Monday, December 28, 2009

The Interloper

Part 3 of this story series ...

They'd been looking for Him.

He didn't show up until about half-way through the Feast, but when He did, there was no question that He had arrived.

And they thought they finally had their chance to arrest Him and kill Him.

They were already livid at what He'd done the last time He'd been in Jerusalem. He'd healed a cripple on the Sabbath.

On. the. Sabbath.

How dare He? The Law of Moses was clear that no work was to be done that day! Anyone knew that such an act was direct violation, and yet this man -- this Galilean -- had no regard for their teachings or rules. He actually told them off for being so offended.

They were incensed.

And they wanted Him dead.


So now He was back in Jerusalem, and they were ready to pounce.

But there was a small problem. They weren't prepared for it and hadn't foreseen it, either.

The crowds loved Him. They gathered around Him like hungry children at a father's knee, asking Him questions with the same insistence of a five-year-old who wants to know, "Why? Why? Why?" He was patient, guiding them through the ancient writings of the Scriptures.

And He was accessible -- infuriatingly accessible.

This man from a no-name hole-in-the-wall village in a lowly-esteemed place of Israel had positioned Himself right in the center of the place where He didn't belong -- the Temple Courts.

They whispered angrily among themselves that this was one of the biggest affronts He could have managed. They were appalled when they heard His Galilean accent ring through the resplendent colonnades, echoing in the place where they were solely supposed to be the teachers and guides of the people.

How dare He?

Who was He, to place Himself there? Jerusalem was known for its schools of rabbinical teaching, and the Temple Courts were reserved for the highest of highest teachers of the day. Throughout the Feast, it was tradition for the crowds to "teacher shop." Each of the most revered rabbis chose a colonnade to sit by and share his understanding and revelation of the Law. The people would move from post to post, listening and learning.

This time was only for those teachers.

And yet, here was their sworn enemy, putting Himself above the rest of them -- and drawing the biggest crowds of all!

So they decided to do something about it.

They would trap Him in His own words, this interloper.

They would interrogate Him before the largest group of people and prove to Israel, all of Israel, gathered for this Feast, that He was a big fake. A liar. A deceiver. A son of Satan.

He didn't belong here.

They were going to prove it.

And then they were going to kill Him.

What does this have to do with a Christian Safehouse? Tune in for part 4 of the story ...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Most Popular Feast of the Year

Part 2 in this story series ...

Think of it as an ancient Thanksgiving feast, except one that lasted a full seven days.


The Feast of Tabernacles.

Americans think their turkey day is lavish. But this celebration more than eclipsed it.

And by far, it was the most popular feast of the year for the Jewish people 2,000 years ago.

It took place in the same time of year that our Thanksgiving takes place -- autumn. People made "booths," from tree branches. These little shelters peppered the streets, parks and even the roofs of houses throughout Jerusalem -- and along the roads leading into the city.

They signified the 40 years that the Israelites wandered through the wilderness to their Promised Land and the tents in which their forefathers lived before reaching their permanent home.

One of the highlights each day was the pouring of water in the Temple ... using the Golden Pitcher. The water also had its own symbolism: that of the water that poured when Moses struck a rock in the desert.

In the evenings, the priests lit two candelabra, which represented the pillar of fire that God used to lead the people through the Sinai peninsula.

Then, after the seventh day, the people came together for a solemn assembly, where they would remember all of the things God did, including the outpouring of water.

What they didn't realize was that the water held a deeper significance -- that of His Spirit that thoroughly quenches the thirst of the human soul.

Perhaps it was this lack of understanding that led to the most dramatic celebration of Sukkot when Jesus Himself attended the festivities.

It became a Sukkot that would be remembered for the next 2,000 years.

At the center of the controversy?

The Golden Pitcher.

What does this have to do with a Christian Safehouse? Tune in for part 3 of the story ...

Friday, December 18, 2009

Down for the Count

Apologies for the break in storytelling. I received doctor's orders to rest yesterday, as I have bronchitis, which he also said was "borderline pneumonia."

When my mental faculties are in good running order again, we'll continue with the tale!

Thanks for your patience.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Golden Pitcher

Part one of this story series ...

Once a year, it was pulled from its storage place for a very special occasion.

The Golden Pitcher.

