Sunday, July 27, 2008

More on Brokenness

I have said it many times before and written about it specifically more than once: I am a big fan of brokenness. That's really odd isn't it? Who wants to be broken? There is a verse in a song that says,

Brokenness, brokenness is what I long for

Brokenness is what I need
Brokenness, brokenness is what you want from me

I like that song a lot. Jesus won our freedom on the Cross. It was in His brokenness that He found the victory. Now most of us spend the majority of our prayer lives pleading with God not to allow brokenness in our lives. Well, it isn't fun is it? But is 'fun' what we are about? If it is then we have definitely picked the wrong God. Fun in the sense of life is like a trip to Disneyland is not what is going to happen if you are faithful to the true Lord of All Creation. But before you panic let me show you what you will find if you follow the in the Way of the Cross.

Our missionary career began like few ever have. We moved to Middle Earth in 1996 and began trying to figure out how to get to Gondor. We had no workers in Gondor and our organization was intent on reaching 'All Peoples, Nothing Less'. The year after we moved there all the workers in Mordor were forced to leave. So, we moved into Gondor from Rohan and in the next year registered a disaster relief organization. In 1998 we went south into Mordor, responded to a huge earthquake crisis there and reestablished work in that country. In 1999 we saw a small church start and in the Spring of that year before I went on my first home-leave we baptized 14 people. All this in a Muslim country that had just come out of a brutal civil war and was still a very dangerous and violent place. It was awesome and we expected that in year 2000 we would return to more and more victories.

In year 2000 I came back to some irritating news. Other families joined us but they would not be on MY team. My boss decided that Mordor was not MY responsibility and he gave supervision of the new office and personnel there to someone else. There were no disasters in early 2000 and we all sat around wondering what God was up to. Why were we not making a difference in other peoples lives. One of the families decided to move to another city and set up another team. The other family on our team became increasingly contentious and decided that they would not support our disaster work anymore. They went out and did there own projects. I was reeling. MY self esteem was in the toilet. Everything I had built up had fallen apart. I went to a conference in 2002 and I learned that most of my problems were due to my lack of organizational skills. I was a terrible administrator and no one on the team felt called to step in and help. I got some books, cleared off my desk and got to work making sense out of my life and work. At the same time I thought I would now be able to pull my wandering team mates back in. I went to them several times and talked about new vision and new organization. They were unmoved. I kept hearing that they were talking bad about me and that they were unhappy with me. I went to them to confront them over their unbiblical behavior. I sat down and confronted them in one of the most painful meetings I have ever had. I laid out for them all the ways they were wronging me and they looked sheepish and would not reply. Then I pressed forward and demanded an answer and they gave one. It was me. I had betrayed their trust on more than one occasion. I had let confidences slip too often and I had not protected their reputations. It was me. I wept openly. I went away and prayed about it. I came back and talked to them again confessing my sin and weeping tears of bitter repentance. I wish I could say that our relationship was restored. They said they forgave me but our relationship was never the same. They left six months later and went to work in some new opportunities in Mordor.

I went on home-leave again in 2002. Arwen and I wondered what we would share in the churches we spoke in! Where were all the great stories of what God had done. We had not seen anything. Well, God is good and there were a couple of neat things that happened and we made the most of it telling others about what God had done in some friends lives. But we were empty. I stayed on my face before God all winter. I was like a zombie walking around with nothing inside. All the I's, MY's, and ME's had built up until the scales tipped and the story of my life collapsed like a house of cards. But in the early Spring of 2003 God began to speak to me in a still and very quiet voice. He was not through with me. There was more to do and I was going to go back and do it. He called me to put together a national team of guys who would work with me in Disaster Management. That team has seen villages changed, men and women come to faith, and faithful churches begun. There is no I, ME, or MY in any of it. Just God working in us and through us to make a difference in others lives. I never could be a witness to 2003 if I had not gone through 2002.

Brokenness, brokenness is what I long for. Brokenness is what I need. Brokenness is what He wants from me. And in return I get to witness the Kingdom of God being established in places you can not imagine. That beats the snot out of Disneyland any day.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Praying for Patience

One day Gandalf made an off-hand comment about needing more patience. His reply was quick and dramatic. "Don't you pray patience for me!!! If you do I will let all the air out of your tires!" Why you might ask would he respond so? Because if you pray for patience God will give you opportunities to practice. I really love the way God moves us forward in our lives. My boss says that 'God is ruthlessly committed to your sanctification.' Hmmm ruthlessly? Oh yes. I think we all have stories. God moves us forward through suffering- see Romans 5 or James 1- and he moves us forward by stretching our faith. Asking us to take great leaps of faith into the unknown is one of my favorite ways to grow. At least, it beats the heck out of life threatening illnesses. But God also moves in the small mundane things of life. Like through our children.

