Archive for September, 2020

Love Jesus

Posted: September 30, 2020 in Uncategorized

The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with his justice and righteousness. He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.

Isaiah 33:5-6

“The fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.” What is the fear of the Lord? E.J. Young says the fear of the Lord is “the complete and entire devotion of the whole man to the Lord.” Nothing remains untouched in the man who fears God. Every fiber of his being lives to honor God. Out of that devotion emanates the life, the wisdom, the knowledge of God himself.

I adore my Grandpa Sheveland. 42 years have passed since Grandpa’s death and yet not a day passes without thoughts of him. The legacy of Clarence Sheveland lives in everything I do. Heroes do that sort of thing in boys. We want to be just like them. His pet names are my pet names. His passions are my passions: every flower bed a memorial, every mantlepiece a testament to the man who shaped my life.

Clarence lived a simple life, raised six kids with his wife Ruth, never had much money. But a humble two bedroom home stood proud, the backdoor beckoned all, “Come on in.” The gardens pristine, the lawn lush; a white picket fence traced sentinels of black walnut trees. Norman Rockwell had nothing on Grandpa’s house, pure Americana bathed in love. None of these wonderful things explain the man. They are simply markers of the driving force in Grandpa’s life, Jesus Christ. He loved his Lord with a whole heart, the fear of God the key to real treasure, a love that moved a young boy. That same love consumes and drives the mature grandson a half century later.

The little boy didn’t appreciate Grandpa’s fervent prayers. Phillip thought they were too long. Homemade bread, apple butter, and hot cocoa graced the kitchen table. Grandma read from “The Daily Bread”, then Grandpa prayed, and prayed. My stomach growled, my nose twitched,; I kept peeking at that bread, fifteen minutes an eternity. But I sure loved those hugs and hearty laughs. And the touch of his hand, love emanated from those fingers. I lived for his hand in mine, the caress of my curly mop, the squeeze of approval on my shoulder.

“There is enough in Christ for my necessities. There is more in Christ than I shall ever know–perhaps more than I shall understand even in heaven.”

Charles Spurgeon

Those prayers became the center of our conversation when I was twenty two. Grandpa Sheveland’s health was failing, he would pass the following Spring. He sat on the couch. I took the recliner rocker. We talked about the voice of God, miracles, the power of prayer. He put flesh to the Word of God. I witnessed the profound faith of a humble man in whom God poured a reservoir of wisdom and knowledge. He gestured at the photographs of all the grandkids displayed on the shelves of two built-ins. “I pray for everyone of you. Love Jesus.” I don’t remember anything after those two words. “Love Jesus” encapsulates Clarence Sheveland’s life. I pray those words encapsulate mine as well because in the end, Christ is all that matters.


Posted: September 29, 2020 in Meditations

Alliene, I never knew her. My father and grandfather drove out to a flat open plain in western Kansas. I was a young boy, the significance of this afternoon would not strike me for a long time. The cemetery, stark by most standards, seemed out of place. Where were the trees, lush grass, grand markers, pithy epitaphs? Instead, the sun scorched dry grass in oppressive heat. The men talked, I didn’t listen, not until they stopped at a spot marked by a rock. For the first time I knew I had an aunt I would never meet, her name, Alliene.

My grandparents were young, Grandpa Brown, a tall handsome Methodist pastor, my grandmother, a godly mother of two boys and a girl. 1934 was tough times. The Dust Bowl ate up millions of acres across the Great Plains. The nation still reeled amidst the Great Depression. Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde: all met their end in 1934. But tough times also create opportunity for the gospel message, my grandpa faithfully preached hope to many who desperately needed it.

Glenn was six, Alliene four, John a mere six months. Alliene came into the house from play, she had a fierce headache. Grandma recalled that day in her journal, fevers spiked during the day, seemed like measles coming on. Grandma wrote, “About noon she asked, ‘Mama, aren’t you going to get any dinner, I’m hungry.’ So, I made her a cocoa eggnog and she drank several little glasses of that in the afternoon. Her fever seems to get higher. I wonder what she has? She got so sleepy and begged for me to put her to bed and let her go to sleep. She did go into a deep sleep right in my arms before I could get her to bed. She is real cold now and Bob has gone after the doctor. Presently she clenched her little teeth tightly together and her arms stiffened as tho she were going into a convulsion. I laid her back down, holding her in my arms. Just as Bob stepped back into the door, her sweet pure spirit left her. Ohh, my precious little darling. Gone, gone forever. So suddenly. It was just 8 PM. I can’t write how I feel.”

