Friday, July 26, 2013

When You Walk Through the Fire...

"I will be with you..."
Isaiah 43:2
Where does one find the courage to enter the blazing furnace of fire in our lives, screaming at us and taunting us with the threat that we will surely be obliterated by the flames? 

When I read this passage from the Word of God, taken from the Book of the Prophet, Isaiah, I am overwhelmed with the promise of our God.  He says not to even fear, for He is in the fire with us.  We will not even be burned.  There will not even be the smell of the furnace when we emerge.  For He is with us.  He is with us.  He is with us... 
Recently I wrote a post about the Jewish children who suffered unimaginable horrors during World War II.  Facing all the military might of one of the most massive war machines ever assembled, it surely must have felt as if anyone who tried to stand against Hitler and his army would never stand a chance. 

As a student of history and of the Word of God, I find myself fascinated by the stories of those individuals who found amazing courage under fire to risk everything they had, including their own lives, to stand up to the terror and the power of the Nazi War Machine, in order to save countless helpless victims of the evil that had been unleashed in their lives and the lives of their innocent children.

I would like to highlight some of those heroes and heroines for my readers, beginning with the amazing story of Irena Sendler, a young nurse/social worker in Poland, at the start of the war.

Irena was a twenty-nine year old nurse/social worker at the beginning of World War II, when the Nazi war machine invaded Poland and began to unleash their horrors on the Jewish people of Warsaw.  Irena, raised a Roman Catholic believer in Jesus Christ, could not and did not look the other way. 

Finding a way to enter the Jewish ghetto, she used every means at her disposal to rescue over 2,500 Jewish children from certain death.  This was actually far more people rescued from annihilation than were rescued by Oscar Schindler, the real life hero of the film, "Schindler's List".

In her old age, Irena recalled the heartbreak of having to persuade young mothers to give her their children, on the vague possibility that they might be saved from execution.  The great majority of these mothers never saw their children again.  When they asked Irena if she could guarantee the safety of their children, Irena said, no, she could not even guarantee that she, herself, would leave the ghetto alive that very day.  The incredible love and courage of all of these women, mothers and smuggler alike, are an amazing testimony to the ends to which our God will go to protect innocent children that are precious to Him. 

When we are often faced with the challenging question, "Where was God, when the Jews were being murdered in Nazi Germany?" we have to look no further than the eyes of these mothers and this little Polish nurse.  Where did they get the courage to do what they did?  How did these mothers give away their most precious possession?  Where did Irena get the courage to face down her fears and enter the ghetto to rescue them from certain death?  This is uncommon courage, in the face of unbelievable terror.  Without a doubt, I believe it was God, Himself, working through them, just as surely as if He took those children by the hand and walked them out of the fire, one by one...

Irena never forgot the heartbreak of those mothers as they said their last goodbye to their children.  She kept meticulous records of the children's names and that of their mothers, hoping to see them reunited at the end of the war.  Sadly, most of these children never saw their mothers again.  They were exterminated in Nazi concentration camps where their children would certainly have also met their death, without the intervention of this one courageous woman who entered the fire on their behalf.  To God be the glory for the things He has done...

Irena risked it all.  She knew what it was to have the heartbeat of God beating under her skin for these Jewish mothers and their children.  She wore a yellow star, required of all Jews, in order to identify with them. 

I am so humbled when I think of what this amazing young woman did to contend with the powers of evil in her time.  In 1943, she was captured by the Nazis, tortured and sentenced to death for her "crimes." Nothing they could do to her ever forced her to tell them the names of the women and children she had rescued and hidden right under the eyes of the German army.  On her way to her execution, she was rescued at the hands of one of her executioners who had accepted a bribe from the underground Polish resistance, "Zegota", of which she was a founding member.  After her release, she returned to her work under a new name. 

Late in her life, her native Poland finally recognized her work in the rescue of these little ones during the war.  She responded with a letter to the Polish Senate saying: "Every child saved with my help and the help of all the wonderful secret messengers, who today are no longer alive, is the justification of my existence on this earth and not a title of glory."

Irena lived the gospel teaching from the Book of James:

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless
is this:
to look after orphans and widows in their distress
 and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." 
James 1:27
In our own times, in our own fiery furnace, may we be found faithful...


