Choices

Some of us have been hurt so badly and distrust so fiercely
That we never allow ourselves to acknowledge
The love and hope and peace and grace
We could see all around us each day.

See the eyes of a dog as he looks to a beloved master.
There is joyful expectation and undying optimism
The picture of what our hearts should brim full of
As we look to our heavenly father.

What stepped in to destroy such limitless faith and hope?
We did — with our pride and stubborn self-reliance.
But hope awaits rekindling
and faith longs to be expressed
In the heart of the one undeserving but ever-loved
Who chooses to stay at the Father’s breast.

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Fool Me the Second Time, p3 of 3

Familiar chatter invited me to settle into their midst as though no angry words or time had passed between us. John grinned at me and passed bread across the table, then he winked at his brother, James, and said, “Think he’s ready?” Left me a little wary, ya know.

The meal over, the storytelling started. Men and women, alike, were scattered here and there around the room, wherever they could find a seat. We listened to James and John or John and Peter argue over the telling of one story then another, always ending with laughs.

I felt it at first—a chill in the air that made the chatter fade. Simone straightened. Mary glanced toward the door. Andrew’s laughter receded and, as I glanced toward him, a presence stood in front of me—brighter than a flash of lightning. My heart lurched. My pulse raced. Boom! I was on my knees and on my face.

“Peace be with you.” The words caused that familiar stirring in my gut. It was Him, but it couldn’t be.

I looked up into the face I could never forget. He was solemn but gentle.

“Reach here with your finger, Thomas, and see my hands.”

His hands? There they were, right in front of me. Powerful, tender fingers and a gaping wound beginning to scar—and then I heard the echo of my own hasty words. ‘Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails—put my finger into the place of the nails….’

He had heard me. He had known.

He pulled aside His tunic. “Reach here your hand and put it into my side.”

‘…fantasies. If you can’t see it, touch it, inspect it … try to produce … try to conjure….’ Those words jumped back at me. Is there something real you can’t touch or see? Andrew’s laughter. Mary’s joy. The kindness of everyone to receive me, to forgive me.

“Be not unbelieving,” Jesus said, “but believing.”

The door in my mind opened and light poured in. I knew. “My Lord, and my God!”

He reached down a hand with a hole in it and lifted me to my feet. “Because you have seen Me, Thomas, have you believed? Happiest are they who did not see, and yet believe.”

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Fool Me the Second Time, p2 of 3

Nothing. That’s what we had left of those three years. So, may as well get on with life—and I did.

The family business had prospered while I was gone. It was good to sit again at my mother’s table, to see my niece ready for her bridegroom and my brother read Torah in the synagogue.

But, well, yeah, after a few days I began to miss Andrew’s laughter. Those at home hadn’t seen the storm immediately stop or those fish and barley loaves just keep dividing and dividing. They hadn’t felt the stirring in their gut at the sound of Jesus’ voice as He boasted about how deep His Father’s love is—for each of us! Amazing. It still, ya know, causes my breathing to get a little shakey.

Yeah, those people at home are dear to me, ya know, but they couldn’t remind me of what Jesus meant when He talked about sowing seeds, or couldn’t repeat the stories of how the lost were found. So now I find myself back in Jerusalem, evading pistachio baskets carried atop the heads of slave girls and dodging children running through the dust.

I wonder how many of the guys are still holed up. Ha! If they ran like they had the night He was arrested, they’ll all be clear to—but, you’re right. I ran, too. Ran fast, ran hard. Didn’t have a clue where I was headed. Guess I still don’t.

I heard the singing and Andrew’s laughter even before I entered the dark, narrow passageway. Lamp light spilled from the window slits and poured out the wide-open entry. I had almost reached the pool of light when Mary appeared in the doorway.

“Thomas!” Mary called as I stepped up to her. “Look everyone! Thomas has returned.”

I helped bar the door—gave me seconds to control the surge of joy that threatened to choke me.

“Thomas,” Andrew called. “We’ve kept your place for you. Come, the fish is ready to serve. Get yours before Peter does.” He ended with that laugh.

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Fool Me the Second Time, p1 of 3

I’m not going to believe it. No way. Try to fool me the second time? Think again!

And how could someone come back from the grave? It’s crazy. Good solid earth, wood for a fire, and heavy coinage. That’s what you can depend on.

