Finding Hope In Despair: Peter’s Story II

Finding Hope in Despair


In my last blog, I told the story of Peter’s despair. But in the midst of that despair, however, Peter found hope. I want to share now how the happened, how Peter found    hope in despair.

You recall how, in the process of the movers taking away his wife’s belongings after his divorce, Peter saved the hose to his sump pump.  “I made a decision to keep the hose to a sump pump just in case,” Peter says. “It fitted the tailpipe and extended long enough to reach into a car window.” Prepared, Peter’s losses culminated in one particular night of despair. “Suicide became a real possibility,” he says. “I planned a dress rehearsal to see what suicide would be like—if I could do it. All I wanted was to end all the pain. I saw death as a welcome relief.” Continuing to live seemed a lost cause.

How Peter Found Hope in Despair

“I am really, really sorry, Pete.” Surprised, Peter first recognized the neighbor friend who had just opened his garage door. But then, when he saw the two police officers, one on her right, the other on her left, he worried. O Man, I’m going to spend the night in a seventy-two hour hold, he thought.

Although Peter reassured his unexpected visitors he was okay, he wasn’t and returned to his garage once more that evening. Nevertheless, after that dress rehearsal, he says, “I didn’t attempt it again. I decided not to stay in a dark place.” Although not immediately, Peter found his way from despair to hope.

What Peter Learned

In that friend’s intervention, Peter says, he saw “an incredible demonstration of love. She took that risk, and I told her and her husband how significant that was for me. She touched my heart.”

Peter’s story reminds us of the tenuous nature of life. Given the shattering of dreams, the successive losses we can experience, and the circumstances of life which we can’t control, we are all vulnerable to suicidal thoughts, or, as in Peter’s case, an attempt. No one is immune from feelings of despair, but Peter’s story of finding hope in despair also reminds us how important every relationship is, every loved one, every friend, and–every neighbor.

A Good Neighbor

Peter’s neighbor wasn’t just any old neighbor, someone you say “Hi” to and go on about your business. First of all, this neighbor was observant. She knew what was going on in Peter’s life: the divorce, the wife gone, the movers. Then, this woman also cared enough to call the cops. That’s risky. You could get yelled at, or lose a friend calling the police on them. Concerned and, finally, caring; rather, very concerned and very caring.

How observant, concerned, and caring are we? Afraid of being nosy, we often back off something that doesn’t look, feel, or seem right. We play it safe. But Peter’s story also reminds us of potential tragedies that lurk undetected every day. And it reminds us to Be A Good Neighbor. Better yet: God’s instrument to help someone we observe, are concerned, and care about find hope in despair.

[Source: From Chapter 4, Tragedy Transformed: How Job’s Recovery Can Provide Hope For Yours (2015). This book is available on this website and at From April 15-May 15, 2020, I am offering a Giveaway on Scroll down to 2nd image of book, click: Enter Giveaway.]



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Finding Hope In Despair: Peter’s Story I

                                               Who Owns My Life? – Peter

Pain and anguish tear at my heart, the only relief from this world to part.                            Knife at wrist, mind’s relief—it does send the thought of pain soon to an end.

These opening words of Peter’s poem express despair about his life. I share them because Peter’s story may at some point link with yours. In this time of world-wide pandemic from the coronavirus, especially as death statistics mount, businesses remain shuttered and normal social relationships are limited, you also may be tempted to despair. Here we’ll look at Peter’s despair. In a future blog, I’ll explain how Peter found hope in despair.



How Did Peter Arrive At Despair?

Setbacks piled up. Peter had dreamed he and his wife would teach together in a Christian ministry. But after his marriage ended, so did that dream. Another factor: “I never resolved my divorce,” he said. One reason for that failure—the church. “At that time,” he said, “churches didn’t know what to do with divorced people. I felt church people abandoned me. I determined never to be part of a church again.” As a result, Peter turned to drinking, partying, and having a good time. But after his second marriage also ended, “divorce devastated me,” Peter said.

“From childhood, my father taught me responsibility for myself and for my family. As a result, I worked hard to provide for and to protect my family.” He worked decades for a company with a recognizable brand name. He looked forward to a comfortable retirement. But after his second divorce, “I thought I would have to work the rest of my life,” he said. “I paid alimony. I no longer dreamed of retirement.” That divorce required division of his property. Forced to give up a home in suburbs, their vacation home on a lake, two motorcycles, and two luxury cars, Peter felt little hope. “The vacation home,” he said, “meant a place of retreat not only for my family, but also for important friends. With my divorce, I lost that. I lost friends, even one couple who had been in our wedding.” As losses to Peter mounted, he needed to find hope in despair.

Peter’s Despair

Peter faced the loss of dreams of a comfortable retirement, possessions, and relationships. At first, he recommitted himself to his job with a six-figure salary. “I felt proud of providing my wife and family financial security,” he said. “But after divorce, my previous need to protect and provide meant nothing— a huge loss. The job didn’t matter.” Having to give up cars, houses, and dreams created “a lot of loss,” Peter said. But after the divorce, he also feared losing another important family relationship.

As movers removed his wife’s belongings, Peter says, “I made a decision to keep the hose to a sump pump just in case.” It fitted the tailpipe and extended long enough to reach into a car window. Prepared, Peter’s losses culminated in one particular night of despair. “Suicide became a real possibility,” he says “I planned a dress rehearsal to see what suicide would be like—if I could do it. I focused on ending all the pain. I saw death as a welcome relief.” But how will Peter find hope in despair?