When we lived in Rohan we went through some really serious culture shock. We were deeply unhealthy emotionally and all of our relationships suffered. Arwen and I started yelling a lot at our two girls. Of course, they were in culture shock too so they behaved in ways that deserved to be yelled at a lot. But it was not good parenting. It was becoming increasingly out of control and one day after screaming at the girls in an uncontrolled rant I broke down. Arwen and I prayed together and then brought the girls in and sat them down. We told them that if they disobeyed they would be punished in appropriate ways but mommy and daddy were not going to yell at them any more. I have raise my voice on occasion but I can honestly say I have not broken this promise and railed on the girls the way we had done and neither has Arwen.
Well, after a promise like this you can count on it being tested. Not by the girls- they were 3 and 5- no, God was going to test this one.

I was cooking French Fries in the kitchen and had the potatoes and the oil out on the counter when our five year old Luthien came in. She just stood there quietly. I said, 'Hello sweety.' She didn't say anything. I turned back to the potatoes for a split second and when I turned back to her she was gone. And so was the open bottle of cooking oil. I took off out of the kitchen and into the living room- to her bedroom- to the next room- and then to my bedroom. I ran in and there she was. She was laughing and jumping on my bed with the open bottle of oil in her hand. Oil was flying out of the top and going everywhere. It soaked our pillows, sheets, dripped from the walls, and puddled on the floor. I took all this in in an instant and then immediately ducked out of the room and collapsed in laughter. I didn't want her to see me laughing but I looked up as I laughed and I knew without doubt that God had sent her to test my words which I had just uttered yesterday. I went back in the room and took the oil away from her and I gently asked her why she did that. She had no idea but I could hear Him laughing in Heaven with a deep laugh at the guy who promised never to lose his temper again.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Inviting Judgment

You can't make decisions for other people. I know. These words are both true and very depressing. Don't you think everyone would live a lot happier lives if they just listened to you? Lots of people feel this way and you know what? I think they are right. Others can often see the truth in a situation that you can not see in your own life. But in the end each of us lives our own lives and we are each responsible for our own messes. I have this friend who continually makes bad choices concerning his marriage. He is caught in a terrible mess. He married a girl for the wrong reasons and has ended up paying for it big time. So, what is my role now? How do I confront his past mistakes? How do I confront his present sins? How do I advise his future decisions? How do I relate to him in all the mess that is his life? Whenever we think about these questions over tea in a safe place the answers come easily but when we get out into real life we have a lot of trouble negotiating the rough waters of sin and judgment, of love and rejection.

I have two more pages of introduction but I think I will cut it all out and get straight to the story. My friend was in this terrible marriage as I said. His wife left him a couple of times a year. He deserved it, but then again she deserved him! She would badger and bait him repeatedly with the meanest mouth you have ever heard until finally he would haul off and hit her. Then she would cry about how abused she was and he would feel weak and powerless. He dealt with feelings of being weak and powerless by sleeping with prostitutes. Yeah- the good news is they are both professing Christians. I know, any sane person trying to find someone to disciple would run for their lives. But as you may have guessed I am not always sane and more importantly God asked me to disciple this guy. After a few years of ups and downs- some of which I have already written about on this blog though I am too tired and lazy to go look up the references- she left him seemingly for good and they went through divorce proceedings. His parents were delighted that he was finally free of her and immediately went out to find someone else for him to marry. They are not believers and don't think much of his faith. So, they set him up with a divorced Muslim girl. He asked me what I thought. I know. What would you say? The divorce papers were not even completely processed yet and his family had already set his next wedding date. He was completely passive. If his parents wanted this then who was he to fight it? Well, I had an answer for that but he was not up to it. So, he got married again. A national pastor friend of mine and I went to the small wedding. My pastor friend said, 'We can not support this terrible mistake but we must support our friend.' Well said I thought.

Four days later it was over. He left her and walked away. His first wife came back with their three kids and they all moved in together into the apartment while his second wife went back to her family in disgrace. I was sick at what he had done to this second woman. She already had a ruined reputation from the first divorce, this second marriage being dissolved before it began would destroy her whole family's reputation in their community. After all the bad decisions he had made I still couldn't believe he would make this bad of a decision and hurt this many people. A week later he came to see me. I couldn't let his decision stand uncondemned. I told him that he should never have done that to this poor woman. I was harsh. He was really ashamed and left. Many people to whom I have told this story have said I did the right thing. But I didn't. I did not do what Jesus would have done and I did not do what Jesus wanted me to do.

But you say, ' Hey Strider, sin is sin. We have to tell it like it is. Telling the truth is the loving thing to do.' Ok, but you need to be very careful here. We like to say that the devil is a liar and he is. But how the devil lies is important to understand. He lies to us most often by pointing out the truth. The devil tells us the truth about a lot of things. He loves to tell me how often I screw up. He loves to tell others how difficult, how tough, how hopeless life can be. It's true. But Jesus brings the truth in love and that makes all the difference. In the parable of the prodigal son the younger son has rebelled against his father and done lots of immoral things. The Father's response to this is to invite him back into the home as a son. The older brother's response is to condemn him and remind him of his sin. Both are speaking the truth but only one is representing God in the story. Jesus says that God is like the forgiving father in the story. Many times I play the younger brother, seeking my fulfillment in the world instead of at the hand of my father. Many times I am the older brother, unthankful, bitter, and judgmental. The father invites me in in any case. But you know what? God wants his children to grow up. We come to him as little children but we don't stay that way. We are to grow up and become like the father.

