Sunday, June 26, 2005

Retold: The Prodigal Son

Jesus continued: “There once was a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, give me my fair share of the estate.’ So the father divided his property between them.
“It wasn't long before the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country where he wasted his money on rowdy, undisciplined living. After he had blown all his bank, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to hurt. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him a thing.
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired hands.’ So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with disdain for him; rolling his eyes, he turned to the older son and said, ‘Oh great—here comes your “brother.”’ He sent his servants out to confront him at the gate.
“The son said to them, ‘Tell my father, I have sinned against heaven and against him. I am no longer worthy to be called his son.’
One of the servants delivered this message to the father while the others kept a knowing eye on him.
“The father said to his servant, ‘Darn right he sinned against me. Tell him it’s time for him to find a new gig. Quick! Take his family robe away—he’s got another thing coming if he thinks he can still have his position in this family. Put a ring in his ear like the rest of the servants and give him a pair of work boots. I don’t even know him any more. Meanwhile, bring the fattened calf and kill it in honor of my true son. He and I will be dining alone tonight. For the dutiful life of my older son has warmed my heart while this lost “son” is dead, but perhaps he will work his way back into my heart someday.’
“Meanwhile, the older son was filled with awe at the incredible wisdom and judgment of his father. When he left the house that evening, he heard music and dancing in the distance. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Some woman across town found her lost coin, and by coincidence her neighbor found his lost sheep. So they decided to throw a party and invite the whole town.’
“The older brother became angry and demanded to know why he wasn’t invited. But the servant couldn’t answer. So he went back inside to ask his father. ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But tonight was about your brother owning up to what he did—we cannot neglect family discipline for the sake of banquets and music and dancing. I thought you'd have figured that out by now.’”

Now, go back and read the original parable as Jesus told it (Luke 15:11-32) and see what the Father's heart is really like, despite how some of His brokers represent Him.

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Copyright © 2005 by Steve Coan

All rights reserved. Written permissions must be secured from the publisher to reproduce any part of this work, except for brief quotations in critical reviews or articles.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Lesson of Bagger Vance

I just watched the Legend of Bagger Vance again recently, and it struck me that the dance was the central theme of the movie. Junuh asks Bagger if he’s going to hit the ball or dance. Bagger says he’s kind of partial to dancing himself. When Junuh asks Adele what it was that she liked about him, she tells him, “I like the way we danced.” A few scenes later, angry and frustrated, Adele asks Junuh what pleasure she can take, knowing she deprived him of in the long absent years, he tells her, “I like the way we danced.” (Incidentally, Charlize Theron apparently had no problem mustering the tears and delivering the line, but Matt Damon couldn’t bring himself to saying it until a three hour counseling session with director, Robert Redford, compelled him to “take a shot at it.” Stories here and here.) When Bagger walks off, proud of the man he restored in Junuh, he does a little jig. And the big resolution of the story is Junuh and Adele dancing, just the two of them.


Bagger says, “A man’s grip on his club is like his grip on life.” The dance. When you dance with life, you don’t strangle her, you hold her gently, and she holds you, moving and flowing as one. Do you find you swing or does your swing find you? Bagger claims both in the movie. It’s a dance. I think we have given too much to the theologians and taken too much away from the dancers. Do I choose or am I chosen? Do I hold on or am I held?


One other thing I noticed this time around was Junuh’s victory over the A-Team. His ball moved when he removed the impediment. It clearly moved. But his A-Team (the other golfers, his caddy, the referee) tried to talk him out of being too hard on himself, to ignore what happened, shade it gray with a nuance, maybe look for a way out (it was after all at night and the only light was car headlights). Their reasons seemed legit: the golfers didn’t want to win on a technicality; the crowd would be greatly disappointed; Junuh’s fans wanted more than anything for him to win; pity, mercy, compassion, leniency, tolerance, discretion. His young caddy, Hardy Greaves, who worshipped him, pleaded with him to ignore it, but earlier in the movie, when Junuh was down Hardy encouraged him with:


It’s the greatest game there is. Ask anybody. It’s fun, it’s hard. You stand out there on that green, green grass and it’s just you and the ball. And there ain’t nobody to beat up on but yourself. This is the only game I know of where you can call a penalty on yourself, if you’re honest, which most people are. There just ain’t no other game like it.


