Happy Saint Patrick’s Day


Today is the Feast Day of Saint Patrick, commemorating the day of his death in AD 461.

I’ll admit, when I was growing up, the only thing I knew about St. Patrick’s Day was that we were supposed to wear green. And even that was challenged. Some Protestants started a contrarian movement to wear orange instead. Because, St. Patrick was, ya know, Catholic.

Well, Saint Patrick died more than a thousand years before the Reformation, so he was as Christian as any other Christian of that day—not Catholic and not Protestant.

According to his own writings, he was born into a wealthy Romano-British home. Both his father and grandfather were active in the Church. At sixteen Patrick was kidnapped and taken as a slave to Gaelic Ireland. During the six years he served in that pagan land, he became a Christian, eventually escaped, and returned home.

Patrick then became a priest and some years later decided to return to Ireland as a missionary. He spent a number of years in northern Ireland, confronting druids and leading thousands to Christ.

Green became associated with Patrick because of his connection with Ireland, known for its lush, green landscape. In addition, in the 1640s the Irish Catholic Confederation adopted a flag with a field of green.

The shamrock, also green and also a symbol associated with St. Patrick’s Day, according to legend was an object the missionary used to teach the pagans about the trinity.

Some places still hold St. Patrick Day parades today, and other such festivities, but perhaps the other thing most associated with the day is drinking. There’s a reasonable explanation behind that, too. Patrick was celebrated internationally as early as the tenth century. By the 1600s the Catholic church included his day on the liturgical calendar.

However Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol conflicted with a feast, so they were lifted for the day. Hence, eating and drinking on St. Patrick’s Day, particularly in excess, became something similar to Mardi Gras.

To be honest, I’m a little sad that so much has been lost about St. Patrick. The celebrations and the day itself have so little to do with a young, twenty-something slave coming to grips with his need for Christ, and eventually returning to the land of his captivity to share the gospel with the very people who had caused his suffering.

It’s a true story of redemption and forgiveness, much more powerful than wearing green and drinking oneself into a stupor.

I have to wonder how a person becomes so well-known that strangers down through the centuries want to celebrate his life. St. Patrick must have endeared himself to the Irish people. And the Irish had occasion to spread throughout Europe and beyond. Like so many immigrants, they took their culture with them. At least that’s what occurred in America when the Irish immigrants increased dramatically in the 1800s.

All that aside, why don’t we have an Apostle Paul Day? Or more recently a Corrie ten Boom Day or a Jim Eliot Day? These people suffered for their faith, made an impact for Christ beyond their small world, influenced people far and near.

So why Patrick?

Only God knows. My hope is that St. Patrick’s Day will be a reminder, to me at least, of the power of the gospel, of the value of unselfish and sacrificial service. May his day become a beacon of light today into the pagan world, even as his missionary endeavors were when he first shared Christ with a land under druid influence.

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Published in: on March 17, 2017 at 6:14 pm  Comments (2)  
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But Even If He Doesn’t …


Joseph016I find myself drawn to heroes who faced impossible circumstances with unwavering trust. Some of them, whether people we know from Scripture or from extra-Biblical sources, died, some of them lived to recount for the world God’s miraculous provision.

The point is, going into their circumstances, none of these people knew what awaited them. The faith of both those who lived and those who died was equally strong.

Abraham was that kind of “strong faith” person—more than once. Initially God told him to go to a land He would show the then young Abram, so he went, not knowing where he was going.

Later, as an older man with the son he’d waited his whole life for, he went again, knowing where this time but faced with the task of giving up the son he loved so much.

We know this side of the event that God provided a ram to substitute for Abraham’s son and that He gave him the Promised Land to be the home of his people. But Abraham was on that side and didn’t see what we see. He made his choices based on his faith and trust in God.

That’s appealing to me.

Joseph spent thirteen years as a slave and kept his faith in God—not knowing he would end up the second in command to Pharaoh.

Daniel’s three friends had no way of knowing they’d walk out of a furnace heated so hot it killed the guards that put them inside, but they believed God was capable of rescuing them.

Daniel himself prayed even though he knew he’d end up with the lions, and didn’t know he’d survive the night.

