Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Light in a Dark Place

In 1938, in a Russian prison, about 250 miserable men were herded together in one small cell. Among them was an American journalist, David Braun. Soon David became aware of a Greek Orthodox priest in their midst. The old man had been thrown into prison because of his faith. His peaceful, radiant face made him stand out in that awful place like a candle in the dark. You couldn't miss him.

It was probably because of this that he became the target for the sarcastic and blasphemous remarks of two of the prisoners. They were continually harassing him. They bumped into him. The mistreated him. They mocked everything that was holy to him. But always the priest was gentle and patient.

One day David received a food parcel from his wife. When people are constantly hungry, receiving a food parcel is something that can't be described. David opened the parcel. As he looked up, he saw the old priest looking at his bread with longing eyes. David broke off a piece and gave it to him.

To his amazement the priest took the bread, broke it, and gave it to his two tormentors. “My friend,” said David, “you are hungry. Why did you not eat the bread yourself?” “Let me be, brother,” he answered. “They need it more than I. Soon I will go home to my Lord. Don't be angry with me.” Soon after that he died. But never again in this cell did David hear mockery and blasphemy. The old priest, a true servant of the Lord, had fulfilled his commission.1

When Braun finally was released from prison he would write of the priest, “He was a light in a dark place.” When the Bible talks about the impact that Christians are supposed to have in the world the imagery of light and dark is repeated throughout Scripture. In Matt. 5:14-16 Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Paul wrote in Philippians 2:14-15, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”

Remember the old Motel 6 commercials that ended with the reassuring words, “We’ll leave the light on for you.” I don’t know about you, but my mother used to say the same thing to me. When I came home late, no matter what the reason or the time, the porch light was burning. Its warm beams seemed to say, “This is where you belong. Someone loves you here. You are home.”

Our faithful walk of obedience to Jesus is like a beacon of God’s love and truth. Our lives and words are beams of warm light piercing the cold darkness of this world. We are like a porch light late at night, drawing unbelievers to Jesus, assuring them that Someone loves them and waits to welcome them home. Moreover, it doesn’t take much light to illuminate a dark place—all it took David Braun and the other prisoners to notice the character of Christ in the priest was a few crumbs of bread.

Perhaps a member of your family is still in the darkness. Maybe you’re concerned about a friend or co-worker. Don’t stop praying for them. Keep finding ways to draw their attention to the Lord. Be sure to leave the light on. Whether you're a candle in a corner or a beacon on a hill, let your light shine.

1. Gary Chapman, The Love as a Way of Life Devotional (Colorado Springs, CO: Water Brook Press), 135-36.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

John Harper's Last Convert

In 1912 the Titanic, the largest, most luxurious, and most advanced ship of its time, sank on its maiden voyage, taking the lives of 1,514 passengers. We've all heard of passengers such as “the unsinkable” Molly Brown and the entrepreneur John Jacob Astor. But one of the most astounding stories of the Titanic has received little press. It’s the story of John Harper, a widower who was traveling at the invitation of the great Moody Church in Chicago. Not only was he going to preach there, but he intended to accept the church’s offer to become their next pastor.

Four years later at a Titanic survivors meeting in Ontario, one survivor, a young Scotsman, rose in a meeting and said told of his encounter with Harper, "I am a survivor of the Titanic. When I was drifting alone on a spar that awful night, the tide brought Mr. John Harper, of Glasgow, also on a piece of wreck near me. 'Man,' he said, 'are you saved?' 'No,' I said. 'I am not.' He replied, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved." "The waves bore him away; but, strange to say brought him back a little later, and he said, 'Are you saved now?' 'No,' I said, 'I cannot honestly say that I am.' He said again, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,' and shortly after he went down; and there, alone in the night, and with two miles of water under me, I believed. I am John Harper's last convert.”1

The Titanic left England with three classes of passengers aboard. But when accounting for their fate, the White Star Line set up a board listing only two known classes: KNOWN TO BE SAVED and KNOWN TO BE LOST. These categories provided a fitting analogy for what John Harper already knew. There are only two classes of people in the world: those who have chosen to accept Christ as Savior, and those who have rejected Him.

As you make your way through life do you live with the kind of evangelistic urgency that John Harper did? As we think of the closeness of eternity, we need to look at our opportunities and ask ourselves, "What am I doing with what God has given me to fulfill the Great Commission?”

The Great Commission was not the Great Suggestion. In its original language, it is a non-negotiable command. Jesus said, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15)” and again “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20).

Notice what Jesus didn't say, “If you can work it into your schedule, go and make disciples of all nations,” or “Only those of you who are called to evangelism are to go and make disciples of all nations. The rest of you are excused.” No, this command has been given to all of us, not just evangelists and pastors and missionaries. It has been given to every follower of Jesus, including soccer moms, office workers, students, and construction workers.

The problem is that for many, the Great Commission has become the Great Omission. And if you are not seeking to fulfill the Great Commission, it can be a sin, because there are sins of commission and omission. The sin of commission is doing what you should not do. James 4:17 says, “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.”

