Monday, November 26, 2012

Our Family Tree

There it stood; the culmination of at least two day's toil.  Illuminate, light reflecting from countless metallic and glass surfaces.  Home-made ornaments nested throughout and store bought ornaments hovering from invisible hooks.  Before us was our family Christmas Tree.  We all stood back and gazed upon our handiwork...and it was ugly.

Perhaps "ugly" is too strong a word.  Gaudy?  Unshapely.  Certainly it had none of the "splendor" of the trees of years past.  It was shorter, for one.  And the lights? For some reason the lights never did seem to lay on the branches in the evenly spaced concentric patterns that we preferred despite my best efforts in placement.  The ornaments seemed mis-matched.  It simply looked a hodgepodge of illumination, crafts, and ceramics - messy.  And this was par for the course with this particular tree.

Our story in obtaining our less than perfect tree was one for the books.  Our family of seven donned winter gear in preparation of a trek to a countryside tree farm.  Our foster children had never been to a tree farm, never even been permitted to get a tree before - so this was a very special occasion.  Bundled like miniature Stay-Puffs all of our children bounded through an evergreen forest laughing the day away.  Photo ops were golden as they took turns with the saw, cutting down our prize possession.  The only problem was that dad forgot the rope and bungee cords for tying the tree to the top of the van.

A bundled family of seven, all straddling a tree inside the van like a pine-people clown car.  The only way our human-lumber Jenga puzzle was possible was for my bride to ride in the back seat in the middle at the point of the tree like a blond angel.  Pine needles encroached every seat and with every stop the trunk of the tree slid forward tapping the radio "seek" button changing the channel for us to random musical selections.  Our laughter was near non-stop and our memories were priceless. 

In putting up our tree, I misplaced the lights on the tree and my bride rearranged my blunders - a nearly annual occurrence, children danced and jumped around excitedly.  Again, our foster children had never partaken of this tradition of decorating the tree and this was only our adopted son's third Christmas excursion so this was a special occasion.  Ornaments were hung, clustered too close together, and splayed all over the tree, and within minutes most fell off and had to be rehung by my bride - her previous work and efforts undone by the over exuberance of our children.  When we were all done, my bride and I were less than thrilled with the outcome.  Something was still not right.  As I mentioned before - messy. 

None-the-less the kids were dancing in front of it and each of them donned a smile larger than their own faces as the spirit of the moment was full upon them.  We darkened the house so they could marvel at the spectacle of the illuminated tree and silhouetted in front of it they all held hands and began to sing:

Fah who For-aze, Dah who dor-aze
Welcome Christmas, Come this way!

After my laughter subsided it hit me - it was right in front of me in the scene of my dancing children; this tree was the perfect picture of our family, a picture of adoption and foster care - messy, pieced together, not always perfect, but full of love, joy, and God's presence. 

There are sure to be giftings in the opening and healing of damaged hearts.  There are also sure to be disappointments as we cope with failed solutions and institutions that have been brought about outside of the Body of Christ and apart from God's heart for the orphan and the defenseless.  It is a difficult and challenging road to embark upon and expectations have a way of forcibly changing in the journey but the reward of rescuing hearts and seeing a future brought to life in small eyes where only dull "survival-ism" previously existed far out-ways the risk. 

This is but a picture of God's work in our own lives and the lengths Jesus was willing to go to redeem us to adoption as sons and daughters.

"For He foreordained us, destined us, planned in love for us to be adopted, revealed as His own children through Jesus Christ, in accordance with the purpose of His will because it pleased Him and was His kind intent"
Ephesians 1:5  AMP

I'm looking at my family tree a little differently this year.  I'm thankful for what it represents, for small hands of various skin tones and with various last names that have decorated it.  It's not a perfect tree, it's not even the tallest tree, but it's our tree, it's my bride's tree and it's my tree, my children's tree and together I know that God has placed it in our home for a reason and we will cherish it as we celebrate the Savior who brought us all into His family tree.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What I'm Not Thankful For

Like many, I've lately been inundated with constant reminders to frame my mind for the holiday of thanks, to dwell on the good things in my life.  At the secular, liberal university I work for that will not even acknowledge the name of the holiday for its christian/pilgrim heritage, but calls our annual dinner an "Appreciation Luncheon", we were even encouraged to engage in a moment of silence to "reflect" both before and after the meal in zen-like fashion.  But like most I've witnessed, I've been far too caught up in the day-to-day living of my life to actually set aside serious time to ponder the innumerable blessings that have crossed my path beyond normal prayer time or personal devotional time. 

