2. Depravity, Grace, and a Truck full of Wood.

“Prayer of Peace” (attributed to Francis of Assisi)
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
     where there is injury, pardon;
     where there is doubt, faith;
     where there is despair, hope;
     where there is darkness, light;
     where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
     to be understood as to understand;
     to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
     it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
     and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Matthew 25:34-40 (FNV)
“Then the Chief will say to the sheep on his right, ‘The blessing of my Father rests upon you. Come into the Land of Creator’s good road that has been prepared for you from the beginning of the world. For I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was hungry and you fed me. I was a stranger and you gave me lodging. When I needed clothes, you gave me something to wear. When I was sick, you took care of me, and when I was in prison, you visited me.’

    “‘When did we do all these things for you?’ the good-hearted ones asked.
    “‘I speak from my heart,’ he answered them, ‘whatever you did for the least important of my fellow human beings who needed help, you did for me.’”

I made Jesus warm today. It was the least I could do…or maybe it was the most I could do. Or maybe both. The least, because after all the love that He’s given me at least I could respond in a loving manner. Or the most, because I am completely helpless in my own humanity without Christ himself coming to earth and showing me how it’s done, and sticking His Spirit inside of me so that I can even offer warmth. Yes, I even had to learn the simple task of kindness. Something that seemed impossible at the time, but in retrospect looks like “no big deal.”

I often have a habit of mulling in my own depravity so much that it lands me in an odd place…the foot of the cross. Oh, there’s nothing like falling hard into the Hand of Grace. Like Martin Luther, I see that in the brutal truth I am a “bag of maggots;” but in the merciful truth I am a “sinner saved by Grace;” a “righteous sinner;” a “saint who sins;” one of those human creatures that God loved so much as to save. Praise God that despite our quirks, He loves us, first, without prerequisite. I very often have the hardest time grappling that concept…the concept of Grace. Maybe that’s because it’s something that goes so much against the grain of this world we live in that it’s not meant to be grasped, just received. We miss the mark, the one prize that’s worth keeping, we cannot hold on to, so it must hold on to us. It doesn’t do much for humanistic self-esteem, but it sings more than a million sonnets for the Love of God.

My deep depravity is so cold and rock-hard that when the warm flow of God’s love runs over it, it has no choice but to crack. I have my own idiosyncrasies that drive other people crazy and, trust me, it goes the other way around too. And no matter how hard I fight; I cannot defeat the annoyance that comes when the other is firing the gun of their mouth (for some it’s a bazooka but we won’t go into that).

Annoyance plagues humanity, and I don’t know why that is. When a connection is made between two people it’s incredible and beautiful, but when no connection can be established it can feel like a hideous journey that inevitably should be ended by a hanging or a poisoning (not literally of course). As I look at the relationships with those people in my own life all I can figure is that it is all Grace that the killing never takes place, because in oneself what is at all lovable, let alone bearable, about us? I see our lovableness to be yet another thing that “misses the mark.” And during it all, if my “plank” would let me any closer to them within my reach I’d gladly relieve them of their “speck.” But they just stare at me as if I have something protruding from my face. I know that I have my own quirks too but… “If only that person were more like me, the world would be a better place.”

Why not just bury the hatchet? Oh, but we did! We just left the handle sticking above the soil, that’s all. We’d love them but the fear scares us. We’d trust them but they might not trust us. “Let us not seek for love’s return…” We might climb the ladder of friendship only to find out that they have taken a saw to the last rung. Knife in the back. Slap in the face. Betrayal. Spite. Shame. Who needs that? The Savior came not to be served, but to serve. “…But quench our thirst to love unselfishly.” Is it our thirst or the Spirit’s thirst? The sad truth is that many would rather sit around and debate that question rather than shut up and love their brothers, while they too have shadows in their past…the little creatures in the back of their mind that crouch for the opportune moment to ravish shame, guilt, and condemnation.

To look through the dark and clouds and see your brother hanging on a cross of his own humanity, only to look over and see that you too have nails in your wrists and feet. But here we try to ask the question, “Why are they hanging here? What did they do? That lousy sinner.” Forgetting that they are hanging there for the same reason we are…we’re all human. But to lift eyes upon the only innocent is relief, because, who knows, maybe He’ll accept me without contempt even though it’s quite obvious why I’m here and He sees that. So as the haze pans back and forth between the thief and the Savior, will your tearing eyes focus on the Sinless rather than the sinners? As the thief at Jesus’ side, will we amplify our fellow thief’s annoyance…or will we rather focus on the beauty of the spotless Lamb crucified?

The winters are cold in the Arizona Mountains. When I was a dorm parent, we’d have brittle snow, rain, etc. The mountains carried a mystery with them when blanketed by snow…at least for the first week or so. Then the mystery would melt even if the snow didn’t. What used to be sentimental sighs would soon turn into groans as I would bundle up and scrape the ice from my windshield. One morning God taught me a lot about helping others, though. It sort of took me by surprise. It was an early October winter that year. I woke up, got dressed, and cringed as I walked out into the cold rain. Bundled up in my winter jacket, I walked through the puddles because I was too lazy to go around them. I walked by someone whom I hadn’t gotten along with for some time, and I said, “Good morning.” Instead of breakfast I ate time because I was late. I was in the process of working on my degree via correspondence with a university, and I was in finals week. After rushing the kids to breakfast and making sure that they were off to school, I searched for my proctor (who gave me my final exams for my classes) so that I could take my test that I was supposed to take on Saturday. She hadn’t shown up for work all weekend and the mission school was out last week, so no one had seen her. She didn’t even have a phone so I couldn’t call her. I searched high and low to find where she lived because, to be honest, I wanted to get my test out of the way, and I was beginning to fear that it would be turned in late. I tried to find her house, but I failed. I was getting a little worried. (I don’t know what about more…my friend or my test). I finally found out through a friend that she had been sick, home alone for the entire week and she hadn’t been looked for until today! She was almost out of wood to burn in her wood stove furnace, so I, with some friends, cut a truck load of wood for her, drove it twenty-some miles to her home, unloaded it, and what about the test? Somewhere along the way I forgot myself so that when I saw her, all I could say is, “Don’t worry about the test, you just worry about getting well.” My elderly friend was, suddenly, the only one who I cared for. Somehow the nails in my own hands hazed out of focus as I focused on something or someone greater. Somehow the Samaritan helped, and the merchant’s son gave up all that he had. “…When I was sick you took care of me…” I don’t know how it happens, but in the current of my own selfishness the blood of the Lamb flows off the cross into the river of my own selfish tears. I lose who I am… or forget who I am. Why did I do that? I mean I am SO grateful that the Lord used me in that way, but if it were up to me, I wouldn’t have done it. I am pretty confident that if the in-dwelling Christ were not alive in me I may have never even reached out. It leaves me asking the Lord, “How did You do that?”…Then He says, “somehow.”

And I smile a smile of hopeless hope…almost a tear but more like a laugh.

These “somehows” invade my life more than I at first thought. So, I lean back and sigh in ecstatic peace, as I’m thankful that “somehow” He uses the broken to heal, the weak to rise above, and the weary to cut wood. As for the cold rain, the sun came out. And as for my depravity…well, if you stay at the foot of the cross long enough it’s not too long before you look up.