When the wind runs out of breath
The earth will not know its’ coming test
But the bondservants will be wise
Doing great exploits with fire in their eyes
When the wind runs out of breath
Many will be sealed with heaven’s crest
Trained and ready to run the ultimate race
Enduring the cross for the joy set before them – His face.
When the wind runs out of breath
The earth and sea will pass through great duress
A terrible mirror of sin’s great cost
Freedom’s scourge to remove the dross
When the wind runs out of breath
The nations will plan their so-called best
An all-uniting plan to bring human ‘liberty’
That will produce nothing more than terrible tyranny
When the wind runs out of breath
His glorious bride will be donning her spotless dress
Clothed with fine linen, righteous deeds of true love
A people from everywhere, but born from above
When the wind runs out of breath
The powers will fall and the glory will rest
For the heavens and earth will gasp to see
Christ’s victory from sea to sea
When the wind finally catches its’ breath
It’s deep inhale will gather the rest
Heaven’s prize from depth and breadth
And with great finale – The death of death!
There’s a fire that burns distant, a fire that burns free
But I have trouble seeing it with the fire here now with me
For the former fire we need seems swallowed in the blaze all around
Still we trust the fire that we want has purpose in the lesser that abounds
Fire burns away the hidden dross, fire removes – bringing pain and loss
Collective purging all around, searing silent echoes of the cross
Fire is no respecter of circumstance, does not delineate between
Battles on every front, desperately trying the obvious as well as unseen
For He who burns bright is He who burns true,
Using ‘all for good’ the flesh to subdue
Through trial and trouble the King’s doors open wide
Masking nothing, revealing everything to form for Himself a Bride
Unprecedented actions to prepare for an unprecedented time
A glory awaiting just beyond all the grime
The sons of Levi washed in launderers soap
A fire of purging, cascading truth with hope
All fire is fire, no matter the source
The trouble is finding the way of the course
If heaven’s baptism is pleasure’s ultimate friend
Then the wise will receive it to better their end
Still hot and still hotter the narrow path leads
Bridging living flame with that which impedes
For the joy set before the broken cry “Yes!”
Trusting the Good Shepherd into the best
Blood, fire, and water – all have their place
To bring the human frame into that eternal space
Who can dwell with everlasting burnings, with all-consuming fire?
Only gold brought through the pyre, tested pure and undefiled
To dance in the burn alongside Son of Man
Is heaven’s reward both now and then
Some yet will endure this physical flame
Others not called to martyr their frame
Regardless the goal is that all become flame
Living in perfect union with love, completely untamed
Forever attachment-less, forever made free
To play, skip, sing in heaven’s pedigree
I confess the blaze around me burns too hot for my taste
Until a glimpse of that distant hearth my dear soul awakes
For I will not trade for a far lesser flame, a mere temporary injunction
I must learn to grow in it’s likeness, and become eternal unction!
The Iron Horse stands tall beside the rock wall, ears spiked, hair flailing, eyes wild.
It’s only a sculpture, but every thing about this horse implies movement. In fact, watching it you can’t help but wonder if a real horse was cast-ironed in mid-flight. Galloping, stampeding, neighing – all words that come to mind when staring at this wonder of a horse. And what is its’ name? Wild Stallion? Crazy Horse? No. It’s name is “Patient Persistence”.
One day a few years back I was under it bad. The weight of fears, doubts, and wounds were pressing me into a corner from which I felt there was no escape. As the frustration mounted and my confusion sent me reeling, I decided to go for a drive to cry out to the Lord. Didn’t know where I was heading necessarily, I just turned instinctively this way and that way as I let out my pain.
“Why have you done this to me? Why have You stripped me of so much, even good things You yourself were doing? Why have You closed every door and left me here, feeling alone without any vision? Why LORD!?”
You are being pruned.
I knew that this was true. I had preached John 15 pruning many times, and experienced it. But this time was different, this time was – drastic. I felt lost, disillusioned, and in my pain I begun to blame myself and anyone else around me responsible for my current circumstances. I knew this was wrong, but I needed to me mad! Someone did something wrong here, desperately wrong!
It’s not because you did something wrong, Ryan. It’s because you did something right.
