Faith in the Face of Evil

I just finished reading a powerful book about the suffering of a Christian man imprisoned in Sudan for 445 days.  While I understand the concerns of Christians here in our country that we might lose some of our religious freedoms, I had to once again see that we have no idea what real persecution for the cause of Jesus Christ looks like. 

Petr Jasek,, a citizen of the Czech Republic and an aid worker, made a trip to Sudan in December 2015 to see what Christians could do to help their fellow Christians suffering at the hands of the government of Sudan.  After meetings with local pastors and other Christians he was at the airport getting ready to return home to his family when he was detained for questioning by  Sudan security agents.  They took his computer, phone and camera and charged him with espionage, waging war against the state and undermining the constitution.

After hours of no sleep and repeated interrogation, he was taken to prison and placed in a cell approximately eight feet wide by fourteen feet long.  There were already six men in the cell with only one bed. The five men without a bed slept on mattresses on the floor.  The only space he had to lay his body down was next to the entrance to the bathroom.  The shower was completely broken and the Western-style metal toilet was covered in rust.  He saw a hose coming out of the wall for water but soon discovered that the water was only on once or twice a day.  

I can’t imagine the stench of the room with seven men crowded together and no real facilities to maintain cleanliness.  

Added to that horror, he soon discovered his fellow inmates were ISIS fighters.  Although Sudan is an Islamist government, they did not want ISIS to find a home in their country because they were afraid they would win the people’s allegiance  and their own control of the country would be lost to ISIS leaders. 

He first realized who he was sharing his cell with when he was awaken at 4:30 a.m. by the call to prayer.  The men in the cell rose to their feet and began their morning prayers.  He was told that when they prayed he had to wake up and stand in the back corner of the room where they would not have to face him.  

Since they had no access to news on the outside, they asked him to share the latest news.  He immediately thought of the terrorist attack that had taken place in Paris earlier in November.  At the mention of the death of 129 people, he was shocked when they at first became very silent, then began hugging one another and shouting with great joy “Allabu Akbar!”

After weeks of imprisonment he was set for a trial.  While waiting for his trial he was moved several times to different prisons and different cells.  Toward the end of his imprisonment he was able to share a cell with fellow Christians.  

Peter

After delay and delay he was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.  A fine of 100,000 Sudanese pounds ($17,000) was also imposed on him. 

For most of us I am afraid we would have been crying out to God “why me?”  Petr came to the understanding that his time and his life were in the Lord’s hands.  With confidence that God was still in control regardless of how hopeless things looked, he began finding opportunity to share the Gospel with other prisoners and with his guards. 

One of his greatest joys while in prison was when he was allowed to have a Bible.  He said 

The Word of God is not chained – even when God’s people are.  The Scripture is alive and active, and when I began feelings its activity in prison, I would not keep it to myself.  The Lord began prodding me to share the Gospel with my fellow prisoners – nominal Christians, animists, and even Muslims….In prison I truly learned to love my enemies.  I still pray for the ISIS prisoners and I pray that many Christian prisoners in Sudan might have the opportunity to share the Gospel as well.”

Thankfully the Czech government and Christians around the world continued to intercede for Petr and he was released in 2017 after 445 days.   

This story is one worth reading.  “Imprisoned with ISIS – Faith in the Face of Evil”.  

The book is worth taking the time and money to read but you can also check out his story at

Christian aid worker says time in Sudanese prison allowed him to share Gospel

Next time I hear someone complaining about how we are persecuted in this country for being a Christian, I will just remember Petr’s story and say God help us if we ever really have to suffer persecution.

American Christians Being Persecuted? Really?

I know this year has been crazy! Not being able to attend church on Sunday and meet with my fellow believers has been rough. Coming together each week to worship with my church family and hear God’s Word is where I gain a lot of strength. I have missed that. Recently my church began meeting again and it is such a joy to me to be back with my friends.

However, it seems most are complaining about how it has been hard on them to not have church – focused more on their own selves rather than on how can we in this difficult continue to share God’s Word and His love to those who do not know Him.

It’s like “how hard this is on me” rather than “we need to find other ways to share God’s message to the world.”

But hearing so many complain and say how Christians are being persecuted I have to say “really?”

* Inconvenienced – yes

*Stressful – yes

But persecuted?

Let me share some stories of real persecution.