On the other hand, Stephen died because he preached Jesus Christ as Messiah. Jim Elliott died taking the gospel to an indigenous people group in South America, Corrie ten Boom’s sister Betsy died in the German concentration camp despite her faithful witness and unselfish life.

Yet these people who don’t appear victorious are just as compelling to me. They faced death and they didn’t waver, they didn’t back down or give into the temptation to call in question God’s character.

I think the thing is, I realize that each of those people—the ones who came through the trial happily, even miraculously, and the ones who died, shared the same faith. They knew that God was trustworthy. They didn’t measure His goodness or love or mercy or provision or faithfulness based on the stuff of this world, not even their life breath.

Habakkuk said it best, I think:

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

The point is, God is worthy of our exultation whether we have the stuff of this world or not. He is the God of our salvation. He has transferred us from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of His beloved Son. What else do we need as proof of His love and care?

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in May 2013.

Published in: on September 14, 2016 at 6:52 pm  Comments Off on But Even If He Doesn’t …  
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Go Ye


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I’m reading a biography of Amy Carmichael, missionary to India and a few other places.

At a young age she was challenged at a missionary convention regarding the need to take the gospel to those who had not heard.

Elisabeth Elliot, who wrote this particular biography, put it this way:

Before the convention [Amy] had been pondering the agonizing question of the fate of those who had never heard of Jesus Christ. It was as though she heard “the cry of the heathen,” and could not rest because she could not gladly stay at home and do nothing about them. (A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael by Elisabeth Elliot, p 52)

Still, she didn’t expect that she herself would leave home to go and become the ambassador for her Lord and Savior. But she prayed.

Four years later, when God called her to serve in foreign lands, He made His will very clear to her: “It was that snowy Wednesday evening [of January 13, 1892] that the categorical imperative came, not just once but again and again: Go ye.”

Regardless, the decision was not easy. She lived in a time without air travel, internet, or even international phone service. Going to foreign places meant a long term interruption to her familial relationships. She had commitments at home.

As she struggled with what she was to do she wrote of “‘those dying in the dark, 50,000 of them every day,’ of her own longing to tell them of Jesus, and her misgivings.” (p 54)

Convinced by counsel from her mother and others, who reminded her that she was God’s and that if God asked for her, how can she but go, Amy made her decision.

She believed she was responding to God’s direct call on her life. She was to go because thousands of people were living and dying without hearing the gospel. They were lost, in need of a Savior. And she had what they needed.

I can’t help but compare what weighed on Amy with what seems to weigh on Christians today. Honestly, I don’t hear about the passion for the souls of those living in places without Christ. I hear about poverty and disease and oppression, but not as much about people dying without Christ.

So I wonder if Christians today are as concerned for the lost as we are for the needy.

We seem to believe that our mission is to help people become more comfortable, and then, when they are no longer hungry or homeless or jobless or oppressed, they’ll give thought to their spiritual condition.

But I suspect that’s not true. The early Christians had no comfort or ease to offer those they evangelized. They preached Christ and Him crucified. The preached the fellowship of His sufferings. They preached dying to self and taking up their crosses. They told those who believed to be imitators of them as they were of Christ, and then they became martyrs.

The conventional wisdom today is that people who are hungry or homeless or living in danger are not open spiritually. Their focus is on their spiritual needs. Maybe that’s so. I’m no psychologist, I’ve done no studies on the subject. I do know that people in other ages and generations made a difference spiritually because they preached Christ.

Do we need a different approach today? We’re living in a different time, witnessing to people of the 21st century. Don’t we need a 21st century strategy?

Perhaps. But I can’t help but think of Romans 10:14

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?

God clearly cares for the needy. He chastised Israel for their treatment of orphans, widows, and strangers, and James specifies that “pure and undefiled religion” includes visiting “orphans and widows in their distress.”

But what’s the point? Our religion is to demonstrate what we believe. It isn’t to replace the commission we’ve been given to make disciples or to go into all the world to preach the gospel.

Amy Charmichael heard God’s call to “Go ye” because her heart was sensitive to the lost. May we the Church be just as heart broken over the spiritual condition of those without Christ. Yes, we can still care about their needs, but may we never be more concerned with meeting physical needs than with providing Living Water and Everlasting Bread.

