More than even our prayers or our money, persecuted Christians need this

Thoughtful and challenging

Do the Word

“How can we help persecuted Christians?”

It is the question I have been privileged to be asked nearly every day for nearly two decades. Most people assume that the answer must be some combination of prayer and financial giving, and most people assume that the biggest challenges in helping will be in remembering to pray regularly for the persecuted, knowing what to pray, and finding money to give amidst many excellent competing causes.

But after 17 years, I have come to the conclusion that God has ordained the matter of persecution so that something must precede our prayers and our financial giving in order for us to be able to help persecuted believers.

What persecuted Christians need more than our prayers and financial giving is a global church that embraces and trusts the way of the Cross.

Put more personally, what persecuted Christians need is for each of us to

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Gentle Mary – A Timeless Carol

This beautiful song was written by Joseph Cook in 1919.  Mr. Cook was born in England in 1859 but immigrated to Canada where he attended Wesleyan College and McGill University in Montreal.

The lyrics show a progression from wondering if this baby, born to peasants in humble surroundings could really be the Savior of mankind. The answer – just ask those transformed by Him.  Surely the people of Jesus’ day asked this question too. How could a baby in a manger have more power than King Herod, who ruled from nearby palaces and fortresses?

Yet in his humility, Jesus did have more power than Herod. In today’s culture, where the rich are admired and superstars are praised, Jesus is still the humble King who really deserves our adoration. No longer a stranger to the world, people from every nation and ethnic group on earth rejoice at Christmas, singing – “Praise His Name in all the earth, hail the King of glory!”

 Gentle Mary laid her Child
Lowly in a manger;
There He lay, the undefiled,
To the world a stranger:
Such a Babe in such a place,
Can He be the Savior?
Ask the saved of all the race
Who have found His favor.

Angels sang about His birth;
Wise men sought and found Him;
Heaven’s star shone brightly forth,
Glory all around Him:
Shepherds saw the wondrous sight,
Heard the angels singing;
All the plains were lit that night,
All the hills were ringing.

 Gentle Mary laid her Child
Lowly in a manger;
He is still the undefiled,
But no more a stranger:
Son of God, of humble birth,
Beautiful the story;
Praise His name in all the earth,
Hail the King of glory!


The Little Drummer Boy Revisited

Some years ago I wrote this article:

No, he isn’t in the Biblical story. Aaron did not travel with the Magi and was not present at the birth of Jesus. Yet, the way the song is written, he could have been. Originally titled “Carol of the Drum”, the song is about a young boy summoned by the Magi to go with them to present gifts to the newborn King.  Upon arriving, the boy realizes he has no gift that is fit to give a king, much less the King of Kings. All he has is his ability to play the drum, so he asks if he can play it for him. As Mary nods permission, he plays his best for the baby Jesus and is rewarded with a smile from the Lord.

While fiction, the song gives a powerful message. Jesus is the King and is worthy of being honored by us. All that we have to give Him we should surrender to Him. Even our crowns in heaven will be laid back at His feet for He alone is worthy. It isn’t just material things, like gold, frankincense or myrrh, that we can give but also our God-given abilities. All that we give Him should reflect our best effort, like the drummer boy’s song. And a smile from Him, a show of approval, well … that is definitely reward enough. “Well done, good and faithful servant, well done.”

Oh, and in the tv show Aaron is angry at life, owning a heart filled with hatred, and is powerfully changed when he encounters the baby Jesus. In the scene where his pet lamb is healed, why not? Jesus heals spiritually and physically. So watch it with joy, sing along heartily, include it in a cantata. Let the message of giving God our best because He alone is worthy of being praised.

In the years since I wrote this I keep thinking about the song and the cartoon tv special. It continues to hold a special place in my heart. Sing it, and while singing pledge to give your very best to the King of Kings. Give Him back what He has blessed you with, serve Him with your whole heart.

Come they told me pa rum pum pum pum
A newborn King to see pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we bring pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King pa rum pum pum pum
rum pum pum pum rum pum pum pum
So to honour Him pa rum pum pum pum

When we come
Baby Jesus pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring pa rum pum pum pum
That’s fit to give a King pa rum pum pum pum
rum pum pum pum rum pum pum pum
Shall I play for you? pa rum pum pum pum
on my drum?

Mary nodded pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him pa rum pum pum pum
rum pum pum pum rum pum pum pum
Then He smiled at me pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum

The Christmas Carol That Isn’t A Christmas Carol

I first wrote this 4 years ago. I still feel the same about this wonderful song.

