There is something peaceful about a good night’s sleep. As we age, those precious occasions seem to grow less frequent. Last night was one of those rare opportunities to catch up on much-needed rest.
This morning, the temptation was there to rush off to the coffee shop to hang out and write. But knowing that it would cut into my morning devotion time and the fact that the last time I went there early on a Friday, a men’s group was just finishing – too large for the tiny establishment. When they concluded it was like a beehive had been struck, the fiery sound of a myriad of discussions ensued, overflowing the peace and calm, killing the intended mood and ambiance for which the location was sought. Agreeable to why they met, it was still a distraction that couldn’t be avoided.
So, withstanding the above encounter, I chose to remain at home this morning and sit listening to my preferred music while typing out these few lines. At least here, I’m saving time and money and still accomplishing some semblance of study and devotion.
One must ask, for if we do not, are we not guilty of assuming we are correct – am I doing all that is possible to draw closer to God? The scripture in Luke 6 warns of such assumptions, “And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch?” Writing out the devotion, there were certain people I had in mind – those who could truly use those words spoken by our Lord and Savior. Yet, as I now write, it seems that the scripture found in Luke pertains ever more to myself in the aforementioned sense. How shall one be able to lead others if they have not done their homework, so to speak? Are we not susceptible to falling into the ditch, into temptation, into sin when we ourselves have not committed our lives, our every breath to seeking God? It is when we can look in the mirror and make the feeble determination, based on what we have learned to lean not on our own understanding but His that we then can be bold enough, when realizing if we are open to allowing Christ to work in us, then it will be Him that speaks through us. In this final realization, we become those who can guide others, not because of anything we do ourselves, but because He works in and through us. We are His vessels. We are the new temple; through that jar of clay, the Holy Spirit will shine through, speaking life into the dark world.
Do your homework, but don’t hide behind closed doors. Boldly go out into the world and be the light for someone in this dark world, sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.
“For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” – Mt. 24:7-14
What you are about to read is based on a true story. The name of the mission and its members have been changed or omitted for safeties sake. May the Lord speak to you through this message.
The men walked with their families, wives, children, and the elderly. Some held hands with their loved ones. Others carried babes in arms, cherishing the last moments that would forever be etched into their hearts. As they approached the border crossing into Poland, they could see up ahead the checkpoints created to secure those passages to freedom, to safety, a place beyond the horror of war that they had just escaped. Yosef could feel the lump in his throat grow as he watched those with him become ever more anxious. Everyone knew that when they reached the border, Yosef would have to return to their village, leaving them, possibly forever.
Each able body man was asked to return from escorting their family to the border to fight for their country, their freedom, their lives. Yosef was no different. He knew that he could not escape with the women and children, that he and the other survivors of his village would do all they could to defend their country, their homeland, and their faith. Standing up for what is right was easy back in their town when they still had a home. But now, the shelling and destruction forced them to abandon all they knew and loved. It seemed that all they had left of their former life was their faith, for everything else had been stripped away.
Yosef and his brother Caleb had both worked with missionaries from America, training to become evangelists in Ukraine. Their work was to seek out others and share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Although they had worked regular jobs during the day, their eventual goal was to become full-time evangelists traveling around their country and becoming missionaries in their own way. But weeks before Russia attacked Ukraine, the American mission teams were asked to leave for safety’s sake. The missionary leaders and their families were as heartbroken as were their trainees, but everyone knew it was for the best. Besides, it would just be a precaution, and they would all be back together continuing their ministry before they knew it.
That was over a month ago. For Yosef, it seemed like an eternity.
It was Friday morning, the day before Sabbath, and Yosef could remember getting ready to go to work. The small hospital where he and his brother worked continued treating patients even though the attack on their country had begun. Yosef and Caleb were only orderlies, but due to the recent influx of war injuries, they were asked to help bandage and care for the less severe wounds. He was just about to go out the door when his daughter rushed up to him and begged him to come back and help her put on her boots for school. “Mommy’s busy with little brother,” she said, pointing to the back room of their small but modest home, “I need you to help me, Papa.” Yosef knew his wife, Evette, was busy with their newborn son, so he was happy to oblige.
