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I want to read to you the opening story from David Platt's book "The Radical Question" (Multnomah Press).
Imagine a scene that took place in Asia not so long ago:
A room in an ordinary house, dimly lit, all the blinds on the windows closed. Twenty leaders from churches in the region sit quietly in a circle on the floor, their Bibles open. They speak in hushed tones or not at all. Some still glisten with sweat; others' clothes and shoes are noticeably dusty. They have been walking or riding bicycles since early morning when they left distant villages to get here.
Whenever a knock is heard or a suspicious sound drifts in, everyone freezes while a burly tough-looking man gets up to check things out.
These men and woman have gathered in secret, arriving intentionally at different times throughout the day so as not to draw attention. In this country it is illegal for Christians to come together like this. If caught, the people here could lose their land, their jobs, their families, even their lives.
I was in that dimly light room that day, a visitor from America. I huddled next to an interpreter, who helped me understand their stories as they began to share.
The tough-looking man--our "head of security"--was first to speak up. But as he spoke, his intimidating appearance quickly gave way to reveal a tender heart.
"Some of the people in my church have been pulled away by a cult," he said. Tears welled up in his eyes. "We are hurting. I need God's grace to lead my church through these attacks."
The cult that had been preying on his church is known for kidnapping Christians, taking them to isolated locations, and torturing them, my interpreter explained. Many brothers and sisters in the area would never tell the good news again. At least not with words. Their tongues had been cut out.
PRAYER AND THE MOTORCYCLE
There was a woman at work when she received a phone call that her daughter was very sick with a fever. She left work and stopped by the pharmacy to get some medication for her daughter.
She returned to her car to find that she had locked the keys inside the car when she went into the pharmacy and was now unable to get into her car to drive home.
She didn’t know what to do and started to panic, so she called home and told the baby sitter what had happened and that she did not know what to do. The baby sitter told her to find a coat hanger and see if that would open the door.
The woman looked around and found an old rusty coat hanger that had been thrown down on the ground, possibly by someone else who also had locked their keys in their car. Then she looked at the hanger and said, "I don’t know how to use this." So she bowed her head and asked God to send her some help.
In so doing, she obeyed the command to never stop praying. Do you think God would reward her for that?
Within five minutes a motorcycle roared up and pulled into the parking space next to her car. A rough, dirty-looking biker got off and saw her situation. He asked if he could help her. The woman thought, "This is what you sent to help me, God?"
She finally told him yes, as she needed to hurry and get home to her sick daughter. He walked over to the car, and in less than one minute the car was opened. She hugged the man and through her tears she said, "Thank you so much! You are such a nice man."
The man replied; "No, I’m not, Lady. I just got out of prison for car theft." The woman hugged the man again and with sobbing tears cried out to God, "You even sent me a professional."
Bernard Martin, writes the following story in his book If God Does Not Die.
One day a pastor was called from a children's party at the Sunday school to visit a young woman whose world had collapsed into an acute depression following the death of her husband in an auto accident. She had withdrawn from everyone and shut herself in her bedroom with the blinds pulled, and she didn't communicate with anyone, including her children, because she said they reminded her of her dead husband. The minister left the party in a show of confetti which the children had thrown at him. He brushed it out of his hair and from his coat as he prepared to call on the depressed woman.
When he arrived at the woman's house, he entered her darkened bedroom and told her who he was, but there was no response. He could faintly see her pitiful form lying motionless on the bed. He tried to carry on a conversation with her, but she was unresponsive. He reached out to touch her hand, but it lay lifeless in his. So he just sat with her in the dark silence for a time.
Then he decided to act. He wanted to see the woman face to face,
to read Scripture and pray. So he turned on the bedside lamp.
The woman blinked and stared at him blankly. As he took out his Testament which he carried in his handkerchief pocket of his jacket,
and opened it, confetti fell from it all over the bed. After an anxious and flustered moment, the minister burst into laughter.
And that did it. First a smile appeared on the woman's face, and then she broke into quiet laughter. She reached out her hands to the minister in the joy of resurrection. They prayed together and she left her darkness to return to the light.
THE REFINER'S FIRE
The story is told of a group of women that met for Bible study. While studying in the book of Malachi, chapter three, they came across verse three which says: "He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver." This verse puzzled the women and they wondered how this statement applied to the character and nature of God. One of the women offered to find out more about the process of refining silver, and to get back to the group at their next Bible study.
The following week, the woman called up a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him while at work. She didn’t mention anything about the reason for her interest, beyond her curiosity about the process of refining silver.
As she watched the silversmith work, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire, where the flames were the hottest as to burn away all the impurities.
The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot, then she thought again about the verse, that "He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver."
She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the entire time the silver was being refined. The man answered yes...
A number of years ago, Dr. Waltke, a seminary professor, & three pastors, one of which was Charles Swindol toured the mother church of the First Church of Christ Scientist in downtown Boston. The four were unknown to the elderly lady who was going to give them a tour. They didn’t tell her who they were, at least not at first. She showed them several interesting things on the main floor. When they got to the pipe organ she began to talk about their doctrine & especially their belief about no judgment in the life beyond. Dr. Waltke waited for just the right moment & then very casually asked: "But, Ma’am, doesn’t it say somewhere in the Bible, ’It is appointed unto man once to die & after that, the judgment?" The scholar could have quoted Hebrews 9:27 in the Greek, but he was so gracious & tactful. Swindol confessed he was thinking, "Go for it Bruce. Now we’ve got her where we want her!" Without a pause, the lady simply ask, "Would you like to see the second floor?" Dr. Waltke said, "We surely would, thank you." She smiled, somewhat relieved, & started to lead the men up a flight of stairs. Swindol recalled he couldn’t believe it. He was thinking, "No, don’t let her get away. Make her answer your question!" He pulled on the scholar’s arm & said in a low voice, "Hey, why didn’t you nail the lady? Why didn’t you press the point & not let her get away until she answered?" Swindol said he replied, "But, Chuck, that wouldn’t have been fair. That wouldn’t have been very loving, either- now would it?" Swindol said, "Wham, the quiet rebuke left me reeling. I shall never forget that moment. And to complete the story, you’ll be interested to know that in less than 20 minutes he was sitting with the woman alone, gently speaking to her about the Lord Jesus Christ. She sat in rapt attention. He, the gracious servant, had won a hearing by being kind.