Juxtapositioned against this nagging cry for remembrance is an onslaught of commercials, mailed fliers, and media ads all designed to pull me from my bed at obscene hours of the night to stand in lines with hundreds of others in the hopeful attempt of acquiring that gift or prize that will stretch our holiday dollar significantly further and bestow desired electronics, toys, and even educational materials upon my home and extended family.  With the reminder that I have plenty comes an urgency to obtain more. 

We, in America, are birthed into blessing, raised through blessing, daily partake of blessing in quantity and fashion that far surpasses every nation around this sphere.  It is often difficult for us to adjust the lens to refocus either in the micro or the macroscopic to peer outside of our routine to truly analyze just how truly blessed we are.  Often it takes face-to-face confrontation with catastrophe, sickness, or even death to realign our sights to this truth. But this heightened perception is often fleeting lasting months, maybe years if we are lucky.  Further, this "truth" is actually only a partial truth because it is based on material gain, a warm home, and a full stomach.  Rarely do we push past the physical to the eternal.

I finally succumbed and began to allow my mind to recount the blessings of my thanksgiving and they were, no doubt, many.  But continually, the trials and storms of this past year crept into my mental list and like flies over a summer picnic plate, I kept trying to shoo them away.  Why would I be thankful for some of the darkest hours of my life that occurred nearly a year ago?  Why would thanksgiving ever be offered for the rugged nature of the terrain I felt I had climbed over through the course of the past year?  Betrayals, sicknesses, a very real devil trying to bring a very real hell into my home.  The myriad challenges of adoption and foster-care.  Trials at work, family relationship trials.  Frustrated, I was ready to give up this mental exercise and find a spray can of OFF or Bug-b-gone. 

It was then that the Lord recalled this very brief verse to my remembrance:

"In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
1 Thessalonians 5:18

How many of us are thankful for the valleys?  I mean truly appreciative for the journey through those darkened paths?  Faith was tested, character challenged, our very core was exposed and the metal of which we are made was made known to us where previously we might easily have deceived even ourselves.  How many dark journeys have you made this past year?  What storms have you navigated?  What growth occurred as a result?  Is it praiseworthy?  Would you be the person you are today without the path traveled?  How did God shape you in that crucible?

"In everything..."

Often I've felt the pangs of regret, of mis-steps and despair through those vales, but I have been brought to the truth that I am grateful for the journey as they have forged new strengths within.  Even now I can name potential darkenings on the horizon.  Will I shy from living, cringe from risk?  Or will I surrender all and allow the one who has numbered my follicles to possibly lead me into those trials.

"In everything..."

I am certainly thankful for my bride and beautiful children, as always.  However, this year, what I am not thankful for is the "stuff" of my American life, my car, my four walls, my indoor plumbing, my large meals.  I've now visited extraordinary people in other nations who have none of these things and are phenomenally more in tune with God's joy than I.  No, what I am thankful for is the valley and the darkened wood, the trial and the storm.  Though these are not the only means, I am thankful that these will continue to shape and to mold me, continually perfecting me into the desired express image of my Lord.  "In everything..."

Monday, November 19, 2012

Sharpening the Sword

 Reflex.  Action.  Damage.  It occurred in that order, within mere seconds and the effects were immediate.  A perceived injustice, a blinding flash of steel clad words honed to sharpness in tone, a wounded heart gaping as shock benumbed perception. 

The recipient; a six-year old boy.  His crime; disobedience in a correctable and minor issue.  The blade was mine.  It was the sword of my words.  Smoothly, effortlessly they slid from the sheath.  My anger that day sharpened their edge, my impatience brought them to bear with velocity.  Repeatedly this child had been instructed not to touch the chore chart, not to erase other children's accomplishments.  Family laws were purposefully violated.  Punishment was eminent.  My anger was just.  But in the end, rather than learning correction, a child learned fear.  Where instruction should have been strengthened, character was weakened.  This blade cuts both ways, the user often a victim of the same collateral damages. 

Continually we sharpen and hone the words that shape our lives through our attitudes and perceptions.  Yet continually we ignore this same very basic, very critical truth.  Our words shape our lives.  Not our jobs, not our relatives, not our circumstances, not our children's behavior, but our words.  We are created spirit beings made in the image of the One who created us and He brings forth realities through His spoken word.  We are created with the exact same capacity and yet most of us fail to walk this out on a day-to-day basis.  Why do we stumble so?

