holy week.

My 80-year-old grandmother is a feisty independent woman. Though she is relatively mobile, with each passing day, it seems like she needs additional care and attention. Once a month I have been traveling to her home and spending the weekend doing my best to meet her needs. These needs are a mixture of physical and social deficiencies. It might mean helping her around the house, by pushing her in the wheelchair, or just simply being present in her loneliness – in which case, we eat po’boys and play board games!

I had the pleasure of keeping her company this past weekend and ushering in Palm Sunday, and the beginning of Holy Week, with her. Tea in hand, we sat together and listened to a few of our favorite pastors. As we digested the sermons, there was a passage of Scripture identified that seems rather appropriate for meditation on the eve of Spy Wednesday.

“Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, ‘What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?’ So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. From then on Judas watch for an opportunity to hand him over.” Matthew 26:14-16

I so often scoff at Judas for betraying Jesus. But I fail to admit the inner darkness of humanity that ruminates within my own soul. Though I did not betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, I find myself willing to deliver him to the cross, daily, for many shameful wants, desires, and fears.

While my wickedness makes me no better than Judas, the result of Spy Wednesday — ultimately the death, burial, and resurrection of the Christ — has satisfied and atoned for the darkness I so willfully participate in.

Spy Wednesday may bring somber reflection, but there is joy and hope in the power of the resurrected Christ. Though our actions default to our humanity, may we boldly sip from the cup of holy oil and accept the forgiveness we are offered.

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; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

The Prayer of Saint Francis

 

 

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return.

But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the sovereign Lord my refuge. – Psalm 73:28

My grandmother asked me if I had been ill.  I asked her why she thought that I had not been well.  And she said that my eyes gave me away.  I tried to play it off, but she was adamant and determined to understand what my heartache was from.  Part of my exhaustion was for the very reason I found myself in conversation with my grandmother that friday evening.  My grandfather had had a heart attack early that morning.  Though he was in stable condition when I had visited him, the situation weighed heavily on my heart.  Sadly, his health quickly deteriorated and Sunday morning he was whisked into the arms of Jesus.  I have certainly struggled with his passing, not because I lack hope, but because I truly miss him.  He was one of the most godly men I knew and we were very close.  In fact, I was named after him.  Though I intend to detail his life and what he meant to me later on this week, to honor his memory, there was a another situation that very same friday that truly shattered my heart, partly because of the close proximity of who it involved and partly because of its topical relation to all that I resolutely abhor and have been writing about as of late: the sex slave trade and abuse of children.

A Fox News article on sex trafficking details how this week marked the eighth week-long operation to terminate such crimes in the United States.  There were “168 children rescued from the sex trade… [and] 281 pimps…arrested during the same period on state and federal charges (2014).” This sex-sting was concentrated in 106 cities nationwide and was coordinated by state and federal officials from Homeland Security and the FBI.  But what makes this story hit home is not merely that fact that “these are not faraway kids in faraway lands,” as FBI Director James Comey stated, but the fact that one of the predators was a colleague.  It should be noted that I have purposefully omitted the word, “alleged,” as following his arrest friday, John Balyo confessed to raping a 12-year-old boy.

John, who was host of a widely popular Christian morning radio show in West Michigan, was attending and live-casting from a three-day Christian concert series – Big Ticket Festival – in Gaylord, Michigan, when he was arrested.  The radio station, which has since (appropriately, I might add) cut ties with John, is affiliated with the Christian university with which I am employed.  With shocked, disgusted, and humble hearts, the university staff and faculty gathered this morning to lament, pray, and seek the Lord – first, for the victims that have been terrorized, and, second, for the depravity of the human heart.

Though I might never be able to make sense of, or even fully process, the horrendous acts John committed, I think it appropriate to declare that he in no way acted in representation of authentic Christianity, nor in conjunction with the Person of Jesus Christ.  John deserves the full condemnation of the law that governs the United States of America, including the full extent of the consequences as a result of his actions.  My hope and prayer is that he is brought to justice.  Furthermore, I pray that his heart be truly shattered and that he seeks true repentance, for Christ withholds forgiveness from none that honestly seek it.

In addition to discussing John’s situation, I want to briefly discuss the media’s attention to this story, along with the saddening internet comments from every self-righteous “Joe Shmoe” with a computer and an opinion.  Certainly John Balyo committed gruesome atrocities and is deserving of all criticism hurled his way, however, I am also disgusted by lowly individuals who are using this situation as a platform to score political points by raking Christianity through the coals.  It is not Christianity that is the cause of such monstrous and destructive acts, so much as it is the sinful human being, imperfectly striving to live a Christian life (or maybe even lying about living a Christian life). Many call this hypocrisy, and it certainly is.  But the message of Jesus is not that those who are Christians will not mess up or act hypocritically, it is that despite our shortcomings, despite our inability to do right, God’s grace and love and mercy is greater than the wrong we commit.  Additionally, I find it appropriate to point out that despite the vast number of Christians caught up in such hypocrisy and sin, there are tens of millions of secular people caught up in the same acts.  This means that this is not an issue solely to be focused on the Christian, but rather on the whole of humanity.

