Friday, April 22, 2016

Compassion in His Eyes

I've never seen such compassion in a child's eyes as I did that day. I had woken up on a Saturday morning feeling pretty awful but not wanting to miss AWANA that day. So I drove myself to Kamonkoli, determined to grit my teeth and push through the pain. By the time I navigated the mess of a 'road' we're calling a highway these days and arrived at the church, my endurance was already tottering. I climbed out of my Rav4 and weakly handed over the bags of supplies to one of my boys to carry into the church. The kids were already singing, jumping, and clapping in the sanctuary as they exuded the excitement that comes when our teams of western visitors are around. 10 minutes in, and I knew the tears converging behind my eyes would soon make a full appearance. Crying and tears are just not understood or accepted here, and I knew how uncomfortable they would make the kids. I stepped outside behind the church and vainly struggled to hold back the flow.

Just then, two of my boys, Andrew and Tingu, sauntered around the corner, arms draped over each other's shoulders. They stopped abruptly when they saw me. Soberly, they stood and observed me for a minute as I hurriedly tried to conceal the evidence of my tears. With concern, Andrew asked me, "Teecha, are the eyes paining you?"

I half-smiled, tried to put on a brave face and said, "Yes, but I know I'll be fine." I expected him to agree and continue walking on, eager to escape the awkward situation, but he didn't. He just stood there with Tingu another minute, gazing at me with the most intense compassion I have ever seen.

It was not that long ago, I stood in the tiny 2 room house that he shares with his grandmother and sister, watching the way he pulled a mattress from under the lone bed, laying it out on the floor to sleep on that night. I listened to his grandmother tell of how his parents died from Aids, and I felt the compassion for his lifetime of struggle well up within my heart. But never would I have expected to also be the recipient of this same boy's compassion.

It touched me in a way I can't even express. This child who had seen so much suffering himself extending such kindness to me, though my pain was but for a short time. I will never fail to be amazed at how much these people minister to me.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

One Courageous Conversation

We sat face to face, with only a table separating us. I leaned in close and looked into her brown eyes.
I have something to tell you. 
She was so scared as she cringed in her chair waiting for me to continue.
God will never remove His grace from you.
Her eyes immediately welled up in tears as she quietly stared at me.
Yes, I understand what you did. I heard you say that you know that it was wrong, and you felt the burden of shame and guilt. But dear sister, please know that even when you sin, He will never remove His grace from you. Because you are His. His precious daughter who He loves more than anything.

Today brought one of the most precious conversations I’ve ever had with this dear friend of mine. My heart balloons with the joy of remembering the courage she had to admit her sin to me. A sin that had brought great shame and sorrow. A sin that had her feeling like God had removed His grace from her, and she was no longer free to come before Him. And yet, she found the strength and courage to confess her sin to me.

As I listened to her speak, I saw the guilt she had felt over her failure, and the steps she had already taken towards repentance and walking again in holiness. But I also saw the continued shame. I saw her fear that she was no longer worthy to come close to God. And I knew that Jesus was giving me a unique and powerful opportunity to speak words of truth and life to her.

The incredible beauty of our relationship with Jesus is that He has already paid for and covered every sin we have ever and will ever commit in one remarkable, devastating act 2000 years ago. Centuries before we ever experienced God’s forgiveness for sin for the first time, Jesus had already finished His work to provide atonement for

And there is absolutely nothing we can do to add on to His completed, finished, breath-taking work. Self-inflicted or friend-inflicted shame does not make us more worthy to receive His grace, or make Him more willing to bestow it! He has already given His children the full measure of His grace, completely, freely, and without condition.

So then why are we so afraid to come running back to Him when we have fallen? Is it because we expect the same disappointment, reproof, and judgment we often see in the eyes of other believers when they discover our greatest failings?

From the time I was young, I remember reading the verse in James 5 that commands “confess your sins to one another.” There were few verses in the Scripture that could fill me with as much terror as that one. If we’re talking about confessing the common run-of-the-mill sins like snapping at my sister or being selfish with my roommates, then fine. We can talk about those, and I might even earn some piety points by confessing them in a very humble, transparent way. But if we’re talking about the really shameful sins like lust or gluttony, then I’m out. The thought of voicing my struggles and failures in the areas that I feel the most shame brings absolute terror. What if that friend thinks as lowly about me as I do about myself??? How will I face the condemnation and disgust in her eyes when she hears just how badly I’ve messed up?

And somehow, I imagine the same response from Jesus. Surely because He knows exactly what I’ve done, He won’t even be able to look at me. Surely He won’t be able to stand being in the same room as me. Surely if I attempt to pray, He’ll watch in incredulity at my audacity to pretend like everything’s ok. These are the feelings and beliefs that have buried the lies deep in my heart, stubbornly rising to the surface each time I’m faced with the reality of my own failures.

But what if I had a true, full understanding of what Jesus really did for me? What if I felt and experienced, not just knew about, the extent of His extravagant grace towards me. What if I truly believed deep deep down (and not just in my head!) that nothing could separate me from His love? What if the picture in my mind of Him wasn’t an angry, toe-tapping parent, just waiting for me to ‘fess up and face the consequences, but an ever-kind friend who had already stepped in to suffer the consequences on my behalf? What if instead of the condemnation I feared to see in His eyes I found pity and compassion? What if I was rock-solid convinced of who He really is, and who I really am to Him? Wouldn’t it change everything?? I know it would.

So I proclaimed just as much to myself as to my friend the words of life and truth that Jesus gave. And I will keep proclaiming them until I believe them not only in my head, but deep deep down in my heart.

It’s so incredible to me to see how often I think I’m just doing the ministry God gave me of teaching and discipling people here, but through it Jesus is really teaching and discipling me. I can’t teach a single Bible Study for the teachers or lesson for the kids without being challenged, convicted, or encouraged myself by the words Jesus speaks to and through me. It’s an amazing thing to hear your voice speaking, but know that the Spirit is bringing those words just as much for me as for the other person! How privileged I am to be His messenger! What an incredible God I serve!!