Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Gap

“I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.”—Ezekiel 22:30 NIV

 This week I wrestled with this question. Can I stand in the gap for someone else and still keep them at arm’s length? Can I really love and care for someone and not be close to them?

Instinctively I believe the answer is NO. I do not believe I can really stand in the gap for someone and not care about them at the same time. The essence of standing in the gap means caring, loving and giving yourself for the one you are standing up for.

 

One day an expert in the Law quizzed Jesus about how to inherit eternal life. In the course of the conversation Jesus asked him what was his expert opinion about what the Law taught, he replied:

 “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27 NIV)

 Impressed with his answer, Jesus replied, “Do this and live.” Not satisfied, the expert posed the question, “Who is my neighbor?” In response to this question, Jesus told the revealing story of the “good Samaritan.”

In the story, Jesus spoke of a man beaten and left for dead on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem. Along the road came a priest and a Levite, two men fully devoted to God and His law—two men probably on their way up to the temple in Jerusalem to worship. Sadly both men when they saw the badly beaten man lying beside the road passed by on the other side.

In Jewish tradition there were countless good reasons to not get involved. They could have passed by out of fear of being attacked. They could have passed by for a good holy reason like the fear of being ceremonially unclean if they touched a dead body. Who knows why they passed by, but the sad reality is both men passed by without helping.

The hero of the story was a hated Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans hated and despised each other. They were enemies yet “good” Samaritan stopped and helped. He got his hands dirty. He spent his money. He changed his plans for a stranger in need. You cannot stand in the gap for other and keep your hands clean and your heart safe.

A few days ago Robyn and I stopped to get gas. As I stood at the pump a young man approached me with a strange approach. He looked at me and said, “I can see you are in a suit and tie, I know you will not help me?” I was taken back, and replied “why?” He told me his sad rehearsed story, and I reached into my billfold and gave him a gift to help him along. He was shocked and surprised, and asked, “Can I give you a hug?” I shrugged and said, “Yes” and hugged him.

Meanwhile in the car Robyn was nervous and when she saw the strange man put his arm around me she slipped out the car to run to get help from the store clerk. When we finished our hug the clerk confronted the man and asked him to leave. In the confusion of the moment, I got back in the car and went on my way. In fairness to Robyn it is often hard to tell the difference between being mugged and being hugged.

I don’t know if I will ever see that young man again, but for that moment in time I believe I stood in the gap for him and that act of kindness led to a hug—who knows maybe I turned a mugger into a hugger by a simple act of love. Remember standing in the gap will cost you something—it will cost you getting involved with both your hands and your heart.

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To Stand Before God

Leonard Ravenhill said:

“To stand before men on behalf of God is one thing”

“To stand before God on behalf of men is something entirely different.”

These statements by Ravenhill shook me to my foundation as a pastor and leader. I fear that after many years behind the pulpit that I have forgotten the holy calling to stand before men on behalf of the Lord, but my greater fear is that I have underestimated the vital importance of standing in the gap for those I love and serve.

One cannot take lightly the critical importance of intercession on behalf of the people. The words of Ezekiel haunt me. He wrote:

“I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.” Ezekiel 22:30 NIV

I pray the Lord will find us faithful on our knees in the gap for our land.

 

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Open Our Eyes

“When he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9:36 NIV

Lasting transformation and change begins with vision. Blind leaders rarely lead for long. Jesus lived his life with eyes wide open. He paid close attention to faces and people. He noticed what others ignored. He saw what others did not see. His vision changed the world and will continue to change the world through people willing to see what he sees.

Matthew reported in simple yet profound words that “when Jesus saw the crowds…he had compassion on them.” The vivid Greek word Matthew chose spoke of someone deeply moved. Someone so caught up in the experience that they literally felt it deep down inside. I must confession I rarely have such a visceral experience. I fear at times that my heart has become callous to the plight of those around me or possibly worse I am so self-conscious that I don’t even notice others.

If you don’t see it, your heart will not be moved. Take El Paso for example. It is a large metropolitan city nestled in a valley of nations. One on side of the Rio Grande rests a sprawling third-world city known for violence and a strong manufacturing labor force. On the other side of the river thrives a large modern city with a major international university, a huge military base, state of the art medical facilities, and a home for commerce. However don’t be deceived into thinking that a river and barbed wire fences can separate these two cities. No, the plight and future of each city is one story.

