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Posts Tagged ‘Suffering’

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“Be careful what you think,

because your thoughts run your life.”

–Proverbs 4:23, NCV

 

That would explain why worrisome thoughts can turn into paralyzing fear, pessimism into debilitating discouragement, and sadness into utter hopelessness.

No one wants to dwell in such misery.

But if a person is facing difficult circumstances, and she allows her thoughts to run amok on auto-pilot, she’s likely to slide downward into hyper negativity.  Climbing out is difficult.

“Snap out of it!” someone will say. Not very helpful.

“Look for the silver lining,” advises another. Easier said than done when tragedy strikes–and lingers.

“Spend some time in reflection.” That’s what one web site recommends, offering sixteen questions for a person to consider. Most of us don’t have time for that much introspection, nor the inclination, when we’re hurting.

So, how can we climb out of a miserable pit of despair?

By replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts, especially scripture.

You see, our brains cannot focus on two things at once. Prove it to yourself by counting to ten and reciting John 3:16 at the same time. You’ll find you’re either counting or reciting, not both simultaneously.

We can apply the same strategy to negative thinking. At the first moment we realize our thoughts are headed in the wrong direction, we can confess it and ask God to help us renew our minds:

“Lord, I don’t want to think about this anymore.  I know it’s counter productive and does absolutely no good. Help me to refocus on what is noble and right, pure and lovely (Philippians 4:8).”                            

Then we start singing a favorite praise song, listing all the reasons we can trust God in this situation, or reciting an uplifting scripture.

For a start, the bulleted quotes below highlight some common threads of negative thinking.  Following each is a positive scripture as rebuttal:

  • “There is no way this situation is going to work out.”

 Oh? “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, italics added).

  • “I can’t stand another day of this.”

Oh, yes, I can stand. I can put on the full armor of God, so that in this day of trouble, I may be able to stand my ground” (Ephesians 6:13).

 Restoration will come. “Though you, [God], have made me see troubles…you will restore my life again…you will again bring me up” (Psalm 71:20).

  • “I am never going to succeed.”  

Not true.  God says [He] will accomplish all [his] purposes (Isaiah 46:10b, italics added).  What greater success could there be than to accomplish the purpose of Almighty God?

  • “I have no idea how to proceed. Maybe I should just quit. This is just too hard.”

 I can pray as the author of Hebrews did: “May the God of peace…equip me with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in me what is pleasing to him” (Hebrews 13:20-21).

  • “Sometimes I can’t seem to do anything right. How can God use me?” 

I am God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which he prepared in advance for me to do (Ephesians 2:10).

If the bulleted comments in bold print are our focus, our lives will surely head in a downward direction toward discouragement and hopelessness.

If, on the other hand, we focus on the promises and positive affirmations of scripture, we head in an upward direction toward wholeness, productivity, and joy.

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“He enables [us] to go on the heights” (Habakkuk 3:19)–above the doubts and uncertainties.

Focus determines direction.

*     *     *     *     *     *      *     *     *     *

What scripture promise or affirmation lifts you up when circumstances try to pull you down?  Add your favorites in the Comments below!

(Photo credits:  www.facebook.com/wonwithoutaword; http://www.zazzle.com.)

 

 

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Whether I heard it or read it, I don’t remember. But the words caught me by surprise, and I jotted them down:

“What was uppermost in Jesus’ mind as Good Friday approached?

“Joy.”

Do you find that surprising, too?

Yet at least three times on the eve of his crucifixion Jesus spoke about joy (John 15:11; 16:22, 24; 17:13)–a most unusual topic and completely unnatural.  Who thinks about joy when they know that catastrophe is about to strike?

Jesus, that’s who.

Within the next twenty-four hours he would face excruciating pain, total abandonment by his Father, and the most horrific death ever devised.

But his concern was for his disciples, not himself.  Jesus wanted them to remember the important principles of love, obedience, and joy–an empowering joy that no one could take away from them.

