Category Archives: Sacrifice

The Power of “No”

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I’ve been using this story in sermons and inspirational talks for years. It’s sorta my “go-to” illustration, especially with young people.

It’s from long ago, yes, but every time I share it, there’s a palpable resonance and it usually strikes home with more than a few. It always gets to me.

William Whiting Borden was born into affluence in Chicago, Illinois in 1887, the third child of William Borden and Mary Degama Whiting. The Bordens made their millions producing milk and dairy products and in real estate.

After Will’s mother converted to Christianity in 1894, she began taking him to Chicago Avenue Church (now The Moody Church). He soon responded to the gospel preaching of Dr. R. A. Torrey, turned to Christ and was baptized.

From then on, prayer and Bible study became hallmarks of his life. After graduating from the Hill School in Pottstown, PA, at age 16, he traveled to Europe, Africa, and Asia – a graduation gift from his wealthy folks. This, we can rightly assume, awakened his heart to missions.

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Sensing the call of God, Will matriculated at Yale University in 1905, graduated four years later, then entered Princeton Theological Seminary. The calling to foreign fields never subsided, but consumed his heart and, while in Princeton, Will was stirred to go back to the Muslims of Northern China, and focused all his efforts and energies there.

Here’s where the story turns and gives rise to being given Hebrews 11 status.

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“Satan Wants Him Dead”

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Some would argue that Satan won in the end, and they couldn’t be more wrong. Our son had other brushes with death – the earliest coming just hours after birth – and God triumphed in those times always, and, even in the tragic end, the God of Angel-armies famously triumphed over evil’s intent against Gra-Gra. Our son is with Jesus. He was already well on his way home and God ran to meet him before he could get the full speech said. The Father never disowned him, never removed his place setting at the table of grace. What satan intended for evil, God orchestrated as a finer ending, and we are speechless with gratitude. __________________________________________

The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.

– Job

Tuesday, September 29, 1981
Chattanooga, TN

By the stark fluorescence of the desk light, I stretched out on my stomach and planted my face in the threadbare dormitory carpet and there surrendered my whole world to Jesus. Though a ministry student in Bible college, I went off-road and tasted enough of the wild wilderness to leave me broken and empty and my repentance was to raise a white flag and volunteer for the hard path of purity via the scathing heat of the Refiner’s fire.

Take my life or take my legs, Jesus. Whatever it takes. Whatever it costs. I just never want to go back there…

Friday, September 29, 1989
Chattanooga, TN

Eight years later, to the day, and in the very same city, I was holding a son.

None of that registered in those moments but, today as I write, is not lost on me. Eight years between those life events. Eight. The number that designates a new start, new beginnings. While not due for yet another three weeks, Graham Scott Mitchell came bounding into the world, happy as you please, and all by God’s grace-endowed design.

Eight years ago you lost something precious, my son, but what I want to give in return is something far, far more valuable. You’ll praise me as the God who gives generously in the place of loss.

Despite the earlier mishap with the car seat, we pulled up safe and sound in my sister-in-law’s driveway with little baby man in tow. So far, so good. That first night we could relax and marshal our reserves for a very busy next couple of days. The first mile of our new journey required a visit with child services the next day and, pending approval, a return to Graham’s birth city to retrieve our baby and take him home.

His name was Ernst Bierkerut. Yeah. If ever a person’s name fit their affect, it was the very stoic and utterly impersonal child services agent who performed the home study. He was scary serious. Mr. Bierkerut wielded his power like a caricatured prison warden and we answered his questions like two frightened children in the principal’s office. Sorry, but the mixed metaphor is completely necessary to paint the picture.

Two and a half grueling hours later, we had his (unenthusiastic) permission to make the two-plus hour drive to get our boy and bring him home. Every second apart from our little man was a dagger to our hearts, but once the final hoop was cleared and the last of the red tape put to bed, we were on our way.

Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins greeted us as we entered the temporary shelter to swoop up our son and tell him we never, ever wanted to be away from him ever again. A quick supper, we were saying our good-byes in the dining room when my brother-in-law came around the corner from the living room. His face was white as a sheet.

“He’s not breathing.”

Three harrowing words.

In a simple turn of phrase our world suddenly started splitting at the seams. Graham was still as a stone in his carrier, head lolling to the side. Frantic, we dialed the emergency line at the Children’s Hospital and, after describing the symptoms, were told to get him there posthaste. Sandy’s mom climbed into the back seat with our newborn and we drew a bead on the same hospital where his life began, a twenty-minute drive away.