At this, I broke. That was it. The lie I had believed that was causing me so much pain. Surely something or someone had done something wrong. Financial crisis. Health crisis. Career Crisis. It all seemed to lead to one whopper of a personal crisis. But the crisis wasn’t meant to be the end of the story, but rather the introduction to a new one. At some point in the midst of the anger, the repenting, the crying, I looked up and saw this sign –
Exactly. And then the revelation flooded in. I remembered all the worship meetings where I cried out for my life to be built, truly built, on the Rock. I remembered singing about flinging wide my soul; “purge me with fire”, “baptize my heart”, “prepare me for what’s coming”, and on and on. And I wondered – what did I think was going to happen when I prayed things like that? He would invite me into the wilderness.
Ask, and you shall receive.
The pruning was severe, troubling, hard, and painful. It was a perfect storm of different catastrophes that left me reeling, and exposed many of my greatest wounds and biggest fears. When the strength of my branch was chopped, it revealed some poison within. And in His great mercy, and in answer to my cries, the Great Gardener performed the surgery necessary to expose and remove that inner disease.
You had been growing well. But OH! The sweet savor of your growth after I remove what hinders …
In that moment, I had a choice. And in those moments, some small and some great, we all have a choice. We can be brave, or we can be stubborn. I’ve often chosen the stubborn route, and at times found bravery. Like a child sitting before the loving parent who needs to take away that dangerous (but FUN!) object he’s holding on to. “Give it to me.”, the parent says, “Just let it go.” And the child faces the choice – is my parent trustworthy? Or are they just trying to take away my fun? Do they really know what’s best?
Stubbornness resists and says no, get out and go away. Bravery says yes, come in and take what you must take to set me free. Heal that wound, take that sin, silence that fear, show me who You really are! And when we do the latter, the most beautiful thing happens – the Great God of death-defeating, fear-breaking, sin-shattering triumph infuses us with such immeasurable grace, such soul-restoring power, we, in the midst of our chaos, are renewed. We receive new life! And once we are on the other side of that battle (there are many), we look back at what had kept us, even just a few minutes before, in bondage and we are amazed. That?
Within us those lies were deafening, but in light of Him, they are counted as less than nothing.
At times the Lord, in His wisdom and love, must bring us to spiritual places of wilderness where we can’t discern up or down, and the chaos of those unique circumstances is like camel’s hair and sand whipping across our face. And in the wilderness, there’s nothing to hold onto, nothing to comfort ourselves with, the same barrenness to the left, to the right, and all around us. But there is one who loves the wilderness, and loves to try and test His people, His true sons and daughters, there. It is the God who in the midst of desert can show Himself alone to be water, in the midst of darkness can show Himself alone to be light. And, in the midst of confusion and lack of vision, can show Himself alone to be the Faithful Shepherd of our souls. And that indefatigable lesson, He knows, is more than worth the cost.
After one of these type “brokenness to victory” revolutions in my soul, the Lord helped me turn my wheel in the directions that led me to this statue. I didn’t know it was there, I had never seen it, but the Lord showed it to me. And He said –
This is patient persistence.
I had imagined patient persistence in the midst of difficult times to look quite different, actually. More of a hunkered down, eyes tightly shut, fists gripped to my sides type of persistence, waiting it out, making it through grit by grit. But this Iron Horse’s posture was the exact opposite.
This horse, who is made of iron because he passed through the fire, learned to keep His eyes open. Even in the fire there was always something to see. And those ears? Shot up as if at any moment he will hear a whisper in the storm, a change of direction in the wind, anything to bring clarity to his path. Eyes wide and ears open, the horse galloped with absolute focus, hair riffling in the gusty gale, mouth open as if to cause the oppressive wind to be his very breath to keep going. This horse will not stop. This horse will not quit. This horse will run and run- because though he can see nothing now, he remembers he once did – and that all-sustaining vision of the Master causes him to fly swiftly after His call.
The Bible says that the times are coming when everything in this world that can be shaken will be. Currently many in His house are experiencing that themselves. The pruning, the chastening, the disciplining only a good Father gives to His legitimate sons; it’s not easy for anyone, not even Christ Himself. But He overcame, and He sat down having “finished” what He was given to do. And in our day, as shakings increase, the Great Gardener is pruning us, here and there, shaping and measuring, testing and trying, in order to reveal His masterpiece, a great Bride of a people who will look like their Iron Horse, their true champion, the One who conquered and will conquer. And that people will not be moved, no matter what comes.
Today, it’s Donald Sterling. Last week, Jars of Clay. A few weeks before that, World Vision.
