Category Archives: grace

It Wasn’t Hard to Leave That Day

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It wasn’t hard to leave that day. The conversation was awkward—”Dad, I want my share. Now, please.”—but walking away wasn’t hard. There wasn’t much to take; less to leave behind. He’d never fit, anyway. The work, the animals, the quiet but grueling life of a nomadic sheepherder. Adventure called, and the city they’d passed two days earlier. No, it wasn’t hard to leave that day.

He’d sold his share of the flocks and with the silver weighing down his bag, turned his face toward the city. Soon, having traded his bedouin robe for city silks, he sought new life in the strangely solid buildings. Friends were easy to find; wine, an enticing invitation. Never again would loneliness sit heavy in his heart. Little did he know that his dark, herdsman’s skin and heavy purse betrayed his ignorance and innocence. Had he known, he would only have worked harder to win the friendship of ones already willing to drink from his bottle. He slept little, and never alone.

Far away, another man also slept little, his aloneness magnified by the vastness of the familiar night sky. At first light he scanned the horizons. Each setting sun darkened his hope a little more. 

The endless city noise grew deafening. The constant press of people—even the women sharing his bed—only magnified the loneliness he tried constantly to escape. The wine only made him forget last night; morning carried memories of home – and the love he’d never acknowledged. Day by day, his purse grew lighter. When it was at last empty, so were his bed and table. No face in town knew his; no familiar face did he see. Alone. Again.

The flocks grew, replenishing the loss of the too-soon divided inheritance. But even as the pens filled to bursting, so the father’s broken heart spilled out its last hope. Still he watched….

It wasn’t hard to leave that day. What was hard was knowing which way to go. The city spurned him, its lights and sounds betraying the emptiness of a false life—and revealing his own emptiness. No, it wasn’t hard to leave that day.

(to be continued…)

Another Prince, Another Pauper

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prince and pauperTwo men came to Jesus, each with a request. One man was blind and poor, and wanted to see; the other was rich and sighted, and wanted eternal life.

Both requests were good and right, and Jesus offered answers to both. So why did one man walk away praising God and the other walked away sad?

The difference between the two men was not in their wealth, but their heart. Yes, the blind man was poor; unable to see, his only income was the coins he begged from passersby at the city gates. Yet his poverty went deeper than his wallet. Downtrodden and outcast, all that his blind eyes could see was the rejection of those walking past him each day. And it was in this poverty of spirit that he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” His request was both simple and impossible: I want to see.

The rich man may well have been one of those who tossed a few coins at the nameless, faceless beggars he daily rode by. Doubtless honored both for business savvy and his commandment-keeping righteousness, his request was no less honorable than the blind man’s: What must I do to inherit eternal life?

Though both petitions were good, the difference between them was stark. Where the blind man knew he was could do nothing to bring about his own healing, the rich man believed his prayer could be answered by some good deed, some noble gesture, some further mark of his own power and wealth and righteousness. His perfect eyes and fat money-purse blinded him to the poverty of his own soul.

Jesus answered both men’s requests just as they wanted him to: He did for the blind man what he knew he could not do for himself; and he gave the wealthy man a very simple task – a good deed that was very do-able yet proved impossible for the seeker of life.

There is a deep irony in these two encounters (read them in Luke 18:18-43): a penniless blind man sees his poverty, and purchases by his faith the new eyes that no king could ever afford. Across town a wealthy man, blind to his own destitution, refuses to trade his affluence for the only thing that could make him truly rich.


It is easy to read these stories in the Bible, to celebrate the healing of the one and groan at the obstinacy of the other. But God does not want us to merely read, cheer, and groan. He wants us to see ourselves in His Word, to decide how we will respond. Who are you?

Are you the man without eyes, convinced of your unworthiness and the impossibility of your situation? Or are you the one with both eyes and money, wondering what else you can do to earn God’s favor and presence?

Will you come to God in helpless faith, pleading for mercy first and sight second? Or do you come with wallet open, looking for yet another spiritual tax deduction?