Published in: on September 12, 2016 at 7:35 pm  Comments (10)  
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Darkest before the Dawn


I don’t know if the expression “darkest before the dawn” has a bases in nature or not, or if darkness is even a measurable quantity. But we’ve all heard the adage, and we understand it because there seems to be experiential truth.

Novelists often take characters into the “black night of the soul” before a climactic reversal and triumph. And readers accept this as “real.”

Scripture chronicles a number of instances when the darkness got darker before God moved.

Lazarus got sick, seriously sick, and then … Jesus came? No, then Lazarus died. And was entombed for four days. Darkness at it’s darkest before Jesus showed up and said, Come out.

Or how about the enslaved Israelites, crying out to God because their burden was grievous. At God’s command, as a direct result of their cries, He sent Moses. And things went from bad to worse.

Keep making bricks, their slave masters told them, only now you have to collect your own materials because you’re so lazy. And when they didn’t meet their quota? Their leaders were beaten.

Darkness turning darker. And then the exodus.

Or how about Gideon. Already out manned, God reduces his fighting force, not once but twice. Darkest darkness. And then God intervened to defeat the enemies.

And even for those saints who died. The thief on the cross had Jesus’s promise that he would be with Him that day in paradise. Stephen, as he was dying, had a face that shone like an angel’s.

But here’s where I’m glad I have the Bible. I think of Abraham hiking up to the mountain with his teen son Isaac, ready to sacrifice him on the altar they would build. He didn’t know how that darkest moment of his life was going to turn out. He just knew he needed to trust God completely and obey.

The Israelites didn’t know that Moses was indeed the one who would lead them out of slavery. They thought he was, when he showed them the miraculous signs from God. But then the slave masters’ demands came and the beatings came. Suddenly, Moses’s own doubts resurfaced:

O Lord, why have You brought harm to this people? Why did You ever send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done harm to this people; and You have not delivered Your people at all.

The thing was, God intended more for His people than just release from slavery. When Pharaoh finally sent them away, they had acquired silver and gold from their neighbors. They had a reputation as a people blessed by God, so when they arrived in Canaan, the locals were scared to death.

My temptation, when the darkness comes, is to find my own way into the light. I’m impatient and don’t want to wait for the fullness of God’s time. If I would only remember, dawn follows the darkest of the dark.

This post first appeared her in August, 2009.

Published in: on May 27, 2016 at 6:36 pm  Comments Off on Darkest before the Dawn  
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Elisabeth Elliot: 1926 – 2015


Elisabeth ElliotElisabeth Elliot died on Sunday. From my perspective, she is one of the great heroes of the faith.

She influenced countless thousands in any number of ways, not the least in the area of foreign missions. After all, she not only lived sacrificially among the Ecuadorian nationals responsible for her husband’s death and preached the love of Christ to them, she also wrote about her husband and the four other missionary martyrs:

The story of Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, and companions Peter Fleming, Roger Youderian, and Ed McCully—most famously narrated in Elisabeth Elliot’s Through Gates of Splendor—is perhaps the most chronicled missionary account of the past 100 years, and remains an inspiration for many. (Christianity Today)

Yes, an inspiration to many.

Elisabeth Elliot had strong views and didn’t couch them in buttery, inoffensive terms. I heard her speak once. A friend was going on a short term mission trip and Elisabeth Elliot spoke at the commissioning service. I don’t remember precisely what she said—sort of, why are you young people doing this? Get your heads out of the clouds. Living on the mission field is not pleasant or easy. Specifically I remember her saying, contrary to popular opinion, she didn’t go to the jungle of Ecuador because she loved hot, humid weather and poisonous snakes. She said it was no easier for her to endure those discomforts and fears than it was for anyone else.

But ultimately, Ms. Elliot was not telling the prospective missionaries to “suck it up.” That’s not the way she thought. Rather, she had a passion for God’s word and for God Himself. She held to the fact that God can and should be obeyed and trusted.