It is written about a pious duke and doesn’t mention the nativity at all. St. Stephen’s feast day, December 26th is spoken of but not December 25th, Christmas. Yet this carol, set to a springtime dance tune, continues to gain devotees each year. Why is Good King Wenceslas sung at Christmas? One reason is because of the feast of Stephen and the other is because King Wenceslas portrays Christianity at its finest – helping the poor and downtrodden. Jesus came to set the captives free, give sight to the blind, lift up those who were bruised and broken and give them hope. Hope of salvation, hope of a life eternal and hope of a better life here and now. When Christ transforms a soul, they no longer think selfishly but think of others, sacrificing so that they can minister in Christ’s name. Isn’t that what Wenceslas did, in both the carol and real life?

While it is not a Christmas carol in the traditional sense, it does speak of a life that Christ has transformed and isn’t that why Jesus came? He came to transform people from death to life, from selfish to spiritual, from lost to found. Those whose lives have been transformed will seek to do good works so that God is glorified and people are brought to His Son. So sing this sort-of, almost a Christmas carol. Sing it the day after Christmas on the feast of Stephen. Sing it and think of what acts of kindness you can do to reflect the love of God that has transformed your life. Sing it and thank God that He does transform people like you and I, and Wensceslas, into saints.

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath’ring winter fuel

“Hither, page, and stand by me
If thou know’st it, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine logs hither
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear him thither.”
Page and monarch forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather

“Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, my good page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.”

In his master’s steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing

New Resources Available

Two new resources are being added to our site for you to enjoy. Derickson’s Notes on Theology and Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof will be available on our resource page in pdf format. These are very valuable tools to help you study God’s Word on various subjects. Enjoy!

The Sin That Springs Up

Bitterness is a terrible sin that afflicts many people. It is the type of sin that seems to  spring up, although in reality it has long lain dormant in our lives. No one grows up wanting to be a bitter old man or a bitter old lady and yet so many people in today’s society are bitter. Teenagers, young adults, senior citizens, both inside and outside of Christendom can become bitter. Warnings in Scripture abound about this insidious sin:

 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:31-32

Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.  See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; Hebrews 12:14-15

Sometimes guilt is confused with bitterness. Guilt is what we feel when we sin. Bitterness is what we feel when others sin against us. Bitterness is almost always based on someone else’s sin against us, whether that sin was real or imaginary. What do I mean by this? Imaginary sin is when we think someone said or did something against us that they really didn’t do. We get bitter waiting over an apology that will never come because we only thought we were harmed.

Some sins against us are real. Bitterness is not concerned with how big the sin is, it is based on how close it is to you. It does not depend on how great the evil was, it depends on how close the offending person was to you. Bitterness is directly related to those people we are (or were) closest to.

Hebrews 12:15 describes bitterness as a root. Roots are mainly underground. They are rarely seen. The effects of roots though, that can be readily seen. They break up sidewalks, roads, water pipes. They extend deep into the ground and spread out over a wide area. Roots drink in nourishment and eventually a sprout comes up above ground. Later a plant grows and bears fruits or seeds.

The fruit that is born bears a direct relationship to the root producing it. Apple seeds grow apple tree roots that support apple trees which bear apples. A bitter root in your heart will grow deep and wide, supporting, sprouting and producing bitter fruit. We are told that bitterness defiles many people. That word for defile means to make people filthy. Bitterness spreads like a wildfire, consuming families, workplaces, churches and classes of people. The Bible says we have to get rid of it. Why? Because bitterness, is not only defiling and hurtful, it is also unspiritual – straight from the devil. James 3:14-15 says:  But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. If not gotten rid of quickly, bitterness will result in evil practices which will defile both you and those around you.

Before you can get rid of bitterness, you must recognize it. How can you tell if you have a root of bitterness in you, waiting to spring up? Bitterness remembers details. You have thousands of conversations in your lifetime. How many of them do you remember in detail, word for word? Not only the words, but the intonation, inflection, gestures and facial expressions of the other party? Most of the ones we recall are those we feel sinned against by. Memory is helped by review, review, review. A constant reviewing of slights, real or imagined, leads to bitterness. I see this over and over in divorce counseling and family counseling. Conversations from years back are replayed in great detail when a party is hurt but positive conversations are fuzzy in the related details.

