I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free! Psalm 119:32, NIV1984

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Of Boston and Baghdad and Bomb Shelters in Israel

The flags are already flying at half-staff in West, Texas.  I see it in the news, in the spinning lights of vehicles called to another crisis, those flags flying low as a tiny Texas town mourns those who have fallen in Boston.  And news trucks file in, first-responders flood the scene, and Twitter lights up as a nation turns to mourn for Texas, too.

It's a dangerous world in which we live.

Wasn't it just one month ago that I returned from Israel, from standing next to minefields left by Jordan and Syria, from cleaning and painting bomb shelters in a little town below the Lebanese border?

We swept debris from the shelters, and we prayed that God would be a shelter for the people of Kiryat Shmona.  We moved out old, mildewed mattresses to make way for new ones, and we prayed that when the bombs began to fall again, God would make a way for children to find safety within those walls.  We brushed blue paint on walls and wiped spills from the floor, and we prayed that as moms and dads and little ones rushed to find shelter from the terror, that He would wipe every tear from their eyes.  We asked God that as they closed their eyes to sleep on metal cots beneath a concrete roof, that they would know that the One watching over them never slumbers or sleeps.

I heard it on the news, after the bombing in Boston.  The man said it looked like something you'd see in Baghdad or in Israel.  And I know why he said it.  But my anger surged hot.  Because it's not OK.  In Baghdad, in Boston, on the borders of Israel or on Ben Yehuda Street, it's not OK.  It blows whole lives wide open and breaks the heart of the living God. And as surely as He wept over Jerusalem, He must weep also over Boston and West, Texas.

It seems the world has gone mad, and we wonder if there is hope.  How can men treat other men with such contempt?  And how does a town of 2800 recover when nearly 200 of their of their own people are scorched by flames and crushed in the chaos?

So as we prayed for Israel, we pray now for Boston and for West, Texas. And here at our house, we pray also over the broken bodies of ones we love as they lay fighting for their lives in hospital in Birmingham. And we pray that those who stand beside their beds will keep the faith.

Because even in the midst of bombs exploding and fires raging, in the midst of broken hearts and shattered bodies, in the midst of horrific tragedy brought about by the hands of evil men and crazy accidents that shake the ground and shatter lives in tiny towns, we know this:

God is still good.

So we bend the knee and He bends His ear because He has promised to be near the broken-hearted.

And we believe with every fiber of our being that He is good, that He does all things well.

And one day, He will come again.  And when He does, He will make all things new.

And the One sitting on the throne said,
"Look, I am making everything new!"
And then He said to me,
"Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true."
And He also said, "It is finished! 
I am the Alpha and Omega - the Beginning and the End. 
To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life."
Revelation 21:5-6, NLT

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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Oh, Israel, do you know?

I scurried about this week, busy with the business of my days. Clothes to wash, meals to prepare, lessons to plan, and what will I wear to that wedding? Cancel that appointment, schedule the haircut, get out the door to make it to practice on time. Don't forget to fill out the paperwork before the first meeting, and remember to take those test results when you go to see the specialist. Did anyone let the dog out?  Feed the cat? Clean the fishbowl? Get the mail? Check that message? And, oh! This Sunday is Easter!

And somewhere in the midst of the scurry, I slowed to wonder if the self-absorbed scramble of my present was somehow reminiscent of the past.

I wondered if that week of Passover, in Jerusalem, when the Promised One came riding in on the foal of a donkey and they cried, "Hosanna!"  ("Save now!") . . .

... I wondered if they then returned to the busy business of their days, preparing for the Feast, sweeping the specks from the corners of their homes and tossing the yeast from their kitchens, but missing the planks in their eyes, forgetting the leaven in their hearts, and looking right past the One who came to fulfill the very Feast for which they prepared.

I've been finding planks in my own eye, stubborn leaven in my heart.

And I've been praying that God would give me eyes like His eyes, that He'd give me a heart like His, that He'd teach me to love like He does the people He calls the apple of His eye.

I stood in that city, Jerusalem, just two weeks ago.  City buzzing with laughter and life.  City that has captured my heart and never fails to take my breath away.

A little girl chases a ball in the Jewish quarter, another walks with her grandfather through the souks, up cobbled paths, and through the crowd. Old men argue at tables along the way, and shopkeepers call out that they have the best price on that item you're not sure you'll ever need.  Soldiers patrol the streets of the city, and families wander the ancient paths. The city is alive with life and all this living.  But do they know the One who died that they might live?

Do they know, as they remember the Passover this weekend, the One who is our Passover Lamb?