Next week – it will be some thing, or somebody else. Another lightning rod of controversy, a chance for the armchair pundits and culture warriors to go on television, radio, or (mostly) the web to opine in all manner and means why this or that person/organization needs to be boycotted, defamed, or just generally run into the mud.
Truth matters – that’s for sure. And in every one of these murky situations Christians have a genuine opportunity to showcase the incredible hope, redemption, love, and truth found in Jesus Christ. Thinking about this today, I’m remembering that when God wanted to demonstrate truth, He didn’t just send a written message: a tweet, a comment, or even a blog like this one. He sent His only Son, who alone could bear His image, alone could flesh out (pun intended) all that God feels, likes, hates, and desires.
Jesus Christ communicated clearly that He Himself, in His person, was the Truth; and that the scriptures, though of divine origin, were simply a guide into knowing Him. The scriptures, though altogether true, weren’t ALL the truth there was, but a guide the Holy Spirit would primarily use to usher us into knowing Truth, the Person. (John 5:39-40)
Truth is, after all, best described as a Person (John 14:21). The God-Man who is also called “the Way”. He is our champion, our conqueror, our King – not because He said things right or even did things right to become that, but because He was, is, and always will be those things in His very nature. He is Savior because He is righteous. He is righteous because He is God. All his thoughts, words, and actions came from a place of perfect union with God Himself, a union that has permanently existed in forever past, and therefore what came from Jesus can be rightly said – came from God. (Heb. 1:3)
Even though Jesus is in every way God, He made the remarkable claim that He “can do nothing of Himself.” (John 5:19) What? Omnipotent God, creator of the cosmos, who holds up all life by the Word of His power, can do “nothing”? Sounds almost blasphemous, but this came from Truth Himself! Simply put, Jesus was not speaking of His limitations, but rather of His restraint. He willfully desired to listen to His Father, to what He would say. He willfully desired to watch His Father, what He would do. And then, upon listening and watching the Father, He would speak and act; or, choose to not speak or act.
From the place of union, from the place of intimate fellowship, for the glory of the Father and not Himself. And how does He best glorify the Father in this? In His actions and in His words He claims no personal origination, but finds great satisfaction in simply reflecting His Father, who is fully light and fully love. (1 John 1:5, 4:16)
And in doing ‘nothing of Himself’, God in the flesh revealed and defended Truth as it really is, and changed the world forever.
And now, as we “Christians” (literally – ‘little Christs’) come upon the scene of a world in chaos two thousand years later, we face a constant barrage. Every day is a battle, where truth is constantly tried in the public forum, where culture battles to define itself by itself and not by any other code or rule, and where the people of the nations try to find their place of safety in a field of land mines with names on them like “bigot”, “racist”, and “intolerant”. A world where emotions often overtake reason, and existing societal norms for generations can turn on a dime. How are we to respond? How are we to stand for the truth, once for all delivered to the saints, and defend that which is ultimately worthy to be defended? (Jude 3)
I will submit to you that I have failed at this many times, but as ‘little Christs’, perhaps we should resist the temptation to immediately respond, opine, prove, or just generally set the record straight on just about anything. Instead, could we look to Christ, who is the “head of His body” the church, and ask Him what He is saying, and what He is doing? Could we dare to trust that He, being the very person of Truth, knows how best to defend Himself? This is a daily trial, a taking up of our cross, not to take a stand or grab a megaphone and out-shout the opponents whose ridiculous arguments are just begging to be slaughtered with a word!
And even if we did that (I have!), and even if we “win” (whatever that means), even if we prove our point or show the other’s to be imbecilic, will we have won them over to truth? Perhaps sometimes, but this seems rare. Most of the time, it appears, rationality is used persuasively and the other person either misinterprets you, changes the argument, or resorts to attacking you. You may have “won” the battle, gotten the most “likes” on your comment, but the other person remains un-moved by Truth, and, after trampling you, simply retreats to re-arm for the next public skirmish. Is this the best way to reveal and defend truth?
Perhaps the best way to defend truth sometimes is to stand up and shout. Or at other times, perhaps its’ enough to simply ‘give witness’ and leave it there. Or, perhaps it’s to say nothing at all; choosing simply to live quiet, peaceable lives of humility, justice, and mercy (1 Tim. 2:2, Micah 6:8). One size certainly doesn’t fit all in every situation. So how do we know? God’s honor must be defended! Right?