Despair in Job

It sounds trite to say that we’re not the only one to face such a momentous, fearful, and life-threatening decision. For one thing , knowing others have faced similar struggles, however, and have come out the other side, can encourage us to hang on just a little longer. For another, our delay provides opportunity for longer-term help—and our survival. Faith didn’t protect several major Bible figures from despair, either, yet they survived temporary feelings of hopelessness to serve God and others. Although Elijah asks the Lord to take his life, and Jonah and Jeremiah ask to die, Job expresses the most intense, prolonged despair. His words in chapter 3 reveal someone who, like Peter, lost all hope.

Finding Hope In Despair

After the reports of devastation, Job remained steadfast in God’s defense—at first. “Shall we accept good from God and not evil?” he asked his wife in chapter 2. Stunned, unable to respond on an emotional level, initially Job clings to what he knows: he trusts God. Perhaps some painful experience has you stunned. You don’t know what to say, what to think, or how to feel, let alone what to do. So you hold on to what you already know. You stick with what you already believe. That helps hold you together—for now. Eventually, however, in a delayed response, as you begin to feel your distress more, like Job, an inner volcano rumbles. Soon, you may be unable to hold back. Like Peter and Job, we are all prone to despair.

With the aid of friends, time, and silence Job finally begins to feel his tragedies. In Job chapter 3, he erupts with a blast of red-hot verbal magma, the lava of despair. He speaks for many who’ve lost hope. What he says doesn’t sound pretty—or spiritual. He may speak for you.

From Chapter 4, Tragedy Transformed: How Job’s Recovery Can Provide Hope For Yours (2015). This book is available on this website and at

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What Good Is A Virus?


If you’ve ever had a cold, or a flu (Influenza) you know a virus when you see it. Misery for days, weeks. Sinus, fever, congestion, coughing, sneezing. Has it ever occurred to you to ask, “What good is a virus”?

What Good Is A Virus?

We are engaged in a fight for our personal and national survival. The threat from Coronavirus extends world-wide.  COVIDn-19, the official designation (for Corona Virus, New, 2019) easily transmits across all human interactions. Touching, especially the face, coughing, sneezing, or blowing sprays droplets, which unless washed promptly, create an bronchial infection against which we have no immunity. Our body marshals our immune system to counteract the virus’ intrusion through the respiratory system. But given any underlying physical condition such as heart disease, diabetes, chronic obstructive respiratory disease (COPD), or cancer, and we are vulnerable. So, we may well ask, “What good is a virus?”

We now have a wealth of information about this virus (Latin: poison). But before we look more deeply into what we have learned, I want to share some basic information to help put our current crisis into some perspective. Our ultimate goal will to look at our pandemic through the lens of God’s creation and His perspective. Already I have reflected on the perspective of the Book of Job.

In Subsequent blogs I will look at the origins of the Coronavirus, How to see our Crisis from God’s perspective, and How Christians have responded to this crisis. Now I want to back up to the beginning to answer: What good is a virus? Let’s begin with understanding about viruses, and their place in the cycle of life.

What is a Virus?

A virus exists on the border between a living and a non-living thing. Compared with bacteria, we can see the nature of a virus better. Bacteria are true living cells. Bacteria use nutrients as fuel to energize them and expel waste. But viruses cannot perform these functions. Strictly speaking, it is non-living. In order for one to grow, to produce more, they must attach themselves to another living cell. Tobacco growers identified the first virus in the late 1800’s, the tobacco mosaic virus. The word comes from the Latin meaning poison. 

Are They Necessary for Life?

According to Anjeanette (“AJ”) Roberts, microbiologist at Reasons To Believe, it’s difficult to explain the existence of viruses in relation to the origin of life. Without living things, such as bacteria, there can be no viruses. Life as we know it, then, didn’t just “happen”  “somehow,” or “accidentally.” A virus cannot exist until something living exists. Bacteria, able to reproduce up to double their numbers in under 1/2 hour, take inorganic material and make it useful for other living things. Left to themselves, however, single-cell bacterial growth would create a massive ooze, smothering all other forms of life. Viruses, however, outnumber bacteria by a factor of 10:1. They feed on bacteria; that keeps bacteria under control.

When a virus breaks open the bacteria, they release the stored organic materials, making them available to other living organisms. Yet they cannot replicate by themselves. They need other cells to infect in order to reproduce. “In 2012 there were over 200 identified viral species,” says Roberts, “infecting humans and an estimated three to four new viral species discovered every year.”

What Their Benefits?

What good are viruses? In addition to what AJ Roberts has told us about the value of viruses to complex forms of life, Hugh Ross identifies other benefits of viruses. They make possible significant growth in population and enable complex societies to form.  In the cycle of water they provide necessary microscopic seeds to atmospheric moisture, enabling droplets to form in the way of rain, snow, sleet, hail, and mist. The widespread distribution of precipitation, then, enables vegetation, growth of food, and the feeding of large numbers of people around the world. This enables complex human societies to survive and flourish. “While dust and particles of soot can also serve as seeds or nuclei for the formation of raindrops and snow flakes,”says Ross, “viruses and bacterial fragments allow the initial ice crystals to form at warmer temperatures.”

In the carbon cycle of the earth. Viruses “and the bacterial fragments they create are carbonaceous substances” continues Ross. “Through their role in precipitation, they collect as vast carbonaceous sheets on the surfaces of the world’s oceans. These sheets or mats of viruses and bacterial fragments sink slowly and eventually land on the ocean floors. As they are sinking they provide important nutrients for deep-sea and benthic (bottom-dwelling) life. Plate tectonics drive much of the viral and bacterial fragments into Earth’s crust and mantle where some of that carbonaceous material is returned to the atmosphere through volcanic eruptions.”

