Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Prophecy from My Past Self?

(For some reason, this old post from 4 years ago (right down to the exact week) came to my attention TWICE today...and I'm starting to get suspicious as to why. The first was while I was cleaning out an end table in our living room. While frantically throwing away the stuff that had collected in it, I noticed a printout of one my old emails, and it was this one. I didn't think much of it, glanced at it quickly, then tucked it away for later, maybe. The second was just a minute ago, after publishing a new piece on my blog, even though I never have done this, I decided to pick a random archive page (found in the lower left column at And of all the posts on there, and of all the buttons I could've picked, it was this same one. So I said, "Okay, God, okay," and read it expectantly...hmmm, I wonder if the day has come? And if so, what does it mean? Sobering. Intriguing. Challenging. Worthy of my prayer and close listening, and connecting with you, my community. Any thoughts, feedback, probing questions, or contributions are invited and would be most welcome.
I'm ready for a revolution.)
The Day That is Coming...But Not Yet - July 31, 2005

"You remind me of the Apostle Paul." -- said to me by my friend, Ben Wall, years ago, as we did ministry together

I have long felt a kinship with Paul of the Bible. I think that anyone who has seriously committed his life and soul to advancing Christ's Kingdom can find a version of his own story in Paul's story, but I still like to think that he and I have a special affinity. And while I like to imagine having a powerful, global impact like he, that's not what I'm talking about.

Remember when Paul (he went by Saul then) used all his zeal and passion to defend "God's religion" from moving into error by Christians?  I used to do that. Remember when Paul was then interrupted by Jesus and was told to stop what he was doing because he, in fact, was working against God and didn't know it? I feel like that happened to me. Remember how Paul sat in Damascus, dazed and confused and blinded, waiting for Jesus to tell him what to do? I experienced that.

And remember when Jesus promised and then commissioned Paul personally, "I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me." I so totally feel like I have had this experience.

I feel sent, like Paul, to the "gentiles" of our day. No, not "non-Jews", for I am one of them, and indebted to Paul for initiating such a powerful ministry to us. The gentiles of our day, at least in America, are the "non-churched". I don't really like that word, but haven't found one I like, and so will trust you know what I mean.

And you know how Paul went first to the Jews in each city he visited to see who would accept the Messiah so that he knew who he could count on in that city to be a church fellowship for these hard to accept gentiles? I feel like I'm supposed to do that, too. The way Paul and his buddy Barny explained themselves to the Jews was, "We had to speak the word of God to you first." (Acts 13:46) And I honestly feel like, too. As a matter of fact, that is a PERFECT description of the season of Paul's life that I am in right now, right here in Amarillo. The "Jews" in my life (per this analogy) are my friends at the Southwest Church of Christ. Probably the best statement from Paul's life, that reflects this current priority of mine, is a comment by Luke when he said, "Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ." (Acts 18:5)

Up ahead, however, a dramatic decision awaits me. (I am fortunate that I have many brothers and friends and intimate allies that surround me. And I don't know about Paul, but I need them. They remind me of what matters most when I'm weary. At the first sign of possible discouragement or distraction, they notice and firmly keep my eyes on the Goal.) And sometimes I put my head down to the ground and watch my feet take one step at a time and forget, but God oftentimes forces my head up to look ahead...and when He does, excitement and passion and conviction (and emails like this one) just pop out of me.

Before too terribly long, the day is coming that I will turn resolutely to the "Gentiles" and take the Word of God to them. It will be great because I know there are folks out there who are just waiting to hear about this life-giving message from me, and are ready to embrace it with both arms by letting go of everything else...and that many of my "Jewish" brothers will go out there with me. But it will also be sad because it will mark an end of the current season of life for me, the one where I get to preach Christ to "my own people" first, inviting them from the religious life we were brought up with to the abundant life of a singular focus on Christ's mission.

The way Paul said it, when it came upon him, was..."We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us." (Acts 13:47)

The way Luke continued his commentary about this was..."Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, "Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles." (Acts 18:5-6)

I am currently preaching to the Southwest Church of Christ, explaining and declaring to them the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus from the law of Moses and from the Prophets and from the Gospels and from the Letters (see Paul's version of this in Acts 28:23-25). And it is awesome. I have joined many among these people who have been doing this for years before I got here, most notably the elders and ministers that I get to work with, and there are dozens more.