Blunt—not ungracious, not impetuous, not snappy or gruff. But direct, unsentimental, no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is, no whining allowed. Just pull your britches on and go die for Jesus—like Mary Slessor and Gladys Aylward and Amy Carmichael and Gertrude Ras Egede and Eleanor Macomber and Lottie Moon and Roslind Goforth and Malla Moe, to name a few whom she admired. (“Peaches in Paradise: Why I Loved Elisabeth Elliot” by John Piper, Desiring God)

She challenged believers to move out of our comfort zone and trust the God who knows the end from the beginning:

Because of her, I dared to leave my comfort zone.

I am not alone—many in my generation found similar courage and peace through her books, speaking, and radio program. There is little telling the breadth of her global heritage. I am grateful for her life, and for the profound influence she left on my own. (“This wife of a murdered missionary has died. Here’s why Elisabeth Elliot’s life mattered to so many” by Tsh Oxenreider, Washington Post)

I think Elisabeth Elliot’s influence was so profound because she spoke the truth, but it was a truth she lived. She knew romanticizing missions would give people a false view of service. She knew sentimentalizing discipleship was the opposite of what Christ required of us.

Finally, Elisabeth Elliot has had a strong influence on women in the Church and on our ideas of our place in God’s plan. Above all, she adhered to Scripture, even the growingly less popular parts that identify a wife’s role as that of being subject to her husband:

A Christian woman’s true freedom [and, of course, she would also say a Christian man’s true freedom] lies on the other side of a very small gate—humble obedience—but that gate leads out into a largeness of life undreamed of by the liberators of the world, to a place where the God-given differentiation between the sexes is not obfuscated but celebrated, where our inequalities are seen as essential to the image of God, for it is in male and female, in male as male and female as female, not as two identical and interchangeable halves, that the image is manifested. (399—Piper quoting from Elisabeth Elliot’s chapter “The Essence of Femininity: A Personal Perspective” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood)

I said “finally” but there’s really this overarching message of Elisabeth Elliot’s life, ministry, writing, speaking—she trusted God no matter what the circumstances. As it happened, she spent the last ten years of her life in the grip of dementia, a gradual death of who you are, at least in the here and now. Her third husband (her second husband died of cancer four years after their marriage) addressed her response in an interview at World Magazine:

Last year, as Elliot’s health declined, WORLD interviewed her third husband, Lars Gren. Elliot met him while he was a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and they were married for 36 years, until her death. The magazine reported:

    Gren says Elliot has handled dementia just as she did the deaths of her husbands. “She accepted those things, [knowing] they were no surprise to God,” Gren said. “It was something she would rather not have experienced, but she received it.

(“Missionary Pioneer Elisabeth Elliot Passes Through Gates of Splendor” by Kate Shellnutt, Christianity Today)

In receiving the suffering of life which a good God put into her hand, Elisabeth Elliot became one of the great saints of the Christian faith. She is an example of living out what the Bible tells us, right here, in our sophisticated twenty-first century culture.

elisabeth-elliot

The US National Day Of Prayer (A Reprise)


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Today is the National Day Of Prayer here in the US. In a country with the freedom to worship when and how and who we please, it seems a little odd that we have a designated National Day of Prayer. I’m glad we do because it makes me think more about the subject, but part of my thinking is that, for most of us, the National Day of Prayer means very little.

For one thing, prayer, as an activity in and of itself, has no efficacious value. Isaiah illustrated that most clearly in a passage about idols:

Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak and raises it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, “Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.” But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god.” They do not know, nor do they understand, for He has smeared over their eyes so that they cannot see and their hearts so that they cannot comprehend. No one recalls, nor is there knowledge or understanding to say, “I have burned half of it in the fire and also have baked bread over its coals. I roast meat and eat it. Then I make the rest of it into an abomination, I fall down before a block of wood!” (Isaiah 44:14-19)

Praying to a block of wood, Isaiah is saying, has no value. Clearly, then, value is not in the act of praying.

Consequently, in a country with people of many faiths, telling us all to pray on a certain day, accomplishes nothing. The only prayer that matters is the one offered to a Person interested enough to listen and powerful enough to do something about what He hears.

But should we limit ourselves to pray to such a Person on one day out of the year? Surely, if we knew President Obama would take our phone call every morning and would do all within his power to answer our requests, we wouldn’t limit ourselves to a phone call one day a year. Why then would we make prayer a one-day event?

