Staying Out of the Web

The Boeing 737 made a perfect touchdown on the seven-thousand-foot runway at the Oakland, California, International Airport, completing its one-hour-thirty-minute flight from San Diego. Once the aircraft arrived at its assigned terminal, its passengers, including nineteen weary but satisfied adults and teens, disembarked and made their way through the airport to collect their bags.

After a short wait in the baggage claim area, the giant chrome baggage carousel came to life, and one by one, individual pieces of luggage begin to spew from the baggage chute onto the now slowly turning carousel. The exhausted team joined other anxious travelers as they bunched up near the big machine, pulling their bags off the carousel.

After all the bags had been retrieved, the group made their way to the parking garage. There they were greeted by several volunteers that had arrived from their church to pick them up for the final forty-mile drive North towards home.

I was out shopping when my son called to let me know that they had landed safety and were on the road from the airport to our church parking lot. I arrived at our church  after an uneventful fifteen-minute drive from our home.

As I pulled in, I spotted my son standing near his grey suitcase, tanned, wearing a handsome wool poncho that he must have purchased while in Mexico. On top of his head was his ever-present sombrero, now marked with an additional stripe of paint on the brim, making it four colorful stripes on the hat. Each paint stripe signified yet another successful mission to Mexico, where this amazing team spent the past five days showing the love of Jesus in a tangible way, by building a deserving family a modest home.

The family that would occupy the new home would move from a leaking shack assembled from cardboard, old tarps, and scraps of wood, to a much-improved shelter. Family members had reported that during the seasonal rain storms, their old “home” rained inside as much as it did outside. There were as many as five family members that slept in a single eight foot by ten-foot room.

Their new home, built by our church team, would probably not be considered much more than a high-end shed in our country, but it had electricity, a real roof, a slab floor, windows, it was even furnished with curtains, beds with mattresses, complete with sheets and blankets, and even dishes on their new kitchen table. The family would stay dry during the rainy season, and this house boasted several rooms, enough to provide for much improved sleeping arrangements.

During our drive home, my son and I were reflecting on his experiences while he was in Mexico. One of the first observations he shared, was that despite the desperately poor conditions, many people loved the Lord and felt comfortable expressing their faith causally in everyday conversation. In general, he described the atmosphere as that of a culture of respect for Christ and God in general. People who spoke about Christ did so with no inhibition on this topic.

He found this to be in remarkable contrast to the United States, a country that boasts so often about freedom of expression and freedom of religion. A country that once securely aligned its foundation and cultural identity with God and the Scriptures. And yet today, it seems that the typical Christ follower can almost expect to be shunned and shutdown in the social media and academic settings, places where one would expect a free exchange of views.

As we conversed, we concluded that it was almost as though the great blessings, wealth, and protection that God has provided our country has allowed its people to forget our roots and the Author of our blessings. In many ways, we’ve become an ungrateful nation. We seemed to have forgotten that we too were once a nation on edge, struggling to survive. Somewhere along the way we seemed to have lost our gratefulness, forgotten God, and replaced our faith with trust in ourselves.

Job expressed himself on the topic of forgetting God:

“Such is the destiny of all who forget God; so perishes the hope of the godless. What they trust in is fragile; what they rely on is a spider’s web.” (Job 8:13–14, NIV)

To lose touch with our God is to lose hope, it’s the precursor to losing our love and compassion for others, it prevents us from standing up for God’s best in our lives while engaging in our counterculture world. In the process we run the risk of replacing the love of Christ with the easy to reach traits of cynicism, disengagement, and anger, all directed towards those around us that we encounter daily, often the very people that need to hear the hopeful message of the Gospel. Much like Job’s spiderweb, it’s often hard to see until we too become trapped and tangled in its many strands.

We should be encouraged though, because God has given us the Scriptures in which to offer us insights as to how Jesus responded to the world at large in his day. While our technology has changed since his days of His ministry on Earth, the fundamental human being and the challenges we face have remained remarkably similar.

There are at least three things we can do right now to help remind us of God’s blessings and to preserve within us a heart of genuine gratefulness:

  1. We should strive to live our lives with daily compassion towards others.

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36, NIV)

In this passage, Matthew recounted his observations of Jesus as he was traveling from town to town, sharing the Gospel of salvation and healing many from physical and emotional illnesses. Matthew could not help but notice the deep compassion that Jesus had for others.

Sometimes we go through our day and fail to “see” the hurt around us. Jesus was active in his compassion towards others, it was built into who he was and is today. We ought to model that type of compassion in our lives as he did.

Take a moment when you spot a family member, a friend, co-worker, etc. that seems like they need a listening ear, and be a compassionate listener. Often, we are powerless to solve their actual problem or take away their pain, but just as often, they can be encouraged by our presence as we offer ourselves up to listen. In doing so, we help move them from being a helpless harassed victim to being strengthened and encouraged to carry on through their current situation. In time, our efforts at listening may allow us to share with them how they might have lasting encouragement through a relationship with Christ.

  1. Love the unlovable

“ ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.’” (Luke 6:32–33, NIV)

I once had a pastor who always seemed to love the unlovable. Once during a potluck at our church, I saw him with a plate of food looking for a table to sit at. Any table would have loved to have him join them; but he chose the table occupied by several people that were kind of “special,” as our society would politely call them.

They lacked social graces, and probably didn’t score too many points in the personal hygiene department either. Essentially, they were outcasts, even within Christian circles. Nonetheless, that’s who our pastor had dinner with that night. He loved on them like any other person in our church family. He made those folks feel like they were the center of his world.