The journal remained silent for two months, no entries. I cannot imagine the grief of two young parents. How does anyone make sense of the death of a child? We don’t. In that moment all we can know is this, we belong to God. On May 26, 1934, Grandma picked up her pen and wrote, “As I left the empty house and walked in the yard, the most blessed peace, almost joy filled my heart as the thought came to me, ‘Yes, she is gone, she is gone forever to be with God, forever safe from danger and Satan’s snares. What a blessed assurance. Oh heavenly Father, grant that our loved ones may all leave as sweet a fragrance when they go as Alliene did.'”

My little girl is now twenty, her name, Elizabeth Alliene. She carries the name of a special little girl I never knew. Elizabeth belongs to God, each of us does. Whether we live to be a hundred or only stay upon this sod for four short years, our lives are not our own. And what shall we do with the gift of life while we have it? “Oh heavenly Father, grant that our loved ones may all leave as sweet a fragrance when they go as Alliene did.”

Give It All to Jesus

Posted: September 28, 2020 in Uncategorized

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Ephesians 4:31,32

My heart pounded, my mind raced. Tears poured down my face. The chaotic flow of horror, terror, and brokenness surged over me. This storm driven riptide of rogue waves overwhelmed all perspective. The agony of betrayal, the anger: I wanted retribution and a place to run all at the same time. Have you been there? Has your world crashed? Been betrayed? Slandered? What to do? How do I respond? I have gone to the dark side of my soul. I have nurtured that hurt. I know the root of bitterness. I cultivated it like a rare orchid. My heart shriveled, love died, the presence of God drifted to a place I could not see or cared to pursue. I needed a miracle.

Pain, we all carry the scars of deep wounds. Memories flash uninvited, the lump in the throat returns, the eyes moisten. Some pain never departs this side of heaven. My Grandpa Brown never got over the loss of his two children. I wouldn’t either. But he didn’t carry bitterness, nor did he carry a spirit of resignation. Why? He knew a God who loved him, who loved his wife, who loved his children, especially the two who left him too early. “God is good, blessed be the name of the Lord.” My grandfather understood without having to understand, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”” Isaiah 55:8,9 But what of abuse, slander, and worse? The heart of man is evil, it knows no bounds. Surely I am justified. This man or woman deserves my hate. That hate will destroy you as surely as your imagination destroys the object of your hate. Run!! As fast as you can to Jesus. Unload that junk, that morass of pain. It may take a thousand trips, dump it. Only then can you find freedom, the freedom to love, the freedom to live.

Martin Luther King said, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” Hate drives the present BLM movement. And the hate will destroy its own. Only a voice of forgiveness and reconciliation will move the wounded hearts of men and women. Jesus said, You have heard it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous. 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 own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48

Today, I pray the moment any hurt surfaces, I pray over difficult relationships. I pray for everything I can imagine in their lives. I pray for breakthrough, I pray for blessing. I pray for the divine purposes to be lived out in the lives of individuals that would be so easy to hate. Why? No longer do I do it because Jesus told me to. I pray because I know God grows a love in me for those who wished me harm. “In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. Perfect love drives out fear.” 1 John 4:17,18. The flesh cannot conjure this love, it comes directly from the heart of God. Don’t own the hurt, the bitterness, the anger, the malice. Give it all to Jesus. Live in freedom, live in Christ’s love.


Posted: September 25, 2020 in Meditations

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Philippians 4:8,9

Jay Cooke, born in the frontier town of Sandusky, Ohio, 1821, excelled in life. At age 14, Jay served as head clerk at a Sandusky dry goods store. He comfortably supported himself at Seymour & Bool in St Louis at age 16. Cooke moved to Philadelphia at age 18 to take a position at an investment bank, E.W. Clarke & Co. He became a full partner in 1842 at the age of 21. The bank prospered on railroads and the Mexican War, experience that would benefit Cooke later in life. He retired in 1858 a rich man, just 37 years old.

Who was the man behind the banker? That is our story, Jay Cooke’s faith. Thomas H. Stockton, a Methodist minister in Philadelphia, profoundly influenced Cooke’s life. Jay spent thousands of dollars distributing Mr. Stockton’s sermons and tracts. The nation needed Jesus, the stripped down gospel, not a liturgical remote religion. Jay Cooke taught Bible classes, something he would continue to do the rest of his life. When the walk to Stockton’s church proved too far for his wife, Cooke joined a local Episcopalian church. From that point forward Cooke called himself a “low church” Episcopalian.

