Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Gratitude: The Natural Response of the Rescued

12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Colossians 1:12-14

Sophie Kilsman, 89, remembers the day in April 1945 when American troops liberated her and hundreds of other Jews from the Salzwedel concentration camp. It was there that her Nazi overlords forced her to work making their bullets during the last years of World War II. “When we saw the iron gates swing open and American troops coming to our rescue we thought ‘My God, they are angels sent to rescue us,’” Sophie said.

In 2019 The Detroit News ran a feature about Sophie’s Holocaust survivor story, who had been a Detroit native for decades. That same day the article appeared in the paper, another Detroit native, 95-year-old Doug Harvey, read the story as was immediately fascinated. And with good reason—turns out, Harvey was a private in the 84th Infantry Division that liberated Klisman and others from the Salzwedel concentration camp. The sights and sounds of that day never left Harvey, “I remember well the happy women on the road waving at us. It was the only time in our fight across Germany when we received such a welcome.”

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Harvey wrote a letter to The Detroit News about his connection with Sophie Kilsman and the newspaper worked out a meeting for the two. The happy reunion occurred in May 2019. Among friends and family, the two hugged and became fast friends. The reporter on the scene wrote, “Sophie looked up at Harvey with an expression of amazement, as if he had just arrived, a young man in uniform carrying a rifle, swinging open the gates of a Nazi death camp, the stars and stripes emblazoned on the side of the tanks and half-tracks nearby. ‘I’m very fortunate to meet you, and to thank you for a lifetime. You gave me my life.’ she said.”[1]    

As I read that incredible story I am reminded of simple truth: Gratitude is the natural response of the rescued.

Imagine you fall off the side of an ocean liner and, not knowing how to swim, begin to drown. Someone on the deck spots you, flailing in the water and throws you a life preserver. It lands directly in front of you and, just before losing consciousness, you grab hold for dear life.

They pull you up onto the deck, and you cough the water out of your lungs. People gather around, rejoicing that you are safe and waiting expectantly while you regain your senses.

After you finally catch your breath, you open your mouth and say: “Did you see the way I grabbed onto that life preserver? How tightly I held on to it? I was all over that thing!”

Needless to say, it would be a bewildering and borderline insane response. To draw attention to the way you cooperated with the rescue effort denigrates the whole point of what happened, which is that you were saved.

A much more likely chain of events is that you would immediately seek out the person who threw the life preserver, and you would thank them. Not just superficially, either. You would embrace them, ask them their name, invite them to dinner and seek to build a friendship.

As saved people how much more should we live every day in gratitude towards our Savior. Because of Christ’s liberating mission, we have been rescued from a horror worse than a Nazi concentration camp—hell and eternal separation from God. There is nothing greater that God could do for us than what He’s already done. As Charles Spurgeon said, “While others are congratulating themselves, I have to sit humbly at the foot of the cross and marvel that I'm saved at all.”


[1] Gregg Krupa, “Holocaust survivor meets ex-GI: 'You gave me my life,’” The Detroit News, 13 May 2019 <https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/oakland-county/2019/05/13/holocaust-survivor-meets-ex-gi-you-gave-me-my-life/1128611001/>

Monday, November 18, 2019

Hudson Taylor's Midnight Miracle

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6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.   James 1:6-8

1857 was a difficult year for Hudson Taylor. He had been a missionary to China for four years when he contracted smallpox. By November of that year, Taylor was recovering physically, but financially he and his associate, John Jones, were in dire straits. All their funds had been depleted in taking care of the needs of their ministry. Now Taylor and Jones were facing starvation. They had petitioned churches back in England for support, but in those days it took weeks for letters to travel the thousands of the miles across two continents. There was no telling when or if they would get any help from home.

The two missionaries started looking around their meager house for objects of value to sell. Taylor wrote, “How the LORD was going to provide for us we knew not; but over our mantelpiece hung a scroll upon which the following was written in the Chinese language— Jehovah-Jireh, ‘The LORD will provide’—and looking upon that promise kept us from doubting God’s ability to meet our great need.”

That’s when Taylor spotted the one object of value in their home that would sell easily—a cast iron cook stove. If they could get the stove across the river and into the nearest city, they could surely sell it as scrap to a foundry.

With no food in their cupboards, they loaded their stove on a horse drawn cart. They hadn’t made it far when they reached the river they had to cross. A violent storm had blown through the countryside a few days prior, and the river was turned into a rushing torrent, washing away the bridge that would take them to the other side. Unable to pass, the two turned the cart around and walked many miserable miles back home.

Upon arriving back at their home with the stove and the cart, the men went into their kitchen and scraped the last of spoonfuls of cocoa from a can, mixed it with water and drank it down. Then they informed one of their Chinese servants they were going into their study to pray and were not to be disturbed because they were petitioning God to do a miracle, then they shut the door and began crying out to God.  
The men prayed late into the night. Suddenly, their desperate vigil was interrupted by a knocking on the door. The Chinese servant burst into the room, “Teacher, Teacher, here are letters.” No mail was expected, but here it was delivered to their house in the middle of the night. When they opened them up, they found several checks from their ministry partners in England. There was enough money inside to supply their needs for the next year. The checks were sent months in advance without prior knowledge of Taylor’s need. The folks in England didn’t know of Taylor’s plight, but God did—and He was right on time!  

