A Word of Grace – February 22, 2011

Dear Friends:

The heart and mind long to be understood and to understand. Chief among human qualities that bear the image of the Creator are speaking and hearing–the gift of communication by which we know that we are not alone.

We are desperate to know this. Our cell phones, emails, instant messaging, text pages, MP3 players, social media, radios and televisions press our case for communion.

Possessing the means of communication however does not satisfy the end goal.

“Why are so many of your tribal songs about rain?” the anthropologist asked the Hopi elder.

“We are a desert people. We need water to grow our crops and survive. Water is precious to us. We sing about what we need and long for. Is that why so many of your people’s songs are about love?” the elder replied.

Much of contemporary music, literature and film are testaments to unrequited desire even as relationships become more transient, fragile and untrustworthy in the strain to find the mythical ideal “soul mate.”  The popular sentiment of our age is wailed by Mick Jagger, “I can’t get no satisfaction. (But I try . . .).  Solomon’s diagnosis was right. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Pr 13:12).

There is a lot of hope-deferred heart sickness these days. Consider a sampling:

— The child whose dreams and fears are ignored;

— The faithful worker whose energy, competence and dedication are taken for granted;

— The spouse, often left alone, whose love and needs are always second place to whatever;

— The single mom whose last sympathetic adult conversation is beyond remembering;

— The terminally ill patient who has become invisible to colleagues and friends because nothing can be done to “fix it;”

— The senior citizen locked in a room marked “useless;”

— The person of color expected to conform to a label sewn to the persona with threads of steel;

— The member in the pew who comes to church week after week with a burden no one knows or cares about;

— The son or daughter who can never do enough to satisfy parental expectations.

“Life imitates Art more than Art imitates Life,” wrote Oscar Wilde in his influential 1889 essay, “The Decay of Lying.” Wilde noted that there were bone-chilling fogs in London throughout history, but people only came to recognize their light-diffusing shadows as beautiful when poets and painters taught them that such effects were lovely. Those effects did not exist, Wilde contended, “until Art invented them.”

Does this power of perceptual set carry over into our life with God? Are our expectations so conformed to defense of our limitations that we like Job’s notorious friends seek to confine God to a box constructed to our own measurements?

Is our worship defined by sonorous chords of praise music, stained glass, or the familiar order of service in the bulletin? Do we think of love only as a sad drama with a happy ending? Do the terms and conditions of our faith require the constant stoking of the bonfires of emotion to keep the wolves of our fears at bay for another night? Is our hope relegated to avoidance of pain and trials and a plan for a secure retirement?

What do we seek in our prayers? The beneficence of a “Santa Claus” God? The unquestioning affirmation of our self-esteem? The absolution of our fickleness? The excuse of our imperfections? The flagellation of old mistakes and reopening of old wounds in justification of our feelings? In other words, do our prayers have all the sensation and depth of the “Oprah Winfrey Show?”

Moderation, balance and self-care are urged upon us. So we wade into the spiritual shallows, proud in our self-control, careful never to go so deep as to lose our footing and be swept away. Yet, we have the vague unease that we cannot be made clean where we are and we wonder about the turbidity of the water agitated to religious froth by the crowd of waders that we join there.

That unease and questioning are calls to seek God and his gift of repentance from our selfish ways. David the warrior, now enthroned as the King over a united, prosperous Israel, was concerned about complacency dulling the spiritual edge of the nation and dampening the people’s desire for their God. When that happens it is only a matter of time for a people and their cause to be doomed because they are operating in depreciation of their own finite strength, and not in the infinite strength of their Creator and Lord.

David took his concern to the Lord directly. His prayer is recorded in Psalm 28, one of the lesser-known and quoted of the Psalms. It is a window into the humanly impossible challenge of  loving God while trying to live at peace with his unruly children, a pressure point where the spiritual strength of all of us is often strained to failure.

David begins in the only place to start an honest conversation with the Lord–an honest and humble cry for help. Dropping all pretense of his own kingly prowess and success, he acknowledges that either he connects with God or he is a dead man.

To you, O Lord, I call;

my rock, do not refuse to hear me,

for if you are silent to me,

I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.

Hear the voice of my supplication,

as I cry to you for help,

as I lift up my hands

towards your most holy sanctuary.