“It’s okay, baby. Papa’s got you covered.”
She smiled as he knelt down to the ground, pulling the boots up as she pressed her little feet into the pink unicorn galoshes. Her hand rested on his back, and he could feel the tender touch of her sweet disposition, warming him through and through. When he finished, he lifted her up and gave her a big hug as she wrapped her little arms around his neck, returning the embrace.
“Now, I am off to do God’s work. You be a good little girl and have fun at school. You hear me?”
“Yes, Papa,” she smiled ear to ear, waving as he turned to walk out the door. Across the street, near the newly constructed apartment complex, Caleb waited in his car. He and Yosef always rode together, and today was like any other. Although Caleb was always there, always on time, he hated being late. So, when he saw Yosef emerging a second time from the house, he waved toward him as if to say, “C’mon, we’re going to be late.”
Yosef smiled and waved back. It was all too funny. His brother could never relax, even when they were witnessing to others. He seemed to never be content with just learning the verses their mentors had asked them to memorize. No, Caleb had to push himself, learning entire chapters that contained those verses. He was always driven to give his all. It was just who he was. It was this thought of his dear brother that remained when the flash of light suddenly erupted before him.
Out of nowhere, a sound like thunder ripped through the air. The ground folded under itself as the rumble of the earth shook Yosef to his core. One minute, Yosef was waving at Caleb, the next, he was blown backward, his feet trailing behind him as he watched his body being lifted up by the force of the blast. All Yosef could see was the image of his brother, smiling and waving, and then it was as if the screen on the television had gone blank, and the silhouette of the ghostly image of Caleb remained. His brother’s soul was burnt into his eyes.
Clouds of smoke, dust, and debris began raining down. The light was broken, and darkness had prevailed. Somewhere a dog barked as car alarms started blaring. Yosef didn’t know how long he had been unconscious, nor where he was, when he finally sat up. People ran before him in all directions. There was no sound in this landscape of destruction, just the images running through the fog of silence, interspersed with mouths that had no voice. Across the street, the entire structure of the apartment complex that once stood was now gone. The road beside it was a crater. The cars there were now either blown to pieces or burning embers. Yosef realized that Caleb would not be waiting anymore.
Painfully, he turned to look at his own house. The entire front of his home and all the others on their side of the street were caved in. People poured out, frantic, screaming, yet their lips were muted by the searing pain that shot through Yosef’s head. It was as if the world had gone insane, and nothing made sense. Softly, and gently, from behind him, he felt the touch of a little hand. He turned to see his daughter, still wearing her little pink unicorn boots. Her eyes were rimmed with fear as tears fell down her rosy cheeks.
“Papa, papa,” she sobbed. Yosef’s hearing began to return like a wave of emotion as he reached for his baby girl wrapping her in his arms as she sat on his lap. Soon, Evette emerged with their son in her arms, weeping and crying. There they sat amid the rubble as the world around them spun out of control. It was then Yosef realized he only had one thing left he could do and began to pray. His heart poured out to the Lord as the tears fell down his face.
From that day forward, their lives were never the same. It seemed that each day, more lives were lost, more arbitrary destruction, none of it made sense. Finally, when the shelling became so dire, they realized to stay would mean certain death for everyone, so Yosef did what all the others in their village had decided, to take the women, children, and elderly to the border then return to fight, until the end.
Yet, each day, since they had begun their painful march to exile, they felt the hand of God on them, protecting them, delivering them from harm. Yosef knew that had he not listened to the voice of his daughter that fateful morning when Caleb was killed in the bombing that he too would have died. It was as if God had spared his life for a reason. God had spoken through a child to save his life. How much more could he do to return the favor? Each day, Yosef could feel the faith inside him growing. Evette seemed to sense it as well and encouraged him by reading from their tiny Bible she had brought along. The scriptures spoke to them more and more each day.
