Ruby

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“Do you know my story, Grandpa?” Ruby my 16 year old granddaughter asked.

“Well, parts of it.” I answered, catching my balance as we descended a mountain trail in the Ardennes.

As I turned to face Ruby, memories associated with this vibrant young woman flooded my mind. I remembered the time as a three-year-old when Ruby almost died of febrile convulsions. (My son reminds me that I learned of this accident during a bishop board meeting and that I led my fellow bishops in prayer, crying out, “Let me die, not her.” When my son later questioned my theology, I informed him that grandparents may not be the best theologians.)

I remembered how Ruby as a fifth grader was quickly developing skills as a gymnast. But a severe concussion and coma from a playground accident changed that trajectory, and she decided that she would become a nurse.

I recalled Ruby as a skilled horsewoman, as a sometimes saxophonist and recently as an archery competitor.

And, of course, I knew Ruby as friendly, outgoing and often the center of good times.

But I knew there was more to learn so I responded, “Yes, parts of it;” grabbing on to a branch to slow my descent. “But, tell me more.”

Ruby began, “Well, several years ago I found myself very much enjoying and being influenced by my friends, subtly drifting away from my Christian values.

“Then at a youth group retreat I had a powerful encounter with the loving heavenly Father. He changed my heart; He changed everything. He gave me a freedom to express myself among my friends. If my friends disagree with me, I do not let it trouble me; I just continue expressing God’s love to them.

“Recently a teacher came to me and said with a big smile that she would always remember me because of what happened last year in class. The teacher had said, ‘Oh,God!’ And I immediately said, ‘Don’t take the name of the Lord your God in vain.’

“On another occasion a Muslim boy told a friend, ‘I want to talk to that Protestant girl (as distinguished from Catholic) because I have been reading the Bible and I want to discuss with her what it means.’

“My fellow students and I have discovered that if on occasion we want a break from lectures, we can engage a teacher in discussion. On one such occasion I said, ‘Let’s have a discussion about evolution.’ My fellow students groaned and said, ‘There goes Ruby again.’ One such discussion lasted for over an hour. The teacher asked me why I did not believe in evolution. I responded that I find it more satisfying to believe that I was created by a loving heavenly Father than that I evolved from a monkey. The teacher was so amazed by this that he contacted me again to continue the discussion.

“Several times on my way to school, I encountered some people who are part of a religious cult. I discussed this with my youth leader, and I studied the tenets of their beliefs. The next time I met them, we carried on a conversation and then I asked if I could pray for them. They refused, stating that I would not use the right words. After learning the ‘right words’ I said I could include those words in my prayer. But they still refused.

“But my best story happened recently. I was facing my final 11th grade English exam. It was an oral exam and I needed to be prepared to tell a story and to report on a book. I asked the teacher if I could report on the Bible; she responded that she wanted me to read and report on another book in that She felt I was too familiar with the Bible. I persisted, asking if I could report on a book and still discuss the Bible if there was time. The teacher agreed.

“In the exam I started off by giving the story of how God’s love impacted me. At the end the teacher said ‘I hope what you say is true.’

“Then I asked her if I could pray for her. She seemed somewhat taken aback but agreed. So I prayed that her ‘hope would become a certainty’ for her. She thanked me for the prayer. I later learned that she had given me an ‘A’ in the exam. “

As I reflected on my conversation with Ruby, I realized that she is a climate changer . She enters a ‘space’ and immediately declares that Jesus (not the latest pop singer, actor or athlete) is very important to her. This creates an atmosphere in which faith in Christ is “in the air.” Then people have the freedom to either agree or disagree. But even in disagreeing they are still thinking about faith.

May the contagious faith and love of Ruby help ignite a youth movement in Europe.

And may grandfathers, such as I, become less self-aware as we abandon ourselves anew to our great calling as ‘climate changers.’

Julie

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Sometimes I am concerned for my granddaughters growing up in secular Europe.

