Category Archives: Testimony

The Everlasting Refuge of God


“The eternal God is your refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut. 33:27)

 

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One Ceiling La Sagrada Familia

 

Most of us have days when we feel unstable and weak in the light of our own strength, particularly when we are sick or begin to feel the inevitable effects of aging. I woke up on June 21 with a lot of shaking (strong tremors in my hands). This is unusual for me since I have been blessed with such good health. It frightened me. The writer of Deuteronomy, along with many other Bible authors, like to focus on the REFUGE of God.

This term no longer finds a place in our daily conversations. It is good to remember why it is of value in the life of a Christian. I can’t describe it better than David Roach has:

“Refuge” calls our attention first of all to sin and the wreckage it causes. When the Old Testament speaks of refuge, it is always in the context of a threat, something wrong or dangerous in the world. Sometimes the threat is physical, as in seeking refuge from a rainstorm (Job 24:8; Isaiah 4:6), shade from hot sun (Judges 9:15), or protection from adversaries (Psalm 61:3). In other instances, the threat is spiritual or emotional, as in a refuge from shame (Psalm 31:1; 71:1) or loneliness (Psalm 142:4). But in all these cases, the Bible’s use of “refuge” reminds us that we live in a world wrecked by sin—a world of dangers around us and brokenness inside us. We cannot avoid these realities, only seek shelter from them.

Yet the word “refuge” also calls our attention to God’s power to save us from sin and its consequences. Many times, it references His ability to protect us from the dangers just described. He provides shelter in a storm, vindication in the face of shame, and friendship in times of loneliness. Even more significantly, the Lord is our refuge in the Day of Judgment. Though He will bring a day of reckoning for sin, He grants His people forgiveness and gives them refuge from His wrath (Nahum 1:7; Deuteronomy 32:37). Indeed, the greatest need of all men and women is shelter from the horrible consequences of sin, and this word in Scripture reminds us that God offers such shelter.”  (Bible Mesh Blog)

So, today, I praise God for his everlasting refuge.

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Chinese and Americans–One People Under God


Mao Zedong was born in Shaoshan village in 1893. This village was just one hour by car from the birthplace of Cumberland Presbyterian missions in China in 1898. Dr. Lawrence Fung and I led a group from the USA to visit Hunan, Shaoshan village, Changsha, and the infamous mountain atomic bomb bunker of Mao in the Water Dripping Cave near Shaoshan in 1998.

The Entrance to Water Dripping Cave

The Entrance to Water Dripping Cave

Our visit to Shaoshan village came in the early years of China opening their doors to foreign tourism so all the displays were simple. Everything looked so dusty. The presentation yelled, “We don’t care about tourism.” It was easy to see that capitalism had not embedded in the Chinese culture. But we saw it raising its head with the building of huge amusement parks that aimed to bring the Disney mentality to China.

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The Childhood Village of Mao Zedong

The village demonstrated how a young boy, born in poverty, could catch a fleeting spark of hope for change that led to the overthrow of the Chinese government. And, how good intentions for the populace would mutate into another form of government that limited the freedom, peace, and joy of the common people.

I was most impressed when we stopped to see the process of the rice harvest. When I saw the sheaths of rice, I became overwhelmed with the immense task of reaching the millions of people in China and other unreached parts of the world. And, the words from Matthew popped into my mind–“The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few” (Mt. 9:38).

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The Harvest is Plentiful

Additionally,  on that day trip, we were able, accompanied by Chinese government officials related to the Three-Self Patriotic Church of China, to visit a village church not far from the Water Dripping Cave. We had to walk about a half a mile from a country road through rice paddies to get to the small church perched on a small hill overlooking the fields we had just traversed.

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This was our only opportunities to relate with the poor working class, the farmers, of China. These were the people that had eked out a living for their full life and had no doubt heard about the evil materialism and colonialism of America through the propaganda machine of communist China. There we stood in the wee church singing praises to God and laughing with these warm smiling people that had seen very few foreigners. And, I thought, “Why must there be war?” None of us present, neither Chinese and American, would ever want that. And for a moment we all forgot our separate patriotic loyalties and we were one people under God.

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Reasons to Praise God


The Psalmist reminds of reasons to praise God with our whole heart. You will see 6 good reasons in bold print below:

  • God’s love and faithfulness are unfailing.
  • God answers our prayers.
  • God emboldens us.
  • God looks kindly on the lowly.
  • God preserves our life in the midst of trouble.
  • God saves us with his strong hand.

 

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Organ in La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

 

I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart;
    before the “gods” I will sing your praise.
I will bow down toward your holy temple
    and will praise your name
    for your unfailing love and your faithfulness,
for you have so exalted your solemn decree
    that it surpasses your fame.
When I called, you answered me;
    you greatly emboldened me.

May all the kings of the earth praise you, Lord,
    when they hear what you have decreed.
May they sing of the ways of the Lord,
    for the glory of the Lord is great.

Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly;
    though lofty, he sees them from afar.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
    you preserve my life.
You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes;
    with your right hand you save me.
The Lord will vindicate me;
    your love, Lord, endures forever
    do not abandon the works of your hands.

