Friday, March 12, 2010

Boy Under the Bridge

As near as I can tell, dogs are born grateful. The rest of us have to learn it, and as Mr. Starr put it, it don’t come easy.

At two a child can be taught to say “thank you.” By five, she can begin to get the concept of gratitude, but most of us are about 18 before we can be counted on to perform well in this abstraction.

Some people never do. There are kids who can go to the circus, see an elephant up close, eat popcorn, watch an exotic three-ring spectacle for two hours, and then whine because they didn’t get cotton candy!

Unbelievable, and yet sometimes there’s more to ingratitude than sheer selfishness.

I know a little boy who appears ungrateful, until you know his story. He spent a couple of his early years, with his mom and dad and little brother, on the streets. He took care of his brother, ate cold french fries and learned to sleep in lots of interesting places: motel rooms, a relative’s floor, under the bridge. Mom and dad were running from one or more authorities, hiding from creditors, stoned much of the time.

A child living like that doesn't learn gratitude. He learns want. A hole grows in his heart and no gift is ever enough. It looks like ingratitude; it’s actually a cry for security and unconditional love.

These commodities are Jesus’ specialties. He loves the little children. He does not intend for them to fall asleep under bridges huddled with their little brothers from the cold. So what does it mean that they do in his world?

Wiser than me have debated over and disagreed about that. But even I know this: if we cannot understand what is happening now, we can know what is planned for then.

Jesus Christ died in agony outside Jerusalem to buy our salvation, yes, and also so that children might not go on sleeping under bridges. Even as his atoning work for sin was finished, his kingdom was being inaugurated. Its fullness awaits, but even now, wherever we see wholeness emerging from brokenness, we are seeing his kingdom breaking out. That little boy now goes to sleep in his own bed every night in his new forever family. Jesus, working through a young couple who opened their hearts and home, is the one to thank.

I thought of this story recently when I was reading the first chapter of Ephesians: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.

Every spiritual blessing. No unmet needs. No unfulfilled longings. No sleeping under bridges. Every satisfaction of every need. No wishing for just a little bit more, because “every spiritual blessing” will be ours. In Jesus. And because of Jesus.

All praise and worship be unto Him.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Crushed With Our Griefs

When it comes to Haiti, all the news is not fit to print (to invoke the slogan of a famous newspaper).

For one thing, it’s too much news. But more than that, it’s too much grief. Too much suffering. Too much sorrow. Too much devastation.

How do you quantify the brokenness? From the simple standpoint of the science, the earthquake, 7.0 on the Richter scale, was centered 2.1 miles deep some 14 miles WSW of Port-au-Prince.

More profound is the toll in human life. Estimates indicate that three million people were affected, including 230,000 who died and tens of thousands buried in mass graves. Some 20,000 commercial buildings and 225,000 residences collapsed or severely damaged. Four thousand prison inmates set loose. The educational system “totally collapsed.” The bad news overwhelms one’s psyche; the pictures depict the indescribable.

Here’s a statistic nobody has counted: how many times has someone asked, “Where is God in all of this?”

It’s a fair question, and at one level, the answer is straightforward: God is right there in the middle of it. When the world hurts, Jesus’ body shows up. More help comes in Jesus’ name than in any other. Jesus-followers were crawling around in the rubble in the rescue phase. They are there still in the relief.

Yet there is another more profound answer to the where-is-God-in-the-unspeakable-pain-and-tragedy question. The prophet Isaiah wrote about it almost three millennia back, 750 years before the angels were announcing to Bethlehem’s shepherds:

Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. Isa 53:4-6

Jesus Christ “adopted” our sins as his own and paid for them with his blood. He took away the reproach and condemnation that we deserved. That gospel message has sounded all over the world and is being proclaimed in Haiti today.

But Isaiah prophesied another dimension of Jesus’ death, one that is also highly relevant to what is happening in Haiti today. He bore our griefs. He carried our sorrows.

See any grief in Haiti today? Any sorrowing there? Jesus took it with him to Calvary. Impaled to a Roman cross in unspeakable agony, dying for the sin of the world, on him was heaped the shame and the scourging, and our sorrows and pains and griefs as well.

In some cosmic way beyond our ability to understand, Jesus Christ has felt every pain, wept every tear, been torn with every grief. He has been weighed down with all the suffering and sadness of all the world. Look at an orphan crying for his mother: if you can feel empathy you know just a fraction of the pain Jesus felt for that very child. The burden of our griefs and sorrows was added to the piercing crush of our sin. In that place of suffering, he died.

When Jesus hung on the cross, he was feeling the pain of Haiti. His body, the church, is in Haiti today. He was there. He is there still. Praise and glory belong to Him, the suffering, dying Savior of the world.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Poor Me


Here's something I received from George Bradley recently.

The next time you feel like GOD can't use you, remember...

Noah was a drunk
Abraham was too old
Isaac was a daydreamer
Jacob was a liar
Leah was ugly
Joseph was abused
Moses had a stuttering problem
Gideon was afraid
Samson was a womanizer
Rahab was a prostitute
Jeremiah and Timothy were too young
David had an affair and was a murderer
Elijah was suicidal
Isaiah preached naked
Jonah ran from God
Naomi was a widow
Job went bankrupt
Peter denied Christ
The Disciples fell asleep while praying
Martha worried about everything
The Samaritan woman was divorced, more than once
Zaccheus was too small
Paul was too religious
Timothy had an ulcer...

AND

Lazarus was dead.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Live Like You're Dead!