A year later I saw my friend on the street and I invited him in. I asked him to come to my house so we could sit and drink tea as friends. I saw my friend again just a few weeks ago. He and his wife came by to tell me about the ministry opportunities God was giving them and how blessed they were. I don't think all their problems have magically gone away but I do believe that God is working in their lives. He is working on those nasty sin problems but he does not do it with a sledge hammer. He does it with love. Love is the most powerful weapon in our arsenal. The next time I see a brother in sin I hope I will be honest with him about it but more than that, I hope I will invite him in. Only love will transform him. Do you believe that? I can hear your objections from here. The religious leaders did not believe Jesus either but in the end His love changed the world. My good advice will never change anything but loving others and inviting them in regardless of their sin will change everything.
Taste and see.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Up From the Ashes

I have been sorting pictures here in the West and I came across a picture of a friend I had not thought about in a while. I met him in the midst of tragedy about 8 years ago. We got up one Monday morning and heard that a local church had been bombed by some extremest. They had planted three bombs actually. One went off at the back of the large meeting room as the church's evening service was coming to a close. As everyone quickly headed for the stairwell a second bomb went off and when they got to the bottom of the stair well the third bomb praise God did not go off. Ten people were killed and more than fifty were severely injured. We grabbed a doctor who had just joined our team, and we headed to the hospital. I began meeting with distressed and confused church members milling around the hospital yard. They didn't know how many were injured or where they were. I asked where their leaders were and many didn't know. Then I found out that all the leaders of the Church had been arrested after the bombing. Only in Gondor! Our doctor set up a clinic to see all the victims who were released from the hospital so they could get real treatment. He cleaned open wounds and treated a lot of burns. Other team members helped them set up a command center in one of their houses. They cataloged everyone injured and where they were. I went to a European Human Rights organization that had some clout and asked them to intervene on behalf of the arrested Church leaders. They were released the next morning.

During this time we met Hurin. He was badly burned over 80% of his body. His head was burned black and swollen up like a basketball. I did not think he would live but his church members put some money together and sent him out of country for some real medical treatment. When he came back a couple of months later he was normal. I mean- really normal. He didn't look as though he had been burned at all. The color of his skin was not quite right to me but he did not look scarred. He was beaming and he told us his story.

Hurrin's Story
I was going down the stairs when the second bomb went off. I fell into a huge gulf of pain. I could not speak or move. I thought they would think I was dead- later I learned that I was screaming wildly but at the time I had no control of my body or any understanding of my surroundings. I passed out. When I awoke I was in worse pain than I have ever known or imagined. It went on and on. I called out to God to help me and suddenly I was somewhere I did not recognize. I was in a room that seemed to be a party but everyone there looked completely miserable. I was a little afraid of them as they looked grey, unhappy, and a little intimidating. I saw many of my friends and family there. I didn't talk to anyone but moved to the center of the room trying to stay away from everyone. Then suddenly I moved up through the ceiling and found myself in another room. It was huge. It was full of truly beautiful people. The women wore fantastic dresses and the men all wore brilliant suits and ties (at this point I, Strider was very discouraged to hear that there will be ties in heaven). I loved everyone and everything and I was very happy. They all seemed to be expectantly waiting for something to happen. Then I moved up through the ceiling again. I was in a really beautiful city. It was huge and seemed to go on forever and ever. The buildings were beautiful and I don't have words to describe how wonderful and immense it was. As I walked toward the center I noticed the light. The whole city was well lit but I could not see where the light was coming from. Then I saw Him. He was seated on a throne in the center of the city and all light was coming from Him. There was no one in this city. It seemed to me then that everyone in the previous room was waiting to come here. That is why they were so excited and happy. They were coming here. I walked up to the throne and fell on my face before it. Jesus told me to stand and I got up and faced Him. Love was pouring out of Him so that I felt I could asked Him anything. I cried out to Him and told Him that all my friends and relatives were trapped in the lower room and would never come to this place. He said they all could come but did not know they were invited. I plead with Him to do something for them and He said, 'Hurin, I am sending you. You invite them here and show them the way.' Then suddenly the whole city was full of music and it overcame me and I fell down. Then I was awake in my bed and the pain was completely gone. As the doctors tended me and the swelling went down they could not understand it. I was not scarred. It was a miracle. I came back to Gondor and I began working harder than ever. God gave me a word that told me that I would not only tell my story in Gondor but all over Middle Earth. Since then I have spoken to thousands of people in a dozen countries telling them about God's great invitation and the beautiful place He has prepared for all of us.

Hurin has been traveling for the last couple of years but last year came back to Gondor. He loves telling people about Jesus. What about you? When was the last time you shared with someone about God's great love for us? Invite them in. They are welcome at the throne. I hope we don't need to be blown up to be motivated to share our faith. Lord, just set us on fire!