Clearly it should be a regular part of our relationship with God—the One who commands us to pray, who promises to hear us, and who delights in giving us what we ask. Anything, that is, which we ask in His name, according to His will.

No, that isn’t a formula for getting what we want. The specifics God laid down about prayer are relational doors. We are to ask “in Jesus’s name” not as a cool way to bring a prayer to an end or as a magic mantra to insure that God has to come through and deliver on His promises. We ask in Jesus’s name in the same way that we might go to an exclusive “by invitation only” dinner. We reach the door and give our name. Oh, but we’re not on the list. Rather, the guest of honor invited us to be in His party, so we give His name. Because of His name we are ushered into the banquet hall and seated at the head table. In the same way, we ask God for things, not because of who we are but because of who Jesus is.

Consequently, we can’t ask Him for things that would contradict who Jesus is. Well, we can ask, but God isn’t going to hear us if we ask for selfish things in His Son’s name. Jesus is not in the business of rubber stamping all the selfish requests people make of the Father.

Which brings us to praying according to God’s will. Jesus Himself before He went to the cross asked for something He didn’t get–to bypass the sacrifice set before Him. But God actually did answer Jesus’s prayer because He stipulated that He wanted God’s will more than He wanted what He wanted. It was Jesus’s way of prioritizing. He wanted A and if God wanted A for Him, then Yea! But if He wanted A and God wanted B, then Yea! Jesus would change His mind and want B also. Because God’s will mattered more to Jesus than His own will did.

In praying according to God’s will, essentially we are stepping back and agreeing that God knows more than we do, is good, loves us, and won’t make any mistakes. It’s as if we’re looking at our lives and our circumstances through a straw, but God sees the entire picture. From our straw perspective we ask God for what looks like the thing we need or want. God answers from his entire picture perspective, however, which means we don’t always get what we thought we wanted.

Joni Eareckson Tada is a good example of this principle. When she broke her neck as a seventeen year old, she prayed to be healed. She was an active, athletic teenager who couldn’t imagine how God could possibly want her to spend her life in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic. Eventually, however, she bowed before His will, and today, forty-seven years later, she gives testimony of her willingness to do whatever He asks of her, no matter how hard it seems. That has included living with chronic pain and the onset of cancer.

So Joni is an example of answered prayer? She is, because she testifies of God’s love and goodness and mercy for her as she has gone through suffering. He has given her according to His will, and as a result, Joni has reached thousands upon thousands of hurting people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Her impact for eternity is far beyond anything she could have imagined as a teen.

So, a day of prayer? Sure, it’s good to be public about our thoughts on prayer. But it’s much better to make prayer a key ingredient in our relationship with God. We wouldn’t think of limiting conversation with our spouse to one day a year. So, too, a strong relationship with God is built by talking to Him each and every day, not just once in a public forum because it’s the US National Day of Prayer.

This article, sans some minor editing changes, first appeared here in May 2013.

Would I Deny Jesus?


PeterafterdenyingChristThe Easter story includes the events leading up to Jesus’s crucifixion—the last supper He shared with His followers, His time of prayer in the garden, Judas’s betrayal of Him, His ensuing arrest, and Peter’s denial that he knew Him.

For the most part I think Christians have been harsh on Peter. True, we often identify with him, and we use him as an example of God’s amazing forgiveness, restoration, and power to use someone who was as close to walking away from God as a person can get.

And yet, it’s hard to get past the fact that Peter did, in fact, publicly declare that he didn’t follow Jesus or even know Him. Not once. Not twice. He denied Jesus three times and sealed the deal by swearing that what he said was true.

Apparently it convinced the people around him, because they let him alone after that. Of course, God didn’t let him alone. When the rooster crowed—confirming the prophecy Jesus had made about these denials—Peter was broken, went out of the high priest’s courtyard where he’d been waiting to see what would happen to Jesus, and wept.

But what if he hadn’t denied Christ? Would God have protected him or would he have been arrested and crucified along with the three who ended up on Golgotha?

Thinking about what Peter did has never seemed more practical than in our world today. We’ve watched news coverage of terrorists in the Middle East marching Christians en masse outside their village to behead them. Now the report has reached us that another terrorist group stormed a town in Kenya. After opening fire, they systematically worked their way through a school asking who was Muslim and who was Christian. The Christians they killed on the spot.