The third chapter of the book of James focuses intently on the power of the tongue/spoken word.  In it we read the tongue is wild and unruly, that "no man can tame" it.  No one in their own strength can fully tame, fully control, or direct the tongue and the language proceeding from it.   In one moment we're praising the Lord with it and the next we're speaking ill of people who are made in His image (James 3:9).  Our words are sharp and can be deadly, dealing great damage, even destroying lives.  James also states that like a spark in dry forest, setting the whole ablaze, this tiny member called the tongue sets the whole course of our lives on fire.  In reading these verses, one begins to despair of their own strength in controlling this most unruled of members, this most hell-bent of body organs. 

But that is the point.  No follower of Christ should ever be considering the notion that they can walk through this life without daily divine intervention - without continual supernatural empowerment.  These words of ours proceed from this tongue out of the overflow of what is fed into our minds and hearts through our eyes and ears.  "Garbage in...." is not modern slang, but a principled truth revealed thousands of years ago by the Father in His word.  This is why Hebrews calls attention to the power of God's spoken word.

"For the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power making it active, operative, energizing, and effective; it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life (soul) and the immortal spirit, and of joints and marrow of the deepest parts of our nature, exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart."
Hebrews 4:12 AMP

The writer isn't referencing some static, dead book of scriptures - the Word of God is infinitely beyond this.  It is even today an active, alive, and energetic entity performing what it was sent to do.  In John, the first chapter, we read that the Word became flesh.  We need to get it out of our heads that God's word is ink on a page and realize it is alive and upholding everything around us, even our very lives.  In Matthew 5:18, Jesus stated that this Word will outlast even the known earth and heavens.  It is alive, it is eternal, it is powerful, it is present here as it was when it was spoken  It will perform its speaker's intent and when we echo this Word, we are speaking that same intent into our own lives.

Our words, likewise, have eternal ramifications - as we are endowed, in the image of our Father, with this same power.  When His Word proceeds from our mouths, life is brought forth, hearts are restored, people are met in their lack and their lack is overwhelmed by His provision and love.  The surgical work listed above occurs and healing commences, whether we speak into our own lives or the lives of others.

When our words flow from the abundance of fear, frustration, or anger, the sword cuts viciously, wounding ourselves and others without prudence, creating further damage in accordance with Hell's designs, slicing at any target unfortunate to have crossed paths with them.  In our strength and limitation, we bring destruction, in His, we bring life.  We will all continue to sharpen the sword of our words.  How we use it and the existence we choose to possess, is up to us.

"The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences."
Proverbs 18:21

Friday, November 9, 2012

Why We Adopted

I was cleaning files from my computer and I found this journal entry saved in an obscure file-of-a-file.  It was written in early 2010 prior to even having obtained our foster license.  Looking back through the journeys over mountains and through valleys this writing brings personal perspective that God knows what He is doing even when we don't and we can trust Him.  We have since adopted domestically and are blessed to currently foster two additional children.  I share this now for those weighing the issues surrounding the topic and urge every reader to support adoption and those pursuing it.  November is National Adoption Month.  God is the author of adoption, bringing us into His family and He blesses those who follow in His footsteps. 
"I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you."
John 14:18 ESV


The word has a myriad of profound and personal meanings depending on what your experiences are in life. To some it may reference the broken and discarded. To some, it may conjure images of a day of deliverance and life. To some a chance for the pitter-patter of small feet when the womb has been closed. No doubt, most associate a transition from abandonment to loving care. I’ve been struggling with what this word means to me as it has seemed to dance all over the spectrum in front of me, somewhat larger than my ability to grasp. As I increasingly feel the draw and pull of God’s will toward the international orphan crisis, adoption is continually in the forefront of my thoughts and prayers, but continually I have wrestled with this concept.

My experience with it is limited. Growing up, I had only one close friend who was adopted and her adopted family was comparatively well-to-do. Her adoptive parents could not have children so they adopted two girls. She was domestically adopted; a Caucasian girl to Caucasian parents so there were no cultural issue to contend with. She has only mentioned the matter once or twice in the near two decades I’ve known her so it really has been a non-issue, as if it were swept under the rug and were to remain there. To my knowledge she has never met her birth mother and I do not think she will ever have any ties to her genetic heritage, for she has been adopted and loved into a new one, one that is all encompassing and sufficient for her.