But the sin of omission is failing to obey God. And that is what happens when we fail to preach the gospel. It is failing to bring the only answer that can change people for time and eternity. Let’s get busy, rescuing the drowning instead of contemplating the risk from the safety of the shore.

1. David Jeremiah, God Loves You: Always Has, Always Will (New York: Faith Words, 2012), 139-141.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Vengeance or Mercy?

In December 1943, German fighter pilot Franz Stigler was in pursuit of American bomber pilot Charlie Brown's plane, looking to shoot it down. If he did, it would earn him the Knight's Cross, the highest honor for a German soldier. But as he approached the plane, Stigler saw that it had no tail guns blinking, no tail-gun compartment remaining, no left stabilizer, and the nose of the aircraft was missing.

Surprisingly, he could also see into the plane, the skin of it having been blown off. Inside, he observed terrified young men tending to their wounded. Stigler could not shoot the plane down. He had been trained that "honor is everything." If he survived the war, his superior officer told him, the only way he would be able to live with himself was if he had fought with as much humanity as possible. Stigler could tell that Brown didn't realize how bad a shape his plane was in. He gestured for Brown to land the plane, intending to escort him. But Brown had no intention of landing in Germany and being taken prisoner along with his men. Stigler saluted Brown and veered away. His last words to him were, "Good luck, you're in God's hands now."

Brown was able to land the plane in England. He continued his Air Force career for two decades, but remained obsessed with the incident. In 1990, he took out an ad in a newsletter for fighter pilots, looking for the one “who saved my life on Dec. 20, 1943.” Stigler, living in Vancouver, saw the ad and yelled to his wife: “This is him! This is the one I didn't shoot down!” He immediately wrote a letter to Brown, and the two then connected in an emotional phone call.

Stigler and Brown both died in 2008, six months apart. Turns out, both men were Christians and that the obituaries for Stigler and Brown both listed the other friend as “a special brother.”1

That story reminds me of a quote from Gandalf to Frodo Baggins in The Fellowship of the Ring, “True courage is knowing not how to take a life, but when to spare it.”

I think that story also illustrates vividly the kind of tension that each one of us feels as we try to live out our faith. Like the German pilot we often find ourselves torn between two conflicting obligations—the rules of war and the Sermon on the Mount. Which one do we choose in the moment? We can love our enemies or hate them, bless them or curse them, pray for them or retaliate. The Bible presents the higher calling that we must live by.

Notice to how Paul explained these thorny situations in Romans 13:17-21: “Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.” Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good” (MSG).
Every act of grace and mercy given in the face of evil provides the opportunity for something that cannot be achieved through “getting even”—reconciliation, redemption, victory. This is what Jesus did on the cross. He absorbed the evil of mankind into his body and transformed into the redemption of humanity. Love doesn't defeat evil through the exercise of power. Love defeats evil by absorbing its harm and transforming it into good. 

1. John Blake, “Tow Enemies Discover a ‘Higher Call’ in Battle,” CNN Living, 9 March 2013,


Wednesday, February 5, 2014


In one of his books, Ravi Zacharias tells an interesting story about the need for deep roots. He said:
            “When my family and I lived in England some years ago, a terrible windstorm hit much of the country. Thousands of trees were felled that night. Some days later we were walking outside Buckingham Palace, and my wife noticed something very significant. The trees were huge and very tall, but their roots were unbelievably shallow. We stared at this disproportion, not being horticulturally literate, we just talked about it and went on. 
            We happened to be visiting some friend after that and expressed our surprise at the gigantic trees that were supported by such short roots. What we heard was a fascinating lesson for life. The water level below the soil in England is so close to the surface that the roots do not have to penetrate very deep to find their nourishment. As a result, the roots stay shallow, and even though the trees are massive and sturdy on the outside, the first major storm uproots them with very little resistance offered.  What instruction is contained in that illustration. It is not sufficient to have roots; the roots must go deep.”1

In Psalm 1:3 we read about the need to be well-rooted in the Word of God. “The righteous man is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does he prospers.” The overall product of delighting in the Word is that the believer becomes like towering redwood tree with roots firmly dug into the bedrock. Notice the how this imagery suggests two characteristics of the rooted life.  

A tree that is planted by the banks of a river suggests permanence. It’s impossible for a strong tree to have high branches without having deep roots. It would become top-heavy and topple over in the wind. The same is true with Christians. It’s impossible for us to grow in the Lord without entwining our roots around His Word and deepening our life in His commands. A Christian who is grounded in the Lord becomes a person of great stability. Circumstances will change, storms will come and go, times of drought will bring spiritual barrenness, but nonetheless they will remain constant in their faith.

A tree that produces fruit suggests productivity. Some trees provide fruit (John 15:1-7), others give shade, and others are made into lumber. So too, Christians should provide spiritual food and comfort to their neighbors, as well as use their time and talents to build people up in the Lord.

Would you like to be a tall, immovable tree? Would you like to bear fruit that brings glory to Christ (Gal. 5:22-23)? That comes only through a life of Bible study, discipline, and tested faith—conditions that produce deep roots.

1. Ravi Zacharias, Cries of the Heart (Nashville, TN: W Publishing, 2002), 185-186.