Tag Archives: hope

Dying Out Loud

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This weekend I picked up a book called “Dying Out Loud: No Guilt in Life, No Fear in Death” about the death of missionary Stan Steward in the Muslim country of Turkey.  Normally I would have flown through an easy read like this, but I ran out of kleenexes and had to slow down.  This book is tearing my heart out!

I’ve written about this family before, and though they insist there is nothing remarkable about them- I am in awe of their strength of commitment to sharing the gospel with the lost.  They determined to live among the remote villages along the ancient Silk Road in the area between the border of Turkey and Iran.  They integrated their lives as completely as possible with the people and they were accepted as one of them.

Photo credit: jessleecuizon / Foter / CC BY

Photo credit: jessleecuizon / Foter / CC BY

This alone is admirable.  As a missionary I know what that kind of a decision costs.  I make those small decisions a million times a day- will I chose my own personal comfort or will I empty myself for others?  I’m ashamed to say that too many times I chose my own preferences because I am still working in my own strength and not God’s.  I say, I’m tired.  I don’t want to speak Spanish anymore today.  I just need to get into my house where things are familiar and comfortable and within my control so I can decompress with my family tonight.  I make those choices for myself all the time.  I am convicted.

Not only did they integrate into the culture, but prayed a risky prayer.  They asked God to use them to reach the Turkish people… whatever the cost.  Always a risky prayer.  We talk a lot in our denomination about why the Muslims haven’t responded to the gospel like other groups have.  Many believe that because we revolt from the idea of watering the hard soil with our martyr’s blood, the Muslims have not been won.  We have not counted the cost.  We have not cried for their souls because our fears and hatred mingle too freely with our determination and passion to make any kind of a combustable concoction.  We have watered down the message of the cross to make it more acceptable to the world and this weak message is powerless to save now.  I am challenged.

Photo credit: NYCandre / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: NYCandre / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

So their risky prayer lead them to heart break.  Stan was diagnosed with colon cancer that filled his body in a short amount of time.  Stan and his wife Ann felt the Lord asking them to “Live this dying out loud” in order to show their Muslim brothers and sisters how Christians die with peace and assurance of their salvation.  A Muslim has no such assurance in death.  He can only hope that he’s done enough good to counterbalance the bad in his life.  He only has a sad, dark form of hope to cling to.  God was asking Stan to show them how to live and die in the vibrant, confident hope in Jesus Christ.  It was an intensely difficult price to pay.  I am humbled by their Yes when so often I’ve said No.

It is this story of commitment and sacrifice that is tearing me apart.  I am being challenged and called all over again.  If I had other lives to live and give I would go and replace Stan in Turkey.  I am challenged to pray more.  I see how pathetic my own strength is in comparison with all that God can do when I am completely at his disposal. I am hungry for that kind of love for the lost that says “At Any Cost”.  Have I ever loved like that?  This book is challenging me to the roots of my commitment.  And I am Called all over again.

Brace for crash landing!

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Don’t be naive.  There are difficult times ahead.  As the end approaches, people are going to be self-absorbed, money hungry, self promoting, boastful, proud, abusive, profane, contemptuous of parents, ungrateful, unholy, impulsively wild, ruthless, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, addicted to lust, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure instead of lovers of God.  They will make a show of religion, but live like a heathen behind the scenes.  Hypocrites.  Stay away from people like this.  (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

Don’t go along with the empty-headed, mindless crowd. They have refused so long to deal with God that they have lost touch not only with God but with reality itself!  They can’t think straight anymore.  Feeling no pain, they let themselves go in sexual obsession, addicted to every sort of perversion.  (Ephesians 4:17-19)

The way it all fell apart was like this:  Even though people knew God perfectly well, they neither worshiped him as God nor gave thanks to him.  Their thinking became dumb and pointless because sin makes people stupid.  They had neither sense nor direction in their lives.  They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life.  They traded the glory of God who holds the whole universe in his hands for cheap figurines that you can buy at any roadside stand.

So God said, in effect, “If that’s what you want, then that’s what you get.”  It wasn’t long before they were living in a pigpen, smeared with filth, filthy inside and out.  All this because they traded the true God for a fake god- they made an idol of their passions- they worshiped the god they made inside of themselves instead of worshiping the God who made them!  What a mess.  (Romans 1:21-25) 

Baptism by Fire

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I’ve been thinking about this phrase “Baptism by Fire” these last few months and wondering where it came from.  I asked a few Costa Rican friends if they had anything in Spanish that was similar, but they said No.  (Maybe if there’s someone out there who knows of one, you could add it to the comments here.)  So of course, I Googled it.  Basically it comes from taking some scripture verses out of context and applying them to a really hard situation.  Once upon a time it was used in France to talk about a soldier’s first real combat experience.  And the Mormons have added it to their rituals, again taking the scriptures out of context, to confer a higher authority (“priesthood”) on someone.

But the more I think about this phrase, and about the imagery of fire, the more I feel like it’s a gross exaggeration of a temporary rough spot in life.  It’s an exaggeration along the lines of “you’re killing me” or “we’re flat broke” or “that was the last straw.”  When we use such over the top words to describe a fleeting trial, we start to feel hopeless and victimized by life.  We start to imagine that we are some kind of martyr in  unusual circumstances.

But the Bible tells me that there is no trial or temptation which is new to mankind, nothing new under the sun, nothing that hasn’t been tried and conquered before.  This gives me great hope.  Rather than stripping me of my uniqueness, it bolsters me with good company.  Others have gone this way before me… and survived.  Sure some have fallen into the gorge on the side of the trail, but the survivors have left their torches along the path to illuminate my steps.  Their baptism by fire lights my way.  I can do this!

In the flames of my trial, I find the essence of my being.  I know what I am made of.  The dross, the flaws, the impure is burned away and the gold and silver bubble to the surface.  It’s the way God designed me.  As I pass through the trials, this old world burns away.  The straw and wooden crutches that have supported me go up in a flash and I have to stand on my faith- really owning it, really trusting it.  Is it strong enough to hold me up?  Or am I going down in flames too?

God does not preserve us from the flames.  They serve a purpose.  The martyrs of old met their end in the flames, being burned alive for their confession of faith and seeing this faith materialize into the face of Jesus right in the midst of their trial.  And it was in the very midst of the fiery furnace that the Son of Man met those three Hebrew teenagers Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (in the Bible, Daniel chapter 3).  They were not rescued from the fire- they met God IN the fire.  I bet if you asked any one of them if they would have liked to skip over this episode in their lives, not one of them would choose to miss out on their closest encounter with God.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime miracle of epic proportions that has encouraged Jesus Followers for centuries thereafter.  The fire is not our enemy- the fire is our opportunity to meet God face to face.

Embrace your trial by fire and seek for Jesus’s face amidst the flickering flames.  Let everything else go up in flames.

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O kind.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”  Daniel 3:17-18