In North Korea Christians have to hide any portion of the Bible they might have (and Bibles are scarce). The possession of a Bible can get you and your entire family killed. If you are not executed, then at the very least you’ll be sent to one of the five major labor camps for political prisoners. Sources who work with missionary groups tell us that between 50,000 and 70,000 Christians are in labor camps where they are tortured, starved and work long hours. Sometimes they are used for medical tests.

A young Vietnamese man who gave his life to Christ reports that when he shared that news with his family his father threatened to kill him. Many Christians there are secret believers because if they reveal their faith, discrimination,, threats and violence often are a result of that confession. To leave the village religion is seen as a betrayal to the family.

To see true persecution, check out this post:

 

“Miracle Boy”

 

 

Reading today from the book of Acts I was impressed again with the early church’s response to persecution.

Ater the apostle were jailed for preaching about Jesus and warned not to do so again, they immediately went to the church and there was a prayer meeting.

Now, if that was us I think our prayers would be:

Lord, we are being so persecuted.  Please save us!  Please destroy the power of our enemies.  Protect us!

But that was not their prayer.

They prayed:

“Sovereign Lord, you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:  ‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed one. Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.  They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

Consider their threats and help me as I attack them with name calling and other personal attacks.

Consider their threats and help me to destroy them.

NOT

Consider their threats and help us to continue to share God’s Word with great boldness.

May we focus on sharing God’s Word and not so much on our own stresses at this time.

I Am Not Alone

What a week this has been!  Sunday evening my husband was rushed into emergency surgery for a subdural hematoma.  Because of the coronavirus I could not go to the hospital with him.  At 3:30 that afternoon the surgeon’s assistant called me and told me they were doing emergency surgery and without the surgery my husband would not live.  They promised to call me when the surgery was over.  But hours later I still did not have a call.

I finally located ICU and found out that he had come out of surgery and was in a room in their Critical Care Unit.  They assured me they would have the doctor call me.

It was not until 11 PM that a doctor called.

The week has been the most challenging I have ever experienced.  Knowing my husband was in critical condition was bad enough but the fear that he might die without me present kept me awake.

However, I truly believe in the power of God when His people pray.

The earnest prayer of a righteous man has great power and produces wonderful results.  James 5:16

Through my family, my church family and FB the word was put out there and prayers began all around the country.

Sunday evening he was near death’s door.  Today – Friday he is out of ICU and in rehab.  It is clear we have a ways to go – probably one or two more weeks in rehab and then work at home.  But I am rejoicing – his speech is now slow but he can speak and he clearly understands.  His right side is weak and he needs a walker but he can walk.  With more prayers of God’s people and this therapy I’m believing for a complete and total recovery.

However, I realize that for a few weeks or months I will have to carry the burden of keeping our home going and will need to devote more time to him and his recovery.

Therefore, I will give up my blog.  I don’t know if this will be a temporary thing or if I will resume later.

I want to thank all my followers for your kind comments and I have enjoyed many of your blogs also.

God bless you all!

Here’s my song for this time and season.

 

‘Til the Storm Passes Over

What a difference a day makes!

Yesterday morning when I woke up I posted a verse from the Psalms:

This is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.

Since we could not go to church I was thinking that I could complain about the restrictions right now with the virus, or I could choose to praise God for another day of life.

Looking forward to time with my husband – doing our devotion, playing Scrabble, watching an old movie.

He fixed me breakfast as he always does and I put on a meal in our crock pot – Barbara’s hash – a meal he loves.

A few hours before lunch time he came up from his studio in the basement and complained of a headache and took a Tylenol.  I was concerned because earlier this week he had fallen in the basement and hit his head.  Normally we would have gone to the ER for a checkup, but with the virus scare we were hearing not to go the ER unless it really was an emergency.

We decided to wait and see if he had any symptoms of a concussion – headache, nausea, confusion.  He had not shown any symptoms until Saturday when he complained of a headache.  He took a Tylenol and it went away so he still felt we should not go to the ER.

But yesterday after taking two Tylenol the headache was only getting worse and he began to feel nauseate.  Hurrying to the ER they would not let me go in with him.  Told me to go home and they would call me.