Junuh knew in his heart what was true. Bagger was silent, watching. When Junuh calls the penalty on himself, Bagger smiles, shakes hands with the judge, takes his $5 guaranteed, exchanges a knowing glance with Junuh, and leaves. I imagine that in Bagger’s mind he was thinking as he walked off, “Another masterpiece,” which to me brings a final touch on the beauty of the dance: there are steps; there is a standard. A two-step goes like this. A waltz is like this. A tango is done like so. The rules are not the same thing as the dance, but the dance is off without a pattern to follow. But a dance is primarily to be enjoyed, not executed, not judged, not analyzed, not criticized. And what a relief that "it's a game that can't be won, only played." If you misstep, you repent and get back to dancing.


The lesson of Bagger Vance for me this time around was to dance. Personally I’ve tended to reach out and grab what I wanted, make it happen, work longer, and squeeze harder. God has been showing me how to let my swing find me, how to be held, and how to loosen up. But sometimes I go too far the other way. For others I think the other side of the coin rings true: the need to step up, ask her to dance, take the plunge, get in the game, get a grip, go find your swing. But when we are truly dancing, and everything’s in balance, when it all comes together, when we become part of the whole thing, how sweet it is to hear Bagger’s response to our question: Is there anything else? “Just bash the living sh** out of it.” Man, that’s where I want to live the rest of my life. God, give me moments like those, days like those, years like those. Amen.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Retold: The Good Samaritan

Almost everybody has heard of the Good Samaritan, but has the parable as Jesus told it really saturated modern religion?

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a temple employee, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he decided to do him right. He went to him and propped him up against a rock, tossed him a rag, and said, “You poor guy. Clean yourself up a bit while I have a look around.” Once he was sure the bandits were gone and they were in no danger, he came back to the man, who hadn’t even moved to pick up the rag. Then he explained to him the way of life saying, “Well, if you don’t want to be clean that’s your business. You really should be more careful, though. These roads frequently have bandits, so it doesn’t surprise me at all that you fell into this trap. Tsk tsk tsk. I always use a checklist to make sure I have everything I need with me to be a safe traveler, and I have learned to watch for danger spots, but even that cannot always save you: that’s why you need to be on a diet, exercise, and self-defense program so you can protect yourself. My House of Worship is putting on a seminar in a couple of weeks called, “The Wise Traveler.” It basically teaches you God’s principles for traveling so you won’t wind up needy and ditched like this again—here is a flyer. I’ve got to go, but I don't want to leave you here like this. Here, I have two silver coins with me. I obviously can’t let you have both of them, but you can have this one. I saw an inn about a mile back up the road. I’ll bet he’d let you stay a day or two so you can recover your strength, but I will tell you this: he might not take too kindly to you darkening his door with no clothes on like that—it’s really shameful for you to walk around naked—it seems like there’s no respect for modesty in our culture any more. Now, if it’s ok with you, I’ll call on you to check your progress and see if you have any questions that I can explain further. Alright, God bless you, and...I'll be praying for you.” As the Samaritan walked off, he though to himself, “I don’t know if that guy heard a word I said.”

Now, go back and read the original parable as Jesus told it (Luke 10:25-37). It should either make your furious or make you cry.

------------------------------

Copyright © 2005 by Steve Coan

All rights reserved. Written permissions must be secured from the publisher to reproduce any part of this work, except for brief quotations in critical reviews or articles.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Fatherhood

Our church met earlier than usual this week for Father’s Day. We had some traveling to do Sunday to see our dads and even more, to spend some time with my mom whose cancer seems to be getting the best of her...and my dad. We shared a great meal: bagels and orange rolls and egg casserole (my job was just to cook the sausage for the casserole on the grill). Oh, and we had fruit and other healthy stuff. And we had communion. Spontaneously, we got into a discussion about why we do communion, what it does, what it doesn't do, what it means, what it doesn't mean. It was great to hear the youth and the adults asking questions, making comments. We decided that the most special aspect to us is how the body of Christ is remembered (re-membered) as we come together and share it, each of us eating and drinking the same thing at the same time, being brought into communion with each other as we are brought into communion with the Messiah. And we also left room for the mystery, that somehow there is some of God's magic in it. Paul talked somewhere about being weak or sick or even dying because of not recognizing the body of the Lord when you take it.