You know how weird it is when someone who has been following Jesus strongly suddenly does a 180 and walks away from all that is true, right, and pure?

I know a man who was a fine Christian leader, founder of a ministry organization, networker par excellence in building his ministry and then BANG, he left his wife and family and everything related to the name of Jesus Christ.

I used to envy his enormous energy levels and admire his broad network. Now I grieve his descent, stunned at the isolation of his new life (not quite the right word, is it?)

That's not all. When I think of him, I am struck with the ingratitude of such behavior in view of the fact that it was our sin that nailed Jesus to the cross. (“My own ‘little’ sins included,” my heart reminds me.) How could anyone treat with contempt so unspeakable a gift as the suffering and death of the Savior?

None of us is immune to temptation. Certainly I am not. But what grief and heartache to so many people comes from wrong choices.

Even more, what grief we bring to a loving Savior when we sin.

Besides, we're dead to sin. Romans chapter 6 says “How can we who died to sin still live in it? ... For one who has died has been set free from sin.”

"You're dead to sin, so live like it!" Paul says.

What a glorious, powerful and liberating death is this death of Jesus, given to us!

Even better, "You're alive to God!"

What a glorious life he has given us in place of the dry, empty shell our life was before we were found in Him.

"Don't let sin reign ... don't present your members to sin ... but present yourselves to God as those brought from death to life ..."

Present yourself to God. With Isaiah, with Abraham, with Samuel we can say, "Here I am, Lord. I'm all yours."

My son, Caleb, has just written a song that says this so much more powerfully than a blog. I've attached it. Listen to it and let me know what you think. (I had to use a video file format but it's actually an audio file in disguise.)

If you like his song, you can hear more at http://greenzonestudio.com/
video

Friday, June 19, 2009

Pathetic Regime, Extraordinary People

Last November I wrote in this space about meeting an old couple from Iran who were visiting London the same time we were. Only they didn't refer to their country by its usual name. They called it "Persia," choosing the ancient name rather than associate with a corrupt regime. (That was their testimony: "Our leadership is very bad.")

Today's news of a million protesters demonstrating against that very regime makes me wonder if this precious old couple are among them.
At their age, probably not.


Nevertheless, the drum beat of freedom's cry goes on in the streets of Tehran, as tyrants arrest, beat and kill young people who dare to dissent.


"Persia's" leaders may not care about their people, but God does. In fact, in God's economy, the people of Iran, made in his image, are profoundly more important than its government.


Here's how C.S. Lewis put it a few decades ago in his compelling essay, Weight of Glory:


"There are no 'ordinary' people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors."


Political leaders--both in Iran and the U.S.--may have little regard for a million people struggling for freedom and the opportunity to improve their lives. Power corrupts, as Lord Acton said, and there is evidence of decaying hearts in powerful people in both nations.


But Iran's people, every single man, woman, boy and girl, are precious to Jesus Christ. In fact, Joel Rosenberg believes that more than 1 million Shia Muslims in Iran have turned to Christ since 1979. May the gospel and glory of Christ continue be lifted up there. And wouldn't it be something if it reached the highest levels?


A million Iranian citizens crying for justice deserve to be heard, not because of their own merits, but because of what it means to be human. Despots in high place may ignore them at least for awhile (although how long they can sustain their imperious posture is anybody’s guess), but from eternity things are going to look very, very different to the most vile abuser of authority.


One more quote from C.S. Lewis to make the point:


"The dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you say it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Bloody Peace

"President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe called for 'national healing' as he appeared at an independence event with his rival, the current prime minister."

Another broken nationa, another story of the misuse of power and the resulting conflict and shattered lives.

We don't have to look far in the headlines to see the splintered condition of today's world:

  • Sri Lanka Rejects UN Appeal
  • Suicide Bomb Hits Pakistan Police
  • South Africa 'Doomed Under Zuma'
  • Israeli Military Ready to Bomb Iran
Here in the U.S., even at the relatively simple level of political parties, the divide is growing. The Rasumussen polling group reported, in a March 29 story, that "Fifty-eight percent of voters now think politics in Washington, D.C. will be more partisan over the next year rather than more cooperative. That's up from 49% a month ago, 40% two months ago, and 34% in early January."

Those numbers come as no surprise. And that's just the domain of politics, mild compared to divorce, family breakup, ethnic rivalry, homicide and war. Could anybody envision a real and lasting improvement, true healing, real peace? In Zimbabwe? In the Middle East? Anywhere?

There is One who does, One who in fact has promised both peace and justice and who has already made the downpayment. He is in fact the ancient Israeli whose life and death is implicitly acknowledged with every reference to a date; our calendar is testimony to the global impact of Jesus of Nazareth.

Writing to the church in the city of Colossae (in what is now Turkey) about 30 years after the public execution of Jesus, Paul had this to say about that death: "For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things to himself, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross."

Why did Jesus die? Among the many dimensions to the answer is the one given above. Jesus died to bring reconciliation to all things, to make peace. His death was the downpayment for the healing of the world. At a cosmic level too profound to fully understand, the perfect God-man laid, by his death, the one true foundation for peace.

The working out of that initial divine act is still underway. Every broken marriage that is mended, every shattered life put back together, every divided family restored ... every time enemies are reconciled, we are seeing the power of Jesus' death at work.

The ultimate reconciliation of all things awaits the coming of his kingdom in its fullness. May that day come quickly. Until then, yes, healing and reconciliation are possible. It's true because he died. It's sure because he rose again.