While growing up, I heard of other adopted children, but, again, had little real experience with them. In grade school and high school, I witnessed troubled children who attended school for a grade or two or sometimes not even a whole year as they bounced around in the foster care system. These troubled youth were always considered social outcasts, very often having behavioral problems or being completely introverted and isolated children. Some I attempted to befriend. Some seemed beyond befriending. Some were here and gone too quickly.

From this limited perspective, one can imagine how my head must have spun when my bride asked if I would consider adoption, international adoption no less. In a stable American home with a decent income and two, now healthy, children why would one purposely invite that kind of hardship into one’s life? Why would a family who already has so many challenges to raise, feed, clothe, educate, save for college and weddings, intentionally step out to incur that kind of tremendous expense and additional challenges? After all, my childhood friend had been from a “wealthy” family and her parents had only adopted because they couldn’t have their own children. That’s why families adopted, right? Adoption was to fill the voids, to heal hurting would-be parents’ aching hearts. There are so many who can’t have children, they need to adopt the orphans in the world waiting on parents.

Sounds cold doesn’t it? How many of us have rationalized along those lines of thought before? If not the orphan, then how about the hungry along the roadside with his sign, or the filthy man pushing his cart down the sidewalk with his cans and other “collectables”? “There are social services in place to help those people.” How many times have I turned the channel because I can’t stand to look at those starving children and that man’s plea for my cents a day to feed them? Make it applicable in every circumstance. What about the young man who came into the back of the church by himself that you just couldn’t quite make it back to welcome and get to know, or the young mother in the store you saw struggling with her bags and her children with no father around to help that you convinced yourself she’d be offended if you offered?

You see I made a mistake a while ago. I came from a family who is very much like most of the inhabitants of this great land…content. Here’s what I mean: the pursuit of contentment also runs deep in my blood, it is an American right. We’ve earned it. My grandparents are of the era who fought in world wars, my father is a veteran, I’m a child of technology and my kids are surrounded by it to the point they will never know a world without it. Particular to my upbringing is the desire to reach that plateau of solace: that lifestyle of getting the income, providing for the family, paying off the house, and meeting all of the bills and living comfortably without major interruption. Hard work yields just rewards. Plan for college, plan for the “normal” events of life and enjoy. This is what American Christians are called to do, right? Put extra in the offering when the missionary or evangelist preaches in our churches, even pay our tithes, but keep everything according to the Americanized plan of God’s prosperity.

Then I began to realize something. I was pursuing the creation rather than the creator. I was pursuing the things and lifestyle of this world rather than the one who created all things. I watched my bride and marveled. She has never been one to be impressed by cars, jewelry or flashy trivial things (some men are saying “where do I find one of those women?”). Her heart was never drawn to the vacation destination or the travel experience.  What matters to her is a crayon artwork drawn by her kids or that I remembered her favorite flavor of sorbet is pineapple, or that she can get the jumper for our daughter at a garage sale for 25 cents when it would have cost 25 dollars retail. I saw her heart for the orphan and the outcast. It was this heart that originally drew me to her over 17 years ago.

What was my “mistake”? I began to ask God to soften my hard heart, to give me a heart for people, to help me become compassionate. What I did not realize is that true compassion is to “suffer with”. It literally means to share one’s burdens, to empathize with on more than just an intellectual level but on the level of the heart and emotion – to be so moved by the condition of another to be moved to action. I did not crow up with this compassion. Too often, when I have been hurt I have often chosen to remove and forget the individual rather than repair and rebuild.

Does this mean my childhood home was cruel or without pity? No more than most any other. We were simply content. This does not mean we were wealthy or did not struggle to pay the bills. It simply means that like most Christians, our sphere of action/interaction with others was comfortable to us and and it did not enlarge much as I grew. We turned the channel when the unpleasant truths came on.  Like most Americans, we remained blissfully ignorant of the realities of the world outside of our borders. 147 Million Orphans? I don’t want to hear that number. 30,000 kids dying today from preventable diseases including starvation; don’t make me responsible for that! Everyone’s got a need. You can’t meet them all! 
Adoption: back to the word. I had the pleasure of attending the Adoption and Orphan Awareness Conference this past weekend in Normal, IL. Foremost I realized I was not simply a single individual with a limited ability to change the world. I was part something much larger than myself. The hearts that were knit at that event and drawn together collectively are infinitely more effective than the sum of the individuals because of Who is drawing us - and He is working globally. My favorite quote from the weekend was “What God favors, he funds, and he favors the orphan”. Very directly, as my bride and I have started this journey of investigating adoption, more and more roadblocks and mountains seemed to be coming into view, chief among them was how we can put together the finances for this. Certainly we’ve heard many local testimonies as to how God has funded these efforts for local families, but the more we uncovered the process, the more we felt weighted down. It was this realization that God did indeed favor this for us and would see it through, would flatten all opposition, would prove faithful in every way if we will simply follow his leading in this journey that freed us.