Do they know that, after his sweat poured like blood in the garden of the pressing, that place we know as Gethsemane, Gat-Sh'manin, the "oil press" - where the olive trees grow still and the oil once flowed from olives crushed in the press -

- do they know that He hung on a cross at the place of the skull, Golgotha, and a woman wept as the blood of her son soaked the earth beneath His pierced hands and feet?

Do they know - as they pray for the peace of Jerusalem, as they press their prayers into the Wall - do they know this One who is the Prince of Peace?  

Have they heard, as they touch the mezuzah at Zion Gate and remember: Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad, (Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is One) that the One God gave His One and Only Son that whoever believes in Him might have eternal life?

As the sun slips away beneath the western sky tonight, I remember those waking soon in Jerusalem. Do they know that the One they've waited for so long is longing for them now to know He lives?

Then the angel spoke to the women.
"Don't be afraid," he said. "I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  
He isn't here! He is risen from the dead, just as He said would happen."  
Matthew 28:5-6, NLT

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Digging Through the Roof

Nearly twenty years have passed since I first stood in that place, smoothing hands across stone columns, wiping fingers across wet cheeks in awe.

Nearly twenty treks of the earth around the sun since I carried a heart-still-broken across continents and seas and stood in that place where He once stood, restoring bodies broken by this world.

And something dead in me rose to live again that day.  Some wild hope burst right through my stone-cold heart, and hot tears ran like rivers, healing springs.

The stone pillars of that ancient synagogue became my Ebenezers, memorial stones, reminders of the work that God had done, those broken stones bearing witness to the pieces of a shattered heart restored.

And though Jesus had cried out against that city because of unbelief, for this heart, it was a place of believing.


I stood there again, two Sundays past, licking raindrops from my lips, breathing in the sweet scent of late winter rain.  And I wondered about the ones who had dug though the roof of a house nearby, believing for their friend who lay trapped in a body unmoving.  I wondered about the ones in the house below, brushing caked mud and straw and broken branches from their hair as the roof caved in above them.  I wondered about those raindrops falling as we stood there, a bit of earth's roof and heaven's floorboards come dripping down on top of our bare heads.

He asked us as we stood there... "Will you be the one?"  He spoke of archaeology and excavations and historical accuracy.  And then he said this:  "Pray that you will be the friend who will do whatever it takes."

Those friends were willing to tear the roof right off that place, to dig straight through to get to Jesus.

When Jesus returned to Capernaum... While He was preaching God's word to them, four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat.  They couldn't bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head.  Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus.  Mark 2:1-4, NLT (emphasis mine)

Will I be that kind of friend?

I have that kind of friend.  She's dug though the roof a time or twenty, two hundred even, for me.  When my boy-child lay struggling hard for each breath, and I lay on the floor by his bed, willing him to keep going, pleading with him to just keep breathing; she lay awake, digging though the roof. Night after night, for a year and more, she carried him to Jesus with her prayers. And I slept at last, knowing the One who watched over Israel and my boy-child never slumbered or slept, and knowing I had a friend who was storming heaven with her pleas for the health of my child.


We turned pages, from Mark's story of the ones who dug through the roof, to John's account of the man who didn't have a friend to help.  Thirty-eight years he lay paralyzed, hoping for a chance to slip into the healing waters.  Thirty-eight years he lay waiting for a friend to help.  When Jesus asked him if he wanted to be well, the man replied, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool."

No one.

No friend to carry him to Jesus.  No brother to lift his body into the healing waters.  No sister to bear him up on wings of prayer.

No one.

Our friend asked us, after he told us about the archaeology, the excavations, the history of that place, "Will you be the friend who will do whatever it takes?"

And I swallowed hard.

What if it takes digging through the roof?  What if I have to get my hands dirty?  What if it takes every ounce of strength that I have?  What if it takes courage, the guts to do what no one else is doing?  What if it's hard and out of my comfort zone?  What if it takes time - time I had planned to use for something else?  What it keeps me awake at night?  What if everyone in town is blocking the way, and I have to step out in wild faith?

I like my comfortable life, my scheduled weeks, my well-planned worship gatherings.  I like following the rules (mostly) and doing what others expect and knowing their pleasure.

What if I have to step out on a limb?

I remember Amanda Jones saying of a giant step of faith she and her husband, Curtis, took:  "We were way out on a limb with God.  But the view of His faithfulness was spectacular."

But I know that kind of view comes with a certain risk.

Am I willing to take the risk?

Will I be that kind of friend?

Will you?

Even if it means digging through the roof?

Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, 
"My child, your sins are forgiven."
Mark 2:5, NLT
(emphasis mine)

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