Note:  If you would like to know more about Irena Sendler, I invite you to check out the following resources:

Book, "Life in a Jar" by Jack Mayer

Book,  "Mother of the Children of the Holocaust."  This is a biography of Irena, written by Anna Mieszkowska.

PBS Film:  "In the Name of Their Mothers"  by Mary Skinner.  This special aired in 2011.  See YouTube for more information.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

For Such a Time...

as this...

Looking at the faces of this terrified child and his mother, held captive by the insanity of a sadistic army led by Adolf Hitler during the Holocaust, my heart breaks to see the fear and trembling and helplessness of this child and his mother. 
If ever one doubted the potential for evil that exists in the heart of mankind, here is unvarnished evidence in black and white - this is Satan's domain and, when given free reign, the evil visited upon men, women and innocent children is beyond imagination.  Everything that is decent in us protests the existence of this kind of evil.  We simply do not want to accept this could ever have happened to anyone, let alone, innocent children and their mothers.  But happen it did.
Millions of men, women and children suffered the evils of hell unleashed on mankind at the hands of those who enshrined sadism, choosing to use their military might to delight in the torture and murder of the innocents, while turning a blind eye to the terror in their faces and a deaf ear to the screams of their suffering. 
"Anyone who causes one of these little ones to stumble..."
These are incredibly painful realities for us to ponder. It is so tempting to look the other way, refusing to acknowledge that evil exists on this level.  We want to say, this was another time and another place.  It could never happen today.  Or, could it?  What would we do if this kind of evil was visited on us today?  Would we have the courage to take a stand, at all costs to protect the innocent? 
I think we must look into the faces of these children of history and consider what God may ask of us in our life time.  We must acknowledge that evil exists on this level and it is running rampant through the streets of the world we live in today. 
 it would be better for him...
 Children are being kidnapped and sold into sex trafficking, used for the twisted pleasure of sex addicts who care nothing about the pain they are inflicting on these innocent lives.  They are sold into slavery, cast out on the streets by their own parents, beaten and murdered at the hands of those God called to love them.  Do we see them?  Do we hear them?  The God we serve most certainly does.  He has some pretty harsh words for those who neglect and abuse innocent children.
 to have a millstone hung around their neck...
In our own times, innocent children are not even safe in the womb.  Mothers, entrusted with life from the hand of God, rationalize their "right" to end the life of their unborn babies.  Do we seriously think we are better than Nazi Germany when we visit this kind of evil on our own children?  Do we hear what He has to say about those who harm "one of these little ones..."
and be thrown into the sea...
Matthew 18:6
Who are we, anymore?  Do we imagine that because we live in the United States of America, have beautiful homes and plenty of food on our tables, that we are above the Lord?  Do we seriously think we have no responsibility for the modern holocaust committed against our children in our lifetime?
All of this does bring to my mind the call of Esther, who sat on a queen's throne and had all of the wealth of the nation at her fingertips.  When evil came boldly into her house, she was very likely terrified.  Maybe she just thought, why should she risk anything?  After all, she had it pretty good.  Did she really need to identify with all the innocent people that would lose their lives if no-one stood up to the evil being planned for them? 

The Lord didn't offer her an easy escape route to avoid responsibility for what she saw as a problem that didn't directly involve her. 
In the end, she found her courage.  She realized she had been blessed beyond measure by a God who called her to look and see the evil all around her; to hear the cries of her people.  To care enough to risk it all.  Maybe we are under the same call today.  Maybe God has indeed placed us where He has placed us "for such a time as this..."

Saturday, July 20, 2013

His Banner Over Me...

Is Love!" 
Song of Solomon 2:4

I grew up in one of the hottest "love" eras that ever pulsated and sweated its gyrating self onto the TV screen!  That's right - I am a child of the 50s when rock and roll was born and don't you know I was thrilled to twist and shout my little saddle-shoed self all around the dance floor.  If it wasn't the Twist, then maybe the Watusi, the Pony, the Stroll, the Mashed Potatoes...! For those of you who came on the scene long after American Bandstand and Dick Clark had exited center stage, you don't know what you missed! 

My star-struck teenage eyes witnessed the birth of rock and roll, the rise of Elvis Presley and The Beatles, and endless other pop stars who made their fortunes crooning to their young, naive audience about the fortunes of love. 

