Thanks to my blogger friend MIKE RIDENOUR for this morning’s inspiration.
“On October 2, 2006, a shooting occurred at the West Nickel Mines School, an Amish one-room schoolhouse in the Old Order Amish community of Nickel Mines, a village in Bart Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Gunman Charles Carl Roberts IV took hostages and shot eight out of ten girls, killing five, before committing suicide in the schoolhouse. The emphasis on forgiveness and reconciliation in the response of the Amish community was widely discussed in the national media. The West Nickel Mines School was torn down, and a new one-room schoolhouse, the New Hope School, was built at another location.”
Nearly twelve years ago while taking a break from driving, sitting at a Midwest truck-stop, watching TV on my satellite connection, this breaking news story darkened my soul like nothing else in recent memory. As a young boy I had attended public school with Amish boys and girls, I lived in communities where the clop-clop of Amish buggies passing by was a normal everyday occurrence, my family shopped at the grocery store with Amish families. Their way of life was fascinating to me. How could they follow such a simple lifestyle eschewing modern conveniences and still be the happiest people I knew? I greatly envied their humility and dedication to the community of believers which they chose to follow.
And the Amish community fathers immediately issued a statement of forgiveness. Did they mourn? Of course. Were the parents angry? Probably. But they followed the directive set forth by the Scriptures which they revered and followed. Those simple folks knew something which most of the world has never learned to practice – forgiveness.
Even today as I write this, my eyes well up with tears. Innocent schoolgirls gunned down execution style by a madman. On October 2, 2006 I cried like a baby for several hours. My driving partner could not console me, my prayers would not stop the tears, the God of my understanding had deserted me. Five killed. Others injured. The young boys who had been herded outside stood by helplessly as their schoolmates inside screamed while shot after shot was fired.
Could I have forgiven? If my little girl was one of those standing in front of the blackboard with her back to the gunman waiting for her turn to be murdered, could I forgive? Even today, twelve years later, I don’t know that I could answer that question honestly. I know what Jesus said, I know what the teachings are, I know what the Amish fathers did, but I am still a man who sometimes feeds on justified anger.
As He neared physical death, from the crucifixion cross, Jesus spoke these words, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34
Oh Lord, if those who have suffered unimaginable horrors can forgive, if Elie Wiesel could forgive the Nazis who decimated his people, if John McCain could forgive his captors who tortured him, then Lord, who am I to withhold forgiveness for an unkind word, an insult, a selfish action? My grievances are so extremely petty compared to those who were mentally and physically abused by the powers of evil.
“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Matthew 6:12
It’s a tall order. It’s up to me, isn’t it? I cannot live the life destined for me by a Savior if my head is filled with grudges and grievances, no matter how great or small. I cannot be the mended broken vessel useful to Jesus if my eyes do not see beyond the hurts and humiliations which insulted my pride and sense of self-righteousness.
“Show me how to love the unlovable.
Show me how to reach the unreachable.
Show me how to see what your mercy sees.”
If your life is perfect, if you have no problems, if your faith is strong as an ox, then this post is probably not for you. On the other hand, if you are like me, a man who questions everything, doubts everything as the disciple Thomas did, reels between ecstasy and bewilderment when considering the things of faith, then we can appreciate the title of Matthew West’s song, BROKEN THINGS.
“If it’s true you use broken things – then here I am Lord, I’m all yours.”
People don’t like broken things – they throw away cracked dishes, broken vacuum cleaners, flickering lamps, worn clothing. I remember my grandfather who took his shoes to a cobbler to be re-soled rather than buy new shoes. Thinking he could not afford new shoes, I bought him a pair for Christmas. Graciously he thanked me but continued wearing those old shoes. That new pair was still in its box when Grandpa died.
Rather than repairing broken relationships, husbands and wives will find good divorce lawyers. Fathers and sons remain estranged for many years after a disagreement, not remembering what the argument was about, but too stubborn to reconcile. For many of us, broken relationships are not worth repairing.
I was the last to admit that I was broken. My life had spiraled head first into a vast darkness which applauded my efforts to be strong, to be better than others, to stand out from the crowd, to chart my own destiny no matter what the cost. I swam in that sea of darkness believing it was my strength of character and independence that kept me afloat. I did it entirely on my own personal will power. I drove myself to be a self-made man, independent of anyone – especially God.
Some of us are sicker than others. Thankfully, God knows this; he has a special room in His heart for the sickest of the sick. Patiently, steadfastly, lovingly He guided me to a place where I could take an honest assessment of me – on my knees. We talked, we cried, we screamed out in pain and then we entered the wide gate into the Kingdom of grace.
