Answering The Call is an international missions organization dedicated to reaching people in difficult to reach places.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Divine Exchange

We were in a Sudanese village getting ready to set up the medical clinic which our team would run that day. My friend Karen and I decided to walk the premise of the area and pray. As we began walking we both experienced an overwhelming loss of words. I felt like everything I was praying was falling flat on the ground beneath me. Becoming a little weepy and somewhat emotional, I began saying aloud, “How do we pray for a people who have been through a 17 year civil war? Whose husbands have been slaughtered? Whose children have been taken as slaves? Who are starving? Who have no clean water to drink? Whose bodies are racked with ailment?” I can not describe the helplessness I felt. I was even a bit angry that the only thing I could offer them was my prayers and even they seemed to fall flat and were not sufficient.

I was crying out to the Lord, “How do we pray for them!?” As we continued, Karen and I walked up underneath a large tree when I noticed she was about to walk straight into a branch with huge thorns. I put my hand out to stop her so that she would not get cut by the thorns. As I did this the Lord highlighted the branch of thorns. It was such a strong impression that I broke off the branch and stared at it. God began speaking to my heart. He said very clearly, “I am well acquainted with their grief.” I realized in that moment that God did not need my words for those people. He had all the words. He walked their road. He understood their suffering. He knew their pain. All of a sudden I began to feel emboldened and empowered to pray. We were not there to beg God for these people. No begging was necessary. God had already been there and WAS there. We were there to proclaim the name of Jesus, the ONE who wore a crown of thorns on His head some 2000 years ago for them!!! I began thanking and praising Him for all He had accomplished the day He wore the crown of thorns. The mercy He displayed then was sufficient today for the people of this desperate village in Sudan. I was so thankful, and relieved, that He wasn’t depending on me to come through for them. He had already come through for them!

We took a few of the branches from the thorn tree to our teaching time with the women later that afternoon. We shared with them that although we could not totally identify with their suffering, there was One who could. His name is Jesus. He wore a crown of thorns for them; died on a tree for them! He was acquainted with their grief; knew their suffering and He loved them. We broke off the thorns and gave one to each of the women. You would have thought we had handed them a million dollars. They smiled and thanked us and stuck the thorns in their head wraps. I will never forget one of the women waving her thorn at me with a huge smile on her face as we took off the airstrip heading for home.

In Genesis 3:17-18 God says to Adam after his rebellion, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you….” The thorns and thistles represented sins curse on the earth. The weight of this curse would eventually fall on Jesus. The Book of Matthew tells us, “They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head….” (Matt 27:28-29) What a beautiful picture we have in the crown of thorns. What we deserved, He bore in our place. The man, who knew no sin, became sin on our behalf, bearing the weight of the curse so that we might become the righteousness of God. It is the Divine Exchange. You see, even after Adam and Eve sinned against God, He cared for them by clothing them in garments that He made; just like He clothes us in His robes of righteousness. What a glorious truth!

He is not only acquainted with the grief of those in that Sudanese village; He is also well acquainted with your grief. He is aware of the times you have been betrayed and the times you have betrayed. He sees where your heart bleeds. He hears your silent cries. He knows where the locusts have eaten. He has tasted your pain. Even your sin fell on Him. And He wore a crown of thorns for you! May the truth of Isaiah 53 and 61 fall fresh on you today and permeate your life everyday.

Jesus was despised and forsaken by men. A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Our griefs He Himself bore and our sorrows He carried. He was smitten and afflicted by God. He was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. The punishment for our well being fell on Him. He poured out Himself to death and was numbered with the transgressors. He bore the sin of many. And all of this so that He could bring good news to the afflicted, bind up our broken hearts, give freedom to the prisoners, comfort all who mourn, bestow a crown of beauty on us instead of ashes, give us oil of gladness instead of mourning, provide us with a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair and make us a planting of the Lord; a display of His splendor.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Dandy Don's Boots

When traveling into southern Sudan, a lot of preparation is required. It is also true that it may be best to obtain some things to help make the journey both more comfortable and safer. I have known people to buy dehydrated food with the hope of avoiding goat entrails for supper. Satellite radios, I believe, will be the next "in vogue" item for serious travelers to exotic mission locations. (This last sentence is actually a hint for my wire as we approach our anniversary).

My favorite of these specialty items was one by way of my good friend who has accompanied me to Sudan many times. I don't want to give away his identity but I can tell you we call him "Dandy Don." It seems that Dandy Don has developed a healthy respect, or fear, for poisonous snakes. Dandy Don especially had this healthy respect/fear for the black mamba. As often as I have had the opportunity I have tried to reinforce and even encourage this healthy respect/fear of the black mamba. In response to this, Dandy Don dedicated a fair amount of financial resource toward obtaining a pair of snake proof boots to wear to Sudan.

These boots were not from Wal-Mart. They were the best that money could buy. It was absolutely certified that the boots were constructed with fabric that could not be penetrated by the poisonous fangs of the black mamba. The boots were also designed for comfort. This was no easy task given that the top of the boots extended all the way up to the lower knee.

You can imagine the fun the team had with Dandy Don as we left Roanoke en route to Sudan. Several members of the team, and especially me, were merciless as we teased him about his boots. You might think we tired of this fun after 48 hours of travel into Sudan; however, we did not.

In an initial meeting with tribal elders and chiefs more opportunity for fun with Dandy Don emerged quite naturally. As the meeting closed, I addressed the chief asking him to observe and evaluate Dandy Don's boots. There were snickers in the group as Dandy Don stood to show off his new apparel. The chief took the task serious as he studied the boots in order to properly evaluate them. A verdict was reached and the chief in very diplomatic fashion told us, "I have never seen boots like these and I like them." It was clear to all who snickered that the chief had more to say. Dandy Don on the other hand, stood taller beaming with pride. The chief finished his evaluation saying, "but there is one problem: the mamba strikes you here (motioning to the chest) not here (motioning to Dandy Don's boots)." I am not sure the chief understood our culturally inappropriate laughter and rolling on the floor over his evaluation.

The Bible speaks of another protective covering that we are to wear. You probably know where I am going with this. In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul gives instruction to the believers. He tells them, "put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil." One piece of armor is the breastplate of righteousness. This breastplate is much more effective against a much craftier serpent than Dandy Don's boots.

I have been thinking lately about how often we charge forward with the right motivation and to the right places, but try to make our stand in and with our own righteousness. The breastplate of righteousness that Paul talks about is not ours, since we have none; but rather, the righteousness of Jesus, the One and Only, whose righteousness lights up the city of God. It is His righteousness that is our breastplate. Charging on to the battlefield without that protection is simply ludicrous.

His righteousness covers our heart. Fully realizing it is His righteousness in which we stand, we are protected from a proud heart and humility, the most effective of all spiritual weapons, can wield its effect. This breastplate forces us to move and act in His strength rather than face failure and destruction in our own efforts.

It is really a matter of shielding ourselves with relationship instead of religion. Religion looks to our own righteousness while a relationship rests in His. I have even had the thought that perhaps this is why so few really experience the rest that Jesus is and promises to be.