Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Rest of the Story

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

I wish I could capture for you just what kind of miracles God has been orchestrating...

I wish I could do justice with my testimony to that which God is doing in our midst...

I got to go to Israel!

The things that had to happen, that had to come together in order to even put such a thing on the radar, let alone bring it to pass, it was nothing short of a parting of the Red Sea.

"We need to do this," I said to my best friend when I first heard about the trip. But we both knew we couldn't come up with that kind of money. And then school and internship demands discouraged me from giving it a second thought, and the dream disappeared on a horizon of life.

But if I were to do the story justice I would have to go further back.

Five years ago a woman approached me after a prayer service and told me that God prompted her to give me something - a packet of information about Israel, about visiting and participating in prayer for God's chosen people. It planted a seed in my heart and mind - not just the idea of visiting the Holy Land, but the idea of praying for God's chosen ones.

Interestingly, two years later I made a friend whose family lineage is Jewish. He started talking to me about God's people, about the Jewish laws and customs and culture. He allowed me to catch a glimpse of God through their eyes, even to the point that I got to hear the story of Isaac and Rebekah from a chubby Jewish lady in the old oral tradition. It was delightful!

And interestingly, that story is one of a promise fulfilled...

But more than the silver threads of circumstance, if I were to tell the story well, I would have to tell you my testimony, a testimony about a woman who was in bondage but who didn't even know it. I would have to describe for you a young girl with a broken, impoverished heart, enslaved to death much as the Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians. She made her life in the darkness of isolation much as the Hebrews made lives for themselves while slaves. And just as God had compassion on their suffering, He heard the cries of her heart and He was not content to leave her there. No, He is never content to leave us where we are, even when we do not know any better, even when we do not know what to ask for or how to pray, even when we think we are okay.

God saw me in the pit. He saw me in bondage. He saw me in my solitude, entrapped in a codependent view of love and broken relationship. He saw me bound by legalism and ensnared by my own self-righteous judgement. He saw me swallowed up by the grave and he reached into my darkness and pulled me out.

It hurt, by the way. It hurt for these lungs, full of earth, to expel the death inside of them and breathe instead the stinging air. The mud scraped from my skin left it raw and smarting, naked in the emptiness of space. I longed for the safety and embrace of the grave. I felt exposed and afraid.

And then there was the part where I began to acclimate to new life and yet was acutely aware of the dirt that still clung to me, the mud that caked between my toes and fingers, that hid under my nails or still sucked at my feet, while I was not able to do a thing about it.

No, it is not a pleasant experience, being brought to life. It is not easy opening one's eyes to the daylight when all one has known is the night.

But then there is the moment when you first smell the fragrance of a rose and it intoxicates you. There is the moment when you first taste the water of a fresh, cold spring, when first you feel the kiss of the rain, when suddenly you hear the true majesty of thunder or see fireflies appear like magic sparks out of the air. There is a moment when you first know love. It descends upon you like a flash flood, filling you up until your knees buckle and you are sitting on the floor looking at the sky, tears streaming down your face in wonder. It steals your breath away until you can't feel your toes and you gasp because you've never known such painful bliss. There is a moment when you first discover something so precious and so beautiful and so small and fragile that you forget to breathe lest you disturb it.

There is a moment when you start to feel alive. That is what God had for me. That is why He would never be satisfied to leave me in bondage. That is why He was not satisfied to leave His people in Egypt. And so He brought them out.

If I were to really tell you the story, I would have to tell you about the vision He gave me when He brought me out of bondage, a vision for fellowship. I would also have to tell you about Africa, how one day I knew nothing about it and the next day I was going, a freak event that took me to meet a people - a people who would turn my heart to minister to my own, to invest in those around me.

Impoverished Africans filled with the Holy Spirit spun me around to look at the beauty and potential of my land and my people. If God had already dismantled my very identity and rebuilt it in His image, then it was in Africa that he dissolved my mythos and gave me a new imagination, a whole new framework for making sense of my story in the world.

He gave me a message for US, for THIS people, THIS land, THIS time:

"You have much to offer;
God's heart is to live through you, to bring life through you!
Open your eyes, oh great sleeper,
and see the work He has for you to finish,
see the love He has for you to give.
See the passion He has birthed in you
and the difference you can make!
The nations ache for you
- they need you -
not your money or your ideals but YOU..."

And then, in Israel, God revealed what the world needs us for.

But the story would not be complete if I did not tell you about the couple who was betrothed for 8 years but never married. It sounds random, I know, but this couple, they are a picture of the body of Christ, Post Modern American Christians, if you will. We have been a people betrothed but never married, promised but never filled. I met this couple last year. They were content in the life they had made for themselves. He even bragged at what he had accomplished by his own hand, this living death in relationship, this false purity, this word without power, this distorted sexuality and self-righteous condmenation of all that is actually good. He called death life and life death.

