Freeing the Hand of God

There’s an interesting and unique dynamic among the people of Israel. A tension that must be lived with on an everyday basis. There’s no escaping this daily reality.

 

How to live with in grace and live with unimaginably pain filled memories. How to live in freedom and not live in fear. How to look forward and not be afraid to look back.

 

I’m not an extensive traveler. But in my limited excursions, I can tell you what I have come to observe with my eyes. I’ve seen the unimaginable poverty of Haiti. Exposed to the bleak conditions of India. Experienced the paralyzing despair of the Deep South. Observed the grim wrinkle-laden faces of the post-Communist Eastern Europeans.

 

Everyone wears their pain. We each just wear it differently.

 

Then there is Israel. A people and a land who live with the daily awareness that most of the world is against them. Not indifferent towards them. Actually against them. Weapons are trained on them from literally every direction. Simply for being Jews.

 

In So Cal we live with the possibility of an earthquake on a daily basis. We know that the Big One is coming. We also know it has been over 25 years since the last significant quake hit us. So still knowing that the possibility exists, we live as though it hasn’t happened. And won’t happen again.

 

But earthquakes don’t have faces.

 

Today, we met a family who saw the face of terror.

 

The Ortiz family. Their son opened a package on The Jewish holiday of Purim. A time of gift-giving. This ‘gift’ was a bomb that cut through his entire body. By the grace of God, he is alive and living a somewhat regular life, attending college in New York. But how do you go on living, knowing the horrific combination of pain, anger and fear that lives in your heart!

 

How do you get out of bed? How do you laugh again, knowing that there are people who want you to die? How do you give gifts again, living with the memories of your son’s blood on your walls? How do love again, when the resentment and anger rise with you in the morning?

 

These were the questions we had for our new friends. Their answer I will never forget. It may be the most important reason for my coming to Israel this year:

 

Forgiveness freed the hands of God

 

While I know and believe in a Sovereign God, I found this answer to be compelling on so many levels. Because the essence of the Christian faith is predicated on God’s unmerited forgiveness to His incredibly rebellious creation. Once forgiven by God, the highest form of love by the forgiven is indeed forgiveness. It may be the most certain and powerful expression by those who have come to understand our own depravity in the face of God’s unwavering offer of grace to those who can comprehend even a small fraction of our unworthiness of such kindness.

 

Forgiveness frees the hand of God

 

It allows the flow of grace to continue unobstructed.

 

It allows the expression of the Gospel to have a face.

 

It allows the recipient to discover the trailhead to the headwaters of continuous refreshing.

 

It allows the captive to be set free. And remain free.

 

It is what sets the Christian faith apart from all others.

 

So today I choose freedom. It’s why Jesus came into this world.

 

Will you choose it as well?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Justice Conference: My Birthday

How precious to the Lord is the death of His saints. Psalm 116:15

Our Justice Conference came to a close last night. Francis Chan wrapped things up in his usual way. Funny. Endearing. Vulnerable. Then the bomb dropped.

“I’ve met very few elderly people whose lives make sense. They live as though they don’t believe in eternity.”

Could have heard a pin drop. For me, on my 51st birthday (the wrong side of 50), it was especially poignant. Does my life make sense? What am I saying in my stewardship of the resources that God has entrusted to me? Am I giving my life away, or am I living like the best years of my life are still ahead of me? What am I saving for? Who am I saving for?

Happy Birthday to me.

It’s about stewardship. I’ve preached it. I believe in it. It’s absolutely vital to both the giver and recipient. When John the Baptist was asked by the crowd what they needed to do to prepare the way for Jesus, he told them, “Let the one who has two jackets share with the one who has nothing.”

Apparently,  I have someone’s jacket.

And shoes.

And shirts. I have lots of people’s shirts.

While I believe in justice and righteousness, I live as though my life and resources are not directly connected. (Am I really going to wear all those shirts?)

Making room for more of Jesus means making room in my closet. And garage. Emptying myself of me, and creating space for more of Him. And others.

I’m pretty sure that’s a foundational biblical directive for those who take up the invitation to follow the King of Kings. I want the use of my, er, His time, talent and treasures to reflect the heart of my Savior. I want to know nothing but Him, and share in the fellowship of His suffering. I want to look forward to heaven as much as God looks forward to my arrival. I want to live as one confident, absolutely certain, that God has and will provide everything I need for life and godliness.

I want my life to make sense.

 

Justice Conference: Consumerism

I’m writing from the Justice Conference in Portland. If you’d like to follow along with the rest of our team, please visit the KHCJustice2012 Blog.

The third word of the conference is consumerism.

It is the real threat to justice. Allow me to explain.

We live in a culture marked by a fierce commitment to convenience and comfort. Our lives have  dominated by our insatiable appetite for more. Stimulation. Medication. Emancipation. Without even knowing it, many of us have become slaves to more.

More of everything.Gadgets. (I’m writing on one.) Goods. Gods. These begin to be stuffed into the compartments of our hearts and minds that is reserved for the One True God. When God is crowded out of those places, the Holy Spirit is evicted.

