won’t back down

“You can stand me up at the gates of Hell,
but I won’t back down!”

Tom Petty


(rod iron fence to Colonial Cemetery / Savannah, Ga / Julie Cook / 2016)

The first official Christian martyr, or protomartyr,
was Stephen, who was killed in 36 AD.

What we know about Stephen comes to us from the Book of Acts.

A Greek speaking foreign born Jew, Stephen was elected to serve as a deacon to his community. Stephen, along with others, had appealed to the apostles that the
elderly widows within their community were being passed over and forgotten.
So Stephen, along with 6 others, were elected as official deacons who would in turn
attend to these elderly widows.

Yet Stephen was also known for being quite the evangelist.
He was an ardent speaker and witness of a new faith based on the teachings
of Jesus of Nazareth.
Stephen was known to lead many Jews to conversion.

Now we must remember that Stephen was both a Jew, born and raised,
as well as a follower of the Resurrected Christ.
A conundrum in dry and dusty Palestine.
As a Jew, he was still expected to answer to the Jewish governing body.

It was however his gift of speech and witness, along with the numerous conversions
of Jews, that would lead to Stephen’s swift demise.

Stephen was brought before the ruling Sanhedrin on charges of blaspheming.
The council believed Stephen to be nothing more than a heretic.

Eloquently, standing before the tribunal, Stephen presented his case as he spoke
of a natural and holy thread of events spiraling down through the ages as he linked
Abraham, Moses, Solomon, the Temple, David and finally culminating with Jesus Christ–
the inevitable final link in the chain.

Stephen continued explaining that the true Son of God who will come again to
judge both the living and the dead….
As he told those gathered that God’s kingdom was not to be found here on earth and
was not to be found in manmade buildings such as the Temple or in earthly accumulated treasures but rather was to be found only in the the risen Son.

Stephen closed his testimony by turning his gaze upward while announcing to those
gathered that
“I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right side of God!”
(Acts 7:58)
At which point the members of the council descended into chaos as they shouted and
covered their ears against hearing such seditious and heretical talk.

Shadows of Caiaphas tearing his clothes over the words of Jesus…
“You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you:
From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the
Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Matthew 26:64

Stephen was immediately sentenced death…being stoned to death.

Remember this was the time of pre Christian Paul–rather this was the dangerous
time of Saul, Paul’s ‘old man’ of persecution and hate…
For it was Saul who was the agent who took keen personal interest in crushing
any and all ‘heretics’ who were promoting the teaching of the crucified Nazarene.

It was Saul who paved the way for Stephen’s death and it was Saul who approved it.

Now imagine if you will what would have happened if Stephen had recanted
his teachings?
What would have happened had Stephen been frightened by the knowledge that he would
be sentenced to death.
What if the thought of having people throwing rocks at him until he died…
a death brought about slowly and painfully from rocks beating against his body,
what if the thought of such a horrific death made him change his mind?
What would have happened had he thought it would best, be easier, if he just opted
to cooperate and renounce his preachings?

What example would be set?
What presedent would then be set as a witness to other followers.
What if other followers had been too afraid?
Afraid for their own physical wellbeing and the wellbeing of their families?
How would those decisions of so long impact today?

But Stephen had seen Christ in all His glory—
there was no backing down.
There was no turning back.
He would stand against the gates of Hell and he would not back down.

…..and it was this tale of Stephen and the sacrifice of faith that came
flooding front and center to my thoughts when I read the follwing
words offered by the Scottish Pastor David Robertson regarding the latest
news coming out of both England and Scotland regarding the Anglican Church.

“The Anglican Church is officially distancing itself from biblical and historic Christianity.”
David Robertson

Whoa!

The Church, the very bride of the Christ the groom, is actually distancing herself
from Jesus Christ???!!
As she is currently turning away from the Word of the God and the tenants of Biblical teaching… choosing rather instead to go the way of the current culture gods….

We are at present witnessing the Church of Western Civilization turning herself
away from her very foundation and yet thankfully, at the same time, we are witnessing
the Church of Africa rising powerfully to the defense and forefront of that same faith…
steeped in the Truth of God’s word….

The Bishop of Uganda has addressed this very issue….