Perhaps you remember the scene. Jesus and his disciples had just finished their last Passover supper together. After the meal, he taught his final lesson.

The first mention of joy came near the end of his teaching about the vine and the branches:

“I have told you this

so that my joy may be in you

and that your joy may be complete”

(John 15:11).

The word, “this,” refers to the ways Jesus had just mentioned that will contribute to joy:

1.  Live close to him and produce much good in and through your life (vs.4-8).

2.  Live in obedience to Jesus and experience the warmth, peace, and care of His love (vs. 9-10).

 Note that Jesus wanted his joy to be in the hearts of his disciples. What characterized his joy, compared to that of others?

  1. Strong awareness of the Father’s love for him, and his own love for the Father (vs. 9-10).
  1. Absolute surrender and self-sacrifice of himself to his Father, and the joy of doing what his father had sent him to do. Even during his great travail in the Garden of Gethsemane, his one desire was to do his Father’s will (Luke 22:42).

Jesus’ joy coexisted with the profound sorrow of his impending suffering, because he was already well-acquainted with the satisfaction and fulfillment of obedience.

  1. The understanding that joy deferred to the future is anticipatory joy in the present. “For the joy set before him he endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).

And finally, Jesus told his disciples that he desired complete joy for them. What does complete joy look like? It is:

  • Not so much an emotion as it is a conviction (Keith Krell, “Moment by Moment,” http://www.bible.org).
  • Inner contentment, resulting from continually cultivating an intimate relationship with Jesus.
  • Constant, not dependent on circumstances.
  • Enduring, day after day. Indestructible.
  • Perfect—the perfect, joy-filled fulfillment of the destiny for which God created you, even when a portion of that destiny is suffering.

I’m thinking of the martyrs–Stephen, Polycarp, Ignatius of Antioch, William Tyndale, John Wycliffe and countless others who demonstrated complete joy even as they died in anguish.

Polycarp, disciple of the Apostle John and Bishop of Smyrna for many years, refused to revile Jesus. For that he was burned at the stake.

But before the flames rose up, Polycarp prayed:

“O Lord God Almighty, Father of thy blessed and beloved Son, Jesus Christ, through whom we have been given knowledge of thyself…I bless thee for granting me this day and hour, that I may be numbered amongst the martyrs, to share the cup of thine Anointed and to rise again unto life everlasting…”

Such devotion, courage, and supernatural strength are impossible to fathom apart from the enablement of the Holy Spirit.

Can you hear the grace in Polycarp’s voice as he blessed God for the privilege of dying a martyr?

That is complete joy, only experienced by those who trust in Jesus implicitly.

Complete joy that Jesus purchased for us at Calvary.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

We marvel, Heavenly Father, in the extreme paradox that is the cross. Out of the evil unleashed upon your Son comes your holy, righteous goodness–upon us. Out of the horror of the crucifixion that Jesus endured comes inexpressible and glorious joy, to those who put their faith in him–not a temporary feeling of elation, but deep, abiding, abundant joy. 

All praise to you, our loving, gracious God!       

(Acts 3:13-16, 1 Peter 1:8, John 6:47, John 10:10)

 

(Photo credit:  www.rejesus.co.uk.)

 

 

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 (Photo from http://www.trulia.com.)

“There it is, Mom, “ Steve remarked, as he pointed to a little white house in the middle of a city block. “That’s where we lived when I was growing up.”

“Oh, yes,” she replied. But did Mom really remember?

We were on an excursion through Columbus, Ohio, taking Steve’s mother past the landmarks of her life. Alzheimer’s disease had already stolen away much of her vibrancy and warmth, and, of course, her memory.

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Steve drove by West High School and continued his commentary. “That’s where we all went to school, you, Dad, Karen, and me. You were the very first homecoming queen.  How about that?  No wonder Dad asked you out.”

She murmured assent to Steve’s comments, but added nothing of her own.