So what is the lesson to be learned? Likely John Balyo, just like many other sex predators, did not intend to ever get to the point where he would rape the innocence and future of a child.  Instead, it very well likely began with a glance.  There could have been explicit material he stumbled upon.  For a while it satisfied.  But to retain the high, his tastes began getting more perverted.  And as more time was consumed with perversion, more opportunity began to present itself, until finally it led him to the sickening situation he found himself in, which has ultimately destroyed his life – rejection of his family, loss of a job, and loss of a future, as likely he will spend the rest of his life in prison.  So let this be a wakeup call in your life, just as it is a wake up call in my life.  If there is something you are dealing with, even if it is just at the onset, I urge you to end it.  Do not let the potential embarrassment of your honesty and candidness keep you from asking a friend, a counselor, or a pastor for help.

As I conclude, I ask that you pray for the victims of these predators.  They are our children.  And their lives have been marred by physical, mental, emotional and sexual abuse.

Return Lord Jesus, return.

Frustration, even distaste with a republican.

I am an avid cyclist. And I have always found there to be something invigorating about taking the day to challenge myself to discover a rhythmic harmony of man and bike. I live for the long sunny days where I can set out, not knowing where my journey will take me. I not only push the physical limits of endurance, climbing, and speed but also the constraints of my mind. Often my trek becomes a wayside sacrament of mediation and prayer.

This past Friday, however, I was not welcomed by the usual peaceful ride of solitude. Instead I was jolted into reality with the sharp and cutting words of a distraught man.

Minding my own business, part way into my ride I was met by a red stop light. And to obey the rules, I of course was holding position until the light was to change to green.

While waiting, a white truck had approached and stopped behind me. Then from nowhere, I began to hear screaming. With my headphones originally in my ears, I didn’t quite comprehend what was happening. Thinking that it was a friend trying to get my attention, I turned around to see who was causing such a raucous.

As I pulled the earbuds from my ears, I was immediately greeted with profanity laced and name calling conversation. I took a moment to assess the immaturity of a middle aged man. Many thoughts initially raced through my mind, but I remained calm amidst the harassment that ensued. I tried to explain in my defense that legally bikes and automobiles equally share the road. Further I explained that I am in no way intentionally holding him up and that we are both responsible to patiently wait at the light.

His cussing and hatred continued, but no matter how truthful or factual my statements were, there seemed no way to calm his rage. So I sized him up, took inventory of the situation, and decided to take another approach.

While I am known to many, and often referred to as a “peacemaker,” I also am a fighter. Of course I did not want to provoke him to shoot me (if he were to have a gun), but I did want to put him on the defensive.

Since there was no reasoning with him, I flatly stated, “You must be a democrat.”

Mission accomplished.

Now instead of insulting me further, his R-rated and inappropriate language turned into a state of confusion as he tried to prove himself as anything but.

I had him trapped. My statement intentionally illuminated his unsuccessful attempt of intimidation.

The light at that moment turned. As quickly as the conversation began, it had ended and he sped out of sight.

I must admit that I was not sorry to watch him leave.

The next twenty miles were spent reflecting on the situation. A wide range of thoughts and emotions flooded my senses as I tried to make sense of how one human being could so easily treat another with such hatred.

I was not overcome with hatred or vengeance, but rather sadness of heart. I could not help but wonder in curiosity as to why he had treated me the way he did. Was there some other circumstance in his life that had overwhelmed him to the point that any situation, not matter how small would set him into an underworldly rage? Could he be facing economic tribulation? Or a stressful family situation? Or some unnerving crisis?

All I knew was that his misdirected behavior wasn’t meant for me. I was just someone available to take his hardships out on with verbal abuse.

Two remaining observations remain. First, this was the first republican that I had ever found myself truly at odds with. This infuriated me. I have always seen such tactics and verbiage used by democrats (though not all democrats). And as a republican I expect us to live differently.

Secondly, as a Christian, I am reminded that I will be judged on my response in the, or any, unsettling situation. I am not responsible for the actions of another. Only myself. Chuck Swindoll has wisely stated that “life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” So true.

Now I encourage you brothers and sisters to walk in light and walk in peace. Love those who hate you and pray for those who persecute you.

I, no doubt, will continue to pray for the man I was recently at odds with.

The Cloud Rider

I’m plagued with an intense longing.
Like a black hole deep inside my being.
It can’t be satisfied and it needs to be filled.

I’ve tried to fill the void.
Love. Money. Friends.
All meaningless.
My indulgences have been nothing more than temporary frills.
Frills that leave me empty and unfulfilled.

Purpose.
It’s what I desire.
What I seek.

Discovered in otherworldly realms.
The heavenlies.
My longing is for a home I will eternally dwell.
A renewed country.
A New Earth.
Where I can walk with my Creator in the cool of the day.
Where I can fall at Jesus’ feet in worship.
Where angels are known by name.
And where redeemed friends find perfection.

It’s my true home.

Emotion wells inside my soul.
Butterflies. Excitement. Anticipation.
My heart smiles.
My heart giggles.
My heart’s love is but one short lifetime away.

Awaiting the trumpet to scream,
I look to the skies for a Hero.
A Savior.
My Cloud Rider.

Prayer

Today marks the first day of a yearly cycling trip. I am headed 250 miles with 6 other men including my father and mutual friends from church. After a great ride today, we are all a bit sore. And tomorrow we have another 100 miles. Please pray for our team. Pray that our muscles will heal overnight and be free from tiredness tomorrow. Pray that we have another safe day of riding and that we will make great timing.

Thank you,
Chaz Oswald

P.s. Is there anything I can be in prayer about for you? Please feel free to leave a comment if there is!