My son Bryan was invited to share his story at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. He was one of two featured speakers on a night when almost every participant in the room shared some kind of disability. Disabilities included Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS), asthma, depression, cancer, arthritis, etc. Each person was asked to write a poem about their challenges and to highlight what was bad as well as what was good. Then, throughout the evening, volunteers could come to the front of the room and share what they wrote.
Job 7:19,20—Will You ever look away from me, or leave me alone long enough to swallow? If I have sinned, what have I done to You, Watcher of mankind? Why have You made me Your target, so that I have become a burden to You?
One of the things I love about the Bible is the raw honesty that it contains as people interact with God. You undoubtedly heard the story of Job and how God allowed Satan to sorely test him. Job was exasperated. The man who lived in wealth and privilege suddenly felt like a big target was drawn on his back. Nothing he could say or do would eliminate his suffering. Perhaps most discouraging was the fact that even his friends turned against him. Yet there is much we can learn from his questioning God.
Teta peered at us from behind the counter of the small store nested next to the Kigali Genocide Memorial. Softly, we asked her if she had experienced the awful slaughtering that began on April 6, 1994 in Rwanda and she nodded her head yes. At the age of six her entire family was massacred. Crazed Hutus began ridding the earth of their Tutsi countrymen. Pastor David asked her if she was able to forgive the perpetrators who made her an orphan. She somberly replied, “Forgiveness is a big word.” Then she explained that 24 years later, she could not forget what was done to her family and to herself and, in that remembering, there was an unwillingness to forgive.
Since 2014, what consistently is the third most terrorized country in the world? To find your answer you would want to look up the Global Terrorism Index (GTI). This is produced by the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP) based on data from the Global Terrorism Database (GTD). This data is collated by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) led by the University of Maryland. As late as 2017, because of persistent Boko Haram and Fulani militant attacks, Nigeria ranks as the third-most terrorized nation. Only Iraq and Afghanistan rank higher in carnage.
Part of the retirement process when leaving the military is to make sure that one’s physical maladies or challenges are all reviewed by the Veterans Administration to determine if the veteran may be owed compensation. I had to undergo a battery of tests to see if past injuries or problems with my Achilles tendon, ankles, knees, hips, lower back, shoulder, hearing, sinuses, hair loss and sleep deprivation were service-related. I was asked all kinds of personal questions by the sleep psych0logist I met with to see if anxiety, depression, any kind of drug or chemical addiction etc. were preventing me from falling asleep. I mentioned multiple times that my problem getting to sleep is lifelong and has to do with an overactive brain that does not shut off easily. I assured her that even though it is a battle for me to rest, I am mostly full of joy and did not blame the military for my condition. I don’t think she was expecting that answer.
1 Samuel 16:1—The LORD said to Samuel, “How long are you going to mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and go. I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem because I have selected a king from his sons.”
Jesus in the final hours before getting arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane asked eight of the disciples to sit while he prayed. Then He took Peter, James and John with him further into the garden. Disclosing His anguish to His three closest friends, He asked them to stay awake with Him. Then He went a little further and fell face down on the ground to pray. When He returned to the three he found them sleeping. He confronted Peter, “Simon, are you sleeping? Couldn’t you stay awake one hour?” (vs. 37)
Frank Musisi grew up on the island of Ssese on Lake Victoria. Kibile School’s coach would not let him run for the school’s team when he was in fourth grade so he received permission to run for Beta, a smaller rival school. It was a decision the coach would regret because Frank was so fast he ended up winning district competition and defeating the runners from his own school!
At Jerry Delmark’s memorial service during the time of sharing multiple people got up and testified that he was an authentic Christian. He walked his talk. He loved God. He was a hard worker. He made a difference in the lives of those around him. I know this to be true because Jerry had a tremendous impact on our oldest son Bryan. Yet while the tributes were fittingly positive, it was Jerry’s daughter, Jackie, who subtly took us to a harder place. Yes, she cherished his humor and loving parenting but quietly she wondered why he had to suffer so painfully in the final leg of his journey. Her question was not addressed to us but to God.
There is natural reason for Ukrainians to dread Russia taking over their country again—oppression under communism was intense and costly. Ukrainian Kostyantyn spent many years in a Soviet labor camp. The authorities disliked his actions as an elder in his church so they sent him to be re-educated. Over 200 pastors were also sent to the same camp.