There is a better way, of course, modeled by Jesus, and it is extraordinarily difficult (nay, impossible) without a continual looking to Him, a continual reliance on His intimate fellowship, a continual realization of the combination of our absolute spiritual bankruptcy and His absolute spiritual vibrancy in all things. And then, as we yield our raging fires to His pure blue flame of light and love, we begin to manifest more than just words, more than just arguments, tweets, and provocations; we begin to display a wisdom that is beyond this age, using words that may be foolishness to man but the wisdom of God to work a redemptive place of curiosity inside the other person that will continually poke and nag at them until they begin to seek God themselves.
As agents of this heavenly order, this Kingdom that is “not of this world” in how it lives, speaks, or wages war; we shine forth a light that is extremely difficult (nay, impossible) to snuff out. We stand for truth, yes, we act in truth, yes. But we embody the Truth, Himself. Jesus said “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12), and then He turned and said “You are the light of the world.” (Matt. 5:14) Well, which is it?
My point, exactly. And in the increasing darkness of this world, a glow will illuminate from a broken, humble people who are more concerned with being faithful to what Jesus is saying and doing than being “right”. For if He alone is righteous, then being ‘right’ ultimately is found in being faithful to showcase Truth as He is.
Good morning true love.
Good morning lasting joy.
Good morning real victory.
Good morning mercy renewer.
Good morning death defeater.
Good morning light bringer.
Good morning patient Life.
Good morning faithful Way.
Good morning sustaining Truth.
Good morning adventurous Wind.
Good morning calming Word.
Good morning sovereign Power.
Good morning glory.
Good morning delight.
Good morning fascination.
Good morning, my dear Shepherd.
Good morning, my broken Bread.
Good morning, my sweet Wine.
Good morning, Lord Jesus.
Come be my world.
Jacob really longed to be a hero, all I really wanted was a friend …
The sculpture above sits on a small winding road in the middle of Leawood, KS just down the road from an elementary school and a park in the shape of the State of Israel. There are two bigger thoroughfares on either side of this one, but I like driving down this one sometimes for its’ slower, meandering way. And simply to look again at the picture of this man, coming out of the earth, inwardly gazing toward heaven. I’ve driven past it a hundred times, and I still don’t completely understand why its’ there.
“The Pastoral Dreamer” it’s called. And there he sits, lounging in the cool of the day in ball cap and jeans, arms stretched behind his head, pausing for a moments’ reprieve at the end of a long day of work. Enough time to kick back and allow those day-dreams to come flooding back again, that which he’s been pushing aside all day to give himself to more focused work. Like flies he’s swatted them away in favor of the more important tasks at hand, that which will produce immediate results, that which will show measurable fruit. But now, at long last, the dreams can stay.
Jacob have you dreamed for Me, the way that I have dreamed for you?
And what does the Pastoral Dreamer dream? Surely more than just work and sheep. The name “pastoral”, arising from the profession of a shepherd, herding them together (safer together) away from the wolves and cliffs they so easily wander towards. Shepherding is a necessary task, but it is more than just collecting them, keeping them; the true calling of a shepherd is to actually lead them somewhere. Greener pastures, streams of living water – that which will truly nourish the flock and remind them of the reason they live in the first place.
Pastoring isn’t easy work. Those green pastures have a way of presenting themselves past barren wastelands, those streams often found just beyond shadow-filled valleys. Dark and damp, rough and rugged the path the sheep must traipse; all the while pushing back more than just branches – fears looming, expectations breaking, dreams seemingly lost, broken, discarded, all getting darker right before … the Shepherd steps in, to remind them again of His dream.
Because My dream’s not what you do …
The Pastoral Dreamer breathes deep, and lets a slow sigh come forth as he’s reminded of his own journey as sheep and shepherd. Faults and failures, truth and triumph, all for a freedom more costly than gold and impossible to earn. His early days led him with the drive to build, to grow, to plant, to conquer! The drive was noble, the vision great, but the striving to accomplish it turned out to be the kryptonite of its’ doom. But the Good Shepherd knew all along that would happen, even before He gave the dreamer His great dreams. After all, Moses needed 40 years in between dream and actualization, learning how to lean, how to follow, how not to strive. Likewise, Joseph needed pit and prison before he found God’s capacity to live out his God-sized childhood dream through his yielded frame.