In 1861 Jason Cooke established his own financial house, Jay Cooke and Co.. Two months later the Civil War commenced. An avowed abolitionist, Cooke embraced the Union cause. When his friend Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury, called on him to help raise support for the war effort, Cooke went all in. By the end of the Civil War, Jay Cooke & Co. transacted a staggering 3 billion dollars in war bonds. Jay Cooke & Co. stood tall, the most formidable banking force in the country.

Jay Cooke lived his life by the vow of Jacob in Genesis 28:22, “and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.” When Cooke established his banking house, he instructed his clerk to create an OPJ account (old patriarch Jacob). One tenth of all commissions went into the account. Cooke tithed again off of his personal income. When people asked how he could give away so much money, Jay Cooke said, “It doesn’t cost me anything; it is the Lord’s money I give.”

In 1873 the unthinkable happened. Jay Cooke lost everything. Skyrocketing costs and delays on the North Pacific Railroad bankrupted Jay Cooke & Co. and himself. Cooke liquidated everything: the homes, furnishings, the vaunted art collection. He went back to work. In four years Cooke paid every creditor back in full. Through it all Jay Cooke never wavered. Integrity demanded the best out of him. He refused to shirk his creditors and his generous heart never abated. A shrewd investment in the Horn Silver Mine in Utah made Cooke a wealthy man again. He repurchased his old homes, a remarkable testament to a more remarkable man.

Jay Cooke died in 1905, a revered man. A century later churches up and down the East Coast stand, all built by Cooke money. A statue stands on the windswept hills of Duluth, Minnesota. Jay Cooke sits on a bench, the seat next to him empty. If a young person could sit in that empty spot and Jay could turn to talk, what would the mighty Jay Cooke say? I think I know. It would start this way, “Do you know my best friend Jesus?” And the conversation would close with these words, “In the end, Christ is all that matters.”

Christ Alone

Posted: September 24, 2020 in Uncategorized

In Christ alone my hope is found He is my light, my strength, my song This Cornerstone, this solid Ground Firm through the fiercest drought and storm What heights of love, what depths of peace When fears are stilled, when strivings cease My Comforter, my All in All Here in the love of Christ I stand

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Matthew 16:24

A new Supreme Court nominee will be announced this Saturday by President Trump. Amy Coney Barrett, one of the presumed favorites, quickly became a lightening rod of opposition because of her abiding faith in Christ. In 2017, during her confirmation hearing to fill a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh District, Senator Dianne Feinstein said, “The dogma lives loudly within you, and that is a concern.” Those fears arose out of Amy’s 2006 graduation speech, “No matter how exciting any career is, what is it really worth if you don’t make it part of a bigger life project to know love and serve the God who made you?” Why would Dianne fear a religion that promotes “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? James Woods, the actor, answered that question yesterday, “They loathe Christians primarily because the Bible is unequivocal about abortion, homosexuality, and pederasty.” The State is threatened by a perceived pretender to its throne.

My pastor on the East Coast, Mike Ruel, posted Matthew 16:24 this morning. “Deny yourself, take up your cross, follow Christ.” The Christian choice tolerates no middle ground. Christ demands all or nothing. The Christian life births out of total surrender. We have no rights, no leverage, before Holy God. Lost in the warp of sin, we possess no means to cure sin’s horrific effects. Christ alone is our hope. The verses of an old hymn encapsulate our surrender to Jesus. “All to Jesus I surrender, all to Him I freely give. I will ever love and trust Him, in His presence daily live. All to Jesus, I surrender, humbly at His feet I bow. Worldly pleasures all forsaken, Take me, Jesus, take me now. All to Jesus I surrender, make me Savior wholly Thine. May the Holy Spirit fill me, may I know Thy power divine.”

“In those days Israel had no king, everyone did as they saw fit.”

Judges 21:25

What do we do as human beings in our sin? We assume the role of God. We choose right from wrong and we don’t take kindly to others challenging our choices. The Bible provokes society precisely because it confronts us with our sin. Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” Matthew 5:11 The world Jesus lived in condemned him with hate. Do we Christians presume a different fate for ourselves? So how do we respond? I answer with a question, “How did Jesus respond?”

