Healing and Hope

I first heard of the Bridge of Hope program when I became a blogger for the Gospel of Asia Ministry.  I have read stories of children whose lives seemed hopeless until they were enrolled in this program where they were given a chance for a better future.  They were provided with daily meals, regular medical check-ups and a quality education so that one day they would be able to get good jobs and provide for themselves and their families.  And most importantly, they learned about Jesus.

One day an illiterate man went to the Bridge of Hope centre with a strange request. Would the staff there send the “medical doctor named Jesus” to help his sick wife? how did this man know that Jesus could heal the sick?  He learned this from a little boy named Nibun, a first-grader.  Nibun listened as his teachers talked about Jesus healing the sick, delivering people from evil spirits and feeding the hungry.  It was Nibun’s father who came with the strange request.  It was Nibun’s mother who was sick.

The family was poor.  They lived in a mud hut and couldn’t afford to go to a hospital.  Most of the doctors were miles away.  It was too long of a trek on a dirt path through the woods, especially for a sick person.  Nibun’s mother was very ill.  His father tried to do everything he could.  He cried out to his gods to help her but she got worse until she became critical.  It was then that Nibun told his father about Jesus, but the man thought that there was a doctor with that name working at the Bridge of Hope centre.

The staff at the centre responded to the father’s desperate request and went with him to his home.  They talked to the family about Jesus and His love, sacrifice and power to heal.  Then, they laid hands on the woman and prayed to God to heal her. And He did.  The news soon spread throughout the small village and several people came to know the Lord that week and the following week more families placed their faith in Jesus.  Families are attending a local church where they are growing in God’s grace and increasing their knowledge of Jesus.

Many lives were changed because of a little boy who learned about Jesus at the Bridge of Hope centre and believed that He could heal his mother.  This program not only brings hope to children like Nibun but it transforms communities.  It brings the light of God’s love and the hope found only in Jesus Christ to many people.

Love Came Down

He left the glory of heaven to come into our world.  He was willing to rearrange His life so that He could come here and live and walk among us. He traded in His majesty for our humanity.  He left His home to come to a place where He had nowhere to lay His head. He left the adoration of the angelic host to come to a world that did not know Him and to His own who did not receive Him.

He left everything to come into a world that was plunged in darkness, filled with sorrow, sickness, hurt, violence and pain. Why?  Why did He come?  Would you come to a place where you would be rejected, unappreciated, opposed and despised?  He did. Would you reach out to people who are always trying to trap you and challenge everything you say or do?  He did.  Would you wash the feet of the man who would betray you and share bread with him?  He did.  Would you forgive the man who denied three times that he knew you?  He did.  What about those who spat on you, mocked you and wanted you dead, would you forgive them?  He did.

Why would Jesus subject Himself to such improprieties?  It’s simple.  Love.  He did it all for love.  Love for the Father and love for us.

Love filled His heart as He walked the streets, touching, healing and ministering to people.  Love filled His heart as He drove the demons out so that the person was in his right mind again.  Love filled His heart as He gave sight to the blind, made the lame walk and the dumb speak.  It was love that filled His heart when He touched the leper instead of just speaking the healing.  His word was just as powerful as His touch but He chose to touch the untouchable.

It was love which prompted Him to forgive the paralyzed man because He saw the man’s true need.  Everyone saw his physical need but Jesus saw his spiritual need and He responded to it.  It was love that made Him encourage the widow of Nain not to weep before He touched her son’s dead body, giving him life again.

It was love that broke down barriers when He offered salvation to the Samaritan woman at the well and healed the daughter of the Greek woman.  Jews had nothing to do with Samaritans (John 4:9). There was animosity between the two groups.  And women were not highly regarded.  In fact, when a Jewish man started off his day with prayer, he thanked God that he was neither a Gentile, a slave, or a woman.  Gentiles were seen as in a very unfavorable light. They were seen as unclean or common (Acts 10:28).  It was unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with them or go to their homes. So, these two women had two strikes against them–their nationalities and their gender.  Yet, to Jesus these things didn’t matter.  He loved them and wanted to offer them what the world couldn’t.

It was love that made Him call the woman with the bleeding problem, “Daughter” and offer her words of encouragement.  He wanted to assure her that her faith had made her well.  And it was love that made Him look up at the despised tax collector up in the tree and invite Himself to his home for food and fellowship.  It was in love that He reached out the unreachable, the unloved, the discarded, the neglected and the undesirables.  His love knew no boundaries, no barriers.  It was freely given but not always received or returned.

It was love for you and me that made Him endure the insults, the whipping and finally the Cross.  He bore the indignity of being nailed to a tree between two thieves, treated like a criminal although He had done nothing wrong.  Yet, He did all of this so that believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life and that the world through Him might be saved.

