The Lasting Impact of War
I spent my childhood in Northern Ireland during the years known as “The Troubles.” A political and religious war raged between Irish republicans and the British state, including the security forces.
Those years are filled with memories of bombs, killings, sectarianism, and security checkpoints everywhere. My father worked as a prison officer during those times. As a security force member, his life was often under threat from political prisoners/prisoners of war and armed terrorist groups. I grew up in a home with bulletproof glass and checked under the car for bombs before driving to school in the mornings.
I should say, though, I had a wonderful childhood. It was all rather exciting for a young boy to have British soldiers with machine guns on every street corner and rooftop.
Of all the memories from those years, one has continued to have a lasting impact on my life. One Saturday afternoon, I was in Belfast City Centre doing Christmas shopping with my father. As we walked through the crowds, a man put his hand on my dad’s shoulder and said, “Hello.” I remember looking up as a young lad and seeing my dad and this other gentleman greeting each other warmly, exchanging stories, laughing, and then the man ruffling my hair before they went their separate ways.
As we walked away, I asked my dad who his friend was. To my complete surprise, my dad explained that this man had been one of the prisoners under his care in the Crumlin Road Gaol. He could tell that I was shocked. I had constructed an idea of who these men were and what they would be like. My dad, a quiet man, said something so profound that I have never forgotten it and have continued to believe it. “Steve,” he said, “People can change.” This encounter etched in my heart a passion for transformation or, as the Bible often describes it, restoration.
Jesus is in the Business of Restoration
Perhaps the greatest lesson that I have learned in twenty years of vocational ministry is that Jesus is in the restoration business. He is actively working in our lives to take the old and make it new. Restoring people, couples, families and communities.
In Psalm 23, King David, after declaring his relationship with Yahweh, concludes, “He restores my soul.” Four words in English, and just two words in Hebrew: nafshi yeshobeb, which means, He brings me back. It is the story of the lost sheep and the Shepherd who restores and returns it home.
The funny thing about sheep is that they are completely dependent on the shepherd. He leads them to pasture and to water. But despite all his good intentions for his sheep, when he turns his back, the sheep wander. It is almost comical.
Yes, this is my story. I’m a sheep, I’m prone to wander, but he brings me back.
This metaphor rings true for any of us who are willing to be as honest as King David. David’s personal story was lived out for all the world to see in the Old Testament. It is a story of abuse of power, murder, a forbidden census that led to the death of 10,000 Israelites, and pride. David was a violent man living in a violent world. David was a polygamist, a murderer and an adulterer. From the God-fearing, worship song-writing, shepherd boy, who stood toe-to-toe with Goliath, somewhere on his journey, he lost his way.
But God brought him back. He was restored. God takes the old and makes it new.
This is who Jesus is and what he does for us. In John 10:10, when Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life in all its fullness,” he is talking about coming to take us back as sheep who have been led astray by a thief. The thief doesn’t have good plans for us, but we followed him anyway. Jesus has come to bring us back.
No One is Too Broken
This is the power and beauty of the Gospel – that the sheep are oblivious to the work of the Shepherd. We have eaten at the feast of his grace and drank deeply at the well of his goodness, but our sinful nature causes us to wander away.
There we are, our lives filled with self-help books, trying to be the hero in our own story. But then the Shepherd arrives, King Jesus, making a way to bring us back through his death on the cross and death-defeating resurrection from the grave. Now the sheep can come and enter the sheepfold. If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation; the old has gone, and the new has come.
There we are, our lives filled with self-help books, trying to be the hero in our own story.
One of Italy’s most famous painters was Raphael. In 1505 Raphael painted the Madonna del Cardelino. It was a beautiful picture of Mary, with two children playing at her feet: Jesus and his cousin, John the Baptist. In 1545, after an earthquake, the painting was destroyed, the wood onto which it was painted shattered into 17 pieces. Initially, a team of painters tried to restore it, but it was a big mess. The image was ruined forever.
Until 2008, when a group of 50 experts began a restoration project, seeking to restore the image. They spent ten years, fifty people, on one image, and they were able to restore it to perfection. It now hangs in the gallery in Florence, perfect, perhaps even better because now it has a story to tell.
No matter how long it takes, no matter how many broken parts there are in your story, he can and will bring you back!
God is in the restoration business. No matter how long it takes, no matter how many broken parts there are in your story, he can and will bring you back!