Modern transportation beats walking in terms of speed of travel but robs the traveler of being fully alive. Jesus walked everywhere he went. At the pace of walking a city comes alive with smiles, smells, sights, and sounds. Walking reveals the details that fill in the gaps in the story while driving only creates blurs and misleading first impressions.  I believe compassion begins with slowing down and really seeing. Seeing a community the way God sees the community.

Tomorrow morning or late this afternoon why don’t you take a “prayer walk” around your neighborhood. As you walk whisper a prayer for your neighbor. Greet those who you may pass by. Ask God to open your eyes so you will truly see as He sees. May your heart be moved with compassion today.

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A Heavenly Promotion

Fort Bliss: A few days before Christmas I was invited to take part in a promotion ceremony at Fort Bliss.  Scott Miller, a young officer in our church, was being promoted from Lieutenant Colonel to Colonel. He had invited me to give the invocation at the ceremony. Needless to say I was deeply honored to be part of such a significant rite of passage in his life.

When I arrived on base I was ushered into the assembly hall that was filling up with young soldiers and airmen. Since Scott served a joint task force all the branches of the military were present in the crowd. As the ceremony began we pledged to the flag, and I was invited to pray. After my prayer the commanding officer of the task force invited Scott to step forward to pledge his commitment to our country. It was very moving to be in the presence of men and women who would lay down their lives for our nation and for me as a citizen.

After his swearing in, the commander invited Susan, Scott’s wife and his two boys to help in the penning on of the symbols of his new rank. I wish you could have seen the pride in the eyes of his sons as they stood with their father.

After the rank was conferred, Scott was given an opportunity to address the troops. It was at this point my heart swelled. Scott thanked his wife and sons for being there. He thanked me for my participation. Then he shared with the troops why it was so important for his pastor to be there to offer an invocation. Scott declared that this ceremony represented his core values. The values that he believed led to his advancement and promotion to the rank of colonel.

Simply put, Scott’s core values are:

God, First

Family, Second

Country, Third

There in the presence of his comrades in arms, Scott confessed his faith and commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. He spoke of how Jesus had guided and directed his steps and flown with him in battle. He spoke of how Jesus had transformed his life and given him purpose for his future.

As Scott spoke I thought of King David–the warrior king–a man after God’s own heart. I realized I was in the presence of a man who loved God, loved his family and loved his country more than life.

We speak of lifestyle evangelism. We claim the words of St. Francis as our own:

“Preach the gospel, if necessary use words”

There is no question that our examples are critical if we are going to make a difference in the world, but there is no substitute for a man or woman who is willing to stand before his or her peers and proclaim openly their faith in the Lord Jesus.

Thank you Colonel Scott Miller for serving our King with such honor and dignity.

 

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Only 1904?

This week the El Paso Times reported that there had been ONLY 1904 homicides in Juarez in 2011. Simply put that means ONLY five people a day died on the bloody streets of Juarez last year. This statistic only reminds me how dark the reality is along the border. Sadly, in 2010 there were 3117 homicides so over 1,000 less people lost their lives last year, but we still have so far to go.

As I read this report I was reminded of the words of Habakkuk the prophet to Judah. He cried out to the LORD saying:

2 How long, O LORD, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
3 Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
4 Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted. (Habakkuk 1.2-4 NIV)

Often the name of a prophet gave a glimpse into his life and message. The name Habakkuk in Hebrew means “to embrace.” For many scholars this appeared to have nothing to do with his situation, but as I listen to the cry of this godly man, I hear a man “embracing” the reality of the world he lived in.

Probably in his day he wrestled with the unlikely and tragic death of Josiah on the battlefield pierced by the flying Egyptian arrows. Habakkuk tried to make sense of why God would allow the wicked king Jehoiakim to reign on the throne after Josiah had called the nation back to God.

We continue to pray for God to bring justice and righteousness to our valley. I am thankful the violence has slowed, but I will not be satisfied until children can walk the streets without fear, and parents no longer hide at night behind steel bars.

Of course one lesson from the prophet we all must embrace is God does not always work in the ways we expect him to work.  We all must learn to trust His ways and His timing!

 

 

 

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