I am still a broken vessel today. I like it that way because my Lord can use broken things to fix the brokenness which He sees in his human family. Patch me, glue me, bind me together. Like that pair of Grandpa’s worn-out shoes, I can always be re-souled. “I am just a beggar in the presence of a King.”
“Grace is a Kingdom with gates open wide.”
“Turn Your ear to me, rescue me quickly. Be a rock of refuge for me, a stronghold for my deliverance.” PSALM 31:3 TL
Where do you go when your world is being challenged from all sides? I know you have been there because you and I are not uniquely different and, trust me, I have spent a lot of time begging the above verse penned by the authors of Psalms. It is my signature plea to a timeless, Universal entity whom I name God. You may name yours by another name, but when we cast aside man’s theological philosophies there is just one who is the I AM.
I like the word phrasing, “rock of refuge.” It inspires in my mind a place, or state of consciousness, which is protected from the ravages of an insane world, a place where the intents of vile men cannot reach me, a sanctuary which can conceal me even from the evil which exists within. The rock is strong, impenetrable and secure. Amazingly, it does not erode with the forces of nature or the passage of time. On the contrary, it grows and becomes stronger.
And, it is a “stronghold for my deliverance.” As much as I would like to attribute all my factory defects to environment and circumstance, when I find that inner place of honesty and transparency, I realize that I need desperately to be delivered from myself and the character traits which make my personal world insane and unmanageable. “Turn you ear to me, rescue me quickly” from that which seeks to destroy me – anger, envy, greed, gluttony, pride, sloth, and lust.
Social injustice, poverty, oppression, national politics are also issues that can cause severe conflict if I don’t have a rock to sort everything and place priorities on those issues. Approaching wickedness and uncivility with a peaceable intervention does not imply a lack of conviction. I do not need to scream and rant to show the outside world that I am incensed by a corrupt political system. Jesus overturned the tax collectors’ tables efficiently and forcefully, but I don’t see in the Bible any accounts of screaming, violence, and profanity. Jesus also had that rock as his fortress and refuge. He had his personal inner conviction guiding his actions, but he relied on the strength of the rock whom he called Father.
Many people want to contradict the existence of a rock, they vehemently deny with substantial energy that God is not. That’s OK, I at one time was one of them. Stridently ridiculing those of faith and defying them to prove their faith was a hallmark of my youth. I was the intelligent one, they were the dupes.
Only when alcoholism forced me to my knees, did I decide to stay on my knees for a few moments longer and say a prayer, plead to the unfamiliar rock and fortress which I had ridiculed and discredited for many years. With no more arguments, nothing to lose, I was in desperate need of relief from myself and my atheism.
My church foundation as a young boy was based on old time preaching and music. We sang “ROCK OF AGES” probably every Sunday. “Rock of ages cleft for me.” It’s a stunning visual for lost souls – a fissure in a solid rock wall split to provide protection and comfort from the elements of our personal storms. Why would anyone not want to believe?
“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”
I would like to think that I am the guy who always keeps a cool head, always speaks kindly, always responds in a civil manner. But, I am not. I stammer, spit, and sputter in moments of anger or disgust. In my mind I am able to read to you the riot act when I feel I’ve been maligned. Don’t you know who I am?
In the previous paragraph “I” or a form thereof was used 8 times. That is the problem. “I” sometimes becomes the dominant pronoun used in thought and conversation leading to a severe case of me,me,me which almost always excludes “you”, “they”, and even “we” from any dialog. It becomes a one-sided conversation which clearly clarifies my position, but simultaneously bars you from taking part in the interaction. Great ego stuff for me, not much fun for you.
The world is like that, is it not? Tact, civility, and compromise have all but disappeared. Conversation consists of pointing accusatory fingers, pumping personal ego, and demanding respect where respect is undue. “My way or the highway” has become the norm in political discourse separating your party from my party and forcing one of us to be the boogeyman. In a candidate debate for elected office, the debate often turns into a tit-for-tat assault on personal integrity. Oh, never mind that children in America are starving, that violence is escalating alarmingly, or that we could be nuked tomorrow. You, candidate A, are a scumbag and I, candidate B, will let our constituency know all your lurid details. Really? Do you think the homeless veteran scrounging for a meal in the dumpster really cares what candidate A did?
It seems that we take our cues from celebrities, the rich, and the famous. As they do, we want to do. As they speak, we speak. Twitter and Facebook have made it too simple to assail, insult, assault, libel someone we probably don’t even know without any threat of accountability. No need to fear blackened eyes or missing teeth from a physical one-on-one confrontation.
Personally, as I have confessed, I still go there sometimes. The verbal barrage, the unkind thoughts, and the judgmental attitudes can swoop down on me in a heartbeat. But, when the emotion is spent and the brain is engaged, I find myself saying to a beleaguered me, “Was it good for you? Did that tirade make you feel better about yourself?”