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.