Broken: All I Had to Offer Him…

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Have you heard this one? How many counsellors does it take to change a lightbulb?

Only one.

But the lightbulb must really want to be changed.

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One of the words suggested for a photographic meditation in the season of Lent is “broken.” Contrary to my usual practice of looking for beauty in the midst of the ordinary, I looked for the less-than-lovely. For the sake of this exercise I gave myself one hour to photograph only the broken.

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I love photography because it has trained me to pay attention to the goodness of God, particularly his creativity and generosity in nature. I have changed. I used to be overly aware of disorder. Seeing only the broken took no effort, and the loss and heartache it symbolized began to feel overwhelming.

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This is not the way it was meant to be.

Yesterday we gathered with friends to study the book of Matthew. The more time I spend reading about Jesus’ words and actions the more ideas and practices I realize I need to unlearn in the quest to know him. I’m trying to imagine what it was like for him to live in a broken world among broken people when he was the only one who understood the way it was meant to be. He knew what was in people’s hearts, and yet he loved them. He did what he did for the joy set before him – for the hope of establishing a new normal.

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This passage touched my heart:
Jesus walked throughout the region with the joyful message of God’s kingdom realm. He taught in their meeting houses, and wherever he went he demonstrated God’s power by healing every kind of disease and illness.
When he saw the vast crowds of people, Jesus’ heart was deeply moved with compassion, because they seemed weary and helpless, like wandering sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:35, 36 TPT)

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I thought about the type of compassionate responses offered to broken, weary, helpless, people falling through the cracks in my own country. We offer borrowed money to feed, drugs to numb, unrestrained sexual pleasure to distract, adversarial court procedures that throw gas on broken relationships to pacify, and physician-assisted death for those who have lost hope for themselves or their offspring still in the womb.

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Compassion without hope can be a cruel kindness.

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Many religious folk have lost hope as well. They may raise funds to offer material relief, or pray that a person will be comforted in their incurable condition, but they seldom act with the type of merciful power Jesus demonstrated. They would never admit it, but their responses to broken people are not much more effective than the Pharisees who saw doubling down on the rules as the way to prevent hopeless suffering. They take a stance at the other pole on the cruel kindness playing field. They see the world in terms of “us and them.”

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Later, Jesus went to Matthew’s home to share a meal with him. Many other tax collectors and outcasts of society were invited to eat with Jesus and his disciples.
When those known as the Pharisees saw what was happening, they were indignant, and they kept asking Jesus’ disciples, “Why would your Master dine with such lowlifes?” (Matthew 9: 10, 11)

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Jesus told them, essentially, that if they thought they held the copyright on normal, they wouldn’t value what he had to offer.

“…Healthy people don’t need to see a doctor, but the sick will go for treatment.” Then he added, “Now you should go and study the meaning of the verse:
I want you to show mercy, not just offer me a sacrifice.
For I have come to invite the outcasts of society and sinners, not those who think they are already on the right path.” (verses 12 and 13)

Earlier in Matthew we read about the narrow road to knowing who Jesus is and the significance of what he has done for us. It starts with step one, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

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Being poor in spirit means admitting that our methods of coping with brokenness are not working. It means we recognize our powerlessness. It means looking at the mess we think “is what it is” and recognizing our inability to conceive of how effective God intended us to be. My own heart is convicted.

It means admitting, like the old Gaither song says, “All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife.”

It means turning to The Great Physician and asking him to heal us, body, soul, and spirit.

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It means that we who make excuses about living in a way that does not demonstrate the way Jesus said the Holy Spirit would empower us to act, also need to admit our poverty,  and turn to follow him more closely. Sharing his heart means not only feeling the deep compassion he feels for the broken, but also aligning with him to do something about it.

If we really want to be changed The Great Counsellor is willing.

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The Hope Alternative

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Nothing is more irritating to people resigned to life without hope than people awakening to hope.

Hope anyway.

Now may God, the inspiration and fountain of hope, fill you to overflowing with uncontainable joy and perfect peace as you trust in him. And may the power of the Holy Spirit continually surround your life with his super-abundance until you radiate with hope!

(Romans 15:13 TPT)

Defying Disappointment

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It’s a dangerous business, this truth-telling.

Sometimes the truth can shake our world so much that we long to return to the way things were before. Sometimes, truth be told, we don’t want to know the truth. Our versions of reality may have many fault lines, but at least we know how they work. We can get by. Sort of. Most of the time.

And then we can’t.

Truth crashes the party and ruins everything. At least that’s what it feels like.

When a messenger bearing truth points a finger at the rickety ramps and bridges and shelters we’ve built on a false foundation it’s easy to hate that uncompromising finger. We blame the messenger, because, well, it’s got to be somebody’s fault, right?

I’ve been on both ends of this conversation. I blew the whistle and it resulted in a big mess. A falsely serene lifestyle came at the cost of a child’s innocence. She was tormented not only by a perpetrator, but by the denial of people who were supposed to look after her. I knew what it was like to cry and not be heard. I decided to listen to the child and take her seriously. All hell broke loose, but I’m not sorry.

I also know what it is like to have a truckload of unwanted facts dumped on my head when I didn’t think I possessed the necessary resources to cope with the consequences of acknowledging them. It felt like an enormous earthquake that shook the foundations of my life. Like many truths this one’s roots tangled with other roots. Pulling it up unearthed even more sordid stuff I had managed to block out of my memory.

