Category Archives: Redemptive Stories

The Arm of God

Lately I’ve been mulling about in Isaiah’s description of the Suffering Servant, the “Arm of God” who is pictured as the one bringing about forgiveness of sins, restoration and return from exile into joy, prosperity, and peace.

The prophecies and promises are thrilling—and yet feel diametrically opposed to our present world’s palpable uncertainty in which I am squirming.  Justice and mercy feel cold as a waning shadow when I read about the refugees braving the below-freezing weather in next door Serbia.  Humility seems a pipe dream as I cringe at the pompous rhetoric by politicians and those covering their ears while screaming their opinions.  Joy and peace seem only a dream as I listen to yet another terrible story of someone growing up in poverty and domestic violence.

The more I contemplate the description of the Servant…

He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him…A man of sorrows acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him

…the more my soul flickers towards the mystery of this—a mystery that is perhaps only glimpsed in moments of silence, away from the cacophony of the world stage.  How can the Arm of Yahweh be so broken and unattractive?

Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

Perhaps this speaks to our human nature’s tendency to revere the strong and powerful while cynically despising the weak and unattractive.

And yet it is this Servant that I can imagine moving easily and without fanfare among those who are in physical or spiritual exile, those who are despised and forgotten, or deemed weak and useless.

Yesterday, in the weekly prayer group that is becoming the ‘glue’ of the Little Darda Church, someone shared how it used to feel like there was a heavy rock pressing down on him all the time—a burden that was hard to carry every day. Now, he feels a freedom and lightness, a joy and peace.  He is moving toward forgiveness toward those who acted unbearably cruel toward him when he was young, he is resting in peace even when it appears that someone is constantly stealing his firewood.

I felt tears clutch at my throat.  I have been watching this man slowly turn towards the Servant over the last months, transformation slow as a dripping faucet to fill up a sink.  And yet, here it is again—the mystery of grace, the incarnate God who walks with us in suffering and hardship, who holds the hope of the future of restoration, redemption, and full joy.

“Give me your burdens, ” the Servant says, his scarred face alight with a deep love that looks into our souls.  And suddenly, as we decide to let our eyes meet his jarringly steadfast gaze, he becomes the most majestic and beautiful sight of all.

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Chronology of Grace

 

Sweltering in the piercing sun on Mars Hill in Athens, Greece,

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Just like Paul—minus the pink hat.

I imagined Paul’s artfully constructed speech to the philosophers gathered to hear this ‘new teaching.’ It was not difficult to imagine the spiritual inquisitiveness and intellectual pride in first century Greece from a city set in the shadow of the glorious Areopagus—or, as Paul noted, a city ‘fully of idols.’IMG_2527

Following the missionary steps of Paul in Greece (in an air-conditioned car) brought Paul’s church planting endeavors to a ‘grittier’ level. Somehow, I don’t think he was evangelizing to a crowd of 10, 000 via an expensive sound system and then writing supporter updates telling of mass conversions.  Yes, the church was spreading, but it was through arduous traveling, persecution, jail time, jeering, disbelief, and  philosophical and religious discussions. IMG_2581

Today Greece—largely an Orthodox country— is in the center of Europe’s refugee crisis, while already suffering through a long-standing economic and political crisis. The Protestant church is small but active, particularly in the refugee crisis.

There are only a  handful of Roma churches, and another handful of Roma in Greek churches.  Many Roma communities in Greece are mired in poverty, crime, discrimination, and lack of education.

Later that same day, while munching on a Greek Gyro, I sat with a Roma evangelist(“I am not a pastor but an evangelist,” he corrected me) in Greece. George grew up without a father, but hungry for a father’s love.  His mother, an uneducated woman,  taught him how to beg so that they could make a living.  When he was 15 years old, he put on a neck collar and pretended that he needed money for an operation—and consequently was able to earn a good amount of money.

When he eventually got married, he and his wife tried to open a small grocery store, but the endeavor failed.

“As I grew up,” George said, “sin was also growing in me.” He began gambling and doing other things, and went back to begging, with his aunt as his partner.  This time, he took a cane and pretended to be a cripple. His aunt’s daughter became very sick, and both George and his aunt became convinced it was God’s judgement on their deceitful strategies while begging.

“I didn’t know what to do so I went to a certain Greek island,” George said. “There is an Orthodox tradition, that when we want to ask something from a saint, you do something for the saint.  So I did penance by walking on my knees from the harbor to the church to seek the favor.”

When he returned from the island, he found out that his aunt had become a believer and began to share God’s love for him.  But he didn’t listen until his niece eventually recovered and asked him to come to church.

” I went to the church and knelt. I raised my hands and cried to God. When I stood up after the prayer, I felt a lot of love and joy. And I had a lot of love for people.”  A man—who  converted 40 years before when a group of French Roma had come to Greece to evangelize—mentored and discipled him.

“From the very first day since I believed, in my heart there was the burden that I wanted everyone to meet Christ. God did a very big work in my life. He filled me with his love. And I wanted others to feel the same love.”

Now George and a small group of believers are fasting and praying two weekends out of a month for their neighborhood in Athens—an impoverished place riddled with violence, drugs, witchcraft, and stealing and where few children go to school.

“We believe that the neighborhood will start changing,” George said. “God encourages us and we see things happening.”

Two men, two evangelists,two different contexts and time periods within Greece, but both stories illustrate the sweat and tears necessary to evangelize and make disciples.

Paul called himself the ‘least of all the apostles,’ since Christ called him when he was persecuting the church. He attributes his apostleship—not to his education, religious training, or the convenience of being a Roman citizen—but simply by God’s grace.

And this is a conviction shared by George,  a professional con-man called by Christ.

“I believe, ” George mused, “by God’s grace we can continue.”