When the Willow Bends


In the face of a powerful and unrelenting wind, the willow tree will bend to the force without breaking. And when the gale subsides it will resume its former upright posture towering over trees too weak or too rigid to withstand the blast. No doubt the willow tree has found its way into any number of sermons as an illustration of the nature of a believer standing and against worldly pressure (or some such sin-driven force) without compromising the inviolate truths held dearly by the one who bears Christ’s name.

Such a comparison, however, I think fits only those circumstances in which the forces of evil attack relentlessly and for a limited time only, leaving a believer only slightly – perhaps imperceptibly – scarred. What happens if the pressure to compromise one’s deeply cherished faith has left a permanent mark on the believer? Isn’t this something akin to Paul’s description of the messenger of Satan, the thorn in the flesh which Christ permitted to perpetually torment him in order that the Lord’s magnificent supply of grace might be found more powerful than earthly suffering? Do we have examples in nature depicting this type of spiritual struggle in a concrete – that is, a visible and tangible form?

I recently met a pastor who had endured four years of great suffering for his faith in his former homeland of Cuba. He is very much like a willow tree in the sense in that he does not still bear physical or seemingly emotional scars from his horrific ordeal. His intense, though temporary, suffering developed him into the godly and humble servant he is today, one whose ministry touches thousands every day.

During some recent travels, I saw a tall, sturdy oak in the distance. It looked like any other oak in the area except that it was bent at the top, essentially growing sideways. No doubt this tree had spent several decades upright, rigid, firmly maintaining its lofty stature with a tenacious root system not easily torn from the earth. But at some point in its existence, perhaps a powerful hurricane or some other “act of God” bent the trunk at its most vulnerable spot and everlastingly marred its majestic form. Nevertheless, despite the visible deformation, it stands firm today, it thrives today, and it is perhaps even more resilient to the unstoppable force that shaped its destiny. I wonder if there’s a good sermon application here?

No Tragedy in Ecuador

The Ecuador Five – January 8, 1956: Sixty years ago today, five missionaries were slaughtered in the jungle of Ecuador. Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully, Nate Saint, and Roger Youderian were viciously speared, beaten with clubs, and hacked to death with machetes by a small gang of Waodani (Auca) Indians. More

Persecution in Mexico: They Follow the Lamb Wherever He Goes

Gibson Persecution 2The call to follow Christ is not an easy one. Some of Jesus’ hardest words were spoken in the context of his calls to discipleship. In John 12, shortly before his arrest, Jesus reflected upon his imminent death and interpreted it for his disciples: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (v. 24). So the principle is a universal one; it’s woven into the very fabric of nature. All life-yielding fruit bearing begins with death. Then, Jesus goes on to apply this “death principle” to his followers. What was true for Jesus was true for them as well. If they were to bear much fruit, they too must fall into the ground and die: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also” (vv. 25-26). Those who would follow Jesus in his fruit-bearing life would have to follow him in laying down their lives. Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it this way, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” (1) More

Martyring the Layman

Marty Layman 2My desire here is to briefly reflect on the accounts of the New Testament authors and the deaths they died for the name of Christ. In particular, I want to draw attention to the lives and professions of these men before meeting their Lord, Jesus Christ and what could possibly be an implication for the way we think today. In the West, we would call this kind of living “radical.” Scripture calls this “normal.” Normal people, amazing transformation, normal faith in Christ, normal endurance, powerful God, normal truth, unashamed outcome.


Horrific and Beautiful

horrific-beautiful-blog-postIn the time it takes to read this page, another Christian will be killed because of his or her faith in Jesus Christ. 160,000 believers around the world will be slaughtered this year alone, simply because they love Jesus.

This is not a news flash. The physical risk of “going public with the glory of God” (John Piper) among satanically dominated peoples is obvious. Jesus predicted that you will probably be chugged (disposed of quickly and without pause) like a lion eats a lamb (Matthew 10:16; 1 Peter 5:8). That’s the risk in this world and too many shrivel up at the thought. More