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We drove past the brick ranch they built out in the country in 1966. Horses used to reside beyond the back fence. Just a few houses had dotted the area back then. By this time, however, they had been swallowed up by dozens more. The saplings Mom and Dad had planted were now tall shade trees.  And the glorious flower beds and window boxes that Mom had tended were gone. She registered no recollection.

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But when we approached her childhood home, a white Dutch Colonial on a quiet street, all of a sudden she perked up.  Pointing to a second-story window, Mom stated firmly, “That was my room, right up there.”

In the midst of the fog that is Alzheimer’s, one memory–one glimmer of light–shone through that morning. Steve and I almost gasped at the wonder of the moment. Mom remembered!

And the rarity of her memories pointed to the preciousness of this ability. Memory is a gift to be treasured. The older I grow, the more I appreciate the miraculous power of the brain to store millions of memories—with astounding detail–and yet access a particular one in a mille-second.

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Not only do sights trigger memories, but also smells. Researchers say this sense is the most powerful memory-inducer. For me, the aroma of fresh-baked bread always takes me back to my grandmother’s kitchen.

Sounds trigger memories as well—particularly music. Tastes and textures work the same phenomenon.

But surely God had more purpose in mind for giving us memory than the pleasant pastime of reminiscing.

Indeed.

Memories foster gratitude, as we contemplate God’s goodness to us in the past:

  • His countless blessings (even when we haven’t been a blessing to him).
  • Those times he led us through the shadow of death, so that we might experience more completely the glory of his light.
  • Moments when we almost gave up hope, and God surprised us with his creative, abundant provision.
  • Leaving behind what we once were and celebrating what we have become, solely because of his Son, Jesus.

Memories foster faith, as we remember how God has met our needs in the past. See if each phrase from Psalm 103 doesn’t trigger a memory in your mind, and a song of praise in your heart:

“Oh, my soul, bless God,

Don’t forget a single blessing!

He forgives your sins—every one.

He heals your diseases—every one.

He redeems you from hell—saves your life!

He crowns you with love and mercy—a paradise crown.

He wraps you in goodness—beauty eternal…

…God makes everything come out right.

He puts victims back on their feet…

…God is sheer mercy and grace;

Not easily angered, he’s rich in love.

He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve,

Nor pay us back in full for our wrongs.

(Psalm 103:2-10, The Message)

Memories inform the present and provide hope for the future. As we meditate on all those times God has wrapped us in his goodness (v. 5), we are strengthened for what we face today. As we consider the many times he made everything come out right (v. 6), we can trust he will continue to make our paths straight.

Of course, there are some memories we would like to erase—those that generate sadness, hurt, or regret. How do we deal with those? Here are a few suggestions I’ve collected over the years:

  1. We must resist self-pity—even in our thought life. Nowhere in scripture do we read that rehashing the negative is therapeutic. God’s way is to focus on the positive (Philippians 4:8).

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  1. We can follow Paul’s example. He forgot what was in his past and pressed on to what lay ahead (Philippians 3:13). Not that amnesia had set in. Paul simply did not allow past failures to cripple his relationship with God and his service for God. God had forgiven and forgotten; Paul did too. No doubt he applied Philippians 4:8, not only to self-pity, but also to guilt. 
  1. We can leave the past in God’s hands. Oswald Chambers said it so well:

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(“Leave the irreparable Past in His hands, and step out into the Irresistible Future with Him”

–My Utmost for His Highest, Dec. 31.)

 

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Father, I do thank you for the gift of memories—the ability to remember with joy and appreciation the people, places, and experiences of the past. I even thank you for the not-so-good memories, knowing that you use every difficult situation for the development of my maturity (James 1:2-3). And may I take advantage of the wisdom gained in the past to guide me in the present, and lead me into the Irresistible Future with you.

 

Art & Photo credits:  www.trulia.com; http://www.westhighalumni.com; Steve’s photo collection; http://www.allrecipes.com; http://www.god.com; http://www.pinterest.com.

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Woman with piggy bank at rainy window

 

“Save for a rainy day,” financial experts advise.  And they’re right.  It is smart to have funds set aside in case of emergency.