Still, God needed to do something to change the definition of adoption in my heart. Yes I’ve seen the children, yes my heart is softened towards them and I yearn to be a tool in my maker’s hand to help feed, clothe, and provide for them. Firmly, I believe that James 1:27 encapsulates Jesus’ statement to “love our neighbor as we love ourselves” for the widows and the orphans are the most needy and very often helpless of our societies. But the full weight of adoption still eluded me until I turned to Ephesians 1:4-6 in which the Word says:

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”

Then I began to think about my role in adoption. Just as I, a father who is seeking to bring a child out of death and poverty into life and health to live with me in prosperity here in the U.S., so much more did my Heavenly Father do this when he paid the ultimate cost to bring me out of death, poverty and disease into his household of life, provision, and health. The comparison cannot be measured. As much as I feel this desire growing within me, God has already achieved this with far more love than I can comprehend. Just as he is the perfect father and ultimate example for me as a father, so he is the perfect Adoptive father and ultimate example in this context as well. They are one and the same. He is the original author of adoption and knows the struggles in this process. He knows every hurdle and roadblock and can easily level them all. Ours to hold his course and obey and he will see it done.

Needless to say my bride and I are walking much taller after this weekend. We have found a new commitment to this calling, not only for our family but from other families and we have felt the shackles of self doubt and fear fall away. Much work remains. We are still required to obey, to follow, and to trust and this is not always easy. But the freedom is in knowing HE IS ABLE, even when we are not.

For more information on domestic and international adoption and orphan care visit these great sites:
Known To Me
Chosen Ministry
The Forgotten Initiative
147 Million Orphans

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Election Results

Election day has come and gone.  Nearly a year's worth of campaigning on the national stage all culminating upon the results of the voting public across this nation.  State and local elections determined legislators, auditors, clerks, and constitutional amendments.  Did you feel the energy?  Did you feel the excitement throughout the day as media outlets tripped over each other discussing outcome projections?  Anxiously, caffeinated reporters poured forth statistical analysis and number crunching through our televisions.  Into the evening radio DJs excitedly recounted the latest precinct and state projections.  Better than any play-by-play sporting event, the elections throughout this land impacted more than a friendly wager, or bragging rights among friends.  They will, in part, determine the course of events for years to come in our nation, in our state, and in our local governments. 

Regardless of your voting choices, regardless of whether you voted for those who were victorious in their election/re-election bids or were defeated, most all of us would agree that there is a more acute awareness of the directions our states and our nation are heading and our part in electing leaders who will represent the values we cherish.  Many vote to maintain beliefs or directions our governments and policy makers are moving towards that they agree with.  Many vote to unseat those same policy makers and replace them with others of different values.  Most will passionately vote for the representation of their convictions embodied in a single individual.  Many vote in fear - fear of either the incumbent or the challenger retaining/obtaining office and what the ramifications will be.  Network ratings skyrocket as we all tune in for the latest information.  Uncertainty hangs apprehensively over the day like a low cloud and many are energized by this doubt, by this lack of knowledge of the future. 

Those who have voted for the victors feel a sense of relief, a sense that there is a continued hope for improvement.  Those who voted for the defeated feel a sense of doubt, a dread that conditions will continue to decline and worsen.  One way or the other, most have either felt their hopes lifted or dashed in the rising up or casting down of men.  And the enemy of our souls revels in our misplaced trust and fears.

I was centered and encouraged by a timely post by my brother on the KTM website a couple of weeks ago.  Like most, I feel I was placing a great deal of this nation's future, including my own and my children's upon the upcoming elections.  I was buying into the fervor.  But we often forget, as Christians, we are treading on foreign soil. We are citizens of another country, possessing a higher residency.  There is a clock ticking and a plan unfolding that surpasses our prayers, our plans, our hopes, and our dreams.

