28 December 2006

Four faces: gaining perspective for the new year

by Dan Phillips

As 2006 begins that labored breathing which signals that its end draweth nigh, I am facing significant personal decisions and challenges. Not all are crisis level, Must-Decide-Now issues. Some are, but have been that way for years. All are critical, to me; and all affect the entire course of my life and ministry.

Decision-making is something I've grown not to love (litotes), and these are thorny and involved issues. Some involve elements beyond my control. I'm very much feeling the truth of Jeremiah's words: "I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps" (Jeremiah 10:23). These matters loom very large to me, and I feel very small. So, as I've taken to doing in recent years, I'm about to take some time apart to evaluate, think, pray, as we approach the dawn of 2007.

As I go away to do that, some faces breeched my perimeter (as Jack Bauer might say), and hit me pretty hard. Some are new to me, some not. All serve to put some perspective on my concerns. Think about them with me. If they don't have a similar effect on you... I'd encourage you to worry.

First, look at this face.

"Pretty girl," you think. "But yikes—what's with that scar?"

This is a girl whose life isn't characterized by complaints about the pastor preaching too long, or Bible studies being too boring, or family members not behaving perfectly, or gas being too expensive, or a few extra pounds from Christmas, or traffic. This is Noviana Malewa. She had Islamists try to chop her head off in October of 2005. Her crime? Being Christian. In public. The scar represents their best effort at beheading her.

In Noviana's case, the Islamists failed. In the cases of the three girls Noviana was walking with in Indonesia, they succeeded. Read about it in WorldNetDaily.

This happened when Noviana was fifteen. Noviana's problems since? Continuing physical issues such as nerve damage and a dislocated jaw, problems with her right eye winking spontaneously, involuntary twitching of the right corner of her lip; ongoing therapy and treatment. Plus hellacious memories. These are the sorts of realities this young girl has to deal with. All that, plus living in a society where that sort of thing could happen to anyone, simply for being a known Christian.

We have problems? Those are problems.

[UPDATE 6/2009 — Noviana still prays for the salvation of her attackers.]

Look at this face next:

I noticed this picture while at Carla's blog, innocently checking out one of her links for reformed baptist churches. The face of one of the webmasters, Johnny Farese, caught my curiosity. I clicked on it and watched his ten-minute story. It was Johnny's story, his family's story, his brother's family's story. My jaw sagged, my eyes stung with tears. I was nailed.

At the start, you see the pictures of this young "normal" looking boy, smiling and happy, bright with the happy optimism of youth. As the video progresses, you watch his physical deterioration to his current state. Johnny's just a little younger than I. I won't share with you my personal issues. But I certainly did compare them with Johnny's, as I watched and listened. You might do the same.

Johnny Farese is a man utterly dependent on others, for just about everything. I temporarily left Dr. Atkins aside for the Christmas season, so I could munch on my wife's amazing peanut brittle, chocolate chip cookies, and the like. This man takes his pasty-looking food through a tube, directly into his stomach. He does work on the internet, as I do. But I use my perfectly healthy hands, while Johnny must rely on voice-activated software.

Johnny's attitude? Johnny is praising God, leaning on Him, giving Him glory. Johnny is upheld by such verses as Psalm 119:71—"It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes." That verse has meant a lot to me, too. But "afflicted," as I apply it, and "afflicted," as Johnny Farese applies it, are very different concepts.

Watch Johnny's video, and visit his home page.

At Johnny's home page, you'll see another face that has often had an impact on me.

If you don't recognize her, again perhaps you think, "Pretty lady." Then, "Um... so why's she in this post?" She's Joni Eareckson Tada, and while you've been worrying about (supply your own specifics), Joni has been paralyzed from the neck down for nearly forty years. If I'm doing my math right, she's a bit older than I. When Joni was a pretty young teen, she took one ill-advised dive, snapped her neck, and has been a quadriplegic ever since.

Joni has a very effective ministry. She speaks, sings, is an artist, writes. And she needs constant care, of the sort you and I would find grindingly, devastatingly humiliating. Joni feels all those emotions as well.

Joni spoke at Desiring God's 2005 conference, Suffering and the Sovereignty of God. I have listened to Joni's talk maybe a half-dozen times, and will probably listen again in the next day or two. It is funny, engaging, moving, humbling, arresting, encouraging—and very perspective-giving.

One of the people to whom I gave a copy of Joni's talk — though he could have given it in his own way, himself — is this man:

That handsome gentleman is Terry Rose. God gave me the great gift of meeting Terry a couple of decades ago, and I've had the honor of counting him as a friend since. Terry is a genuine war hero. In the Korean War, a grenade went off near Terry, and among other physical injuries, it permanently blinded him.

