Archive for November, 2019

A Divine 911 – Part Two

Posted: November 9, 2019 in Meditations

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Getting to Joe’s house was no problem. I dropped Joe off several times on my way home to Wisconsin the past year. A block away from Joe’s house, I thought, “This is it, we’ll soon find out why I’m here.” And if nobody is home? I honestly can’t remember asking that question. Within seconds that question was irrelevant.

I pulled into the gravel driveway behind Joe’s house. No cars, the place seemed empty. I began to walk the stairs to the back door. The door opened, I looked up. It was Joe. I knew he was in trouble. Have you seen heartbreak, the agony that twists every fiber of your being? That was Joe. He had a huge plastic jar of pills under one arm and a thermos in his hand. Before Joe could say anything, I said, “Joe, God sent me here. He loves you. Don’t do this.” Joe didn’t speak. I continued, “What’s going on?”

Before Joe transferred to Missouri State University, he attended a local community college. A counselor took an interest in Joe – she did her best to help him, encourage him. She gained his trust and Joe survived, perhaps even thrived. Unfortunately, Joe could not discriminate between a professional and personal relationship. The counselor told Joe, “I can no longer see you.” Joe chose suicide rather than live life without her in his life.

“Joe, why would God knock me upside the head to come see you? If God didn’t care about you, why am I here at this precise moment? Joe, I don’t know what God has up his sleeve for you but it must be pretty big.” It took another thirty minutes to talk Joe off the ledge. We went inside. I called his mother who worked as a nurse. In fifteen minutes, she was home. The rest of our time in that kitchen is a blur, so much emotion. I hugged both of them. Mom assured me the situation was under control. I left.

I would love to tell you I kept in touch with Joe and that we are friends today. That is not the case. I did not pursue Joe, a reflection upon my shortcomings. I moved to California, got married and moved on with life. My old campus pastor gave me updates. Joe had a great year, a renaissance as a person and as a member of the campus ministry. That is my solace.

The most important person in this story is Joe. God used extraordinary means to preserve the life of a young man. God had plans for Joe and Satan was not going to win this battle. How God did this intervention is of little consequence to me.

What did God teach me? One, God loves us and God loved Joe extraordinarily, a young man most peers rejected. God sees what we cannot see. Two, be available – even if it takes a mule kick to the head to get your attention. Three, obey. Never say no to divine opportunity, no matter how small. An old hymn says, “Trust and obey, for there is no other way, to be happy in Jesus, than to trust and obey.”

A Divine 911- Part One

Posted: November 8, 2019 in Meditations

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Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out. Acts 8:26, 27

May is a glorious time of year in Missouri and in 1980, I was the king of my world. My car, music blaring, pushed across the Mississippi River, the Great Arch of St. Louis in my rear view mirror. Welcome to Illinois, land of Lincoln. Interstate 55 leads the way to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, home sweet home.

I graduated from seminary weeks earlier. My first professional assignment began in July. My belongings fit comfortably in the trunk of my little Opel. Lynn, my wife to be, rode shotgun. A weekend party awaited us, a bevy of friends and family looked forward to meeting the future Mrs. Brown.

Lynn Taber caught my eye the moment she came through the door with her roommate. I still pinch myself at age 65 – God blessed me with a loyal friend, an incredible mother, but most importantly, my wife loves Jesus with a whole heart. I didn’t deserve her. In 1980 she committed to a man who was far younger than his years, incomplete and imperfect. I had one trump card, I too loved Jesus. 

Five miles outside of St. Louis I experienced a moment that remains a singular event, I physically felt the jar of God followed by his distinct voice in my brain. I turned to Lynn, “Honey, I think I just heard from God.” What did he say?” she asked, “He said, “Turn around, go to Joe’s house!” Lynn didn’t hesitate, “You better take the next exit and go to Joe’s house.”

I met Joe in the first weeks of Fall Semester 1979. I lived at a ministry house off campus where I assisted the Campus Pastor while going to seminary. Joe came to us a troubled young man, nervous, wary – seemingly ready to bolt any second, never to be seen again. By his own admission, Joe would come to the aid of a squirrel before he would assist a human being. He radiated intense pain, a pain that left him alone, most students shied away from him.

God blessed us with Joe, I really mean that. We discovered a humor that surprised all of us. His Elvis Presley impersonations were spot on. I gained his trust, I became his friend. Initially, I saw the quirks, the foibles, the glaring weaknesses. As time passed, I recognized rare passion, a keen intellect, a loyalty that knew few bounds, a trait that made him vulnerable, fragile.

The arch loomed large. My car sped toward Kirkwood, a full thirty to forty minutes away. I never once questioned why I was doing this. Am I on a silly goose chase? Am I playing mind games with myself? None of that happened. I just knew and so did Lynn. We didn’t know why, it didn’t matter. God said, “Go to Joe’s house.” We were on our way to Joe’s house. I pressed the accelerator.

 

Not For Sale

Posted: November 7, 2019 in Meditations

The Bible tells a fascinating story about a man named Simon in Acts 8. He lived in Samaria, a city 118 miles north of Jerusalem. The whole region knew who Simon was, rich and poor alike. He claimed to be the spokesman for God. His magic, whatever it was, amazed all who witnessed it and many followed him.

Philip the Evangelist came up from Jerusalem to preach Christ in Samaria. Revival broke out, miracles of healing and deliverance marked the evangelistic gatherings. Throngs of men and women surrendered their lives to follow Christ; joyous converts were baptized. Simon the Magician believed and was baptized, completely dumbfounded by the inexplicable miracles he witnessed.

When word of the great revival reached Jerusalem, the church sent Peter and John to Samaria. The two leaders prayed over each convert laying hands on them. One by one, each new Christ follower received the Holy Spirit. Simon wanted that power for himself and offered to buy it from Peter and John. Peter rebuked Simon, “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no share in this ministry because your heart is not right with God.” Acts 8:20,21  Peter then identifies the root and totality of Simon’s sin, “I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” Acts 8:23

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We do not possess God; God possesses us. The Great God, Infinite Goodness, the Holy Spirit: God and his kingdom is not for sale, never has been, never will be. We don’t manipulate God, we do not barter with God. In fact, the Christ follower capitulates, he surrenders everything he is and ever hopes to be to our Great God. Every sin, every wound, every secret gets laid bare before God. In our brokenness, we die to ourselves that God might grant resurrection, a new life, a new hope, a new purpose driven destiny. The Apostle Paul says, “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” 2 Corinthians 5:15 We live for Christ alone.

Peter confronts Simon for his own good. Without death, there is no new life. “Simon, you are full of bitterness, hurts that now strangle your spirit. Look around you. Simon, do you want their joy? Surrender. You are chained to your sin. You, my friend, are a dead man walking. Repent, give it up while you still can. Christ is your only hope.” Simon can’t do it, he won’t do it. “Pray to the Lord for me.” Acts 8:24  The only individual that can pray the prayer of surrender is you. Nobody can surrender for you, nobody can arrange salvation for you. God is not for sale.

 

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.

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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
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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

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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.