Live Into the Freedom of the Battle Won

Sometimes the battle is won by one person giving his life so the others can live. John R. Fox made such a sacrifice.

Fox was a forward operator for the U.S. military in WWII.  In December of 1944 he found himself stationed in the Italian village of Sommocolonia. By Christmas day enemy soldiers had gradually infiltrated the town in civilian clothes.

A German attack from the outside had begun by 4:00 a.m. on December 26. The enemy soldiers who had infiltrated the town bolstered the attack from within and the two groups quickly overwhelmed the American soldiers. Greatly outnumbered, most of the United States Infantry forces were forced to withdraw from the town.

But Fox volunteered to stay behind with a few Italian soldiers as part of a small observer party. They would be “eyes and ears” in the town. He and the others would direct artillery fire from outside the town against the German troops with the hope that the American unit could make a safe retreat and regroup. Fox and his Italian party positioned themselves on the second floor of a building in a spot that allowed him to see the advancing enemy.

By 8:00 a.m. Fox reported that the Germans were in the streets and attacking in strength. He began calling for defensive artillery fire in an effort to slow the enemy’s advance. It quickly became clear that the Germans were going to overrun the streets and outnumber his small group. And if they overran his group they would eventually get to the rest of the U.S. forces. So Fox held his position and radioed his requests.

When evil advances something has to be done to defeat it. And when a mission is designed to defeat it, that mission must be finished.

John writes of such a mission when he tells the story of Jesus on the cross. “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’” What was finished? A mission that began not in a small Italian town but a gun-free garden. It too had been infiltrated.

From the Garden the battle was on. God had said, “He will strike your head and you will strike his heel.” We see the war raging and evil spreading until we come to a covenant: “Through your offspring all the nations of the world will be blessed.”

We see the battle in Egypt as God frees his people. We see it in Babylon when God brings his people home. And we see it as evil has spread through cosmos and creation when Jesus enters the scene.

He brings God’s kingdom against the “ruler of this world.” He heals the diseased and the demonized. He does battle against anger, lust, swearing oaths, temptation, lying, legalism, false teachings, spiritual blindness and persecution. The battle was against religious legalism and oppression. Against racial and social marginalization. Against sexism. Against cruelty and judgmentalism. All these things were seen as being inspired by the Enemy. Jesus came to “destroy the works of the devil.” And the final blow was found on the cross.

John Fox saw the enemy from his second story perch. They were starting to swarm the city. Evil was advancing. He knew his friends would not stand a chance unless he did something. So he radioed an order to adjust the artillery fire closer and closer to his position. He was warned that the final adjustment would bring the deadly artillery right on top of his position. Fox acknowledged the danger and insisted it be fired as it would be the only way to defeat the enemy.

Jesus ascended not into a second story house but onto a cross. He took the full force of the enemy’s assault on himself—the full force of the consequences of sin we have allowed to reign in this world—and experienced what we would have otherwise experienced.

Satan’s lies were exposed. His “certificate of debt” against us was nullified. Even his greatest weapon—the threat of death—was diffused when Jesus rose from the dead. When you see the ugliness of the cross you see the full force of evil in the world…and the beauty of love.

Next time you hear that voice telling you that you are not worthy or that you did something God could not forgive, remember these words: “It is finished.” Then say, “It is finished. My God forgives. You lied about him all along. You have no power over me.”

Soldiers lived that day because John Fox took the full force of the artillery so others could live. We live today because Jesus took on the full force of evil on the cross. The Enemy bombarded him with his best and most lethal weapon: death itself. And death did not win.

It is finished.

Question: Where do you feel attacked most often? How do you combat those attacks?

 

 

It’s Human to be Thirsty

It’s a human thing to be thirsty. And it’s not unusual to hear the words, “Can I have a drink?”

We did from a small Haitian boy. He had been watching our group of West Texans at work digging a well in his impoverished country. Haiti is a nation surrounded on three sides by water. And yet, 70% of its population does not have access to safe, drinkable water.

Our small Haitian friend wanted something cool and clean to relieve his parched throat. So he came to our well. He came thirsty. And he asked, “Can I have a drink?”

You’ve known thirst too. Maybe during an athletic outing or even as a couch potato watching an athletic event. Maybe you’ve even said, “I’m dying of thirst” when you really weren’t. It’s a human thing to be thirsty.