I dropped into a pit of despair where a sense of trust vanished like a vapour. When I eventually revealed details to people in a position to make a difference, they reminded me that “love covers a multitude of sins,” and urged me to “forgive and forget.” It took a while to realize that the person who betrayed my trust also betrayed theirs. Public admission of that fact would totally mess up their lives too.

As another muzzled victim said, “With genius you forgive a lot. The organization needed him. Their reputation and income depended on maintaining the status quo. Administration decided loss of integrity was the cost of doing business and you and I, my dear, were delegated to the expenses paid column.” It  felt like a second betrayal.

Betray is an odd word. In modern usage it carries two opposing concepts. The root word comes from Latin word, tradere, meaning “to hand over.” When someone who is part of a group reveals secret weaknesses that expose vulnerabilities to rivals they may be called “disloyal” and receive the label “betrayer.” Yet, interestingly, when someone intentionally abuses power to use or mislead others within the group, they can also be accused of an act of betrayal.

Whether the bearer of truth is seen as the betrayer or the betrayed depends on the point of view of the people affected. It’s actually a subjective label based on who stands to benefit.

I felt horribly alone and came undone for a while, but God provided resources as I needed them. With the help of kind counselors, a supportive husband and friends, books, and a growing sense of Jesus as a brother who had suffered everything I had but still loved enough to give his life for the world, my soul was restored and rebuilt on a better foundation. When I understood that my needs were going to be met by the One who loves me perfectly and who forgave me too, I could begin to take my hands off the throat of those who betrayed me. I could hand my cry for justice over to the One whose end goal is always restoration. I could also speak the truth openly without carrying shame that was not mine. The process taught me about the goodness of God and his relentlessly kind and freeing love.

Memories of this time in my life came back in the context of a powerfully emotional dream I had earlier this week. I believe the Lord wants me to share it because it’s about the times we live in.

I saw a line strung between two poles. Old blankets and sheets hung on the line like laundry, but they were so heavy the poles started to be pulled over by the weight.

I heard, “Don’t hang more curses on this line. It is already under enormous strain. Be careful with your words.”

I watched the line stretch almost to breaking, then I heard, “They will blame the messenger for this. They will turn on the ones who dared to speak the truth.”

I suddenly felt overwhelmed with despair, disappointment, and fear. It was as if I felt the suffering of thousands of people who just realized they had been betrayed. I experienced a deep shaking, at first in my chest, and then all around me like the foundations were sinking in a way I have seen in films about massive earthquakes.

“What is this?” I asked.

“A shaking. A tidal wave of disappointment.”

The combined powerful emotions and physical sensation of not feeling the ground under me was extremely upsetting.

“What should I do?”

“Shift your focus. Turn the tide by focusing on God and thanking and praising him for all he has done for you.”

I woke up and did just that. I didn’t have to think or compose thoughts or sentences. Praise flowed from my lips. I was still shaking, but the feelings lifted. I realized then the strong emotions were not merely mine. I was feeling empathy for the suffering of others without hope.

When I picked up my phone to check the time I saw a shocking message. A tsunami warning had been issued moments earlier. A major earthquake shook the plates near Alaska and instigated the necessity of a warning of a possible tidal wave for the central coast and islands of western Canada.

I watched and prayed for the rest of the night. My prayer consisted mostly of praise to the One who calmed the sea. I thanked him for everything I could think of. Eventually, even though several of my friends on the coast were evacuated to higher ground during the night, the all-clear sounded and they returned to safe dry homes. I believe this was a confirmation that the message was not for me alone.

I’ve been pondering the experience. I’m very serious about the strength of the emotion of this dream and the attention-grabbing statement: A tidal wave of disappointment.

I sense a shake-up coming. Every day we hear reports of resignations and allegations of corruption and institutional complicity exposed by those brave enough to speak up. People have known about these open secrets for years, so I have to ask, “Why now?”

I wonder if the spiritual atmosphere is shifting in response to the prayers of many for light of Christ to shine in dark places. I wonder if this is the beginning of a reformation and restoration of solid foundations and an answer to the humble cry for justice. Judgment starts in the house of the Lord, so it doesn’t surprise me at all that some of the first places to be exposed are religious institutions that have abused power.

Abuse victims are not the only ones affected by betrayal of trust. When families, friends, co-workers, and colleagues are confronted with a different reality than denial has constructed it’s earth-shaking. The Bible says a brother offended is harder to be won than a strong tower and the list of offended brothers and sisters is reaching a breaking point.

I believe we are in a season when many evils are coming to light – in ourselves, in our families, in churches, and in communities right up to world government systems. Even the earth itself groans as the shifting moves foundations. After all these years I am not surprised when people respond with denying or minimizing or blame-shifting when confronted by the seriousness of the discovery of corruption in their midst. In a sense we have all been complicit in a corrupt system ever since our first parents decided to defy their maker. Our first response is often to block out the light that reveals things we don’t want to see. It takes time and courage to do the right thing because we need to be able to have faith when we know this is going to be messy.

But here’s the thing, God is good. He does supply the resources we need to heal. We will see them when we shift our focus from our own short-sighted devices to the God who loves and makes provision for our growth by giving us the right tools at the right time.

If you wonder why you have known both the despair of disappointment and the joy of restoration in your life, perhaps you are one of the healers God is preparing for such a time as this. Like their lord, Jesus, safe people have learned how to suffer and still be able to love. They know the power of love to cast out fear, no matter the circumstance. Sons and daughters of God who know they are loved perfectly by Him have no need to exploit others. They know Jesus came to set the captives free.

Watch. Worship. Be at peace. His plans for you are good.

Hope thou in God for I shall yet praise Him, my glory and the lifter of my head.