Reaching the crossing, Yosef turned and embraced Evette. He didn’t want to let go, for he knew when he did, it would be the last time. “Yosef, you will make a difference. Don’t forget who you are, and take this,” she passed the little Bible into his palm as she leaned into him; close now, face to face, “You’re going to need this more than ever before,” she whispered as they kissed goodbye.
Down by his side, he could feel the tiny hands holding onto his pant leg. As he bent down, his heart began to melt. The tears filled his eyes, and he realized this would be their last time.
“Papa, you are going to do God’s work, right,” the little voice said, sincerely and without fear?
“Yes baby, yes, papa will…,” and he stopped, choking back the flood of emotion.
He hugged one last time and turned to leave.
It was his time. This would be the end.
He would not look back.
The Bible in his hand reminded him that this was all that made sense. So, mustering every ounce of strength he could find in his weeping soul, Yosef silently began to pray. As his voice lifted up to the heavens, a tingling sensation began to rise from the earth, pouring through his legs, up through his spine, until it reached the top of his head. It was an energy that made him want to shout, Amen! It was a sense of urgency, a sense of purpose. It was something that finally made sense.
It was time to do God’s work.
Unexpectedly, those strained, war-weary faces became the pulpit, their souls became the fields white ready to harvest, and his voice began speaking words of faith and encouragement. The voice of God began speaking through Yosef like a runaway freight train. He was a man on fire for the Lord. If he were to die, he would go out doing what he was meant to do. There was nothing to lose and everything to gain.
From the corner of his eye, as he made his way through the crowd, loving, praying, and finally evangelizing like he always hoped he and his brother would do someday, the flash of a familiar color caught his eye. A tiny flame of hope. The diminutive form in the bright pink unicorn boots was waving her encouragement from the top of the steps of the train station.
Like a man in the middle of battle, he paused, and he returned the motion. The little face smiled and gave a thumbs-up gesture and turned to leave. His heart melted in two. In the pause of the moment, Yosef heard a voice from somewhere up above saying, “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.”
“And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.” – Revelation 12:11
There was a refreshing coolness that greeted me at the door this morning when I stepped out onto the porch for my morning coffee and worship. It was hard not to think of being somewhere else. Sipping the dark brew from the cup, I closed my eyes and tried to stay, but that distant land called me back, once more.
“How was your trip,” they ask when meeting up with friends and acquaintance aware of the recent journey. A flood of words, scenes, and experiences overwhelm my ability to answer coherently, so most times, the answer is simply, “Great.” Inside my mind’s eye, there is a multitude of moments, vistas, and sheer splendor that would take more time than would be kind to the would-be inquisitor. Most often they seem to be waiting for more, but in honesty, there is too much to tell.
How does one put into words the dramatic landscape that is difficult even now to describe to myself, let alone someone else? How does one convey a deep connection to a place that they had never seen before, until a few days ago? How does one share the emotional roller coaster of a faith journey which reaches the very depths and peaks of comprehension, many times in the same day? How do you share a family’s journey that took three centuries to come full circle? How do you explain how ill prepared to you feel to answer their simple question because, in truth, you know the bottom line is that God had worked a miracle upon miracle for your very existence?
There is a gulf between the here and now; a chasm that separates this world from the one that was left behind. The void is something that only time can bridge. As the water flows over the rocks below the surface, time slips past, beneath the visible there exists those that have been there, since the beginning of creation. Their bones now buried with the stone upon where they once stood. When the torrent shifts, the surface dances exposing for an instant the rocks below. For a brief instant, the flash of what has been becomes known. We are able to perceive something beyond what we can describe, for before our capacity to understand can grasp what is evident, it is gone, hidden once more from view. As if taunting our mind’s ability for conceptualization, we are left with an impression of wanting more. Nothing would satisfy our intellect more than to be able to confirm what we can only now guess.