But the best meat was—as usual—found not in the kitchen, but in our hearts. After we sang for a while, we started talking about fatherhood. C. S. Lewis has compiled an Anthology of George MacDonald, and in his introduction he reveals what I believe was the greatest attraction he had for his ol' Scotch master.

We have learned from Freud and others about those distortions in character and errors in thought which result from a man's early conflicts with his father. Far the most important thing we can know about George MacDonald is that his whole life illustrates the opposite process. An almost perfect relationship with his father was the earthly root of all his wisdom. From his own father, he said, he first learned that Fatherhood must be at the core of the universe. He was thus prepared in an unusual way to teach that religion in which the relation of Father and Son is of all relations the most central.

And we didn't want to take our own fathers for granted. We had emailed earlier in the week, and everyone came ready to answer this question:

What is a quality of Father God that you see in your father?

From the youngest to the oldest we shared something special to us. Grace. Mercy. Love. Patience. Wisdom. Dedication. Commitment. Sacrifice. Giver. Healer. Scott and I tried not to let it go to our heads too much when our children shared, but I must say, from looking at his face and knowing my own, it was a real blessing to hear those words. And we definitely wanted it to go to our hearts. My daughter actually wrote hers out. It didn't help, though, she couldn't read it without crying and my wife had to finish it. (be still my heart—and yes, she is her father's daughter). Scott's daughter wrote hers out, too. It was a beautiful time, especially for the adults to share what meant the most to each of us about our fathers. I shared about my 3 fathers, all of them adopted.

My dad who raised me adopted me as a baby. He is a wise man, filled with knowledge from both reading extensively and living broadly. He is committed to my family. He is still married to my mom for over 40 years now, and his commitment is lately put to the test, through the fires of affliction as he drives her to Houston, stays with her, carries her, loves her, and gives up his life for her, walking through cancer with her. And it's not so much the fact that he persistently serves her, but rather the way he hurts for her, that betrays his heart—revealing that it is not of duty that he serves her, but of love and desire. What a beautiful example to me and to all who see it. Every child wants a strong daddy (my dad can beat up your dad) and I do have, but seeing his knees weak for the woman he loves is even better.

My second father is Jill's dad. I wrote to him that when we first got married, the "-in-law" part seemed more real, but now the "father-" part does. The mark of this man is his dedication to his children, not just paying for their education, encouraging them, or taking them to church, but coming for them when they need him. A couple of good stories should be told sometime about rescuing Jill from a summer camp disaster and rescuing "little pillow," but that's for later. I know a lot of men feel like they're always competing with their wife's (idealized) father. Not me. I am truly blessed to have a second dad. And what a complementary set: my dad was always really handy when it came to paying for stuff—her dad is really handy when it comes to fixing stuff. Woohoo! More than that I actually enjoy talking to him—it's funny when Jill asks me, "Who have you been talking to in there for the last hour?" to casually tell her, "Your dad." Keeps her guessing, too.

My third father is a man named Tom Manning. What a man. There are no better words to describe Tom's relationship to me than my spiritual father. Tom spoke the words of life to me so that I could finally be born again (or "born from the top" as Jesus talked about in John 3). But more even than that, Tom continued to feed me and give me direction for my new life. But more even than that Tom opened up for me some truth about God that has infected me forever, and I don't know how else I could've caught this. Tom was not related to me in any way except by heart. He had very little to gain from me, and what little he did, he sacrificed for the sake of my eternal soul (he was a mentor to me in business and indirectly profited when I hit my business targets), getting far less in return than he ever gave me. Tom drove on many occasions over 3 hours one way on a work night to be with me when I needed him. He prayed with me, talked tough to me, cried with me, and literally gave up big pieces of his life and his family's life so that I could have one worth living. And he never gave up on me. I guess he still hasn't, even though I don't talk to him much these days. He showed me that fatherhood was not something you are stuck with, but something you choose, and fatherhood is not confined to family. You can give your life to whomever you choose. And it was not for nothing. Maximus says in the beginning of Gladiator, "What we do in this life echoes in eternity." The ripples of Tom Manning echo through many lives that Jill and I have touched, and they never even know it. I know that it didn't start with Tom, and it doesn't start with any of us who decide to father others, whether we are men or women, seeding and nurturing spiritual life in others. But as for me, my honor as a spiritual son goes to Tom.

