Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Sweet Goodbye

She died as I held her hand and prayed that she might rest in God's loving arms. What a gift to share that moment. Thank you Jesus.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Hope of Tomorrow

I sit here next to a frail woman I have known for only a few weeks. Yet it is in this short time I have come to respect her courage, her love and undeniable devotion to 2 young grand kids that she has raised as her own. Each of these boys demonstrate a strength of character, respect for others and a courage of their own - a testimony to this woman. She did so despite having most every disadvantage life has to offer. She was alone, she had minimal resources and minimal education. By all accounts, her ability to produce something good would not be likely. Yet, she defied the odds and did in fact demonstrate that she was able to do small things with a great amount of love. And the small things have grown to be big things and 2 young boys have grown into men who emulate the best of what they experienced in their grandmother.
Her time on earth will not be much longer. She labors for breath but I pray she has peace in her mind. Just days earlier, we talked about what it means to have faith in Jesus Christ and hope in His promise of forgiveness. I asked her how this made her feel. She said, "It makes my conscience clear so that I can sleep at night." What a beautiful description of what our heart expresses when we understand - truly understand the peace of God through trust in Him.
It is times like these that I am reminded that life is a vapor. And if our hope in Christ is in this life alone, we are of all men most to be pitied (1Cor 15:19). Our world is broken. Sickness and disease are results of the curse of sin and death we cannot avoid.
It causes me to wonder if we should be living in the moment as is often said during times like this. A reminder that time is short and for that reason it is a true statement. But not entirely true because this moment, no matter how good, pales in comparison to what is to come. Perhaps it is better to live for the hope of tomorrow. That inevitable day when Christ returns or takes us home to be with Him. That is when all that we hope for and dream about will become reality. The moment, however good, is a shadow of what God has prepared for us as His children. The moment is corrupted and will never come close to eternity with Christ our Saviour. The hope of tomorrow is what He died for and for that reason alone, it is what we should live for.

"Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will bring about at the proper time—He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen. Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed. O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called "knowledge"— which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith. Grace be with you." (1 Timothy 6:12-21, NASB95)

Friday, February 8, 2008

“What is the What” is a novel written by Dave Eggers depicting the events surrounding the Sudanese civil war beginning in the mid 1980s. The story is more of an autobiography of one particular young boy named Valentino Achak Deng. Achak was one of the 20,000 so-called Lost Boys who walked thousands of miles seeking safety from every known danger including the merciless Arab militiamen, minefields, wild animals, starvation and disease. The innocent boy, who began his journey at the young age of 7, witnessed more cruelty and death in the following decade than most people will ever experience in a lifetime.
Both the author and the subject of the novel hoped that the story would bring attention and understanding to the continuing conflicts in Africa. Although there is slight variation, the source of most conflict in recent African history revolves around the same tribal politics. The pursuit of power and greed among the ruling parties remains a constant cause of discord among the African people. As is seen in this novel, it is the innocent who often pay the highest price during the struggle for control and domination.
The title of the book is taken from an ancient Dinka creation myth in which God offers mankind a choice between a known quantity (in the myth this choice is a cow) and an unknown possibility, known as the What. The Dinka people chose the cow as a known source of “milk and meat and prosperity of every kind.” But others, such as the Arabs, chose the mysterious and unknowable “What”. Perhaps there is truth in the myth as it exposes the desire of man to have something more than what he has already been given by God.
This tragic story reminds us that, left to itself, society will cannibalize its own. Safety within society is an illusion and despite the promise to serve and protect, the world will eventually betray its promise. Achak often placed his hope in the next promise of freedom or protection. He did not fully understand the hope we have in Jesus Christ which far surpasses anything this world could offer. In fact, as Paul reminds us, "If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied." (1 Corinthians 15:19) There has to be something more than what we experience in this world and scripture affirms that there is.
The average American has not experienced anything like what Achak endured. Yet, we are often the first to pity ourselves and blame our leaders, or even God, for our circumstances. Perhaps if we understood the plight of people like Achak, we would understand how truly blessed we are. All too often, we choose the What – the mysterious unknown that falsely promises something more than what we already have. This is, in fact, the American dream – the promise of more than what we already have. Yet, the story of the Lost Boys reminds us that our world is broken. Our hope for full and complete redemption is yet future. Only through faith in Christ will the desire for safety, security and eternal salvation be fully realized.
After all the inhumanity Achak witnessed, he felt his most important response was “to tell these stories because to do anything else would be something less than human.” Perhaps he believed that the biggest impact he could make was to bring awareness and understanding to the plight of so many of the African people. A story that seems like fiction to most readers, but to the subject of the novel, it is all too real.
What an important reminder for Christians. We too have a story to tell. Our story is also a story of great tragedy. Like Achak, it is a story of a broken and sinful world. But our story does not end there. We have a hope that is not betrayed. Our hope is the promise that one day all things will be made new. We hold firm to faith in a redemption where blood has been shed so that sins may be forgiven. With such a promise, we must tell our story. For us to not tell our story would be “something less than human.”