But we would also be wise to save up for another kind of rainy day:

  • The day great disappointment shatters our joy
  • The day the doctor begins a consult by saying, “I’m terribly sorry, but…”
  • The day a loved one calls with disturbing news

What could we possibly save up that would help in such circumstances?

Consider: monetary deposits in a bank account insulate us against financial emergencies.

Similarly, we can make faith-statement deposits into our soul-accounts, to insulate us against life’s emergencies.  A healthy soul-account offers peace of mind, confidence, and a sense of well-being.

The most valuable faith statements are those straight from scripture, since the Bible is our source of truth.

Statements such as these are worthy starting points:

  • God is with me, even in the midst of trial.

“Those who know Your name will trust in You, for You, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek You” (Psalm 9:10).

  • God is my stronghold in time of trouble, offering help and deliverance.

“The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; he is their stronghold in time of trouble.  The Lord helps them and delivers them” (Psalm 37:39-40).

  • He will supply all my needs.

“My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

 

Sometimes God makes deposits in our soul-accounts through other reading.  Here are a few examples I’ve collected:

  • “God makes good things out of the hard times.” – Erica Hale
  • “Difficulties are sent to make us grow. Move from complaining to proclaiming what God is doing through the problem. Remind yourself, for every Calvary, there is an Easter.” – Barbara Johnson
  • “When we understand that life is not about us, we learn to overlook the trivial and fix our gaze on the eternal. What is an offense compared to His love? What is a rejection compared to His unconditional acceptance? What is a momentary trial compared to an eternity with Him?” – Emmanuelle Gomez

 

Faith statement deposits also come through experiences, such as:

  • The spontaneous hug of a good friend who knows of our struggles. That’s God’s way of assuring us…

…We are not alone.

  • An answered prayer—and the answer is far beyond what we asked for. That’s God’s way of showing us…

…His love and blessing never fail, even in the midst of difficulty.

  • A transformed spirit through worship.  Worry becomes faith. Fear becomes courage. Depression becomes gladness. That proves…

…The joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 4:8).

 

Faith-statements, deposited in our souls even before we have need of them, provide a deep, sweet sense of security.

When difficulties arise, and the time comes to make withdrawals, we can praise God for each truth. Praise will fill our hearts with song and drown out the voices of worry and fear.

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Your faithfulness, O God, is unwavering and unfailing.   Oh, how I want to be faithful to you, especially during difficult circumstances.  You have provided the tools.  I praise you for the deposits your Spirit makes into my soul account, offering solace, perspective, strength, and wisdom.   Help me to avail myself of your gracious provision.  

 

(Photo credit:  www.dailyfinance.com.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Defeat may serve as well as victory

To shake the soul and let the glory out.

When the great oak is straining in the wind

The boughs drink in new beauty and the trunk

Sends down a deeper root on the windward side.

Only the soul that knows the mighty grief

Can know the mighty rapture.  Sorrows come

To stretch out spaces in the heart of joy.

–Edwin Markham (1852-1940)

Mr. Markham–educator, author, and poet– gives us much to contemplate in just eight lines, beginning with the first seven words:

“Defeat may serve as well as victory.”

No, thank you, my spirit says.  Defeat is humiliating, uncomfortable, and depressing.

Mr. Markham inspires a different perspective and a note-to-self:  God may very well bring defeats into my life “to shake my soul and let the glory out.”

Reminds me of Jonah, the reluctant prophet who tried to run from God.  The Lord told him to go east to Nineveh, an important city of Assyria.  Instead he headed west, boarding a ship for Tarshish.

But a fierce storm churned the seas into a boil.  In desperation to appease the gods, the sailors hurled Jonah overboard.  Surely in those tense moments of near-drowning and then being swallowed by a great fish, Jonah felt crushing defeat.  His life was over; it was just a matter of seconds.

Yet he didn’t die.  Hour after hour in the utter blackness of the fish’s belly, he remained alive.