Love came down to save a perishing world.

And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself – John 12:32

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Sources:  John 1, 3; Christian Courier

At the Mountain

Imagine standing at the foot of Mount Sinai and there were thunder and lightning and a thick cloud on the mountain and the sound of the trumpet fills the air.  In fact, the trumpet was so loud that that you tremble.  You come out of the camp to meet with God at the foot of Mount Sinai which is completely in smoke because the Lord descended on it in fire.  The smoke is ascending like the smoke of a furnace and the mountain quakes.  The trumpet blast becomes louder and louder.

How would you feel?  What would be going through your mind?  Would you be terrified to see the Lord come down upon the top of the mountain?  Would you want to break through and gaze at the Lord at the risk of your life or would you stay as far away as possible, watching the manifestation from a safe distance?  This was the predicament of the Israelites when they camped before Mount Sinai.

Three months after the people left the land of Egypt, they entered the Wilderness of Sinai.  The Lord told Moses to tell them to consecrate themselves for two days, then on the third day, He would go down on Mount Sinai in their sight.  They were warned not to go up to the mountain or touch its base or they will be put to death. Boundaries were set around them which they could not step over.  When they hear the trumpet sound long, they were to go to near the mountain.  God explained to Moses why He was doing this.  “Behold, I come to you in the thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak to you, and believe you forever.”  The people could not break through the barrier set for them to gaze at the Lord.  Only Moses was allowed to speak to God face to face.

The people were terrified when they saw the thunder and lightning, heard the sound of the trumpet and saw the mountain smoking.  They stood afar off, trembling.  They said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.”

Moses reassured them, “Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.”  The people continued to stand afar off while he drew near to where God was.

I don’t know how I would have reacted if I were there but I am thankful that today, we can go near God without fear.  Thanks to Jesus’ atoning work on the cross, we can boldly approach the throne of grace.  Jesus made it possible for us to enjoy a loving relationship the same God who descended on the mountain in the wilderness.

God wants us to seek Him.  He promised, “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).  Do we seek Him or do we stand afar, afraid to get too close?  Do we ask others to talk to Him on our behalf instead of talking to Him ourselves?

Today, I encourage you not to just stand at the foot of the mountain.  Climb it.  God has removed the boundaries that would keep you from Him because of His Son. Don’t let fear or sin or anything keep you from climbing up that mountain to meet your Lord.

Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out (Ezekiel 34:11).

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Sources:  Exodus 19, 20:18-20

The Miracle of Life

For me, the most amazing transformation were the stages of pregnancy.  It wasn’t planned but I was thrilled when I got the news that I was pregnant.   During those 41 weeks, I marveled at the changes of my body and was amazed at the relentless hunger pangs that plagued me.  I was told that I was eating for two when I was actually eating for myself.  The baby took whatever nourishment he needed.  I was curious to see the stages of development so I visited the Baby Centre site to find out, What does your baby look like now?  It was an eye-opening experience.  I couldn’t believe that in nine months, that little tadpole would transform into a baby with beautifully formed limbs, ten toes, ten fingers and a head of hair.  Open day, those tiny lungs would get their first gulp of air.  I couldn’t wait to welcome my baby into the world.

My pregnancy not only changed my life, but it deepened my love and appreciation for the God who had made this possible.   “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward” (Psalm 127:3).  God’s loving fingers had knitted the life growing inside me.  He clothed him with skin and flesh and knitted him together with bones and sinews (Job 10:11).

I will never forget the moment I first held my son in my arms.  My arms ached to hold him and when the nurse gently lowered him into them, I felt as if my heart would stop beating.  The love I felt as I gazed down into that sweet little face was almost too much to bear.  Tears come to my eyes even I write these words.  At long last I was holding the life that had been covered in my womb (Psalm 139:13).  The transformation was complete.  I was holding the miracle of life in my arms.  I never imagined that I would have a child in my forties.  Yet, there I was holding my first and only child and he was perfect.   He was “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).  I made a promise that I would be the best mother that he could ever hope for, with God’s help.

Image result for the stages of childbirth

 

Love Hangs On

There is an image that will forever be imprinted on Cindy’s mind.  It is what keeps her going when she wants to give up.  Recently, her son had been acting up at school and she was struggling to deal with why he was taking what didn’t belong to him and lying about it.  She had been crushed by such despair that she just wanted to throw in the towel and resign herself to the idea that it was no use trying to fix this problem.  She and her husband had talked to him many times about the consequences of wrongdoing. They read Bible stories to him stories to illustrate how important it was to do what was right.  But it seemed to be a waste of time.  She cried when she read the teacher’s note, wondering what had happened to her precious little boy who would never have thought of taking other people’s things and telling lies.