A few weeks ago, 60 Minutes covered the terrorist takeover of Mosul in Iraq. Christians were singled out, then given the choice to convert to Islam or be killed. One man interviewed on the program, with a wife and child (maybe more than one) at risk, said he agreed to convert, but afterward he took the chance to escape and again embraces Christianity.

Which brings me back to Peter. And to me.

It’s so easy to say I would never deny Jesus, but I wonder. I mean, Peter said over and over that he would never deny Jesus. He said he was willing to die with Jesus. And yet, when the time came, all his bold assertions escaped him. And he was left with what? His fear? His belief that he could figure a way to get Jesus out if he managed to avoid arrest himself? We don’t know what went through his mind, but what came out of his mouth was, I don’t know the man. Yet days before he’d proclaimed that Jesus was God’s Messiah.

My heart breaks for those Christians who were terrorized, for those who lost family members, for those left to pick up and go on after such devastation, and for those who may have denied they knew Jesus in that moment of crisis.

May the latter find the same forgiveness Peter found, and may God use them in the same powerful way to spread the good news about our resurrected Savior as He used Peter. May God send His comfort to those who remain, and may they have His assurance that they do not grieve as those who have no hope.

May Easter remind them of God’s triumph over death and sin. May it reassure them that those who died for their faith have not died in vain. May their courage be fuel to fire the spread of the gospel, even as the persecution of the early Church did in the first century.

May God give us in the West boldness to proclaim His name while we can without fear. May we be faithful to pray for our brothers and sisters who are on the front lines suffering because they follow Jesus.

Published in: on April 3, 2015 at 6:44 pm  Comments (5)  
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Reformation Day


Lucas_Cranach_d.Ä._(Werkst.)_-_Porträt_des_Martin_Luther_(Lutherhaus_Wittenberg)Reformation Day, the commemoration of Martin Luther’s bold challenge to the Church, is 497 years old today. While Luther contributed a great deal to Christendom, specifically regarding the value of Scripture over tradition, his greatest gift to theology came that afternoon 497 years ago.

Luther did not intend to split the Church or start his own denomination. Rather, he wanted discussion about practices in the Church that conflicted with his understanding of Scripture—specifically the selling of indulgences or the release from purgatory for and salvation of a loved one for a price.

The corrupt practice was lucrative and enriched the papacy at the expense of the clear teaching of Scripture. Luther boldly confronted the practice.

Luther taught that every human being at every moment of life stands absolutely coram deo, before God, confronted face-to-face by God. This led him to confront the major misunderstanding in the Church of his day that grace and forgiveness of sins could be bought and sold like wares in the market. (“Reformation Day,” First Things web site)

Within months, Luther’s views went viral. The papacy reacted and Luther sought protection from a powerful landed aristocrat.

But through the centuries Luther’s views have spread and today are influencing the church he confronted.

The great celebration of Reformation Day, then, is not that Protestantism was born. Rather it is the reforming truth that a person is not dependent upon his own finite efforts to reconcile with God but that God, because of His lavish love, gifted us with grace through faith, resulting in the removal of our offenses which created a barrier between us and God.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

In preparation for the 500th celebration of Reformation Day coming in three years, German Protestant and Catholic scholars are once again studying the 95 theses and finding some common ground.

“The focus on Christ, the Bible and the authentic Word are things that we as the Catholic Church today can only underline,” [Bishop Franz-Josef Hermann] Bode said. The bishop’s views reflect the ideas of many other Catholic theologians since the Second Vatican Council as Luther’s teachings, especially his esteem for the Word of God, have come to be appreciated in a way that would have been unthinkable just a century ago. (“Reformation Day,” First Things web site)

Fifteen years ago there was movement of this nature, too. A Joint Declaration of Justification between the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church was issued.

The Joint Declaration represents a measure of convergence between Catholic and Reformational understandings of that article of faith by which the Church either stands or falls, to cite a favorite Lutheran saying. For example, the Joint Declaration asserts, “We confess together: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.” (“Reformation Day,” First Things web site)

What a celebration, to see believers of various persuasions united by a return to faith and not works, to trust in Scripture and not tradition. Certainly there are differences that remain between Catholics and Protestant, but Reformation Day seems as if it may at last be a celebration of widespread Church reform, pointing people to the truth of the Bible, not the corrupt ideas of men.