Of course, the well of Fatherhood from which all good fathers draw is the deepest well in all of reality, and that takes me back to MacDonald. Fatherhood must be at the core of the universe. Wow. To me that has a way of orienting my thinking about everything. And apparently Jesus, too. He loved His Father. He was infatuated with His relationship to His Father, even addicted to it. He bragged about His relationship with His Father—so much in fact that it made the religious crowd want to puke. They finally got so annoyed at hearing Him talk about "His Father" that they claimed God as their father and accused Jesus of being a bastard-child. That's in John 8. Very nasty. But Jesus can hold his own. He let them know that He wasn't worried about his lineage, but they should be worried about theirs. He called them sons of the devil because they did what their father the devil did (so much for keeping the peace).

I just pulled out a few passages from the book of John and one from Hebrews that help to characterize what the Father-Son relationship looks like. I asked everyone to pick out their favorite one, and then we read the favorites together.

  • The Father and Son work together (John 5:16-17)
  • The Father trusts the Son (John 5:22-23)
  • The Father and the Son cooperate (John 6:44-47)
  • The Father gives life (John 6:57)
  • The Father works on behalf of the Son (John 6:65)
  • The Father speaks for the Son (8:18)
  • The Son speaks for the Father (John 8:28)
  • The Father highlights the Son (John 8:54)
  • The Son trusts the Father (John 10:18)
  • The Father gives gifts to the Son (John 10:29-30)
  • The Father honors friends of the Son (John 12:26)
  • The Son is the way to the Father (John 14:6)
  • The Father loves the ones who love the Son (John 14:21)
  • People who hate the Son hate the Father (John 15:24)
  • The Father helps the friends of the Son (John 17:11)
  • The Father extends his family to include His Son’s friends (John 17:21-23)
  • The Father came through for the Son, even if it seemed too late (Hebrews 5:7-9)
  • The Son does what the Father does (John 8:39-47)

I know there is a fuller picture to paint than this of the Father and Son relationship, but John seems to have paid special attention to this. I would probably suggest that John gets the credit for figuring out that Jesus was not about the law, the prophets, the psalms, the temple, the synagogue, service, duty, ministry, tradition, the Scriptures, or anything else that seems so important in any religion, but rather Jesus was about the Father. He was desperate for Him. The Father came first for Him and only after that was He any good for anyone else. ("The Son can do nothing of himself." - John 5:19).

Driving home today, I was beat down about mom's cancer and the toll it is taking on all of us, especially my father. It reminded me again how vital the Father is in my life, His unfailing Fatherhood. None of us will ever be able to offer that fully to anyone else, and none of us should presume to step between the Father and His child. Fatherhood is the core of the universe, and it is available to each of us to receive as sons and to borrow as fathers. What a privilege.

Monday, June 13, 2005

The World's Greatest Lover

There are only four questions of any value in life. What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for? And what is worth dying for. The answer to each is the same. Only love.

-Don Juan DeMarco

I was fascinated by the movie Don Juan DeMarco. The first time I saw it I didn’t really know why, and frankly I was a bit embarrassed about liking a movie about a man who was either crazy or the world’s greatest lover. Years later, and I’ve lost my embarrassment. When I first saw the movie, I missed the message of the movie for the content of the movie. Or maybe it’s better to say I almost missed the message of the movie for the content of the movie. I have lately been bitten by the romantics, and the bite has awakened some deeper magic in my soul.

I am concerned with a certain way of looking at life, which was created in me by the fairy tales, but has since been meekly ratified by the mere facts.

–G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

I have long been intrigued by the logical C.S. Lewis. Mere Christianity and Miracles were just the fuel my young hyperrational religious mind craved. Even the macabre Screwtape Letters fed not my imagination so much as my craving for propositional truth. But the thing that would undo me was The Chronicles of Narnia. A children’s series. How cute. As I read each night, strolling through the entire series to my children, I was on the surface thoroughly enjoying the story, but the deep of my mind was carefully parsing, extracting truth for the sermon that would come later. How naïve. I was in fact tricked by Lewis. All that logical, apologetic stuff was to hook me on the real truth—the romance of the story. The irony is of course that it is exactly the opposite he has been accused of by unbelieving critics—how sneaky of him to woo the unsuspecting by his fascinating stories and slip in his Christ-centered philosophies. The double irony is that I thought I was in his stands cheering for him to do just that, when all of a sudden the players all looked up to laugh at me—but I was not offended.

