Broken Over Brokenness

A few days ago I was driving home, like any other day, and spotted a man up ahead. As I got closer I noticed that he was begging for assistance. His sign said, “Anything Helps”. His clothes were haggard, equally matched by his warn, wrinkled, and sun-scorched skin. His appearance told a story and it must have been far from a fairytale. It was hard to tell the man’s age but I’m sure it was well past mine. Life plays tricks on a person’s age. Our experiences can make us look beyond or behind of our actual age. For this man, I have no doubt it was the first.

I’ve had a high level of empathy for the downtrodden for most of my adult life, especially since developing a deeper relationship with Jesus. But for some reason, this particular occasion made me want to burst into tears. This man appeared broken by life. I know, I know, some readers may be thinking that we can rise above life’s circumstances and don’t have to allow them to break us. I would agree that we always have a choice on how we react to everything in life. But I also believe that we don’t all have the same resources to help in the time of need. I’ve been very fortunate to have the life that I’ve had. I had a good home life with two parents who were present in my life. I’ve always had a handful of friends. I have a great church family now. My wife and kids are amazing. Life, while difficult at times, is pretty easy to make my way through because I’m surrounded by so many great people.  That’s not the case for many people in this world. I’ve never known poverty, except for when I was in college. But that wasn’t actually poverty as most of the world experiences it. Yes, I’ve faced some of the worst things that life can deal a person, but I’ve always had those loving people help walk with me. I’m guessing, for this man, that was not the case.

I don’t know the man’s story. I wish I would have had a chance to talk to him. Caught in the wave of fast-moving traffic in a crazy busy thoroughfare, I had no opportunity to pull over. I only wish that he had been in different part of town. He’s been on my mind ever since that day and I’m hoping that I get another chance to run into him. I can’t help but think of the fact that he has to have a mom and dad somewhere. If not now, then at some point he did. Who knows if that too isn’t a sad story. Being a father of two little girls, I can’t help but think of them being in this man’s shoes. How could any father allow his child to grow up and become homeless? What has gone wrong in this man’s relationships? Does he have anyone who loves him? Does anyone know that his life has come to this? Have people tried to help him but at no avail? I was heartbroken.

Many people look at the homeless and see nothing but dirty clothes and a begar who will probably waste their money on alcohol. Sadly, I think that’s how most people see them. Coming from someone who has spent a lot of time with homeless people over the last six years, I can tell you that they are so much more than that. They are the culmination of a sad tale. I am fully aware that many of them choose to remain where they are but a lot plays into that. Things like fear, rejections, not knowing a way out, being surrounded by apathy, accepting a view of themselves that many portray to them, and being caught in a downward cycle. I’ve seen some come out of it, but sadly, most do not.

A few months ago at one of the local parks, I spotted a new sign that read, “don’t help the homeless”. It’s part of a new city campaign aimed at stopping individuals from giving handouts to homeless people. I understand the motive. They want people to push them to go to assistance organizations rather than depend on aid at the micro level. That sounds great, except, it won’t work, and in essence, it’s absolutely heartless. These are broken people…very broken people. They need help now. Immediate, short-term, and long-term help. Ever hear the slogan, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime”? Well, to teach a man to fish, you have to buy him a fishing pole, tackle, bait, and invest the time in their life to help them learn. Most people I know want to pass the buck along to someone else. They want to complain about “those people loitering in the park” yet they won’t go out of their way to show them some love. If there’s one thing that broken people need, it’s love. Judgment never helped anyone break free from anything.