Soldiers return home from active duty and find themselves having to adjust their mental condition to a pace of life far different from where they had just left. In the worst cases, they have suffered battle scars that will never heal. They are trapped in a world that cannot understand the depths of hell from which they had survived; meanwhile, the reality of living must go on. The trip to the grocery store is no longer a forgettable routine. The images, sounds, and smells can trigger an instant replay of the carnage from which they have come, leaving them shaken and disoriented. As the heartbeat quickens, there is an instinct for survival that returns, and they act out in ways those they have known for a lifetime don’t recognize. These are their battle scars, the acronym known as PTSD.
Similarly, the missionary or peace worker that returns from a war-torn country, a disease riddled death zone, or a horrific life changing event, sometimes face similar, but most often, to a lesser degree, the same experience. There is a gulf created between the world they once knew and who they’ve become from the event. As they try to readjust to the normalcy they once knew, there is so much going on behind the façade they put forth. Deep inside, they are reliving what death and despair can become, while about them, others argue about the difficulty in choosing plain or peanut flavored M&M’s before they find their movie theater seats. In the grocery store, in the next aisle over, a child screams for their favorite Nutella flavored cereal. They blink, and the image of the body of an emaciated child they carried to the medical tent just the week before, sucks the air from their throat. They bite their lip and leave behind the shopping cart, racing for the exit of the store before they must explain to some stranger why tears are running down their cheeks.
In truth, if your journey was severe, if your trip was extremely uplifting, or in the rare case, it really didn’t to seem to change you, a mission trip can leave you feeling more than a little awkward once you return to the life you once had. There is an emotional gulf that cannot be explained to most, and in truth, many really don’t want to hear it. “It’s your choice to go, it was your choice to put yourself through that, so why do we have to hear all about it?” they say. They may not say it to your face, but many times, they think it silently.
However, we cannot be dissuaded by calloused remarks; it is our duty to share. What our detractors may say and think is the darkness speaking. Satan using their fears of the unknown to keep them frozen in their comfortable lifestyles. As long as the lost can remain afloat in their feeble existence, savoring the brief moments of fleshly pleasures, Satan has won. They’ll never have a reason to change.
Your testimony may be the difference between someone accepting Christ into their lives, or at the very least, making them think twice about why they don’t believe.
When the battle was at hand, we called upon His name, our Father in Heaven. Once more, when we return, we cannot do it alone. To reach the mountaintop and return, there is more than is humanly conceivable one can do, and just like before, we must ask for our Father’s hand. As a disciple for Christ, He prepared you for the journey, and as that disciple returning home, He will prepare you once more.
Miracles made your journey possible, and many more await when your testimony becomes the path for many more to follow. Let your story be told, and with it, the Word be shared, so that others may find their way to the light.
Time is short.
“And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. 12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.” – Romans 13:11-12
It occurred to me this past weekend as I watched my children repeatedly ski down the mountain how much we try to intentionally incorporate the unknown into our lives of normalcy. We purposely pay others to allow us to throw ourselves into chaotic circumstances from whence we knowingly might emerge unharmed; yet possibly not, thus the thrill.
Sitting in the ski lodge watching people come and go, it soon became apparent as the day wore on, that the flushed haggard faces were from people who had taken risks, forced themselves into the momentary windswept thrill of racing headlong down a mountain, all for the sake of fun; nothing more. There was no reason for their plight, nothing gained, only the momentary pleasure that the rush of adrenaline created. Had it been another place and time, the faces could have easily been of those victims of the many global conflicts, who might have barely escaped being captured by enemy combatants in a war torn region of the world. Or, they could have been people who narrowly escaped death from the onrushing Tsunami that engulfed their home, now running for their lives to higher ground. Or, they could have been people fleeing for their lives from wild fires that had engulfed entire communities this past summer in one of the worst wildfire summers in recent history.