In addition, Ross adds, viruses provide medical researchers with tools to fight cancer and cure genetic diseases.

What’s So Bad About This Corona Virus?

In the official World Health Organization (WHO) designation of COVIDn-19, the small letter n represents the word “new,” meaning that it’s a new mutation for which we, therefore, will have no experience–and no immunity. We all understand that any virus we encounter is met with our body’s aggressive counterattack through our immune system. With COVIDn-19, however, we are, helpless. As humans, with technologies at our fingertips, we can develop vaccines, and antidotes. We can also repurpose medications, as well as initiate mitigation measures and use medical equipment to aid our fight against this painful and deadly virus.

Next: Understanding Our Pandemic.

[Sources: Image: Zika Virus. Purdue University/Kuhn and Rossman research groups.  Why Zika, and Other Viruses, Don’t Disprove God’s Goodness: A microbiologist reflects on the problem of evil in human diseases. Interview by Rebecca Randall, Christianity Today, August 14, 2018                                                                                                                                Ross, Hugh.…ays-new-reason-to-believe/2020/03/30/viruses-and-god-s-good-designs                                                       Ross, Hugh,’s-providence-revisited]



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Where Are You, God, In This COVIDn-19 Disaster?

Steven Nash's grandparents

Steven Nash’s Grandparents

“Lost both of my grandparents in the past 24 hours to covid-19,” wrote Steven Nash on Twitter. I sent him my sincere sympathy. I couldn’t do much else, except to ask, “Where are You, God, in this COVIDn-19 Disaster?” In the midst of a three part series on Loving Our Enemies (found here and here), I want to take time out to reflect on our current crisis.

How can God allow the unleashing of a pandemic affecting the whole world? So much tragedy; so much death; and so much suffering. Where are You, God, in this COVIDn-19 outbreak? Where are you, God, in our disaster? To ask such questions in times of tragedy, in this case, not simply personal or national tragedy, but world-wide tragedy, is normal. We can’t get our heads around the idea. It’s taking time for us to adjust to the stark news on our TV screens daily. Here is what I found on Fox News today, Tuesday, March 25, 2020.

Where are You, God in our COVIDn-19 Disaster?

Cornonavirus Pandemic March 25, 2020: US Figures

Social Distancing

So many new cases, so many deaths, boggle our mind. Two weeks ago, I volunteered to set up chairs at the counseling ministry where I volunteer. “Three feet apart,” the leader of the meeting after mine insisted, to my irritation. “Social distancing,” she explained. Well, okay, I thought. Maybe this is a new type of experience for the members assembling later. Instead, I eventually learned, this was illness prevention protocol that would change the behavior patterns of our whole country.

“Unexplained tragedy, unspeakable suffering and inconceivable circumstances of all kinds have marked humanity down through the years,” wrote Jim Daly, President of Focus On The Family. He reported that he’d received many questions related to, “How can an all-powerful God allow the coronavirus?”

Not A New Problem

As we all ask, “Where are You, God in this COVIDn-19 Disaster?” I have also pondered that question at some length. Daly is right: this is not a new problem. Periodically we face  circumstances in our personal, family, or national life that stops us in our tracks. In this case the whole world reels from the impact of this highly contagious virus. I’ve looked at this issue of tragedy from the viewpoint of seeking to understand the message of the Bible Book of Job. The author of Job had these issues in mind when he created, collected and penned the series of speeches in dialogue and monologue form that led to our present Bible book. Few people read the story of Job from cover to cover. But to do so helps provide a spiritual and emotional experience as we encounter God through a catastrophe.

Perhaps a brief overview of Job’s story will refresh our memory. For our purpose, I deal only with Job’s life. Beginning with a story of material success, coupled with a righteous life, we trace Job’s experience of multiple major disasters. From grief upon grief, including losing his businesses, employees and children, Job sinks into abject despair. Pouring out his feeling that he prefers death to a life of suffering (Chapter 3), Job engages with three colleagues who attempt to straighten out his view of God as unjust (Chapters 4-27). They insist Job’s disasters resulted from his sin.  “Where are You, God, in this disaster?” Job asks.  For Job, God was silent, absent, and even at times seemed hostile. We entertain those same questions, thoughts, and feelings.

Where is God in Chaos?

Job is important for us because he speaks for us. In a disaster beyond our control, we also question God’s presence and goodness. Halfway through, the structure of the book shifts from dialogues to monologues: On wisdom (28), Job’s climatic defense (29-31). Elihu, a fourth friend (32-37), who attempts to bridge the gap between Job and the other friends, urges him to repent after his healing, and to admit his sin of pride.

God responds (finally!) to Job’s outcry (38-41) with a new perspective on his suffering. He describes two monsters, not amenable to human control (40-41). Behemoth and Leviathan, perhaps depictions of a hippopotamus and crocodile, and/or, perhaps also mythical creatures represent massive chaos, life run amok, out of human control. But not God’s: “… his Maker can approach him with his sword” (40:19).

Where Are You, God, In This COVIDn-19 Disaster?

As circumstances stand now, we are still out of control with COVIDn-19. We need ventilators, hospital beds, a vaccine, and medications, some of which have been found effective in the treatment of the disease. We also need money to tide us over until we can restart our economy and get back to work. In addition, we need leadership from every level of government. And, finally, we need God’s perspective. God spoke to Job; perhaps he will speak to us. One Twitter picture showed empty shelves no longer of toilet paper–of Bibles! God had a perspective different from what Job expected; perhaps his perspective will be different from what we expect. We need to live lives, so that, like Steven Nash’s grandparents, whatever happens, we love each other, and we love Jesus.