So today I listened carefully as my 12 year old Belgian granddaughter, Julie, a professed Christian, following the ways of the Lord, talked about her daily life as we hiked together through the mountains of the Ardennes.

“About a year ago I thought I had found a new friend from my street. She was my age, fun to be with and interested in the same things. But within days I learned that she was quite different in certain respects, which troubled me.

She resisted what her parents asked of her, demanded her own way of them and did not hesitate to lie. She said for example, that she has a brother and a horse, neither of which are true. Or when I wore my bicycle helmet because my parents instructed me to, she would not wear her helmet even though her parents had asked her to do the same.

One day she asked me to lie for her to her parents. I immediately responded, ‘you can lie if you wish but I will not lie for you or with you.’ Then I walked away from her.

Over the next month I saw little of her but I prayed daily for her. One day she invited me to her birthday party. Since that time we have become very close. She no longer lies about anything and she is more respectful of her parents. In fact her parents said to her, “‘We are glad Julie is your friend.’

She is now my very best friend and I know she will become a Christian because I am praying for her and talking with her about my faith in Jesus.”

As I listened I prayed, “O Lord, help me to be as clear about my identity in Christ and my mission to love people, yet shape the culture around me through gracious truth, even as this young child.”

My Mother

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My mother, Iva, was 78 when she died of complications of diabetes. I had reflected, as she was weakening in her final weeks, that there were many things I had learned from my patients over the years about their lives that I did not know about my own mother. Even though I had wanted to have this conversation with her for years, there was something in me that resisted taking on an interviewer role with my mother. But I thought, “now or never” and I began the conversation.

“Mother, what was it like when you were a girl? What was your relationship with your father? What was your relationship with your mother? With your siblings? How did your father’s mental illness affect you?

What was the most difficult part of your life? What was the best part? What was it like having me as your son? What would you do differently about your life? What is it like for you now, facing death? Tell me about your relationship with Jesus.”

For hours she talked and I listened. I learned things I had never known about her. I came to understand my own life in a new way. I learned that her spiritual life had become alive for her in the later part of her life. She said it was like the Bible came alive to her.

At the end I leaned over her as she lay on the bed and kissed her goodby for the last time, grateful that God had given me such a wonderful mother and doubly grateful that I had come to know her heart even at this late hour.

I had wanted to be with her when she died but I was fulfilling a speaking engagement in the Lancaster area when I received the message that she had passed to her reward. I learned that in her final moments she suddenly roused herself and exclaimed, “I see angels and they are coming my way.” As eager as we were to have her stay, God was more eager to have her join Him.

I was able to release my mother with joy. I realized that part of the pain of parting is the “the unfinished conversations.” But we had finished our conversations for now.

I know we will have more to share when I see her again.

Dale Keener’s Homecoming

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My wife Ruth’s brother, Dale L. Keener, age 77, heard the final call this morning shortly after his morning prayer, “Holy Spirit, please lead, guide, and direct my steps today.”

And Jesus said,”Come on home, my faithful son.”

Dale was not only my brother-in-law he was my good friend and prayer partner. Ever since his time as a missionary in Ethiopia as a young man, he carried the world as well as his family in his heart. His greatest desire and prayer was to see all those God brought into his life, from family to neighbors to those he visited in prison, share heaven with him.

As one of his daughter’s said, “In Dale Keener’s home, there was always room for another at the table, always a place to stay.”

So, today, his work complete, Dale left unexpectedly for his long anticipated face-to-face meeting with his beloved Lord and Savior who has prepared an eternal place for him to stay.

Brussels Tragedy

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We praise God that our lives were forever impacted by Belgium when our son Vaughn married his lovely wife, Ilona, a native of Belgium, 20 years ago. They have raised their three daughters, Elisa, Ruby and Julie, to walk in faith in a very secular setting.

Today we are grateful that Vaughn’s family is safe but we grieve for the lives affected by the violence this morning in Brussels, a beautiful city often considered the capital of Europe. And we grieve for the impact this violence will have on the nation and all of Europe.