Will you walk away with Jesus, glorifying God? Or will you just walk away, sadly looking for an easier way?

No Pain, No Gain

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Broken Leg XRay - C TurnerMaybe you’ve heard the saying. Maybe you’ve seen it on a t-shirt. Coaches shout it to their exhausted players in the middle of a hot, hard practice. Parents use it with their kids who complain about homework or chores or any other difficult task they don’t want to do.

No pain, no gain.

Most of us don’t like pain. Whether it comes from soccer practice, mowing the grass, or getting a shot in the doctor’s office, we try to avoid or—if we can’t do that—at least minimize pain. But pain has an important and very necessary place in our lives.

When I saw the x-ray image above, I cringed. When I read my friend’s account of how the injury happened, my toes curled, my stomach tightened, and I knotted up inside as a mental video played in my mind. And then I remembered something: my friend didn’t feel it. Nothing. No pain. No sensation of both her tibia and her fibula fracturing.

You see, my friend has a lower spine injury. A freak accident more than 25 years ago left her paralyzed from the waist down. And though I’ve known others with various disabilities, it’s only been through this woman’s friendship that I have begun to understand the impacts.

A few times in my life, I’ve been sick in bed or on the couch just long enough that parts of my body feel sore. For my friend, that’s daily. Except for one thing: she doesn’t feel sore…at least below the waist. And because of that, the sores she gets could get infected and she’d never know it.

A few years ago while hospitalized for one of these infected sores, a new doctor came in to examine her. Apparently not familiar with her condition, he asked the typical doctor’s question: “What’s your pain level?” My friend just stared at him in disbelief before finally saying, “I don’t feel any pain. I can’t feel anything.” She was dumbfounded by the unexpected ignorance of this medical professional.

Most of us try to avoid pain; my friend wishes she could feel it – because pain is a sign of life. 

The next time you get hurt… the next time you stub your toe or hit your head or are hurt by a friend’s careless words… say a prayer of thanks to God that your feelers work. Thank Him that He’s given you life.

Then go get a bandaid for your toe, an icepack for your head, or a cup of coffee and a dose of forgiveness for your friend.

 

Gays, Guns, and the Gospel

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gays and gods planLast week, amidst all the outcry against zoos and irresponsible parents after an endangered gorilla was killed, I posted about the similarities between that situation and the gospel: “the innocent dying that the guilty might be made innocent.

Yesterday, the world awoke to news of a different kind…and a different response: 49 people (not a gorilla) gunned down by Omar S Mateen (not a zookeeper) in a gay nightclub (not a zoo) in Orlando, Florida. Here was no sacrifice of one innocent to save many guilty; Mateen’s death—the 50th of the tragic day—was as inevitable as it was willing.

I confess that my own response troubles me more than any other. I read no news stories, watched no coverage of the event. Perhaps I’ve seen too many such headlines and have become callous to terror. Perhaps I’m weary of the arguments for and against guns that I know will result. I’m certainly leery of the political posturing that will take place—and already has—about Muslims in America. And I’m especially wary of the responses we’ll hear from those who claim to follow Jesus but will speak only of judgment on the victims.

But my ostrich-like silence could last only until this morning, when an email appeared with this challenging headline: “Orlando Shooting: Why Christians Must Not Stay Quiet.” Indeed, it was that headline and the article that followed that motivated this post. But what words could I possibly add that would be more than mere noise?

Perhaps the place to begin is to offer a confession on behalf of the Christian body of which I have been a part for nearly half a century. As would-be followers of Christ, we—and I—have shown far more condemnation than grace toward homosexuals. We have complained about “agendas” and “lifestyles” but have not invited conversation. We have judged and called for judgment but have not shown grace. We have argued for doctrine and against science (which need not be mutually exclusive, by the way). And I am sorry. We—I—have been wrong, have lived and loved so unChristlike. All of this is changing, at least in some circles, but not enough, and not quickly enough. (Note: I am not calling for a change of theology, but action.)