Lewis, like Madeleine L'Engle, Chesterton, J.R.R. Tolkien, and others were greatly influenced, even fathered in a sense by George MacDonald. Lewis wrote of MacDonald, “I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master; in deed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him.” In Lewis’s autobiography, Surprised by Joy, he revealed that it was George MacDonald’s Phantastes that sealed his fate on being a Christian (at the time he was quite irritated about it, but he obviously came to love not only MacDonald, but MacDonald’s God).

Phantastes: A Faerie Romance, by George MacDonald. It’s fantastic in every sense of the word. And romantic in only the best sense of the word. It is not ironic at all that in this passing age of reason and modernity that romance would be mocked, idealism patronized, and heroism tainted. Everything must be reduced, explained, understood, categorized, and filed accordingly: “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” says the Wizard of Oz. “If it sounds too good to be true it probably is,” says the U.S. Post Office. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” gets skewed to somehow mean it’s an illusion rather than a gift from God to see the beauty that is truly there. But worst of all, they say “Love is blind” points to its naïveté rather than its magnificence! Love is only blind to the insignificant. What is true, what is noble, what is just, what is pure, what is lovely, what is admirable, what is virtuous, praiseworthy, and excellent—these things love sees quite well, only love truly sees. Although it may seem a bit arrogant to quote oneself, this is a verse from Fair Vera of Vérderah Wood.

Since ages past it was told unto thee
That love is blind and always must be
But now we know
For One did show
That love, only love can see.

Somewhere along the way the Romantics apparently got mixed up with the Erotics, and the Erotics must have killed off the good Romantics and taken the weaker ones as slaves. That’s the only explanation I have for the term “romance novels.” My guess is that the Rationals went on a war raid and scared the Romantics into their territory. But I am concerned with a certain way of looking at life. And I am becoming more concerned. A certain way of looking at life that doesn’t deny facts but looks through them like a glass of cold water on a hot summer day. A certain way of looking at life that does not begin with facts but believes they will come when they are due or maybe past-due to make sure faith gets a chance. Don Juan DeMarco had it. Most don’t. When his psychiatrist asks him how he explains some of the things he sees, how he can believe that he is in fact staying in a villa near Sevilla rather than a psychiatric ward, and that the man in front of him is in fact Don Octavio del Flores rather than Dr. Mickler, DeMarco replies:

By seeing beyond what is visible to the eye. Now there are those, of course, who do not share my perceptions, it is true. When I say that all my women are dazzling beauties, they object. The nose of this one is too large; the hips of another, they are too wide; perhaps the breasts of a third, they are too small. But I see these women for how they truly are...glorious, radiant, spectacular, and perfect...because I am not limited by my eyesight. Women react to me in the way they do, Don Octavio, because they sense that I search out the beauty that lies within until it overwhelms everything else. And then they cannot avoid their desire, to release that beauty and envelope me in it. So, to answer your question, I see as clear as day that this great edifice in which we find ourselves is your villa. It is your home and as for you, Don Octavio del Flores, you are a great lover like myself, even though you may have lost your way and your accent. Shall I continue?

Don’t get lost behind a mask and a cape and a sword and Hollywood. For it is neither Don Juan nor Don Juan DeMarco who is the world’s greatest lover. It is Jesus Christ. His claim to fame among the human race is exactly that. He was and is Love Incarnate, the greatest lover the world has ever known or will ever know. This Man saw beyond what was visible to the eye. He saw through the the veil of the visible. What else could he do, being the Son of the One who calls those things that be not as though they were? And God is counting on us to react to Him not because of the demands of His holiness, but because of His romantic sweep to seek and save what was lost in us (and no doubt it was lost, big time!). The incarnation, the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ overwhelms everything else in us, and we cannot avoid our desire to release everything we are and envelope Him in it. His love for us was

“…not the artful postures of love, but love that overthrows life. Unbiddable, ungovernable, like a riot in the heart, and nothing to be done, come ruin or rapture. Love like there has never been in a play…”

- Viola in Shakespeare in Love

And while John and Peter both make much of the facts that Jesus was a real man who really walked the earth who had real relationships with real people and real troubles in the flesh whom they saw with their own eyes and touched with their own hands, Paul reminds us that the magic of Jesus, just like Isaiah had foretold centuries before, was not in the part you could see.