“Praise the name of God forever and ever, for he has all wisdom and power.  He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings.  He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the scholars.  He reveals deep and mysterious things and knows what lies hidden in darkness, though he is surrounded by light."
Daniel 2:20-22 NLT

Is this a call to disengage and retreat from the affairs of men, only monitoring the outcome of the actions of others because "God's in control"?  Do we hide behind the oft quoted credo "witness everyday and if you have to use words" by never speaking of or exemplifying the power of Heaven or of a Risen Savior?  What if I were to tell you that we, as "little-Christs" are to be more active than ever in the affairs of mankind, in the governance of men, in the direction of the societal tug-of-war? 

Very recently a United States Ambassador was killed on foreign soil.  I hope this sparked some semblance of outrage within you as it did for me.  Why?  Because this person, this man represented our governance, our ideals, our values and our legitimacy in a foreign land.  His death was an affront and an assault to, not only his family, but to our entire nation.  In 2 Corinthians 5:20 you are called an Ambassador, only this office is of a much higher order and prominence than the man who just lost his life.  Paul reconfirms this office in referring to himself in Ephesians 6:20.  It is an office that you have been elected to by a landslide majority. 

Jesus stated your election in Matthew 24 and again in Mark 13.  The word for the elect, eklektos, translates "to be selected for an office, the best of its kind or class, excellence".  God didn't choose losers.  He didn't pick worthless nobodies that He could do nothing with.  He doesn't select people who are capable of only taking up space, breathing air, and using up resources.  He has specifically chosen you to be the change in the world around you;  to transform the foreign soil you daily tread as his elect ambassador.  But, as with any elected position, it is an office that you yourself must confirm.

Picture the winners of last night's high profile election races.  What if, instead of giving victory speeches after their elections had been confirmed, they quietly slipped out the back door and went to the local fast food chain for a burger, trying to inconspicuously keep from drawing attention to themselves as they quietly sat in a corner, head down, chasing fries with a soda.  Nervously glancing around they are always watchful to make sure no one in particular takes too much interest in them, stares for too long.  Absurd, right?  You expect them to victoriously seize the platform dias and with authority proclaim their rights to their new office and proclaim their plan for the future, regardless of how many times you've heard it on the campaign trail.  Why are we content to remain "anonymous" in our position as God's Elect?  What does the Word have to say about this?

"Because of this, brethren, be all the more solicitous and eager to make sure to ratify, to strengthen, to make steadfast your calling and election; for if you do this, you will never stumble or fall.  Thus there will be richly and abundantly provided for you entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
2 Peter 1:10-11 AMP

I love how the New Living Translation puts verse 11:
"Then God will give you a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
2 Peter 1:11 NLT

Picture that parade.  No presidential entry has begun to compare.

In the verses prior this, Peter describes the path to strengthening and ratifying your election.  Take the time to read these because this is one office we should all endeavor to be career politicians in. 

And the challengers to your election?  The Father owns the polling place, the courts, and is the Judge and He has already ruled in favor of you and removed all legitimacy in the enemy's claims for all eternity.  The polls are closed and you have overwhelmingly been declared the winner.  Time to step onto the stage -this way, sir/madame...

"And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love."
2 John 1:6

Monday, November 5, 2012

Trophy Scars


We all have them. 

Some are products of daring and bravado.  Some are the end results of negligence.  Some are the remnants of the handiwork of a skilled surgeon's precise incisions.  All are points of healing that have left us marked and changed forever. 


Some represent deep painful wounds.  Some were merely scratches.  Some were born of a source of deep pain.  Some were formed by injuries scarcely noticed until blood was seen.  Some scars are deep, penetrating down into muscle and interconnected tissues.  Some are barely noticeable, light pencil-thin discolorations on the surface of our skin.  Each one of them drew blood, many of them a great deal of blood.

One day a little four-year old boy decided it would be fun to lay on his belly on one of the dining room chairs while mother fixed dinner.  Shifting his weight to and fro, he loved the thrill of the rocking motion.  Back and forth, back and forth....the legs on one side rose just a little and he giggle in delight.  Again, back and forth.  He had little notion that the chair could actually tip over; that it would send him cascading forward, head first.  This small child landed solidly with a wet, crunching "thud" directly on his chin, splitting it wide.  Frantically the mother gathered her wailing son up as blood ran down his neck, staining her shirt and rushed him to the hospital.  Hours later, a line of hairy stitches was newly present to hold skin together where blood once poured. 