Now, all the dreamer longs to do is be close to the Great Dreamer, to dream His dreams and ask for grace for the next step in the long, adventurous, terrifying journey of seeing them unfold. The dreamer works hard, not always knowing why; takes the turns as they come, swallows hard in the pain, cries aloud when the confusion comes, tries not to panic but hold tight to the vision, though it tarries long. He waits, and he waits for it; looking, he looks for it. And in the pausing he feels it again. It reverberates in a place too deep for words, a spot so deep within he often forgets its’ there. Its’ the peace that flows from the trust. The trust that flows from the Spirit. The Spirit that flows from the man who bled, the man who trusted, the Prince of Peace.
I have given Jacob’s generation, the key of David, intimacy – to open up the doorway to the nations, and release revelation – of intimacy … with Me.
I don’t know much about David L. Phelps, the creator of “The Pastoral Dreamer”. I know it’s in six locations (Dallas, Chicago, KC, Golden Beach, Minneapolis, and Norman), half torso sticking out of the ground deep in dream, legs shooting out the other side crossed in wonder. Phelps says he was working really late one evening, and because of “extreme exhaustion” at 2 AM he fell into a vision, where he saw this dreamer of dreams. He worked from the inspiration, and to this day claims it “a gift from God”.
Truly it is a gift from God to dream God’s dreams. A very costly – truly, very costly gift – but a gift nonetheless, and worth every price paid. And I have to believe, and I long to pray, that God continues to release His dreams all across the landscape of pastors in our land, that they would be caught up into something greater than self, greater than structure, even greater than people and priority, sheep and steeple. “The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him”, and in these last days we have God’s pastoral dream …
“I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jeremiah 3:15)
Accompaniment Track for this Blog:
Francis, you’re a crazy prophetic dreamer…
So says Pastor Mark Driscoll, as he sits across the table with fellow Reformed Pastor Josh Harris from Francis Chan. You’d need a Ginsu to cut through the tension in the darkened room where they sit. Camera rolling, they are filming a segment for “The Gospel Coalition” where they purposely ask Chan probing, difficult questions about what in God’s name he thinks he’s doing with his life.
It’s awkward, it’s real. Mark is his typical hard-hitting self, saying Francis is “cuckoo for cocoa puffs” for leaving the church he planted in his house and grew to a thriving congregation of thousands over the previous decade. Chan says he has been stirred by the Holy Spirit to move to LA and begin a “re-discovery of the biblical pattern of church.” Instead of constantly “tweaking” an existing, thriving church in Simi Valley, he’s heading into unchartered waters and starting afresh with a small core group dedicated to “living simply, radically biblical, lives of discipleship.”
Chan explains how he left the church on good relational terms and set the elders he helped raise up in place over the congregation, a method often utilized by the Apostle Paul himself. Driscoll scoffs, “Who’s gonna preach?!” Chan replies “My executive pastor.” “Well is he any good?!” Driscoll fires back. And with that you begin to see these men aren’t just on opposite sides of a table.
Driscoll and Harris then bluntly ask Chan if perhaps his leaving has more to do with an “inner dis-contentedness” and “needing something fresh” rather than the genuine leading of the Holy Spirit. I mean, who would possibly WANT to leave a thriving mega-church, tons of opportunities, and a growing base of influence just to follow “the Spirit” into a wilderness of the unknown? That’s sounds completely … well, Biblical actually. (see: Jesus, Paul)
But nevermind that. As Driscoll and Harris continue to drill Francis under the lights, Francis humbly says “I’ve begun to realize I’m way more messed up than I realize” and is turning aside to seek the Lord, live VERY simply, and devote Himself to the practical applications of prayer and discipleship in a local context.
Josh and Mark chuckle to each other when Francis candidly admits to being “messed up”, seemingly missing the point of Francis’ admirable transparency. Francis clearly isn’t speaking about pervasive sin patterns of carnality in his life, but the sometimes more insidious ways of man that have infected even the godliest among us, who, as they mature, realize God truly will not relent until He penetrates every dark nook of our souls with His light. There’s a reason even the Apostle Paul progressed from calling himself “least of the apostles” in one of his early letters to “chief of sinners” in his last. Paul was not a backslider, but rather awakened to his own depths of depravity in light of Christ’s glory, becoming genuinely humble – like His master.
