Wednesday, November 22, 2017

November 22 - C.S. Lewis, Apologist, Author, "the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England"

C.S. Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland in 1898 to a middle class family doing what they could to get by. He had an older brother and a dog named Jacksie. When Lewis was only four years old Jacksie was hit by a car.In only a few days, the understandably and clearly disturbed Lewis insisted to his family that they call him Jacksie. His family resisted little Clive's insistence because of how ridiculous it would sound to call their son after the name of the dead dog. Yet, Clive refused to answer to any other name and would go long stretches of time in silence as his parents called to him by the name "Clive." Perhaps to humor him, they compromised and started calling him Jack. As is the way of things, the nickname stuck and soon everybody was calling him Jack by habit.

Jack spent the majority of his childhood and youth at various schools. These times had an incredibly formative role in the development of his personality and identity. He was a good student but suffered from various maladies and illnesses. Though he had been born into the Church of Ireland and baptized as an infant, he soon fell away from the faith at the age of 15. He would later describe himself as a boy furious at God for not existing. There was a deep and passionate hunger for the spiritual within Jack but he found it snuffed and crippled within the confines of the walls of the Church. So, he went looking for it in the occult and in Celtic and Norse mythology. He was unsatisfied in his findings but he was satisfied with the freedom to explore.

It was only after receiving his education at Oxford and becoming a professor, he began having regular conversations with J.R.R. Tolkien and a few other friends at the university. When they made overtures about the Christian faith he brushed them away by insisting that he was an atheist and had no desire to think of the Christian God he had never experienced. They were persistent in their kind conversations and he trusted them as friends--even if he refused them--but he still responded with the words of Lucretius: "Had God designed the world, it would not be a world so frail and faulty as we see." Despite his rejections, his Christian friends continued to love him and socialize with him. He was not simply the target of their evangelistic machinery. Rather, he was their friend and because of their deep love, they could not help but mention the Faith that had changed their lives. Eventually, the persistent God that led Tolkien soon gripped Jack. Jack insisted that he came"kicking and screaming" into the Faith and later wrote about that night: "You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England." At the age of thirty-five, Jack found a home in the Faith. At first he only admitted theism but it was not long before he was won over to Christianity.

Lewis' conversion is a story told by many Christians to this day because of the nature of it as the pursuit of a man by an unrelenting and loving God. Jack's life had its share of suffering--from the abuses suffered as a child in boarding schools and his service and wounding in the British army during World War I to the death of his beloved wife (inspiration for perhaps his most beautifully personal book--A Grief Observed) and his own suffering with renal failure at the end. In spite of this suffering and pain, Lewis was never again persuaded to reject the God that had so eagerly pursued him. He wrote many books and articles that have been an inspiration to countless Christians for many years. Jack's life was a life defined by flight and chase.He fled from the God he so desperately wanted. As he did, he looked over his shoulder to make sure God would follow. Eventually, he was caught once again by the God of his mother, father, and childhood.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

November 21 - Miguel Pro, Martyr, Priest, Man of Prayer

Miguel had spent many years among the mining towns of Mexico. Born the son of a miner and his wife in Guadalupe, Zacatecas, he didn't experience the same kind of affluent lifestyle of some other saints. Rather, Miguel was born on the poverty line and was one of eleven children. As one of the elder children, he helped take care of his siblings. The Mexican people were Miguel's passion even as a child and he studied so that he might become a priest and serve them. Of particular interest to Miguel were people with similar humble beginnings who struggled to survive in a world that was rarely suited for their success and health.Throughout his life, Miguel was a man of prayer--often saying that the only thing that truly kept him going was prayer. At the age of 20, he began his studies with the Jesuits so that he might offer himself to the clerical life among the people of Mexico.Regrettably, however, he could not stay in Mexico long after this time.