To this day, I still bear this scar.  I can show my children exactly where I landed and feel the knot on the bones of my chin.  Did I die that day?  Did my wound take me from this life?  No; sutures were sewn, healing occurred, and though I had "funny bumps" on my chin, life went on.  I also learned not rock on dining room chairs on my stomach. 

Every one of us has these stories.  Every one of these stories, in its own manner, is a story of overcoming where bodies mended and life continued.  But these stories of physical recovery are, believe it or not, the easy ones; whether you've recovered from that paper cut that caused you to grit your teeth or you've endured the ruthless marathon of surgeries that forced therapies and tissue rebuilding. 

The deepest scars are those forced through the internal wounding of the heart.  And we all have those don't we?  Betrayals, injustices, broken relationships; people who simply did not fulfill their end of our perceived expectations.  Often, we'll ignore the scalpel in our own hand as we focus on the blade in theirs.  Words continue to cut past tissue and marrow to the very core of our beings and the damage is devastating.  A shell of pride is defensively constructed to protect and conceal a heart hemorrhaging insecurity, starving for self-worth, and pierced by the sharp pain of lost fellowship.  A return volley is exchanged or, worse - the deafening oppression of silence as relationship is broken.

He sat on the hillside overlooking the city.  The sun had set and the moon was just rising casting pale luminance upon the landscape.  He had sent the others away as he needed some time to himself.  He could smell the cook fires, taste the acrid perfume of the smoke rising from the valley.  Vast and sprawling, the city stretched throughout the valley where the masses were still bustling below.  He could hear carts moving on paved streets as shop keeps moved their wares for the day.  Throngs moved through the canyons of buildings, making their way from the day's work to homes and families.  Mothers called children and the night's watch was heralded as torches blazed here and there, reflecting off of the occasional armored soldier's helm or jeweled wealthy.  Rivers of humanity flowing, lost.  His love for them pierced his heart painfully.  Lost, all of them.  Tears welled as a knot choked his throat.  How he longed for them to accept him, to listen and receive him.  Couldn't they see?  Why did they reject him so?  Why did their leaders fear him and despise him?  Couldn't they open their eyes and see the truth?  Why couldn't they open their hearts to his love for them?

"O Jerusalem, you who continue to kill the prophets and to stone those who are sent to you! How often I have desired and yearned to gather your children together around Me, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you would not!"
Luke 13:34 AMP

We are quite familiar with the notion of a Saviors' bloodied body, torn and broken for our redemption.  Have we ever pondered a Saviors' torn heart, scarred with loss beyond description.  Have we ever pondered that we serve a Savior that has "imperfections"?  These imperfections are the scars that he willingly bore and continues to bear for each of us, for all humanity.  He had Thomas touch them, He wants us to look at them, He wears them proudly because His scars are the continual reminder of a price paid and a victory won.  His scars are a beacon across the heavens that proclaim the finality of His lordship and victory over the powers of hell and the purchase of His beloved from damnation. 

Picture the anguish of carefully walking one's life in complete sinless obedience only to become a murdering, rapist, pedophile, thief, who was a heathen, drunkard, drug-addict, spouse-abusing, swearing, adulterous, child-abusing, deviant criminal subject to the extreme penalties of all laws regarding these behaviors;  this is what was laid upon His shoulders - this is the rejection that pierced His heart as His most beloved Father turned from Him as he hung on those timbers He was cruelly nailed to by those He sought to love.  And why? 

"Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame."
Hebrews 12:2

Many of us have scars on our hearts.  Many are closed over festering wounds that plague us still, continually bringing dull heartache.  Some have kept us from approaching a risen Savior and Holy God for the shame of what lies beneath.  Jesus understands what it is to turn heartache to victory, pain to triumph.  Forgiveness is His model for the release of infection, confession His antiseptic for healing.  Scars will be present, but hearts will be strengthened and reunited in the trial rather than left as collateral damage in the wake of words. 

Though we do not love the pain, we can learn to appreciate the growth that comes as a result of the wounding.  We can learn to appreciate our scars because they can each be trophies of achievements accomplished, of hearts strengthened, of victories won.  When we examine the beauty in His scars, we'll see the value of our own.

"The scar on my arm is fading. I pray that the manner in which I obtained that scar does not fade from my mind..."