“When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Luke 24;33,34

Never lose sight of the face of God in any human being regardless of the warp of sin. Resist your instinct to close your heart when hurt. Never stop loving, never stop praying. Embrace the redemptive power of the gospel. Take up your cross knowing “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” 1 John 4:4 Like Paul, proclaim, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.” We serve the Great God, infinite goodness. Love with his love again and again and again. In the end, Christ is all that matters.

My Kingdom

Posted: September 23, 2020 in Uncategorized

‘There is no more happy singing over wine; no one enjoys its taste any more. In the city everything is in chaos, and people lock themselves in their houses for safety. People shout in the streets because there is no more wine. Happiness is gone for ever; it has been banished from the land. The city is in ruins, and its gates have been broken down. This is what will happen in every nation all over the world. It will be like the end of harvest, when the olives have been beaten off every tree and the last grapes picked from the vines.”

Isaiah 24:9-13

My heart aches for the suffering . These words of the ancient prophet Isaiah paint the picture of cities devastated by war, the senseless barbaric acts of men. The consequences of sin replicate themselves across our globe everyday: Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Ethiopia, Libya. A decade from now the list remains, just as long, only the names change. Sin demands blood in the realm of men, it always has. And yet, the shed blood of Jesus became the hope of this world, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him.” Romans 5:8,9 God knew, God knows. God cared, and God still cares.

America knows little of this kind of devastation. We live in a golden age. No nation on earth can boast of greater wealth and power. In the history of mankind, nothing comes close. But a time will come when America is no more. Great cities vanish, sloped tells hint at what was, their stories lost to legend, or worse, silence. 2020 underscores the fragility of our institutions, the harmony of our nation. Revolution frames the future in many young minds. Even so, Jesus still beckons, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

“Jesus said to them, “The kings of the pagans have power over their people, and the rulers claim the title ‘Friends of the People’. But this is not the way with you; rather, the greatest among you must be like the youngest, and the leader must be like the servant.””

Luke 22:25-26

Many of us vest ourselves in the upcoming election. important issues pierce deep into our hearts. We sense threat to all we took for granted. A divided nation will vote. And good men and women will agree to disagree this November. But what then? We as Christians know our citizenship is in heaven. Philippians 3:20 Our circumstances may change but our calling remains the same. We serve Almighty God no matter what comes of the politics of this nation. We continue to commit acts of righteousness. We minister to the poor, the sick, the maimed, the underdogs among us. We extend arms of mercy and consolation to the shattered and broken lives in our neighborhoods. We confront the violence of sin with the divine love of Christ.

In these days, be sober. Resist arrogance, embrace humility. Seek God with a whole heart. Let’s build the kingdom of God. Never forget, in the end, Christ is all that matters.

Dad, A Tribute

Posted: September 22, 2020 in Uncategorized

“My Father didn’t tell me how to live: he lived, and let me watch him do it.”

Clarence Budington Kelland

“I will be a father to him, and he will be a son to me. When he does wrong, I’ll discipline him in the usual ways, the pitfalls and obstacles of this mortal life. But I’ll never remove my gracious love from him.”

2 Samuel 7:14-15

Nobody worked harder than my dad, nobody. And nobody loved his kids more than my father. Dad just turned 87, his lithe frame now bent and broken. His strong right hand betrays the abuse rendered by hard work. The base knuckle of his index finger swells to the size of a golf ball, his hand twists to accommodate it. A scarred nub of a half thumb reminds all of a bad night working graveyard shift at Samsonite luggage. Tremors flutter his hand, sipping soup is now an adventure. Dad takes it all in stride. He is the last of four brothers this side of heaven. Death is no secret, it soon comes for Dad. So he lives, he breathes in what life now offers. That’s my father.

I speak not of death but rather of the life we shared, the unique legacy of father and son. I debuted when my parents were young, Dad 21, Mom 19. In a very real way, we grew up together. I remember Dad in college, student teaching, his first teaching position. Dad stood straight, lean and strong. To me, Dad was the smartest best looking dad in the world.

Life isn’t perfect and neither is Dad. Marriage never came easy for my parents. Their book on marriage would be titled. “What Not To Do And Still Be Married”. Dad’s temper ran hot and his moods wandered. But life isn’t primarily about what we didn’t do right but rather it is about what we did do right. Dad loved me and that far outweighed the shortcomings.