No doubt he felt shaken in his soul, and in his distress, he called to the Lord (2:1ff).

God heard his prayer and commanded the fish to vomit Jonah onto dry land.

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 Then the Lord repeated Jonah’s marching orders: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you” (3:1).

This time Jonah obeyed, and the glory came forth.   Jonah preached and the people repented. God had compassion upon the citizens of Nineveh, and did not bring destruction upon them.

What appeared to be a mortal defeat for Jonah turned into a glorious revival for a wicked city.

Read Mr. Markham’s poem again and you’ll discover more benefits of defeat, as outcomes of:

  • Straining in the wind.  Pressing on during adversity results in perseverance and strength of character.
  • Drinking in new beauty.  During times of distress we’re more aware of God’s glorious attributes at work in our spirits–attributes such as empowerment, faithfulness, peace, and grace.
  • Sending down deep roots.  Defeat often brings us to new depths of surrender and submission.  It also brings us to new depths of God’s love (Ephesians 3:17).
  • Experiencing grief.  Only those that know a mighty grief can know the mighty rapture.  Like diamonds against dark velvet, joy needs a backdrop of sadness in order to be appreciated fully.
  • Experiencing sorrow.  Sorrows create space for joy.  Joy is never so sweet and overwhelming as after sorrow.

God knows what he’s doing, and he doesn’t waste time or effort.  False starts and fruitless endeavors just don’t happen with our perfect Heavenly Father.

Therefore, when defeat comes into my life or yours, we can rest assured he is accomplishing his good purpose for us.

There will be victory in defeat.

Guaranteed.

 

(photo and art credits:  www.zazzle.co.nz.com; http://www.searchforbibletruths.blogspot.com.)

 

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Tonight, the Thursday before Easter, we remember the Last Supper and the heart-wrenching scene in the Garden of Gethsemane.  It was there Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

In a matter of hours from that moment, Jesus would face unimaginable pain and suffering. Yet his prayers were not only for himself that night. He prayed for his disciples, and he even prayed for us—those who would believe in him in the future. (I marvel at such selflessness in a time of supreme crisis.) His desire was that God’s love and his presence would be in us (John 17:26).

As a result of his death on the cross and resurrection from the grave, Jesus made possible the fulfillment of that prayer. Our crucified, resurrected, and ascended Christ indwells every believer (Colossians 1:27).

Think of it! The all-powerful, all-wise Lord of the universe lives within us! Such an overwhelming, puzzling concept. What could that mean in practical terms?

I like Sarah Young’s explanation: We are intertwined with him in an intimacy involving every fiber of our beings (Jesus Calling, p. 332).

It means that God makes available to us everything we need:

  • Power to handle life’s challenges (2 Corinthians 12:9).
  • Wisdom to determine right actions from wrong (James 1:5).
  • Access to talk to him at any time (Hebrews 4:16).
  • Personalized purpose, to fulfill a God-ordained plan (Jeremiah 29:11).
  • Hope that can never be disappointed (Isaiah 40:31).
  • Resources that can never be exhausted (Philippians 4:19).

It means that in Christ we have:

  • Complete forgiveness (Hebrews 8:12).
  • Everlasting life (John 3:16).
  • Overflowing joy (Psalm 16:11).
  • Deep peace (John 14:27).
  • Attentive care (1 Peter 5:7).

Sometimes I act like the Israelites on their trek to the Promised Land. Remember the manna God provided so they wouldn’t go hungry? It tasted like wafers made with honey (Exodus 16:31). That sounds like baklava!! Yet they became so accustomed to the provision, they began to complain. Manna wasn’t good enough after a while.  “Yes, Lord,” they may have said.  “You have been very gracious to provide manna.  But we need meat!”

These blessings of “Christ-in-us” listed above are more precious even than miraculous manna. How could I take such astounding blessings for granted? Add to that the incredible price Jesus paid so I could enjoy those blessings. How dare I think, Yes, Lord, you have been very gracious, but I need more.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *   *     *     *

Dearest Jesus, as I contemplate your deep distress in the Garden, your suffering at the hands of Roman soldiers, and the unfathomable pain you endured on the cross, my petty wants become inconsequential.