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Is “Love Your Enemies” Unrealistic? II

Is 'Love Your Enemies' realistic?

Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand

Christians have achieved notoriety as the most persecuted religion in the world. In a May, 2019 article, the BBC published announcement of a report commissioned by British Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt. The Right Rev. Philip Mountstephen, Bishop of Truro, led the report, entitled, “Christian Persecution At Near Genocidal Levels.” It found that, as a religious group, Christians suffered the most persecution. One result: Christians have fled middle east nations. In fact, Christianity faces being, in their words, “wiped out” from parts of the Middle East. How can we love those who threaten, attack and kill us? Can Christians love their enemies? How can we obey Jesus? Is “Love Your Enemies” unrealistic?

Political Correctness

Rev. Mounstephen felt that “political correctness” had played a part in the failure to confront the persecution of Christians. The report concluded, therefore, that Christianity “is at risk of disappearing” from some areas of the world. Christians in Palestine, for example, represent less than 1.5% of the population. And in Iraq, the Christian population dropped from 1.5 million before 2003 to less than 120,000 today. The report noted that persecution of Christians has grown in its geographic reach and in its severity.

Loving your enemies is, perhaps, one of the most difficult teachings of Jesus on which to act. In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Sermon On the Mount, Jesus teaches many difficult lessons. This challenge, however, may be the most difficult. So, is “Love Your Enemies” unrealistic?

Is “Love Your Enemies” Unrealistic?

In my last blog, I explained that the Greek word “love” in Jesus’ instruction, doers not have the “feel-good” connotation it has for us. Instead, it means to treat kindly those undeserving of it. It is, therefore, a gracious act of kindness. This, in spite of how others treat us.

The Roman Emperor Domitian, had declared Christians enemies of the empire. Recall how Phocas of Sinope treated all travelers, including those sent to execute him, to his food, garden, and rooms. Learning their mission, but keeping his identity secret, however, he chose not to escape. Instead, he worked in his garden. In the morning he revealed his identity and faced his executioners with a heart of love. He was buried in the grave he had dug in his garden throughout the previous night.

A Modern Phocas

“Well,” you may say, “We know all those early Christians were ‘weird,’ or ‘unusual,’ or ‘consummate witnesses.’ But what about people today?” I want to share a relatively recent example of someone who believed “Love Your Enemies” applied to him. Richard Wurmbrand’s story can help us answer if “Love Your Enemies” is unrealistic.

A Coward For A Husband

Lutheran pastor Richard Wurmbrand watched as the Soviet Union invaded his native Romania in 1944. The Soviets sought the active participation of the Lutheran Clergy to support them in their quest to control the population. They even promised a pay raise to the assembled crowd of pastors! But, after a pointed challenge from Sabina, his wife (“I do not need a coward for a husband”), Wurmbrand decided to speak. Under the watchful eye of a portrait of Joseph Stalin (“Stalin”, Russian for “steel”), Wurmbrand stood his ground. He publicly denounced cooperation with the occupation government and called his fellow clergy to follow Jesus.

Treating “Enemies” With Kindness

Is “Love Your Enemies unrealistic?” Like Phocas, Wurmbrand loved the invaders. He spoke fluent Russian, so he patiently befriended Russian soldiers, eventually sharing the Good News of Jesus’ love in secret. In small, carefully guarded groups, they became Brothers in Christ. Until his arrest, Wurmbrand’s love for Jesus led him to risk his freedom to love his enemies.

Tortured For Christ

For Wurmbrand’s willingness to stand publicly against the Communists, he endured surveillance; for his ministry among Russian soldiers, the authorities arrested him, and imprisoned him 14 years. The first two years of his sentence he spent in an underground solitary cell. He also experienced hunger, cold, torture  and the maiming of his feet. He eventually lost the ability to walk normally. But, in spite of guards’ relentless attempts to brainwash him, they failed. Only after supporters in the Free World paid a ransom of $10,000 did the authorities release him and his family. Tortured for Christ, his memoir, inspired Christians of his day, and continues to inspire Christians today.

Voice Of The Martyrs (VOM)

Wurmbrand’s testimony and biography also inspired “Voice Of The Martyrs” (VOM). VOM ministers to persecuted Christians in Communist and Islamic nations.  Tortured For Christ also presents his story in film. (You can purchase the DVD for a gift to VOM.) Like Phocas, Pastor Richard Wurmbrand’s example of obedience to Jesus’ to “Love Your Enemies” challenges me today.  How do you answer Jesus’ command to ‘Love Your Enemies’?”

[Sources: Image]

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Is “Love Your Enemies” Unrealistic?

Phocas of Sinope

Phocas of Sinope

When people attack us, our first thought is to strike back. If people fight us, our instinct is to retaliate. When people say vicious things against me, for example, I feel the need to “set the record straight.” Of all the teachings Jesus gave, people often dismiss “Love your enemy” as unrealistic. How can you do that? You may not have any enemies, at least that you can think of. You may also believe Love Your Enemies the most difficult, the most impossible, the most  “unrealistic” of all Jesus’ teachings in his sermon of  Matthew 5-7. But is “Love your enemies” unrealistic?

“Love your Enemies:” Understanding Jesus’ Teaching

“You have heard it said,” said Jesus, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you my be sons of your Father in Heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45a). In order to understand the impact of his words, note that Jesus here quotes from Torah. Leviticus 19:18 states, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” But Jesus takes that teaching of the Torah beyond treating “one of your people,” your neighbor well. The Old Covenant  distinguished between “us” and “them,” between neighbors and enemies. The Rabbis said nothing about loving your enemy.