Francis says he’s “starting over” with a radical devotion to the scriptures and discipleship, and that the Spirit is leading Him to LA to begin walking them out in a new way. Harris asks a genuine question – “It’s great to be prophetic, going for something new, but what if everyone did that? We do need guys who stay in established churches who can’t always just leave and start something new.” Granted. But Francis explains how his leaving his church will cause the people to lean more into Christ himself rather than “always needing to hear from Francis”, though he will remain a “lay elder” there, staying in close contact with the people he describes as “his family”.
Francis feels a fresh courage to surrender everything, to lay down his life and many existing norms and methods of church life to yield Himself as a vessel for God to move in a fresh way. He’s more committed to Christ and His Word then “the way things are” or “the way things should be”, both of which seem to often sneak in the back door over the years in church life. Left as taciturn staples, they can quickly become forms of Godliness that “deny the power thereof” in any stream or denomination in our faith.
Chan never knocks his former church, nor does he say they aren’t following God’s will for them. He simply feels that He can not be at peace until He walks forward with his convictions, come what may. I have a feeling that losing the respect of fellow “big-name” preachers isn’t one of his biggest challenges, but it is revealing nonetheless the quandry he presents to them.
17 years ago a small computer company name Apple launched an advertisement called “Here’s to the Crazy Ones”. In the segment crafted by the late Steve Jobs, pictures of world-changing figures (Gandhi, MLK, Einstein) run across the screen as the narrator celebrates those who pushed past the cultural norms of their day to believe for the impossible. Often mocked, these “crazy ones” changed the world in ways that today are unprecedented. The ad is widely thought to be one of the greatest of all time, as it helped spur a fresh generation of free-thinkers, for better or worse.
Imagine for a moment (just for a moment, though, for longer may get you in serious trouble!) that more and more people followed the genuine leading of the Holy Spirit in the context of Biblical community to let God continually build His house piece by piece? Imagine how the world would truly change if the church led the way in devotion, sacrifice, integrity, and love? I thank God for leaders like Francis Chan, who are modeling for us costly devotion to God and His Word.
So here’s to the crazy ones in the church. The “prophetic dreamers” who dare to take God at His Word, realizing the One who upholds the universe with His power is called “the Word of God”.
Here’s to the crazy ones who follow the Head of the Church, which is Christ, over every other talking head, no matter how incredible they may be in God.
Here’s to the crazy ones who realize that unless the Lord builds the house the laborers labor in vain, turning aside to building all manners of structures and organizations that may impress man but fail to bear the mark of that which is apostolic, that which is born of heaven, that which is authentically built in, and for God Himself.
Here’s to the crazy ones who, while men are worried about what will happen to “your church and my church”, tremble before God to find their true, appointed place in His.
Here’s to the young ones who can call us all back to the original plumbline of the apostolic revelation in the Scriptures, chastening us with fresh vision to move forward into that which is ancient and heavenly.
Here’s to the old ones who are willing to lay down and leave all they have built, even in God, to be faithful to the next thing God is calling. Like Abraham, they will lay even the most precious Isaac down on the altar in obedience – or even more – friendship with the only God there is.
Here’s to a new generation of leaders, who, without disparaging the old wineskin for the genuine work of God it has been in the previous generations, are willing to let go of all the patches and embrace something heaven-sent, travail-birthed, and Holy Spirit given for such a time as this.
Come what may, Lord, raise up Your crazy prophetic dreamers!
One day, Jesus of Nazareth healed 10 men of leprosy. They had stood afar off from the crowd, used to being at a distance from people, interaction. But, in their desperation they cried, “Jesus, Master, have mercy upon us!” with what the scriptures call “lifted voices”. Indeed, they must’ve, to be heard.
Jesus replied back for them to show themselves to the priest, something that would be a very disparaging thing to do for a leper. To go, as a leper, to a holy priest is to look into the mirror of what you are not and have it readily declare you, once again, “Unclean!” But that was not what happened, not this time. Upon humbly approaching the priest, at once, all ten were miraculously, instantly, healed. All ten were in a moment lifted from their rejection, their isolation, and their deterioration by the man from Galilee. But that was not the most shocking thing, at least not to Jesus.
The shocking thing was that, of the 10, only one subsequently returned to personally thank Jesus. Nine out of ten completely healed persons, in light of their healing, got busy. Some of them may even have been busy testifying to all that Jesus did, though there would be much time for that necessary work afterwards. Some may have used their newfound strength to find ways to go and serve God, now being found “clean” in the eyes of the priest. All of their families and friends surely heard of Jesus’ miracle, but Jesus Himself heard again from only one.
