Saturday, November 12, 2016

Lord, Keep Me From Wasting My Life

Lord, Keep Me From Wasting My Life

Lord, Keep Me from Wasting My Life
“Whatever it takes, Lord, increase my resolve to do your will with all diligence.”
Becoming diligent is hard work, but diligence is not synonymous with working hard. I know from personal experience one can get up early and go to bed late, and expend a lot of energy, and be very busy, and not watch TV or get lost in social media binges—can appear to work hard—and still not get much done that really matters.
Diligence combines a willingness to work hard with a discerning focus, a sense of urgency, a vigilant carefulness and faithful perseverance. And one of the clearest biblical calls to diligence is Paul’s exhortation:
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15–17)

Discerning Focus

A diligent person seeks to “understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17). Based on the context, Paul isn’t referring to God’s hidden will (for instance, about if or who we should marry). He’s primarily referring to God’s revealed will regarding specific sins to avoid. We learn to “discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10).
But judging by the way Paul approached life—living as a “soldier” who avoids “civilian pursuits” in order “to please the one who enlisted him” (2 Timothy 2:4)—it’s safe to assume Paul would affirm applying this principle to lesser priorities that, while not inherently immoral, distract us from our focus. Both sinful and unnecessary distractions are often difficult to set aside.
As I write, an issue in my life is causing me significant concern and anxiety. There’s a mix of good anxiety, similar to Paul’s anxiety for the churches (2 Corinthians 11:28) and sinful anxiety, the kind Paul instructed the Philippians not to indulge (Philippians 4:6–7). Diligence requires that I must discern which is which and deal with sin appropriately. But diligence also requires me to discern that God’s will for me right now is to focus on completing my work for today and temporarily neglecting the demanding issue, which, while important, is not the priority at this moment.
In a very real sense, a diligent person must learn to be neglectful. There are myriad clamoring and demanding temptations and lesser priorities a diligent person must strategically neglect. This requires developing the discipline of discerning focus.

Sense of Urgency

A diligent person “[makes] the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16). He realizes that time is limited. Again, the context tells us Paul likely has holiness in mind: We should not waste our time on sin. The best use of time is to be filled with the Spirit and bearing the Spirit’s fruit (Galatians 5:22–23) and not dissipating sins like drunkenness or sexual immorality (Ephesians 5:3, 18).
But, again, Paul would say the same thing about “civilian pursuits.” There’s not enough time to do everything we’d enjoy doing. Even as soldiers, there’s not enough time to do all the very good, spiritually helpful things we’d like to do. But there’s sufficient time for us to do what God gives us to do (2 Corinthians 9:8).
A diligent person feels urgency over the brief time he has on earth and seeks to wisely use his brief number of days on the few things he discerns to be the most important for him (Psalm 90:12).

Vigilant Carefulness

A diligent person also looks carefully how he walks, “not as unwise but as wise” (Ephesians 5:15). This kind of care requires a cultivated vigilance. It does not come naturally to most of us.
Most of us have a natural inclination to coast, to fall into familiar ruts of thinking and behaving. Most of us have sinful or defective habits of emotional responses to certain situations and relational dynamics that were conditioned in childhood and adolescence. We might hardly notice them because we’re not looking carefully. Most of us don’t want to expend the mental, emotional and spiritual energy to cultivate a vigilant care over how we walk.
Which means most of us are not wise. I know I’m not by nature. I don’t have a natural inclination to this kind of vigilance. But I’m old enough now to realize the real, long-term benefits of vigilance where I’ve applied it—as well as the consequences where I’ve not applied it. This only increases my resolve to abandon the foolishness of carelessness and to look more carefully how I walk.

Faithful Perseverance

And finally, diligent people faithfully persevere in cultivating and applying a discerning focus, a sense of urgency, and a vigilant care over how they live. This is not explicit in the text, but it is surely implicit, especially in the word “time” (Ephesians 5:16).
The “evil days” describe the age in which we live. Every one of the days we live as Christians on earth, until we are taken by death or Jesus returns, are embattled with evil, which Paul makes clear in Ephesians 6. The dangers of falling into sin or giving ourselves to “civilian pursuits” do not disappear. Paul’s exhortation is one we must apply “every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of [us] may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).

Whatever It Takes

All diligence is hard work. But Christian diligence goes beyond hard work to a Spirit-empowered cultivating of a discerning focus, sense of urgency, vigilant carefulness and faithful perseverance. And a Christian knows that without God’s help, we’ll miss the mark and waste a lot of life on a lot of sin and “civilian pursuits.” So we pray:
Whatever it takes, Lord, increase my resolve to do your will with all diligence.
Jon Bloom

Jon Bloom

Jon Bloom is the Executive Director for Desiring God Ministries

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Destruction Reigns as Battle for Mosul Begins