We cannot understand Jesus unless we understand the word “love” (agape’). In his vocabulary and that of Christians who followed him, agape’ did not refer to  feeling (affectionate), but with action (kindness). This differs from our modern definition as love as “loving feeling” toward someone. So, Jesus permits no religious distinctions allowing kindness toward one person and not another; no hatred and no retaliation. But is “Love your enemies” unrealistic?

Treat Others As God Treats You

God treats you kindly; we must treat others kindly. In fact, that’s also how God treats others: “He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (v. 45b). Jesus, therefore, also sees acts of kindness for his followers’ enemies as reflecting the nature of God, reflecting their relationship with Him as their Father. “…that you my be sons of your Father in Heaven.”

Finally, Jesus here also prepares his followers for the time they will be hated as enemies of the state (e.g., the Roman Empire) or of “the people” (Jewish leaders of his day considered him a ‘deceiver of the people’).  As his followers, we are to expect hostility toward us. We’ve been forewarned. But, is “love your enemies” unrealistic?

Christian Love In Action: Phocas d. AD 303

In previous blogs I’ve shared how life brings tragedy (See In this and in subsequent blogs, I want to share with you the stories of three Christians who took Jesus’ words seriously. They challenge our easy dismissal of Jesus’ teaching as “unrealistic.” Phocas’ story comes from the pages of Christian history.

Phocas, gardener saint of Sinope, lived on the Black Sea, on the coast of modern Turkey, in the late 200’s. Upon disembarking from their ships in the harbor, travelers passed his door on their way to the city. He loved to stop them to refresh, to enjoy his garden, and to rest until they felt ready to walk into the city. A hermit, he used his flowers and vegetables to feed and delight the travelers, donating what remained to provide for the poor.

Roman Emperor’s Hostility to Christianity

In a secret assembly, however, the Roman Emperor Diocletian declared Christians enemies of the Empire. Easy, since worshipping the Emperor as deity had been practiced for a long time. Knowing of Phocas’ reputation, Diocletian sent “lictors” to identify and execute him on the spot. “Lictors” carried with them the authority of the emperor and the power of life and death. When they arrived on their mission, the old man hailed them, begged them to stay overnight, and refresh themselves in readiness for their work in the morning.

“What is your business?” asked Phocas. Their mission was secret, but this old man seemed trustworthy. “Phocas, do you know him?” the men asked. “A dangerous Christian and must be executed immediately.” “I know him well,” said Phocas, “he is quite near…Let us attend to it in the morning.” After bed, Phocas debated: He could escape easily. He would be 20 miles away at dawn. His fellow Christians would hide him until the persecution passed.

But, is “Love your enemies” realistic? While they slept, Phocas dug in his beloved garden: rich, fertile soil.  Digging helped him think: Would escape not be cowardly? Jesus did not run from his Garden of Gethsemane. Would he endanger other Christians who hid him? The executioners were decent fellows, just doing their duty. They would forfeit their own lives. Phocas dug deeper, deeper, all night long.

Phocas Loved His Enemies

The next morning, the lictors asked where they might find the Phocas.  “I am he,” Phocas  declared. Bishop Asterius, who tells the story, says they ‘stood motionless in astonishment, hardly able to believe the truth of what he said, shrinking from a deed so foul on a man so kind. But he overcame their reluctance, “Death holds no terror for me,” he told them. “You must think of  yourselves and your own dear ones. You must do your duty. I have nothing but love in my heart for you.”

One thrust of the sword and Phocas’ slumped.  His mortal body they laid to rest in the garden he loved, in the grave he dug the previous night. Is “Love your enemies” unrealistic?

[Sources: Phocas, The Pure in Heart, W.E. Sangster, 1954, pp. 107-8. Revered as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. Image:]

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#MEAwarenessHour Raises Awareness

Waiting To Live

An early title from chronic fatigue sufferers captures the sense of how people with the illness feel. Gregg Charles Fisher published Waiting To Live: The Debilitating Effects of Chronic Epstein-Barr Virus in 1987 (Upper Montclair NJ: Montco). Our daughter-in-law Juli Grose first contracted mononucleosis, the Epstein-Barr virus in 1987 while at college. After their marriage, our son Paul also came down with the illness. After they moved to Portland, OR, I recall visiting them in the middle of the day—both in bed. Waiting To Live helped alleviate our and our children’s worry that they had something unknown. Although researchers’ recent efforts have produced greater understanding, our children are still without treatment for their illness. Both Paul and Juli, trained in piano performance, graduated a college conservatory of music. Our son also majored in ethnomusicology. Today, #meawarenesshour helps patients raise awareness of their plight.

Early treatment for CFS consisted of going to an expert in the field, the only one in our city. The doctor prescribed anti-depressants for his diagnosis of “depression.” Our children resisted the diagnosis. Both were active (before becoming sick), type A personalities. They knew they were not depressed, at least as a cause of the illness. By virtue of their inability to use the toilet, or do anything, except lay in bed all day, they acknowledged feeling depressed over that.

Fast Forward to 2020

It’s now 2020 and our adult children, like #MillionsMissing around the world, are still “Waiting to Live.” Much of the medical profession during this time has been uninterested, or worse, focused on the “psychogenic” nature of the illness. It’s true that all medical tests came back normal, thus leading physicians to doubt their patient’s self-reports. Only one doctor, however, a Doctor of Osteopathy (DO), whose son and wife had CFS, really helped. He also had fibromyalgia. He was out of state, however, necessitating exhausting 2-hour flights for our kids. One other person’s treatment helped, a biochemist forced to treat patients out of country because of being prosecuted for “practicing medicine without a license.” Now our kids are on innumerable supplements that cost them (and both sets of parents) hundreds of dollars monthly. Keeping their household viable continues to challenge both sets of parents, now in our 80’s.