Family means the world to Dad. He loves his flesh and blood. Perhaps more importantly, he loved his wife’s family. I grew up with the Shevelands. God nurtured me in the shadow of my grandparents, their picture graces my bed stand for a reason. Aunts, uncles, cousins: they all played vital roles in my life. My father never changed. Today he frets over his children, his grandchildren. Each individual owns a piece of his heart.

Church was never an option. Good times, bad times: it made no difference, the Browns were there. Perhaps life didn’t make perfect sense at home, but life made perfect sense at church. I knew what godly folk looked like, talked like, felt like. None were perfect, nobody pretended to be. Their testimonies covered the same theme, blessed redemption, sinners saved by grace. These imperfect loving individuals pointed me to Christ. Why do all five siblings serve Jesus Christ today? Two parents honored church and family.

Lynn and I now live with my parents until we move into our new home. I treasure each day, each meal with them. As a man and a son, I hang on each conversation I have with Dad. I love him with a whole heart, an easy thing to do. We shared life, nearly seven decades, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Nothing can threaten the tie that binds us together. God blessed me with a good dad, a faithful dad. Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Dad.

“And I hope my son sees in me the kind of man that he was to Me.”

Shannon Noll

Who Am I?

Posted: September 21, 2020 in Meditations

“Religion is not the place where the problem of man’s egotism is automatically solved. Rather, it is there that the ultimate battle between human pride and God’s grace takes place. Insofar as human pride may win the battle, religion can and does become one of the instruments of human sin. But insofar as there the self does meet God and so can surrender to something beyond its own self-interest, religion may provide the one possibility for a much needed and very rare release from our common self-concern.”

Rienhold Niebuhr

“You have nothing to say in this family. Mom makes the money in this house. You don’t even have a job.” My heart sank. These words crushed me. Angry, my daughter went for the throat, my vulnerability obvious. I was unemployed, a meager disability check my only offering. My wife worked long hours, day after day, week after week: the financial burden sat squarely on her shoulders. “Who am I?”, I asked myself. “My own daughter loathes me.” Ego is a powerful force. Self-interest drives all of us for better and worse on this journey called life. My ego flattened, I retreated further into myself. “Is my family better off without me?” I really didn’t know. I clung to faith. Head injuries play wicked games with the ego. What do you do when you no longer trust your own sanity?

“Surely God is my salvation: I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength, and my defense; he has become my salvation.” Isaiah 12:2 I lived much of my life by my own wits. I was gifted, I worked hard. Pride motivated me, my successes reinforced the drive to cultivate my self-interest. God and faith remained an important part of my life with one caveat; faith was exercised on my terms. God and I were partners in life but I overstepped my junior role on a daily basis. Religion reinforced my ego, it justified my pursuits. But that was now all gone. I lost the facade built by pride. In the eyes of my daughter, I was a pathetic man no longer worthy of her admiration. “So who am I?”, I asked.

“Who is like you, Lord God Almighty? You, Lord, are mighty, and your faithfulness surrounds you.” Psalm 89:8 I remember laying in bed alone, very sick. Fatigue, seizures, the fog of prescription drugs: I saw my life shrink to the size of a quarter. I sensed my life ebbing and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. I looked up at the ceiling and quoted the words of Job, “Tho you slay me, yet will I hope in you.” Job 13:15 The Holy Spirit spoke these simple words to my heart, “As long as you have breath, you have purpose.” That simple truth rejuvenated my spirit. It transformed my thinking, my point of view. My worth, my identity, rested no longer upon self-interest but upon the purposes of God, the author of my life. Each day became a gift, each moment pregnant with divine purpose.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38,39 Who am I? My name is Phil and I am a child of the Most High God. He created me in love, by love, and for love. I partner each day with my senior partner, the Holy Spirit, to commit acts of righteousness. My role as husband and father? As uncle and friend? I love each one with the love of Christ. I choose to speak words of life rather than death. I pray, I invest. I choose the life of no regrets, the life that says no to self and yes to Christ. I savor those “rare releases from common self-concern”. And my daughter? She loves me and I love her, the wonderful dynamic of forgiveness and commitment reigns in our lives. We both know who I am. We both know, in the end, Christ is all that matters.

Josiah, A Love Letter

Posted: September 16, 2020 in Meditations

“How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

Psalm 119:9-11

Josiah, Uncle Phil marvels at you, the young man developing before my eyes. Your gentle spirit, your lively mind, your insatiable curiosity, your heart for God: my heart melts. I love you with a whole heart. I pray to our Lord, “Help me be the uncle you want me to be. May I always speak words of life into Josiah, your man, the man you breathed into existence before he ever found his mother’s womb, Show me how to love him, to encourage him. What can I pass on to Josiah that will live on in his heart long after I pass on to glory?”

