colored flowers, and herbs.

We praise you, Lord, for those who pardon,
who, for your love, bear sickness and trial.
Blessed are those who endure in peace,
for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.

We praise you, Lord, for Sister Death,
from whom no one living can escape.
Woe to those who die in their sins!
Blessed are those she finds doing your will.
for the second death shall do them no harm.

We praise and bless you, Lord, and give you thanks,
and serve you in all humility.

— St. Francis of Assisi

****

As a young American Muslim, Dr. Nabeel Qureshi was very knowledgeable about the Quran and was trained to defend the Islam religion against Christians. Yet, in his search to know God more personally and deeply, he went on a search to critique both the Christian Bible and the Quran. The result was that he became disillusioned about what he found in the Quran and Islam, and became convinced that the claims of Christianity and the Bible were true.

In this interview, he tells how a college friend and a series of dreams from God became the major influences in his conversion to Jesus Christ, and how his conversion cost him the loss of his family:

In this next video, which was recorded at Biola University were he was teaching a course on Christian apologetics and Islam, Nabeel goes more in depth about his journey from Islam to Christianity, especially the differences between Islam and Christianity, and how to communicate correctly, confidently, and respectfully the Christian Gospel to Muslims.

In I Peter 3:15, Peter admonishes us to always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have in Christ. However, Nabeel found that very few Christians could give a reasonable and informed response in defense of their Christian faith. Can you?

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Dear brothers and sisters,

You are not forgotten. We see the horrible, graphic pictures on the Internet of those among your ranks who have been slaughtered because they chose to follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior. And we know that you, who remain in areas controlled by Islamist extremists, live under daily threat of being beheaded or raped. Even your little children are victims of these horrors.

I write to remind you of Jesus’ encouragement to all who would follow him:

Don’t be afraid, but be glad and rejoice

“Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill you. They can only kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt. 10:28)

So when your persecutors demand that you renounce Jesus Christ or you die, remember that your physical death pales in significance to the eternal consequence of denying Christ in this life (Matt. 10:32-33). If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give it up for Christ, you will find it (Matt. 10:39).

Jesus assures you that even in the midst of danger and in death, your Father in heaven is aware of you and everything that is happening to you. So don’t be afraid, you are more valuable to him than even a single sparrow that dies in his care (Matt. 10:31).

Moreover, Jesus encourages you to be glad and rejoice in the midst of your persecution, for not only is he blessing you with his blissful presence that fills you with joy and peace as you face your persecutors, he assures you that your reward will be great in heaven. So, yes, rejoice! God’s kingdom is yours—now in this life and in eternity! (Matt. 5:10-12)

Be wary and wise as snakes and harmless as doves

In this current climate of Islamist terrorists of a variety of stripes—ISIS, IS, ISIL, Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda, and others—you are as vulnerable as lambs in the midst of wolves (Matt. 10:16a), so Jesus offers you these specific ways of conducting yourselves:

• Be wary and wise as snakes (Matt. 10:16b)—Be alert and observant about what is happening around you, and don’t be impulsive and gullible. Avoid premature martyrdom, and flee to safety when possible. Don’t be afraid to speak in defense of your faith in Christ, for the Spirit of the Lord will tell you what to speak. (Matt: 10:19, 20, 23).

• Be harmless as doves (Matt. 10:16c)—Like Jesus, you are to be nonviolent, peaceful, and harmless. It is Jesus’ deliberate will for us to live in weakness so that we might flourish in his strength (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

While Jesus does not forbid his followers from having weapons, presumably for defense (Luke 22:36), in almost every other instance he tells us not to resist when persecuted. For example, when Peter used a sword to defend Jesus, Jesus told him, “Put away your sword. Those who use the sword will be killed by the sword.” (Matt. 26:52; Luke 22:47-51; John 18:10-11)

So when they bomb your churches, you are not to bomb their mosques; when they invade your homes and chop off the heads of your children, do not attack their homes to do likewise to their children, nor should you render evil for evil. Vengeance belongs to God alone (Rom. 12:19).

Love your persecutors and pray for them

You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you. In that way you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:43-45, NLT)

Loving your enemies, especially those who seek to harm and kill you, is not something that is a natural human ability, but Jesus gives you the divine ability to love your enemies, even your persecutors. How?

By praying for them—As followers of Jesus, you are instructed to seek the welfare of your enemies through prayer and forgiveness. Follow the examples of Jesus and Stephen who, as they were being killed, prayed that God would forgive their killers (Luke 23:34; Acts 7:59-60).

By blessing them—If people persecute you because you are a Christian, don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them (Rom. 12:14).

By heeding the warning about forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer—Jesus taught us that when we ask our heavenly Father to forgive our sins, we must also forgive those who sin against us, and if we refuse to forgive others, God will not forgive our sins (Matt. 6:14-15).

Take heart, Jesus has overcome the world

The mission of Islamist terrorists is to use hate, violence, fear, and murder to intimidate peoples and nations into submission, and make the entire world into an Islamic State. However, God will not allow this to happen.

When Jesus was about to return to heaven, he told his disciples to expect hardship, trials, and persecution because of their allegiance to him, but he assured them that he has already won the ultimate victory over those who would oppose him:

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NLT)

“Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean that he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or are hungry or cold or in danger or threatened with death? (Even the Scriptures say, ‘For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.’) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.” (Rom. 8:36-37, NLT)

From Genesis to Revelation, our Scriptures tell us that Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God who died to take away our sins, will return as the Conquering Lion of God and defeat Satan and his evil forces.

So brothers and sisters in Christ, you who are being persecuted because of your faith in Jesus Christ, take courage and be strengthened in the knowledge that God is about to destroy ISIS and the myriads of similar Satanic forces that seek to persecute the body of Christ. Their days are numbered, and God will defeat and destroy them as surely as he destroyed Hitler’s murderous Nazi regime and other tyrannical forces throughout history.

May you be encouraged in the knowledge that millions of Christian believers throughout our planet are praying for you that, whether you live or die, your faith and witness remain strong and unmovable, and that the Lord will be pleased with your life of worship, praise, and sacrifice.

And may our Father’s grace, love, and peace bless and sustain you. Amen.

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