Oh, God, forgive me for allowing familiarity to dull the senses—the senses of awe and gratitude for the sacrifice you made.  Willingly.  Lovingly.  

“Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all” (from “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”).  

So be it.

 

(Art credit:  www.ldschurchnews.com.)

 

 

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Boris Nicholayevich Kornfeld, political prisoner of the former Soviet Union.

Incarcerated in the late 1940s at Ekibastuz, a forced labor camp, in Siberia.

A doctor.

Because of his medical training, the camp authorities put him to work in the hospital.

Dr. Kornfeld was Jewish, but a Christian prisoner attracted his attention.  The man evinced a quietness of spirit, in spite of the horrors, deprivation, and hopelessness of their situation.  Often the doctor would hear this fellow prisoner reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

One day, a guard was brought into the surgery.  An artery had been cut during a knifing incident.  As Dr. Kornfeld began to repair the artery, he thought, I could make the sutures in such a way that this horrid man would slowly bleed to death later.  The authorities would ever know.

But no sooner did the idea cross his mind than Dr. Kornfeld’s stomach turned at the cruelty of his own thoughts.  Words from the Lord’s Prayer came to his mind, and he spoke them silently in his heart:  Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

Day by day, Dr. Kornfeld sensed change occurring in his spirit.  He wanted to speak to the Christian prisoner about his experience in the surgery, to discuss what was happening within himself, but the fellow had been transferred to another gulag.  The doctor told no one about his growing faith in Jesus.

As he was being transformed on the inside, Dr. Kornfeld’s character began to change.  He started saying “No” to some of the sordid practices of the prison camp. Once he reported on an orderly who had stolen food from a dying patient.  Such misdeeds were actually quite common.  After all, why waste food on someone who was going to die anyway?

But telling the authorities what was going on put Dr. Kornfeld in danger.  No one was going to appreciate his sense of fairness and kindness.  Every prisoner lived for himself, doing whatever was necessary to survive.

One evening, Dr. Kornfeld examined a patient named Alex, who had undergone surgery for cancer.  He felt compelled to describe to Alex his journey toward faith in Christ.  The words came in a flood.  For at least several hours, Kornfeld spoke to the young cancer patient.

The next morning, Dr. Kornfeld was dead.  Someone had beaten him in the head with a mallet.

Alex thought long and hard about the doctor’s story and his life-changing faith.  He, too, decided to become a Christian.  Miraculously, Alex survived the gulag and wrote about his experiences there.  The book was smuggled to the West and published.

More books followed, all revealing the cruel and disastrous results of the Soviet system under the leadership of Stalin.  (At least sixty-five million Russian citizens were murdered in the gulags.)

That prisoner-become-author was Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970.  The Gulag Archipelago and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich were two of his most famous works.  Many credit his writings as the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union.

Photo of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in 1953, right...

Photo of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in 1953, right after his release from the special Gulag camp at Ekibastuz (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But certainly Dr. Boris Kornfeld also deserves credit.  His influence was an important catalyst.  And what about the nameless Christian who introduced Dr. Kornfeld to Jesus?

He also was used by God in a chain of events to achieve great impact upon the world.

But no one knew, including himself.  He very likely died in the gulags.

Oh, but consider his home-going to heaven.  Think of Jesus, wrapping his arm around the shoulders of this saint, saying “Well done, my devoted one.  Have I got a story for you!  Come and let me share what you have been a part of!”

We must not allow fear or anonymity to dissuade or discourage.  God may use any one of us to change the world, but he may very well wait to reveal our impact until he can tell us all about it — face to face!

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Heavenly Father, may I never miss an opportunity to be a part of your grand, over-arching plan.  May the legacy of Dr. Kornfeld, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and millions of nameless martyrs compel me to be courageous and passionate for you.  I have nothing important to lose and everything worthwhile to gain.

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