So for now, I am full of joy as I pursue this season of life and calling, patiently watching to see who else has already and will continue to join us in discovering the "more and more" available to us in Christ. But I also enjoy lifting my head, looking forward, and seeing that the time is coming (the day and hour I don't know) that my heart's desire to see new life flow into the hearts of those outside our Southwest walls, because of the people inside of our walls. It will be a time in my life where I feel I will have been faithful to God's commission to go to "the Gentiles" and share with them our lives and this great news.

Then, I hope and pray, what happened in Paul's life will happen in mine..."When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. The word of the Lord spread through the whole region." (Acts 13:48-50)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

I Hugged Myself Yesterday


Deirdre Lefever: You thought he was here so you could fix him? It didn't occur to you that it might be the other way around?
Russ Duritz: ...Not until recently, no.

--- Bruce Willis, in the Disney movie The Kid, after his 8-year-old self showed up mysteriously when he was 40.

I stood outside a courtroom yesterday holding a weeping boy who had just finished sitting inside it where the sins of his dad had caught up with him. He listened as his dad plead guilty to the charges against him, because he was, and threw himself at the mercy of the court concerning punishment. He listened as the the prosecuting attorney put up witness after witness outlining the crimes, a punishment in and of itself to this son-of-the-accused, and he listened as the judge pronounced the multi-year sentencing of his dad. And then he watched as his dad turned and looked at him and the rest of his family, full of shame and regret, sadness and fear, and then he watched as the bailiff marched him off to prison.

And then he began sobbing...the only sound that he could add to the tears were the words, "I want my daddy. I want my daddy."

His daddy is my friend. I met him 3 years ago. He'd started coming to my basement every Tuesday night with a group of guys who meet there to make friends, brothers, and allies out of each other by taking the mask off, being fully known, and helping each other, whatever it takes, to become better men. Men who live better lives. The best possible one is the one we are all after, and since Jesus Christ says that's why he give us that (Jn 10:10)...well, we're giving it, and him, a try.

This guy comes from a life of darkest dark. But he and I and a group of others bared our souls. We bared our hearts. And we began the exciting, but slow ascent up towards light. This guy is a good guy. But many of the sections of the ascent were steep and slippery, impossible to navigate alone without brothers, let alone without God, and he tried foolishly several times to go it alone and slipped back. We were always there to catch him, and pick him up, and challenge him back to his feet. One of those times, however, landed him, yesterday, in prison.

I and another brother from the Basement Boys were there as character witnesses. My buddy's attorney asked me a bunch of questions to show that there was a group of good guys "out there" that love, trust, and are committed to him so that the judge might give him probation. And that is why I thought I was there. And I was. And I did. (My proudest moment came when the prosecuting attorney asked me about my kids, and asked if a man were to try to give my son some drugs, would I want the man responsible to be punished. I answered, "I would want him to be changed.") I was there for that. But I was there for another reason, too.

I was there to embrace his son. I was there to get the chest of my shirt wet with some of his tears. And not for him.

I mean, sure, it was for him. But not strictly for him. It was also for me.

See, some people wouldn't have a clue what to say to him right then. I'm often in situations like that…where I’m with people dealing with dilemma's that all I can give is my presence and my prayers. And I've learned that that is enough for people. Actually, that is a lot. Actually, that is love of the greatest sort. But this time, the words came flooding to me, and not because of some mysterious and enlivening Holy Spirit intervention (which I have experienced) where you end up saying, "I don't know where those words came from!" (which I have said). Nope. This time, I knew what to say, and I knew where the words came from.

While I held him, I put my mouth next to his ear and said, "Son, I've stood right here where you are standing. I sat in a courtroom where the sins of my dad had caught up with him. I listened as my dad plead guilty to the charges against him, because he was, and threw himself at the mercy of the court concerning punishment. I listened as the judge pronounced the multi-year sentencing of my dad, and then watched as the bailiff marched him off to prison.”