It became the center of focus, the gleaming sight on which all eyes fell, the symbolic icon of layers upon layers of history, stories, rituals.

All tongues stopped wagging, all ears bent forward to hear, all irises followed the man that carried it, as it went from one end of the Temple to the other. The Golden Pitcher -- well, it was a sight to behold!

But for all of the hubbub that surrounded it, The Golden Pitcher was actually just a vessel. A container. A glorified Tupperware bowl.

There was nothing magical about it, nothing excitingly fresh or new of its purpose, nothing that changed in its shape or form.

It just was.

And yet, it represented so much more than anyone could have imagined.

The Golden Pitcher, a shining-in-the-sun work of art.

It was priceless.


What was this Golden Pitcher, and what does it have to do with the Christian Safehouse?

Tune in tomorrow for the beginning of its tale ...

Friday, December 11, 2009



ChinaAid recently received another report from inside sources in China that Gao Zhisheng has been severely beaten by authorities. The report stated his current living condition is worse than death and that Gao is crying daily in pain and desperation.

The Chinese government has responded to the increased worldwide pressure for Gao Zhisheng's release by cutting off communication with two of Gao's siblings living in China and placing them under police surveillance.

In a November 26th interview with Radio Free Asia, Gao's brother, Gao Zhiyi, stated, "For every question, there are three unknowns. No one knows anything. They won't talk to us and they won't meet with us... Even if Gao Zhisheng had committed a terrible crime, his family would still have the right to know what had happened to him!"

On Saturday, December 5th, Gao's older brother (Zhiyi) and sister lost all communication contact when their phone lines were disabled, following the release of the RFA interview.

Now more than ever, Gao Zhisheng needs our help!

In a recent visit to Washington, D.C., ChinaAid met with several leading congressmen who have been moved by their constituents (those like you) telling Gao's story - and they have proposed a Congressional Resolution on Gao Zhisheng's behalf. Our American leaders have begun to listen, and with more voices, we can make that resolution a reality!

So far, 5,284 people have contacted their local U.S. Representative to speak out on behalf of Gao Zhisheng. Continue to add your voice! We have to keep the momentum going on behalf of this innocent man who himself was a defender of the persecuted.

Please take action now.

Go to Sign a petition for his release. There is also a link so that you can contact your Congressman and voice your request that the House will pass a resolution on Gao's behalf, to be sent to the Chinese government.

Thank you!

Friday, December 4, 2009

So. Do We Debate the Atheist?

Conclusion of this week's series ...

Friday Night.
My living room.
Harrodsburg, Kentucky.

It's a crisp 30 degrees outside, and within the log walls of our lake house we are snug and at peace. Neil slumbers. Brent taps away on his laptop for his work tomorrow morning. And I scan through posts on Twitter, catching up on people's thoughts, dreams, hopes, questions, emotions, routines ... lives.

Within each Twitter of up to 140 characters, is a story -- whether it's a businessman trying to improve his image, a mom sharing her day's frustrations, a senior citizen offering a nugget of wisdom from life lessons ... or an atheist, making a case for the non-existence of a Diety.

As I reflect on the past three weeks, the people I've met and the lessons learned, I wonder ... are Christians correct when they say, "Abandon the atheist to his or her desires. They will not hear. They are hostile. Spend your time with those who are open to hearing. Why waste your time?"

And resoundingly, the answer in my heart and mind ... is NO.


Yes, there are many angry people out there who take offense at the premise of a loving God, much less a crazy middle-aged loud-mouthed woman in America who thinks nothing of pushing her views on them.

But there are too many others.

Listen -- I don't know their stories, their pasts, presents or futures. Neither do you. Do you think that if, given the chance, 1st century Christians would have walked straight into the murderous path of Saul? We can see that they were afraid of him after his conversion and change of identity to Paul. What if they had pushed him aside, wouldn't believe it was possible for him to embrace the message of the Living Christ?

At some point, we have to be willing to love the skeptics.

Today I was called a whore. I was labeled a liar. I was ridiculed. I was bemoaned as a nuisance.

And that was just before noon.

I tell you what, though ... there is a deep-seated love that burns, that did not originate with me but with Him.

Do you share His passion for those who refuse to know Him?

