Friends,
Our family had a good month. Being that my sister’s husband and their second-oldest daughter went to Africa on a mission trip http://reallifesafari.blogspot.com/ (as their oldest daughter did 14 months earlier http://jillianafrica2011.blogspot.com/?v=0 ), my sister and their other three kids came to visit us during that time. We had a lot of fun as can be seen from some photos below.

One day we all went to a new science museum and that Sunday we all went to my brother’s church to attend the International Day program, booths, and meal he’d organized to promote missions overseas.

Jillian was gone for a few of the days as she flew out to an elite university to be interviewed for the honors program (with a scholarship), and –of course!– she got it. We are so excited, and we know the Lord is going to do awesome things through her life, as she is not only very smart and sweet, but has a heart for the poor, hurting, and those who don’t yet know Jesus.

Sincerely,
with love,
Rachel

My sister, me, and my brother –loving to laugh!

Our parents & us.

My beautiful sister.

My handsome brother.

My handsome husband.

My sister’s youngest and me.

Me with the kids.

My sister with 3 of her kids after the International Meal.

My sister & her family.

My brother & his wife.

My brother’s oldest & youngest.

My mom & me.

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Friends,
Someone was telling me yesterday about how the Lord takes the rotting things in our lives, those things which we finally decide do need to be tossed out to the compost pile, and turns them into that which fertilizes the Seed (the Truth / the Word / “the Message about the Kingdom” –Matt. 13:19) which He planted in our hearts. She was telling me how God is teaching her about how He takes the very hard times and the ruined things and uses those very things to help us grow into the fruit-producing plants He desires. I told her I loved her analogy.

Several hours before that, I received an email from someone else who mentioned a similar point, using Phil. 3:8. This verse, along with verses 7 and 9 teach us about how we should regard everything earthly, including all those things which we used to consider valuable, as nothing, and how we should appreciate having lost them because, through the loss, we gained Christ, His righteousness, and the fantastic privilege of knowing Him. And as verses 10 and 11 reveal, the suffering conforms us to Christ-likeness and attains for us eternal life.

Many of us have lost all sorts of things for the sake of the Gospel. But what is that in comparison to what we are continually gaining? If we can’t see our gain clearly right now, maybe because we are too steeped in pain, we certainly will see it in eternity. The value of what we reap will be better than piles of gold (1 Peter 1:7) for our eternal inheritance can never be lost or stolen or ruined. (v. 4 // Matt. 6:20) We will look back on the loss of all that seemed so important to us here on earth and realize that their value was less than an ounce compared to the weight of eternal glory we gained. As 2 Cor. 4:17 says, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

So, even now, we can step into wonderful rest and blessing if we’ve focused our eyes on Jesus, God’s promises, and the joy set before us. (Heb. 12:2) By doing so, we are actually able to rejoice with an inexpressible joy, even as we run a hard race or carry a heavy cross. (v. 1-3 // 1 Peter 1:8,9) For by having set our hearts and minds on things above (Col. 3:1,2), we are able, because it is Christ’s life we live (v. 3,4), to undergo all hardships with rejoicing, obedience, and trust –those things which prove our faith genuine. (1 Peter 1:7 // Rev. 2:26) –Those attitudes and actions which cause us to become the fruit-producing plants God desires.

Sincerely,
with love,
Rachel

Friends,
God’s Word teaches us to always put God first in our heart, to give Him our best, to offer ourselves to Him before giving to others or before taking for ourselves, to look to Him for our every need, and to seek His will and guidance in our every decision. In other words, God is to be the most important One in our lives, He is to be acknowledged in every detail, and He is to be obeyed continuously. If we do this, we will be incredibly blessed.

Prov. 3:9 tells us, “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops.” Is it wheat and barley or bulls or rams which the Lord seeks? Is it money? Maybe, from some people. But what “wealth” and “firstfruits” do all of us who are born anew have available to us? Is it not words and love –two things which we can give unto God even while we go about our other tasks?

People do sometimes devote their time, energy, and money to God. They go to church to hear His Word or to sing loving praises to Him, they help out at a charity or go on a mission trip, or they give their tithes to their church. But time, energy, and money everyone may not have a wealth of.

However, there are two things that all of us who have the Spirit certainly have available within us at all times: Words and love. Combine these, and give them to the Lord with a pure, grateful heart, and He will be exceedingly pleased. In fact, the more loving and thankful words we offer to God, the more our hearts will swell with adoration and joy, and the more God will cover us with His forgiveness, songs of love, voice of instruction, protection, provision, and all sorts of other blessings. In this, we will learn to –and want to– walk in immediate obedience to Him, and one day we will find that we’ve actually become God’s friend. (John 15:14 // James 2:22-24) And there is nothing better than that!