The Beatles famously advised us all that "All you need is love, love.  All you really need is love!" And of course, Elvis of the blue suede shoes and the scandalously gyrating hips, filled our impressionable, emerging awareness of things sexual and beyond, with the lyrics that made young girls swoon and faint at the very thought of the possibilities!

"Love me tender,
Love me true,
All my dreams fulfilled.
For my darlin I love you,
And I always will..."

While our parents had nightmares worrying about where this rock and roll stuff might lead their young offspring, the offspring themselves imagined themselves taking Elvis up on it and were more than willing to "fulfill all his dreams and love him tender, love him true"!  Could there be anything more to live for than love, love, love?  Love, we were quite sure, was "all we really need."  After all, the Beatles sang it.  It must be true"
It took a few years of life lived in the real world to discover that real love means a bit more than what we fantasized about!
Real love, we discovered, meant getting up every day to go to work to put food in the mouths of the babies that had been born out of the union of our love. 
Real love meant getting up in the middle of the night with a sick child with a temperature that scared us half to death. 
 Real love meant forgiving the one we had sworn to love til "death do us part" when we really wanted to help hasten that death along! 
Real love meant loving our partner when illness or old age ravished their good looks and left them hardly recognizable from the gorgeous hunk or beauty we had married in our youth. 

Real love takes its toll. 

Real love suffers. 

Real love cries.

Real love wants to run.

Real love stays.

Real love hangs on by the fingernails, when all else fails. 

Real love begs God for the strength to go on against

impossible odds.

Real love prays in the darkness to see the morning light.

Real love never, ever gives up on the object of its love.

Real love is unfathomable,



so unlike anything we have ever known before. 

Real love teaches us who we are and who we want to be. 

Real love humbles us,

stretches us,

breaks us,

brings us to our knees...

Real love is the most difficult,

most heartbreaking,

most life-giving experience we have in this life.

Real love is the closest we will ever come to God

in this lifetime...




Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Who Am I...


Anybody out there remember the old game show "What's My Line?"  This may be going too far back for many of you, but, it was a pretty funny game show, with a cast of blindfolded stars who tried to guess who the famous guest was, based on yes/no answers to questions the cast asked each guest.  It was fun to see the confusion on the faces of the blindfolded guests, who could only go by the very limited, one word answers of the guests, to try to guess their identify. 
This morning, I was listening to a gifted expositor of the Word of God teaching on the encounter that Moses had with God in Exodus, as God informed Moses of His discontent with the people of Israel.  "I have seen these people," the LORD said to Moses, "and they are a stiff-necked people."  Exodus 32:9

The trouble with God is that He always knows who we are and calls us out on it, time and time again!  The Bible is packed with the honest stories of God's people lying, murdering, committing adultery, erecting idols...all the while strutting around calling themselves "God's people"!  It is tempting to congratulate ourselves on how unlike "them" we are!

If I were on the game show, it might go something like this!

Are you a believer in Jesus Christ?  Absolutely!  (God smiles!)

Are you a sinner?   Well - uh - maybe!  (God is still smiling!)

Do you have any idols in your life?  Of course not!  (God is nudging me under my ribs...!)

Do you ever resist the Word of God in your life?  Of course not!  (God is laughing wildly now!)

Do you like to think of yourself as a "good christian"?  Of course!  I'm on firm ground now!  (God is staring at me with those penetrating eyes of His...)

Do you think of yourself as a "stiff necked people"?  Huh?  How dare you!  (God is smiling again...)

Do you keep all of the rules of God's Word?  I don't think I like this game anymore...

Are you a prodigal?  Who me?  Why am I sweating like this?!

Are you a sinner saved by grace?  Yes!  Yes!  Finally!  I thought you'd never get there!  Yes, that's me! 

My God has come very close to me now.  He is covering me all over with His love.  He is laughing with me at the extravagant truth of the Gospel, that even a great sinner like me is saved by His grace! 

That's just the scandalous truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Even a sinner who is standing with her toes touching the door posts of hell, about to cross over, is not too far out of reach of the God who loves us deeper than the deepest, darkest sin in our lives.
I speak from experience.  I am that one that He saved when I thought all was lost...

That is my prayer for you. May you come to know Who it is that loved you enough to die for you.  May you find Jesus.

"And may you have the power to understand,
as all God's people should,
how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is."
Ephesians 3:18