Don't forget that the Prodigal son was welcomed home with a party. That father waited day and night, looking for that child to return to him. What if the story had been different, in that the older brother had said to the dad, "Dad, I know this is killing you. I'm going to go find my brother and your son. I'm going to reason with him. I'm going to do everything I can to bring him back. Don't worry, Dad. I'll do what I can to help you get your boy home again."

What if?

We can all be the older brother.

And when the Prodigals kick and scream, throw tantrums and curse, threaten and cajole ... we can just love them back.

Eventually, a few of them are going to come to their senses. A few of them will say, "At least in my Father's house, I had food to eat."

And, if we're willing to be used to seek them out for Him, eventually those few will hightail it home, back into the arms of our Dad.

Are you willing to go after them, though?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Leaning In for Clarity

Part 6 of this story series ...

A favorite saying around our church is to "lean in." Basically, it means a willingness to surrender all control to God -- to lean into His chest -- and let Him handle a situation for you.

On that day, when I felt that an atheist's question was too tricky to answer, I leaned in. I prayed for a few hours for clarity, for wisdom -- and also for a loving response, because to be quite frank, by this time I'd had it with the guy.

When the answer came, I wasn't sure that I'd understood Him correctly.

He brought to mind how He'd been faced with many similar trick questions. And the primary way that He dealt with them ... was to answer questions with questions. You remember the most famous story, I'm sure ...

"Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. 'Teacher,' they said, 'we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?'

But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, 'You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.' They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, 'Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?'

'Caesar's,' they replied. Then he said to them, 'Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's.'"

When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away."

"That's a great story," I prayed, "but what question am I to ask?"

The answer was as clear as the sun shining outside of my window, and yet ... the meaning behind it still stumped me. "Just do it," He spoke to my heart. "Just ask it."

About two hours later, I was sitting with my laptop open to Twitter, when the atheist pinged me again. This time, he wasn't alone. He'd solicited backup from a second anti-theist. A third person, who is a friendly atheist I know from Twitter, was also in on the discussion.

"Are you ready for round two?" he asked.

"Let's go."

"So ... did you get your answer? What is it? Am I going to Heaven, or to Hell?"

"I'll answer your question, but first you have to answer one for me." I typed.

Nothing changed on the computer screen for several minutes. I didn't know if he was consulting with the others or was just deciding whether this was worth his trouble. Then he responded. Yes. He'd take the question.

So I typed the question that God brought to my heart.

"OK. The question is ... Do you believe in good and evil?"

Now it really was quiet in Twitterland. It took what seemed an eternity before I saw a response. And as I waited, I prayed. I asked God, "What am I going to do if they come up with an answer? I don't even know what to say."

"Just wait," He told me. "It will be clear to you."

The atheist pinged back something nonsensical ... about Donny Osmond and ... wow, I can't even reconstruct it. Suffice it to say, it was gibberish.

"That's not an answer," I replied. "It's simple, yes or no. Do you believe in good and evil, or not?"

The other two decided to try to help communicate for their buddy.

"What he's trying to say," one typed, "is that good and evil is not black and white. There are shades of gray. You might kill someone, and killing is evil, but if you're killing for a moral cause, it isn't."


Suddenly, it was completely clear to me why God prompted this question!

"So," my interrogator said, "I answered your question. Now you answer mine. Am I going to Heaven, or to Hell?"

I typed several Tweets to answer him -- after all, we only have 140 characters per Tweet. But this is what God prompted to me:

"You say that there is no way that we as humans can completely determine good and evil, that there are gray areas to both. If we as humans cannot determine it completely, how are we to judge whether an action is good or evil, perfectly? We can't. Because just like you said -- it can be a shade of gray. Now God is the perfect judge. And in Matthew 7:1, He tells us, 'Do not judge, or you, too will be judged.' He is the only one who sees good and evil and the shades of gray. He is the only perfect one to judge. Therefore, I don't know if you are going to Heaven or Hell. I am not your judge. God is your judge. He will decide where you're going."

Silence. Not a flicker of a word crossed the screen. Then ... suddenly ...


"I did answer the question. You just told me there is no way for us to know the difference from good and evil because of the grays. God is the perfect judge. God knows what will happen to you, and that's between you and God. By my Scripture, I am NOT ALLOWED to say whether you are going to Heaven or to Hell, because, like you said, we cannot fully know as humans what is evil and what is good."