You see, he was in bondage and he didn't even know it.

And God whispered again, "I see you in the pit. In the darkness of the grave your heart cries to me and I am not content to leave you there." And God reached into the earth and breathed life into his lungs...

And Exodus began all over again.

And what was the significance of meeting this couple? It was as if God was saying to the young man, "Fulfill your promise!"

For that is the message God desires to send to the world:

"I will fulfill my promise; I am a God who fulfills His promises!"

And that is what ties it all together. You see, that is what the ministry in Tel Aviv is all about, the one I heard about five years ago from a stranger. They are praying 24 hours a day, crying out, "Fufill your promise to your people, O God!"

And that is what I learned about the entire Jewish culture - it is built around the consummation of a covenant.

And that is the word I received in Africa, spoken on behalf of those in bondage in this culture in the United States - in bondage to pornography, apathy, and distraction: God has demanded that these wicked taskmasters let His people go! He has a promise for us and He longs to fulfill it!

That is what I learned in reading about Abraham, that through us, through the blessing of His people, God will infiltrate and bless the world! I see now that by fufilling His promise to us, to the gentiles, He is painting a picture of the consummation of His promise to the Jews. In the same way that God blessed the nations that rejected him by blessing and fulfilling His promise to Abraham, now through the gentiles God will sneak back in and bless those who reject Him still, His chosen ones!

It is a beautiful irony. God will set us free and fulfill His promises to us as a proclamation, a prelude to the consummation of his promise to Israel.

And seeing this, how can I do anything but preach His Word? How can I not proclaim to those who are in bondage and may not even realize it, to those who have been called but have never received His Spirit:

"I have seen you in your oppression, in your pit.
I have seen your yoke of slavery, your darkness,
and heard the cries of your hearts,
and I am distressed," says your God.
"I am not content to leave you in your bondage.
Come out! Come to me!"

For "The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Luke 4:18-19

Surely it is the year of the Lord's favor, when all who desire freedom shall be granted it and all who long for promise shall be given it.

When I came to Kansas City, God told me to collect stones along the way, just as He instructed the Israelites as they crossed the Jordan. When I arrived at KC First church, they invited me to take a stone from the altar in an act of committment to pursue something very specific - the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. When I left for Africa, that was exactly what I sought. What I found was the precursor: Fellowship, the call to be a part of a circle of apostles. Now we gather, a ragamuffin group, riff-raff, misfits, in His name.

I don't pretend to understand it, but God is finishing what He started. The prayers of the here-and-now apostles sent me to Israel and I did not know what to expect. But I have found what I have been looking for. The Holy Spirit moved in a way I cannot fathom and I've come back hearing things I've never heard before, seeing things that were only hinted at before.

Even with all of these words, still I would not have told you enough to truly tell you the story. And so I will close with this strange string of events:

The couple that has been together for 8 years but has never married - I sought to bless them but they did not understand. We had a heart-breaking falling out and it has weighed heavy on my spirit. But it was actually in this falling out that God spoke a call over me to be a pastor.

As a random side-effect of embracing that call, my entire life has been rearranged, changing my internship requirements so that suddenly, I found my calendar clear....

Then, because of a random work email, someone invited me to Chipotle. And then because of that invitation, I ended up in a conversation with two friends about Israel. The first friend felt prompted to pray,though she didn't let on. The second friend? She happened to be the one in charge of the trip...

What I didn't know was that, while this conversation was going on, two of God's people were engaged in a life-threatening fight with cancer, a fight that would ground them, literally, and keep them from going on this self-same trip to Israel. And, in spite of their difficult circumstances, they felt prompted to donate their tickets ... two tickets ... to two students. So they called the trip coordinator...

my friend...

...and my friend called me.

And because I was given an amazing gift, a blessing, I finally got to bless that couple ... the one that still isn't married. I got to bless her in spite of him, in spite of past hurts and disappointments. I got to bless them the way God wants to bless us, His people, the way God wants to bless Israel. It all points back to God.

Last night, she asked me why I had chosen her to go on this once-in-a-lifetime trip. I wish I could tell her...

Because God ordained it. Because He told me to. Because He is offering to you a fulfillment of His promise, if you will but accept it. Because you are to be a message of hope to others. Because you have been called.

But "To bless you," was all I answered. Maybe someday she will know the rest of the story.

And speaking of the rest of the story, while I was gone, two more friends who had also been estranged were reconciled. And the two people who battled with cancer? It turns out that because they stayed home, they were present for the last moments their father spent on this earth. They got to say goodbye.

And the cancer - it is gone.

That's what God does. That is what God is doing. Glory be to God.

And I haven't even described what I saw in Israel!

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