Count Your Blessings

A pastor friend of mine just got back today from a mission trip to a small South African country. It was his first mission trip and he had quite a story to tell. Over 700 people came to Christ as they spoke at two universities and several prisons…it was the prison experiences that opened my friend’s eyes.

One prison had over 3000 inmates in a facility that was built to house 800. No beds…they sleep on concrete, usually sitting with their knees pulled up to their chest. About ten percent come to the prison with the AIDS virus, and now the virus has infected over ninety percent. None of those prisoners will ever be released anyway. They will die there.

They visited a juvenile prison as well, with children under 18 who have committed a variety of crimes. One boy they spoke to had killed a man to defend his starving family. The man was trying to steal their food. The boy who killed him was 10. He will spend the rest of his life in prison…when he comes of age, he will be transferred to the adult prison until he dies.

The missionaries took two big bags of little chocolate bars – like the ones we give out on Halloween – to give to the kids. The prison administrator, who had never had chocolate in her life, tried one and confiscated one of the bags for their staff. The team passed out the rest to the children…none of whom had ever tasted chocolate before. They had also brought bottles of soda, one for each child. None of the kids knew what it was. It was quite the treat for kids who will never know life outside of those walls.

Those who accepted Jesus were given Bibles in English because that’s the only translation the team was able to bring into the country. Every single one of the newly saved reacted to the gift of the Bible as if they’d been given a beachfront mansion…grateful to have God’s Word in their hands, even if they couldn’t understand it.

Read that last line again. Then think about what we have…about the Bible you own that perhaps rarely gets opened…about the little treat you have for desert that you don’t think twice about…or the beverage that you had with your meal. I would bet it wasn’t a cup of diseased water.

We are blessed, my friends. God has given us so much and yet we still ask for more sometimes. Be grateful for what you have…thank God for it every day…and don’t ever take salvation for granted. Salvation is freedom. And that is a gift.

Do I know you?

Sometimes during my lunch, I like to stop at a popular used bookstore chain and browse. Because books are a passion of mine – although my wife would probably use words like “addiction” or “obsession” – most of the people that work there recognize me.

When I stopped there today, I was delighted to find a newer book by Erwin Lutzer that I hadn’t read, and when I took it up to the register, I smiled because I recognized the young man working; he and I had talked many times about comics and music. We made small talk as he rang my book up and then the title of it caught his eye.

”I know this,” he said, “I heard Pastor Lutzer preach this series on the radio and I liked it so much that I ordered the series on CD.”

I had no idea he was a Christian. He and I had chatted for years and I had no idea he was a brother in Christ. He had customers behind me so any further conversation would be cut short. I thanked him and left to grab a bite to eat. While I enjoyed my burger, I opened the book and started to read. And God spoke to me. I listened.

i went back to the bookstore and he was still working the counter. I handed him the book and told him to keep it. I would find another copy. And I told him after he finished with it to pass it on. We had a few minutes to discuss our shared faith.

I kept thinking how I never had known he was a Christian. But I also realized that it was possible that he didn’t realize that I was either. If he had, we may have had that conversation a lot sooner. And possibly many more of them.

Matthew 7:17-20 talks about good trees producing good fruit and how by their fruits you will know them. Lord, please don’t let my branches be bare. Let everyone see You in me.