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ANGELS OF RECONCILIATION
With his life in disarray, Steven Lavaggi sat on his bedroom’s wooden floor, and began searching his Bible for answers. His wife had just left him to marry a writer for The Rolling Stone Magazine. Ten days later, Steven discovered his son was stricken with Juvenile Diabetes. Then he lost his graphic art business. Unemployed, abandoned, and worrying about his son, Lavaggi turned to God’s Word.
As Steven read, he skipped over the black letters, only wanting to read the words of Jesus. The Risen Christ emerged from the pages. Lavaggi gave his life to Jesus. As a new Christian, he clung to Psalm 91:11: "For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways."
Out of his brokenness, came a passion to create a message of hope. He discovered his passion was to minister through fine art. He moved to California, to influence the people who influence the world--Hollywood. He is doing just that.
The response to his work is overwhelming. Inspired by the Psalmist’s words he painted an angel. When a friend encouraged him to make the image three dimensional, he collaborated with a sculptor, and together they cast the angel.
While speaking to a crowd of 3500 natives in Soweto, South Africa, Lavaggi held a 20" sculpture of a black angel above his head. When he did, the crowd erupted with enthusiasm. A man on the stage told him that just a few days before, a preacher had declared that God would soon send an international artist who would express the love of God to their culture by doing something like "painting Angels in black!" When Lavaggi heard this, he grabbed a 20" white angel, held it above his head and said, "these angels were created to be like brothers and sisters, even as we are supposed to be." Those sculptures became known as, "The Angels of Reconciliation."
Today, he is known as the artist of Hope. It propelled him into creating an incredible series of spirit-inspired paintings, sculptures, figurines, and prints. Steven’s message would not exist without his passion! Through his passion, today he is touching and changing the world fopr Jesus Christ.
Few men of this century have understood better the inevitability of suffering than Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He seems never to have wavered in his Christian antagonism to the Nazi regime, although it meant for him imprisonment, the threat of torture, danger to his own family and finally death. He was executed by the direct order of Heinrich Himmler in April 1945 in the Flossenburg concentration camp, only a few days before it was liberated. It was the fulfillment of what he had always believed and taught: “Suffering, then, is the badge of true discipleship. The disciple is not above his master. Following Christ means passio passive, suffering because we have to suffer. That is why Luher reckoned suffering among the marks of the true Church, and one of the memoranda drawn up in preparation for the Augsburg Confession similarly defines the Church as the community of those ‘who are persecuted and martyred for the gospel’s sake’… Discipleship means allegiance to the suffering Christ, and it is therefore not at all surprising that Christians should be called upon to suffer. In fact, it is a joy and a token of his grace.”
John R.W. Stott, Christian Counter-Culture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1978), 53
I was fortunate to grow up in a home where my father was both a loving and disciplining presence. I guess I would have to say that if there is anything I really remember about my dad is this, he possessed a presence unlike any other person in my life. To me he was always larger than life. He towered over me and just had a way of peering down at me that, depending upon the situation, could either rivet me to the spot in guilt or immediately cause me to reach out in search of his love. My dad had a smell about him that was uniquely him. There was always the faint odor of aftershave no matter what the time of day. This, mixed with the ever-present tinge of Chesterfield aroma, was always a sure sign that he had passed this way. Dad also had a unique way of clicking his teeth and clearing his throat. I knew that he was around and that my world was protected and safe when I heard those distinctively “dad” noises I had become so accustomed to. This was what made up the physical aura of my father.
There were other things about my dad that fleshed out his presence. The way he mixed his peas with his potatoes. The way he always used pepper on his food as well as the inevitable sneeze that followed. My dad wore argyle socks and very seldom wore shorts. He liked to walk barefoot in the grass while he sprinkled his precious lawn in the summer. Over the course of the years, image after image was plied upon his presence as I came to know the man in whose footsteps I knew I would some day walk. To some people his habits might have been annoying, even irritating. To me they were simply images of a man I was trying to know and conform to. Just like most boys, I wanted to be like my father when I grew up. I wanted to smell like him and sing like him. I wanted to drive a car like him and go to work like him. I swing a hammer a certain way today because that’s the way he swung it. I shave in the manner he shaved, first a swipe on the right, then the left, then under the chin and done. In this sense, dad over the course of sixteen or so years was shaping the purpose of a young man who had all of life in front of him.
As I grew older and more perceptive, I became more able in my study of the man. I began to observe his life as well as his presence. I saw his times of joy as well as his times of pain. When he lost his job I was only a little boy but I remember his deep sorrow followed by a stern commitment to make everything better. I saw his anger as well as his gentleness. The way he hugged my mom and kissed her even when we kids were around is an image I have carried with me to this day. When I left home at eighteen I was confident that I was on the way to becoming my “own man.” I didn’t find out until later that I was simply flexing my wings in pre-course to a flight that would bear a great similarity to the way my father had soared above me for years.
