A Hope Found at St. Monica’s Road

Simeon stood at the sacred spot on St. Monica’s Road where a few days ago a boy he knew lay, never to move again. Flowers wilted against the curb, surrounded by a garden of graffiti, expressing pain, sorrow, and loss.

The police phoned Simeon a couple nights ago. He replayed in his mind the moments before that call over and over: the news segment he was watching while reaching for his tea, wisps billowing from his chipped mug. Then the phone rang. A woman spoke on the other end, giving the formal police introduction followed by the request of his presence for identification. The victim only had Simeon’s business card in his jacket pocket. Some time later, onlookers peered at the senior balding pasty skinned man staring into the face of a young boy – no, a young man – which he recognized as a once promising student in his class. But now Mical’s face was frozen in that last act of life. Moments later, after giving the identity of the victim, the street mourned in silence at the wailing of a mother, flailing and screaming.

He had grown fond of Mical. “He has an impeccable mind,” Simeon once told a fellow teacher at Cedarbridge Academy. He hoped that somehow, someway, he could help to encourage and guide him to better things. He called his mother to offer free tutoring and guidance. Simeon remembered his first meeting with Mical’s mom, a wiry light-skinned woman, her young face grooved with exhaustion and bitterness, adding to the illusion of being older. When asked about his father, visceral hatred spat out the answer: there was no father. She was apprehensive of Simeon’s help at first, but relented. He gave a business card to each of them. Never in a century would he have envisioned seeing that card again almost a decade later, crinkled and yellowed with age, a spot of blood on one corner. A death caused by mistaken identity.

“You’re here.”

Simeon jolted from his ruminations. Mical’s mom stood beside him, a fresh bouquet held in the crook of her arm. Her visage was creased even more deeply with sorrow, and yet…there was something different.

“I’m surprised,” she said.

Simeon sighed deeply. “You shouldn’t be.”

“You know, he really appreciated all you did for him. You changed his outlook. You challenged him. He loved it.”

“He challenged me, too. He had potential. He could have been a lawyer, a judge, or maybe even a politician.”

“God forbid!” she chuckled.

Simeon replied with a chuckle of his own. Not because of her derision of politics. But because of whom she asked to forbid it. Somehow, Mical’s mom was able to discern his expression.

“Did I say something wrong?”

“Not exactly.”

“Which usually means I did say something.”

“I can see who he got his mind from,” Simeon said, grinning.

Mical’s mom nodded while sighing with a stray tear as she delicately placed her flowers to accompany the leftovers.

“Will you walk me to the car, it’s near the church.”

She smiled tightly in agreement, crossing her arms around her, as if attempting to hold herself together or risk falling apart while walking.

An uncomfortable silence traveled with them. Simeon wasn’t sure exactly what to say. He has said his fair share of clichés to know that silence was the best salve during these times.

“We got into the church a few weeks ago.”

The same chuckle escaped, followed by a mumbled apology.

“Ah. So that’s it.”

“I didn’t mean to offend.”

“You didn’t. It’s expected. Haven’t you ever gone to church?”

He recalled an ancient time, when hair was plentiful and the thought of exhaustion was a memory: early morning Sunday school; multiple Bible lessons; the pastor shouting from the pulpit as he dabbed his forehead; the crinkling from unwrapping sharp mints by the elderly Mrs. Butterfield; and flannelgraph on the classroom walls. They both laughed at the flannelgraph.

“I take it you no longer go?”

Simeon said nothing, hoping that by ignoring the question the inevitable next question won’t be asked. But it comes nevertheless.


Simeon hesitated for a few seconds before replying. “When I saw the evil around me, I felt it was all too naïve. Look at what’s happening in the world: terrorist attacks, political upheavals, sex scandals, poverty, disease. Even here in Bermuda we have racial issues, crime, drugs, corruption, everyone at each other’s throats. And now…Mical.”

She didn’t answer; however, the tightening of her jaw proved that she did hear what he said.