Maybe a clam would be unmoved by Terry's testimony. Not me. I can still recall the first time Terry told me of finding himself blind; then, later, of being outside, feeling the sun on his face, looking straight up at it, and not seeing a glimmer of light. It was a rough, rough time for Terry.

Terry has now been blind about as long as I have been alive. But he is a funny man, a happy man, a delight to be around. Terry is constantly glowing about the love, grace, and mercy of God in Christ. He lives in the Sierra, where he jogs (!) every day, does counseling, speaks at churches, and dismays his dear wife with his terrible puns. Terry also likes to garden. Terry placed each of the rocks in his yard, by hand. To be around Terry is to be humbled and encouraged, all at the same time.

I'm so glad Terry slums, when it comes to picking friends.

Four more faces in the cloud of witnesses surrounding us (Hebrews 12:1). Four folks who, we'd all agree, were dealt a pretty rough hand by Providence. All still standing as testimonies to Christ.

As you face your new year, I've no doubt you have challenges, as do I. And to you they're very large, as mine are to me. (I hasten to say yours may very well dwarf mine.)

But let's keep some perspective, shall we? I've come to the conviction that tribulation is what tribulates you. It's tribulation.

But not all tribulation is The Great Tribulation.

Here is our challenge: What are we doing with the life-situation that God's providence designed for us? Do we really think our obstacles, trials and burdens exempt us from God's call...
  • To "Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer" (Romans 12:12)?
  • To "be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:58)?
  • To give "thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 5:20)?
  • Always to be "prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15)?
If in any corner of your heart, you are reaching for the "Yes" button, first think about those four faces. Get some perspective.

These thoughts I leave with you, and take with me.

Dan Phillips's signature


joey said...

wow..thanks dan.

Carla Rolfe said...


this was probably (in my ever so humble opinion) one of the best things I've ever seen on this blog.

Thank you for this reminder. May God bless you richly.


ann said...

Thank You and God Bless You.
It is especially important for us, living in the "better" part of the world, to hear stories like those, to put our own petite troubles in the greater perspective of things.

Catez said...

This , for me, is one of the best posts I've seen here.

And it's full of art. Great art.

Connie said...

Your post has left me wrestling with what to say and how to say it--there's just so much that could be said as an "Amen" to your post. Yet, so much value in the silence as I simply ponder the riches the Lord has provided through your post.

Last week a very dear sister in the Lord (so special I would consider her my "second" mom) went to be with the Lord after her third and final battle with cancer. In her final days her focus was on sharing the gospel once again with her unsaved adult son, and attempting to physically serve those who came to serve her in her weakened physical condition.

His mercy and grace are beyond my true comprehension, how could I ever think I deserve it.

George said...

Dan:A soul searching article.Reminds me of the saying,"I complained because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet" Thanks for writing this timely item. George

candy said...

Absolutely excellent. May God bless us all with a proper perspective in the coming year as well as a greater desire to draw closer to God. May we all glorify God in our speech, our actions, our love for one another, and our testimony to the world.

Thanks Dan for this post.

mark pierson said...

Wow! Very convicting! Thanks Dan.

Gojira said...

That was an AWESOME post!

Anne H. said...

Everything that Candy said. Yep.

Anonymous said...

God's grace is so good! What an honor that these four men and women are my/our brothers and sisters in Christ. Thank you, Dan

Mike Felker said...

Very encouragind Dan. It is always humbling to be reminded that we can never be thankful enough for all the blessings God has given us.

Ebeth said...

Thanks, Dan. I needed that.

4given said...

I agree with Carla. Well said and to God be all the glory.

Joni Erickson Tada has been an inspiration to me since my diagnosis with relapsing/ remitting Multiple Sclerosis (and at the rate my brain lesions are growing, could turn into progressive). One exacerbation caused me to lose function in both legs. That particular exacerbation lasted 2 months while Joni's situation has been for over 4o years. To me she is the picture of contentment in the sufficiency of Christ and true joy in spite of circumstamces.
I have been slammed pretty hard with the faith healers rhyming theology. I imagine the people you have pictured here get it far worse than I do.
I have a sign above my washer that says "Thou shalt not whine" and a sticker on my fridge that says "There is a $10 fee for whining" I got from Carla.

Who am I that I would have anything to complain about in light of what Christ did for sinners such as I. People are watching. My children are watching... learning from my example. What are they learning? Because when it's all said and done, what is done makes more of an impact than what is said. Do what I say and not what I do is a bunch of hooey.

Recently my family went through the stomache flu. The whole household was vomiting for 2 days including my husband and I. (we have 6 kids... it was bad)
Does that exempt me from being Christ-like? Of course not. What got us through it was thinking heavily upon momentary light affliction in light of His eternal weight of glory.
Even Joni's life in a wheelchair is but a momentary light affliction.