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
   nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
   a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
   he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

- Isaiah 53

None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”— but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.

1 Corinthians 2

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

- 2 Corinthians 4

I am concerned with a certain way of looking at life. It is only seen with the eyes of my heart. It is romantic to the core. The essence of it is the invisible trio of faith, hope, and love. The greatest of course is love—love that sees the unseen and acts in the most unrational ways for the love of the beloved.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Right

I'd rather die with my friends than with my opinions.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Worth It

At the birthday party last night we gathered around and watched as our 11, 8, and 3 year old sons sang and danced to all the Barbie songs. They twirled and spun, we cooed and clapped. Ahem. What's wrong with this picture? It was our daughters, not our sons of course. They wanted to know, "Do you see me? Am I lovely?" It's not so much that the boys don't want to be seen, but boys from a very young age want to be seen doing something like smacking down their brother with a sword or throwing a ball through a hoop (which is pretty close to what they were doing when they weren't messing up the girls' performance). Girls from a very young age want to bee seen themselves, to draw attention not to what they do, but what they are. And they are lovely.

This is not to say that boys and girls are altogether different. John Eldredge identifies 3 desires in a man's soul: a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue; and 3 desires in a woman's soul: to be fought for, to share an adventure, and to unveil a beauty. His book for men, Wild at Heart, is brilliant. His wife Stasi's new book for women, Captivating, is simply stunning. Since they started waking the world to these things a few years ago, what I have looked around and found is that for the most part, it's true—right down the line—these are how a man's soul and a woman's soul are different and complementary. However, there are some crossovers. Just like men have much higher levels of testosterone than women, but women do have testosterone—women do have a desire to fight a battle, although it is a greater desire in men. And just like women have much higher levels of estrogen, but men do have estrogen—men have a desire to be rescued, although it is a greater desire in women.

When I was maybe 8 or 9, we had a softball throw competition at the city park. I had a lousy arm, still do. Those years I thought I was doomed to be a social outcast as a wimp's wimp because I couldn't throw and I wasn't very fast. In fact, I can remember crying myself to sleep because a kid named Matt had everything: not only could he punt, pass, and kick, but he was fast and he was fast and he was, well, he was fast. My mother had no idea what to do but give me a pep talk and laugh about my juvenile worries. I was devastated. It wasn't until later that I found my athletic prowess in another area: I was a pretty good running back, good enough to make the Varsity football team my sophomore year and rush for 100+ yards a game, making me the king of the world! Oh, excuse me. Where was I? Oh yeah. It was my turn to throw the softball. I already knew what was coming. I stepped up and threw it, and it went some puny distance. Everyone laughed. Someone cackled, "Is that as far as you can throw it?" Waves of embarrassment washed over me, and I could already feel myself withering. But all of a sudden, a friend of mine (who was to become a lifelong friend of mine) stepped up and said, "Of course not you dummies. Does he look like he was straining?!" Inside I had two thoughts: Hmm, that might actually be about as far as I can throw it, and Wow—it's great to have a friend like that. I was rescued. And it meant a lot because this guy had an incredible arm. He was always winning contests. And he was fast, too.

I don't know why he thought I was worth speaking for. Maybe he saw something in me that I didn't. I'd really be surprised to hear that anyone wouldn't like to have a friend like that, or to be rescued like that, to be stood up for in his weakness. It's not that anyone likes being a wimp, but none of us is good at everything all the time. Whether age or gender or talent or interest makes us fall short in some area, we all appreciate being rescued. But as a man, I do feel a deep desire to fight, maybe against an injustice. And I'm always itching for an adventure, even if it involves getting muddy, sweaty, or potentially injured. And I do feel a deep desire to rescue the beauties in my life.

But back to the girls. With no script, with no one suggesting it, they scanned the isles at the video store for anything Barbie, they watched all the movies—over and over and over—they got the soundtrack and sang the songs—over and over and over—and then they couldn't contain themselves any longer. Watch me dance. Do you delight in me? Am I lovely? We didn't miss our chance to say with our eyes, our ears, our applause, and our hearts a resounding yes! Yes, you're worth it.