The one who came back? He “glorified God, and with a loud voice fell at Jesus feet and thanked Him.” No problem being heard from that distance, but, well, He couldn’t help himself.
Lastly, of all things, the man who returned was a foreigner. A samaritan – the one placed on the dung heap of society’s class structure with or without leprosy. And of all people, this one, this Gentile, this foreigner, came back to personally tell Jesus,
Thank you, Jesus. For who You are, and what You have done.
Oh, all the more on this Good Friday, to be the one who came back.
A beautiful 10-min “Thank You” track from David Brymer in the IHOP Prayer Room, circa 2006
Curiously, in this altered story set to song (see Part 1), God does not tell Abraham to sacrifice his son but “an angel”. This same angel attempts to stop her and the song ends before we find out whether his threats bear any weight. We are left wondering if “true justice” will prevail through the daughter’s bow, or if this angel is hell-bent on the horrible tragedy occurring.
Removing God from the story makes things a bit less controversial, and adds the element of curiosity. Who is the angel? Why would he tell Abraham to do such a thing? What is his real motive?
In the lyric, the angel obviously represents some malevolent force parading as good and righteous, and couldn’t more clearly represent what dominates the Capitol in THG. The Capitol is the epitome of elegance, couture ranging into the absurd with all manners of fashion, color, and fragrance far surpassing the border of normal. Their extravagance highlights their ignorance of the horrible injustice being perpetrated all around them, a society blinded to the wasteland around them through their infatuation with themselves. Twelve districts lie in abject poverty to serve and support their lavish lifestyles, where they are entertained by yearly coliseum-style gladiator games with unwilling children as the participants.
The injustice reeks with such abject horror, the stark contrast between Capitol and districts rings so loud, the cry for justice to be done screams out of any person reading the story who has a beating heart. We root for Katniss, or anyone for that matter, who is willing to risk it all to throw off this oppressive structure, this system of dead-mens’ bones masquerading as justice and authority and beauty and power.
No one outside the Capitol is worth anything, they are a mere number, a casualty of their terrible fate to be born outside – they are purposeless, save to serve those “more worthy” than themselves. If they are “lucky” enough to be chosen for the annual Hunger Games competition, well, may the “odds” be ever in their favor.
A terrible play on words, for the odds have already been against them from the start. These cast-offs are voiceless, but a gnawing sense of change looms upon them. There is talk of an uprising, a revolt, a casting off of this oppressive regime that murders their children for sport and takes most of what they harvest. The talk is merely that, until one rises up who unwittingly galvanizes the support of all the districts. The Capitol’s plan to “punish” the Districts and create hatred and division between them via the Games has backfired, and instead has served as a powerful force to unite them.
At the center – Katniss Everdeen, the girl on fire. She is Abraham’s daughter, given no name, but ready to establish one if that’s what’s necessary to throw off the Capitol’s yoke and save those she loves the most. She is the symbol of revolution, and her skillful bow is bent to challenge the oppression.
Why intertwine Katniss and Abraham’s story? Why make the movie’s most recognized song a subtle attack on Abraham, a likening of him to the Capitol, a comparison of that story to what happens in the Hunger Games? Perhaps we too easily expose our subtle cringing at authority in general, and betray a deep inherent rebellion against any being who sets himself “God” over us.
The current generation has a right to be skeptical of authority, for all the abuses in the last hundred years alone it is quite understandable. However, the pendulum swing to the other side is quite shocking, where in the most extreme elements there is a cry for a governance that throws off any known form of authority. We don’t espouse nihilism or anarchy outright, but our answers lean more in that direction than the other. THG explores questions like “Who has the right to rule?”, “What is the basis for that rule?” and “How are man’s freedom and man’s justice rightly preserved?”, especially in the later books.
Those who have read the conclusion of the series understand that the story doesn’t go in the direction we would expect. There are several striking revelations at the end, and there is a dynamic revelation of each character’s true heart in the moment of absolute crisis – for better or worse.
I aim to explore these revelations, because both these stories share that common theme. Crisis reveals the heart, and though man looks at the outward, God is staring straight into the heart, where the jabberjay is too often found.