Oh, sure, we’d seen Lazarus raised. He was different afterwards, that’s for sure. Couldn’t quite wrap his words around what death had been like—was almost disappointed to be back up, walking around.

But he’d had Jesus there to do the life-giving. Jesus could do that kind of thing. We saw it more than once. Now Jesus was dead. What was He going to do? Raise Himself?!

No. He’s gone. Had to face it. It’s over. It’d been a wild ride for three years, but it was over. I had learned a lot, seen a lot during those years—things, to be honest, I still can’t explain: a Roman centurion bowing to Him, the walking on water. Everything He said, happened. Boom! But there ya go. Ya see, that was Jesus. Things were just different with Him.

They said, the other guys—Phillip, James, and the rest. All of them. They said He’d somehow appeared out of nowhere and stood in that room with them. Talked to them. They insisted the door was shut tight, even barred.

And there was no talking those guys out of it. No reasoning with them, and I had work to do. I’m not going to hole up in some dark room. Besides, I haven’t seen a Roman all day. Come to think of it, no priests or Levites, either. Guess everyone’s running scared.

“But Thomas, we’ve seen the Lord!” Bah! Don’t you believe it. Peter exaggerates; though, hmm, Matthew usually keeps his facts straight. Oh, forget it. Let them have it.

No way I’ll buy into their fantasies. If you can’t see something, touch it, inspect it, well, how do you know it’s real? And I told them so. Let them try to produce the nail holes, to conjure up the torn, gaping wound of a spear thrust through—thrust through—through His flesh. That can rip at your stomach, but at least it’s hard proof. Without that, what have you got? Nothing.

Nothing. That’s what we had left of those three years. So may as well get on with life, pick up the strings we’d left dangling when we jumped on board Peter’s boat and decided to follow.

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Bono’s Not The Only One Working in Africa

A friend of mine teaches Bible in an African country and college which I won’t name for safety reasons. Here’s a recent report:

On the first Sunday morning of the New Year we sat in a church partly burned in the latest Crisis. From our pew we could see a charred hole in the ceiling and remnants of the fire on scrubbed walls behind the pulpit.

During the service we heard the sounds of ironworkers in the Muslim neighborhood and saw the peddlers’ wheelbarrows going by the open doors.

We listened to a sermon about the Apostle Paul who had persecuted the church before his conversion to Christ, and we sat in a church that had suffered a similar persecution nearly 2,000 years later and a continent away.

The church was reopened only recently, and after the service some spoke about repainting the burnt walls. That will cheer things up!  But I hope they leave the scars of persecution in the ceiling. It’s easy to forget that today’s persecutor can become tomorrow’s apostle.

“But I hope they leave the scars of persecution….”

Can you wrap your mind around that?

“It’s easy to forget that today’s persecutor can become tomorrow’s apostle.”

Only because God offers reasonable hope.

Drew Brees and the Playoffs

Who says nice guys finish last?

Okay, sure, in this weekend’s playoff game I hope he plays fabulously well and comes in a strong second to Brett Favre and my Vikings, but in all other aspects Drew Brees is already a winner in my book. Why?

From being injured and traded to being named NFL Player of the Year,
Saints quarterback Drew Brees has come to see God’s hand in everything.[1]

In everything?

  • In being passed over in the first round of the NFL draft because he wasn’t tall enough, strong enough, or knew enough about complex offensive schemes?
  • In being replaced in 2003 after a strong 2002 season?
  • In working his butt off to take his team from 4-12 in 2003 to 1st place in the AFC West in 2004—only to be replaced again before the next season even started?

And what about when the shoulder of his throwing arm was seriously injured? In the last game of the 2005 season? When he received a late and very questionable hit? Would it be career ending? His response?

But I very quickly snapped out of it and realized this is happening for a reason, and I’m going to turn this into a positive. [God] wouldn’t let me face it if I couldn’t handle it.

I don’t know that I would have “seen God’s hand” in that, especially when team management goes on to show they really have no confidence in you or your abilities. Okay, Brees admits he was “devastated,” but he also says,

A year later I looked back and said, “That was probably the best thing that happened to me.”

Huh?

When he signed with the Saints, he moved his wife to a New Orleans still rankling and devastated from Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. He bought and rebuilt a house, then raised millions of dollars to help the area recover.

