Living with Passion

A few years ago I read “Miracle in the Andes,” written by Nando Parrado, one of the 16 passengers who would ultimately survive a plane crash and 72 days of isolation in the Andes Mountains at high altitude. After two months stranded, Parrado and another man named Roberto Canessa trekked ten days through the mountains to ultimately find help.

The most moving part of Parrado’s account, which I will never forget, is the feeling he had very early into that ten day trek, when he finally got to the top of a high ridge, expecting to find Chile, and salvation, on the other side. Instead, there was nothing but more mountains as far as the eye could see.

All of the anxiety, the anticipation, the crushing weight of responsibility for the other passengers, and the desperate hope for the preservation of his life, was lifted from Parrado’s shoulders, and he describes an immense feeling of joy and relief. Parrado says that in that moment, he became certain that he would die in the Andes, and in that certainty he found a peace and a freedom.

Of course, Parrado was wrong. He went on to find help. But that feeling of peace never left him. He describes living each day to the fullest, with complete gratitude for the time that he has. In Parrado’s case, the old adage is true, life can only be truly and fully lived in view of death.

Another account of a terrible situation that has affected me deeply is a talk online by Journalist Sebastian Junger that seeks to understand “Why Veterans Miss War.” Junger personally spent time in heavy combat, and describes the paradoxical, but common scenario in which a soldier comes home from war, only to find him or her self longing to go back. His conclusion is that the connection of brotherhood felt by men in combat is a force of incredible power, and is so unequaled by the petty connections that dominate modern society.

Both of these accounts, and so many others like them that are based on true events, emphasize to us the reality that sometimes the most dramatic circumstances draw out from us something very deep and powerful. Deep within ourselves, men and women long to be a part of a cause that matters, to have an important reason to get up in the morning, and to feel the full depth and weight of a life lived to the fullest.

Contrast that with much of what goes on in the Lord’s church today.

Friends, the Bible tells us that we are at war (Ephesians 6:10-17). The Bible tells us that we have an adversary who stalks around like a lion eating people (1 Peter 5:8). The Bible tells us that we have the opportunity to save souls from death (James 5:20). The Bible tells us that we will suffer and be reviled (1 Peter 4:12-14), and hated my all (Mark 13:13), as we strive for a prize that far outweighs our afflictions (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Do the problems of social or economic or political injustice that fill so many with passion not have their root in the necessity for the hearts of the world to find and savor Jesus Christ? Do the family problems that tear lives apart and leave so many so deeply and tragically wounded not fall under the authority of the Divine Author of the family itself?

Is there not a war raging in your heart over whether life is even worth living, and if so, what it is worth living for? Is the world not full of suffering that God calls us to address? Do you actually believe even a fraction of what you say about how much of the world is lost and truly hell bound?

Jesus came that we might live life and live it to the fullest (John 10:10).

If God in Christ is not drawing out from deep within us the strivings of hearts that are truly living and fighting with passion, it is not because He has not issued a call to arms. It is only because of our pathetic, hypocritical apathy.

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Let Justice Roll Down like Waters

In August of 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. In that speech, he alluded to the words of the prophet Amos when he said: “we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Indeed, it is right for us to be dissatisfied as long as there is injustice in our world. God Himself was truly unsatisfied with His people when he rebuked them in the book of Amos, in the passage to which King referred:

“I hate, I reject your festivals, Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings.
Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24)

The people of Israel enjoyed festivals, sort of like we enjoy potluck meals and get-togethers. They had solemn assemblies, just as we bow our heads to pray for those who are hurting among us. They offered sacrifices both of animals and of song, even as we take up an offering from our weekly incomes and pour our hearts out through singing.

Yet God was profoundly dissatisfied with the state of things in Israel. The words He used to describe His feeling towards their religious observances are “I hate,” “I have no delight,” “I will not accept,” “I will not even look at,” “take them away,” and “I will not even listen.”

Why? Why would God reject all of Israel’s religion? Because they were not letting justice and righteousness flow through their lives.

Let this be a warning to us. Coming to church on Sunday, giving a few dollars, and singing a few songs is not sufficient to satisfy God.   He wants a people who live their lives in honesty, purity, and respect.

God wants a people who treat others the way they would want to be treated; who truly care about the ostracized, mistreated, and needy in their world. A people who are not content with injustice and who will not accept that “that’s just the way things are.”

