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Chapter 1 - Put God FirstHe who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
- Matthew 10:37
Two of Jesus' closest disciples were sisters named Martha and Mary. On one occasion, when Jesus came to visit their household, the two sisters responded in very different ways. Martha, who was hard-working and conscientious, went to a lot of trouble and effort to make sure the house was in order. Meanwhile, Mary did nothing but sit at Jesus' feet and listen as he spoke. When Martha complained about her sisters laziness, she was surprised to hear Jesus defend Marys wise decision. Mary had chosen to focus on what was necessary her relationship with God, through Jesus rather than what was merely useful. Another story told in the gospels concerns a rich young man who strove to be a good person, who faithfully obeyed all the Jewish commandments, and who felt compelled to follow Jesus. When Jesus asked him to give up all that he owned, however, he found himself unable to let go of his possessions. As much as he loved God, he loved his belongings more.
Both stories have the same moral: If you want to be a Hero for Christ, you have to put God first. Every Christian Heros journey begins with a personal relationship with God. This does not mean being always right, hearing a booming voice from the clouds, or gaining supernatural abilities. Instead it means placing your relationship with God above everything else in your life. The true Christian Hero defines faith as an attitude towards life, and not just a set of beliefs. He or she combines complete trust in God with a complete willingness to accept God's will, no matter what that might mean. Real faith withholds nothing from God. Instead faith places everything in Gods hands: hopes, dreams, possessions, beliefs, health, career, family members and even life itself.
Remember: (1) No one else can have your relationship with God for you. As good as it is to be around others who have a relationship with God, none of their relationships can be a substitute for your own. Even if your mother, father, sister, brother, husband, wife, pastor or priest has a relationship with God, you will still need to seek one for yourself. (2) No one should come between you and God. The relationship with God is the most important thing you own, and no one who has your best interests at heart will seek to take it away. (3) No one else is necessary for your personal relationship with God through Christ. Even your priest, pastor or minister can only be a guide for your journey
Every time you face a decision this week, try to make the choice you believe Jesus would want you to choose. If you aren’t sure which choice is right, pray deeply, and then do what seems right to you.
It was clear from early on that Jackson had been gifted with an extraordinary voice and sense of music. Throughout her life, however, there were many who tried to convince her she could achieve greater fame and success by giving up gospel music in favor of a secular sound. Among those were the executives at her record label, who wanted her to record blues songs, her close friend Louis Armstrong, who thought she should sing jazz, and even her own husband, Isaac Hockenhull, who tried to force her to sing opera.
Jackson enjoyed secular music, and had even taken musical inspiration from the great blues singer, Bessie Smith. When it came to her own music, however, she knew the foundation of her talent lay in the religious messages of her song choices, and in the resulting presence of God in her performances.
No one can hurt the gospel because the gospel is strong, like a two headed sword is strong Sometimes you feel like youre so far from God, and then you know those deep songs have special meaning. They bring back the communication between yourself and God.
Mahalia (Mahala) Jackson, Got to Tell It (Schwerin)
What changed King's life was encountering a situation beyond his control. It was the middle of January in the year 1956. King had recently become the head of an organization protesting segregation (the legalized separation of blacks and whites) on city buses in Montgomery, Alabama. It was King's first significant position of leadership, but it was more a role that had been thrust upon him than one he had chosen.
At the time, the protest was going poorly, and the city was putting up stiff resistance. Earlier in the month several people had been arrested, including King himself. In addition, there were increasingly believable threats of violence being made against the protestors and their families, a group that included not only King, but also his beloved wife Coretta, and their newborn infant daughter.
One night after midnight, King was awakened by a telephone call. An anonymous voice on the other end called him racial names and threatened his and his family's lives if they did not abandon the protest immediately. Too frightened to go back to sleep, King began to pace the floor and review his situation. He knew all too well that lynching, the use of public murder as a form of social control, was still a regular occurrence in the South. Furthermore, his recent experience in jail had made it clear that the police and local authorities were against him, and could not be looked to for protection.