The world is full of those that aren’t the most lovable. Jesus made a good point that if our motive to love others is predicated on the return of such love, then our hearts have missed the entire point of what real love is.

Thankfully He loved me first, when I was a lost outcast, without any expectation that I would return His love. I’m so grateful for His unconditional love.

  1. Be generous with our mercy

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36, NIV)

Mercy is the idea of being generous, forgiving of others, and having compassion, reaching out and identifying with a person at an emotional level. It also captures the idea of providing help and encouragement, particularly where others fail to do so.

When we extend our mercy to another, our actions often permit a person to have a fresh start. Our actions can often release them from some personal indebtedness that might have arisen from some past offense. To be free of such a debt is a gift by itself.

Mercy is one of God’s most fundamental qualities. Without which, none of us would ever be able to engage with God in a personal relationship.

Interestingly, when we see the quote from Jesus on the topic of mercy, he describes what our state should be, even before he speaks of what we should specifically be doing to show mercy towards others. We need to live out our lives with this mindset of mercy. Mercy is not something that can be made a duty, it must come from our hearts.

Ultimately, to guard our hearts and to keep us from adopting the easy negative virtues that are so common today, we must actively engage Jesus everyday through the scriptures, prayer, song, and in the way, we live out our lives each day. If we can connect our hearts of compassion and mercy to our actions, our hearts will be guarded because of the transformative power made available to us through our living relationship with Christ.

Grace in Restoration

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” (1 Peter 5:10)

I walked into my friend’s large auto shop, and on the floor, near the drive-in sized roll-up door, were countless rusty and corroded parts. Barely discernible in the middle of all these parts, was the large rusty frame of an old farm tractor. My friend, who loves to restore such antiques, stood by it with an oily wrench in his hands and broad smile on his face.

That afternoon he told me all about this tractor. He proudly told me how he and a friend had spotted the old tractor in a field as they were driving along a highway. They contacted the owner of the property, an old farmer, and he was more than happy to get rid of it. He took a small sum for it, kind of shaking his head and wondering why on Earth anyone would ever want to buy such a broken down piece of machinery.

The longer my friend talked that afternoon the more enthusiastic he became. We visited for a while, and then I wished him luck on his tractor restoration project and headed home.

About two years later, as he and I were talking and catching up, I asked him about that old tractor. He beamed with pride and pulled up a series of pictures on his computer showing the entire restoration process. The result was amazing!

There it was in the final picture, fully restored, just like it rolled off of the factory floor back in 1948. I could hardly believe the complete transformation that I was looking at.

Every detail, every part, all the internal gears, wires, pistons, the countless thousands of parts we don’t see, but are critical, had been lovingly, and sometimes abrasively worked on, to restore them to a new condition. He shared that there were times when the project hit some rough patches, and the going got tough, but through it all, he kept at it.

The entire process was also very costly. There is nothing cheap about restoring an old tractor. Yet once the work was done and the bills were paid, one could hardly argue with the complete transformation that was shown in the pictures. And I know the transformation was complete, inside and out, because he showed me pictures of the tractor being driven in a parade. This was not simply a cosmetic restoration.

The term “restore” is mentioned over a hundred times in the Scriptures.  Most dictionaries define restoration as “a return of something to a former, original, normal, or unimpaired condition.”

In the grand scheme of life, the Scriptures are all about restoration, humanity’s restoration to a right relationship with our Creator. We are restored via Jesus Christ, who in effect “paid our restoration bill.” His restoration is complete, from the inside out, there is nothing cosmetic about the work that Jesus does. Ultimately, even our physical bodies will one day be restored to the mint condition our Creator envisioned. (I could use a little of that right now…but I’ll have to be patient.)

In the meantime, I am reminded of how important it is that that I too have a mind of restoration.

The Psalmist shared: “Restore us again, God our Savior…” (Psalm 85:4) Thankfully we worship a God of new days, a God that seeks to restore us to himself with an infinite degree of patience. There are times I have to go back for multiple restorations. I have to be restored again, and again, and again. (Thankfully God never closes the garage door.)

Those closest to us are also undergoing restoration. There are times I need to remember how much grace God has given me every time I show up at the garage for another round of restoration. I need to give that same compassion and grace towards others while they are being restored. After all, restoration is a process, sometimes it takes years to get the rust off of all the parts. Some of the parts that need restoration lie deep within our lives; they’re the hardest to reach.

Yet Jesus promises us, that for those who trust Him, there will be full restoration. As believers, we need to be like Jesus. I know it’s hard, but we need to be patient, not only with others, but patient with ourselves.

By the way, you have permission to have setbacks during your restoration; they happen. God will ALWAYS be present with you as you are seeking restoration, no matter what it is in your life that needs to be restored. I can tell you from personal experience that the wait is worth it.

Not all restorations are equal. Some restorations involve our closest relationships, those with our spouse or children. Restorations can range from recognizing our need for eternal restoration with God through Jesus Christ, to the more mundane, such as restoring a relationship with a child or family member that perhaps we were short with, or perhaps we said some words that came spilling out in a moment of frustration.

In extreme cases, where major restoration is underway, we may feel completely overwhelmed, the circumstances of life may seem like this restoration is beyond anything that God could ever fix. During these deepest darkest moments, we may want to give up, but that would be human thinking at play.

The Psalmist wrote the following,  because he realized that no matter how hard the journey, that if God was involved, then restoration would happen!  ”Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up.” (Psalm 71:20)

The Apostle Paul reminded us later that restoration comes only when we surrender. It is in our weakness that we are restored and not in our own strength. Jesus shared that “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

I encourage you to never give up on God no matter how hard or hopeless your restoration project may seem, God seeks to see us restored!

Copyright 2013