As the Lord said in Hosea 6 and as Jesus repeated in Matthew 9, “I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

Do you honor your husband, wife, parents, or children by the way you live, even when they are not around? Will you put yourself in someone else’s shoes and respond to their needs with love rather than judgment and bitterness? Do you care that others are being mistreated? Will you stand up for those who are being taken advantage of? Will you live a life that puts others first?

Will you refuse to be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream?

Life is Not Fair

My fifth grade teacher used to tell us all that time, “the only person who gets to decide your future is YOU,” and “YOU are the one who determines whether or not you are happy and successful in life.”

Even at that age, something just did not seem exactly right about what she was saying. I knew enough about my own life and the lives of those around me to know that life is not at all fair, and a lot of the things that can hurt us deeply may not be under our control.

The Bible acknowledges this, too. Was it fair, when in 2 Samuel 11, Uriah’s death was secretly orchestrated by King David, who had his eye on Uriah’s wife? What about in Genesis 37-40 when Joseph was thrown into a pit, or sold into slavery, or framed for rape, or forgotten about to waste away in prison? What about in Joshua 7 when thirty-six men lost there lives at Ai because of a sin that Achan had committed in the previous battle at Jericho?

Yet in the midst of all of the unfairness, the Bible offers hope, and not despair.

Romans 12:19 quotes Deuteronomy 32:35 in reminding us that God is aware of everything that goes on, and He will settle all accounts in the end, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Exodus 22:21-23 reminds us that he sees and cares about mistreatment, “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry.”

Psalm 68:5-6 assures us that he cares for the downtrodden: “A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows, Is God in His holy habitation. God makes a home for the lonely; He leads out the prisoners into prosperity, Only the rebellious dwell in a parched land.”

Not only does the Bible assure us that God sees that which is unfair in our world; it also reminds us to stop using our misfortune as an excuse, but rather to get back up and take responsibility for those things that we are able to control.

In Joshua 7:7-9, Joshua was in great despair because all of Israel was suffering and he did not know why. “Alas, O Lord God, why did You ever bring this people over the Jordan, only to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? If only we had been willing to dwell beyond the Jordan! O Lord, what can I say since Israel has turned their back before their enemies? For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it, and they will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will You do for Your great name?”

God’s response was powerful: “Rise up! Why is it that you have fallen on your face?” He then gave Joshua specific instructions on how to take charge and be proactive about the situation, rather than whining.

Maybe that was what my teacher was trying to tell us. No, life is not at all fair. No, we cannot control what other people do. Just as people mistreated Jesus, they will mistreat us. But we can still take responsibility for our own actions, and we can go out in the strength of the LORD to do good in His name.

 

“It Isn’t Fair.”

The English term “scapegoat” comes from the principle of “Azazel” which originates from the Bible in Leviticus chapter 16.

Azazel literally means “complete removal” in Hebrew, and the unlucky goat that was selected by “the lot for Azazel” had all of the iniquities and transgressions of the people of Israel placed on its head, that it might completely remove them from their midst. It appears that in this way the righteous indignation of God that would have fallen on the Israelites fell on the scapegoat instead. By means of the scapegoat Israel received pardon.

Of course, in contemporary times, the idea of making a scapegoat out of someone is frowned upon. Quite frankly, it is just not fair for one individual to pay the price for that for which an entire group is actually to blame.

We may not know whether God struck down the scapegoat, or simply allowed it to wander around in the wilderness to die on its own, but one thing is certain: that poor goat got the bad end of the deal, and the people of Israel got off easy.

The incredible truth of the gospel is that rather than an unlucky goat, Jesus Christ is now the propitiation for God’s people once for all.

2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The only sinless man to walk the face of the earth was made to be sin so that we could go free? It sounds like a good deal for us, but it certainly does not sound “fair.”

Realizing this has the power to transform the way we look at the world. Now, instead of demanding that everyone who sins receive the punishment that they deserve so that life can be fair, we can extend to others the undeserved grace that God has extended to us.

It may also be a comfort to us in times of injustice to look at the example Jesus set. Jesus Himself knows how it feels to suffer unjustly what is rightfully deserved by others. In fact, as 1 Peter 2:19 says, “this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.”

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