Jesus knew about thirst. He asked for a drink by a Samaritan well in John 4. He needed a physical drink. But the woman he met needed a spiritual drink. He told her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would ask him, and he would give you living water.”

Later in John Jesus takes the mystery out of his teaching by the well. A religious crowd had packed the streets of Jerusalem for the Feast of the Tabernacles. The people would live in makeshift homes in honor of their wandering ancestors. They would reenact the miracle of Moses striking the rock and getting water. Every morning the priest would fill a golden pitcher with water from the pool of Siloam. He would pass through the people, enter the temple, and pour water around the altar. On the seventh day of the Feast he would circle the altar in the same way seven times.

There was a lot of water being poured.

But there were a lot of thirsty souls present.

It could have been at this very moment that Jesus stood up and cried out: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. The one who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him.”

Jesus knew about physical thirst and spiritual thirst. So John alone gives us this cry from the cross, “I’m thirsty.” Jesus, like us, knew what it meant to need a drink. And whether it is difficult to believe or not, what John is telling us is that Jesus experienced the human things that we experience. And when he was thirsty he asked for a drink for himself.

But he uttered the words “I’m thirsty” for us too so we would know he understands what it is we are going through in this life. When we endure suffering we wonder if God “gets it.” The answer from the cross is “he does.”

And Jesus uttered the words “I’m thirsty” for us. He had a physical thirst for water and a spiritual thirst for us to thirst for him. Our souls thirst and we seek hydration. Often we look in the wrong places. We thirst for other drinks that promise relief: another lover, another drug, another book, another song, another church. When we do, Jesus’ thirst for us goes unquenched. Unless we hear his words and answer his invitation: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”

If you are part of the “anyone” you can drink. You don’t have to be rich or famous or together or beautiful. Just do what he says. Stop going to your other watering holes. Jesus tells you where the well is found. “Come to me” he says.

And drink. The word is present tense which means, “Don’t just take one sip. Don’t just stop with one round. Drink and keep on drinking.”

Too many of us are like my little Haitian friend. Surrounded by water that isn’t fit to drink and searching for one that is. Your search for a soul quencher may end by beginning with the very words of my friend which were also the words of Jesus: “I’m thirsty.”

Your thirst for him will quench his thirst for you.

Question: What is your soul thirsty for?

 

For When You Feel Abandoned by God

May 21, 2008 was one of those “before & after” days for the Chapmans. The kind that you mark time by “before” the event happened and “after” the event happened. (You can read the moving story in the book found here.)

The event happened when one of the Chapman sons, Will, was coming up the driveway to their house. He had been to an audition at his school for a musical. His little 5-year-old sister Maria saw him coming. She had been playing on the playground and wanted him to help her get up on the monkey bars so she ran towards him.

Sitting up high in the SUV he was driving he did not see her. The car struck Maria. Paramedics came quickly and she was airlifted to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. The paramedics were unable to revive Maria. She was pronounced dead on arrival.

Steven Curtis Chapman said that the accident made the family question their faith in God. In one interview about the day he said: “My son said the other day that, you know, ‘Yeah, we are family.’… But we’re a family with a lot of questions…But that’s what faith is. It’s living with the questions. That doesn’t mean you have the answers. That’s exactly what faith is.”

Maybe you’ve had questions too. And maybe you’ve had a “before & after” day where you wondered where God was. You’re not alone. Count in that company Jesus. On the cross he was experiencing a day like that. And since he knew the Psalms, he pulled one out to help him give words to his experience: “From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over the whole land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Elí, Elí, lemá sabachtháni ?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

The words come from Psalm 22. Unless you have a habit of reading the Psalms you may not be familiar with Psalm 22. But we need to be familiar with it if for no other reason than that Jesus was. Jesus knew the Psalm. And he knew the experience. And so he pulled himself up on the nails and took as much of a breath as he was able and he spoke the first line of the Psalm.

It was the custom of the Hebrew people to memorize entire parts of Scripture, in this case entire psalms. Then, the way they referenced a passage was to quote it, especially the first verse. So when Jesus says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he expects the hearers to think of the entire psalm. And as they did, these words would come to mind: “I am … scorned by everyone, despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads…”

Sound familiar? Psalm 22 is a fairly detailed account of what has been happening to Jesus on the cross. Does he feel abandoned? Surely he does. Haven’t you? Haven’t you had those “before and after” days you questioned where God was and felt alone?