In the many years since I launched into my own flight as a man and a father, I can now reflect back and see the greatest lesson my dad taught me; that a man’s presence is a mixture of joy and pain. This is what makes him a man. This is what gives him purpose and value. Happiness is not all joy. Rather, it is having a purpose in life that is founded on the growth a man achieves when he builds on his misfortunes as well as his successes. The pain was as good as the joy. In fact, we can’t really know joy without the pain. To many Americans today even the suggestion that we conform to our suffering in order to know true happiness would be just plain foolishness. In a culture bent on a “no pain” attitude molded by the misguided belief that the end of all living is comfort and happiness, there is no room for such introspection. When we are confronted by trouble the first thought is to escape from it, not learn from it. Our purpose has become a purpose bent on escape from pain. The idea of embracing pain seems almost un-American. Nashville pastor Byron Yawn writes,
“Because of this distorted perception, we rarely stop to search for the ‘hand of God’ in the midst of our trouble. Seeking to understand God’s purposes in our pain is all but foreign. As a result, embracing pain’s role in our sanctification is usually the farthest thing from our minds.” (Preaching Now Vol. 1, No. 20. Tue 9/3/2002)
God has called each of us to conform to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. Like our fathers, that is an image of joy mixed with pain. There is now escaping it; this was His life and it is ours as well. His purpose was to glorify the Father in His suffering. Our greatest purpose is no different. May each of us be “counted worthy of his calling.” Embrace the pain and learn from it. Make this the cornerstone of your purpose as a believe in Christ Jesus our Lord.
From Chicago to Memphis
That’s always how it is in the life of faith. Many times you will be called to step out for God and you will be precisely where Abraham was—believing God but not knowing what the future holds.
When I think of that principle, my mind goes back to a conversation I had with Dan and Linda Hoeksema at Family Camp a year and a half ago. They were agonizing about whether or not they should move to Memphis. I remember having a long talk with Linda one night around the campfire. She had struggled so much with leaving the familiar surroundings of Chicago. Moving to Memphis for her was like going to a foreign country. The whole decision was made more difficult by the fact that Dan had no contacts in Memphis, no job, no promise of a job, no reason to move there at all, really.
Except one. Len and Roberta Hoppe had already moved to Memphis where Len had taken a new job. We all knew that Len and Dan were close friends and I think many of us assumed that Dan wanted to move to Memphis simply because the Hoppes were there. Frankly, it didn’t make much sense for the Hoeksemas to go to Memphis.
But that night around the campfire Linda told me that she had finally decided to go and that she was trusting God to work out the details. So they went, and it would be fair to say that the first year in Memphis proved to be quite difficult. There was the culture shock, the language difference, the impact of moving from a huge metropolitan area to a much smaller city, the challenge of making new friends, getting the kids settled in school, finding a new church, and on top of that, Dan didn’t have much work for a long time.
But life changed forever last Thanksgiving when the doctors told Len Hoppe that he had cancer. Here’s one fact that you may not know. On the Thursday before Len’s surgery here in Chicago, he and Dan had a last lunch together in Memphis. Len knew full well that there was a good chance he wouldn’t survive the surgery or the recovery period. So he asked Dan to take care of his family in case he died.
After Len’s funeral, Marlene and I flew to Memphis for the memorial service at the Central Church. When Dan drove us to the airport the next morning, we passed by the restaurant where he and Len had shared their last meal together.
“Many people wondered why Linda and I moved to Memphis,” he said. “I wondered myself many times, particularly when I didn’t have a job here. There were many times when I questioned whether we had done the right thing or not. But now I know why God sent us here. He knew beforehand that Len was going to die and he wanted us here t...
Two years ago, on June 28 (2005), four Navy SEAL commandos were on a mission in Afghanistan, searching for a notorious al-Qaeda terrorist leader hiding in a Taliban stronghold.
As the battle ensued, three of the SEALs were killed, and the fourth, Marcus Luttrell was blasted unconscious by a rocket grenade and blown over a cliff. Severely injured, he spent the next four days fighting off six al Qaeda assassins who were sent to finish him, and then crawled for seven miles through the mountains before he was taken in by a Pashtun tribe, who risked everything to protect him from the encircling Taliban killers.
They took Luttrell back to their village, where the law of hospitality, considered “strictly non-negotiable,” took hold. “They were committed to defend me against the Taliban,” Luttrell wrote, “until there was no one left alive.” (Lone Survivor – by Marcus Luttrell)
The Law of Hospitality is very strong in Middle Eastern culture, and has been that way for many millennia. It prompted Abraham in our reading from Genesis today to offer food and drink to his three visitors, the Lord and two angels.