But no, these were weekend warriors; folks who were simply out for the fun of that feeling of whisking along with nothing between you and danger other than your ability to remain upright and the skill it takes to maneuver through a myriad of skiers and collective snowboarders scattered down the mountainside.
I know, I’ve been there too.
Yes, I have to confess; last year I tried my hand at skiing for the first time ever. Up until the point the slopes became too icy for safety’s sake, I was actually having fun tempting fate. I was there to escort my children, who were pretty much escorting me by the end of the night; it was their first time too. However, late into the night with the progressively worsening conditions, I decided to take one last shot down the double black diamond called the “Orchard Run” I realized my luck could have easily run out.
The slopes that night had become increasingly icy and with time, had become more and more difficult to stop. In fact, even the easier slopes were becoming so “fast” that you had to snowplow (turning both toes inward in order to stop your progress downhill) all the way down just to maintain a manageable speed. For some reason, my son and I decided, even with the knowledge of the ice, that we would try one of the most difficult runs at the ski resort we were visiting. We had already successfully made it down this run before, but now unbeknownst to us, it was nothing but a pure sheet of ice. Regardless, we were there to tempt fate, and so we took off from the ski lift with the anticipation of one more adventure; one last run.
The initial section was pretty much as it had been before. My son took a slight spill just after leaving the ski lift, which should have been a sign. Still, we continued on. It was not far from there on the first curve heading down the mountain that I realized I was already going too fast. It was one of those times when you think to yourself, “Now what was I thinking?” It quickly became quite obvious, this was a mistake. As all attempts to halt the increasing speed became apparent, I felt my legs doing everything they could to maintain control and not buckle under the increased force that the speed of flight was creating. The moment I became airborne off of one of the little jumps that I had managed to miss the first time, but due to the increased speed, could not this time, I knew the end was near. As my body prepared for impact, I knew that nothing good was going to come of this. I tried to imagine the pain I would encounter as bone, tendon and muscle became ripped apart from the fateful impact that was about to take place. The first thing that hit was my face, as the rest of my body quickly followed. It was a blinding tumultuous crash that ensued as gravity, speed and ice all combined to continue my unmanned flight down the mountainside, at nearly the same speed I had managed to obtain at the peak of my airborne flight. Seconds later, I lay in a motionless pile of snow, ice and anticipation. I hesitantly began feeling for that first impulse of pain that would lead to the trip to the emergency room; nothing came. I felt my face where I took the initial impact, no blood? As I slowly took inventory as I regained my senses, it became apparent, I had been spared.
I slowly got to my feet and regained my footing, repositioned my helmet and goggles, and with as much dignity as I could manage, headed down the remainder of the slope. My ski trip had just officially ended, and I was thankful to be able to walk away, in one piece. I met up with my son at the bottom of the slope shortly afterward. He made it safely down without incident but was concerned for my well being. He was relieved to see me again, as I was him; both of us none the worse for wear.
As I reflect back on that uneventful plight, I realized that the risk I took was not the kind of enjoyment in life I really wanted. There was no gain, no measure of significant advancement that might cause lasting joy or memory other than knowing I had survived something which wasn’t necessary to survive to start with.
I know what it is to have fun, but then again, I know what it is to take foolish chances.
Yet, every day somewhere in the world, someone is performing mission work or preaching the Word where it is forbidden, taking chances to go places to serve others all in the name of God our Father. For these risks, one can be justified in knowing that, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” – 1 John 4:4 Perhaps, as weekend warriors, we also prepare the path for the day we are called to do greater works, so that we will fear less because of what we have already faced on our own.
I think with age, we come to realize what is more important in life. The fun things become more spiritual in nature, living the thrills to our youth. The old adage, “You’re only as young as you feel,” should have an appendage attached from wisdom that says, “As long as you’ve got feeling left in your body.” No need to risk losing mobility when there is much more life to live.
I believe from now on I’ll take the slow lane; just the ski lift please…nothing more.