Friday, April 19, 2013

Boston Bombing, Kermit Gosnell and Corrie ten Boom

So I'm not one to write much about current events let alone read all the posts, blogs and tweets that set the internet abuzz when an event as tragic as the Boston Marathon bombing happens or the lesser known murder trial of Dr. Gosnell. The latter is under the radar because the mainstream news isn't reporting it much but there are folks getting the word out about the late term abortion doctor that is on trial for murdering seven babies immediately after birth. These are complicated, messy stories that beg questions about how a good God tolerates such horrific evil. So I usually leave the analysis to more mature and wiser men and women of faith and find I'm often truly blessed when I read a God honoring post on their blog sites.

That was the case this week, which began with a post about Boston by Tony Reinke (you can read his whole post here and ended with one by Marshall Segal on both Boston and Gosnell. I also found some insight on Randy Alcorn's blog on the interesting effect pro-choice policy has on an act that would otherwise be equated to the Holocaust.

But none of these stories are readily available when my teenage kids come home from school and want to know why limbs are flying past people's faces after they ran 26 miles. Or why an eight year old boy watching dies. They come to me looking for answers because they trust me. I don't have all the answers, but there's Someone I trust too and that's Who I go to when evil runs amok.

First I talked to the kids about the shock of it all, because it's shocking. More so to Americans who don't see this kind of thing very often. I saw a Facebook post of a group of people in Syria holding up a sign that said something along the lines of "Our condolences...bombs go off here every day."

We're shocked at the evil in a person's heart that would cause them to kill what we would deem innocent bystanders. But the Bible speaks of evil in men's hearts from beginning to end. Genesis 6:5 says "The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." Ecclesiastes 9:3 says "the hearts of the children of men are full of evil." Evil hearts are a theme throughout the entire book of Jeremiah and the Gospels of Matthew and Mark both say evil thoughts come out of our hearts (Matt. 15:19 and Mark 7:21). So in a house where the Bible is continually read (and ours is one) we shouldn't be surprised when men do evil things. That's the problem with mankind. We're sinners. That's why God sent His Son to earth to live a perfect life and die a death we deserved. There is evil in the world and in us and it must be punished. God hates evil. But He loves us. So if the evil is in us, what can He do?

What He did was execute a plan He had from the start to both punish the evil and deliver us from it. He transferred the evil to His Son, who willingly took it all on our behalf so that by faith we can live free from sin and it's power. That's what happened on the cross.

But even those free from sin's power are still subject to it's influence. Evil is in the world (God cursed the ground when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit) and we should expect to see it. So that's where I started with the kids. We shouldn't be surprised by the evil.

But that's not a very comforting place to leave my kids. So next we went to prayer. We prayed for the victims, their families, the law enforcement and medical personnel, and the rescue workers. But there was still someone else to pray for and none of us were eager to do it.

The bombers.

How do you pray for bombers? How do you pray for a doctor that openly admits aborting hundreds of babies in the first, second and third trimesters and then even after birth with no apparent regret?

That's what brought me to Corrie ten Boom. If you've never read "The Hiding Place" I recommend you go to your local library check it out and read through every page. It's the true life story of Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie who were in concentration camps during the Holocaust. It's a gut-wrenching story but an uplifting one and there's a passage in it that God brings to my mind again and again when I go into vengeance mode. Corrie and her sister are trying to read pages from the Bible that had previously been used as toilet paper without getting caught by one of the meanest female guards at the camp and Corrie's heart (like mine) is wishing God's wrath be poured out on the hateful woman. But Betsie imagines with great joy that maybe one day God in His mercy will allow her to share the Gospel with that guard who has abused, mocked and imprisoned her. She imagines it with great joy.

So here's what I discovered as I contemplated the Boston Bomber, Dr. Kermit Gosnell and Nazi Germany. I think somehow their sins are more offensive to God than mine. And that's why I don't want to pray for them.

When I realize that I'm a sinner and that compared to God I look like Hitler, I get how gracious it was of Him to save me. I get that I was rescued from my own evil heart. And if I really understand the Gospel, I get that I didn't deserve it. I didn't do anything so wonderful that it canceled out all the gross and offensive stuff. And it makes me want to give God glory. I mean truly sing His praises (even if it is off-key) because of all He's done for me.

Imagine if a killer gets that. That he/she is saved by grace at no cost whatsoever and that there will be no punishment from God for those sins. How much more would they want to glorify God?

When a prostitute came to Jesus and the religious leaders balked Jesus rebuked them and said she loved much because she'd been forgiven much, but those who are forgiven little love little (Luke 7:47). How much more would God be praised by men and women forgiven of heinous crimes?