He ranted some more, and I just looked at the screen and smiled.

Then, I did what I always do when God surprises me with an answer to prayer. I looked to my right, closed my eyes, and envisioned Him sitting next to me on the couch.

"Hey. Thanks."

"I told you that you didn't have to worry."

I sighed and smiled.

"You're the best."

So ... what is the point of this story ... and what does all of it have to do with a Christian Safehouse? Tomorrow, tune in for the conclusion.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Unforeseen Pitfalls

Part 5 of this story series …

For three days, an anti-theist, or “Atheist Enemy” for our purposes, had been pinging me with questions. Initially, I started off answering cordially. But soon it became apparent that this individual was only interested in one thing – shredding me and my beliefs.

It didn’t take long before his questions evolved from simple inquiries about faith and God to a hostile cross examination. He tried every which way to trip me up.

I answered his questions, at first because I was intrigued, and the mental exercise was good for me. But within about 24 hours after the barrage started, I felt tired from it. Still, I kept up the dialog.

And that’s when it happened – the pitfall for which I hadn’t bargained. My adversary came up with a trick question that was nearly impossible to answer:

“Do you think I am going to Heaven or to Hell?” he asked.

I sucked in my breath and looked at the question on the screen, the fonts boring into my eye sockets like poker irons. This was one I actually hadn’t considered.

At that very moment, my phone rang. You may think this is coincidence – but I count it yet another piece of evidence that God was hanging around with me. The caller was my Bible study leader.


“Wow. What’s going on?” We haven’t known each other long, but she’s a sharp cookie, this one. “I can tell something’s wrong,” she added.

I explained what had been happening.

“Can I ask a question?”


“Are you praying every time you respond?”

That was a million-dollar question. Most of the time I allowed myself to be pressured into an immediate response. Even as I was talking to my friend, the atheist was sending ping after ping.

“I’m waiting!” said one tweet.

“You have a soul on the other end here that needs to be saved! Aren’t you concerned?” said another.

“Don’t you care where I go after I die? Why aren’t you responding?”

Chagrined, I read her the lines as they came in.

“But back to your question about whether I pray before I respond. To be honest, sometimes I do, but not always, because I feel pressured to get back to the person immediately, as you can see from these messages he’s now sending.”

“Don’t be,” she responded. “I think that before you give an answer, you need to pray long and hard about it. Listen. God will tell you what to say,” she told me. “Ask Him for words. He won’t disappoint you. And I’ll pray, too,” she added.

I agreed and sent the guy a one-line tweet: “I’ll answer your question, but I have to pray about it first.”

Of course, this triggered a huge guffaw on the other end.

“Hey!” he pinged to others who were following the conversation. “She’s going into conference about this! She’s working out a deal for me!”

I put the laptop aside.

And then I prayed.

The answer came almost immediately.

You know how this works, if you’re a whole-hearted pray-er. As you try to sort out a problem, suddenly, that little miracle takes place: It’s no longer a one-sided conversation. You know without a doubt that the answer in your mind did NOT originate with you, but with Him.

This was most definitely one of those cases.

“Are You sure?” I asked Him.

“Trust Me,” He spoke the words to my heart, as clearly as if they were audible. “Now. This is what you’re going to do ….”

Curious about how God intervenes on the spot when you need Him? Tune in tomorrow for the next part of the story series …

Scrapping with "Atheist Enemies"

Part 4 in this story series ...

Are you scrappy?

If you choose to debate the other type of atheist, the "anti-theist," you have to be ready for an all-out-bare-knuckle-street-fight of words.

The Atheist Enemy is not interested in logic. Their sole aim is to destroy any ounce of credibility to you and God's message of love. If you go on Twitter and do a search under the hashtag #atheist, you'll easily be able to pick out the Friendlies versus the Enemies.

The Enemies get offended with an eye blink. Not only do they let you know they're affronted by your mere existence -- they'll also do everything possible to hold you up to public ridicule. I've had more than one instance where an "Atheist Enemy" even tried to circumvent my regular discussions with who I call "the normal people," when they realized people were engaging me.

Now ... the question is ... do you even bother dealing with an Enemy?