At this point, I pulled back and had him look me in the eye as I continued, "...and I made it. I didn't lose my dad, even though on that day it felt like I had. I didn't. And he wasn't gone as long as they said he would be. Which was great. And while there were hard days while he was gone, this day, the one you are in right here, the feeling you are feeling right now, was the hardest. So let's you and I make it through this day, and then the worst day will be over, and you'll know that you can make it."

"Okay," he said. "Okay."

His dad gone, I drove him and his dad's truck to his house for the family. We talked some more, like deeply unified, mutually understanding brothers, 30-years removed. In that short drive home, we slipped between practical questions, somber silence, and boisterous laughter with the ease that comes from common traumatic experiences.

I guess I was there for him.

Sure, I was there for him.

Sure I was.


Suuuure I was.

For him.


“I am just like you before God; I too have been taken from clay.” – Job, to his friends, wanting them to see they are the same

“I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you.” – Paul, to his friends, wanting them to walk the path he did, so they could have life to the full

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

I Need to Repent


“A person changes when that person develops a desire to change.” – Your Truly

"I tell you the truth, unless you change… you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” - Jesus

“The only thing that stays the same is that things change.” – Jim Sheppard

I want people to change. I want it badly. I want the wounded to heal, the frantic to have peace, the lazy to find purpose, the sad to get joy, the angry to forgive, the hurtful to be loving, the depressed to have hope. If I am going to expend energy, this is what I want to expend energy doing. Changing people…starting with myself (which will never end) and then offering it through every single relationship I have or will ever have (which will also never end).

This has been true for as long as I can remember. And in my adult life, as I look back, it is pretty much consistently what I have done.

As consistent as this has been outwardly, I can also see by looking back that the motivation behind that work inwardly has changed.

In the past, my motivations to help others change was really self-serving. They included:

  • My need to believe that substantial change was possible.
  • My desire to “be effective” as a helper of people.
  • My need to prove that my motives were pure (to others, yes, but really to myself).
  • My need to “be” for someone else what I felt I never “had” for myself.
  • My desire to be “a good leader”.

Looking over that list, all of them could go under the heading of one profound work…my own healing. With only subtle (and often overlapping) differences, I have thus far in my life engaged in the work of helping people change for my own healing.

I’m happy to report, at the age of 41, that I feel like I’ve progressed in this area, and would describe myself as “healed and healing”. One of the litmus tests that signals to me that this profound milestone has happened comes in the form of the feeling that, while I want people to change, I no longer need others to change.

For example:

  • I don’t need others to change to believe that change is possible anymore.
  • I don’t need others to change to prove I’m an “effective” helper of people anymore.
  • I don’t need to help others change to prove my motives are pure anymore.

With this glorious change in my inner being comes a problem that I was surprised by and am now currently wrestling through. You see, one of the benefits of having my own need to heal as my motivation to help others change is the fuel and passion it gives me to do so. Said another way, without “needing” others to change, the fuel that runs me as a “helping people change” machine is gone.

To sum up: the outward work that I have always done (“helping others change”) is what I want to continue to do. But without my own self-serving needs (“my need to heal”) fueling that work, I’m in need of something new…a new fuel.

It has taken me some time, deep contemplation, and time with Christ and my fellow Christ-following community, but I have figured out what the new fuel, if I am to find the motivation to continue helping people change, needs to be. And I’m a bit ashamed of what I found it to be.


I need to learn to love.

If love can be (partially) described as “kindly helping others become more like Christ for their good,” then what I have been doing is “kindly helping others become more like Christ for my own healing.”

So…today, I need to repent for my lack of love.

I expect this to be the most profound and all-consuming repentance of my life. It will call for my most focused effort, my most determined commitment, and a diligence, persistence, and depth that, thus far, I have never had to access. I’m bracing myself for this one to by my last one…not that I will not have countless other faults to address and course-corrections to make…but that this one will be the wind that drives all the rest. This one, I think, will explain me. This one, finally, this one, will kill me.

Don’t feel sorry for me, friends. I am elated. The shame that I am coming to grips with concerning what a beginner I am at this love thing is equaled by my excitement to begin the journey.

I am currently re-reading the story of Jesus, eager to witness him being motivated by this newest understanding of what love is! I am moving ever closer, if at a snails pace, towards my life-long goal of becoming more like Christ, which is more like God…Who is Love.

Whoever loses his life for me will find it.” - Jesus