That's how I can pray for killers.

Monday, April 15, 2013

In His Grip

Whenever a month goes by without my posting anything I feel this ridiculous responsibility to post something more meaningful. As if my six followers of kind family members care. But the truth is much of what I write is more a reminder to myself of something God revealed to me in a given situation so I can refer back to it at some point in time. When I reflect on paper (or in this case on screen) I'm starting to find the exercise more fruitful than the impact. Which is a roundabout way of saying the discipline of writing is becoming more important to me than what I share. So I've actually written more frequently in recent weeks, but also more privately.

All that to say, if what follows disappoints, my apologies. I'm taking a stab at relevancy worth sharing here.

March and the beginning of April have proved challenging so far. Work is busier than ever though my hours are back to normal (30 instead of the 40 I worked in February). We took a week off for the kid's Spring Break and did manage some fun "stay-cation" things like a trip to the Field Museum downtown, a date night for Dan and me and several sleep overs both hosted and imposed. We also did quite a bit of Spring Cleaning and began a big project replacing a bathroom floor (which I must confess is still in progress). Added to that were two more wakes/funerals and a crushing sense of how quickly this life passes. We're planning driving lessons for our oldest and 8th grade graduation for our babies.

Sometimes it feels like I'm on one of those waterslides that picks up speed around every bend.

As I've gotten older I've become more of a planner, though I am no rival for either of my sisters, it's quite an improvement for the youngest born. So while in my youth I was willing enough to fly by the seat of my pants, in my more mature years (I know it's debatable) I crave security and assurance.

And what I'm realizing is the security I crave I do not have, but the assurance I need is guaranteed.

The security I crave is the comfort of knowing what lies ahead, which is sort of stupid because if I always saw what was coming I don't think I'd find it all that comforting. Instead of trying to figure out what my circumstances are going to be, I'd be better served to remember Who is with me in the midst of them. I've often heard and repeated myself that Peace isn't the absence of conflict, it's the absence of anxiety in the midst of the conflict.

We talk about this a lot at work, which is par for the course when you work in a church. We often catch ourselves being surprised that things didn't turn out like we'd planned or that people reacted differently than we expected when in fact we should be astonished when anything goes according to "our" design. What's that saying? Man makes plans and God laughs. See also Proverbs 16:9.

So it's good to remember that on the slippery waterslide, with its ever increasing speed I have the firm grip of assurance that I won't drown at the end. God is good to remind me that I have this assurance in the grip of His grace and it does not diminish in my circumstances, however harrowing they appear. In fact, it's in the middle of the crisis that I most experience just how strong His grip is.

This was illustrated for me some years back just before Dan retired from the National Guard. Through the efforts of some wonderful veterans I had the privilege of participating in a spousal helicopter ride above Chicago's beautiful lakefront skyline on a perfect September day. We took off out of Midway airport where Dan's army unit drilled. At the time Dan was the company commander and I wanted to represent him well so I made the bold move of taking the outermost seat on the aircraft next to the door that doesn't actually close. And in line with the aforementioned fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants tendency I was wearing flip flops, a sweater and had left my naturally curly hair down for the day.

The crew was wonderfully patient and assisted us with our five-point harness seatbelt and before I knew it we were ready for takeoff. I'm not one to panic in general, I'm not afraid to fly and though I'd never been on a helicopter before if you'd taken my blood pressure six seconds before flight it wouldn't have been higher than 120/80. Six seconds after takeoff would have been a different story.

We went straight up 2000 feet in a shot and that's when the reality hit that I was sitting in the window seat and the window was not only floor to ceiling, but it was open.

And then we turned.

Do you know what happens when a helicopter turns? It tilts sideways so that the people to either the far left or far right are at a significant angle to the ground. Being the person to the far right it was at this point in time that I said (though no one could hear above the blades) "My God, what have I done?"

There was nothing separating me from the open air fall and the only thing keeping me in my seat was that five-point harness belt. And let me tell worked. I did not budge an inch. I did not slide a centimeter. I was no closer to the threshold of the open door than I was when we were parallel to the ground. I was most assuredly not going anywhere. And once I knew that - freedom reigned.

I was so confident in my secure status that I stuck my knee out the door over Lake Michigan to tease my mother-in-law with the photo op (that's what you see above - the tiny speck of white at the very top is actually a huge sail boat). I will never forget that day or that ride. But I find myself pleasantly surprised how God has brought it to mind again with a new means of blessing me -

"My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand" John 10:29