Whitney Dafoe

Whitney Dafoe illustrates the debilitation that results from ME/CFS. The stepson of Dr. Ron Davis, Director of the Human Genome Institute, Stanford University, Witney was a normal young man until his illness.

Whitney Dafoe before his illness

Whitney Dafoe before his ME/CFS illness

Hope For Treatment

Whitney Dafoe suffers from ME/CFS

Whitney Dafoe after his ME/CFS illness

Until very recently,  the medical profession, has been unwilling to examine this illness more closely. Ron Davis, Ph.D., however, because his stepson Whitney Dafoe’s health deteriorated seriously with CFS (now renamed Myalgic Encephalomyalitis, or ME/CFS) hangs now between life and death. You can read his story here: The Open Medical Foundation ( has dedicated itself to finding a successful treatment for this debilitating illness. The Jackson Laboratory also has focused on ME/CFS research ( Finally, researchers have uncovered biomarkers to differentiate normal from ME/CFS patients.

Because of their extreme weakness, patients have largely been unable to raise awareness for the need for successful treatment—until now. Every Wednesday, at 8:00 p.m. London time, they gather online through Twitter to raise awareness of ME/CFS. #MEawarenesshour occurs simultaneously in all time zones to create maximum impact. Too ill to march, write letters, or make phone calls to demand more research or better treatments, these patients focus attention on their plight and the plight of millions like them. They aim to create a trending topic that journalists, doctors, and researchers will notice. #meawarenesshour helps patients raise awareness of their illness.


#MEawarenesshour also helps patients feel less alone, enables them and their loved ones to connect with concerned others, and provides an opportunity to share vital resources to help encourage the ill. Patients also can, through #MEawarenesshour, share their struggles and injustices they face daily. They invite you to join them each Wednesday on Twitter. You can help patients like Paul and Juli by joining Twitter and sharing the #MEawareness hour. Paul has written a personal account of his and Juli’s experience @…fs-ii-guest-blog/

Learning to “Tweet” is easy, after setting up an account. To do that, go to  to set up an account. The #MEawareness hour now includes patients from over 20 countries around the world.

Looking to see you Wednesdays at 3:00 p.m. EST, 2:00 CST, 1:00 MST, 12:00 noon PST.

[Photos: Open Medical Foundation (]










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Spiritual Fitness Strengthens Our Soul

Spiritual fitness strengthens our soul

Spiritual Fitness Strengthens Our Soul/Photo: Kristijan Sekulic/

Just as fitness strengthens our body, spiritual fitness strengthens our soul. Millions of people today help their bodies lose weight, improve flexibility, and improve cardio-vascular health through regular exercise. At times, this exercise is prescribed by their doctor to minimize the effects of disease, such as diabetes. People train in local gymns, but also in those with state and national branches. Drive around and you’ll see LA Fitness, 24-hour Fitness, Planet Fitness, and Peak Performance.

Physical Fitness

For seven years, through high school and college, I ran cross-country and track. Several months before our first competitive meet, we’d begin practice with each other, fulfilling the assignments of our coaches: jumping jacks, stretching to touch our toes, then stretching to reach the sky. Each exercise to stretch and strengthen one set of muscles necessitated another to strengthen the opposite set of muscles. Then, light jogging at first, then longer distances—and longer and faster.  Each run tested our capacity. Eventually, our training helped us extend our capacity beyond what we thought possible. We knew our limits, dictated to us by our pain, shortness of breath, and threat of collapse. But together we learned to push beyond our limits and our pain. Eventually we bettered our best times and could defeat our opponents in competition.

The remnant of such training as a teen-ager continues today. I walk aggressively (I’ve chosen to avoid running at my age), for ½ hour, up a steep hill, for as many days in the week as possible. I want to keep my body healthy. It isn’t possible to stop growing older, but we can slow the process. People comment to me about how young I look, and these compliments motivate me to keep up my exercise regimen. For more information on Steps to Physical Fitness, read Just as physical fitness strengthens our body, spiritual fitness strengthens our soul.

Spiritual Fitness

But just as our body needs regular exercise for physical fitness, we also need spiritual  exercise to improve our spiritual fitness. Just as we must stretch our limits to build up physical stamina, we need to stretch our spirits through spiritual exercise. We need to practice spiritual fitness to help us deal with the challenges of life: financial stresses, relationship repair, and in my present circumstances, downsizing. In earlier blogs, I discussed the physical benefits of spiritual fitness. []. Just as physical fitness strengthens our body, spiritual fitness strengthens our soul.

In the same way that I need to more-or-less force myself to do something unpleasant (get out and walk in the cold weather), so also I have to force myself to study Scripture each day. Don’t misunderstand, I love studying Scripture. But with a full day and week, I, like most people, must fight the temptation to delay or avoid my daily meeting with God. When I walk, I feel better; I sleep better. When I read Scripture, I feel better also, although differently. I know I have put God first in my day. At the moment, I’m studying the Apostle Paul’s defense of himself and of his ministry in II Corinthians 5:11-21. The climax is Paul’s words in v. 20: “We are, therefore, Christ’s ambassador.”

I Am Christ’s Ambassador

I’ve been working with this passage for several months. First I record the results of my study on a Word document, date it, and save it. But then I also invite the Scripture to challenge me. I need always to ask myself: “What difference does this passage make in my life today?” So, how can I best represent Christ today in my world of relationships?