The Ret Hat Society, made up mostly of women 50 and older who wear a lot of red and purple under the banner of ‘have fun’ and often to raise funds for charities, has more than 300,000 members and 17,000 chapters. (Foster Letter 3/25/04)
A few months before I was born, my dad met a stranger who was new to our small Tennessee town. From the beginning, Dad was fascinated with this enchanting newcomer and soon invited him to live with our family. The stranger was quickly accepted and was around to welcome me into the world a few months later.
As I grew up, I never questioned his place in our family. Mom taught me to love the Word of God. Dad taught me to obey it. But the stranger was our storyteller. He could weave the most fascinating tales. Adventures, mysteries and comedies were daily conversations. He could hold our whole family spellbound for hours each evening.
He was like a friend to the whole family. He took Dad, Bill and me to our first major league baseball game. He was always encouraging us to see the movies, and he even made arrangements to introduce us to several movie stars. The stranger was an incessant talker. Dad didn’t seem to mind but sometimes Mom would quietly get up—while the rest of us were enthralled with one of his stories of faraway places—and go to her room and read her Bible and pray. I wonder now if she ever prayed that the stranger would leave. My Dad ruled our household with certain moral convictions. But this stranger never felt an obligation to honor them.
Profanity was not allowed in our house—not from us, our friends, or adults. Our longtime visitor, however, used occasional four-letter words that burned my ears and made Dad squirm. To my knowledge, the stranger was never confronted. Dad didn’t permit alcohol in his home. But the stranger enlightened us to other ways of life. He often offered us beer and other alcoholic beverages. He made cigarettes look tasty, cigars manly, and pipes distinguished.
He talked freely about sex. His comments were sometimes blatant, sometimes suggestive, and generally embarrassing. I know now that my early concepts of the man/woman relationship were influenced by the stranger.
I believe it was only by the grace of God the stranger did not influence us even more. Time after time he opposed my parents’ values. Yet he was seldom rebuked and never asked to leave. More than thirty years have passed since the stranger moved in with the young family on Morningside Drive.
But if I were to walk into my parents’ home today, I would still see him sitting over in a corner, waiting for someone to listen to him talk and watch him draw his pictures. His name? We always called him TV.
LEADERS AND FOLLOWERS
S. I. McMillen, in his book "None of These Diseases," tells a story of a young woman who wanted to go to college, but her heart sank when she read the question on the application blank that asked, "Are you a leader?" Being both honest and conscientious, she wrote, "No," and returned the application, expecting the worst.
To her surprise, she received this letter from the college: "Dear Applicant: A study of the application forms ...
Peggy Noonan, speech writer for Ronald Reagan, relates a story about Frances Green, an eighty-three-year old woman who lived by herself on Social Security in a town just outside of San Francisco, California. Peggy was very poor, but for eight years she had been sending one dollar a year to the Republic National Convention. One day Frances got an RNC fund raising letter inviting the recipient to come to the White house to meet President Ronald Reagan. She never noticed the little RSVP card that suggested a positive reply that needed to be accompanied by a generous donation. She thought she had been invited because they appreciated her dollar-a-year support. Frances scraped up every extra cent she had and took a four day train ride across America. Unable to afford a sleeper, she slept sitting up in the coach. Finally, this little elderly woman with white hair, white stockings, an old hat with white netting and an all white dress arrived at the White House. When she walked up to the entrance of where the grand event was to be held she gave her name to the guard. He informed Frances that her name was not on the list. She could not go in. A Ford Motor company executive who was standing in line behind Frances watched and listened to the little scenario. Realizing something was wrong, he pulled Frances aside and got her story. He asked her to return the next day at 9:00 A.M.. Frances agreed. This executive of Ford Motor Company made contact with Anne Higgins, a presidential aide, and got clearance to give Frances a tour of the White House and if possible introduce her to the president. The next day was anything but calm and easy at the White House. Ed Meese had just resigned and there had been a military uprising abroad. President Reagan was in and out of high-level secret sessions. Never-the-less, Frances Green showed up right on time with full expectation and enthusiasm. An executive met her and gave her a personal tour of the White House, then quietly led her to the Oval Office. Members of the National Security Council came in and out while high-ranking generals were coming and going. President Ronald Reagan glanced out of his office and saw Frances, patiently waiting. With a smile President Ronald Reagan motioned for her to come into the office. As Frances entered, President Reagan rose from his desk, invited her to sit down. They talked about her town and family and California. The president of the United States and the White House staff took time out of a very busy day to properly greet Frances Green.
Justice Scalia, in a Supreme Court decision involving the so-called “separation of church and state” wrote: “Church and state would not be such a difficult subject if religion were, as the Court apparently thinks it to be, some purely personal avocation that can be indulged entirely in secret, like pornography, in the privacy of one’s room.
For most believers it is not that, and has never been. Religious men and women of almost all denominations have felt it necessary to acknowledge and beseech the blessing of God as a people, and not just as individuals, because they believe in the "protection of divine Providence," as the Declaration of Independence put it, not just for individuals but for societies.”