I will be quick to admit that most of the time the homeless reek of booze and tobacco. They can also be very crude. Some of the people I meet with today, I’ve been hanging out with in parks for the last six years. But they are created in God’s image just the same as I am. For that reason alone, they deserve the same love as anyone else. They don’t deserve to be overlooked and cast aside. They’ve probably been treated that way most of their lives. We can either be one more voice of love and truth, or we can add to the resounding negativity and hate that gets thrown at them day after day.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

1 John 3:16-18 (NIV)

I want to be more broken for the broken in this world. Homeless or not, there are so many people around me that need my love and compassion. I don’t want the people in my life to have the same story as the man on the side of the road in the busy intersection. I want to do everything I can to speak life and hope into the lives of my family, my friends, my students, and my community. I don’t know what happened in this man’s story but I do know the stories of well over a hundred homeless people I’ve met over the last six years, and they are not filled with life and hope. If a third of the world claims to be followers of Jesus, how could that be? How can there be so many desperate hurting people filling our parks and intersections with cardboard signs? Lord, forgive us for all the times we’ve scowled and turned our heads. Lord, forgive us for ever thinking we were better than them. Lord, forgive us for not acting out the love we say is inside us. I count myself among the multitudes who need to do more, love more, and give more because my King gave everything.

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (The Message)

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The Sacrifice of a Son

This is just the third post in the series on how God revealed our Messiah. We’re barely scratching the surface but today’s post will wrap up our time in the book of Genesis. Enjoy.

God is mysterious. No doubt about that. But when it comes to His plan to redeem a fallen creation, He’s made it pretty unmistakable. It would take God himself to pay the price we owe. Even in the moments following the sin of Adam and Eve, God sacrificed animals in the garden to cover their nakedness and shame.

“And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.”

Genesis‬ ‭3:21‬ ‭ESV‬‬

The animal that provided the garment for humanity was innocent. But sin equals death. And it takes life to restore life. The animal from the garden certainly didn’t remove the sin of man, nor restore them to life, but it pointed to a greater sacrifice that would. But this image in Genesis chapter three isn’t the only one that would point to the role of the Messiah. Another great foreshadowing appears in chapter 22 of the same book.

God calls on Abraham to take his son to a mountain, three days journey away, and offer him up. I know. That’s hard to swallow. But it becomes obvious that God had no intention of allowing Abraham’s son to be sacrificed because God would once again provide the sacrifice Himself.

“Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together. When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.””

Genesis‬ ‭22:5-14‬ ‭ESV

So much in this story points ahead to the Messiah. First, the picture of a son being given. Isaac wasn’t the sacrifice, only an illustration of the Son to come.

“”For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

John‬ ‭3:16-17‬ ‭ESV‬‬

The Messiah would have to be ‘of God’ like a son. But not like a son in the human sense. Far closer. When the Bible talks about Yeshua as the Son of God, it is saying that He is from the bosom of Yahweh. He is connected in such a way that they are inseparable. But Jesus became the physical manifestation of the invisible God. And that physical manifestation would be offered in our place.

The second picture in the story of Genesis 22 is that of the ram caught in the thicket. Another title of the Messiah is the Lamb of God. The lamb to be the provision of sacrifice provided by God Himself. In the first chapter of John, baptisms were being done by a man named John the Baptist, to prepare people for the coming of the Messiah. Upon seeing Jesus John says,

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

John‬ ‭1:29‬ ‭ESV‬‬

The Messiah is the Son and He is the Lamb. In both roles, He would be the sacrifice of God to save a sinful broken world. And the Lord did provide. Just as the prophecy foretold in Genesis 22. And if that’s not amazing evidence by itself, the mountain that the story takes place on is the same one on which Yeshua the Messiah would lay down His life. Nearly 2000 years later. And the wood for the altar would not be for fire but in the shape of a cross. A cross that our Messiah was nailed to. For us. For love.

Peace brothers and sisters

Be the Proof

Throughout my years as a Christian, I’ve had to work through my faith like anyone else. I’ve had to try to reconcile my purpose, what it means to be a Christian, how good works fit in to the equation, and so much more. Conflicting messages have only served to complicate the search. Denominations have been formed over these same basic questions. Debates have long divided societies. If you’ve found yourself struggling to resolve similar questions in your own walk of faith, let me offer you something to contemplate.

On my most recent journey through the Bible I locked on to a passage late in the book of Acts. The book of Acts is a valuable source because it records the commission given by Jesus before He ascended to heaven, the giving of the Holy Spirit to His followers, and records of how that Spirit used Christ’s early followers. The book focuses on many different followers but a big portion centers on the apostle Paul’s missions. He is one of our greatest examples of what it means to follow Jesus, and he laid out his mission statement for us all. It comes in Acts chapter 20 verse 24.