In 1915, the surging tide of opponents to Roman Catholicism in Mexico became too much for Miguel and his superiors. He was sent to Spain to continue his studies so that he might not be arrested or killed by the government that had taken power after a rigged election. After finishing his studies, he was sent as a professor to Nicargagua. His heart yearned to be back in Mexico but it was becoming increasingly less hospitable to priests and he was assigned to Belgium. As his heart pined for the people of Mexico, his health deteriorated and the laws of Mexico became increasingly restrictive. The people who dared to follow after Jesus were forced to meet in secret and avoid detection--again. Priests were being framed for crimes and executed. Others were being arrested and abused. It was a bad time to be Christian in Mexico. It was a worse time to be a minister in a country that now forbade the wearing of clerical vestments or the speaking of clerical thoughts and commentary in public. The goal was the excision of the Roman Catholic church from Mexico and it was very nearly successful. It very well may have been if not for Miguel's testament to the faith in his dying words.

In Belgium he was ordained to the priestly ministry. His life was even more prayer filled after his ordination and after a short time in Belgium, it became clear that his deteriorating health was partially due to his discomfort with the climate and his homesickness for the people of Mexico. Against the better judgment of some of his superiors, he was sent back to Mexico. Miguel prayerfully thanked those over him and went gladly. His life in Mexico included priestly duties held in secret. He was overjoyed to visit and pray with the people entrusted to him and broke bread in many homes under the cover of darkness and the confident peace of prayer. When the ruler of Mexico--Plutarco Elias Calles--was nearly assassinated, he took a chance to put a stop to Miguel's work. He insisted that the planning had been the work of Miguel and had him arrested. There was a short--and ludicrous--trial but eventually Plutarco simply decreed that Miguel be executed.The pretext for the execution was an attempted assassination but the real reason was the constantly grasping desire of the State to subvert and excise the Church in Mexico. Miguel was drug from his cell in the early morning and granted one last request: to be allowed to kneel and pray (see above picture).

They took him to the firing range and secured him so that he might present a target for the rifles. They did not secure his arms and so he offered a blessing and prayer over the men holding the rifles that would soon bring his death. He declined the blindfold offered to him,--he was not afraid to look upon the State's atrocities-- grasped his crucifix in one hand and his rosary in the other and offered a loud shout proclaiming his desire to forgive the ones who now held his earthly life in their hands. "Ready," yelled the commander and Miguel offered a sweet smile as the men raised their rifles."Aim," continued the commander and Miguel stretched his arms out as if he were being crucified (see picture). The firing squad directed their rifles at his heart now exposed in his cruciform posture. "Fire!" yelled the commander. The men shot and hit Miguel who crumpled to the ground. He was not dead but he was dying. As the commander approached the bleeding body of Miguel, Miguel cried out:"Viva Cristo Rey!" or "Long live Christ the King!" The commander drew his sidearm and shot Miguel in the head at pointblank range.

Monday, November 20, 2017

November 20 - Shubal Stearns, Preacher, Evangelist, Traveler

Shubal Stearns slowly and silently surveyed the congregation in the little backwoods church. He gripped the sides of the crude wooden pulpit without uttering a single word and allowed his gaze to rest upon the people as he swept through them with his eyes. The congregation eagerly anticipated the word that would release them from the silent thralldom to this imposing man of God. He held back his words and they only craved the next one more. It seemed as if the silence got even more quiet yet nobody would consider saying something to break the tension. When it was getting close to being too awkward, Shubal broke the silence with five words: "You must be born again."Though he only said it loud enough to barely be heard at the back of the room, it seemed to thunder through their ears and minds. "Yes," they thought, "he speaks the truth. He must be right."

Shubal had moved to Sandy Creek in what is now called North Carolina from Virginia most recently and Boston, originally. This was before the Revolutionary war and before it was easy to travel long distances into the rural south. He and his wife--Sarah--joined with seven other couples to found a church in a land that was not their own. Shubal was chosen as the pastor for these people and so their church started with sixteen people and no connections. Shubal had been convinced of the necessity of an inner spiritual experience by the preaching of George Whitefield. This conviction was only furthered by the Baptists he spent time with and who formed his understanding of what it meant to be a Christian. For the people of North Carolina, Shubal's preaching was abrasive and challenging. They had been so comfortable with a nominal type of Christianity that allowed them to identify themselves with Jesus yet not be changed. It was the best kind of change, in their opinion, because it cost them nothing. Shubal was unconvinced.