My honest opinion? Do everything possible to avoid them. They are not interested in what you have to say about God or Jesus. They are out to decimate you AND Him. What's the point? At the end of one of these debating sessions, you will feel spent and exhausted, perhaps a little bruised emotionally. And you might have wasted precious hours and time that could have been spent on someone who was truly seeking God.

The flip side, though, is what do you do if an Enemy approaches you and asks you for a debate? This is tough. I have to admit that it's tempting to me, as I love a good match of wits. But remember -- this debate is not about YOU or proving that YOU are right. It's about pointing someone to God's love. If that person is only out to crucify Christ all over again, then no matter what you do or say, it won't dent their steel heart.

But there is one reason to proceed -- it's for the benefit of others who are watching the match from the sidelines. These are people who you may not even know are there. As you banter in a public forum in a place like Twitter, regardless of whether the Atheist Enemy is receptive, there are other people who are taking notes on what both of you are saying.

This is the one and only reason I engaged two such pit bulls simultaneously in an open Twitter discussion.

From this debate, I learned one salient truth:

Each encounter must be covered -- COVERED -- in prayer.

Wanna know what happened? Tune in tomorrow for the next part of the story.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Chatting with "Atheist Friendlies"

Part three in this story series ...

One of the most important things to do when you first meet and engage an atheist in debate is to determine right off the bat whether they are a "Friendly" or an "Enemy." We'll cover the times when it's not so easy to discern immediately, but for now, let's dive into how to handle conversation with someone who is an obvious "Friendly."

Keep in mind I've only been actively chatting with atheists on Twitter for about three weeks. I still have a lot to learn and don't have a lock on this, to be sure. But here are some general observations and pointers if you find yourself in a bantering situation with the "Friendlies:"

1. Know that their purpose is to glean information from you, not to antagonize you.
So ... don't antagonize them. If you were in a regular setting -- a workplace or a Christmas party -- and someone asked if you went to church, then revealed they were an atheist, how would you respond? Hopefully, in such a situation, you'd be polite and courteous. The same goes for an online discussion. Just because you are sight unseen doesn't give you license to speak down to them or to immediately charge them.

2. Assume the best in the person, not the worst.
It's easy for us to be defensive when we hear someone say, "God doesn't exist." But remember they've come to that conclusion for a good reason. As one "Friendly" pointed out to me yesterday (rightly so!), the choice for non-belief is very painful for many people. If this person was a former believer and became disenfranchised for some reason, they have already been through the pain of "realizing" that what they thought was true "wasn't," the Friendly told me. I never considered that before, and that's because I was assuming the worst of all atheists. That's a mistake you never want to make, especially if you espouse that you love Jesus.

3. See them for who they are: These are people with real lives, real families, real dreams. They are NOT Hannibal Lecter. They are very likable people, very smart people and also very kind people. When I sent out a note on Twitter that I was receiving anonymous threats to my other blog, Kingdom Treasures, the Friendlies responded with great concern and sadness. The Enemies will question whether you're telling the truth, because they are accustomed to dealing with lies. But Friendlies? They'll stick up for you, because like the rest of society, they're not any different when it comes to human compassion.

4. Understand that they feel misunderstood. And to a great degree, in the larger Christian community, they are misunderstood. When chatting, communicate that you accept them and love them as you do your fellow believers. Remember the famous "love" passage in Matthew?

This is a great one: "If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5: 46-48

5. Don't be impatient for them to immediately accept your words.
Listen. I have a very dear friend of more than 20 years who is agnostic. We have gone rounds for hours and hours about my belief and his unbelief. Will he ever believe? I have no idea. But this guy is my friend. I still pray for him. I still believe that Jesus died for him. I still know that God's love and mercy will cover him when he's ready to ask for it. It's God's job to break the hearts of atheists and agnostics -- NOT. YOURS. So let God do it. And while you're about His business to share His love with them, do not give into the temptation of impatience.

So. Do you really love others as Jesus does? Be honest. When confronted with a person whose beliefs are opposite to yours, how do you see that person? Do you assume rotten things about them? Do you care for them? Before you decide to engage with an atheist, even a "Friendly," make sure your heart is right with God on all of these points. Otherwise ... the discussion is pointless.

Tomorrow ... we'll look at the other side of the coin -- the "Atheist Enemies." See you then!