Tuesday, November 22, 2016

What Breaks God's Heart?

One of the most quoted phrases from contemporary worship in recent times would have to be "Break my heart for what breaks Yours" from Brooke Fraser's well loved song 'Hosanna'.  Every time I sing these words I immediately think of all that is broken in our world through a lens of social justice - war, poverty, slavery, human trafficking, drug and alcohol abuse, family violence...and sadly, this barely scratches the surface! Interpreting these words in this way is consistent with the message of the prophets - "And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8) - and is in alignment with the mission of Jesus Christ - "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners  and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour" (Luke 4:18-9).  God is clearly concerned about human suffering and flourishing and is grieved by anything that diminishes His image in humankind.  But could there be more than a social justice lens to understand the meaning of these provocative words?  What else breaks God's heart?

Again, I look to God's message and mission as revealed in Scripture and discover that He is as concerned about holiness as He is about justice...

"This is what the Sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone.  I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes." (Ezekiel 36:22-23)

So when I sing, "Break my heart for what breaks Yours," my thinking needs to extend beyond that which offends my humanity to that which offends God's divinity.  While the two are not mutually exclusive, as God's holiness and justice are inseparable; it seems the former has a declining impact on the hearts of many Christ followers than the latter. In fact, when Christians raise their voices against a violation of justice it evokes a somewhat different response from others than when Christians raise their voices against a violation of holiness. This is an interesting paradox when you consider that the first and greatest commandment is to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37).  The depth of this love calls for complete devotion that synchronises two hearts as one, so that the pursuit of holiness reframes what breaks the hearts of those who say they love God. 

Consider these expressions of such love towards a holy God by key leaders in Scripture...

King David, who was described as being "a man after God's own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14), offered a prayer of repentance for his sin against a holy God, whom he loved:  "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge." (Psalm 51:3-4)

The prophet Isaiah saw his sinfulness in the presence of the holiness of God and cried, "Woe to me!  I am ruined!  For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty." (Isaiah 6:5)

The disciple Simon Peter, humbled by the authority of Jesus, "fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!"" (Luke 5:8)

The apostle Paul, fully aware of his own wretchedness and the power of the Spirit, chose not to "live according to the flesh" nor to have his "mind set on what the flesh desires; [but to] live in accordance with the Spirit [with his] mind set on what the Spirit desires." (Rom 8:5)

In each case their brokenness led to repentance and their repentance led to holiness and their holiness positioned them for mission.  God says, "Be holy because I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16).  Why?  Only when our hearts are fully aligned with God's heart can our hearts be truly broken by what breaks His.  Only from this posture can we truly identify what is broken in this world.  Only then can we bring a message of hope and engage in a ministry of healing.  Only then will God's kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).

God's mission demands a posture of humility before a holy God, otherwise...

How can we preach a mandate of HOLINESS when we continue to justify what is right in our own eyes?

How can we participate in a ministry of HEALING when we cannot recognise the brokenness of our fallen humanity?

How can we promote a message of HOPE when we are seduced by the values of this world?

What breaks God's heart is when the church misinterprets the full counsel of Scripture and misrepresents the character of God by setting holiness and justice against each other, thereby robbing people from experiencing the fullness of life that Jesus came to give all humankind!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Have We Forgotten?

Like many Australians, every year I attend and participate in two culturally significant community events - ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day.  Both days are a time to honour the memory of those who lost their lives on the battlefield and are a sober reminder of the lasting scars that war leaves on our humanity.  Each year at these services the solemn sound of the Last Post played by the bugler is either preceded or followed by the recitation of the "Ode of Remembrance" which ends with the phrase "Lest We Forget".  

While it is right and proper that we remember the fallen, have we forgotten what they fell for?  Has history taught us nothing?  Have we not shed enough blood?  And in the words of songwriter Bob Dylan, "How many times must the cannon balls fly, before they're forever banned?"

The ongoing threat of terrorism, the war on ISIS, conflicts in the Middle East and parts of Africa, tensions with Russia and North Korea, all would suggest to me we have forgotten that war never has and never will bring true peace and freedom for humankind!  

The relative peace that follows when the guns are silenced leaves those who are wounded or displaced by war suffering relentless physical and mental conflict.  The freedom celebrated by some becomes bondage to others and remains elusive for most after a ceasefire is declared.  The human cost of armed conflict only really serves to perpetuate the brokenness of our humanity instead of purchasing the peace and freedom all humankind ultimately craves.

When we say "Lest We Forget" it must not just be a lament about the past but a resolution for the future!  Every time we say "Lest We Forget" it must move us beyond reflective commemoration towards a robust commitment to find a better way!  Therefore, "Lest We Forget" that ALL human beings are made in the image of God and have been created to live in shalom with our Creator, each other and the world we share.