My First Trip to Mainland China–Is This Too Good to Be True?


Do you remember an individual’s experience that can be documented, but appears too incredible to be true? The following story of God’s protection of a faithful believer caused me to blink several times in amazement. I traveled to Mainland China for the first time in 1991. We visited the Sha Kai Three-Self Patriotic Church near Zongshan, just across the Pearl River Delta from Hong Kong. This little church was a Cumberland Presbyterian congregation prior to the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) when all religion was prohibited during the leadership of Mao Zedong. During that decade Sha Kai church was closed and converted to a factory. Following Mao’s death in 1976, the Chinese government relaxed their persecution of religion and began to return some church properties to the Three-Self Patriotic Church. Sha Kai was one of the properties recovered and reopened. Gradually, members of the original congregation returned to worship.

Three Self Patriotic Movement Church Pastor

Three Self Patriotic Movement Church Pastor

During our discussions with the pastor of Sha Kai, we secured permission to meet some of the older leaders of the church who had lived through the Japanese invasion of China and the Cultural Revolution. The pastor guided us on a fifteen-minute walk to the home of Elder Song, a writer and the principal leader of the congregation prior to 1966.

Foreigners, in this case, me, were obviously rare in this area of China. People stopped to gaze as we made our way around street vendors and lazy dogs sleeping on the sidewalk. As the streets narrowed and sidewalks disappeared, only bicycles zipped by close to us. Finally, we made a sharp turn onto a dirt path leading past a small bamboo thicket. The path ended on the stoop of a small one-story whitewashed adobe house. Red petunias hung in a planter just above a bronze bell used to signal the arrival of a guest.

A slender lady opened the door and the pastor explained the purpose of our visit. We were led to a small patio that faced out to more bamboo. The lady disappeared momentarily. The house was obviously the last one on the hillside, which dropped quickly toward the valley below.

Our hostess said her husband was aware of our arrival and that he would soon come to speak with us. A younger woman walked by his side as his slippers scraped along the tiled floor. His smile welcomed us without a word. He slowly eased into a wooden straight-back chair in front of us. Only, then, did he speak softly, “I am honored to have you visit my humble home.”

His wife did most of the talking for her husband, sharing that Elder Song was thankful to live to the age of 83. During an hour visit, we expressed our interest in how they survived the years when Christians were harshly persecuted. She related that ill-treatment began quickly when Mao announced his decision to close churches and deny everyone the freedom of religion. Government officials forced their way into both churches and homes to confiscate all Bibles, religious literature, crosses, or visual representations of Christ or the church.

The key leaders of each church received the most severe persecution to strike fear into others. Any efforts to violate the edicts of the government resulted in beatings and imprisonment. The severe actions intended to cleanse the society of any Western influence or loyalties that interfered with commitments to Communist dogma. The strongest leaders of churches were selected for reorientation camps. Elder Song was one scheduled for such a penalty. The camps included months of brainwashing and oppressive labor. However, just a few days prior to his departure, a stroke paralyzed him from the neck down. He was unable to leave his bed for more than a decade, requiring the full-time care of his wife. He remained faithful through all of those years, teaching and witnessing in the privacy of his home. Following the death of Mao and the government’s increased leniency to religion, Elder Song recovered the use of his body and his health was largely restored.

I often remember this story when my life or the life of those I love appears overwhelming. A believer needs never to rule out the possibility of a miracle even when it arrives dressed in a way we might not expect or desire. God confirms his promise to walk side-by-side with us even through the valley of the shadow of death. We sometimes witness the unthinkable when God is involved—I felt the impossible became tangible in the testimony of Elder Song.

My First View of Mainland China


I am one of the fortunate people who has visited China on numerous occasions. And, ever trip taught me more about the unfathomable differences and similarities between Americans and Chinese. The common people of all lands, even those enslaved by years of a false hostile ideology or those that believe that their country is the only one on earth, immediately with little reluctance, are overjoyed to meet people from another country when in a non-hostile environment.

I am thinking about my many trips to China. I have to drift back to 1980 when I caught my first glimpse of mainland China. That resulted from an unexpected gift from a friend. The date was early 1980. I was in Tennessee for a one-year furlough from missionary service in Colombia, South America. The phone rang and Dr. Marie Blackwell quickly asked me whether I was going to Hong Kong in May to attend the organization of Hong Kong Presbytery

Dr. Maree Blackwell

Dr. Maree Blackwell

My response was simple…”No, I will not be able to attend.” Her next question was as simple, “Why not?”

I answered without thinking, “That is very expensive.”

She said, “I think you should represent the work in Colombia. Would you go if I pay your way?”

I was in Hong Kong on May 4th, 1980 for the organization of the presbytery. Those were the years while Hong Kong was still a British Colony. But we did take time during the visit to travel north to the border between Hong Kong and Mainland China. I peered cautiously from Hong Kong into mainland China. This was just four years after the death of Mao Zedong.