She had prayed to God about it but the discouragement and disappointment were overwhelming.  During her morning worship one day, she was frank with the Lord, telling him that she didn’t know what else to do.  Talking to Joey, reading verses from the book of Proverbs which urged children to listen to their parents and even spanking him didn’t seem to be working.  She had run out of options.  Then, the image which she always held dear to her heart, filled her mind.  She saw her son in the hospital, wrapped in a blanket, his head covered and only his tiny face  was exposed.  She would never forget looking into those big, beautiful eyes as they stared up at her.  This was her child.  The son she and her husband had prayed for.  This was God’s precious gift to them.

As the image lingered, she heard the Lord say, “Do it for him.”  God was encouraging her not to give up on that little baby who was looking up at her with such trust.  He was seven now but somewhere in there was that sweet child that had filled her heart such love.  It was this love that she was to tap into to help him.  God doesn’t give up on His children, no matter how long it takes or how hard, so she couldn’t give up on Joey.  Joey was a loving, kind and thoughtful child but he was doing bad things. She and his Dad had to find out why and then deal with it with God’s help.  God told her to talk to Joey, not at him and then listen to him.

She realized that lately she had been lecturing Joey and talking while he was trying to say something.  And it had been a while since she had spent any time with him.  Was it her fault that Joey was acting up?  Then, she pushed that thought away.  The enemy would love for her to blame herself but she wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction.  She knew that she and her husband were raising Joey the best they knew how, in a Godly home.  They would do whatever was necessary to help him but the choice, decision to stop doing what was wrong was his.  She was not going to give up without a fight, though.  Armed with hope and a mother’s fierce love, she was going to hang on to her child and not let go until it was safe to do so.   And one day he was going to thank her for not letting go of the child he used to be so that he could become the exceptional man God knew he could be.

Love suffers long and is kind; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails – 1 Corinthians 13:4, 7, 8

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A Lesson in Humility

They were probably sitting or reclining at the table, wondering who was going to wash their feet.  They looked around, wondering and waiting.  None of them was going to volunteer to do it.  Why should they?  This was beneath them.  Not that long ago they had argued about which one of them was going to be the greatest in the kingdom.  They would never stoop to doing such a menial task as washing twelve pairs of dirty feet.  Surely, they wouldn’t mind washing Jesus’ feet, at least?  No, no one was going to volunteer.

What a shock it must have been for them when they saw their Master get up from the table, take off His outer garment, and tie a towel around His waist, fill a basin with water and then begin to wash their feet.  He didn’t use a different towel to dry their feet, He used the same one that was wrapped around His waist.  They probably looked at each other in astonishment, hardly able to believe that the Son of God was performing such a lowly task.  Did any of them feel embarrassed?

When it came to Peter’s turn, he declared, “Never at any time will you wash my feet!” It was inconceivable to him that his Lord would do something so beneath him and he wanted no part of it.  One can just imagine Jesus looking up at him as He said, “If I do not wash your feet, you will no longer be My disciple.”

That response must have shocked Peter.  Then, he said, “Lord, do not wash only my feet, then! Wash my hands and head, too!” He went from not wanting his feet washed to wanting a bath.

Jesus, by washing their feet was showing them that as His disciples, they ought to be willing to serve one another.  He was teaching them a lesson in humility.  He had told them earlier in His ministry that He didn’t come to be served but to serve and to give His life for many.   As His followers, we ought to swallow our pride and volunteer for the jobs that others don’t want to do.

After Jesus finished washing their feet, got dressed and rejoined them at the table, He explained why He had washed their feet.  “Do you realise what I have just done to you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘Lord’ and you are quite right, for I am your teacher and your Lord. But if I, your teacher and Lord, have washed your feet, you must be ready to wash one another’s feet. I have given you this as an example so that you may do as I have done.”  He was greater than they, yet He humbled Himself and took on the role of a servant.

Not many of us would volunteer for positions that involve hard work and little or no thanks or recognition but it would do us good to remember that whatever we do, we do it for the glory of God who will reward us openly.

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Sources:  John 13:1-17; Mark 10:45

The Fires of Faith

Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death.  And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:21, 22).

 

They meet in secret at night.  They don’t meet in the same place too often.  They don’t tell their families about these meetings.  They draw the curtains to keep the world out. They speak in whispers. Every day they meet, it is a gamble.  At any moment, they could be discovered.  The risk is great.  They live in fear of being arrested, tortured or killed.  Is it worth it?  To the members of the underground churches, it is.  They risk everything for their belief.

