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When I was a kid, I was wild for Samson. I guess most Christian kids are. He’s an ancient Superhero, and what kid doesn’t like Superheros? Samson, the super strong Israelite, whipping the oppressive Philistines with incredible feats of daring do.

I got older and took another look at Samson and found him an incredibly flawed human being. Dishonoring his parents and his vows before God. Looking for love in all the wrong places with Philistine women. Not to mention his cruelty to animals (remember the 300 foxes?). It didn’t take too hard a look at his life for him to fall off the pedestal that I had put him on.

And then about a month ago I heard a teaching series about Samson from Robert Godfrey and Ligonier Ministries. His main text about Samson was not found in Judges 13-16, where the story of Samson is found, but in Hebrews 11, the Hall of Faith. The writer of Hebrews say in verses 32-34, “I do not have time to tell about … Samson… who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouth of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.”

It was an incredibly interesting series, and once again my view of Samson has shifted. No, he hasn’t returned to pedestal status, but I see a flawed man, who, nonetheless had great faith in God, and was used by God despite his weakness. In fact Hebrews says that God turned his weakness to strength. Hmm? Sounds like me. Maybe you too?

J.I. Packer died about a year ago on July 17. His writings and online sermons meant a lot to me and helped me grow in the Christian faith. Below are some quotes that are meaningful to me, and I hope will be to you as well.

We are cruel to ourselves if we try to live in this world without knowing about the God whose world it is and who runs it. The world becomes a strange, mad, painful place, and life in it a disappointing and unpleasant business, for those who do not know about God. Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.

Every Christian’s life-purpose must be to glorify God. This is the believer’s official calling. Everything we say and do, all our obedience to God’s commands, all our relationships with others, all the use we make of the gifts, talents, and opportunities that God gives us, all our enduring of adverse situations and human hostility, must be so managed as to give God honor and praise for his goodness to those on whom he sets his love (1 Cor. 10:31; cf. Matt. 5:16Eph. 3:10Col. 3:17). Equally important is the truth that every Christian’s full-time employment must be to please God. . . . Pleasing God in everything must be our goal (2 Cor. 5:9Col. 1:101 Thess. 2:4; 4:1)

What Scripture says, God says; for, in a manner comparable only to the deeper mystery of the incarnation, the Bible is both fully human and fully divine.

There’s a difference between knowing God and knowing about God. When you truly know God, you have energy to serve Him, boldness to share Him, and contentment in Him.

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“It is the Lord’s Day; my wish is fulfilled. I have always desired to die on a Sunday.” General Stonewall Jackson, Confederate Leader

Stonewall Jackson was accidently wounded by his own men at the battle of Chancellorsville in 1863. He suffered for a few days before he died. He was told by his doctor on Sunday, May 10, that he would probably not last the day. Later that day General Pendleton stopped by to tell him that all his troops were praying for him. That was when Jackson, in a sense, said that his prayer was already answered, for he had “always desired to die on a Sunday.”

Josefina Maceda, my mother-in-law, my Madre, died this last Sunday at the children’s home in Oaxaca, Mexico. I don’t know if it was a desire of hers to die on the Lord’s Day, but I wouldn’t be surprised. She loved the Lord’s Day. She loved going to the House of God to worship her Savior. It’s comforting to know that she is enjoying God eternally in His celestial House.

Saturday morning, as is my want, I read a chapter from Proverbs. It was chapter 28. I read a couple of verses that were at first comforting, and then disturbing, and then encouraging once again.

Verse 20 says, “A faithful person will be richly blessed…”

Verse 25 says, “those who trust in the Lord will prosper.”

I have always liked those verses and highlighted them in my Bible many years ago.  But this time, I doubted.  I know of few people who faithfully trusted in the Lord like Madre. Yet she didn’t seem to be richly blessed and prospering. She had been bed ridden for at least a week. In pain. Skin and bones. Every breath a groan.

I thought if that is what it means to be richly blessed and prospering, then I’ll pass, thank you very much!

I took my doubts to God. God reminded me of Romans 12:1-2, especially the part where Paul writes, ” Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” 

God was telling me that faithful people who trust in the Lord have renewed minds. They don’t think like the world does. They have different definitions for things like blessings and what it means to prosper.  The world thinks money, power and health are what prospering is all about. God says we prosper and are blessed when we love others deeply and are loved deeply by others and have a hope that will never fade away. Madre had all those.

