They stood, shadowy figures, emaciated, bleeding, dripping wet. Chained together amidst the dusty streets. Innumerable.
In the distance a man walked toward them. Humble, simple, with rugged hands and blue-collar arms. I could see the desire in his eyes. A longing that held the weight of a thousands stories.
He was coming to collect something of His own.
We stood, as broken creatures gazing upon this man. Hardly daring to look upwards toward those eyes. We lived in squalor. Shame. Poverty. And the most haunting scent lingered in the air upon us. Death.
Some hurled insults. Some gawked. Some wept. Most stared, shocked, dismayed, picking at trash in the sand. Bits of garbage and scantily clad bones seemed to bring pathetic amounts of joy.
Morsels of decay were the only treats they knew.
Holding the chain, with gnarled fist and rotten grin, stood the great accuser. To some he seemed an angel of light. To others a shattered soul, a violation of nature, an abomination of desolate places.
The accuser stood elated, slithering about as a frantic ringmaster.
“It’s you again, carpenter. I have for you the most damaged of goods!”
I saw the man of trade begin to cry.
If anything the great juxtaposition of the two was an immemorial spectacle. A perverted Disney musical. A sad swan song for the human race. The accuser inspected the wares.
“This one here, a young man of 37. He is covered in the filth of sleepless dim-lit nights. Pornography, lust. What sweet cargo. He will pay anything to get another fix.”
As the accuser spoke on he lifted dirty fingers to touch the face of a young girl.
“And she, she was broken long ago. Dragged out to California. Some days she lives as pixels, some nights she is flesh, yet she is always another strange mans depravity.”
He moved on even more excited. A 52 year old man in a business suit stood and shivered underneath the cold grasp of his master.
“Oh, and oh sweet Immanuel, here, here is one! Years ago he thought he was worthless. His father held him down and told him how unwanted a child really was. And as he spent years finding peace and solace in accepting that he is unloved, invaluable. His addiction to pain, led to alcohol, led to sex, led to the typical life. He wanted more. He found that in children.”
It was unbearable.
For hours I looked on. Each story building up to a point. The accuser talked of each one of us. Some stories terrible, some not so. Yet they all were tales of defeat, darkness, sin, evil, death.
Divorce. Pedophilia. Abortion. Rape. Murder. Abuse. Drugs. Thievery. Unfaithfulness. Slander. Hate. Genocide.
As the Carpenter wept, I could see it. The weight pressing upon His shoulders.
We were not strangers. He knew each story deeper then the Accuser himself. Each rejection, pain, and sorrow. The Carpenter had felt it. For every person on that chain bore His image. He had laughed with them as children. Formed them in the womb. The Ancient of Days had lived next to them. Years ago though, the chained and accursed decided it would be better to live under bondage than the love of the Carpenter.
I had. We all had.
The deciever would writhe with glee as he often turned and yelled, “WHO would buy THESE?”
Then laughter would follow. An exquisite delight found in the celebration of loss. The Accuser felt victorious. Everything the Carpenter had built stood, broken, cursed, marred, ashamed.
Finally Yeshua opened His mouth.
“I AM HE.”
I can only describe it as planets colliding, mountains trembling, rivers crashing. Whatever power was in this man pushed the Accuser back, yet of all the audacious things this Devil could do, the boldest would follow.
“And with what would a pathetic man of trade like you purchase them for? They are mine. They are my damaged goods. I will drag them to hell. I will give them the justice I know they deserve. I will give them a bath in fire. I will bury them. They are mine. THEY ARE MINE.”
Through tears Yeshua spoke with a voice of rushing waters.
The Accuser grinned, “Let us measure the blood then, perhaps this will be fun!”
And Yeshua. He stood there. Bearing the full weight and betrayal as we all walked forward at the command of the Accuser.
I can scarcely bring words to what happened afterward. This man of love, with fire in His eyes and joy in His footsteps was lead to a block.
Beaten until blood and bone peaked out. Flesh torn. A man practically flayed alive. Marred beyond recognition. For hours we spit on Him. We laughed. We swore. We beat Him.
We pulled out His hair. We pulled out His beard. We mocked.
I don’t know if we could control ourselves. Yet I know we did wrong. We were slaves. Slaves to the Accuser.