Hosea 14:2 says, “Take words with you and return to the LORD. Say to Him: ‘Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips.'” When we ask God to forgive us and cleanse us, He will do so (if we’ve asked with a truthful, genuine heart). But we are to then give back to Him. In this Hosea verse, that last line can be translated, “that we may offer our lips as sacrifices of bulls.” In the Old Testament times God did require such sacrifices, but even then He let it be known that obedience to Him is of much greater importance than such offerings (1 Sam. 15:22), and that so are songs of thanksgiving and praise. (Ps. 69:30,31)

It is actually our bodies which God wants offered to Him. (Rom. 12:1) And He wants holy bodies, living (not dead) sacrifices. (same verse) This is what is our spiritual worship and what is greatly pleasing to God. (same verse) The way this spells out is through our obedient acts, one area being done with our mouths. This is what Heb. 13:15 commands: “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise –the fruit of lips that confess His name.” This is the “firstfruits” we are to give to God, doing so at the beginning of every day and before all else we do. We are to offer it through the Spirit of Christ Himself, so that our worship is indeed done not in the flesh, but “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24) –which is the only kind of worship acceptable to our Heavenly Father. (v. 23, 24)

Thanking, praising, and adoring God is of top priority. It is a command we are to obey. All other acts of obedience and sacrifice are not wholly pleasing to God unless this one is obeyed: That of offering up to God the firstfruits of our lips that declare His mighty name.

Therefore, let us honor the Lord by giving unto Him from the wealth we have within our hearts of love.

Sincerely,
with love,
Rachel

Imprisoning Themselves

February 25, 2013

Friends,
Sinning “Christians” have constructed a tower that they promote as a refuge. “While they themselves are slaves of depravity” (2 Peter 2:19), these arrogant ones (v. 10,18) promise people freedom (v. 19), doing so by “appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature.” (v. 18) While proclaiming in bold letters that Christ sets us free, they include in the fine print that this freedom is only escape from Hell, not from sin and its power. Sin and its power, they insist, is locked firmly within everyone, including believers, until we get to Heaven. Sadly, what they do not want to understand, is that until we walk free of sin’s power, we are still in its realm and are thus still children of Satan, headed to Hell with him. (Matt. 13:41,42 & 25:41 // 1 John 3:4-10)

This imprisoning stronghold –this doctrine of the kingdom of darkness– needs to be torn down to the ground and crushed to powder. It is likely the number one cause of those masses who, though they’ve heard the Gospel, are still rushing down the bank into Hell. And why? It is because they’ve been presented with, and believe and teach, a twisted gospel, and they cannot, therefore, walk in the freedom of the Truth.

One of the main portions of Scripture which this evil stronghold flaunts is Rom. 7:7-25, teaching from it that Christians will always be struggling with sin. However, those who believe and live this doctrine endanger their eternities, for it is to disbelieve the Truth. As 2 Thes. 2:9-12 warns us, to refuse the Truth and to delight in wickedness, even while believing in spiritual things, is to incur upon oneself condemnation.

When “Christians” hide behind their pet Romans 7 chapter by claiming that it explains the legitimate struggle they have with sin’s power still lurking within them, then they must also acknowledge that they are “unspiritual.” (v. 14) They must acknowledge that they are “sold as a slave to sin.” (same verse) They must admit (and they do admit this) that it is not them doing the sin, but that it is sin itself committing sins through them. (v. 17) For, they reason, nothing good lives in them, that is, in their sinful nature. (v. 18) They insist that because of this, they absolutely cannot carry out their desires to do good (same verse), but instead irresistibly keep doing evil. (v. 19) This, they say, is proof that “it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” (v. 20) Indeed, how convenient of a doctrine for sin-lovers who do still want to escape God’s wrath against sin!

The problem is, is that this is not what Romans 7 teaches. In fact, it teaches the exact opposite, as does Rom. 6 and 8 (and the rest of God’s Word). All three chapters are stressing the doctrine that we’ve been set free from sin and are now able to live the new, righteous life, doing so by being under the rulership of the Spirit of life rather than under the rulership of the sinful nature of death. Who has rescued us from this body (the sinful nature) of death? Rom. 7:24 & 25 tell us: Jesus Christ our Lord! For in the sinful nature we were slaves to the law of sin (v. 25), but “by dying to what once bound us” (v. 6) –that is, the sinful nature (v. 5), we have been released from the old way (–the way of law which gave sin the strength to put us to death –v. 10) to serve in the new way of the Spirit. (v. 6) Whoever does not serve God in this new way does not belong to Christ. (8:9) That person has not died to the old husband, and so, of course, remains under his power and rule. (7:1-4) This is why the Truth says that if someone is still a slave to sin, he is not living in Christ (6:11), he is still a child of the devil (1 John 3:8-10), and he will not inherit eternal life. (Rom. 6:22,23)