Destruction Reigns as Battle for Mosul Begins

November 3, 2016
Many people in towns outside Mosul have no homes to return to, and so far Islamic State jihadists have kept most of them from fleeing.
Separating a young mother from her children and husband, Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists took her hostage when they seized Iraq's second-largest city, Mosul, and the surrounding villages two years ago.
"She was put in an underground hole - she said that for two years she didn't see the sun," the director of a ministry based in northern Iraq's autonomous region of Kurdistan said. "She was grabbed from her husband, and her husband saved the kids and didn't see her after that."
The woman escaped recently when Iraqi coalition forces retook villages outside Mosul, and then she made her way to a makeshift camp for displaced people in Kurdistan, where the director's ministry provides aid, he said.
"She told me that U.S. forces shot that place, and she was able to run away," he said. "They shot that compound and killed those terrorists, and she was able to run away."
"Now they see the true face of Islam," the ministry director said. "A lot of heart-breaking stories will come out of Mosul with people who are ready to leave Islam and beg for Christ to take their lives and give them healing."
The surviving mother is one of the few people who have been able to escape ISIS control of Mosul and surrounding villages as Iraqi coalition forces have mounted an offensive to retake the terrorists' last stronghold. Aided by Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, 5,000 U.S. troops, and, on the other side of the city, the mainly Shiite, Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces, the Iraqi Army this week entered Mosul for the first time since ISIS took the city in June 2014 and proclaimed it a base for its caliphate.
Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to flee as coalition forces liberate more areas, but few have yet to escape to Kurdistan from Mosul's surrounding towns and villages, which are largely devoid of people because ISIS has forced them to Mosul, the ministry director said.
"They're keeping a lot of people hostages - anybody running away, they're killing," he said. "There were two brothers; they killed one of them while he was running out. Most of the people are hostages right now. They want to flee, they just can't. What's happening right now in Mosul is what they did to the Christians; it's genocide. They're killing everyone who's not working with them or not helping them."
United Nations officials have expressed concern at reports that ISIS took 550 families from villages around Mosul as human shields in order to prevent civilians from escaping. Citing an Iraqi intelligence source, CNN reported that ISIS executed 284 men and boys in Mosul on Oct. 20 and 21. The terrorists are widely reported to be using civilians as human shields against the coalition forces.
Iraqi coalition troops found a damaged church building in one of the towns outside Mosul after retaking it from Islamic State terrorists.
ISIS militants have left mines and bombs in formerly occupied areas that coalition forces are painstakingly disarming, and fighting has also destroyed civilian homes and other buildings in predominantly Christian areas such as Qaraqosh. The Christian leader said a young woman was attending one of his ministry's seven-day discipleship trainings recently when her eyes suddenly filled with tears. He asked her what was wrong.
"At that moment somebody had just sent her a picture of her house," he said. "She showed me a photo of her house two years ago, and then she showed me her house now, and it was totally destroyed. She used to live in a very nice house."
Many Christians have lost their homes to ISIS, and even liberated towns are not fully safe for return, he said.
"Qaraqosh is 90 percent liberated, and the other 10 percent doesn't have any soldiers but they have snipers there; ISIS has snipers everywhere," he said. "They have built tunnels from house to house so it's not 100 percent secure."
The 108,000 troops fighting to dislodge the estimated 5,000 ISIS militants could take months, with street-by-street, and in some cases house-to-house, firefights necessary to combat urban guerrilla defense tactics and limit civilian casualties. Coalition forces have begun to encounter civilians waving white flags to keep from being attacked.
In Bazwaya, the last, previously ISIS-held village before troops entered Mosul from the east on Tuesday (Nov. 1), residents hung white flags from buildings and stood outside their homes, their children flashing the "V" sign for victory with their fingers, the Associated Press reported. Hundreds of such families will be evacuated to camps for displaced persons, an Iraqi Special Forces commander told the AP.
"We're getting ready for them - if we start seeing groups coming our way, then we're going to minister to them," the Christian leader said, adding that his organization needs assistance to prepare aid supplies. "We don't have many resources. I don't have a lot of food and medicine and other items, but we're going to do as much as we can."
The ministry, which Christian Aid Mission assists, has been distributing Bibles, leading Bible studies and holding discipleship training sessions for displaced people for more than two years, with many becoming Christians. Before ISIS seized Mosul, it had the reputation as the Iraqi city that was most closed to the gospel, the director said.
"So now they see the true face of Islam, they saw the teachings of Islam and they know what it means to be under the Islamic State," he said. "I believe a lot of heart-breaking stories will come out of Mosul with people who are ready to leave Islam and beg for Christ to take their lives and give them healing."
The ministry seeks assistance to purchase food, clothing, blankets, tents, medicines and Bibles.
"I want to encourage people to supply whoever is working there, whether us or anyone else, to help these people, supply them with the Word of God, supply them with the tools they need to work with these refugees who are coming," the director said. "And if Mosul is going to get liberated, Lord willing, we will be going to Mosul to do some work there. I hope to put a Bible in every house in Mosul and declare Christ as King of kings and Lord."
To help indigenous missionaries to meet needs, you may contribute online using the form below, or call (434) 977-5650. If you prefer to mail your gift, please mail to Christian Aid Mission, P.O. Box 9037, Charlottesville, VA 22906. Please use Gift Code: 444IRAQ. Thank you!

Battle Ready

Iraqi coalition soldiers posing after helping clear a town outside Mosul.
Iraqi coalition soldiers recently helped clear a town outside Mosul of Islamic State militants ahead of the battle to retake Iraq’s “second city” from the jihadists, which is expected to drive hundreds of thousands civilians to camps for displaced people in northern Iraq. “We are expecting a huge number of refugees coming to our area in the coming months, as there is a lot of official talk about Mosul being liberated before the end of this year,” the director of an indigenous ministry in northern Iraq said. Besides funds for food, clothing, blankets, tents and medicines for the next three months, the ministry needs help to purchase 30,000 New Testaments at $2 each, 10,000 children’s Bibles at $5 each and 40,000 Bibles in Arabic and Kurdish. “Humanitarian aid will help us extend the hand of mercy to the people who need it with the message of healing and salvation for people with a lot of stories and tragedies that will result from this war,” he said.