In order to get rid of bitterness we have to recognize, admit, and confess we have a problem. And the problem is with us – not the other party. Many times, I hear people say, “I’m not bitter. I just get my feelings hurt easily.” Really? Oversensitivity leads to resentment which turns to bitterness very quickly if not dealt with. You see, bitterness is just resentment that has been held on to. It is resentment that has festered and rotted.

We must recognize how insidious bitterness is. How evil it is. Bitterness always wants to blame the other person, the one who has hurt us. We don’t deal with the sin of bitterness so long as we think continue to think it is the others person’s sin. “When he quits lying” or “When she stops doing this” or “When they apologize to me for…” What if the other person never stops, never apologizes, never even recognizes that they have hurt you? Are you going to be resentful and bitter forever? A Christian cannot. He or she must forgive others even as Christ forgave us for sinning against Him.

When bitterness takes root even an apology will not get rid of it. Bitterness is always the sin of the bitter person alone, unrelated to anyone else. You and you alone choose to remain angry at another and withhold forgiveness. Christ went to the cross for us before we repented of any sin. We were unworthy and undeserving of this kindness and we are to show that type of grace and mercy to others.

In order to eradicate bitterness from my life I have to see that it is evil, satanic and that it is my sin and my sin alone. I do not get rid of it through the other person apologizing. I do not get rid of it if the other person stops their actions or if they die. I do not get rid of it any other way except calling it a sin against a holy God, confessing it and receiving His forgiveness.

If this is not done, bitterness will devastate you spiritually. If you have unresolved bitterness in your life then you are not right with God. You are not walking according to His Spirit but according to your flesh. It will devastate those closest to you. It will infect family, friends and your brothers and sisters in the church.

In Galatians chapter 5 the fruit of the Spirit is listed. Such things as love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, and godliness are mentioned. When you are bitter towards someone you withhold love and you don’t feel joy around them. You are in turmoil, no peace. You are not patient with them nor are you gentle with them. You are not walking in the Spirit. Galatians goes on to say we reap what we sow. Bitterness halts spiritual growth altogether.  Remember, if you are not walking in the Spirit then you are not growing in the Spirit either.

Bitterness also destroys you emotionally. Bitterness will lead to discouragement and paranoia. You develop a victim mentality, believing that person is always out to get you. Eventually you may believe that about everyone else as well. You become negative, critical of others, always finding some fault even when they do something well. You become judgmental of their motives and secretly wish them ill, hoping they fail at whatever they try to do.

After admitting our bitterness, confessing it to God and asking His forgiveness, we need to pray for others. Not about them, but for them. To pray that God draws them close to Himself and they become great instruments for Him to use. Think of those people you don’t get along with, those you don’t particularly care for. Can you pray this for them? If not, check your heart. You might have a root of bitterness lurking, waiting to spring up.


Light In The Darkness

Light In The Darkness

Isaiah 50:10-11
10 Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his God.11 Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow.

There are times in our lives when, as Christians, we are called to serve God in the midst of darkness. There are times when it is difficult to see very far ahead. Like driving on a dark highway on a moonless night in the middle of a rainstorm, our lives sometimes feel as if we are going nowhere fast and we are not sure if we will make it to our destination.

It is interesting to me that many Christians desire to be “overcomers”, but do not want much to overcome. We want to go to heaven, but we do not want to die to go there. We want our faith increased, without having to rely on anyone. We want all good times, all the time, and that is simply not how life works. Life is filled with melody and misery, high times and hard times. You may be experiencing a dark time right now, what many saints of the past termed “a dark night of the soul.” You may be at a point right now where you aren’t able to make sense of what is happening in your life. There are times, seasons in our lives, where we have studied the lessons, learned our formulas, memorized the promises of the Bible and think we have it all figured out — and suddenly we are plunged into a deep, deep darkness.

What do you do when the lights go out? When deep darkness comes into your life?
It has been said that in school one learns the lessons first and tests second. In life, we take the test first and learn the lessons second. Hopefully, today you will come to see that there are lessons to be learned when the lights go out.

Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his God

In this verse, the Bible is talking about a faithful servant of God. This person loves and fears God. He or she is being obedient. This is not a backslider or someone who has wandered off from God. This is an active Christian who loves the Lord and is being obedient to God’s voice, yet they are in a dark place.

There is a distorted idea out there that once a person becomes a Christian it is all honey and no bees. Not true. It rains on both the just and the unjust. There are tens of thousands of Christians who love God and are obediently serving Him who are experiencing dark times. Over a hundred thousand are martyred across the globe annually.