If Christ is in a person, that person is dead to sin and alive to righteousness (Rom. 8:10), meaning he obeys God, not sin. (6:22) Such a person has accepted Christ, God’s sin offering (8:3) –He who by His death and resurrection “condemned sin in sinful man” (same verse)– and so, “the new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17) who has now been “born of the Spirit” (John 3:8), walks free of the power of sin. (Rom. 6:6) There is no excuse then to retreat back under sin’s control. It is a lie to teach that Christ who sets us free from the body of death / the old self / the sinful nature / the law of sin (7:23-25) does not actually free us and that we must still claim to be “a prisoner of the law of sin.” (v. 23)

No, the Truth teaches us that our old self (our sinful nature) was crucified with Christ. (Rom. 6:6) For through faith and obedience (1:5 & 6:16) we “who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24), which means, we are no longer persuaded or controlled or ruled or mastered by sin. Christ has broken its power completely. This is the wonderful, beautiful Truth, the true Doctrine, the undefiled Gospel, the Good News of the Real Freedom for which Christ ransomed us. And it is the Truth we need to teach and proclaim and walk in ourselves.

Sincerely,
with love,
Rachel

Be Found Worthy Of Salvation

February 24, 2013

Friends,
We each should ask ourselves often, “Am I proving that I am worthy of salvation?”  For eternal salvation, contrary to what many teach, is not automatically given to us. There must be a heart change, the proof being a lifestyle change.  If there is not, then the whole-hearted love for Christ –which He requires (Matt 10:37 & 22:37,38)– is not truly present.

What marks a lifestyle change and proves that a person does love the Lord whole-heartedly?  The Scriptures tell us plainly that the proof is obedience to God’s commands. (1 John 5:3)  They tell us that it is obedience to Christ’s teachings.  (John 14:15,21,23)  They tell us that our deeds of obedience reveal whether or not we’ve really turned from sin to God (Acts 26:20), whether or not we’ll be found justified (James 2:24), whether or not Christ’s sacrifice will atone for us (Heb. 10:26,27), whether or not we’ve come to share in Christ (3:12,14 // 1 John 3:24), and whether or not we will be received into Heaven.  (Heb. 4:11 // Rev. 3:1-5,15,16)  For only “those who wash their robes” (Rev. 22:14)… only those who refuse to soil their clothes (3:4)… only those who remain dressed in white (same verse) through their righteous acts (19:8)… will be found “worthy” (3:4) to escape “the fiery lake of burning sulfur” (21:8) –that place where all those who have been disobedient to God are thrown (Eph. 5:6 // 2 Thes. 1:7-9)… all those who would not repent of their impure and deceitful ways.  (Rev. 21:27)

So, who will God find “worthy of His calling”?  (2 Thes. 1:11)  Who will He regard to have “lived a life worthy of the Lord”?  (See Col. 1:10)  Who will He deem “qualified to share in the inheritance of the Kingdom”?  (See v. 12)  Who “will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God”?  (2 Thes. 1:5)  Who will be “considered worthy of taking part in that age… [as] children of the resurrection”?  (Luke 20:35,36)  Who will be judged “worthy of Christ”?  (See Matt. 10:37,38)

The answer:  Only those who lived their lives “bearing fruit in every good work” (Col. 1:10), “growing in the knowledge of God” (same verse), walking in the power and Spirit of the Lord (v. 11 // Rom. 8:13,14 // 1 Cor. 4:20 // Gal. 5:16-26)… only those who were “pleasing to God in every way” (see Col. 1:10 again), and were doing all –and only– those deeds which were in the exact will of the Father.  (Matt. 7:21 & 12:50 // 1 John 2:17)

With all those requirements, who then will be saved?!  The answer, according to Jesus, is “Few.”  (Matt. 7:14)  For the door and the road are narrow (same verse // Luke 13:23-28), and most people who claim to be saved are actually proving the opposite, for they have not “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thes. 1:9) but have instead continued to seek to “gratify the cravings of their sinful nature by following its desires and thoughts” (Eph. 2:3) –something which all born-anew creations must regard as dead, gone, and a life of the past.  (Rom. 6:6,17-19 // 2 Cor. 5:17 // Gal. 5:24)

If a person refuses to renounce his lifestyle of the past, then that person has not genuinely repented, and consequently, all his faith, worship, claims, and works will be found useless to him in God’s sight.  (Matt. 7:21-23 // Mark 7:6,7 // Luke 3:8,9 // 1 Cor. 15:2 // James 2:14-26)  Such a person needs to get honest and realize that before God he has not proved himself worthy of salvation.  Before it’s too late, this person needs to fall on his knees with a contrite, trembling heart, get himself right before God, and live the rest of his life for Christ, not himself.