“Someone killed him thinking he was from another gang. I’m sorry, but that’s just not fair. I’m not trying to add more pain or confusion, but I just can’t believe when there’s so much suffering.”

She halted suddenly. Simeon glanced apologetically at Mical’s mom, bracing for a tirade; he was ashamed that he allowed himself to become raw with emotion, being insensitive to a grieving woman who just lost her only son. But she didn’t. Instead, she stood in front of a house with peeling pink scabs, as if infected with leprosy. A nativity scene, the big garish plastic type, faded after years of use, now glowed in the dimming light of evening in it’s sparsely grassed front yard. She stood staring at it, saying nothing for several minutes, causing Simeon to squirm uncomfortably. Her eyes were closed. Was she praying?

“Don’t you find it interesting that of all the places Jesus could have been born, it was in a stable? This is why I have hope.”

Simeon did not hide his confusion at her statement. “I’m sorry but what does being born in an animal feeding trough surrounded by stinking, disease ridden animals have to do with hope?”

She turned to face him, her face almost as serene as the plastic figures looking adoringly at the baby Jesus. “God’s Son was more than willing to enter our stinking, disease ridden world to suffer with us, and willing to enter the stable of our hearts, to change it from a stable to a temple.”

Simeon was stunned at her analogy. Mical did indeed get his mind from her, he thought.

“Someone once said that being a follower of him gives me a way to suffer well. No sugar coating. No denying reality. That baby there would suffer on a cross for this world many years later. The Father lost his Son to the evil of men, but received him again on Easter morning. That truth allows me to be honest with my emotions and yet, still have hope. I will see Mical again.”

It was right then, as if on cue, a Christmas song chimed from St. Monica’s church. He knew it well: “I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day.” A man, who lost his wife to a kitchen fire and nursed a son crippled in the Civil War, wrote it over a century ago. Simeon wished he were still around; he would be the perfect counselor to Mical’s mom now. In one of the stanzas, the writer bows his head in despair, saying that there is no peace on earth, since “hate is strong, and mocks the song, of peace on earth and goodwill to men.”

He had heard the carol many times. But in light of Mical’s death, the last stanza struck him hard. He observed Mical’s mom smile and nod her head slowly, eyes glistening with tears.

“God is not dead nor does He sleep.  The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men!”

Maybe, he thought, maybe I have given up on Christmas too easily. Maybe, I need to seek him out, like the wise men did. And maybe, when I find him, I will finally find the peace I am looking for so desperately.

“Would you mind if I join you for church this Christmas?” Simeon asked.

Mical’s mom peered into his face, noticing that it was Simeon who now had tears. She clasped his arm firmly with both hands, and said, “Mical would have loved that very much.”

Martin Luther and the 21st Century

A few nights ago, I watched a PBS special about the life of Martin Luther and how he changed the course of Western Europe’s history. [1] The documentary talked about his upbringing, his life as an Augustinian monk, his letter of 95 theses rejecting the sale of indulgences, and his conversion to Christ when he realized that the solution to the problem of sin and his unworthiness before a righteous God, is solely the grace of God offered as a gift through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. One thing that was remarkable about the man was his dogged insistence that he was right because the scriptures were his final authority. He considered all other forms of authority as either subservient to the scriptures, or irrelevant if they contradicted or challenged the authority of God.

He didn’t care who mocked him.

He didn’t care about articles from other fallible men that denied what was plainly taught in the Bible.

He didn’t even care about the threats to his life.

The Word of God held him captive.

When he was urged to recant in front of the Holy Roman Emperor, he was recorded as saying: “Since your majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason–I do not accept the authority of popes and councils for they have contradicted each other–my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”

He wasn’t a perfect man. He made bad decisions, wrote some stupid things, and was known for being bull-headed, stubborn, and down right rude. But through his failings and fears, God used him to revive the clear gospel again.