When we arrive in heaven will there be a Hall of Fame? Will we find an interactive display manned by select angels who share the stories of those living legends who served God exceedingly well? Conversely, will there be a Hall of Shame in hell for those who acted in the power of Satan? If Hitler was one of the worst men to walk the planet we might also find that his countryman Dietrich Bonhoefferwas an exceptional saint. This German Lutheran pastor and theologian could have successfully pastored in the United States or in Great Britain. Instead, he chose to go back to his country and preach and teach knowing that his life was in jeopardy.
Brian Birdwell in his book Refined by Fire wrote, “We all face personal fires—those life-changing, traumatic times when the course of our lives are altered.” On September 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked and crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon. MAJ Brian Birdwell was so close to the impact area that the ensuing explosion burned 60% of his body. He endured over thirty surgeries, fought off numerous life-threatening infections and suffered continuous horrific pain to the point that he “begged God constantly to let me die.”
1 Samuel 2:6-8—The LORD brings death and gives life; He sends some to Sheol, and He raises others up. The LORD brings poverty and gives wealth; He humbles and He exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the garbage pile. He seats them with noblemen and gives them a throne of honor. For the foundations of the earth are the LORD’s; He has set the world on them.
I flew from Louisville, Kentucky to Chicago on Wednesday afternoon. My neck hurt but I suspected it was just from reading too long. The next flight was from Chicago to Portland. As I got off the plane, both my shoulders ached and I could hardly turn my head or lift my luggage. By the time I reached home, the joints in my wrists hurt. Pacing the living room at three in the morning, I wondered if perhaps this was not just some medical condition but a spiritual attack. I asked the Lord for His help and to bring healing. By that evening, the pain moved into my knees to the point that I could hardly walk. My parents urged me to go to the emergency room. I called a retired Navy Seal who served as a corpsman and he offered advice and then joined my family in praying for me.
I received an email that tore my gut in two. A friend from seminary wrote to those on his mailing list. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. He was back in his home city with his children, no longer in the Asian country where God led him and his wife to minister. Their work was vital in a place restricted and fraught with danger. He knew what it meant to serve God through opposition. But he never expected his wife to fall in love with someone she met on the internet. She left her family—devastated. As if confused and heartbroken was not bad enough, his mission organization requested his resignation. Now what does he do? Who can he trust? His children struggle mightily to adjust to a new culture. They wrestle with the reality their mother is living in immorality. He wonders what more could go wrong.
Will was getting concerned. He had not received a response from the church where we were scheduled to bring a concert in Tracy, California. Finally, the night before we were to sing and share, he received a call from one of the pastors. An eight year-old girl from one of the families in the church was kidnapped and her body was discovered in a suitcase. Understandably, a broken-hearted church needed to cancel our appearance and meet the needs of a grieving family. Pastor Tim, our host in Sonoma, with only 20 hours notice, scheduled us to minister in his church. We had a fantastic evening of ministry and with the Sonoma church we spent quality time praying for our brothers and sisters in Tracy.
When cadets return to West Point in January, they enter what is called the gloom period. The buildings are gray, the skies are dreary and a feeling of “I wish I could just take a long, extended nap” settles upon the Corps. I lived through four years of that gloom period. Imagine my surprise when I moved to San Diego and discovered that June was called the same thing! The ever-present sun gave way to incessant fog and a chilly air. What were we thinking when we moved to western Oregon, a place famous for what can often be eight months of drizzle and fog?
I was driving behind a Metro bus on my way north on Interstate 5. On the back of it a neon sign flashed, Not in Service. The thought crossed my mind, “I wonder how many times I have communicated Not in Service to God or to people.”
I had not been home long before my cell phone rang. Clay called and asked me if I would come down to his place and pray. I could feel the heaviness in his voice—the sound of one trapped before the storm with no place to hide. Driving home I had just taken a call from a man whose wife is penniless and unable to provide food for herself and her two children. Complicating his situation, she is back in the Philippines and is still recovering from a serious surgery. After sharing possible organizations that could help him, I was about to hang up when he asked if he could come in and meet with me. I understood that this was a spiritual request from an unchurched soldier and silently thanked God for the opportunity to be light to a man trapped in the shadows. Two phone calls, plenty of pain and the red sun was not yet down.
I remember Michael Bennett as a man who truly loved God and it showed in the way he treated people. Mike was funny, kind and a quick wit. He was totally in his niche as a children’s pastor. When he unexpectedly died last year he left a hole in a lot of people’s hearts and a grieving wife and four children. I wasn’t able to attend Mike’s funeral. And I didn’t do a good job of connecting with Annie*, his wife, always missing her with phone calls or procrastinating. But last week, prompted by the Holy Spirit, I knew I needed to talk to her. In the sovereign kindness of the Lord it was the night of their wedding anniversary.