Job said, “God has put darkness in my path” (Job 19:8) Habakkuk exclaimed, “How long shall I cry out and you not hear?” (Hab. 1:2) John the Baptist sent messengers to Jesus from the cell in which he was imprisoned asking Him if He really was the Messiah. Each of these godly men came to a point in their life that they did not fully comprehend. They experienced a time of darkness, when they did not understand what was happening to them nor why God was allowing it.

When you are in darkness it doesn’t necessarily mean you have sinned or that you are outside of God’s will for your life. It might be that God has put you in a dark time so that His light shines brighter and you can see Him more clearly.

Faith is like film. It is developed in the dark. We grow the most spiritually when we are forced to look to Jesus alone for help. You will never know how much you need Jesus until Jesus is all you have. As Christians, we are called to live by faith – not by explanations. Our verse tells us to trust or lean on the name of the Lord. Even when tough times come. If you do not have the conviction that God is good all the time then you will not stand when darkness falls. Job said – “even if He slays me I will trust in Him.” When walking in darkness we must trust, lean on, God and His promises – which never fail.

When you are in the dark you don’t need explanations. You need God. An explanation sometimes makes things worse. Sometimes God removes all the answers to give us Himself. A relationship with Him is more important than reasons. In his blindness, John Milton wrote Paradise Lost. In prison John Bunyon wrote Pilgrim’s Progress. In exile, John wrote Revelation. In the dark, God develops our faith. Never doubt in the dark what you learned in the light. The test of our character is what we do, how we react, in the dark. God is still God when the darkness comes. He is still reigning on His throne. He still works out things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

Some things, some truths in life, are only learned in the dark. For example, have you ever said, “the stars are out tonight?” Did you know they are out in the daytime but you cannot see them because of the sun’s brightness? There are some treasures, some beautiful things that are only revealed in the dark.

Psalm 148:3 says the stars are there to praise the Lord. Do you have a star in your darkness with which to praise God?

Here are some treasures of the dark. In the light, we see things that are near. In the dark, we see far away – light years away into outer space. We may think our brightest thoughts in the day, but we think our deepest thoughts at night. In the light, we see more clearly. In the dark, we see further. There are some aspects of our future God reveals to us in the dark. If you are praying for God to reveal to you what is next up for your life, be prepared for dark times so that He can show you things that are far off. Just ask Daniel and John about that.

Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow.

There is a danger in the dark that Scripture warns us about. One of our most dangerous temptations is that we will be tempted to light our own fire. That is the warning of verse 11. If God has placed darkness around you, then you need to wait on God to remove it. It is better to be in the dark with God than to stand alone in man-made light. Do not ever give into despair during dark times. Darkness cannot overcome light. Remember, you don’t open a door to let darkness in. You open a door to spill out light.

If light has been removed from the situations in your life, then God, in His wisdom, has allowed it so that your faith can be developed and so that He can show you a glimpse of the future. If God is the One who has placed darkness in your path than do not be so foolish as to light your own fire. A man made fire is deceptive. It is not a sure guide to follow. God says that if we light our own fire in the middle of a God ordained darkness we will suffer.

Abraham and Sarah could not wait. Abraham created his own fire with Hagar to produce Ishmael. Untold centuries of suffering have followed his decision. Has darkness come into your life? Are you waiting on God or trying to light your own fire?
Even in the darkest of nights the sun will still rise and chase it away. Eventually God’s light will shine again and the lessons you learn in the dark will last for all eternity. You will see things and know truths that you had never seen or known before. Weeping may endure for a night says Psalm 30:5, but joy will come in the morning.

Remember this, when you are walking on a sunny day, feeling the warmth of the sun’s rays, those rays are 8.3 minutes old when they reach your face. Even though you feel the sun’s warmth, you have never experienced its full intensity. The sun’s surface temperature is approximately 10,000° F. Its inner core is in excess of 27,000,000 °F. You have felt her warmth but not her intensity.

Likewise, we can feel the warmth of God’s presence but we haven’t experienced the full intensity of His glory yet. There is coming a day when we will, but now we only see a fraction of it. When the lights go out God is still there, shining. He wants to give you a star to praise Him more. Our trials become stars in order to praise the Lord. When the lights go out, develop your faith, lean on the Lord, trust in Him and you will see further than you ever have before.