About an hour later the doctor called to tell me my husband’s brain was bleeding.  They were sending him by ambulance down to a larger hospital where they would have a neurosurgeon examine him.  I rushed to the hospital and pleaded with them to let me see him.  Seeing this old woman in tears, they finally gave me a mask, sanitized my hands and let me in to say goodbye before they took him away.  I confess the thought crossed my mind “would this be the last time I would see him?”

An hour later the surgeon called me saying they had to do immediate surgery or he would die.  There was blood in the cavity between his brain and his skull causing terrible pressure.  He was losing his ability to speak.

What a difference a day makes!

While I had anticipated watching an old movie with him that evening, instead I waited anxiously for a report from the doctor.  They had said they would call me after the surgery but it was 11 that night before I got a call.

He made it through the surgery and is in CCU now.  All signs are that he is going to live, but until they remove the incubator and cut back on the sedation they have been giving him, we don’t know if any damage has been done.

So – unable to go to sleep, and in such overwhelming sorrow that I cannot be with him in this terrible time, I remembered that verse I posted earlier in the day.

Regardless of what the day has brought, this is still the day God has made.  He was not surprised by the events of today.  He is with my husband.  He is my hope, my anchor.

I could not help but remember when my first husband was killed in an accident.  But I remembered that God was with me then.

I trust Him that he is with my husband and me and I pray for a complete recovery.

I’m amazed and blessed at all the people praying.

Regardless of what the days to come bring me this song I know is true.

 

What Will We Do Tomorrow?

Each Friday I have been posting about an old hymn or gospel song of the church.

This week as the news have been so full of the coronavirus and all the disturbing news associated with that, I thought of an old gospel song I have not heard in years.

There is so much misinformation out there, so much panic.  In the midst of the questions of what will the next few weeks/months bring, this song is a comfort to me.

At 72 with diabetes and a minor heart issue I’m told I am in the group that is most susceptible to a fatal outcome if I should get the virus.

I am doing what I can to be wise and avoid crowds.  Certainly I don’t want to get the virus.

I confess I worry about friends who have contacted the virus, about the young couples whose income is gone, about the elderly in nursing homes who cannot have family visitors now.  I pray for the pressures of families with small children who are shut in 24/7.

But when fear begins to arise I remember this song.  Whatever the future holds, I know the one who created all eternity.

Hope you also find it comforting.

 

In Good Times and Bad

Our country is experiencing a crisis most of us never thought possible.  The panic that has caused stores to run out of toilet paper, hand sanitizers and eggs seems a little crazy.  Yet the fear that we will not have enough – that we will get sick – and how will we pay the bills if we can’t work – that is real.

As a retired woman I do not face the difficulties many do.  I do not have to go to work, I do not have to worry about not getting a pay check, I have no worries about child care for my children.  Since it is just my husband and I our food supply should last a long time.

Still – a post I saw on FB this morning did make me laugh – but also make me realize I do need to take precautions.

That moment when you are worried about the elderly….then you realize you are the elderly.

Looking back at our country’s history we can see we have had tough times before.  To name just a few:

  • World I and the Spanish flu
  • World II
  • the depression
  • Polio scare
  • 9/11

We have always pulled together as a nation.  Although we do see some craziness as a few people have been fighting over supplies at Costco and other stores, I have seen so many reaching out to support others.

My own church is putting together food items to pass out this week for those who might need them.  Teachers are working on line setting up places for children at home to continue with their studies.  Medical professionals are putting their own lives at risk to take care of the sick.  Truck drivers and workers stocking grocery store shelves are working hard to keep up with the demand.

Again a post on FB says it all:

And all of a sudden, farmers, truck drivers and those who wear jeans to work are the most important people in the world.

At Wal-Mart yesterday I saw a woman struggling to count out her money to pay for her groceries.  It was clear she did not have enough to pay for it all.  Before anyone could say anything, the woman in front of me asked the cashier how much the customer lacked.  Told she was short $25, she pulled out her credit card and said “I’ll take care of it.”

So – hopefully this crisis will continue to bring out the best in us all.

Because I have hope in the goodness of the average American, I do not despair.  But even more my hope rests in the Lord.  At 72, I have had my share of problems but this song states exactly how I face this new difficulty in our land.

I pray you have also found it to be true and that your hope will rest ultimately not in our government but in our Lord.

 

Were You There?

I have been posting each Friday on one of the old hymns/gospel songs of the church.  The hymn selected this week is very appropriate as we are in the Lent season looking forward to Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday.

