Thoughts and Meditations from verses and stories through one guy's head and heart... Psalm 124:7
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Chris Rice has this song called “8th Grade” where he says, “Take a little trip with me back to Junior High, set the time machine to 1975…” The rest of the song is a nostalgic backwards glance that is mostly cute and funny where he concludes that everything was easier back then, or maybe, looking back we just think it was easier because at least we know we made it. Now, I love Chris Rice, and I even like this song, but I wouldn’t go back to eighth grade for anything! Are you kidding me?! All the insecurity, the drama, the Spanish homework, the pimples and the silk shirts with stonewashed jeans are enough to make me so glad to be past those days! There were so many awkward relationships and simply everyone was putting on a show in order to find somewhere to fit in… whoa, knowing what I know now, I’d never, ever go back there!
Imagine going back even further! Imagine knowing what you know now about life… about work, technology, relationships and independence and having to go back to early childhood when you had zero freedom and weren’t allowed to make any decisions at all about your own life! Imagine being weak and being totally bossed around. Imagine having to relive babyhood… the terrible food, the inability to employ language or really move on your own! That would be so terrible! I can’t imagine having to learn how read all over again… especially when I’ve read Dickens and Tolkien! I can’t imagine having to learn how to walk all over again, especially when I’ve run at full speed on the kickoff team in high school football, hiked on the snow capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains and stood on the Great Wall of China!
As I write this, tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I am one of those people who can never separate Thanksgiving from Christmas. It’s not that I don’t want to give Thanksgiving its due or anything, it’s just that as I reflect on what I’m most thankful for, my mind is drawn so strongly to the sweet baby in the manger who was Almighty God Himself. Jesus not only created everything and everyone, He watched them all live their lives. He saw all the skinned knees and cruel bullies. He watched the nervous breakdowns and the bitter breakups. He watched kids fall up stairs, wet the bed and fall asleep first at sleepovers. He watched people get toothaches, go bald and get ignored. He watched people get betrayed, arrested, interrogated and tortured. He watched people get crucified; and having seen every single second of every life He made… having known exactly what He was getting Himself into, He still came.
I wouldn’t go back to high school or middle school or childhood for anything in this world! Knowing what I know now, I’d never go through all that stuff on purpose, but He did! Jesus knew exactly what He was walking into and He walked into it on purpose! Why?! Why on earth would anyone in their right mind do that?
Well, it’s simple. He did it for me. He’d do anything for me. Know why? He loves me that much, that’s why. He did it for you too, because He loves you that way. Now there’s something to be thankful for.
Look, it happens to everyone sooner or later. It’s embarrassing, it’s awkward and if you haven’t done it yet, you will at some point. One of these days, you’ll forget to hike up that zipper and someone will bust you. The best you can hope for is that when your time comes, you get it over with among friends. I mean, what if you were some big executive giving a keynote address to a group of would be investors? What if it was your first day as the new White House Press Secretary? Although, I guess that guy has the big presidential podium… I was in a men’s small group one time where the leader had to turn to one of the other guys and say, “Brother, this is an accountability group, right? Well, I feel it’s my responsibility as your brother in Christ to hold you accountable and tell you to XYZ.”
I think the thing that’s so awful about a situation like that is being made suddenly aware of something that everyone else saw about you, which you didn’t. It’s like the Snickers commercial from a few years ago where a bald guy made a toupee out of Snickers candy bars. All of his coworkers gathered around his desk to confront him saying, “Umm.. Steve, we just want to let you know, we know you’re bald.” Steve tried to look surprised, as the girl said, “We think you should stop wearing the Snickers.” Steve managed a weak chuckle and said, “What do you mean?” And the girl said, “It’s not fooling anyone.” The commercial ends with a crying Steve alone in his car removing the Snickers hat from his bald head.
What if there was something glaring and obvious about my life that was out of whack and everyone saw it but me? What if the most significant thing about me was out of place and I didn’t even know it?
In one of the most famous passages in all of Scripture, the Apostle Paul tells us that no matter how mature we think we are, no matter how much ministry we think we’ve got going on, no matter how passionate we are about the Kingdom of God or how much we sacrifice for it, if we don’t love people, we are nothing. In 1 Corinthians 13, he says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
You see, no matter who I think I am, if there is even one person that I hate or can’t stand, I am vastly out of touch with my own struggling spiritual state. Love is the single most important thing, and whether or not I love people is the single most important thing about me. If I hate anyone at all, the rest of my so-called spiritual accomplishments and maturity are immaterial compared to that one fact. If I don’t love, that issue is the single most important thing about me, whether or not I realize it. But if love is my goal, and the law of love my guiding principal, all the rest of it will fall right into place. I don’t want to walk around with some obvious and awkward misstep that I am painfully unaware of! I want to know who I am and where I stand, and the thing I want more and more is simply to grow to be more like Jesus, the Lord of Love.
Jack has been having a rough time lately. And look, I get it. I bet it’s hard to be twelve months old! I bet it’s frustrating to be stuck inside a body that won’t move the way you want it to with fingers hopelessly incapable of fine motor skills and a mouth that simply refuses to say all the words you’re thinking! Imagine giant people carrying you around all over the place, wrapping you up in whatever clothes they want to and then plopping you down on the floor, sticking some toys before your face then walking away… you’d probably go bonkers too! But then, you can’t say, “Hey, giant people! Come back in this room and hand me one of those tiny orange crackers that looks like a fish!” because you can’t talk. On top of all that, you’re painfully making teeth all the time. Wow.