His back was to the wall, and his first thought was to find some way of escaping from his position of leadership. It was then, however, at the moment of his deepest despair, that he finally reached out to the God he served but had never known. Letting go of his doubt, his preconceptions, and his need for control, he surrendered everything to God, and opened himself to guidance. When he did so, he heard, as recorded in his autobiography, the voice of Jesus speaking to him in words that were strong and clear: "Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you, even until the end of the world."
As Christians we must never surrender our supreme loyalty to any time-bound custom or earth-bound idea, for the heart of our universe is a higher reality God and his kingdom of love to which we must be conformed.
Reverend Doctor Martin Luther (Michael) King, Jr., "Transformed Nonconformist," Strength to Love
At first Singhs father was encouraging and respectful when Singh decided to study other religions. When Singh decided to embrace Christianity, however, it was a different story. His father was horrified at the very idea. In his eyes it brought shame and disgrace to the whole family to have Singh proclaim Christ in defiance of their own ancestral religion. For the next year, he and the rest of the family used threats, bribes, and every other method at their disposal, in an attempt to get Singh to change his mind. They even went so far as to sue the local missionaries for having brainwashed their child, a case that collapsed only when Singh himself testified that it was his own reading of the Bible and not the missionaries that had brought about his conversion.
The final straw for Singhs family was when he cut off his hair, which is strictly forbidden in the Sikh religion. For a Sikh to cut his hair is considered a public renunciation of Sikhism. In a fit of rage and shame, Singhs father drove him out of the house and forbade him to ever return. A few hours later, as Singh traveled towards a community of missionaries, he was afflicted by a terrible stomachache. Upon arrival, he fell into a deep sickness that turned out to be caused by a poison that had been mixed into his last meal at home. His family, considering him already dead in spirit, had preferred that he die in actuality than that he live to bring them disgrace. That he survived was only due to prayer and medical attention. A close friend of his, who had been thrown out of his home at the same time and for the same reasons, turned out also to have been poisoned, and died during the night.
Despite the rejection of his own family and community, Singhs determination to persist as a disciple of Christ only increased, even though it meant trading the luxuries of his wealthy familys home for a life of poverty and bare subsistence. Years later, however, he received an unexpected joy when his estranged father contacted him with the news that he too had elected to become a Christian.
The thought then came to me, "Jesus Christ is not dead but living, it must be He Himself." So I fell at His feet and got this wonderful Peace which I could not get anywhere else. This is the joy I was wishing to get. This was heaven itself. When I got up, the vision had all disappeared; but although the vision disappeared the Peace and Joy have remained with me ever since.
Sádhu Sundar Singh, The Message of Sádhu Sundar Singh (Streeter)
By the time she was eighteen, Mother Teresa had become convinced that God was calling her not only to become a nun, but also to serve as a missionary in India. Following what she had been taught by her mother, she accepted the mission even though it meant leaving her beloved family and homeland behind. The decision was neither easy nor without challenges. Among these was the fact that Mother Teresas brother Lazar was horrified that his sister wanted to "bury" herself (as he put it in a letter) in a convent. In addition, her commitment to India placed geographic barriers between her and her original home, and political changes soon made returning to her birthplace impossible. Although she did not know it at the time, her departure from home at age eighteen was the last time Mother Teresa would see her mother or sister alive. Even so, she never doubted that she had made the right choice; and throughout life, she honored her mother's memory by being the servant of God Drana had encouraged her to become.
Total surrender consists in giving ourselves completely to God. Why must we give ourselves fully to God? Because God has given himself to us. If God, who owes nothing to us, is ready to impart to us no less than himself, shall we answer with just a fraction of ourselves? To give ourselves fully to God is a means of receiving God himself.
Mother Teresa ("Agnes" Gonxha Bojaxhiu), Total Surrender
Closing Prayer (inspired by John 6:38)Dear Lord, all that I am and all that I have is a gift from you. I freely place all of myself back in your hands, to do with as you will. Amen.
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