Suicide

Did you ever think about committing suicide? Pulling that trigger? Popping those pills? Cutting that vein? Writing that letter? If you have begun to plan your own demise, experts say that is a major problem and warn you to seek immediate help.

But did you ever think that the world would be better off without you? That all you cause is pain? That at least if you were gone, the people who are so disappointed with you could finally move on? If you have had these kinds of desperate thoughts, you are not alone. I have thought this, and I don’t know anyone who has honestly never thought along these lines. Even though it is common it is not true. You have to understand that the world is not better off without you, you are not here just to cause pain, and not everyone is disappointed in you.

Most of us have heard at some point or other that within each human heart there is a God-shaped hole that can only be filled by Him. As the song says,
There's a hole in my heart
That can only be filled by you
And this hole in my heart
Can't be filled with the things I do

But did you ever think that the reverse is also true? It is. There is a you-shaped hole in God’s heart that can only be filled by you. Let that sink in. If you are missing, then part of God’s glory can never be expressed, not by your rival, friend, teacher, student, mother, father, sister, brother, or even your twin.

The truth is that you were not created by God for destruction, but in fact you were created by God so that He could rescue you from your desperate situation, take away your black heart, give you a brand new one, take up residence inside it, and then through you enter into His world again bringing new life and hope to maybe just one person, maybe a nation.

And when you feel like you’d be better off dead you’re right in a sense. Jesus does want us to “die.” He wants us all to “die” to worrying about our own life so that we can make room to take from him his very own life. His offer is to trade us our life for His.

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:39)

What He wants us to do is quit trying to preserve our creature comforts and promote ourselves—just let all that go and trade up for the only life Jesus can give. He would have us to give up on everything we could possibly do to preserve our life, and just depend on God to come through for us. He said it this way:

I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

You may not think there is any way out of the pit you’re in right now. You may think you're worth more dead than alive. You may feel like you have absolutely nothing to offer. It may feel like the whole world stopping and spinning backward couldn’t undo the mess you’ve made or the crap you’re in. It may seem that no matter what you do or say or become couldn’t redeem your life. But it’s all a mirage. Those thoughts, those feelings, that scenario is a brilliantly conceived illusion to blind you to the truth that God loves you and has a way to make this world better in some way that can only happen through you. It may not be this week, this month, this year, or even this decade, but if you will hold on and hold out for it, you will live to see the beauty and the strength that He meant when He meant you.

Never give up on God. He will never give up on you.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Have You Been Loved?


Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
Love doesn't strut,
doesn't have a swelled head,
doesn't force itself on others,
isn't always "me first,"
doesn't fly off the handle,
doesn't keep score of the wrongs of others,
doesn't revel when others grovel
takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,

Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies.

Amor non tenet ordinem

"Love has nothing to do with order."
-Columbanus

There's No Remedy for Love

There's no remedy for love but to love more.

- Henry David Thoreau

I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you. I love you not only for what you have made of yourself, but for what you are making of me. I love you for the part of me that you bring out.

- Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Love is everything it's cracked up to be. That's why people are so cynical about it. It really is worth fighting for, being brave for, risking everything for. And the trouble is, if you don't risk anything, you risk even more.
- Erica Jong

Love never fails.
- Paul of Tarsus

I'm lost in the magic and the mystery
In our own small part of history
Our hearts have started making here
And I know there'll be no cure for me
But what sweet malady

There's no remedy for love
Nothing can change the way I feel
I'm hopelessly head over heels
For worse or for better
There's no remedy for love
But I'd have it no other way
The symptoms are clear, I'm yours
For now and forever
There's no remedy for love
There's no remedy for love
- Susan Ashton
There's No Remedy for Love

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Hold the Religion, Please

The only reason I have said yes to Christ’s offer was because someone has always been there to tell me I could be a Christian without being religious.


Growing up, I was always in and out on Jesus. It’s really sad to think of it now—to have a friend like Jesus, so powerful, so humble—to invite Him to come in and take over, and then a few months later to swipe the keys back from Him and escort Him out. That He would allow me to repeat that cycle several times shows His humility and yes, love, for me—He would have it no other way than I choose to give Him my heart.