“Archbishop “The British sent missionaries to Africa in the 19th Century telling us to trust the Bible as the Word of God, now they are telling us not to”
Archbishop of Uganda

“It is one way, Henry Orombi says,
of keeping faith with those long-ago Englishmen in muttonchop whiskers who brought
the church to Africa.
“A hundred or so years ago, the fire was in the Western world,” Orombi says.
“And many of their great people went over to the countries in the Southern Hemisphere,
and reached out there, and planted seeds there.
And then things changed in the Northern Hemisphere. . . .
It now looks like the Western world is tired and old.
But, praise God, the Southern Hemisphere,
which is a product of the missionary outreach,
is young and vital and exuberant.
So, in a way, I think that what God has done is he took seeds and he planted them
in the Southern Hemisphere, and now they’re going to come back,
right to the Northern Hemisphere.
It is happening.
It is happening.”
(excerpt from an article in The New Yorker / A Church Asunder April 2017)

As I pray that Bishop Orombi is correct…

May those of us of the Faith, as we find ourselves now standing against the
very gates of Hell, may we hold fast to God’s word, being not afraid of what the world
may do to us as we continue to proclaim His Glory…

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church,
and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.

Matthew 16:18

we continue beating our heads against the wall

I am hitting my head against the walls,
but the walls are giving way.

Gustav Mahler


(a little moth sits on the garage wall / Julie Cook / 2017)

Once again we are left standing before the hard blank wall of this current time of ours,
beating our heads in bewilderment, disbelief and overwhelming sorrow and grief.

Once again a radicalized young man has decided to step up to the plate of all things
evil by willingly sacrificing his life in the demented notion of all
things Allah and Islam by blowing himself up to bits in hopes of inflicting as much
mayhem, fear and death as he possibly can….
upon children.

Never mind his overt cowardice in his choice of targets.
Never mind that his priorities and choices were all screwed up.
Never mind that there won’t be any reward, let alone 70 virgins, awaiting
upon his arrival in Heaven…for Heaven is a far cry from his final destination….

A suicide bomber is the ultimate in cowardliness…
for despite the skewed thinking of ISIS, that such a murderer is really a martyr
in disguise…
a suicide bomber’s actions are so grossly screwed that they possess neither glory
nor valor but rather an altered, dare we say, demonic view of reality.
Never to be considered a true soldier of war….but rather as a poser and pretender..
a mere shadow of a fighter hiding among the woman and children.

Yet none of this talk, none of the future ensuing blame game, none of the what if’s will
be of any comfort to this new set of grieving families as they now are left to sadly join
ranks with those other families who have preceded them in the grief of what is known as
terrorist attack survivors.

This phenomenon of surviving terrorism is becoming all too common.
Such that I fear the world grows a bit hardened.
The attacks, the tragedies, the lives left shattered, the lives torn apart, the pieces of
the world forever shaken, are becoming more frequent than we can mentally process.

We of Western Civilization are left with two choices.
We can either stand beating our heads against the wall,
all the while knowing that these sorts of catastrophic events will indeed happen again
and again and again….
or we can say enough.

And if we are indeed strong enough to say “Enough!”
We will have to stand in solidarity against the politicians, the entertainers and
even our fellow citizens who insist on choosing to turn a blind eye to the root cause.

“Enough!” we say to those who want the world to continue on it this surrealistic
state of denial…
“Enough”! to those who say forget the vetting, forget the travel bans,
forget the carefree open boarders because we are a better people than that…

For it is in that naive line of thinking where our problem lies…

There was a time when we could welcome those wishing to come to the land of freedom
and democracy in search of a new life….
Opening our arms and embracing those who saw something of promise and hope
in Western Civilization.
These newcomers joyfully did what it took in order to contribute to their new home.
Seeking work, most often hard and labor intensive.
They sent their children to American schools and wanted their children
to learn to read, write and communicate in English

Yet now within the masses of those who are coming and going freely are the very ones
who say to us that we are not a kinder more open people but rather that we are a foolish
and grossly naive people…and that our demise is their only desire.

That is not alarmist thinking.
That is not xenophobic thinking.
That is just the reality of our current times.
For we are indeed naive.

The Detroit suburb of Dearborn, Michigan is a small microcosm of perhaps our
own naiveté.
It is estimated that 45% of Dearborn’s approximate 95,000 total population are
Arab Americans with a large percentage of those devoted followers of Islam.
Sharia law is readily observed and Dearborn is considered the Arab capital of
America housing the largest Mosque in North America.

And whereas it is an example of an enclave of ethnicity and immigration where many of those who
live do so wishing to live a dual existence of being both Middle Eastern and American,
it is also an area of welcome…a haven for others whose desires are not as virtuous
as they may readily blend in unnoticed.
For it is an area that is more Middle Eastern than American.

Yet those who argue when eyebrows raise,
point to places like Harlem, pockets of minority living that are
cultural places for minorities to feel comfortable living while feeling connected.

And there will be some who find highlighting such a city and its dominate population as being
bigoted, insensitive, racist or that of some nutty right wing alarmist’s observation…

That is not this post’s intent.

Yet whereas many will say that Dearborn is simply like those once predominately Irish,
Italian or German neighborhoods of the turn of the 20th century…
there is one big difference.
And that is the difference of ideology.

