Monday, October 31, 2011

In His Presence

I have a friend in Guatemala named Cesar. He is one of the strongest men of faith that I have ever met in my life. I will never forget the times that I have sat with him and listened to him speak of the wonders of God. He always shares about how much God has blessed him and how he can’t wait to one day see Him face to face, to run on streets of gold and to be in His presence. Cesar knows God in an intimate way. He has experienced His presence and power in such ways that there is not a shadow of a doubt in his mind that on the day he breathes his last breath, he will be with him for eternity.

Cesar is very sick and barring a miracle, he will soon find himself in the presence of his Maker and Friend. I appreciate your prayers for him and his family.

In my book, Steeple Envy, there is a chapter that is written by Brock Johnson, a friend of mine and missionary in Guatemala. He’s the one who first introduced me to Cesar. In the chapter that he wrote, he tells Cesar’s story so I thought I would share that with you today.

“Cesar is a friend of mine who lives in a shack in the middle of a
beautiful Guatemalan forest. He is a husband and a father. When he
was 26, he was enjoying a normal life. Cesar had a beautiful wife and
was starting a family. He had a pretty good job (any job in rural Guatemala
is a good job), and he was a star in the local men’s soccer league.

Suddenly, his back began to bother him. For three years, he continued
working his manual labor job, but with each year, the back pain
grew worse. Soon, he couldn’t bear the pain to even get out of bed.
With limited resources, Cesar and his family began to seek medical
help. What they discovered was terrifying. Cesar had an incurable and
fatal degenerative bone disease. He was told he would not live much
longer and that he would be bedridden for his final months or years.

By this time, Cesar had three beautiful young children. As Christians,
Cesar and his wife believed God for healing. But they also began
to accept the reality that God’s will for their life may be drastically different
than anything they had ever imagined.

After enduring three years of deterioration, the pain and suffering
grew to its worst. In the most excruciating night of pain that Cesar
can remember, he was surrounded by doctors and family. His doctors
advised him that he would not make it through the night. A wife
prepared herself for life without her husband, and young children
prepared to say goodbye to their daddy.

Cesar slipped into a coma. He recalls the story beautifully. “I looked
down and saw angels at my feet, their beauty indescribable. Each one
took the weight of one of my legs in their arms and gently caressed
them. As they comforted me, a distinct voice whispered into my ear.
The voice was very clear and very close. When I turned to look for
the person, no one was there. But three times the voice said the same
thing: “Read Matthew 9:12.”

After three months, Cesar awoke from the coma. That was several
years ago. Today, if you have the privilege to visit Cesar, you will
leave his home blessed beyond measure. He has the majority of God’s
Word memorized. He preaches God’s power, grace, mercy, love and
mystery better than any trained evangelist I have ever heard. Weighing
next-to-nothing and fighting through severe head, jaw, throat, back
and leg pain, he shouts worship songs to his Heavenly Father with
heartfelt depth and passion. He looks you in the eye, asks you questions,
listens intently, and longs to know you.

It’s hard to explain, but I always come away from hanging out with
Cesar feeling deeply loved. Yes, I am always challenged, convicted and
awed at his committed life of steadfast faith. Everyone who meets
him is. But as I walk home from his house—every single time—I
come away with an overwhelming confidence in the fact that he loves
me and cares for me. Without a shadow of a doubt, I know that he
prays for me, for my wife and for my kids. I cherish those prayers because
I know that God hears the prayers of a righteous man. 34

My point goes much deeper than sharing a heartwarming story
about a sweet Guatemalan family. The point is that I have never seen
a greater expression of life, hope and joy than I have through the life
of a man who happens to be suffering through a long, painful, terminal
disease. It simply defies logic. It destroys the false teachings of the
prosperity gospel, extinguishing its flames with the refreshing Living
Water of Jesus.

Today, a new home is being built for Cesar’s family through the
“12x12 Love Project.” This one is unique, being constructed throughout
with wheelchair accessible sidewalks and with lots of windows so
he can see the beautiful Guatemalan forest and wildlife from his bed.
While Cesar is very thankful for his family’s new home, he always reminds
us that his real home is not here.

“In my eternal home,” Cesar said, “I will run on streets of gold
with a new and perfect body. I will be in the presence of my loving
Heavenly Father. I will run, jump, and play soccer again. But until
then, I will give thanks to God for the life that He has given me, for
my family, and for my sickness. I ask Him every day to glorify Himself
through my weakness.”

Cesar’s testimony reminds us that true victory is not found in this
life and its temporary gains. It’s not found in comfort, security or even
in friends and family. It’s not found in a career, salary, home, education,
vacations or retirement. Rather, it is found in making the name
of Jesus famous, and this is done as we give ourselves away completely
for His sake.”

May we all experience the fullness of life that Cesar has come to know and experience!

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:18