But I came to Christ at a big church service that was not in a “church,” but in a convention center, not as a result of a powerful evangelistic message (heard plenty of those, and since) but as a result of hearing a testimony of two people, one a Christian artist, the other a Christian businessman. And the invitation was to a new way of life, a new way to walk with God, not to a religion. Then there was a guy named Ranger Gary Horton who came and talked tough to a bunch of us cadets about a faith in Jesus apart from religion, “Religion,” he said, “is a lie. I grew up in a town where one church said, ‘There ain’t no hell.’ And the one across the street said, ‘The hell there ain’t.’” My experience, too. Of course, he exhorted us to a relationship with Christ. And then I remember a good friend gave me a copy of a book called How to be a Christian Without Being Religious, a little paperback based on the book of Romans. I also remember getting hold of another book by an author of a brand of Christianity I was a part of for 10 years, without which I doubt I would’ve joined the brand I was a part of for 10 years, called No Wonder they Call Him the Savior. There’s an outstanding chapter in there called “A Candle in the Cavern” where he talks about of all the dark things Jesus came to save people from, religion is the most treacherous. This author reminded us of the hope we have for God to raise someone up at the right time to light a candle in the dark cave of religion, to show us the way out:


There is still a sizable amount of evil that wears the robe of religion and uses the Bible as a sledgehammer…And it is still often the case that one has to find faith in spite of the church instead of in the church.


But they have also observed that just when the religious get too much religion and the righteous get too right, God finds somebody in the cavern who will light the candle.


I know, I know. Walk into any church today and they will tell you that they believe in being a Christian without being religious—that it’s about a relationship with Jesus Christ. But walk into any church today and see if even that is practiced. Walk into any church today and ask them to change their order of worship, to change their style of music, to change the way they do “ministry”, to alter their current views on homosexuals, or drug abusers, or other deviants, to meet every evening instead of Sunday morning or something strange like that, and see if it’s not a religion. See if they will take a different stance on some doctrine that other churches in their denomination take, or other evangelical churches take or shoot, different than the Church of the last 2000 years has taken. Walk into any church today and see if they act like Jesus—cleansing the temple, having real compassion for people, intervening for the ones in bad situations, saying things like “How hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” or “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” or “Will he not leave the 99 and go after the 1 that wandered off?” or “My house shall be a house of prayer.” In the last church you visited, did it go like this: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need”? Did they have a lower divorce rate in the last church you visited than in the “unchurched”? Did they know anything of the lost art of one anothering? Like: greet each other with a holy kiss, look out for each other’s interests, accept one another, agree with one another, lay down your lives for each other, confess your faults one to another, rescue each other, love one another, wait for each other…? And I’m not down on churches—not at all—it’s just that the faith I profess has been hijacked by a religion called Christianity, and it’s suffocating it. And I don’t just see it—I feel it. We have started a new church, and the pull to keep the same religious plates spinning that we’ve always known is enormous. No, this is not about finding the perfect church—I’m amazed that it is exactly that pursuit which has created most of the schisms in the last hundred years in American church: every group is wanting to be “righter” than the church they break away from. Who cares who’s righter? (If you’re backpedaling now because I’m talking about not being righter, see if you’re not defending your religion rather than Christ.)


This is why there are a growing number of people who wouldn’t claim to be Christians, just followers of Jesus Christ. Christianity has in fact become a religion. Ask the rest of the world what being a Christian means—you may be surprised. Many of them know what’s really going on better than many Christians: Christianity is not about Jesus Christ, it’s about Christianity. It’s become a system of belief, and like any system of belief, it helps some and destroys others.


Strangely enough, though, some who come to Jesus Christ…live their lives with every step moving forward and with every fiber of their being fighting for the heart of their King. Jesus Christ has become the all-consuming passion of their lives. They are not about religion or position. They have little patience for institutions or bureaucracies. Their lack of respect for tradition or ritual makes them seem uncivilized to those who love religion. When asked if they are Christians, their answer might surprisingly be no, they are passionate followers of Jesus Christ. They see Christianity as a world religion, in many ways no different from any other religious system. Whether Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, or Christianity, they’re not about religion; they’re about advancing the revolution Jesus started two thousand years ago.


I am not down on any Christian or any church that’s alive today. I just know for me that if the only way to follow Jesus Christ is to join the Christian religion then I’m lost. Looking back, I am eternally grateful that I was made another offer.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Your Name

When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different.
You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.
- Billy, Age 4