Now, about the reform that’s needed among Protestants . . . 😉

Published in: on October 31, 2014 at 6:17 pm  Comments Off on Reformation Day  
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God And His Mysterious Ways


Some people try to define God’s work, and therefore to define God—sort of like trying to photograph a double rainbow that stretches across the sky. If you could just snap the picture, then you’d have the rainbow for always.

God doesn’t operate in such a way that we can ever capture Him. Yet—and here’s is one of the most mysterious of His Ways—He voluntarily, willfully declares my heart His home.

I think of Joseph resisting the sexual temptations Potiphar’s wife threw at him day after day, only to end up in prison. Well, not “end up” because he moved from the outhouse to the penthouse in a mere thirteen years. Thirteen years that undoubtedly had Joseph thinking nothing would ever change, that his life was going to continue on and on and on in the dungeon. But it didn’t. God had big things in store for Joseph.

I think of the little slave girl, an Israelite captive torn from her home, probably from her family, refusing to be bitter or to seek revenge but reaching out to bless the man she worked for by telling him of the prophet of God who could cure him of his leprosy. As a result, the mighty Aramean officer ended up declaring, “Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel” (2 Kings 5:20).

Then there is Samson. What an amazing thing that God used that philanderer. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have chosen him. He was supposed to be a Nazarene from birth, but he broke the parameters more than once that defined that special relationship with God. He seemed self-absorbed and more inclined to use God than serve Him. But God was pleased to include him as a judge of Israel, pleased to make him a means to free His people from the oppressive rule of the Philistines.

Or how about the beauty pageant that ended up sparing the lives of hundreds of Jews? I remember when I first heard about Esther, I was horrified that Mordecai didn’t try to sequester her away or make a run for the hills. Instead, he truly seemed to be encouraging her, and she seemed to want to win the role as queen. Except, unlike the fairy tales, this was no monogamous happy-together-ever-after story. No! Esther got to be part of the kings harem (think of all the women he slept with before he slept with her and finally decided she was queen material). And yet, God used her in that place to save hundreds, maybe thousands.

What about in contemporary times? God used the death of five young husbands, some also fathers, to save a group of people who had never heard of Jesus, at the same time turning the hearts of countless believers to become involved in missions.

Corrie ten Boom

He used a spinster lady in the latter end of middle-aged through to her “golden years” to teach a generation what forgiveness really means, to spread the gospel of God’s incredible power over death and destruction and hatred and evil.

He is using the humble submission of an athletic teenage girl who suffered a catastrophic, debilitating accident, who has lived life for forty-five years as a quadriplegic and continues to tell of her love for her Lord.

I would have done things differently, I’m sure. Look how talented Joni Eareckson Tada is—as an artist, a writer, a speaker. How much more could she do if she weren’t in a wheelchair? What a silly person I am. Who would have heard of Joni if she hadn’t been the girl who drew holding her pen in her mouth? And what would she be talking about now or who would listen? Isn’t it her willing submission in the face of her adversity that makes her life so winsome?

God knows these things. He knows what it takes. But to us, because we don’t know what it takes, His ways will always appear mysterious.

God moves in a mysterious way
his wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
and rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
of never failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs
and works his sovereign will.

You fearful saints, fresh courage take;
the clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
in blessings on your head.

His purposes will ripen fast,
unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
but sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
and scan his work in vain:
God is his own interpreter,
and he will make it plain.
– by William Cowper

– – – – –

This article is a reprint of one originally posted May 2011.

Louis Zamperini, b. 1917 – d. 2014


Louis_Zamperini_at_announcement_of_2015_Tournament_of_Roses_Grand_MarshalA great number of people may not be familiar with the name Louis Zamperini, but the man’s fame is beginning to spread. In May the Whittier Daily News carried an article reporting that this ninty-seven-year-old would be the Grand Marshall for the 2015 Rose Parade, this after the book about his life, Unbroken, hit the New York Times best-seller list. On top of that, a movie based on the book is due out this coming December.