It was Shubal's desire to awaken true discipleship in the minds and lives of the people he came into contact with. In many ways, Shubal hoped to bring Jesus to people who already claimed to know him. In many ways, he succeeded. In just a little while the 16 members of the church became 606. Soon, the congregation was founding and spreading yet more churches into the world. When Shubal finally died, there were 125 ministers who named Shubal as their minister and mentor.There were 42 churches that had been started by Shubal and his people.Following in the model of the early Church, the congregations that Shubal founded constantly grew and birthed other congregations.

Shubal was not known for theological brilliance or homiletical sophistication.Rather, he was known for simply and powerfully proclaiming the Gospel in a way that left the listener with little room to retreat into themselves. He had a bright and brilliant passion for the Church that he served and loved. When he passed on, he was well remembered as a joyful servant of the Body of Christ in the middle of geographical and social obscurity. He may not have had a huge impact on polite society but he had a life changing impact on the people who sat rapturously under his preaching.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

November 19 - Obadiah, Prophet, Soldier, Writer

"Be quiet. You can hide here but only if we can keep it secret. You need to remember that we'll all be killed if they find out what we're doing."Obadiah closed secret entrance to the cave after raising his finger to his lips to indicate the silence he hoped for. Then, he walked a few hundred feet to the entrance of the other cave and repeated himself to another group of prophets. Obadiah was a servant of Ahab and Jezebel but could not follow through with their orders to have the prophets killed. He had remained loyal to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob even when it seemed the rest of his people and peers had turned their backs on their heritage in favor of the illusion of power and sophistication.

Worship of Baal was widespread through Israel yet Obadiah continued to worship the one God of Israel. The only major difference now was that he had to do it in secret most of the time. Obadiah had hidden prophets in caves so that Jezebel might not find them and slaughter them.He had split the groups into two smaller groups so that they could be hidden in separate caves. This way, if one cave was discovered and raided, the prophets in the other cave could escape quickly and some of them might be saved from Jezebel's bloody hands.

Eventually, Ahab and Jezebel grew tired of the prophet Elijah who resisted them and seemed untouchable. They gathered up three detachments of soldiers and sent them out to arrest Elijah and bring him back to answer their questions. Obadiah was one of the soldier leaders who led the third detachment of soldiers. The three groups went off to do the dirty work of the idolatrous rulers and seize God's prophet. As the first detachment approached Elijah, they noticed that he did not seem prepared to resist them. Instead, they found him kneeling and wordlessly moving his lips in prayer. As they approached--calling out to him loudly with mockery in their voices--fire consumed them as if it had fallen from the sky.With more hesitation, the second detachment continued their advance on Elijah and soon fell to the same fate of incineration. As Obadiah's detachment approached, Obadiah offered his own prayers and was surprised to see that the same fate did not befall the frightened group of soldiers. "All of you have been spared," shouted Elijah as he pointed at Obadiah, "because of this man's devotion to the one true God of Israel."

Obadiah and Elijah shared the Faith with the soldiers and as they were preparing to return to Ahab and Jezebel empty handed they were surprised to see that Obadiah was removing his weapons and armor."Take these back with you and give them to Ahab and Jezebel," he said, "I shall serve them no longer." They did as he requested and Obadiah stayed with Elijah to learn more about the life of a prophet. He felt a strong calling to speak truth in a powerful way regardless of cost or threat. He became a prophet to Edom and prophesied of a coming day of judgment for all nations. Before he died, or perhaps shortly thereafter, some of his words were recorded. It was Obadiah who said, "For the day of the LORD is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head." The man who had remained faithful even in the face of great threat and danger called all people to remember God's justice and judgment even before it became so powerfully apparent.