I so appreciate this post. It breathes life into the eternal perspective.

donsands said...

Thanks brother for putting that post together. I won't soon forget these four faces. True heros in the faith.

Brian @ voiceofthesheep said...

Extremely edifying post, Dan.

The first thing I wanted to say in reaction to your four examples was, "There but by the grace of God go I."...but then I realized that a response like that implies that their afflictions are absent the grace of God, and I just cannot accept that.

The blind man was blind from birth...NOT because of his sin or his parents' sin...but so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

Oh, how scary it is sometimes to pray to my Father that He would be glorified through me...for His power is perfected in weakness, and I honestly fear sometimes that He will choose to glorify me in a way that he has these four examples.

God forgive my selfishness and little faith.

joshua said...

The question that I have been wrestling with is, "what if I had grown up in a muslim context?" - - I could have left that scar on Noviana. It just seems so arbitrary that God designed my plight one way, and that Muslim kid that left the scar another way. These 4 are getting off lucky compared to the Muslim kid who gets hell as the "life-situation that God's providence designed for him?"

Good article.

dogpreacher said...

Mr. Phillips,

THAT is what it is all about. Thank you. You have written many great pieces, and yet, to suffer for Him...that is something to write about.

Word Pictures (Cross TV) has 3 of those 4 (and many more) on some of its videos, and is an in-your-face wake up to these realities of Christian persecution/martydom TODAY.

I am moved today by the way God has moved upon your heart to minister in this post. I am...

Grateful For Grace,
The DOGpreacher

Tonya said...


To 4given: I am a frequent visitor to your blog, though not much of a commentor. May I say, that as a mom of three, I find you an inspiration.

4given said...

To GOd be all the glory, Tonya.

I read this Psalm this morning and thought once again about the people in this post... I imagine this is something they sing in their hearts.

Preserve me, O God, for I take refuge in You. I said to the LORD, "You are my Lord; I have no good besides You."
As for the saints who are in the earth, they are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight.
The sorrows of those who have bartered for another god will be multiplied...
The LORD is the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You support my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.
I will bless the LORD who has counseled me; Indeed, my mind instructs me in the night.
I have set the LORD continually before me; Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will dwell securely.
For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.
You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.
--Psalm 16

Kay said...

Always with the hearty encouragement and exhortation. I might have to come back here.

Lisa, chin up, lassie, prayers with you, and all my Christian family who suffer. Lets bear each other up in prayer - it makes all the difference in the world.

Anonymous said...


Yet another example of the inadequacy of the "Jesus is my boyfriend" songs of today. I have heard Ligon Duncan say on several occasions that our people need songs that they can sing when they are dying. I'm sure we could all learn from all four of these people what kind of songs God's people should be singing.

4given said...

Thank you for your prayers... and yes, it is a joy and honor to be able to go confidently before the throne of grace on behalf of our fellow Christians. We are essentially all "siblings" adopted into the kingdom of God for eternity.

I think you are referring to the portion of horrid song lyrics I posted on Cent's post. I read a review of that song that "said outloud what I was thinking." {{{shudder}}}

Here is the review: I love songs that glorify God, but...umm...to be honest, this sounds like a Jesus sex song...

"Your fragrance is intoxicating in the secret place"

Pretty disturbing, to be honest. However, if you changed "Jesus" to the name of your husband/wife, it would work pretty well in the bedroom. Sexy!!

This isn't much of a worship song (ascribing worth to Jesus), more of a selfish "Jesus makes me feel good" song. I like to give songs the benefit of the doubt, but I'm afraid this just isn't right.

pilgrim said...

I had some health problems late this year (2006), from which I am in recovery. From that I got a very tiny glimpse into what others go through every day--and will go through until their time on earth is over. What I went through was transforming to a degree and humbling. But then I look at others worse off, and although it is not a contest I feel blessed that GOd has people of all types--including those with various medical, health, mental, and physical issues and disabolities.

But He works through all His people. He is sovereign. He does provide. He is omniscient.

I saw God's hand in my own situation and it was wonderful. But then I see it more clearly than before in the lives of others.

He is Good.

dan w said...

What amazing examples of God`s grace,in four peoples lives,on this earth we will probably never meet, yet by being shown them through your post,we are truly inspired,humbled and thankfull to the Lord,for them,may the Lord continue to bless and uphold our brothers and sister,and those others who have also had similar experiences that only the Lord knows about.

Patricia said...

What a great post! I pray that I will remember it - even later today - when I am tempted to whine. Blessings!

Karen said...

Awesome perspective. Thanks for sharing it with us.