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

It’s simple, and yet very deep. It’s one line but all consuming. Paul’s entire life had the purpose of pointing others to Jesus. Whether by his words or actions, Paul wanted the world to see Jesus in his way of life. When Paul encountered Jesus, everything changed for him. Jesus consumed his heart and every affection, and he had to tell everyone.

Paul said he was propelled with the purpose of testifying to the gospel of the grace of God. To testify is far more than just telling people. It also means to serve as evidence or proof. Our life, as a Christian, is supposed to be the evidence of God’s grace. That means we love greatly, unconditionally, serve everyone, forgive quickly no matter the offense, put others before ourselves, and lay our lives down for the cause of bringing others to God. Every single one of those things, Jesus did and then extended His hands in invitation for us to do the same. Our lives should show the world that the grace and love and power or God are very real and available to everyone.

Shine a little light

“Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”

1 Peter 2:17 ESV

I’m finding it very difficult to not get bitter towards the media in our nation. Not necessarily because of anything new, but of the consistent manner of its existence. That’s all forms of media by the way. Social, broadcast, print, and chain media alike. In the opening verse above, none of those things occur with much regularity. I understand that not many media outlets run by godly standards, but some certainly claim to. Yet even in those, it’s rare to see people being honored, love being spread, the fear of God being shown, and our nation’s leaders being honored.

I am also aware that all of our presidents have been shady in their own way. They’ve all messed up. They’ve all been imperfect. No president has a spotless foreign or domestic record. And our media sources behave like ravenous wolves out for blood. It doesn’t matter who is in power, the media closely related to opposing ideologies take every opportunity, whether manufactured or legitimate, to attack and ridicule.

It’s expected, sadly, for our media to behave in such a manner. The bigger problem, however, is when individuals operating on their own, mimic the behavior. Gossip and misleading information circulates with rapid speed through our social media. I guess to some extent we can’t blame them since that is what they are being fed. But for those of us who hold allegiance to Jesus and godly virtues, we should not be guilty of the same.

Honor everyone. This is a pretty all inclusive command. We all have people who aren’t honorable in our lives, but that doesn’t excuse any Christian from extending honor to them. That simply means we show everyone that they have value. Whether they act or think like me means nothing. They still have value because they’re created in God’s image just like me.

Love the brotherhood. Jesus said that people will know that we belong to Him by how we love each other. That’s unconditional, sincere, deep seated, servanthood love. And just as Jesus demonstrated, we still love the unlovable in this way.

Fear God. This is probably the most obvious element missing. Godly standards are pushed aside, and in some cases, outright ridiculed. For believers, our faith should be interwoven into everything we say and do. Those around us should know Who and what we stand for.

Honor the emperor. Even though we don’t have an emperor, and even though our president is far from perfect, he’s head and shoulders above any Roman emperor. The worst that any American president has ever done can’t even be compared to the leaders of Rome. Crimes against humanity were a daily occurrence, especially among those who were in power when Peter wrote the words above. To disagree with our leaders is natural. But to disrespect them should not be permitted among those who follow Jesus.

The body of Christ needs to shine a bright light in all three of these areas. Our voices of love and honor need to resound more loudly than the pervasive winds of pessimism and hate that consumes much of what is broadcasted in our nation. Those of you who work in the mainstream media, start where you are. If you have social media, utilize that tool to it’s greatest potential. For all of us, let’s be a beacon of love and honor wherever we are.

Peace brothers and sisters

The Curse of Tenderness

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I have found that it is the tenderhearted people in this world that get hurt the most. Why? Because they believe the best in everyone. They endure the longest and stick with people the most. Tenderhearted people cling to hope, even if things never change. They show grace to others so willingly, even when they themselves don’t receive it in return. Tenderhearted people lay their heart out for those they love, and often, even for those they don’t know. They are vulnerable like no one else. And that fact can subject them to an emotion melee. Because so much in life tries to drain the tenderness out of people.