“Honor your father and mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12 Josiah, if you haven’t figured it out already, you have special parents. They have tender hearts, an intense passion for the underdog. That is the heart of God. How did Jesus enter this world? The firstborn to an unwed mother, born into a poor family from a backwater village in a subjugated land: Jesus chose the station of the lowly to reveal the glorious love of God for mankind. Josiah, watch carefully and absorb the examples set by your parents. Never mistake your father’s gentleness for weakness. And never discount your Father’s weakness. In that weakness your father is made strong. Why? Dad leans hardest on God when he knows he is over-matched. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 Embrace that praying mother of yours. If anybody knows your heart, it is Mom. Nobody will pray harder, invest deeper, and love more intensely than your mother. Love her, honor her.

Live life with passion. Treat each day as a gift. Live each moment with purpose. “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17 Strive for excellence, give your best to every endeavor. Did you know that sports and recreation are worship unto God? Your schoolwork? Your friendships? Your vocation? God breathed these passions into you — embrace them. I remember a line from the movie “Chariots of Fire”, “I feel God’s pleasure when I run.” May you feel God’s pleasure in all that you do.

Never forget, the only real freedom you will truly experience is found in complete surrender to Jesus Christ. “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Matthew 16:25 The world offers much but delivers little. The world attempts to be God and fails miserably. “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul.” Matthew 16:26 Listen to Uncle Phil. You are created in love, by love, for love. In the surrender, divine love explodes with creative force. We now exercise power in the service of others. There is no greater satisfaction on earth. Josiah, be that instrument of divine love.

In short, embrace your calling. Make each day count. Seek God with a whole heart. Trust and obey. “Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain.” Psalm 119:36 You are never alone. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Never forget, in the end, Christ is all that matters.

Love always, Uncle Phil

John Testrake, Hero, Man of God

Posted: September 16, 2020 in Meditations

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.

Psalm 8:9

I sang a song based on this scripture in the pitch of night before the dawn today. My mind drifted to precious memories of an old friend, John Testrake. John loved that song and I loved John. He passed away in 1996, age 68, too soon. I and so many others miss him but John’s legacy lives on in my heart.

John Testrake burst onto the international scene on June 14, 1985. He and Phyllis, his wife, were looking forward to a brief holiday in Rome. That morning John, an international pilot for TWA, took off on a Mediterranean junket. Shortly after takeoff, terrorists armed with pistols and grenades hijacked the plane. 17 days of terror ensued on the tarmac of Beirut. John witnessed the brutal murder of a young Navy man, Robert Dean Stethem, 23 years old. Most people recall the iconic picture of John leaning out the window of the cockpit, a gun to his head: calm, steady and strong. The whole world watched, John’s life changed forever.

I was on vacation in the Bahamas when this happened. I woke up to CNN, I saw a picture of John and Phyllis. Stunned, I woke Lynn up. “We need to get home immediately.” We packed up and headed to the airport and caught the first flight home. On our way to Richmond, Missouri, in the car, Phyllis called. She was under USA protection. I prayed with her and told her we were headed to the church. Our church family joined in prayer together over the course of two hours. John and Phyllis were family.

The world saw the pilot. I knew the man behind the spectacle. I cut firewood with John. I helped him build his deck. We shared life together as couples in a Bible study once a week. I squealed in terror every time John did loop to loops in John’s private plane — much to John’s delight! He was a man’s man, he was God’s man.

When John spoke, we listened. He was gracious but tough. This Korean War veteran stood steeled by life. He lost a wife and child in a horrific auto accident. He lost another son in the prime of life. John comforted his comforters one by one, at his son’s wake. Two words, Jesus Christ, were never far from his lips. The demonic threats and abuse of terrorists were not going to overwhelm John Testrake.

John became a coveted celebrity after the ordeal resolved itself. He used the platform to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. John flew his plane to speaking engagements around the country over the course of the next ten years. I last saw John at an event promoting missions aviation. In John Testrake, God bestowed a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. And the lyrics of that song?

O Lord, our Lord How majestic is your name in all the earth O Lord, we praise your name O Lord, we magnify your name Prince of peace, mighty God O Lord, God Almighty

John, I’ll see you soon. Soon, very soon.