25 July 2013

the kindness of our God

We always talk about God's grace, His mercy, love, truth, and justice. But for some reason, I don't often hear the word kind spoken to describe God.

That's a mistake. The Bible uses this word for God, and so should we: "For His merciful kindness is great toward us" (Psalm 117:2a). "For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness;" (Joel 2:13b).

What do you think of when you hear the word kindness?

I think of unexpected, undeserved goodness.

I think of a microloan associate who invites you to sit down on a chair, even if they have to remain standing--and offers you a glass of water and a snack. I think of the random person on the street in Santo Domingo who warned my roommate to let the stranger who was following pass on ahead, because he was probably a thief. I think of the girl at the retreat last weekend in Sosua, who found me sitting alone and introduced me to all of her friends, thus guaranteeing that I would have a wonderful time. I think of a coworker sharing their lunch with another loan officer who is short on money.

The women in these experiences in the Dominican Republic showed unexpected, undeserved goodness to a stranger. In a way, it came out of nowhere--but in another way, it came out of hearts willing to sacrifice to serve others.

If you think about it, we were all strangers to God: "that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world" (Ephesians 2:13)

But the next verse tells how God showed His goodness to perfect strangers: "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ" (Ephesians 2:14).

But now in Christ Jesus the verse says. God's kindness is first and foremost shown in sending Jesus to save us from our wretched lives of sin. Jesus is the ultimate expression of God's kindness to humankind.

Ephesians 2:4-7 "But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus."

The word "kindness" makes me think of a smiling father, looking down on His children. The greatest kindness God has shown His children, is not any material gift. It's Jesus Christ--because it's through Jesus Christ that we are His children, and He Himself is our greatest treasure. Enjoying a Father like YHWH is what Jesus died for us to be able to do.We are His precious children, and there's nothing more comforting. If you don't know quite what I'm talking about, close your eyes and listen to this song.

I'll close with one of my favorite passages, Isaiah 54:6-10:

For the Lord has called you
Like a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit,
Like a youthful wife when you were refused,”
Says your God.
“For a mere moment I have forsaken you,
But with great mercies I will gather you.
With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment;
But with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you,”
Says the Lord, your Redeemer.
“For this is like the waters of Noah to Me;
For as I have sworn
That the waters of Noah would no longer cover the earth,
So have I sworn
That I would not be angry with you, nor rebuke you.
For the mountains shall depart
And the hills be removed,
But My kindness shall not depart from you,
Nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,”
Says the Lord, who has mercy on you.

22 July 2013

falling: what really happened

After work on July 2,  in Santiago, Dominican Republic, I went on a run. It was getting dark, and I was worrying about being out alone in a neighborhood that was still new to me, even though my host family's house was right in front of the park. I was looking at the street, not at the path in front of me. All of a sudden, I slipped on gravel and ended up on the ground.

Like every good runner, I know you can't stop in the middle--it's bad for your heart rate! There was only a little blood, on my right knee and hand. So, I got up and kept going. I would be okay.

After another kilometer, I skipped a step so I could catch a glimpse of my knee. There was blood running halfway down my leg. I wiped it with my hand and kept going.

I haven't skinned my knee like that in at least 8 years. Over the next 10 days, I would walk out onto the roof of the house I am staying in, and cut off an aloe stalk to "anoint" my knee and my hand twice a day. That stuff really smells, but it works! And hey, 23-year-old skin doesn't heal as fast as 15-year-old skin!

I resisted the urge to cover up my battle scars, preferring to wear skirts to stay cool--even if it did mean telling the story to everyone I saw.

On July 12, just 10 days later, I was running in the same park. But now, I had already run there several times, so even though it was getting dark again, I felt more comfortable. I distracted myself with thoughts about the past few days, and the meaning of the song I was listening to.

Suddenly, skiiiiiiiidddd bam! I was on the ground again--in the exact same spot. This time, I landed halfway on my right side, so I had a lighter scrape on the side of my right knee, and the wound on my hand had reopened.

Well, I know what to do, I told myself. Keep running. After a bit I checked for blood, and there was none, on my leg at least. But my hand was throbbing with pain for the rest of the run.

After 3 and a half kilometers, I stretched and went inside to wash my cuts. At first, I didn't tell anyone. How stupid! I thought. It wasn't so much that I had fallen. What got me the most was that I fell in the exact same spot as before, at the same time of the evening. I should have known.

That night, as I climbed into bed, I carefully positioned my hand palm-up so I could sleep comfortably--but to no avail. I woke up 3 times before the sun came up, each time with a throbbing pain in my hand.

The next day, we went to a clinic to get it checked and cleaned out. It hurt a lot, but I think they got some gravel out of there.

I felt stupid, again, this time because I was in the hospital for something so small.

But, God works all things out for the good. I really, truly believe that. I see it all the time.

 In this story, I saw it in two ways--one tangible, and one intangible.

The tangible: In the clinic, my host brother and co-worker made 2 contacts with potential volunteer doctors for development work here. And, the receptionist decided not to charge me a single dime, even though he had said it would be $25 (which my insurance would have paid anyway.... but that's still nice).

The intangible: As I climbed up the stairs to the house after that second fall, I couldn't help but think I was being warned, in the most loving but obvious way possible.

I fell at first because I was afraid, and fear kept me from looking at the path I was on and focusing on the race I was running.

I fell the second time because I was distracted. I wasn't afraid, and I didn't need to be. But I should have been alert. I had fallen before, in that same spot, at that same time of night. I should have been watching.

In my life, too, I fall because I am afraid and distracted. In spite of the pain, with God's help, I get up and keep running, in reckless determination to lay hold of the One who laid hold of me. I also go to see the Great Physician who heals the sick and binds up my wounds. He has some kind of crazy spiritual aloe (aka the blood of the Lamb, Jesus) which He covers our wounds with. It brings deep, lasting healing.

The fall happens in the blink of an eye. But deep, true healing takes time.

Sometimes, even before the healing is complete, I forget what I just learned. I disregard the grace of God, and I let distractions take my eyes off of Christ and the race He has called me to run. And I fall hard--in the exact same sin as before. I'm not always alert as I should be, because my adversary, the devil is roaming about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. I let my eyes slip off of the goal again, and the exact same stones cause me to stumble, once again.

Just like the cuts on my hand, my emotional and spiritual wounds hurt, but re-opened wounds hurt like heck! And the healing process of digging all of that junk out of my life can hurt like heck, too. But that momentary pain in the clinic of YHWH Yireh, the God who restores, is worth it to relieve the pain that would result from trying to keep that junk inside the wound. The work He's doing in me can hurt like heck, but the healing He brings is more than worth it. As the wounds heal, if I don't try to hide them, I have plenty of chances to share how I messed up, but God corrected me and is healing me.

As I look at my hand now--another 10 days later--soft, pink skin has appeared where there used to be cuts so ugly no one wanted to shake my hand or give me a high-five. And no one has asked me about my knee in at least a week.

The healing is almost done, and if the skin that comes in it's place isn't exactly 100% as good as new, it will be a reminder of God's faithfulness to me in spite of my unfaithfulness.

I smile when I think of how God used such a situation to correct me in the face of very real struggles. He never ceases to amaze me with His gentle, creative, loving, and merciful correction!

Jeremiah 3:22
Return, you backsliding children, And I will heal your backslidings.

1 Corinthians 10:12-13
Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

Jude 1:24-25
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling,
And to present you faultless
Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,
To God our Savior,
Who alone is wise,
Be glory and majesty,
Dominion and power,
Both now and forever.