I admit that the title of this post is simply meant to shock. I don’t believe that tenderness is a curse. It’s actually an attribute of a godly person. Everyone should be tenderhearted. That’s the Lord’s design for His creation. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case.

Tenderness has to be fought for. That may sound contrary. A tender person fighting for something…you better believe it. Many opportunities will arise for the heart to become hardened. The longer we live, the easier it is for callouses to form on our heart. We suffer loss, abuse, failure, unforgiveness, and so much more. Each time a callous could form if we let it.

So how does the heart stay tender? Love. A deep and sincere love. The tender heart will still experience pain but that doesn’t have to remove the tenderness. To all my tenderhearted brothers and sisters out there: don’t give up. The world needs you. Don’t allow life’s circumstances to change you. Remain tender even when it hurts the most, because you are demonstrating an attribute of God to a world that so desperately needs Him. Allow yourself to be hurt, time and time again, because the reward and the impact of your love is far greater than the pain you will feel. Continue showing grace even when you don’t receive it. Grace was never ours to withhold. If you find yourself getting a little calloused, seek some time alone with Jesus and let Him smooth off the rough edges. Confide in others. You’re not meant to go this life alone. The love of a friend can help keep your heart tender. Continue to love deeply and sincerely because Someone up above loves you even more deeply and sincerely.

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

Ephesians 4:32 (NASB)

Rejecting Grace

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There are two responses that a person could have to being shown grace. One, they despise the act simply because they take it as an indictment of their own behavior. It deepens their anger and animosity. They view the kindness of another as salt in their wounds and a gift that seems more like an assault. It’s as if grace becomes some derogatory element. The second response is an equally intense emotion, but on the opposite end of the spectrum. Some will be totally raptured by the unprecedented tenderness and compassion of another. They won’t spite the love of another, rather, they will embrace it. Grace will break the hold of anger and unforgiveness that is wrecking the relationship. Obviously this takes a high level of humility, while the first reaction is distorted by pride.

I’ve seen both of these responses in my own experiences. What prompted me to write on this topic was my efforts in sharing about the Gospel with non-believers. Most of the people I share with are friends, students, and some who I have had the pleasure of having dialogue with through this blog. Everyone I have ever spoken with have had one of these two responses to the Gospel message. When the end comes, all of those who have rejected the message of Jesus will have done so because they reject grace. You know the common excuse: “I’m a good person and I think in the end, God will acknowledge that above all my bad deeds.” This person feels they have no need for grace, and they take the gospel as an accusation that they are a bad person, instead of the greatest proposition of love and acceptance.

I’ve been going through a study of the book of Revelation with my Father-in-law and a common theme that arises is the unashamed relentless refusal of human kind to repent before a patient God. It’s all because they reject grace. Pride will never allow a person to see their need for the unwarranted love of another. Pride dismisses love as a need and places it in the “I’m owed” category. If that person is shown love it’s only because they deserve it and in no way will it ever change their character. This person would look at the cross and think that it was a waste of time and life because they didn’t need it. Unfortunately, most of mankind will display this pattern of thinking.

To accept the gospel means to accept our need. To accept that we are broken, and guilty, and hurting, and searching, in need of being found. That takes a lot of humility. A LOT of humility. And so many are unwilling to go there. I don’t want to be unwilling. I don’t want anyone reading this to be unwilling.

If we can openly fall on the grace of Jesus, then we should also be open to the grace of our fellow brothers and sisters. But I know Christians who erect walls with others. I know Christians who are spiteful and harsh. I know Christians who refuse to let go and forgive. But this should never be so. This is not the mark of someone who has been touched by grace. To be touched by God’s grace is to be transformed by it. Those who embrace the grace of God should also embrace the grace of another. They should also lovingly extend that grace to another without hesitation for we have broken God’s heart far more than anyone could ever break ours.

Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

Luke 7:47 (NIV)

The problem is, people don’t think they have much to be forgiven for, so their love comes up wanting. The woman who threw herself at the feet of Jesus and washed his feet with her tears, knew her great need and knew God’s grace. Her love showed it. And so should ours.