I wish I could say the seas parted and our drive time was cut in half, but it was instead a black comedy of cliches. We caught nearly every red light and were stopped en route by a slow-moving train. My mother-in-law tried to keep us calm by saying Gra-Gra was fine, breathing, but try to hurry. Later on she told us she was frightened because nothing she tried brought any kind of response. At one point, she was convinced he was gone.

By the mercies of God, we arrived at Erlanger and a waiting team of responders literally wrenched our son away and rushed him behind large steel doors, disappearing from view, our tiny bundle lost amid a blur of scrubs and white.

Our next moments dragged by until a doctor came out to us and said he’s alive, just barely, the preliminary tests show some kind of infection, perhaps even meningitis, they would need to do a spinal tap ASAP, do they have our permission…

We gave it. Then collapsed inside.

More waiting.

Until a nurse came to us reporting that the tap had been performed and they needed some time to ascertain the results and the next steps. Would we like to see our baby?

This tiny, naked little body, just a stub of a little person, was stretched out on a metal table, electrodes, lines and tubes attached to our son. A small bandage covered his lower back, covering the wound where they drained some spinal fluid.

Sandy reached for her mouth. We both silently wept.

Dear God…

All told, we prayed over six years for our beloved son, saw him come into the world, held him for a single night, but now relinquished him to health care professionals in whose hands were our hopes to whether we would hold him ever again. Or not.

We never left the hospital. The ICU waiting room was our bunker and the first night as our newborn son’s legally recognized guardians was the longest of our lives. Sometime during the night, I needed to find a secluded spot and found an alcove nearby where I could cry out to God for answers.

“Father,” I pled, “what is this? Why, God? Why?”

Silence.

“I don’t understand,” I continued. “Will my son live?”

More silence. Impregnable silence.

“Please, oh God…please…we need a miracle here…tonight…ohjesusohjesusohjesus…please…help…”

I’ve never heard the audible voice of God, but I’ve come close and the closest I’ve ever come was in those next few seconds as I waited for news – any news – from the Great Physician.

I am most certain He said:

Your son will not die, but live. I have a purpose for Graham’s life; Satan knows it and wants him dead. Rest now, I will not let that happen…

He did recover. Results for meningitis returned negative. Evidently, he had contracted a bug from his birth mother as he left the birth canal and his tiny body had to learn to fight it off. He was meant to live.

He spent eight days in the hospital and we never left his side. Eight days.

There it is again.

The number eight.

Perhaps I’m reading far too much into it, but let me.

It’s not a panacea but a signpost that God was sovereignly in all the details, and the devil was assigned to the dark.

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Please note: in the next day or two I hope to post something very precious, and oh so sweet…so be “listening” for it (hint, hint).

George

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Are you in a relationship with someone in whom all your significance, self-worth and identity is wrapped up?

Could you survive on your own if they were subtracted from your life?

Would you bow to a grace that offers a Greater Love…and be utterly, supremely satisfied?

George Matheson would have to find out.

At age 20, George was engaged to be married to the girl of his dreams. But something sinister invaded their romance; something so dark and horrible, his fiancée walked away from him and never looked back.

George was going blind.

George had already authored two volumes on theology and, were he to have retained his sight, would likely have been a prolific writer in his Scottish homeland. His sister offered to look after her brother and moved her belongings into his home and for years assisted George with all of his daily needs. Though he lost his dear sweetheart, God swooped in and blessed him with a diligent life partner.

Life was good. Or as much as it could be…when you’re blind.

Alas, the story is not finished. Again, the opaque spectre of gloom made its illicit entrance into George’s world but only, this time, riding on the wings of a sweet and innocent interlude as George’s sister fell in love and made plans to marry. Once again, he faced the biting prospect of having his security wrested from his grasp. As he felt the familiar agony of soul in which he would be forced to relinquish all he held dear, all that buttressed and sustained him, George had to find a Higher, Greater and Fixed Love.

What happened next is a beautiful soliloquy, penned in grace, to the matchless, eternally romantic love of God.

This new testament of George overwrites his sorrowful stanza of loss. It nobly testifies to gain.

His, and ours.

O Love that will not let me go
I rest my weary soul in thee
I give thee back the life I owe
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be

O Light that foll’west all my way
I yield my flick’ring torch to thee
My heart restores its borrowed ray
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be

O Cross that liftest up my head
I dare not ask to fly from thee
I lay in dust life’s glory dead
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be