We pray that God will give great wisdom to Belgian leaders so that they will lead the nations in finding a life-giving way to respond to this devastating crisis.

“Pray … for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.”

1 Timothy 2:2-4 NLT

India (Part 8)

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Alex arranged for Marita and me to conduct today’s seminar attired in garments traditional for Kerala. Here I am attired in the dhoti, a rectangular piece of cloth wrapped around the waist at least twice and knotted at the waist(ours had velcro). It feels cool but you have to develop the knack and lack of inhibition involved in lifting your ‘skirt’ to facilitate your ease of walking.

Our seminar today was in a church of the Indian Pentecostal Church of God, the largest indigenous Pentecostal denomination in India. The language was Malayalam. Several of Alex’s relatives are ministers in this denomination. We were warmly received.

We left at 8:30 pm after the Wednesday evening service to travel approximately 2.5 hours over mountain roads to the Kochin airport for our 4:20 am departure for home on the Etihad airline.

We had a very productive trip. Thanks be to God. Marita and I are both eager to get home following this two week trip. (Marita and Todd’s 20th anniversary was the 16th)

 

India (Part 7)

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There are daily newspaper reports of attacks on churches across India. When the church complains there is often a ‘false charge’ filed against the pastor accusing him of “forced conversions” Consequently the church can expect little justice.

India has been known by the international community as a multicultural democracy. However the present administration by its silence appears to lend support to those who would desire to change India to a fully Hindu nation which would among other things ban the use of beef and restrict people to the religion of their ancestors,i. e. Hindu.

India (Part 6)

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Flew yesterday 1,500 miles from Delhi to southern India to city of Coimbatore.

Participated in a combined worship service of PTL India churches in the area. Language is not Hindi but Tamil.

I am always surprised how many people can be crowded into a small space if everyone sits on the floor-in this case over 300 passionate worshippers for a 3 hour service.

In these settings I ask myself, “What do I have to give to these wonderful believers, refined by the fires of persecution. Who am I that I should presume to have a message for them?”

Then I recall that I was not called to be a great preacher or a great expert. I was called in weakness to humbly serve my brothers and sisters with the word given to me, trusting Him to make it “strong” in the life of the believer.

A pastor came to me this morning and told me that because of intense persecution against his church he has found it difficult to keep moving forward. But this morning the Lord spoke to him and he now sees a way forward in spite of the persecution. We praised the Lord together and I assured him I and others would be in prayer for him.

India (Part 5) Graduation

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It was a “solemn joy” to participate with PTL- Institute of Mission Studies in the graduation ceremony for 49 students: 16 with M.Div degrees and 30 with B.Th degrees and two with Certificates in Theology.

“Solemn” because you know that these graduates are going out all over India in church planting at a time when persecution against the church is a daily occurrence.

“Joyful” because Christ has promised to never leave us or forsake us and has clearly said that persecution for His name will be a special opportunity to share His glorious good news (Gospel).

India (Part 4) The Father’s Blessing

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Father’s Blessing

I spoke on the Father’s Blessing in the women’s conference today in Delhi where my daughter Marita was the featured speaker. I said that a blessing speaks to our identity and our destiny and that a blessing enables us to prosper.

As part of my presentation, I knelt before Marita, looking her in the eyes, my hand on her shoulder, as I gave her the Father’s blessing. I told her I was pleased with her, that I delight in her and that God has a great destiny for her and her family.

Marita reminded me, through tears, that I had blessed her many times but that each time was powerfully meaningful.

I realized anew that each of us carry the power to enable the people around us to prosper through our spoken words of blessing. Yet Satan often convinces us that our words are unnecessary or will be ineffective. So we withhold the blessing.

And I saw in the tear filled eyes and subsequent testimonies of the conference participants that many still long for the father’s blessing.

I told the one’s whom I blessed that while I was not their father, I would speak the words that I believe God would have wanted their earthly fathers to have spoken to them.

In fact, our blessings bring heaven to earth and enable those we bless to walk with new expectation and realization of heaven’s favor.

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