"This mystery has been kept in the dark for a long time, but now it’s out in the open. God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of their background, regardless of their religious standing. The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple. That is the substance of our Message. We preach Christ, warning people not to add to the Message. We teach in a spirit of profound common sense so that we can bring each person to maturity. To be mature is to be basic. Christ! No more, no less. That’s what I’m working so hard at day after day, year after year, doing my best with the energy God so generously gives me." (Colossians 1:26-29, The Message)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Band of Brothers

The HBO television series, Band of Brothers, depicts the true life story of soldiers involved in the World War II military campaign in Northern Europe. More specifically, the series follows the men of Company E (“Easy Company”) of the 506th Parachute regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. These soldiers often found themselves on the front lines of the fiercest battles and the extraordinary casualty rate was a testimony to their heroic sacrifice. Those who did not lose their lives would not leave the war unchanged. The series vividly depicts this transformation as each man endures the unexpected journey of war.
So as not to destroy the series for those who have not yet watched it, I will share only the scene that impacted me the most. The war was nearing its end and the men of Easy Company were called to secure a German town after their surrender. The men of Easy were sent out to scan the area and ensure that no snipers were hidden under cover. As they walked through the forest, they were struck by an eerie silence and an odd odor in the air. As they looked over a rise in the terrain, they witness the unimaginable. The soldiers observe, for the first time, a sight they never imagined and one that even those watching the episode will not soon forget: Emaciated human beings secured like animals in a pen with the stench of death so strong the men had to cover their mouths with cloths. Smoke still lifted from the ground where German soldiers had burned as many of the prison huts as possible, people incinerated alive as they were trapped inside. The Nazi soldiers shot prisoners, like an arcade game, until they ran out of ammunition. The ground was littered with dead and decomposing bodies. What wasn’t stacked in a heap on the ground was stuffed into cable cars with contorted limbs stiff from rigor mortis. Those that remained were only a shell of a human, ashen and suffering from the most severe malnutrition, disease and unattended injury – and worst of all, hopelessness.
The scene was a Jewish prison camp and the vile evil of the holocaust was an overwhelming sight. I wept.
When confronted, citizens of the nearby German city claimed ignorance. Soldiers did not believe their answer and questioned their humanity in knowing that such atrocity existed and yet they looked the other way. In the end, these same citizens who denied knowledge were forced to see the camp for themselves and then clean up the dead and decaying bodies with their own hands. I have not witnessed another scene so vividly displaying the depravity of man and the corruption of man’s heart apart from God than this one. It truly was hell on earth.
It is easy to look at the German soldiers involved in the holocaust and judge them with proud contempt. Yet, each time we usurp the authority of God in our own lives by denying our moral conscience in obedience to a different authority, we are guilty of the same. In fact, this is the original sin that plagues all mankind. It was Adam and Eve who first denied the authority of God in obedience to another. Since that time, all mankind is totally depraved and guilty of the same sin. Only by the grace of God does any man choose differently. In other words, all mankind is essentially and unchangeably bad apart from divine grace. We have no inherent goodness within us and we are helpless and hopeless in this condition apart from the grace of God.
This miniseries has been a poignant reminder of this depravity of man. So often, we look at such vile acts such as the holocaust and we profess that we would never be capable of performing such horrific deeds. Yet, were it not for the grace of God, we would all do the same. Because the heart of the issue is not the act itself but the denial of God’s authority in order to carry it out. And this is the sin we all share. As Paul reminds us:

“There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving,” “The poison of asps is under their lips”; “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”; “Their feet are swift to shed blood, Destruction and misery are in their paths, And the path of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”" (Romans 3:10-18)

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)," (Ephesians 2:4-5)

Like Lt. Winters, I am challenged to live in peace. Yet, the peace I seek is not simply peace with my fellow man. It must first begin as peace with God and only then can peace with my fellow man be possible. War only exists as a result of the fall. The atrocities for which we fight find their core disease in the heart of every human. All sin is ultimately rebellion against the rule of God and for that we all stand guilty. Peace with God only exists when I realize I have been created in His image and I live by grace under His rightful reign through faith in Jesus Christ. I have been given freedom by God to live responsibly in His light and to delight in the life given to me by Him. I should express my gratitude in my love for others. I should forgive because I have been forgiven. I should fulfill my unique design to promote peace with God found only through faith in Jesus Christ. For God does not intend to make bad people good. Instead, His redemption through Christ makes dead people alive.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Total Depravity

Isn't it interesting how God works. Especially when He wants to make sure we understand something very important. Something about who He is and how He works in this world. Something that deepens our trust in Him and our worship of Him. That is the way I feel about the last several weeks.
Just before the holidays, Teri and I enjoyed the privilege of time with the Johnstons. I consider it a privilege because it just doesn’t happen as often as my heart desires. So when it does, I am always thankful and it is always good. Tom and I were having small talk when he mentions the WWII series called Band of Brothers. He had mentioned this to me before and I had heard he and Andy (a mutual friend) talk about it as well. Tom had purchased the DVD set and he let me borrow it to watch during the holidays. As it turns out, both Teri and I were hooked after having watched the opening episode. I admit that it makes for an odd date night, but it had captured our attention and we were both engaged with the emotion of such a powerful story.
About this same time, I was on a business trip and asked a gentleman sitting next to me about the very large book he as intently reading. This is odd for a couple of reasons. One is that I do not usually initiate conversation with strangers on an airplane. Now, admittedly, I routinely depart the plane wishing I had, but it rarely motivates me enough to do it the next time. For some reason, this time I overcame my social inhibitions. It was a brief conversation as he explained the general idea of a book with a very strange title – What is the What, by David Eggers. The second reason this encounter was unusual is because I am not usually drawn to books greater than 2 inches in height, especially those outside my normal genre of reading. Yet again, I was compelled to take up and read and was immediately drawn into the story.
The third and final piece of the story involves my winter session class at DTS. The class was a theology class studying humanity and sin. Within only a few hours of class lecture, I began to see the connection. The movie series, the book, and the class all had a central message – the depravity of man apart from God. I am convinced God desires for me to understand this truth. It seems that only when we understand the depth of our helpless and hopeless state of depravity – only then can we truly appreciate the miraculous redemption we have through faith in Jesus Christ. Only when we understand the corruption of humanity can we understand the depths to which God stooped to rescue those whom He loves. The depravity of man is the palate God uses to paint the redemptive story in the most surprising brilliant color.
In the posts that follow, you will see my reflections of what I believe God has inspired and how it has impacted my life and my theology. The series of encounters as I have described them seem to have a purposful design and I pray I learn all He has intended.