Taylor later wrote concerning the importance of prayer to his ministry: “I have found that there are three stages in every great work of God: first, it is impossible, then it is difficult, then it is done.”[1]  -DM

[1] William J. Petersen, 100 Amazing Answers to Prayer (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2003), 159-161.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Treasure from Trash

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When the prophet Elisha heard about the financial straits of a widow, he asked her a pointed question, “Tell me, what do you have in the house?” (2 Kings 4:2). In other words, the prophet intended to meet the need of the widow with what she had on hand. As she obeyed the word of the Lord, she witnessed a miraculous multiplication.

While mulling over this passage, I saw an incredible news clip on 60 Minutes about a music teacher in Paraguay named Favio Chavez. He grew up in one of Paraguay’s most impoverished cities—Cateura, which is home to a slum that’s literally built on a landfill. More than 1,500 tons of trash gets dumped into the landfill every day. About 1,000 residents make their living by picking through the trash with long hooks called ganchos (hence the garbage pickers are called gancheros). These incredibly poor scavengers look for things they can sell—metal, plastic, glass, etc.
Chavez was burdened about the children who grew up in these slums. He knew that most of them would never escape poverty and many would resort to drugs or gangs or become gancheros. So Chavez had an epiphany, he would start a free music school for slum children where he would teach them how to play an instrument.
He started by giving away the five instruments in his possession to students. Before long Chavez was inundated by eager and willing children who wanted to learn, but had no way of buying an instrument. Instead of getting discouraged or turning the kids away, Chavez started looking around and what he had to work with—which was trash.

He was friends with a ganchero, Nicholas Gomez, who could find almost anything in the mountains of garbage. Chavez told his friend, “I want you to look for a special kind of trash—anything that we could use to recycle and build into an instrument.” So, Mr. Gomez started farming the landfill and crafting the trash into instruments—he made a cello from an oil can, a flute from old pipes, a violin from a beat-up aluminum bowl, drums made from old x-ray skins.

Once the kids became proficient enough to play classical pieces, like Beethoven and Mozart, Chavez started uploading videos on YouTube that went viral. Chavez’s music school is called “Landfill Harmonic” and not only has he taught hundreds of students how to play with instruments made from garbage, but they have received invitations from around the world for their orchestra to come and play to packed audiences.[1]

While other people saw nothing but trash and poverty, Chavez saw hope and potential. Imagine if we had eyes to see the potential around us by beginning with what God has already given us?
A half full jar or oil wasn’t much, but it was more than enough for God to work with.  As the old song says, “Little is much when God is in it.” Instead of limiting what God can do by focusing only on what we don’t have, why not take what you have and fully surrender it to the Lord. -DM

[1] “Young Musicians Are Living Their Dreams, Thanks to a Recycled Orchestra,” CBS, 27 September 2016

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Gladys Aylward: God's Second Choice

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One day while cleaning a wealthy couple’s house, Gladys Aylward came across a Christian magazine. She flipped through the pages and read an article written by a 72-year-old female missionary serving in China. The missionary pleaded for anyone willing to come to China to help spread the Gospel. That article changed Gladys' life, for she knew at that moment God was calling her to China. But how? She was just a poor maid with little education.

She applied to become a missionary to China, but she failed missionary training school. The director of the school told her she wasn’t smart enough to learn Chinese, and they would not accept her. But Gladys was determined. If the mission board would not send her to China, she would find her own way there. She got her pocketbook and pulled out the few coins she owned and prayed, “Oh Lord, here’s my Bible! Here’s my money! Here’s me.”

Gladys began hoarding every cent to purchase passage to China. She could not afford to go by boat, so she decided she would travel by train across Asia. On October 15, 1932 she left England for China. Her journey took several weeks, because halfway she was thrown off the train by Russian soldiers. She was forced to walk or ride a donkey the rest of the way.

Gladys arrived just a few days before the aging missionary she was going to assist died unexpectedly. There she was thousands of miles from home with no one—except God. Gladys didn’t know what to do next, so she prayed, “Lord, show me your will.” The Lord opened a door she could have never opened herself.

For many years, the feet of Chinese girls were wrapped tightly at birth to keep them from growing big. The Chinese thought small feet were prettier. However, the Chinese government created a new law which said that all foot-wrapping must end. The Chinese government was looking for officers who would go from village to village telling people that foot-wrapping was now illegal. Gladys applied for the job and go it.

She immediately recognized the opportunity to spread the Gospel. Gladys traveled thousands of miles going into small towns taking off foot bandages and telling Bible stories. Through her efforts many people started coming to faith in Christ. In the process, she adopted over 100 orphans and the Chinese people gave her a nickname, “The Virtuous One.”[1]  

Gladys Aylward died in 1970 after touching thousands of lives for Christ. Yet, she never saw herself as a hero. She wrote, “I wasn't God's first choice for China. I don't know who it was. It must have been a well-educated man. I don't know what happened. Perhaps he died. Perhaps he wasn't willing. All I know is God looked down and saw little Gladys Aylwardand God said, “Well, she’s willing.”[2]

We often despise the thought of failure, but Aylward’s story encourages us that even our failures lead to success when we follow the Lord’s leading. God uses the weak as opposed to the strong, those who are willing to look beyond adversity, those who are willing to let God work in them and through them completely, those who are daring enough to trust God with the unknown. -DM

[1] Robert J. Morgan, On This Day (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1997), October 15.
[2] Fern Neal Stocker, Gladys Aylward (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1988), 108.