Almost every hymnal published in the last 50 years or so has this song in its collection.  No one knows exactly who should get credit for the song but it is believed to be rooted in the African-American spirituals.

Each stanza asks a question:

  • Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
  • Were you there when they nailed him to the cross?
  • Were you there when the sun refused to shine?
  • Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
  • Were you there when the stone was rolled away?

These questions are, of course, rhetorical questions.  Obviously none of us were there when Jesus was crucified or rose from the grave.

These questions are meant to help us recall those events that the disciples wrote about.  At this time of year, these questions are good for us to ponder as we remember what this season is all about.

For slaves in America, this song carried even more meaning.  It comforted them to remember that Jesus Christ knew their suffering and just as God was with Jesus on the cross, He was with them in the midst of their great suffering.  They could truly relate to the pain and sorrow the first verses of this song portray.  The hope that Jesus rose again no doubt gave them hope that some day the chains of slavery would be lifted and they would know true freedom.

Many music stars have recorded this song including Johnny Cash, Phil Keaggy, Marion Williams, Harry Belafonte, and Neil Tennant.

As you listen to this song, I hope you will take a few minutes to reflect on the questions asked and remember the great price Jesus paid for our spiritual freedom.

“Salvation is free, but it came at a great cost.”

If you have missed them, check out my other posts on the old gospel songs/hymns.

My Mother Sang Southern Gospel!

5,000 Songs – Or More!

Even a Sparrow Matters

“My” Hymn – Great is Thy Faithfulness

From “You Are My Sunshine” to “Dawning of the Age of Aquarius”

Recognize This Beloved Song – “Faith’s Review and Expectations”

Is It Faith in God – or Faith in Faith?

There seem to be so many articles out there on the web and in sermons today on the importance of believing in God when we pray….the importance of our words.

The Bible is clear that we need to believe in God when we express our petitions to Him.  Even science tells us that what we think – what we speak does affect us.  It is true that constant negativity will lead to depression and discouragement.

Having said that, I think we can take this “faith” issue to an extreme.  A friend once told me to never say I was sick or depressed or worried.  To her that displayed a lack of faith in God.

To me that is just a mind game.

I’m sick, I’m depressed, I’m worried, but if I don’t say it, if I don’t acknowledge I have some doubt, God will never know.  He will answer my prayer because He will think what great faith I have.  NOT!

If God is our Father, then isn’t it better to have a honest, open relationship with Him?  A loving father would be one to whom we could express our deepest feelings and one who would love us and do what He could to help us with those feelings that are not good for us.

I’m so thankful that I believe God loves me not because I am such a great woman of faith, but because I am his daughter.

In the Bible a father brought his child to Jesus to be healed.  When Jesus responded that all things were possible to one who believed, the man’s answer is one I have often prayed.  “Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief.”

I think of the early church that was gathered in prayer when Peter was put in prison.  In answer to their prayers, an angel came and rescued Peter.  Hurrying to the place where the church was meeting, when Peter knocked at the door and a servant girl told those praying that Peter was at the door, they did not believe her.

Obviously they were praying with a lot of doubt.  One could not really blame them.  Just a few days earlier the disciple James had been put in prison and then beheaded.  They had to be in fear that Peter also would suffer the same fate.  In spite of doubts, they prayed and God answered.

Sometimes I pray with great faith fully expecting God to grant my request.  Sometimes I pray with great doubt, afraid.  But in both circumstances I pray.

I think perhaps that is the greatest faith.  To pray to God and to trust that He in His wisdom will do what is best.  To realize I don’t always have the answers and my ways may not be what is best.

Years ago when I met my oncologist for the first time and he told me the odds were not in my favor, the words from Psalm 23 went through my mind.  “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”

When God brought that verse to my memory at that moment I wondered:

  • Was He saying I was going to beat this disease, going to walk through the valley to more years of a cancer-free life?
  • Was He saying I was going to walk through this valley by dying and receiving that hope of eternal life?

I did not know which alternative He had for me, but what I did know was the verse told me I did not need to fear for He would be with me.

So – when I pray, I pray with trust that He is in control and that He will do what is best for me – and that I may not always know what is best.  So – I pray and leave the results to Him.

My confidence, my faith is in who He is – not in how strong a believer I am.

 

 

 

What’s Your Picture of God?