(Vs 1-2)

He moves on to voice his concern.

Do not drag me away with the wicked,

with those who are workers of evil,

who speak peace with their neighbors,

while mischief is in their hearts.

Repay them according to their work,

and according to the evil of their deeds;

repay them according to the work of their hands;

render them their due reward.

Because they do not regard the works of the Lord,

or the work of his hands,

he will break them down and build them up no more.

(Vs 3-5)

Hypocrisy, the gap between public image and private motivations and conduct, is always a danger to leaders and followers alike. The temptation to look good rather than to be good is strong and seductive. David wants to stay clear of that problem himself and eradicate it from the people because it will break down the integrity of the mission, vision and values that God has given to them with selfishness and deceit.

David knows that the Lord, in his righteousness, must deal with this. There is no neutral territory in the spiritual realms. Either the people are living in the sanctuary of the kingdom of God or else they constitute a stronghold of rebellion against his rule. Jesus says, “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand (Mk 3:24-25).

The saving power of the Gospel relies upon the sharply drawn borders between darkness and light.  The Apostle John confirms this when he writes:

This is the message that we have heard from him (Jesus Christ) and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn 1:5-7).

A wise pastor my freshman year at the University told me, “It is not necessary to study darkness to teach light.” He presaged my legal training where I was taught to state the best case for my client rather than relying on picking apart the other party’s case. My professors and mentors said with profound logic, “If you argue against the other side instead of arguing your side, the other side gets argued twice.” Picking a course and sticking with it is best in all things spiritual and intellectual.

One of the benefits of honest prayer is that wrestling through complicated facts with God begins to sort them out the way you move boxes out of the way in a storeroom to find the item you are looking for. David, often has “eureka” moments in prayer, where in the middle of shoving around the baggage, he stumbles over God’s truth. This is one of those times.

Blessed be the Lord,

for he has heard the sound of my pleadings.

The Lord is my strength and my shield;

in him my heart trusts;

so I am helped, and my heart exults,

and with my song I give thanks to him.

(Vs 6-7)

The Lord has heard David’s concerns and his answer isn’t a purge or war strategy. The Lord’s solution isn’t a new doctrine or institution.

The answer is the Lord himself. This is such a profound truth that Scripture begins with it– “In the beginning, God . . . .”– and ends with it– “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen” (Gen 1:1; Rev 22:21).

Solomon writes, “The fear (what commands your attention) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Pr 9:10). If one approaches life from the perspective that there is a God who loves and is personally concerned about you then all things are possible. I saw a vivid display of this in my own law firm.

A former colleague of mine, loved to argue about the Bible with the Christians in our firm. She is Jewish and was an agnostic at that point of her life.

She had received a superb education and she had read the Bible carefully. Every argument with her about God went nowhere. She would seize on various inconsistencies in the Scriptural accounts and pound away at them. We in turn defended God (who needs no defense) and stiffly interpreted Scripture to her derision.

She would inevitably end up talking about the “capriciousness” of God which she believed was revealed in the story of Job and in the suffering of her people in the Holocaust. Frequently she would bait her opponents to an un-Christianlike outburst. Then ashamed, we would walk away.

When I entered a living, breathing relationship with Christ, I stopped arguing with her. She knew something had changed with me and she would troll outrageous remarks by me but I wouldn’t bite. One morning she walked into my office and started in with a pet theory. “Beth,” I said, “I’m not going to argue with you about this. Either you believe in God or you don’t.”

To my surprise, Beth burst into tears and said, “I want to believe, but I can’t.”

“Please sit down, ” I told her. I handed her a box of tissues. My mind raced to pray, “Father, take control here and say through me what you want said.”

“Beth, you question the existence of God, but, at the same time, you blame God. Which is it? Do you believe that he does not exist or that he exists and allows awful things to happen?

“Just hear me out on this. All the evil in the world, all the pain and suffering, what does that mostly result from?

“Well, people hurt each other,” she said.

“Exactly. People compete with each other. They steal from each other. They kill each other. So if you believe God does not exist you can’t hold God responsible for this evil.

“If, however, you believe as I do that God created us and in love endowed us with free will, then you can’t blame God for anything more than giving us the power of choice. We are responsible for what we do with that power, and can’t honestly blame God for our bad choices.