For there is a vast difference between the ideology of the Judaeo Christian
Western Civilization seen in the Irish, Jewish, Black, Latino neighborhoods
verses the neighborhoods of Middle Eastern Muslims.

And it is in that same ideological difference that lies the unwillingness to adopt Western
ways or to assimilate while melding into the culture.
Rather it is preferred, or more aptly expected, that the host culture melds to the ideology
of Islam…where Sharia law takes precedence to local American law.

Yet in our manic desire to appear to be all encompassing and welcoming, we bend over
backwards to accommodate and appease.
And therein lies our problem.
Yet most of us simply don’t see a problem.

And whereas we can all agree that the times in which we live are indeed frightening and
most uncertain, there are steps and measures that we can take to bring an extra level
of safe guarding to the situation,
but the problem is that our leaders and even many of our citizens are yet not willing to do such.

So we’ll just keep beating our heads, raising our terror threat levels and literally
picking up the pieces of the shattered lives because we simply refuse to see
what’s going on….

“How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! … The fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog. … Insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. … A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity….”

“The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property,
either as a child, a wife, or a concubine,
must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power
among men.
Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities…
but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it…”

“No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund,
Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith.
It has already spread throughout Central Africa,
raising fearless warriors at every step;
and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science,
the science against which it had vainly struggled,
the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome.”

Winston Churchill
The Nile River Walk 1899

hopefulness found in the new….

“Hope
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering ‘it will be happier’…”

Alfred Tennyson

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(Icon image of St Jude Thaddeus by Ryszard Sleczka)

“But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of
our Lord Jesus Christ foretold.
They said to you,
“In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.”
These are the people who divide you,
who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.”

As we prepare to close the book on yet another year…
being mindful that it was indeed quite the year….
dangling from the icy strands of a distant bitter wind,
the ancient words of those who have gone long before us,
dance across the cold chasm of time…

St Jude Thaddeus,
younger brother of James the Lesser and one of the inner circle of 12…

Apostle,
Preacher,
teacher,
martyr.

Jude who is known as the saint of lost causes, of despair, and of hopelessness…
Proclaims, and rightly so, to all who have ears to hear and eyes to behold
not to despair…
not to languish in the gloom of dejection…
not to give way to the ensuing divisions of the ungodly
but rather to be of steadfast faith binding ourselves to the Holy Spirit…

But you, dear friends,
by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in
the Holy Spirit,
keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of
our Lord Jesus Christ
to bring you to eternal life.

Be merciful to those who doubt;
save others by snatching them from the fire;
to others show mercy,
mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and
to present you before his glorious presence without fault
and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory,
majesty, power and authority,
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
before all ages,
now and forevermore!
Amen.

(Jude 17-25)

So therefore we are to go boldly and bravely into this new and waiting year…
Standing firm and grounded in our faith which is rooted deeply in Jesus Christ.
May we not be deterred nor disheartened…
not by the ominous signs of these trying times…
But rather rejoicing…
as we are full of the hopefulness found in the mercy and forgivenes
of our Risen Savior….

Happy New Year…

St Stephen

You desire that which exceeds my humble powers,
but I trust in the compassion and mercy of the All-powerful God.

Saint Stephen

lapidazione-di-santo-stefano
(The Stoning of St Stephen by Giorgio Vasari / Pisa, Italy / 1573)

“But he [Stephen], filled with the holy Spirit,
looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God,
and he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’
But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together.
They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him.
The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul.
As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’
Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice,
‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’;
and when he said this, he fell asleep.”

(Acts of the Apostles, 7:55-60)

Saint Stephen was one of the first ordained deacons of the Church.
He was also the first Christian martyr.
The Greek word from which we derive the English word martyr literally means witness.
In that sense, every Christian is called to bear witness to Jesus Christ,
in both their words and their actions.
Not all are asked to shed their blood.

His behavior,
even forgiving those who were taking his life while he was being stoned to death,
was a beautiful reflection of how conformed he truly was to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Like most of the early Christian leaders, he was Jewish, but may have come came from among the Greek speaking or Hellenistic believers, the ones feeling slighted in the distribution of alms.

Great preaching and miracles were attributed to Stephen.
The Bible records that Stephen “full of grace and power,
did great wonders and signs among the people.”
Stephen s popularity created enemies among some Jews,
members of the Synagogue of Roman Freedmen. They debated with him,
to generate evidence against him in furtherance of their persecution of the early Church.

They accused him of blasphemy, of speaking against God and Moses.
The charges inflamed the local populace which demanded he be tried and punished.
When Stephen was put on trial,
several false witnesses were brought forward by the Sanhedrin to testify
that he was guilty of blasphemy.
He was charged with predicting that Jesus would destroy the Temple
and for preaching against Mosaic law.