From 1966 to 1976 during the Cultural Revolution, the expression of religious life in China was effectively banned, including even the TSPM. The growth of the Chinese house church movement during this period was a result of all Chinese Christian worship being driven underground for fear of persecution. To counter this growing trend of “unregistered meetings”, in 1979 the government officially restored the TSPM after thirteen years of non-existence, and in 1980 the Chinese Christian Council was formed.

Little did I know I would one day travel widely around China to visit sites of interest in the ministry of the Christian Church.

The Organization of Hong Kong Presbytery

The Organization of Hong Kong Presbytery

 

Dealing with Anxiety


I do a fairly decent job of being content wherever I am and whatever I am doing. This morning I read Psalm 131 as a part of my program to read through the Bible in one year. David writes in verse 2 “But I have calmed and quieted my self…” That couldn’t have been easy for David since he was constantly under siege by animals, giants, Saul, neighboring nations, and his own family.

I assume he sat down and got quiet wherever he could find peace and quiet. Maybe he turned in prayer to listen for a word from God and was reminded of God steadfastness love and mercy. Maybe he played a tune on his lyre since that always calmed Saul when he was disturbed. Perhaps he looked at his cat and said, “Let me relax like that little creature.”

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I find anxiety totally unproductive but often lapse into its vicious grasp. I hate those feelings of doubt and a troubled spirit. So, I have to consciously deny them in my life.

Here are some of my tools in seeking contentment.

  1. I resign myself to accept what has happened, both good and bad.
  2. I rest in the belief that God will work out whatever happens for my own good and God’s glory in the end.
  3. I really try to be optimistic about the future.IMG_1423
  4. I remember how faithful God has been in my life.
  5. I run toward the friends I enjoy and trust most.

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These four steps lead me to a better place in the land of contentment.

A Preacher Gets Listeners in an Unusual Place


I was in Lisbon, Portugal in April and saw a very interesting mosaic in a church. It pictured St. Antony preaching to a receptive multitude of fish. The following is the story behind the tile presentation.

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From “The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi,” 1476


Christ, the blessed one, was pleased to show forth the great sanctity of his most faithful servant St Anthony, and how men ought devoutly to listen to his preaching, be means of creatures without reason. On one occasion, amongst others, he made use of fish to reprove the folly of faithless heretics: even as we read in the Old Testament that in ancient times he reproved the ignorance of Balaam by the mouth of an ass.

St Anthony being at one time at Rimini, where there were a great number of heretics, and wishing to lead them by the light of faith into the way of truth, preached to them for several days and reasoned with them on the faith of Christ and on the Holy Scriptures. They not only resisted his words but were hardened and obstinate, refusing to listen to him.

At last St Anthony, inspired by God, went down to the sea-shore, where the river runs into the sea, and having placed himself on a bank between the river and the sea, he began to speak to the fishes as if the Lord had sent him to preach to them, and said: “Listen to the word of God, O ye fishes of the sea and of the river, seeing that the faithless heretics refuse to do so.”

No sooner had he spoken these words than suddenly so great a multitude of fishes, both small and great, approached the bank on which he stood, that never before had so many been seen in the sea or the river. All kept their heads out of the water, and seemed to be looking attentively on St Anthony’s face; all were ranged in perfect order and most peacefully, the smaller ones in front near the bank, after them came those a little bigger, and last of all, were the water was deeper, the largest.

When they had placed themselves in this order, St Anthony began to preach to them most solemnly, saying: “My brothers the fishes, you are bound, as much as is in your power, to return thanks to your Creator, who has given you so noble an element for your dwelling; for you have at your choice both sweet water and salt; you have many places of refuge from the tempest; you have likewise a pure and transparent element for your nourishment. God, your bountiful and kind Creator, when he made you, ordered you to increase and multiply, and gave you his blessing. In the universal deluge, all other creatures perished; you alone did God preserve from all harm. He has given you fins to enable you to go where you will. To you was it granted, according to the commandment of God, to keep the prophet Jonas, and after three days to throw him safe and sound on dry land.

At these words the fish began to open their mouths, and bow their heads, endeavouring as much as was in their power to express their reverence and show forth their praise.

St Anthony, seeing the reverence of the fish towards their Creator, rejoiced greatly in spirit, and said with a loud voice: “Blessed be the eternal God; for the fishes of the sea honour him more than men without faith, and animals without reason listen to his word with greater attention than sinful heretics.”

And whilst St Anthony was preaching, the number of fishes increased, and none of them left the place that he had chosen. And the people of the city hearing of the miracle made haste to go and witness it. With them also came the heretics of whom we have spoken above, who, seeing so wonderful and manifest a miracle, were touched in their hearts; and threw themselves at the feet of St Anthony to hear his words. The saint then began to expound to them the Catholic faith. He preached so eloquently, that all those heretics were converted, and returned to the true faith of Christ; the faithful also were filled with joy, and greatly comforted, being strengthened in the faith.

After this St Anthony sent away the fishes, with the blessing of God; and they all departed, rejoicing as they went, and the people returned to the city. But St Anthony remained at Rimini for several days, preaching and reaping much spiritual fruit in the souls of his hearers.

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