Only then will such people be able to say, “Yes, I am ‘behaving in a manner worthy of the Gospel’ [see Phil. 1:27] and ‘living a life worthy of the calling I’ve received.’  [See Eph. 4:1]  I am, therefore, proving to God that I am worthy of Him, His Kingdom, and eternal salvation.”

Until everyone can say that, may all who can say it continue to “urge others to live lives worthy of God, who calls us into His kingdom and glory.”  (See 1 Thes. 2:12)

Sincerely,
with love,
Rachel

Please Sign To Save Saeed

February 23, 2013

Friends,
Below is part of a letter from Saeed, a pastor and American citizen who has recently begun serving an eight year prison sentence in an Iranian prison because of his faith in Christ.  The entire letter, revealing a courageous heart and a shining witness of the love and strength the Lord gives, can be read by clicking here:

http://aclj.org/iran/pastor-saeed-writes-psychological-warfare-physical-violence-death-threats-iranian-prison

“So:

~~See your golden opportunities in pressures and difficulties.

~~See the Shining Morning Star in the dark times of your life.

I Love Him! He is Gracious, Merciful, and Righteous to me. I now know that I have not been forgotten and that we are together in this path. God gives me Grace.

This is my message for the Church: Stay Strong for His Glory. He will come back soon! Be with God and give your best efforts for His kingdom.

Pastor Saeed, servant of Jesus Christ in chains for endurance of Gospel. I love you all.”

The article from the ACLJ adds this:  “Share his letter.  Pray.  Join over a quarter of a million others, and sign the petition at SaveSaeed.org.”

Jesus tells us to visit those in prison. (Matt. 25:36) If we can’t do that, we can certainly do the next best things by doing what the ACLJ is asking us to do so that Saeed may receive his rights and freedom.  And may we also take to heart Saeed’s exhortations to us about taking advantage of our own opportunities amid dark times.

Sincerely,
with love,
Rachel

God Waits For Us To Respond

February 22, 2013

Friends,
As I was reading in 1 Sam. 3 this morning, it struck me again how when the Lord calls us, He waits for us to respond. This is so beautiful, as it is just another example of the Lord’s desire for communication with humans, and His desire to hear a willing and eager response on our part. The fact that God waited for Samuel to acknowledge His call and ask Him to continue, reveals much about the respect the King of Creation extends toward His little fallen creatures! All through the Word of God we can see how the Sovereign Ruler, by His choice, grants us continual choice. How anyone can insist that Scripture, throughout, does not teach that real choices are presented to us, is absurd.

God sometimes calls us with a loud voice as He did to Samuel that day; but other times God chooses to call us (to instruct us, commission us, warn us, etc.) by circumstances. He will block a doorway and open up another door. He will lay us upon a sick bed, take away a loved one, or pour out favor on us from a particular stream. Or, God may present a need before our eyes, call out to “anyone” who will step up and go, and then wait to see if we will volunteer.

This latter method is what He did for Isaiah in Isa. 6:8a: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?'” Of course God had already revealed Himself to Isaiah –even in holy, glorious, terrifying splendor (v, 1-4)– and so Isaiah, being grateful he wasn’t incinerated on the spot, immediately repented of his sins and was forgiven. After such an encounter, any wise man would certainly recognize his privilege of meeting the King of Glory and quickly respond as Isaiah did: “Here am I. Send me!” (v. 8b)

Unfortunately, not everyone is wise though, are they? So God lets them go on in their own way, though it is a way that leads to death (Prov. 14:12), to anguish, and to the misery of utter dissatisfaction. God’s way may be tough, but it leads to joy and life. If only the arrogant, foolish rebels would pay attention to God’s disciplines of love and warning! But as Jer. 5:3 says of them, “O LORD… You struck them, but they felt no pain; You crushed them, but they refused correction. They made their faces [and hearts] harder than stone and refused to repent.”

Yes, God punishes those who refuse to respond to His call. But there is a time when He waits. And waits. He waits in patience (2 Peter 3:9), wooing the sinning one through all kinds of loving calls. –Calling them to enlist in His service, the only service that brings joy and contentment and peace, and total victory over all that is of the evil realm.

Sincerely,
with love,
Rachel