A shift in our thinking on guns is also needed. This is hard for me, perhaps the hardest point of conflict between my Christian faith and my American citizenship. I don’t own a gun, though I want to—ostensibly for protection, though I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve needed that level of protection, nor can I truly imagine a situation where I would need to protect myself or my family with a firearm. But I don’t want to give up my rights as a citizen even though I pray to a Savior who gave up not just his rights, but his life, for me. Friends have posted things like “it’s not about guns, it’s about our godless society.” That may be true at one level, but can I really share the gospel with a gun on my hip? Jim Elliot—whose life and death brought the Aucas to faith in Christ—already answered that question:

Jim Elliot reached for the gun in his pocket. He had to decide instantly if he should use it. But he knew he couldn’t. Each of the missionaries had promised they would not kill an Auca who did not know Jesus to save himself from being killed. (See a short biography here.)

Something needs to change, and I need to begin with me. Most of all, I need to live, speak, and share the gospel I say I believe. I am most comfortable around people like me—Christians. But comfort never sold anyone on Jesus. I need to get uncomfortable, to get around gays and Muslims and anyone who doesn’t know Jesus, then live in such a way that when the see me, they will see Him and want to know Him.

Man, that’s not going to be easy. Maybe you can help.

God, Gorillas, and the Gospel

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cincinnati-zoo-gorillaThe news made headlines around the world, sparking outrage and protests: a 17-year-old gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo was killed in order to save the life of a 3-year-old boy who had slipped into the animal’s exhibit. The story has all the elements of a literary tragedy, from the happy beginning to a disastrous ending, with a series of misfortunes leading from one to the other.

In another setting, perhaps, the public outcry may have been different. Had the toddler been camping with his parents and carted off by a grizzly bear, then perhaps the boy and his family would be receiving the lavish love of a relieved public—even amidst grief for the death of another endangered animal. But that’s not the story.

Instead, we have as main characters a boy being a boy, curious, adventurous, and predisposed to crossing a clear barrier erected for his own good. We have the boy’s mother, who—like any parent of a 3-year-old boy—undoubtedly gets exhausted just trying to keep his curiosity in check; who would love to keep her eyes on him every second of every day but just can’t (any better than you or I). There are the zookeepers, whose passions and careers center around loving, nurturing, and protecting the animals, and sharing that love with the people—even the ignorant, careless, sometimes stupid people—who visit the zoo. And, of course, there is Harambe, the central character, the majestic silverback gorilla born and raised—and now killed—in this very zoo. Some have suggested that, at least in the first moments, Harambe was even trying to protect the young, frightened, hairless ape who had fallen into his world.

Conspicuously missing from this cast is the nameless, faceless individual who took the shot; the one keeper who most had to face the reality of bringing death to the innocent in order to bring life to the guilty.

The parallels to our lives and the gospel are great.

We—you and I—are the boy. Few would call us evil; we are simply curious, wanting our own way, prone to wander, heedless of the barriers erected for our safety and protection. Or perhaps we are the mother: loving and caring, but tired; perhaps only a momentary lapse has reverberated throughout our lives, bringing guilt, shame, and even notoriety.

Jesus is (I never imagined saying something like this) the gorilla: innocent, loving, and offering safety from the certain death our wandering brings. God is the keeper of this human zoo in which we live. He is the one who gave His Son, Jesus (the gorilla), to live among us. He is the one who “took the shot,” as it were; who ultimately laid that Son on the cross: the innocent dying that the guilty might be made innocent.

And here the similarities end, for in Cincinnati and around the world, voices demand justice for the gorilla and judgment for the boy and his family. in the gospel it is Jesus, the innocent sacrifice, who is mocked and scorned; while the guilty crowds are celebrated in their wandering. In Cincinnati, the gorilla is gone for good; in the gospel, the sacrifice lives again, that the guilty may also live. 

In Cincinnati, calls are being made for changes in zoo practices; the gospel calls us to consider what changes we need to make in our own lives. Are you the wandering boy, ignoring the security barriers God has erected? Or are you the mother who turned her back for a moment, now weighed down by guilt and shame?

How can you use the story of Harambe, the silverback gorilla, to tell the story of Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb?