Archive for November, 2019

Reflection of a Martyr

Posted: November 6, 2019 in Meditations

“I gave my life to Jesus that day and I covenanted with God that I was ready to suffer for the sake of the Gospel. But I had no idea what lay ahead.”

The cruelty of man knows no bounds. My heart breaks for the persecuted church. The blood of martyrs cries, “Jesus loves you” too often, in too many places. Churches bulldozed, leaders imprisoned, villages burned, families tortured and killed: the stories spill out day after day, year after year. And their crime? They live like Jesus. Christians proclaim a gospel of redemption, they live a life of selfless love, and yet, the world hates them.

grey skulls piled on ground

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Jesus knew the heart of man better than any of us ever will this side of heaven. Violence is inevitable. Light assaults darkness, it exposes sin for what it is, an open rebellion against God. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:10-12  Our Lord knew what was coming our way. He prayed to the Father on our behalf, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” John 17:15

Who among us likes to be confronted with their sin? Anyone? Not me! My blood has boiled – I hate to admit it. My emotions betray me, the real me. Selfish pride resists correction every time. And if you point the finger at “the righteous”? That never ends well. Stephen, a leader in the church, confronted the sin of the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem. He exposed the same sin in their forefathers. You, in your sin, killed Jesus. “They (the religious leaders) were furious and gnashed their teeth at him.” Acts 7:54  Within the hour, Stephen lay dead, stoned to death. An unholy persecution ensued, the church scattered.

Stephen’s last words, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Acts 7:59,60  Stop reading for a moment. Let those words marinate in your secret self, let truth instruct your soul. God’s transforming love does what man can never do. A servant’s heart now reigns where selfish sin once ruled. His life no longer his own, a Christian understands he is created by and for God. No matter what is demanded, no matter what happens, all pales in the glory of God. Stephen’s last words reflect the glorious heart of our king, the Lord Jesus Christ. May it be with me. Shine, Jesus, shine. When the world looks at me, may they see Jesus, no matter what.

 

 

 

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Missed Opportunity

Posted: November 6, 2019 in Meditations
black and white decision doors opportunity

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“Phil, Dieter Gabriel is in the hospital. You may want to stop in and say hello.” My mother’s words caught me off guard. I was nineteen but I never visited anyone my age in the hospital. It was always somebody old, grandparents and the like. I felt uncomfortable, a bit put upon. Dieter and I went way back, friends from my old neighborhood. We now rarely saw each other. “Thanks mom – we’ll see.” That was a polite way to say no.

I have no idea what I did that night. Obviously, it wasn’t memorable and most likely not important. Dieter was an intrusion on my world, at least for one night. I clearly remember my rationale, “I can visit Dieter tomorrow.” I did this same thing with schoolwork and chores. Procrastination was my best friend. The next day came and went. Dieter left my mind. Distractions edited my days, I lived each moment with a cavalier come what may spirit. The next day I heard words I’ll never forget, “Son, Dieter passed away last night.”

Those words cut deep, they still do. My heart froze, I knew in that moment I had sinned against God and Dieter. No words were necessary, I chose myself over divine opportunity and I couldn’t go back and make this one right. Dieter was gone.

“I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land” Ezekiel 22:30  My pastor preached from this text when I was eighteen. He challenged us, “Who will stand in the gap?” Every day offers countless opportunities to be God’s hand extended. God wants to use us, God choose to use us. But we must be faithful, alert, present in the moment. As we prove faithful, God expands our opportunities. We find a rhythm with our senior partner, the Holy Spirit. We recognize our opportunities, we act, and God does the supernatural.

I learned a lifelong lesson that day at nineteen years of age. Don’t put off opportunities, seize them. When God calls us to stand in the gap, stand strong. Take nothing for granted, obey, none of us can redeem time. Missed opportunities steal divine possibilities in the kingdom of God. A love that should have been passed between friends never happened. Yet, God picked me up, God forgave me, he used my failure to instruct me. Today, almost five full decades later, I serve the Great God, Infinite Goodness. “We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:17  “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:7,8

black and white decision doors opportunity

 

 

 

grayscale side view portrait photo of man posing with his eyes closed

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On Thursday, October 31, 2019, President Trump announced he would end preferential trade benefits to Cameroon, citing “persistent gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” I can already see eyes widen or squint, your mind flashes, “Cameroon?” Cameroon means nothing to most of us. President Paul Biya is an obtuse factoid in Jeopardy trivia. The ongoing atrocities perpetrated by the French speaking majority against their English speaking brothers goes silent to the indifference of a world with no skin in this perverse game. But I know, I feel it – not because I’m some cosmopolitan globalist – no, I feel it because I live and fellowship  with the men and women who have escaped the assault of their own people. Teddy Roosevelt once said, “It is a mighty good thing to know men, not from looking at them, but from having been one of them. When you have worked with them, when you have lived with them, you do not have to wonder how they feel, because you feel it yourself.” And thus begins our story.

Monday night Bible study began like any other. Silly banter, hearty laughter – what else would you expect from an odd collection of men? The door opened, a young man entered. A bit nervous, he flashed a big smile, “Hi, my name is Lewis.” Before the night was out, we heard the gripping story of a young man’s journey to America, a tale of a boy from Cameroon who dared to dream.

Lewis grew up under the heavy hand of President Paul Biya, the only leader Lewis has ever known. His family, members of the English speaking minority, felt the every pressing persecution of Biya’s rule year upon year. Lewis, the eldest son, saw his prospects dim. Life was hard. He quit school at sixteen, a crushing blow. But fate put a man’s burden on a boy’s shoulders. Lewis was now the sole support for his family. 

Months, then years passed. Lewis once dreamed of going to America. He dreamed of going to school, securing a good job, winning the heart of a woman and raising a family. Instead he toiled at menial work, a hated minority, his prospects bleak. Dark nights brought tears in the silence. “God, can I still dream? Where is my hope this side of heaven?” Morning came, nothing changed. Lewis went to work, and he toiled.

The Diversity Immigrant Visa program, also known as the Green Card Lottery, was introduced in 1990. Millions apply every year, all with the dream of coming to American. Mere thousands will get the chance. Lewis worked his job in the heat of another Cameroon day. His foreman gave him an envelope, it was from the United States Government. His name had been drawn. Lewis collapsed, he burst into tears, pent up pain and joy flowed indiscriminately from secret places he knew not where. In that moment, an angel touched a young man in Cameroon. His dream no longer a dream, Lewis is completing a nursing program in the United States. Someday soon his young bride will join him and by God’s grace they will raise a family in America.

Lewis and his story instructs the lives of each of us. We hope in God regardless of circumstance. In our darkest hour, we hope, we trust. This much we know, God knows. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are you ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55: 8,9

Sunshine on a Cloudy Day

Posted: November 2, 2019 in Meditations
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The apostles stood before a seething Sanhedrin, the supreme group of religious leaders in Palestine. The new cult of Christ followers was growing daily. Unless the establishment moved quickly to suppress these radicals, they might lose the people and incur the wrath of Rom. Threats and jailings proved fruitless. We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined try make us guilty of this man’s blood. Acts 5:28 Peter, the spokesman for the apostles replied, We must obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29

No seat of power ever wants to hear these words. We see it in our own country, the assault on conscience in the courts. China, under the Maoist strongman Xi Jinping, crushes religious dissent. Christians in Iraq and Syria are obliterated. Atrocities rage in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The World pay little attention, wildebeests grazing a hundred feet away from lions devouring one of their own. You and I could be next.

The Sanhedrin moved to kill the apostles immediately. The revered teacher Gamaliel spoke up, Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God. Acts 5:38, 39 The blood of countless martyrs over centuries speaks truth to these words. We draw inspiration from their stories. And we all ask ourselves the same question, “Will I stand to the death, or will I deny my Lord to save myself and my family?” No matter what the cost, remember this, we are not alone, we are never alone.

The Sanhedrin accepted the sage advice of Gamaliel. A flogging, then freedom, The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” Acts 5:41 The first verse of an old Temptations song, My Girl, says:

I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day

When its cold outside I’ve got the month of May

Well I guess you’d say

What can make me feel that way?

Of course the Temptations are singing about young love – not persecution! But the rejoicing of these men, bodies screaming in pain from a horrific beating, illustrates the consuming love between disciples and their Lord Jesus Christ. What can make them feel that way? Transformation (Romans 12:2), the presence of the Holy Spirit, God’s love at work – that’s what radiates sunshine on a cloudy day.