Oct 2015

Hard Hearts - Broken Hearts

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I recently had a heart attack that changed my life . . . again! No, not a physical heart attack but a spiritual heart attack. I don’t get them very often in my old age for some reason, but I still get them. Really, I only get them when I let my guard down and let God’s Holy Spirit actually reach my sometimes cold hard heart. You see, as a professional clergy, as a cultural christian, as a missionary, it’s so easy to hide behind the “professionalism” of my trade. Don’t we all? It seems so easy to hide behind the cloak of “what we do” instead of truly just being who we really are. We are Christians, Christ-like, a child of the creator of this universe. You see, it’s so easy to confuse the two - what we do and who we are. We actually think that they are synonymous and nothing could be further from the truth. As a professional clergy, I learned to “keep my distance,” “stay professional,” “remain objective” otherwise you will not be an effective minister.

Every profession has heard that. Doctors, nurses, lawyers, clergy, CPA’s, CEO’s, etc. They all have their cloaks of professionalism that they hide in. However, I’m not a “professional missionary!” Not really, I’m just a Christian trying to live out my convictions. As I read the New Testament and study the life and ministry of Jesus I ask myself, “Was he a professional messiah?” I mean, did he look at himself like we clergy view ourselves and “what we do?” You know, did he try to stay professional and exercise his ministry using the principles from Dale Carnagie’s book “How To Win Friends and Influence People?” Do you think he viewed himself as a professional maintaining his distance and objectivity in carrying out his strategy? I may be wrong but I don’t think so.

My heart attack came when I began to actually see families with children in a neighborhood with temporary housing evicted and literally having to tear down their shanti homes and relocate. Once in particular gave me this heart attack. This was a beautiful young couple with several children and a newborn. I walked the neighborhood of Las Colinas at 8:30 at night with my spotlight trying to find them to take them food. I couldn’t find them but I found the ruins of their old location and I eventually found their new sight which was absolutely pathetic. The scene was an erie setting as the rain poured down and I walked through the mud fields in the silent, dark, fields. It was their 7 year old daughter who led me to family. What I saw caused my gut to cringe, I was breathless, and remained without words. My heart was broken. Four poles in the middle of a mud field with tarps as their makeshift roof. The swampy field served as their flooring and their new born baby in the arms of her mother. My mind was flooded with so many mixed emotions. I don’t know what happened because I’ve seen this and worse before. But this time, my heart was just broken. I would be absolutely a non-human if I wasn’t moved by this experience. I have seen this before in Honduras when I went through the military coup and the country was under martial law. But tonight, God did something in me that I just haven’t felt in a while. I was moved with compassion. I went home with conflicting thoughts and emotions for the next few days.

I recently read the passage in Matthew 14 whereby Jesus was moved with compassion when he viewed the crowd. He had his reasons I’m sure. One time, no . . . many times Jesus was moved with compassion. That word caught my attention and I just had to look it up. The basic greek word means “to have our bowels moved or yearned .” You know, that feeling when you see something and you hurt so much by what you see that you actually get sick to your stomach, you want to cry, you . . . feel helpless and moved. You actually “feel.” It’s not a heady thing nor a cognitive process. It is a gut wrenching feeling. Jesus fed crowds because he was moved with compassion; Jesus taught them things they needed to hear because he was moved with compassion (Mark 6:34); he gave forgiveness because he had compassion (Matt. 18:27); he healed people because he was moved with compassion (Matt. 14:14); he comforted people because he was moved with compassion (Matt. 9:36). He saw the human condition and it made his stomach hurt. Jesus actually touched, walked with, spoke to, lived with, and cried with the folks he encountered. He didn’t remain objective and distant. He actually dwelt like them. Good shepherds in the long run end up smelling like sheep.
There you have your heart attack. Jesus had many of them I’m sure.

This kind of heart attack is a good thing. You see, one of the objectives of Short-Term-Missions is leaving the place you went to serve with a changed heart. If you leave like you came, you have missed the boat and probably need to re-evaluate your “professional paradigm.” STM’s should have this affect on people. Many folks who have come down to serve for a week return feeling guilty about their lifestyle, their abundance back home when contrasted with the poverty they see here. Many go home not knowing how to process it or know what to do with it. With time, most get re-adjusted and really don’t do anything with what they experienced and perceived. Others come and return just as they came. Some, just don’t get it and never learn to “connect the dots.”

If things that you see and experience don’t move you, I would consider that the lyrics of this old 70’s song become your prayer.

My eyes are dry, my faith is old
My heart is hard, my prayers are cold
And I know how I ought to be
Alive to You and dead to me
Oh what can be done for an old heart like mine
Soften it up with oil and wine
The oil is You, Your Spirit of love
Please wash me anew in the wine of Your Blood (Keith Green).

May you have a heart attack of God’s compassion and grace.
Grace and Peace,
David Ceballos, Ph.D.