It’s Friday – time again for a post on the old church hymns.

This week as I thought about what song to write one very old hymn came to mind.

So I ask – What picture do you see when you think of God?

From reading the Bible I have found some unusual pictures.

  • A hen covering her chickens with her wings.  (“Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.”)
  • A giant rock rising up high from the earth.  (“God is my rock in whom I take refuge.”
  • A shepherd tenderly holding a baby lamb.  (“The Lord is my shepherd, I have all I need.”)
  • A might warrior with shield and sword.  (“I have come as the commander of the Lord’s army.”)

The writer of today’s hymn saw God as a mighty fortress – a place of protection and shelter from those who would seek to harm us.

It is believed the writer based the song on verses from Psalm 46 that say “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.”  Twice in the Psalm the writer says “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

The writer of this song, Martin Luther, was hiding in exile from Pope Leo X after nailing a list of grievances against the Catholic Church to the door of the church at Wittenberg, Germany.   Given 24 hours to renounce his 95 Theses, Luther apologized for any disrespect he may have shown the Pope or the church, but refused to renounce his beliefs.  Tradition is that Luther said “Here I stand, I can do no other.”

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Photo by Baltimore Sun

Forced into hiding after the trial, Luther lived for over a year at Wartburg Castle.  Few knew where he was – many thought he was dead.  When you look at pictures of the castle, you can see where his experience in hiding there might also have contributed to the words of this old hymn.

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Perhaps he had this castle and his stay there in mind as well as the Scriptures as he wrote this hymn.

Although few churches sing this hymn now with no doubt the exception of the Lutheran churches, its verses still encourage us when we realize that God truly is our source of strength in times of trouble.

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.

Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right man on our side,
the man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth, his name,
from age to age the same,
and he must win the battle.

No doubt today’s church goers probably have no idea what Lord Sabaoth even means.  When speaking of God as a mighty fortress this title is very appropriate.

It means “the LORD of hosts.”  It speaks of God’s military strength.  It was the name David used when speaking to the giant Goliath.  David told him “You come to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts (Lord Sabaoth).”

Although the song is no longer used much in our churches, I hope you will take a moment to listen and be encouraged that our God is able to deliver us, to give us strength in times of trouble.

 

66 Years of Grace

Listening to music this morning, this song brought tears – tears of joy – to my eyes.  It has been 66 years since I started this race with Jesus Christ.  There have been mountain tops of great joy, great excitement (to mention only a few – marriage, birth of children and grandchildren) and valleys of sorrow and pain (to mention only a few – death of first husband, oldest son and grandchildren, cancer).  But one thing has remained true through it all – He has proved to be that “friend that sticks closer than a brother.”

Thank God for His grace.  This song says it all!

I was just six years old.  Too young many would say to know what I was really doing.  But I knew.

Growing up in a family that attended church every Sunday and where my parents practiced what they preached on Monday through Saturday also, I understood that Jesus loved everyone – even “sinners.”

jesus love me

I wasn’t totally sure what all being a sinner included, but I knew I was not one.

Until one evening at church, I recognized I was.

I was coloring during the sermon on a Sunday night when I heard the speaker say

We put sins into a “big” and a “small” category.  But sin is sin regardless of how big or how small it seems.

 

He then mentioned what we call “small” sin – like lying or disobeying our parents.  Now he had my attention.  Just that week I had disobeyed my mother – and then lied to keep from getting in trouble.

I was a sinner!

Now many may laugh at this or even say how terrible to make a six-year-old feel she was a sinner.

But for me, it was one of the most important times in my life.  Because I knew that Jesus loved sinners – and that He loved me.  I also knew what I needed to do.

So – I went back to coloring and waited until the end of the sermon.  When the message was over, I put my colors and my coloring book aside and walked to the front of the church where I asked Jesus not only to forgive me, but I also committed my life to His service.

Yes, I was only six, but yes I knew what I was doing.

Shortly after that I was baptized as an outward sign of what had taken place in my life.  Our church did not have a baptismal so we went to a farm pond where I, with several others, was baptized.

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Since I am scared of water and do not even like having water in my face in the shower, it was a BIG step of faith to walk out into that pond.

But what a wonderful experience it was.

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Just turning 72 this year, I have been following Jesus for 66 years.

It has been a great walk with a great friend!!!