To be continued …
Authors Note: This is the second in a series of posts (and eventual e-book) about “The Hunger Games” and the vital questions this series raises (see the Introduction below this one). This will not be “Finding God in The Hunger Games” but rather a frank discussion surrounding justice, authority, Christ’s cross, and the Kingdom of God. Thanks for reading.
Abraham took Isaac’s hand and led him to the lonesome hill.
While his daughter hid and watched,
She dare not breathe. She was so still.
Just as an angel cried for the slaughter,
Abraham’s daughter raised her voice.
Then the angel asked her what her name was,
She said, “I have none.”
Then he asked, “How can this be? “
“My father never gave me one.”
And with his sword up, raised for the slaughter,
Abraham’s daughter raised her bow.
How darest you, child, defy your father?
You better let young Isaac go.
(“Abraham’s Daughter” by Arcade Fire, first song on The Hunger Games soundtrack)
The Bible records the harrowing tale of a father, who, after waiting almost 100 years to have a son and more than 10 after receiving an audible word from God that he would receive one, is told to go and offer him as a sacrifice on Mt. Moriah.
Abraham had learned to be a patient man, submitting himself to the will of the God who had revealed himself in several extravagant and costly ways throughout his sojourn. He was a broken man, a man who was shown just how broken he was on the inside via his trials on the outside. He came to an end of himself and was given a new name on the otherside.
Abram’s transformation to Abraham came with a promise, that he would be made a “Father to many nations”. Everything around him told him otherwise, especially his wife Sarah who herself was about to become a centenarian. “Far too old!” was the screaming refrain all around him, and yet if God was God he would come through, wouldn’t he? He would do the impossible, make good on His Word, right?
Every promise God gives comes packaged with a crucial question, one that must be carried diligently from the time the promise is given until the time it is fulfilled. “Do you trust Me?” rings consistently until the day of the promises’ manifestation. Until then, doubt and her twin sister impatience run always alongside, prodding and poking through the twisting turns of the journey.
And so it was with Abraham. God promised him a legitimate heir, from his own loins, and gave that promise to him again and again to give further reliability in Abraham’s eyes. He knew he would doubt, man always doubts, but God is greater than man’s doubts. Trouble is – Abraham and Sarah were not yet greater, and in a twist of doubt-laden impotence Sarah recommended Abraham go ahead and fulfill God’s promise in his own way by impregnating her female servant Hagar.
Since God didn’t seem to be showing up to make good on his promise (after all it HAD been SEVERAL years), perhaps He was waiting on them? Perhaps faith needed to be made good with works, real action to show that their faith was real. Surely something tangible must be done to bring about the tangible result they, and God, were looking for. After all, didn’t God always use natural processes to work supernatural events?
Whatever the line of reasoning, the old, impatient couple tried to begat God’s promise in their own strength, in their own wisdom, in their own timing, by their own cunning plan. And the result was the boy Ishmael, the fruit of man’s attempt to reach God. God in His mercy yet gave promises to this boy (and his quickly expelled mother), but the consequences of that decision remain today. Today, the line of Ishmael is still fighting the line of Isaac, and both lay claim to be God’s Son of promise in their hearts and holy books.
After the disaster with Ishmael, God, being faithful and true, at long last made good on His promise and Sarah bore Abraham’s the promised son. Isaac, meaning “laughter”, brought joy to the couple and deep fulfillment. Abraham had amassed quite a fortune, having even conquered kings in the regions of his sojourn. Truly God had blessed him, but now he would have an heir of his own house to inherit his estate, and his larger promises of a family from which all of the families’ of the earth would be blessed. What a promise!
And then one day – the word from God came, and it was clear. Painfully, excruciatingly clear. God required a sacrifice, an offering, and lambs and goats were not enough. Whatever God’s purpose in asking for Isaac, Abraham saddled his donkey and in obedience walked the dusty road up the mountain with his son, his promise, his future in the balance. In walking that lonely road, he demonstrated true faith, true obedience, and true surrender in trusting God. While approaching the mountain of sacrifice, he described what he and Isaac would be doing as “worship” – and perhaps there is no clearer example of it in the entire Bible.
Abraham honored and magnified God by completely following Him regardless of the cost. He glorified God by believing that God was able to move time and space and even raise the dead if necessary to make good on His promise. His faith was accredited to Him as righteousness, for He “hoped against hope”. In fact, Abraham truly cast himself on God’s altar, dying to his own reasoning and abilities by laying his own son upon the wood.