 

Life for Christians is terrible in places like North Korea, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, India, Egypt, Iraq and Syria.  It is ironic that it was to Egypt that Joseph fled with Mary and Jesus to escape Herod’s murderous rampage yet today, Christians are under great pressure.  Secret believers like In Syria, Christians had to flee their homes.

 

Those of us who are living in the West, we can worship openly in church buildings.  We don’t have to speak in whispers.  We can sing and pray out loud. We enjoy religious liberty.  Some of us may face opposition from our families.  Jesus warned us of this.  “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth.  I did not come to bring peace but a sword.  For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and a ‘man’s enemies will be those of his own household’” (Matthew 10:34-36).

 

Just recently, I read a story of a father who forbad his daughter from going to church.  Her family was from an Orthodox background so they had a problem with her wanting to attend a Protestant church.  She resorted to sneaking off and going to church.  There are other stories of men and women persecuted, beaten, ostracized and even murdered by family members because of their faith.

 

It’s hard to believe that Christians persecute other Christians.  However, this is prevalent in Ethiopia.  Christians from the Orthodox churches who leave to find more vibrant churches are pressured to return.  In the days prior to the Reformation, many believers were forced to hide.  Such groups were the Waldensians who were forced underground because they were declared heretics by the Roman Catholic Church.  They rejected the teachings of the church and what they believed to be the idolatry of the church and considered the Papacy as the Antichrist of Rome.

 

Many were driven from their homes and into the mountains when in January 1655, the Duke of Savoy commanded them to attend Mass or sell their lands and go to the upper valleys of their homeland.  It was in the middle of winter.  The Duke didn’t expect them to choose to leave their homes and lands in the lower valleys.  Yet, they did and it was written that the old men, women and the sick “waded through the icy waters, climbed the frozen peaks and at length reached the homes for their impoverished brethren of the Upper Valleys where they were warmly received”  Sadly, the horrors of persecution were about to be unleashed.

 

 

When the Duke realized that his efforts to get the people to conform to Catholicism, he tried another approach.  Under the guise of false reports of uprisings, he sent the troops to the people. It was a ruse to gain them easy access.  Then, on April 24, 1655 at 4am when the people would have been sleeping, the troops were given the command to go and massacre them.  They didn’t just slaughter the people but they looted, raped, tortured and murdered.  Peter Liegé reported the following:

 

 

Little children were torn from the arms of their mothers, clasped by their tiny feet, and their heads dashed against the rocks; or were held between two soldiers and their quivering limbs torn up by main force. Their mangled bodies were then thrown on the highways or fields, to be devoured by beasts. The sick and the aged were burned alive in their dwellings. Some had their hands and arms and legs lopped off, and fire applied to the severed parts to staunch the bleeding and prolong their suffering. Some were flayed alive, some were roasted alive, some disemboweled; or tied to trees in their own orchards, and their hearts cut out. Some were horribly mutilated, and of others the brains were boiled and eaten by these cannibals. Some were fastened down into the furrows of their own fields, and ploughed into the soil as men plough manure into it. Others were buried alive. Fathers were marched to death with the heads of their sons suspended round their necks. Parents were compelled to look on while their children were first outraged [raped], then massacred, before being themselves permitted to die (Wikipedia).

 

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Print illustrating the 1655 massacre in La Torre, from Samuel Moreland’s “History of the Evangelical Churches of the Valleys of Piemont” published in London in 1658.

 

 

The Piedmont massacre happened during Easter.  In fact, it became known as the Piedmont Easter and it was estimated that about 1,700 Waldensians were slaughtered.  Its brutality aroused the indignation of the European nations and sanctuary was offered to the remaining Waldensians.

 

 

Today, many Christians face the same kind of brutality for their faith.  Women have been attacked, beaten or murdered because they converted to Christianity.  Girls have been brutally raped for their faith or their parents’ faith. According to a report in the New York Times:  “Christians in areas of Egypt that are largely dominated by Muslim militants continue to suffer from violence and humiliation. These believers are under constant threat of their houses and other properties being burned down, or possibly being mugged while walking along the streets. Even church buildings are not spared as they are desecrated and marred with hate graffiti written on the walls.”  Christians are living in fear.  Some of them are secret believers like Femi* and Alim*

 

November 6 is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.  I encourage you to watch the moving video, Pray With Them from Open Doors and try to imagine what it would be like to live in a country where you have to go underground in order to worship or face prison, persecution, torture or death.

 

Keep the fires of faith burning.  Do not let anyone or anything extinguish them.  Hold fast until our blessed Lord Jesus Christ comes and you receive your crown.