Why is that significant? Because He is the center of our nervous system. He makes us aware of injustice. He is the One who opens our eyes to see the hypocrisy of our lives. He is the One who opens our ears to the cries of the poor and the fatherless. He is the One who softens our heart to allow us to have it broken by the things that break the heart of God.

Consumerism, in short, has replaced the role of the Comforter. Consumerism has robbed us being the active presence of God’s righteousness and justice in the world, and we have been easy prey. Far too compliant. Rather than being used by the Holy Spirit of God to liberate the captives, we have become captivated  by the very things we were set free from. The World.

The seed sown among the thorns was choked out by the cares of the world, and it proved to be unfruitful.

I don’t have any answers to boast of. I am wrestling with my own love of the world. But I know this: I am most alive when I can hear the Holy Spirit, and when He uses me to set the captive free. When I know the Truth, and am in vital relationship with Him, I am free. I am engaged. I am useful to my Master, rather than being enslaved to the passing cares of the world.

Justice Conference: My Neighbor

Mama told me there would be days like this.

She told me to not travel alone, and to always have on clean underwear in case of emergency. I got the latter right.

You see, I was returning from one of our customary feasts. A time when all the men were required to meet in Jerusalem for worship. We lived in a village near Jericho. Not the best part of town, but it was home. The journey from Jericho consisted of a 22 mile uphill climb. It was a serpentine path, lined with cobblestone and loose rocks. Not for the faint of heart.

My plan was to travel to worship with my best friend. We had made numerous journeys to the Holy City together to present ourselves before the Lord. It was a time for us to consider the call of God, and to somberly reflect on His faithfulness. He was a friend who stuck closer than a brother, as we like to say in my faith.

Unfortunately, he was unable to make the trip with me this time due to an injury he had suffered to his leg. The grueling travel was too formidable for him, despite his intense longing to join me on one of our three trips to Jerusalem. Hence, I sojourned solo.

After the feast ended, I decided to make haste and attempt to reach Jericho before sunset. Without a companion to provide mutual safety, I rashly determined to make the downhill trek in one afternoon. The rest is history.

I was somewhere within visual sight of my village. Approximately 4-5 miles from home when I could hear them. The taunts, and the threats. A group of young street toughs had picked up on my distinctly Jewish attire, and seized my upon my vulnerability. I walked faster. To no avail.

Down I went. Raising my arms in protest, I could see their angry faces as they pulled at my clothing. Looking for valuables. And then darkness. Sometime later, I awoke from unconsciousness. Oh, my head! I could feel dried blood. My clothing was covered in dirt and blood splotches. My belongings were gone. I was groggy, but still somewhat lucid.

Then, on the road to Jericho, coming down from Jerusalem came two men. They weren’t together, but they were my people. A lawyer, and a rabbi. The incredible sense of relief and hope I felt as they drew near! Help had arrived, I thought.

I thought wrong. One at a time, they passed by! They even moved away from me as they came close. How could that be? We had just come from the worship of our God! Our God! Who wants us to, “Love mercy, walk humbly and act justly.” Don’t these men know what God requires?

As I angrily pondered these things in my mind, my voice to weak to cry out, I felt someone grab me. Strong arms, no words. Too weak to resist, I turned to find who this was who had laid hold of me. Friend or foe.

To my utter surprise this man was a Samaritan. An enemy to my people, and mine to his. We had nothing in common but our Maker, I thought. Nothing in common but our Maker.

I guess that was all that was needed for this man to be my neighbor. All that was required for him to take heroic measures on behalf. To give sacrificially for me out of his own means. We have the same Maker. And I’ll never be the same again. I’ll never see others the same again.

And I hope you won’t either.

Justice Conference: Relationship

I’m posting from the Justice Conference in Portland today.  If you’d like to follow other insights from our team, please click here.

The second word of the day at the Justice Conference was relationship. Everything that we do must be ordered out of a right relationship with God, others and self.

Too often our motivation to do right stems from a desire to feel right. I remember when Anne had a severe headache. Being the loving husband that I am, I offered to get her some Tylenol. Problem. Solution. My husband of the year award was secured for another year, I thought.

I thought wrong.

My doctoral candidate wife responded to my offer of instant assistance with the prompt reply, “Oh, why didn’t I think of that? You’re so smart!”

Huh? I was reminded again of the value of relationship. My well-intended offer of relief would have been better received had it come with a simple five-minute conversation prior to the generous offer of retrieving the pain reliever. What she wanted was time with me, not a handout from me.

At times,  our compassion efforts are the equivalent of an air drop. We fly by and deposit some form of relief. Usually from a fair distance. We don’t really want to get our hands dirty. We don’t really want to know the people we are “helping.” Often, the only folks we are trying to aid is ourselves and our need for significance.

True justice and righteousness is born out of a desire to live right with our Creator and His creation. To be a genuine representation of being image bearers. To reflect His face to the defenseless, sojourner and needy among us. Such efforts cannot be separated from the original design of the One whose Image we are created in. When we are out of alignment with Him, our efforts usually are as well.

Righteousness is born out of right relationship.

With God, others, self and creation. All other efforts lead to self-righteousness and severed relationship. Therefore, I renew myself to seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness.

To live as one made to live like the One who made me. To live as an ambassador of the King. To reflect Him in all my relationships.

Today.