We’ve all probably known people who can be so humble before their Savior, raise their hands in praise, weep before Jesus, and yet be so harsh among their brothers and sisters. It’s not new to the 21st century either. Jesus addressed it in His own ministry. In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus tells a parable about a servant who had been forgiven an incredible debt (as we all have who are covered by Jesus’ sacrifice). Once forgiven, that servant showed no mercy to the one who owed him a debt. Jesus referred to that person in the story as the “wicked servant” because of his refusal to show mercy, as he had been shown mercy.

We have to face up the fact that we are without excuse. Even the kindest of us are still guilty of harboring resentment, getting frustrated, not being sincere, clinging to things that have happened to us, holding a grudge, or outright refusing to forgive someone. If we could keep things a little more in perspective we’d realize that we are hardening our hearts in so many ways. We have to release ourselves from the bondage of anger, offense, and unforgiveness. We need to release others from our expectations. We need to see others how Jesus does, with a heart full of love and grace.  Our relationships need it. Our health needs it. And the world needs to see that grace on display. We need to remember that we have been forgiven far more than we will ever be asked to forgive others.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Ephesians 4:32 (ESV)

Doorposts and Crossbeams

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I’ve heard a lot of versions of the gospel. Some are extremely burdensome, and others, well, could easily just leave Jesus out of it. When people try to put their own twist on the message, it gets really distorted. I wonder how many non believers are confused by the mixed messages. Actually, it’s those in the church who are probably more susceptible to becoming confused. The gospel, in it’s simplicity, is beautiful and easy to understand. Salvation is not a road with twists and turns meant to get us lost. It’s a straight path, narrow as it may be, that’s paved by One person, and guided by the One who made it. The gospel is meant to bring joy and hope to a desperate world.  Confusing and complicated things don’t do either of those things. One easy way to understand the message of the gospel is through doorposts and crossbeams.

The Passover is a beautiful illustration of the gospel. It’s a story of redemption. It’s a story of deliverance from bondage. It’s a story of faith in the grace of God. It’s a story of victory. Israel was in slavery in Egypt when God responded to their dyer need out of His own love for His children. After Aaron and Moses delivered God’s message to Pharaoh, nine nasty plagues reeked havoc on Egypt. The tenth, however, would be the worst of them all. The tenth plague would be God’s wrath on sin, idolatry, pride, false religion, cruelty, and so much more. The Destroying Angel would sweep through the land of the most powerful empire on earth and lay waste in one of the most heart-wrenching ways. The people would bear the weight of their rebellion against the God that loved them. But, as always, God made a way.

When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the door frame and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.

Exodus 12:23 (NIV)

The blood on the doorposts, was the blood of a lamb. That’s it. In faith, Israel would kill a spotless lamb and cover the doorposts of their homes with the blood. That blood would save them from the wrath of God that was about to be poured out. It wasn’t only the good Israelites that got to be covered with the blood. It wasn’t even just the Israelites who were covered. Anyone who could humble themselves enough and trust in the blood, could be covered. I’m convinced that even Pharaoh himself could have done this. But, as we can read from the Exodus story, Pharaoh was anything but humble. His faith was in himself.

The gospel is that straight forward. Love in all it’s simplicity. Jesus hung on crossbeams to bleed for all of us. His blood covers anyone who wants to put their faith in Him. You don’t have to be a good person to surrender to Jesus…you just have to surrender and let the blood do it’s work. We don’t have to be the spotless ones because Jesus was that on our behalf. Those rescued from Egypt were imperfect people, and so is the Church. But, we are rescued all the same. We are rescued from the wrath of God to come on this rebellious and self-worshiping world, only because of the blood of Jesus. When God looks at you, He sees His child. He sees someone covered by the most precious blood. But, just like those who God rescued from Egypt, we have to follow Him out of slavery. God didn’t deliver Israel so they could stay put in bondage. God covered them and bid them to come and follow. When He stepped out of heaven in the person of Jesus, He did the very same thing. The sacrifice of Jesus means we’re covered and invited. That invitation has always been to whoever will come. To whoever, will put their faith in God’s love. To whoever is covered by the blood.

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (TLV)

Happy Passover brothers and sisters!