That put a new light on things, and I saw that even in the midst of her suffering, she was truly blessed and prospering. She was surrounded by family that she deeply loved and who deeply loved her. She had deeply loved and blessed people from all over the world – United States, Canada, Germany and Japan, to name just a few. These people have been showing their deep love for her ever since she received the cancer diagnosis by supporting her with financial help and prayers. One neighbor came the last month of her life, almost everyday for at least an hour to pray with her, for her, and to sing to her, even though Madre couldn’t respond most of the time during her last days.

Looking at the situation from that Godly, renewed mind-point of view, I came to the realization that she was indeed richly blessed and prospering beyond all measure. I will take that blessing everyday and twice on Sunday!

Right before General Stonewall Jackson breathed his last, his doctor recorded that “Presently a smile of ineffable sweetness spread itself over his pale face.”

I had never been with someone when they died before. I’m glad to say I got to be with Madre. And I was glad to see that just before she went home to the Father, she too smiled a smile of ineffable sweetness. It was as if she saw the Lord, like Stephen did in Acts 7, welcoming her into his eternal Kingdom with outstretched arms.

These last few days I have been thinking a lot about what Paul wrote to the Romans in chapter eight, verses 18 and 23.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us…We who have the firstfruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.”

If only we all had that attitude and perspective. What a way to live! What a way to die!

Chlorophyllum rhacodes (Shaggy Parasol) growing in the decaying leaves and moldering twigs in Oaxaca, Mexico

We have gotten a lot more rain than usual here at the children’s home in Oaxaca, Mexico. Everything is nice and green and mushrooms of different shapes, sizes and colors are popping up all over the place, some as big as a dinner plates. I find them fascinating and have been doing some research on them. I have come to the conclusion that Christians are a lot like mushrooms, at least in two respects.

One thing I learned is that mushrooms grow best in places that are wet or really damp. We have received more rain this last June and now into July than I can ever remember in my 16 years of living here. So that explains the surge in ‘shrooms. They grow especially good in dead, decaying and moldering matter, like old leaves and sticks, exactly the place I found Old Shaggy, pictured above.

Christians actually grow and even thrive in exactly the same kind of environment. The Bible describes this world and its systems as dead, decaying and moldering. Yet Christianity, as the proverbial mustard seed, has been growing like crazy, not just in spite of pain, suffering and persecution, but because of it. Throughout the centuries different cultures and regimes have been trying to systematically snuff Christianity out, and yet it has grown into the largest religion on the planet.

I read an article recently in Christianity Today about how, in the past, the missionaries were kicked out of China, and church leaders feared for the future of the church in that country. Not to worry. Christianity grew from a few thousand believers to millions of believers within the following generations. Now it seems the same thing is probably occurring in North Korea; an expanding underground church amidst the worlds worst persecution of the church.

But not only the Church Universal grows amongst the death and decay of the world, but so do individual Christians. We all experience times of trials and tribulation, sorrow and suffering, frustration and failure. These are times of rotting leaves, moldy twigs and decaying branches. Times where we not only grow, but flourish. With these kind of experiences I think of Joseph and all he had to endure during his life. Sold by jealous, spiteful brothers into slavery. Falsely accused of a capital crime and tossed into prison. Forgotten by a fellow inmate he had helped out, he languished in jail. And then what? Next thing you know, he is second in command in the most powerful empire in the world.

When those same brothers came to him begging for food, he could have extracted sweet revenge, but instead he told them, “you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” He was able to say that because over and over Genesis reminds us that God was with Joseph. God is still in the “making good out of evil” business as we can plainly see in Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good to those who love God…” Even those decaying, moldering things.

The second way I see that Christians are like mushrooms is mycelia. I learned about mycelia from Emma Erler who is a landscape and greenhouse specialist at the University of New Hampshire. She writes, “Mushrooms will go away on their own once the weather dries out. Keep in mind that although these fruiting bodies have disappeared, the fungal mycelia is still growing in the soil. The fungus will continue to grow and persist as long as there is plenty of organic matter to feed upon.”

I found that to be very interesting. Mushrooms are only the fruit of a much vaster, invisible fungus network that lives underground. When the mushroom dies, the plant continues to live and grow and have its being. That makes me think of all the Christians who have died, yet a part of them continues to live and influence us who are living. I especially think of Christian writers from Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul to Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Stott and C.S. Lewis, to name just a few. They are all dead, but their ideas, theology and insights continue to live and spread through the world with their words, just like mycelia.

So, if anyone should happen to tell you that you remind them of a mushroom, take it as a compliment. You are growing strong through the murky mire of decay; the stench and darkness of this present world, because God is with you, just as he was with Joseph. And, after you are gone to be with the Father, your mycelia, your love, grace, compassion and kindness will continue to live on in all those you cared about and helped.

Mushrooms and Christians. Who knew?

Happy Fourth of July!

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