Suffering and Proclaiming

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Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me…. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:9, 14

Traian Dorz, a 20th century Romanian poet and Christian, spent over 16 years of his life in prison under the communist regime. As the spiritual leader of a renewal movement in the Romanian Orthodox Church, Dorz was severely persecuted for his missionary activities and writings.

Rocks

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And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Matthew 16:18-19

The village of Lalibela in northern Ethiopia has some of the most unique church structures in the world. Commissioned by the 12th century Ethiopian King Lalibela, the 11 churches, which lie beneath the surface of the ground, were carved out of the solid rock of the land. Services still take place daily. Over 80,000 people visit the place every year.

As extraordinary as these edifices are, their significance pales in comparison to Jesus’ words to Simon Peter—as he combined the imagery of solid rock with the promise that he would build his church.

International Center Open Forum

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THURSDAY NIGHT – INTERNATIONAL CENTER OPEN FORUM
I am really looking forward to drawing out the stories of our 20 guests from 18 different countries for the Elmbrook Church International Center tomorrow night (Thursday )from 6:30-8pm. If you’re in the area, c’mon over to the Chapel. Expand your world–grow your heart! These people have amazing stories. (They are from Argentina, Brazil, Kenya, Romania, Germany, Northern Ireland, Nigeria, Vietnam, Peru, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Portugal, South Africa, Ethiopia, India, Guatemala, Spain, and Jordan.)

You Cannot Force Someone Toward God

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From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. Matthew 11:12

One night in April 2014, a group of armed militants broke into a girls’ secondary school in Chibok, Nigeria, killing the guards and abducting hundreds of girls ages 16 to 18. The girls were taken away in trucks to a remote location where some of them were sold as slaves, some forced into marriage, and all of them indoctrinated, even brainwashed, into radical jihadist doctrine.

This is one of the diabolical methods of Boko Haram, the radical group that has declared jihad against Christians in Nigeria, who believe that the education of young girls is wrong, and who have killed thousands of people with bombs, guns, and machetes. Their motive is to impose radical Islam on the country. Their method is brute force.

It is not the first time extreme violence has been used in the name of religion.

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

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Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish…. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 13:47-50

By all external standards, FBI agent Robert Hanssen was a committed law enforcement officer, a devoted husband and father, and a devout Catholic who attended mass every day at 6:30 a.m. He was promoted through the ranks of the counterintelligence departments of the agency, at one time in charge of the division detecting possible double agents. But for 22 years of his time in the FBI, Hanssen secretly worked as a spy for the Soviet Union. He betrayed sensitive information not for political reasons, but just for the money.

Sold Out

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The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. Matthew 13:44-46

In February 2013, while walking their dog on their land in California, John and Mary saw an old, rusted can sticking out of the ground. John pried the heavy can loose and managed to carry it back to their house, where they discovered that it was filled with gold coins.

Brainwashed or Transformed?

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The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough. Matthew 13:33

Kim Joo Il was a soldier in the North Korean army for eight years, serving the dictates of the “Great Leader,” Kim Il Sung. As he recalled, a third of his studies in school had been about the Great Leader. In the army he was beaten once a day, hungry 24 hours a day, subject to constant dehumanizing humiliations. Yet he felt honored to be in the army in a country that he thought was paradise.

The Power of a Seed

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The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches. Matthew 13:31-32

One major seed company’s most popular tomato seed is called the “Big Boy.” This hybrid tomato is a plant that can not only grow to five feet tall, but also yield tomatoes that can be one pound or more. Yet the seed from which the “Big Boy” plants come is tiny. Its almost imperceptible seed has the potential to explode into fruitfulness.

Jesus spoke about tiny seeds and big things.In his parable of the mustard seed,

Soul Soil

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But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown. Matthew 13:23

In gardening and farming, soil cultivation is an intentional practice designed to improve the condition of the soil. Similarly, cultivating the soil of the soul is an important dimension of Christian experience.

In the parable of the sower,

Ready for Mystery?

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The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables. Mark 4:11

The realm of the mysterious can both fascinate and frustrate people. Depending on your disposition or personality, mysteries can either represent challenges to overcome, or grace and wonder to be pondered. Albert Einstein, though a professed agnostic, once wrote: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He… who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”

The first followers of Jesus were puzzled by his parables and told him so. Jesus responded by referring to the secret of the kingdom of God. The word translated “secret,” musterion, means mystery. In ancient times mystery referred to hidden things,

Want to Understand the Bible Better?

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Do you wish you understood the Bible better?

Maybe you’re new to the Bible, unsure how and where to start getting to know God’s Word. Or perhaps you’re a long-time Bible reader with the sense that your Bible reading should be more engaging and spiritually rewarding.

Next month The Brook Network partners with Bible Gateway for a free weekly series of simple, practical lessons that walk you through the incredibly rewarding experience of reading and understanding God’s Word. It’s called How to Understand the Bible: Guidance for Ordinary Bible Readers. 

To receive the weekly lessons via email, you must sign up at the Bible Gateway site.

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For group or class leaders and pastors…

For group or class leaders and pastors…
So many organizations have concluded in recent years that biblical illiteracy is one of the greatest limiting factors in the lives of believers and in our churches. I’ve been working with Bible Gateway for the past year in preparing a new resource called “How to Understand the Bible.” Early next month Bible Gateway will be sending out the 30 short pieces I wrote, one a week via email and their blog, answering questions about Bible reading, translations, interpretation, and brief introductions from Genesis to Revelation.
If you know of anyone, or your group or congregation, who would benefit from this, Bible Gateway has a page describing it, and a place where anyone can sign up to get the weekly emails. Perhaps you’d like to encourage the members of your group or your congregation to individually sign up. Week 1 is coming soon, so it would be good not to delay.
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What Children Teach Us

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People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Mark 10:13-15

Third- and fourth-graders at Wheaton Christian Grammar School were asked to complete the following sentence: “By faith, I know that God is…” The responses included:

“Forgiving, because he forgave in the Bible, and he forgave me when I went in the road on my bike without one of my parents” (Amanda). “Providingful, because he dropped manna for Moses and the people,

Your Kingdom Come

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Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Matthew 6:10

Reading the morning newspaper can be hazardous to your health. Consider these recent stories from one day: Cyberbulling law being considered. Taliban prisoner exchange fuels debate. France sells Russian warship amidst U.S. protest. Martial law considered for Eastern Ukraine. Attack on Yemen checkpoint kills 14. Manhunt as police shot in Canada. Charges detail chilling plot to kill 12-year-old classmate.

No wonder Jesus taught us to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

The Scriptures speak of heaven as the dwelling place of God,

Born Again

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Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again…. Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. John 3:3,5

Chuck_ColsonWhen he went to federal prison in 1974, Charles Colson, the infamous Watergate conspirator and “hatchet man” of President Richard Nixon, was a defeated and empty man. An ex-Marine and accomplished attorney, he had been favored by Nixon, given free-reign to undermine political opponents even through acts of violence. Now he had fallen from the height of that power.

In Colson’s best-selling book, Born Again,