"Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home." - C. S. Lewis

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"What are You Trying to Accomplish?"

I was with some friends on the campus of our local university, talking with college students about abortion.  With a tall kiosk covered with thought-provoking questions and pictures, we were hard to miss.  Most of the passers-by either hurried past us or stopped for a calm, thoughtful conversation with one of the staff members or volunteers.

Then I saw him walking up.  With a funny grin he came right up to one of the staff members standing near me.  We had received many different reactions that day - some people were disgusted, some were glad to see us there, and some did their best to ignore us.  Up to that point, however, no one seemed amused.

But as he walked toward us, he kept that silly grin and, gesturing to the kiosk, asked, "What are you trying to accomplish?"

The staff member explained that we were with the organization Justice for All and we were simply wanting to start healthy, peaceful dialogue on the topic of abortion.  She told the student how we talk with others about abortion, gently asking questions to present the pro-life position in a respectful, non-aggressive way.

"Does it work?" he asked.  "Yes," she replied, showing him a brochure and outlining how he could get involved if he was interested.  He wasn't interested.  He was pro-life, he said, but shrugged off any idea of talking to others about the issue.

So he handed the brochure back to her and walked away - with a grin.

Underneath the sarcastic attitude, it was a good question.  What are we trying to accomplish?  What if we don't accomplish it?  What if we don't "succeed"?  What if no law is ever passed or changed or repealed?  What if abortion in America never goes away?

What if?  Will we have failed?

Abortion has been legal in America for longer than that college student has been alive - for longer than I have been alive.  No wonder he felt as though there was no point in trying to do anything.  Abortion has always been around for us.  It's hard to imagine society without it.  What can we do about an issue that has existed legally for years (even decades) before we were born?  What do we think we can achieve?

What are we trying to accomplish?

I don't remember his name, but I remember the names of other people I talked with that day.  I remember watching Justice for All staff members and volunteers interact with people of different ages, different backgrounds, different walks of life - and very different opinions toward abortion.

Some people came without an opinion and left with something to think about.  Several people already had very strong convictions on the issue, but appreciated the peaceful, thoughtful dialogue a staff member or volunteer presented.  Others considered themselves pro-life, but were encouraged to take the next step and begin respectful dialogue with others they know.

Does it work?  For many, yes.  For others, we don't know yet.  Only in eternity will we know the true influence of our actions.  Even if no one listens, we can still be faithful to present the truth.  We can be loving toward everyone we meet (no matter their background or opinion on abortion).  We can be Christlike in everything we set out to do.  There's just too much at stake for us to keep our peace.  And most likely, at least someone will listen.  Others have.

What are we trying to accomplish?

"...to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [our] God..." (Micah 6:8).

Justice for All's mission statement is "Training thousands to make abortion unthinkable for millions, one person at a time."  If you are interested in hearing more about the work of Justice for All and how you can get involved, please visit their website here or feel free to contact me (just leave a comment on this post with your e-mail address.  I won't publish the comment, but I'd love to get in touch with you!).

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Heaven's Open Door

The book of Revelation is often characterized as confusing and divisive, and I think I can understand why.  I am certainly no eschatologist, so I have only a very limited grasp of the Bible's explanation of what will come when the world as we know it ends.  This is one reason why (I hate to admit) I often find reading Revelation...tedious.

But it is part of the inspired Word of God, and it is included in the Bible reading plan I have been attempting to follow.  Recently, I opened my Bible to my assigned reading for the day, unsure if I would even understand what I read - or if I could possibly relate it to my life.  But the first verses of Revelation 4 stopped me in my tracks as my eyes hurried through the mysterious verses.

"After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, 'Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this'" (Revelation 4:1, ESV).

"A door standing open in heaven..."  That phrase alone is packed with mind-blowing truth.  Imagine: an open door in heaven!

Those who have heard and studied the Gospel know of the uncrossable chasm our sins have created between fallen human beings and the holy, perfect God.  This was once symbolized by the temple curtains dividing one temple partition from another.  The Israelite masses could congregate outside the temple, the priests could go into the first area (after undergoing purification rituals), but only one person - the high priest - could go into the final partition of the temple: the Holy of Holies.  Even the high priest could only go into the Holy of Holies once a year, and only after painstakingly preparing himself to approach the living God.

A curtain separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple, and another curtain separated the rest of the temple from the majority of the Israelites.  These curtains would have spanned the entire length of the tabernacle; there was no door, no opening, no entrance for sinful man to approach his Maker.

Think of it!  A door open in heaven!

That God would even care to notice our earthly predicament is a grace itself.  That He would make a way for us to enter His perfect presence is...inconceivable.

During His time on earth, Jesus made a shocking declaration: "'I am the door. If anyone enters by me, 
he will be saved...'" (John 10:9a).  What incredible grace!  The only One who perfectly fulfilled all requirements to enter the presence of God is the One who freely offers us His perfection.  There is only one way to heaven, and that is through - what else? - the door: Jesus Christ.

The Door Won't Always be Open
"'Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.  For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, "Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him." Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, "Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out." But the wise answered, saying, "Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves." And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut" (Matthew 25:1-10, ESV).
As God closed the door of the ark once Noah and his family had entered, so one day the door to heaven will be closed for all eternity.  The offer of His pardon, peace, and perfection still stands, but it will not stand forever.  One day, when the time is up, this door, too, will close.