The only sad part of this story is that Louie Zamperini passed away earlier this month. The joyous part, besides his successful athletic career and his World War II heroism, is his transformed life. Some might even say Louie was a miracle.

As a fifteen-year-old, Louie was bordering on juvenile delinquency, though I don’t know if that term was in use yet.

Thankfully, his success as a runner provided him with a meaningful channel for all his energy and drive and got him off the streets and into school. After setting records at USC, he made the 1936 US Olympic team.

However, another turn in his life lay ahead. World War II dashed his hopes of returning to the Olympics to run for a medal.

While serving in the Air Force Louie’s plane was shot down. He and two others survived, only to be adrift on the Pacific Ocean for forty-seven days (one man died a month into the ordeal). Unfortunately the two US servicemen were “rescued” by the Japanese and consigned to a prisoner of war camp. The treatment there was cruel.

Once again, events in Louie’s life changed him:

He returned from the war a haunted man, filled with bitterness and rage, his once promising running career over. Suffering from what today would be recognized as post-traumatic stress disorder, Zamperini took to heavy drinking. (Obituary, Whittier Daily News)

God had preserved and protected this man for a reason, though. He had not seen the last of dramatic twists in the direction his life would take. In what I consider to be Apostle-Paul-like fashion, Louie changed again, this time not because his circumstances were different, but because he was.

Then everything changed.

After attending a 1949 Billy Graham revival tent meeting on the streets of Los Angeles at the insistence of his wife, Cynthia, Zamperini said he experienced a rebirth and Christian conversion that was to guide the rest of his days. (Obituary, Whittier Daily News)

Probably the greatest evidence of his changed life was his ability to forgive those who had tortured him, in particular the commander in charge of both the prisoner of war camps in which Louie was taken. In essence, when he met Christ, the supernatural power of His Spirit brought peace to Louie’s life.

After Louie met Billy, the former POW never had another prisoner-of-war nightmare. He lost his desire to kill the Bird [the commander responsible for his torture]. He no longer hated the guards who’d tortured him. He forgave Jimmie Sasaki [a Japanese man who had graduated from USC] for pretending to be his friend when he really was his enemy. The turmoil of his life was replaced by calmness and a conviction that he’d found the right path.

Zamp began to speak about his experiences. He wasn’t afraid to talk about his new faith, but he resolved that he would never push his thinking on anyone (Awesome Stories, p. 12).

No need for Louie to try to make people listen. God clearly has opened a door for the world to hear bout this one changed life.

I don’t know if the movie will mention Louie’s coming to Christ or even Victory Boys Camp, the organization he founded in 1952 for troubled teens. But that’s OK. Louie Zamperini’s life can be an example that prepares soil for some or shines the light on the path to Jesus for others. God can use him even now after he has heard the “Well-done, good and faithful servant,” from the Master he served.

When he was adrift on that raft back in 1943, he’d prayed

If you will save me,
I will serve you forever.

For years he struggled to live the life God had saved without serving Him in return. I don’t really believe in “bargaining with God,” but it’s apparent that God in fact wanted Louie to serve Him.

Louie fought against God’s call on his life. His wife wanted him to go to listen to that preacher Billy Graham, and Louie said no. Over and over he said no. When he finally gave in, he left early. His wife asked him to go back. Finally he agreed, only if they would leave at the point that the preacher would tell them to bow their heads.

Zamp returned to the tent, fully planning to leave at the predetermined time. Then, he heard Billy say these words:

    What kind of life are you living? Are you satisfied with your life?

Louie reacted to Dr. Graham’s words:

Just then, my whole rotten sinful life passed before my eyes and I began to get an inkling of what I feared I had to do. Only I didn’t want to do it. Why? Men prefer darkness to light. How could I give up the parties and the liquor and living for the moment and the fun? (Devil at My Heels, page 241.)

Zamp grabbed Cynthia’s hand and told her they were leaving. When he got to the aisle, something made him change his mind:

…I got to the aisle. I stepped onto the sawdust path and knew it was my crossroads of decision. I fought against it, perhaps harder than I’d ever fought, but in the end I made my decision, turned right, toward Billy Graham, released Cynthia’s hand … (Devil at My Heels, page 242.)

(Awesome Stories, p. 11; quotes from Louis Zamperini’s autobiography)