It is what prompted Lot in the next chapter to protect the two angels in his home in Sodom from the men who wanted to rape them. While Lot’s idea of how to protect them is appalling to us — he offers his daughters to the crowd instead — the point is that the Law of Hospitality is so strong that it even supersedes the obligation to protect one’s own family.
(A man named John came home from work one day and rushing through the door tells his wife of a man who lied to him at work. He said, there was a guy at work who stole my tools and I saw him from a distance. When I confronted him he down and out lied to me. He lied straight through his teeth even after I told him I saw him. I can’t believe it, he lied to me he did.
Later in life John dies and standing before God he gives excuses saying, I never knew anything. I never knew right and wrong, I never even knew the Ten Commandments. God tells an angel play the tape, as if it were, and there replayed on the screen before him he sees himself running through the door shouting and telling his wife about the man who “lied” to him at work.
You see, every person knows "Basic" Right and Wrong.
Just as a child here in America, for the very first time, can experience his conscious telling him it is wrong to steal, so can another child experience the very same thing who lives on the other side of the earth.
It’s not culture. It’s not religious background. It’s not how you were raised. It’s in your conscience.
So God has given us the "Light of Creation" and the "Light of Conscience".
When we vote we demonstrate our beliefs by the way we vote. Some people demonstrate by joining political organizations, others by writing letters to government leaders or editorial pages for the local newspaper. Some people demonstrate by picketing, whether it’s an abortion clinic or a casino. Some people get violent and extreme in the way they demonstrate. Consider some of the tactics of the organization PETA--People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals--to actually storm laboratories and release the lab rats or to douse a person wearing a fur coat with a bucket full of red paint. People demonstrate so the world will know what they stand for, what’s truly important to them, what they’re passionate about.
Jesus Christ gave his followers very specific instructions on how to demonstrate their Christian faith. On the night of his betrayal, Jesus Christ took on the role of a servant and washed his followers’ feet, something that was countercultural, something that Peter nearly refused to have done because it went so against the grain of their culture. Then Jesus said these words: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this will all people know that you are my followers, if you love one another” (John 13:34-36).
Missionary Don Richardson who served for many years among the primitive tribes in Papua New Guinea wrote a book entitled “The Peace Child.” He writes how in translating the Scriptures into the native tribesmen language, he could find no words to express how Jesus Christ came to give His life that we might have peace with God. In his book he relates how he finally found the answer in the culture of the native people themselves.
He tells the story of two tribes in Papua New Guinea who maintained a blood feud between themselves for several generations. Each generation fought and nursed their wounds only to fight again killing and maiming more and more people. Finally after years of struggle the two tribes realized that they must stop fighting or nothing would be left of their peoples. But what could they do to end years of warring between the two tribes? Don Richardson goes on to tell that the chiefs of the two tribes came together and brought with them a child they called “the Peace Child”. This ch...
Barb’s life is a mess. Her drinking problem is out of control, and her husband Ken refuses to cover for her anymore. Everyone around her sees Barb’s problem, but they all pretend like everything’s just fine, a classic case of denial. Every Sunday Barb and her family dress in their Sunday best and go to church as the perfect family. Everyone at church looks at Barb and her family as the model family...they look so…perfect.
Sitting in the row behind Barb at church each Sunday morning is Joe. Everyone likes Joe, especially all the guys, because he’s a man’s man. Joe played football in college for a PAC 10 school, and he’s filled with stories of athletic conquest. But when Joe’s all alone his heart is filled with emptiness because of his inability to sustain long term relationships. His marriage only lasted six months, and over the years he’s driven away everyone close to him with his sort fuse. But that Sunday when a friend asks Joe how things are going he quickly says, "Great…never been better."
Joe and Barb have both learned that church is a place for plastic people, a place for perfect people. So Barb’s become Barbie, complete with her husband Ken and her perfect plastic children. And Joe’s become G. I. Joe, a plastic action hero everyone admires but no one really knows. But inside Barb and Joe are dying, because they’re not made of plastic.
Churches throughout our culture today are filled with Barbies and Joes. We’ve learned that image is everything, that what counts is how you look, the impression you make. So we in the Christian community have perfected the fine art of faking it.
A man visited his longtime friend, a British military officer stationed in an African jungle. One day when the friend entered the officer’s hut, he was startled to see him dressed in formal attire and seated at a table set with silverware and fine china. The visitor asked why he was all dressed up and seated at a table so sumptuously arrayed in the jungle. The officer explained, "Once a week I follow this routine to remind myself of who I am--a British citizen. I want to maintain the customs of my real home and live according to the codes of British conduct, no matter how those around me live. I want to avoid substituting a foreign culture for that of my homeland."