In my availability today to serve our chronically ill son, when he calls me to clean up water the plumber spilled in his garage, how can I represent Christ? In mopping up the garage (where the plumber miscalculated and opened a 40-gallon water tank by mistake), how do I represent Christ to my son (who is a Christian), and to the plumber (who is not)? Because the Apostle Paul reminded me that “I am Christ’s ambassador,” I serve our son gladly, sopping up water with paper towels, squeezing the excess out on the lawn, and reusing them to sop up more water. Without complaint. That leaves him and the plumber free to make the needed changes in the water filtration system.

How’s Your Spiritual Fitness?

How about your fitness. Do you exercise? Do you tax your body regularly to bring up your heart rate, breathe more deeply, sleep better, and keep yourself healthy? I hope you do. Just as physical fitness strengthens our body, spiritual fitness strengthens our soul. But about your spiritual needs. I don’t know what place you’ve allowed God in your life, but If He is real to you, you can make him more real by a daily time devoted to reading and applying the Scriptures to your life.

You may already read a devotional book regularly, but as good as some of them are (I can think of Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts, for example), the Scripture is better. Don’t neglect the best means God has of getting your attention for the day. Don’t pick random passages; instead, read a whole book, a little each day. Or study the life of a great man or woman of God. Keep a journal, record your observations, specific application to your life, and how you will act differently because of what you’ve studied.

My wife and I are going through a difficult time, not with each other, but with forces, events, and people we cannot control. “Genesis encourages me,” she said. “All through Abraham’s life and the lives of his children and grandchildren, people had to wait.” God doesn’t act when we want; but He does act. That was the lesson she learned through her personal study of a great, albeit flawed, person’s life. She found encouragement for herself and for me about this stressful time in our lives though a detailed application of Scripture to her life. Just as physical fitness strengthens our body, spiritual fitness strengthens our soul. Start your practice of spiritual fitness today.

[Credits: Photo: Artist: Kristijan Sekulic, aka skynesher]

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“Stay Strong!” Doesn’t Help Those In Grief And Loss

Vanessa Misses Kobe: My Best Friend

Vanessa and Kobe Bryant/TMZ

People yet to be deeply affected by the death of a loved one, often urge the bereaved to Be Strong, or to Stay Strong. Earlier, I described NBA legend Kobe Bryant’s tragic death ( the-death-of-kobe-bryant/). People on Twitter have expressed their support for Kobe’s wife Vanessa by urging, “Stay strong, Vanessa!” In fact, “Stay Strong!” doesn’t help those in grief and loss.

“Stay Strong, Vanessa!”: Twitter

Here are some responses from people on Twitter: “Vanessa Bryant is strong. A different type of strong. How is she able to post this week?? Strength!” “Glad she is holding up strong. We will just keep supporting her and her family.” “My thoughts and prayers for his wife and family and It hard for her losing both her husband and daughter in tragic helicopter crash. I’m praying for her and his family to be strong.” “Praying for you and the family @VanessaBryantKG: I love you and miss you Kobe and Gianna. You will always be my strength.”

“Thanks For Your Support”

In her first public statement since Kobe’s death, Vanessa graciously expressed her appreciation for the outpouring of support to her and her family. “My girls and I want to thank the millions of people who’ve shown support and love during this horrific time,” she wrote on Instagram. ( She recounts how much she misses her “best friend” (

I raise this issue of urging “strength” on the bereaved, or complimenting them for it, because, in most cases, saying, “Stay strong!” does not help people in grief and loss. Many of our responses to others in crisis enable us to cope better with the tragedy. As we try to put ourselves in the shoes of the other person, we feel at a loss. We don’t know what to say, so we attempt to comfort in a way that helps us move on from the issue as quickly as possible. “You’re so strong, you’ve got everything under control, so I can leave you without feeling guilty for abandoning you.” In other words, the last thing we want is to have to feel the impact of the loss through hearing the emotional pain of the recently bereaved.

Stay Strong! Won’t Help Those in Grief and Loss

The reason “Stay Strong, Vanessa!” won’t help those in grief and loss: that’s what we want. These well-wishers need Vanessa to “Stay strong!” for them. Put yourself in the bereaved’s shoes. Having just lost your husband, wife, child, or parent, what would you think if someone suggested to you that you “Stay Strong!” I believe they would think, Thanks for the thought, but you have no comprehension of how I feel. They may even think, Do you even care how I feel? Or they may think, “I know you mean well, but I can’t cope with what you’re saying. I need to leave.” So they thank us for our kind concern and get back to the business of coping with their loss and grief– alone. We feel relieved we no longer have to deal with such deep emotional pain.

So what is the correct thing to say? First recognize that in the categories we use, we tend to impose our perception on the grieving person. Strong v. weak is not in their purview at the moment. They want to know how they can get through the next day, the next hour, or even the next few minutes without their lost loved one. What would we say, then? If we want to be genuinely helpful, we need to discover what they may feel and key our response to support that.

“How Should She Feel?”

A number of years ago, at a Christian camp in the east, one of the men attending suddenly died of a heart attack. The speaker immediately sought to minister to the widow. He used Scripture to instruct her. When challenged, the leader responded, “We know how she is feeling, but what should she feel?” He assumed from his role as speaker to the conference that he was anointed to assist. But in fact he sought to impose a “correct” attitude toward her loss, the only Christian attitude to hold. I felt deeply sorry for that poor widow. The leader didn’t care enough to listen. The self-appointed comforter, like Job’s colleagues, rushed to conform her experience to his pre-conceived theology. Just as it felt too painful to listen to Job’s wish to die (Chapter 3), like Job’s friends, the speaker issued a Christian bromide for this woman to swallow. Another version of “Stay Strong,” but it doesn’t help someone in grief and loss.