Here’s where the documentary challenged me. In the 21st century, we live in a world reminiscent to his 15th century world. We may not have a corrupt and idolatrous church in power that influenced the state, but we have vicious and powerful secular organizations that have tremendous influence on the state. We don’t have the Inquisition hunting us down, but we do have courts and Human Rights offices that punish those who dare to challenge the prevailing dogma and perceived infallibility of scientism and secularism.

They may not burn us at the stake (yet), but they burn us through social media, the mass media, and sometimes the physical destruction of property and person.

Thus, we cower; we make excuses; we give up praying and trusting the Word of God, because others (who don’t know God nor care for His authority) laugh and ridicule us.

But this is the time when we need to trust in God again:

Trust his Word and the many promises in them, whatever the cost. His Word is truth. It shows us the truth: the man and God, Jesus Christ.

Trust in the Holy Spirit for the power to live a holy life.

Trust in the authority of intercessory prayer.

The late pastor Chuck Smith made an intriguing analogy about why Satan tries to convince us not to pray. He said if two men fight each other and one of them pulls out a switchblade, the other man would do all he can to disarm him since he knows the weapon gives his opponent an advantage.

Prayer is our spiritual “switchblade.”

Like Martin Luther, we need to stand in boldly defiance against this world and declare:

“Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason–I do not accept the authority of secularism and scientism and all other ‘isms’ (for they have contradicted each other and caused misery and death). My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”


[1] Here’s the trailer to the PBS documentary on Martin Luther: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9A7xvTFNpCQ



The Sting of a Portuguese Man-O-War and the Cross

picture from wimp.com

Not too long ago, I suffered my first Portuguese-man-o-war sting. It was the most excruciating pain I have ever felt (yes, ladies, I know what you’re about to say: try childbirth; but bear with me).

I was at the beach attending a friend’s going away party. Several families were there with their kids (including my daughter), swimming and playing in the sand. Portuguese Man O’ Wars (their swollen bodies looking like inflated purplish blue plastic bags) littered the beach. Since there were many children around, I used a small bucket to collect and dispose them away from the crowds to prevent the children from being stung. One was still bobbing in the water. I dutifully waded in and scooped it up. However, one of its tentacles brushed a couple fingers. The pain was instantaneous – like razor blades laced with battery acid. Even now as I write this, the top part of one finger has no sensation, as if it had been permanently anesthetized. Like a strong man, I didn’t yelp (although the crying out to Jesus in my mind said different). I carried it out and dumped it. My friends winced when I mentioned to them I was stung. A few humourously offered to urinate on my hand (a mythical antidote to the sting). My wife searched on her phone for proper treatments. Vinegar was one. Luckily, someone had brought a condiment with the stuff. I doused a paper towel and soaked the fingers affected. Torture! The best way to deal with the pain was with a hot compress. I wasn’t able to do this until I got home. Pleasurable relief! However, the pain lasted well into the night.

I’m sure most normal people would think about ending the pain as soon as possible and why was I so stupid to scoop one up in the ocean. But as some of my close friends know, I’m weird. Tried to overcome this weirdness for decades, but now I accept it as gift. In the midst of crying out to Jesus for relief, I thought of a Bible verse: O death, where is your sting? Weird, I know. At that point in time, death would have been great. And it was just two fingers! My wife says that I am hypersensitive to pain. Did I tell you that I was weird?

Anyway, I digress.

It made me realize that Jesus reached out to touch the sting of death and sin on a wooden cross about 2000 years ago – in my place. He became sin so that I might become the righteousness of God through Him.[1] The pain I suffered was nothing to the pain of bearing God’s wrath for the sin of all of mankind. And in this word mankind, is me. Wretched, sinful me. Jesus was stung for me. It should have been me, but He loved me enough to deal with the pain of God’s justice and separation in my place. What love! What sacrifice! And because of this incredible act of redemption, I can say with the apostle Paul:

Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”[2]


[1] 2 Corinthians 5:21

[2] 1 Corinthians 15:54-55 NLT