And he finally announced publicly that he had suffered an estrangement from his mother during the previous years, but he was hopeful their relationship was improving. Hopeful.

Why was he hopeful?

You know what? I want to be one of those, ‘few good men.’ I really accepted Jesus Christ into my heart.

He admits that during 2004 training camp he tearfully and prayerfully asked God for strength.

Drew relied on Proverbs 3:6: “In all your ways acknowledge him, and HE will make your paths straight.”

That’s the perfect foundation for reasonable hope.


[1] this and the following quotations are from: Sean Jensen. “Strong Brees” in Sports Spectrum Magazine. Jan/Feb 2010. 34-39.  Other information gleaned from wikipedia.com.

Haiti and the “Healing for Former Child Soldiers”

Media coverage of the on-going tragedy in Haiti has drawn back the curtain on something most media outlets did not expect: the significant number of caring individuals and ministries, churches and compassionate human beings who were already in Haiti when the earthquake hit.

These hard-working people were already in country, most at their own expense. Some had been going repeatedly for years to comfort orphans, build housing, correct cleft palates, and dig for clean water. And not a single one of those interviewed was doing this deeply-needed humanitarian work in the name of atheism, agnosticism, Buddah, or Allah. Compassion, provision, and assistance came in the name of Jesus Christ.

Haiti is not the only country to which these kind-hearted, hard-working people travel. That list of countries would encompass the name of nearly every country on Earth, on all populated continents.

Samaritan’s Purse is just one of the organizations who work 24/7/365 in every part of the world to feed and clothe, provide water, shelter, medical care, emergency assistance, and emotional, physical, and spiritual comfort to anyone in need. Samaritan’s Purse staffers and volunteers provide answers and realistic, reasonable hope—as the following article in their Prayer Point publication (Jan/Feb 2010, p 9) tells.

The story is accompanied by the photo of a beautiful Liberian woman, eyes sparkling, her smile so wide her nose wrinkles. She proudly displays a school report card that is stamped, PROMOTED.

“Murphy and Hammy busily move about their small teashop in Monrovia [Liberia], preparing an interesting assortment of goods—breads, cakes, spaghetti, fried eggs, and, of course, tea and coffee.

“The two young women’s lives have changed drastically. Five years ago, they were surrounded by violence. Kidnapped as children, they were forced to carry guns and perform unspeakable acts with other child soldiers.

“Even after they escaped, Murphy and Hammy were filled with rage.

“Both women, now in their early-20s, finally enrolled in the THINK rehabilitation program at the urging of friends and family members. Samaritan’s Purse started THINK (Touching Humanity in Need of Kindness) in 2004 as a means to help troubled girls work through the trauma they suffered during Liberia’s 14-year civil war.

“Each new group of 25 girls stays at a home in Liberia’s capital city as they work with counselors who facilitate their re-entry into society. Counselors and social workers meet with each woman and her family to smooth the transition.

“The women, who stay at the home for nine months, learn skills in tailoring, food preparation, or cosmetology. During their stay, residents are introduced to the love of Christ through the compassion of staff members, daily devotions, spiritual counseling, and a Bible course.

“Before entering the program, Hammy and Murphy lived on the streets. Now, they have opened their own teashop and are using the money they earn to return to school. They currently are enrolled in 11th grade and dream of going to nursing school. With their newly acquired skills, they will be able to pursue their goals.

“‘[THINK] has changed my life,’ Hammy said. ‘My mother is so happy, because otherwise I would be on the street. I see the danger, and I don’t go there. Thanks Samaritan’s Purse for carrying me far.'”

Samaritan’s Purse is not the only organization meeting these needs, but they are an effective one. They provided

  • disaster relief after the recent floods in Georgia (U.S.) and in the Phillipines;
  • food and medical care for earthquake victims in rural Indonesia;
  • fresh water wells in Argentina and Uganda;
  • tons of food for the starving in Bolivia;
  • HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention education in Ukraine and throughout Africa;
  • and provided heart transplant surgery for a little girl from Mongolia.

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

What about Haiti? In the first six days after Haiti was devastated by the big earthquake, Samaritan’s Purse had airlifted 17 medical personnel and tons of hospital supplies into the disaster zone, and provided thousands of families with clean water, emergency shelter, blankets, and other essentials.

In the name of Jesus Christ—because only He is the true Comforter and is the only source for reasonable hope.

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