Stephen was filled with wisdom from heaven.
He responded by detailing the history of Israel and outlining the blessings God had
bestowed upon his chosen people.
He also explained how disobedient Israel had become,
despite the goodness and mercy of the Lord.
Stephen explained that Jesus had come to fulfil the law of Moses,
not destroy it. He quoted extensively from the Hebrew scriptures to prove his case.

Finally, he admonished the Sanhedrin, saying,
“You stubborn people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears.
You are always resisting the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do.
Can you name a single prophet your ancestors never persecuted?
They killed those who foretold the coming of the Upright One,
and now you have become his betrayers,
his murderers. In spite of being given the Law through angels,
you have not kept it.” (Acts 7:51-53)

As Stephen concluded his defense,
he looked up and saw a vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
He said,
“Look, I can see heaven thrown open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
That vision was taken as the final proof of blasphemy to the Jews who did not believe
Jesus was the Messiah or Son of God.
For them, Jesus could not possibly be beside the Father in Heaven.
The crowd rushed upon Stephen and carried him outside of the city to stone him to death.

As Stephen was being brutally stoned,
he spoke his last words,
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Words which echoed the very words of Jesus on the Cross.
Following those words, Stephen died, in the Lord.

Watching the trial and execution was a Rabbi named Saul of Tarsus,
a virulent persecutor of the early Church.
Shortly thereafter, that Rabbi would himself encounter the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus
and be dramatically converted.
His encounter is recorded in the 9th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.
He took the name Paul as a sign of his new life in Jesus Christ and went on to
become the great apostle to the Gentiles.

Stephen was buried by Christians, but the location of his tomb is not specified in the
New Testament and may have been forgotten for a time.
In 415 a Christian priest claimed he had a vision of the tomb and located Stephen’s remains.
A name inside the tomb confirmed the find

St Stephens’ Day is remembered each year on December 26th

(information Catholic.org)

Greater love

DSCN0009
(flowers from a street vendor Grafton St. Dublin Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

I bought you some flowers, well sort of, for Valentine’s day.
I wanted to say thank you.
I want to thank you for taking time out of your day and and of your life in order to stop by here….this little corner of the world I call my own..here on cookiecrumbs.
Your visits, your reading, your commenting, your support, your friendship are each deeply appreciated.
All of which has been your special gift to me…and means so very much.

The inception of the recognition of Valentine’s day being based on the martyred death of a 3rd century Christian, should never be lost in the hoopla and the hype of the overtly commercialized “holiday” we know today.

That this modern day recognition of Valentine’s Day, a day to honor, recognize and profess our undying love to those we hold dear or better yet, hope to dearly hold…
This day designated for spending, buying and bestowing…a day of all things red, beating hearts, flowers, chocolate, devotion and professing…
A day which should never overshadow that Valentine’s day, a day named for a saint of the same name and of which is certainly a day of love, is based on the selfless love of giving one’s life for another…with the greatest example being that of the blood shed by one who hung upon a cross…for you and for me…
for there has never been any greater love….

St Valentine was a bishop, and is thought to have been a physician.
He was arrested for giving aid to Christian prisoners awaiting martyrdom, and
while imprisoned he converted the jailer by restoring sight to the jailer’s daughter.
St. Valentine refused to deny Christ before the Emperor Claudius in the year 280 and won the
jeweled crown of martyrdom by his faithful witness.
The feast of St Valentine was first established in 496 by Pope Gelasius I

(as seen on a Catholic prayer card)

Leaving a mark

“Our days are numbered. One of the primary goals in our lives should be to prepare for our last day. The legacy we leave is not just in our possessions, but in the quality of our lives. What preparations should we be making now? The greatest waste in all of our earth, which cannot be recycled or reclaimed, is our waste of the time that God has given us each day.”
― Bill Graham

DSCN8564
(the remaining remnants of leaves faded onto the concrete / Julie Cook / 2014)

When all is said and done, what will be said about you?
What will people remember?
Or the question may beg. . .will they remember?
Will it be . . .
“that old rebel rouser”
or
“that old stick in the mud”
or
“they were so very angry”
“they were so terribly lazy”
“they were so selfish”
“they were such a martyr”
“they were so very mean”
“they had the first dime they ever made”
“they were nothing but a workaholic”

Or. . .
Will they say that the world was a better place for having had you in it?

It’s never too late you know.
There’s still time.
Time to turn things around if need be.
Right a few wrongs.
Turn over that new leaf.
Make a few changes.
Nothing drastic.
Just a little tweaking here and there.
Letting go of a few bad habits.
Figuring out what’s really important,
what really matters. . .

Will your mark be negative, rebellious, selfish, destructive
or
will your mark be positive, compassionate, generous, constructive.

There’s still time, but how much. . .I have no idea.