  • The doctor calls you in to discuss the test results.
  • The company decides to downsize and you are a casualty.
  • The elderly woman sits alone in her room at the nursing home.
  • A young wife watches as her husband walks out the door for another woman.

You’ve lived long enough to have had a “before & after” day where you wondered where God went. And that’s why you need to become familiar with Psalm 22. Because if you know the first line you will learn these lines: “For he has not despised or abhorred the torment of the oppressed. He did not hide his face from him but listened when he cried to him for help.”

Jesus cites the first verse of the psalm to bring to mind all of the psalm. It is a psalm that teaches us one can cry out the feeling and the experience of abandonment within the hope of a God who will never abandon us. Even on the cross Jesus is our “Rabbi” or teacher. Teaching us that when our lives are the darkest to have faith that God will hear our cry.

I have days I need Psalm 22. It reminds me that in this life of faith there is hope of a dawn after the darkness. Of a God from whom nothing can separate us. Of a Shepherd who walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death.

If you haven’t already, get familiar with Psalm 22 today. Let it sink deep into your being. There will be a “before & after” day where you’ll need it.

Question: When have you felt abandoned by God? How did you deal with that experience?

 

Open Your Family to Those Who Need One

Moms and sons have a special relationship.  A national survey of nearly 1,200 adult children over age 40 were posed this question: If asked to make the choice, which parent would they choose to move in with them?

You already know the answer, don’t you?  2/3 of the respondents chose mom because she would be more help with cleaning and cooking, could help with the kids, would be neater and a better listener.  Dad?  Well, Dad would be messier and more of a couch potato than mom.  He’d have worse hygiene and say inappropriate things and want control of the TV.

Dads, don’t get too upset.  70% of the respondents said that they’d rather not have either parent move in with them.  But mom…it’s you if one of you does.

Mothers and their children, especially their sons, have a unique relationship. And whose is more unique than that of Mary and Jesus? It began with an angel. Gabriel shows up, tells her she is “favored by God,” only to find that means she’s going to have a baby before she gets married to Joseph. She’s a bit confused by this: “How can this be, since I have not had sexual relations with a man?” But she gets an answer: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”

She lost him once when he was twelve years old on a trip to Jerusalem. She pushed him as an adult to make wine at a wedding. She even went to get him one time when she thought he was out of his mind.

But the greatest scene for Mary with her son came at the cross. “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple he loved standing there, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.”

A flood of memories from Gabriel through childhood—to now having to watch her son suffer through this gruesome ordeal—cascade over her heart. If there ever were a time she would desire to hear the word “mother” it would be now.

Instead she hears, “woman.” What is clear in the Greek and even in the English translation is the contrast between what Mary may have expected to hear and what she instead received: “Jesus said to his mother, “Woman…”

The word is not impolite. It was a simple, courteous address. But the word was important. With it Jesus redefined family. Jesus is helping his mother see that family ties are not as important as ties between the teacher and his disciples. She needs to be on mission with Jesus’ mission.

As do we. A word from the cross to Mary and John— “the disciple he loved”—is a word to us about finding our identity in Jesus and a new family. We don’t neglect our biological family. But we do gain another one that helps, supports, encourages, and lives on mission together.

So we do what families do. We eat together. We spend time together. We help each other. We give counsel and support. When we do, we follow in the footsteps of the first Christians: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). We bring others in who have no family.

When we do, we do as John did. Eusebius lived in the late 3rd and early 4th century. He was the bishop of Caesarea and was an historian of the early church. He wrote about the traditional belief that Mary lived with John. He took her with him to Ephesus and was present with her when she died. Each year pilgrims travel to a house a few short miles from the center of Ephesus that some believe to be the house where Mary lived until her death. Jesus’ family became John’s family.

The third word from the cross is a word of devotion. Jesus is devoted to us to the point of death on a cross. Even there he is thinking about his family. Mary. John. You and me. It’s a word of devotion we are to have for each other.

The only choice he made was to include all of us.

Question: When have you experienced “family” outside of your biological family?