Jack is about the easiest baby ever, but sometimes he’s just frustrated. Sometimes he just cries. On Monday I was hanging out with him and he was having a hard time. I kept telling him that everything was going to be okay and wondering if he had any idea what I was trying to communicate with him. His little brow just furrowed and the tears came running down his smooth little face and into his open, crying mouth. I looked at him in between cries and asked, “What is it, bro? What’s wrong? What do you need me to do?” He didn’t answer because he doesn’t know how to speak English yet, but I wished he could have. My father’s heart would have done just about anything to placate the little guy in those moments if he could have just asked!
Lately I have been watching God answer a lot of prayers and they have been specific answers to specific prayers. For a few years now I have been writing my prayers down in a book simply because it helps me stay focused and I’ve started to realize something cool. As the ink that lines out those prayers leaves my pen and sticks to the page, it often does so in haste or in distress. Often times my prayers are the illegible scratching of a worried or even panicked heart. I leave the indecipherable scrawl on the page along with the weight of the problem and then have the peace to go about my day. Lately though I have seen some of those problems from the page solved before my eyes! I have watched God move and simply answer my prayers just as I wrote them down in desperate hope that morning! I find myself saying things like, “Whoa! That’s exactly what I prayed would happen!” Then I go back to the journal and find that prayer staring me in the face, only it has changed shape now. It’s as if my feverishly scribbled mess transforms over time into a written record of the faithfulness of God.
Our Lord’s brother James said, “You do not have because you do not ask God.” Now, I am not saying that writing down your prayers creates a mathematical correlation or contractual relationship whereby God is bound to do whatever you may fancy. I do not pretend to understand how the sovereign will of God meets up with my anxious prayers. The only thing I do know is that He has done it before… I have watched Him do exactly what I’ve begged Him, in His great mercy, to do. I have watched Him turn my frantic and forlorn hopes into His own shining stat sheet… a testimony of His merciful goodness. We can’t say what He will do and what He will not, but if He doesn’t, let it not be because we didn’t ask.
Wait. It’s not like that… I meant to go. That is, I was only visiting and I got to leave when I wanted to. See, every Tuesday, Tom goes to the Anderson County Detention Center to visit the guys there and lead a Bible Study for whoever wants to come. This ministry started off slowly and has at times been discouraging, but through the Lord’s blessing and Tom’s consistency, it has become something really special. Lately Tom always says, “God is really doing something out there at the jail!” Guys are growing, reaching out to their cellmates (they call ‘em “cellies”) and even singing! Lately they have just had this intense desire to sing praises, and they sing with all of their heart and voice, but they only know a couple of hymns; one of which is, Will the Circle Be Unbroken… whoa. So Tom asked me to go with him, bring a guitar out there and teach those guys some of our really simple worship songs.
I have to admit that I was a bit nervous going in there. You have to pass under a metal detector to sign in. You walk into what they call a “trap” which is basically an enclosed space between two steel doors. One opens, you walk in, and it closes. Then the other opens and you get to walk out. We walked down an eerily quiet and close corridor lined with more steel traps. Finally we made it to Unit 2 and walked into the block. This is a big, open room filled with tables that are bolted to the floor. The perimeter of the block is all cells… more steel doors with one little window in them. As we walked in, the block was totally deserted. Everyone was still in his cell. I nervously looked around at the cell doors surrounding the room and saw surly faces passing by the windows. Then, all of a sudden, one guy looking out of his window saw Tom… His face broke open into the widest smile! He shouted for Tom and then motioned for a cellmate to come look. Another face in the window saw Tom and broke open in palpable joy!
As the guard opened the cell doors for free time on the block, men in orange jump suits came out of doors from all over the place, but 13 of the guys were different than the rest. They carried their Bibles, shouted Tom’s name and rushed down the stairs to see him. They were laughing, hugging and so excited to see their friend… their pastor. We couldn’t even start Bible Study because they were so eager to share miraculous stories of God’s faithfulness to them with Tom. They were literally busting at the seams with the Holy Spirit’s contagious joy! We stood up and sang songs together and it made me cry to hear their worship! They were simply so happy to be praising and to have new songs to sing! They sang their hearts out… I couldn’t hear the guitar or myself singing! After that, they prayed and thanked Jesus for their brothers, thanked Him for their time in jail and thanked Him that He rescued them… wow.
I wish you could meet those guys. I wish you could see their passion for the Lord and how much they love Tom. As we were leaving, I walked back over to the metal detector and the visitor’s log. It was a large, leather bound book held together with duct tape on the spine. It was on page 273 that Tom wrote down our names and the day’s date and time. I remembered Matthew 25 and how our Lord said, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'… 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Tom has been going to that jail every Tuesday for over two years to serve Jesus and to serve those guys he loves so much. His name is in that visitor’s log over 100 times. It’s not a flashy, trendy or cool way to do ministry, but it’s sweet and real and it’s the kingdom of God being built.