Before we finished, he was unrecognizable. This marred form. This man of love was lead to a cross. Nails as long as rail road spikes were hammered into ankle and forearm.
And as He stood upon that cross He yelled with a voice that cracked open the hardest of hearts and broke the stone faced wretches around Him.
“Father! Forgive them, for they know not what they do!”
As the sky blackened, the Carpenter faded from this earth.
Yesterday our coach Jay began to speak over us of redemption. The story of a God who walked amidst the tax collectors and whores. He stood on dusty roads and came to collect His children. I was really struck by the whole thought.
Redemption is a process coined in buying a slave.
We were bought out of slavery. And it cost Him so much.
No money could pay for us. We cost blood. We cost pain and tears and sweat. We cost so much.
It’s so easy to forget that story. Some days I look at my old chains and try to refit them upon me. I adore my shackles even though I say that I loathe them.
This last month I saw poverty, I walked among the strip and saw the hollow stares of foreign men who buy women, I saw the beautiful hearts of street kids reaching to kids around them. I have more stories then words.
I want to write you about those experiences. But some of it is rough, raw, tough. Sometimes I am praying for men who sicken me, people I wish were behind bars, or worse. Yet as God has moved my heart to soften, grow, and billow. I have grown in both love and justice.
To understand why I am reaching out to the unlovable and the vile. Why I am toiling to rescue the abused, and to rescue the abuser, you need to understand redemption.
I’m not writing to be cheesy or overly dramatic. I just… am realizing the story of Jesus is epic. It is beautiful. It involves saving the wretched and turning them beautiful. The hardest part about that is…
Some people are so wretched that I hardly can fathom them being bought out of death and sin. Redeemed.
I’m not talking of murders or perverts. I mean myself. So often I feel like damaged goods. I feel as if buying me and cleaning me and loving me is more a work of foolishness then a blessed decision from the very God of this universe. I would delve into that sad self-deprecatory doctrine too.
“Maybe if I feel guilty enough. I will pay for my own sins. He’ll know I’m really sorry. I’ll be forgiven.” I would put myself through my own purgatory.
And that makes me so scared. Because sometimes it is hard to believe I was purchased. When sin is so great and the accusations so bitter-sweet.
Yet I know, I KNOW, Jesus has purchased me. I have been paid for. I no longer need to turn to fear, performance, pain, or a lack of self-worth. I am a child of the King.
He has come to give us life and life abundant. To free us and make us fully known and more like Him.
I am adopted into the family of God, and more then that, I am a new creation. Fully beloved. Fully forgiven. Fully purchased.
I am so grateful for you. I don’t understand why you would pay for me. I don’t understand that all. I don’t understand why I was something of value to you. Yet I am so beloved. I am delighted in. Adored. And I accept that. Please take this heart. Bind it to you. Put it close. And never ever let me leave.
Three days passed. Eventually the Carpenter came back. Yet He glowed and shimmered beyond the very sun.
“I love you so much my children. I have paid for you. You are mine.”
With that, our chains loosened.
Many stood speechless. Some took mere hours to break free. Some weeks. Some never did. A few never availed themselves to the freedom available. Others though, others… looked as if they took the first long breath of clean air in quite a long time. And for the first time, they looked hopeful.
It has been years since that time. I was clothed in the whitest of robes. The Carpenter took me and washed my feet, put oil on my wounds, and brought me home.
I am no longer damaged goods. I am no longer damaged. I am merely good.
Entitlement can corrupt us quickly. The sly smile of the American dream flashes a toothy white grin at us. Yet behind those teeth, a rotting stench wallows up. It is a beautiful dream, a beautiful dream set on a foundation of ashes.
Be it magazines claiming both how to have affairs and yet stay with who you are dating, sterile packaged food containers in a supermarket that state the ingredients as being natural, T.V. commercials that claim you cannot be popular unless you use zit removal cream. We are always being bombarded by the sickening mind war of the self-entitled. Trained up to value OUR rights. OUR stuff. OUR freedom. OUR privacy. It’s not all wrong right?
A great poet once said, “Freedom isn’t free, Freedom costs a buck oh fiveeeeeee.”