How does Vanessa feel? She already told us! We probably slid over how she described her experience (I did). Recall, in thanking her well-wishers, she calls it, “this horrific time.” Just how much horror do we really want to hear?

Grief And Loss: What To Say

I’ve addressed this issue of what to say to a person sin grief and loss in a previous blog (…-grieving-friend/). But there are times I don’t know what to say. I barely know what to ask. So first, I’d begin with asking the grieving person to describe what happened: “Tell me what happened.” In the recounting of the events of the tragedy, the healing begins. Then, I’d listen. In the listening of the caring friend, the healing continues. Finally, I’d offer prayer. “May I pray with you?” In your prayer for the Lord to be close to those who are brokenhearted, the person may feel you understand. That thought may link to: “If this person understands and prays for brokenhearted me, maybe God understands me also.”

Rachel G Greenberg (Twitter @ConnectionsHope), another widow, responded to Vanessa’s loss. “My heart hurts for her,” she wrote. “All of the outpouring of grief and love for the passing of Kobe Bryant is massive. I wish every bereaved person could get the same amount of loving kindness. So many grieve alone.”

Subtle Abandonment

“Stay strong” doesn’t help those in grief and loss.” We need instead to support the grieving in their loneliness. When we recoil from their emotional hurt at their loss, we abandon them to solitary grieving. Too hot for us to handle, we fail to key in to the bereaved’s need. In all probability they won’t even know what they need, so we may have to initiate help. Even a brief few moments of intense listening shows enormous caring.

Instead of “Stay Strong, Vanessa,” we help the grieving better by saying: “Tell me more, Vanessa! What happened?”

[Picture Credit: Kobe and Vanessa,]






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What We Learn From The Death of Kobe Bryant

The 9 lives lost

Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others die 1/26/20

All of us, especially those in and close to the NBA and the sports world, felt shocked to learn of Kobe Bryant’s death. The long-term star of the LA Lakers, along with his 13-year old daughter Gianna, perished in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, CA. They weren’t the only victims, as seven others, including the pilot, died as well. Tributes poured in. The Lakers postponed one game with the LA Clippers in honor of Kobe and to allow the team and organization to mourn.  The death of Kobe has touched many thousands. To many the news seemed impossible to believe. “The NBA family is devastated by the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. At the news, fans and celebrities exploded with grief on social media. A basketball superstar, Kobe Bryant was 41. I want us to look at what we learn from death of Kobe Bryant.


Bryant’s 2003 rape accusation tarnished his professional image, and he sought counsel from his Roman Catholic faith. He apologized in 2004, including to the other person involved, and took steps to rebuild his life. In a 2015 issue of GQ Magazine he described his meeting with a priest, who asked, “‘Did you do it?’ And I say, ’Of course not.’ Then he asks, ’Do you have a good lawyer?’ And I’m like, ’Uh, yeah, he’s phenomenal.’ So then he just said, ’Let it go. Move on. God’s not going to give you anything you can’t handle, and it’s in his hands now. This is something you can’t control. So let it go.’ And that was the turning point.”

After his retirement, Kobe continued to teach basketball to young people. “Coaching youth sports is so important to take very seriously,” he said, “because you’re helping the emotional [development] of young kids.” Coaching involves tolerance for others’ errors:  “It’s understanding not to be overcritical and understanding that [there] are going to be mistakes.” Kobe also began writing books. “You got to do what you love to do,” he said. “I love telling stories. I love inspiring kids or providing them with tools that are going to help them.”

Kobe and Gianna

Kobe and Gianna

The Impact of The Death of Kobe

The loss of such a high-profile figure such as a sports star confronts us all at the deepest level of our being. If the death of Kobe happened so unexpectedly, maybe it can claim me! That loss, therefore, faces us with what we seek to avoid at all costs: our death. As I discussed in an earlier blog, we avoid the D word, ( We no longer (in the west) conduct a funeral. We celebrate the life of the deceased with memorial services, without a body because this represents the wishes of families and sometimes the deceased.

How The Death of Kobe Affects Us

But now, it seems, with the death of Kobe, all of our efforts to avoid the unpleasantness of death comes to naught. As a student of the Ancient Near East and of Biblical history, I find the struggle with death universal through the centuries. Usually, we die reluctantly, unwilling to yield to its inevitability. Yet, every living organism dies. It’s born, grows, reproduces, declines, and dies. Can you think of an exception?

In fact, Scripture is realistic in the face of death. “A voice says, ‘Cry out,’ and I [Isaiah] said, ‘What shall I cry?’  [The Lord answers:] ‘All men are like grass, and their glory is like the glory of the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall…but the word of our God stands forever'” (Isaiah 40:6-8 NIV). If it’s immortality we seek, we’re sadly mistaken to think it comes in this natural life. Like flowers that bloom, we bloom; like flowers that fall, we fall. What, then, do we learn from the death of Kobe Bryant?

What we learn from The Death of Kobe Bryant:

  1. None of us is exempt. Just as grief is the price we pay for the love we feel when we lose a loved one, so death is the price we pay for the gift of life we share.
  2. Because our time here is limited, we do well to make the best use of it. We have only today. Have you examined your relationship with Death, or with the eternal word of God, recently?
  3. If we seek immortality, we’re looking in the wrong place if we avoid the word of God. Only God lives forever. Connect with Him, therefore, through his eternal word, and through his living Word in Jesus Christ.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Sources: Edmund DeMarche:
    Images: Kobe Bryant and the 8 other crash victims: Twitter, Terrence Williams; Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna: Modern Loss
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