“Beth, Solomon wrote that ‘He has put eternity in the hearts of every one of us’ (Ecc 3:11). We have a homing signal in our hearts for God. We decide whether we want to respond to that signal or try to find our way on our own.

“If we try to make it on our own in a finite world with finite resources, we are going to compete with each other. Winning that competition is all the hope that there is for us which means that we will inevitably turn to violence against each other. The record of human violence from the time of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace speaks to the absence of God in our human actions, not God’s complicity.

“That homing signal of God in your heart is always there. It calls us to what we were created to be.

“Beth, why did you set up the special program in the family law court for children to have their own volunteer attorneys to look out for their interests when the parents were fighting over them?”

“The children were getting hurt and there was no one and no money to look out for what was best for them,” she said.

“And you had a choice, like we all do, to help or to hurt, and you made the choice to help. That means you have a hope for something better, you have a choice and a responsibility, Beth.”

“Ask yourself what or who pulls us up out of “the kill or be killed” imperative of our human existence. I believe that it is God in Jesus Christ who came to show us what God’s choice was meant to be for us by becoming one of us and laying down his very life in love for us. That was Jesus’ choice–to come for us, to suffer with us, to die for us, to live in us so that our own hurtful choices don’t bar us from God’s love.

“God does this even though we don’t deserve it because God’s choice is to love us and forgive us.  “Believing this, I can live better and freely because I no longer have to compete for survival and significance. Poor theologian that I am, Beth, that is how I understand God.”

She sat quietly for a moment.

“I’ve never heard this perspective,” she finally said. “You’ve given me something to think about.”

A month later Beth came into my office and shut the door. She told me her husband had been diagnosed with a progressive hearing loss and the physicians said there was nothing that could be done. “Would you pray for him?” she asked.

“I will,” I told her. “This works, you know. But it isn’t magic. God may or may not heal Don’s hearing, but God will answer the prayer for what is best for Don as hard as that may seem to accept. God always acts in love. God will be God for Don. You must have faith in God.”

“I know,” she said quietly.

I called in my secretary and she and I both prayed in Jesus’ name for the healing of Don while Beth listened. “Thank you” was all she said.

A week later,  Beth walked into my office. “Don’s hearing is back,” she said. The doctors have confirmed it. Thank you.”

“Thank God,” I said. “I told you that God answers prayer, but you have to believe that he will hear and answer. You know that he cares about Don and you.

“I do know,” she said. I prayed a prayer of thanksgiving and she went back to work. In the twenty years since, I have never heard Beth argue the inconsistencies of Scripture and the unfairness of God.

Beth discovered the same truth that David did. There is a God and his intentions toward us are good. That knowledge, in and of itself, brings us hope and solid ground for our faith.

David concludes with joy that the sovereign grace of the Lord is more than adequate to his concerns for his people. The Lord alone possesses the strength to move us, protect us, save us, bless us, guide us and carry us to where he wants us to be.

The Lord is the strength of his people;

he is the saving refuge of his anointed.

O save your people, and bless your heritage;

be their shepherd, and carry them for ever.

(Vs 8-9)

The Lord is the complete package. Why keep quibbling over missing parts when you can have the whole? That is the lesson of Psalm 28.

“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps 34:8).

Under the mercy of Christ,


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Kent Hansen is a Christian attorney, author and speaker. He practices corporate law and is the managing attorney of the firm of Clayson, Mann, Yaeger & Hansen in Corona, California. Kent also serves as the general counsel of Loma Linda University and Medical Center in Loma Linda, California.

Finding God’s grace revealed in the ordinary experiences of life, spiritual renewal in Christ and prayer are Kent’s passions. He has written two books, Grace at 30,000 Feet and Other Unexpected Places published by Review & Herald in 2002 and Cleansing Fire, Healing Streams: Experiencing God’s Love Through Prayer, published by Pacific Press in spring 2007. Many of his stories and essays about God’s encompassing love have been published in magazines and journals. Kent is often found on the hiking trails of the southern California mountains, following major league baseball, playing the piano or writing his weekly email devotional, “A Word of Grace for Your Monday” that is read by men and women from Alaska to Zimbabwe.

Kent and his beloved Patricia are enjoying their 31st year of marriage. They are the proud parents of Andrew, a college student.