I awoke in a tent in Toccoa Falls Georgia. We pitched our tents miles from where the 101st Airborne trained before D-Day. My tent was a little damp, but none the worse for wear. The week started off filled with rain so the wisdom in us welled up and decided to protect our stuff. In haste we all placed our packs into a brown tarp. I thought I would do the servant-hearted thing and move other peoples backpacks before I moved my own. During that time, someone decided to move my pack as well and put it a little bit further out then the others.
As the day went on and I was being trained and learning nifty life-changing stuff, when I heard the familiar sound of rain on an auditorium roof. Or a Jamaican steel drum band. I can’t ignore any possibilities. In the seminar I began to cringe a little.
Inside the backpack sat my most prized possession. The most expensive thing I own. My Macbook Pro. It has traveled across the entire U.S. twice, lived in Taiwan, visited Hong Kong. We are traveling buddies. Sometimes I would curl up with Mac and whisper nice things like, “Steve would make a good father in law if he wasn’t so dead.” and “I really love your siblings, Pad and Pod.” (They were made in Asia and adopted, thus the names)
I sat for hours in the seminar. I loved listening but a nagging voice inside my head began to whisper dark thoughts, “Do you even love me Jake? I’m cold and in the rain.”
“I know Mac, it’ll be all right! I know!”
I became anxious and felt as if I was Leonardo Di Caprio in Inception, constantly having my crazy dead wife miss Macbook run a train into my thoughts.
I was anxious like a young boy crushing on a young lady, hoping they would get a slight memory together, yet utterly fearful and terrified at the full weight of risk.
When everything ended, I arrived at my pack.
It had been soaked. Soaked so bad I would wear moldy clothes for the next week. I tried over the next few days to get my Macbook running. It meant I would be out a laptop for the race. I don’t have the money at all to get a new one.
There it was broken. As I tried to start it in vain. On the verge of being perturbed or far greater forms of anger.
I just… was calm. It just didn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter. Why?
I don’t deserve a Macbook Pro. I am just so blessed to have so much anyways.
It’s so easy to get frustrated at things that years ago we couldn’t even fathom having. I remember being frustrated in 2001 at slow internet, low storage space, bad cell service, bad battery life on a lot of electronics.
Now if you were to ask me what I get annoyed with about phones and computers today it would be slow internet, low storage space, bad cell service, and bad battery life.
The fact is everything has improved but my heart still desires better.
Freaking quail. I probably would’ve asked for quail.
Sometimes we place so much stock in things. Things that we honestly can’t bring with us past the grave. We say at my camp in Florida, “Only two things last forever, the word of God and the souls of men.”
Paul told Timothy that Godliness with contentment is great gain. That really with food, shelter, and a relationship with God we can exist and be happy and blessed.
That’s WORLD SHATTERING. Even the most destitute Americans normally have so much stuff. We have so much.
I looked at the broken Mac. The people around me all soaked and tired.
I felt entitlement breathing down my neck. “Do you deserve this? Isn’t it wrong you have no computer now?”
The whispers of entitlement smelled filthy. Rotting halitosis wafting toward my nostrils. The American dream.
So I put the broken Mac away. I mourned the loss in my soul for just a brief second. I smiled. And I decided, if this week is to train me to reach the least. It should start with losing what I have. I should press into brokenness. I should brush off the most insulting losses of property. In the end, property never would’ve lasted forever. I felt sorrow for a slight moment. Sorrow that property has so much power over all of us. There is so much more to life than things.
Just like that, I lost one of my prized possessions. I cared not. It really in the long run is trivial compared to the joy and blessing I felt last week heaped upon me. I met so many amazing people and prayed, laughed, grew, and rejoiced all last week.
I have no computer for the race (I am praying God WILL provide one). MY gear is all soaked. I still smell like mold. I am tired. Yet I am extremely joyful, content, and blown away by what I learned at camp (More on that later). What I earned was so much more valuable. Contentment.
I mean who doesn’t like moldy smelling excited people who are contented? Hippy’s! Ain’t nobody ever hated a hippy.
So what property in your life would mess you up if you lost it? Why? Do you feel entitlement ever rearing up in your soul? Maybe you need to give thanksgiving to God for what you do have. And sometimes for what you don’t 🙂