Which begs the question:

the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.  Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be..."? (2 Peter 3:10-11, emphasis added).

Think of it: a door open in heaven!  There is nothing tedious about that.

Image courtesy of ponsulak / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Friday, September 6, 2013

Could I? Would I?

In 1947, Corrie ten Boom, a survivor of the German concentration camp Ravensbruck, spoke before a German audience about the forgiveness of God.  In her book, Tramp for the Lord, she tells of a man who came forward to speak with her after her talk.
"[T]he man who was making his way forward had been a guard - one of the most cruel guards.
   Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: 'A fine message, Fraulein!  How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!'
   And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand...
   I was face to face with one of my captors, and my blood seemed to freeze.
   'You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,' he was saying.  'I was a guard there.'  No, he did not remember me.
   'But since that time,' he went on, 'I have become a Christian.  I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well.  Fraulein,' - again the hand came out - 'will you forgive me?'
   And I stood there - I whose sins had again and again been forgiven - and could not forgive."

I know I have already mentioned 
The Hiding Place and how much I love the testimony of the ten Boom family.  Their story is riveting, and it is sobering to think of the difficulties they faced and the faith they showed even in the midst of such dark times.

The WWII era witnessed unthinkable crimes, and Corrie ten Boom personally experienced merciless cruelty.  She had friends and family members who were killed for doing right, and saw firsthand brutality and inhumanity we cannot imagine.  In Ravensbruck, Corrie watched her sister wither away until one day she, too, was gone.

It is one thing to read about forgiveness, learn about forgiveness, and believe wholeheartedly that forgiveness is a vital characteristic of the Christian walk.  It is another thing to actually live it out.

What if I was faced with forgiving the atrocities Corrie experienced?  I find it hard to forgive even "little things": inconsiderate actions, petty disagreements, unkind words.  If I struggle with forgiving minor inconveniences, what if I was asked to forgive such grievous crimes?

Could I?  Would I?

For months, Corrie endured the difficulties of life as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps, suffering daily alongside her sister, Betsie.  Throughout her time in captivity, Corrie drew encouragement from her sister's faith - and forgiveness.

“‘Betsie!’ I wailed, ‘how long will it take?’
‘Perhaps a long, long time.  Perhaps many years.  But what better way could there be to spend our lives?’
I turned to stare at her.  ‘Whatever are you talking about?’
‘These young women.  That girl back at the bunkers.  Corrie, if people can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love!  We must find the way, you and I, no matter how long it takes...’
She went on, almost forgetting in her excitement to keep her voice to a whisper, while I slowly took in the fact that she was talking about our guards.  I glanced at the matron seated at the desk ahead of us.  I saw a gray uniform and a visored hat; Betsie saw a wounded human being.
And I wondered, not for the first time, what sort of a person she was, this sister of mine...what kind of road she followed while I trudged beside her on the all-too-solid earth" (The Hiding Place).

In Matthew 18, Jesus tells of a servant who owed his master an amount he could never repay - possibly about 200,000 years' worth of wages.  As the master prepared to sell the man's possessions and family to make a dent in his debt, the servant begged for patience, and he would pay it all back.  The master knew that was not possible.  Instead of patience, he granted mercy to the man, erasing his debt.  What an incredible gift!  Then the servant left the master's presence and found a fellow servant who owed him one hundred days' wages - obviously a much smaller sum.  Instead of passing on the forgiveness he had just been granted, he began to threaten the fellow servant, impatiently and unmercifully demanding instant payment.

The story, we know, was a parable.  But it was a true story.  The scenario is repeated every day as we who have been forgiven incurable iniquities walk around griping and groaning over the lesser offenses others commit against us.  Even when we are faced with truly horrific wrongs, as Corrie ten Boom and her family were, we know that what has been done to us could never compare with what we have done to Him.

While He was still on the cross, still suffering unimaginable torture and the ridicule of those whose sin He bore, Jesus Christ forgave the greatest crime ever committed.  And He forgives it again every time He welcomes one of us to His kingdom.

As Christians, we serve a God who forgives, and we are called to extend the forgiveness we have freely received.  "...as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive" (Colossians 3:13).

"It could not have been many seconds that he stood there - hand held out - but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do...And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart...Jesus, help me! I prayed silently.  I can lift my hand.  I can do that much.  You supply the feeling.
   And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me.  And as I did, an incredible thing took place.  The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands.  And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
'I forgive you, brother!' I cried.  'With all my heart.'
   For a long moment we grasped each other's hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God's love so intensely as I did then.  But even so, I realized it was not my love.  I had tried, and did not have the power.  It was the power of the Holy Spirit as recorded in Romans 5:5: '...because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us'" (Tramp for the Lord).
Could I?  Would I?

No.  I couldn't.  The strength to forgive wrongdoing - whether it is a minor or a seemingly unforgivable act - is not something I find inside myself.  Every time I am faced with forgiving the wrong of another, I know I cannot do it alone.  Just as Corrie ten Boom could never have done it on her own.

The One who formed me, even though He sees and knows and is grieved by all of my sin, even though it cost Him an unimaginable price, can give His forgiveness to me.  And I can pass it on.

Image courtesy of chanpipat / FreeDigitalPhotos.net