Friday, February 27, 2009

Jack (aka Jesus) - Part 3

Imagine, if you will, that you are watching TV and Jesus is in the room with you. You are switching channels and happen to land on one showing Jesus speaking words of great importance that you have never heard before. He beams because he knows you are watching and listening to him. Would you change the channel and keep surfing? Hardly.

Now for a scenario that you don't have to imagine because it has likely happened to you. You're tired and just want to veg a bit. You are switching TV channels and happen to land on one of those programs that show malnourished children in underdeveloped areas of the world. What do you do? Do you change the channel?

Guess what - those scenarios are one and the same. Jesus said, "Inasmuch as you have done it (or not done it) to the least of these, my brethren, you have done it (or not done it) to Me." How many times have YOU switched the channel and ignored Jesus?

The excuses are many...Wouldn't it be easier not to get involved? Does the little that I could do really matter? I already sponsor one child and that's all I can do. If I don't pay attention, I don't have to think about it, and maybe it will go away. Can I really trust the organization(s)? It looks like a propaganda machine. What if I opened myself up and something didn't work out the way it was supposed to? The list goes on and on.

I had no idea that Jack's story would not be the happy ending that I might have expected. It hurt. There were questions. Frustrations. Sadness. I could have saved myself much of that if I had sheltered myself and looked out for my own comfort , if I had just left well enough alone and contacted my supervisor when Jack came back. But is that what Jesus did?

My Bible says Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners. He emptied Himself without any guarantee that we would make the conscious choice to accept His sacrifice. Wouldn't it have been easier to stick with the comfort of heaven and being present with God? He left His comfort zone, paid the ultimate price of being tortured and killed, and yet some still reject Him. Why did He do it? Because we are worth the risk.

Jack was worth the risk.

Yes, there is a risk to opening up oneself and stepping out of the comfort zone. Not everyone will give us accolades, people may ridicule us, things may not go as planned. People may call us crazy for loving others the way Jesus did - a dangerous love that is offered with reckless abandon.

He who shelters and protects his life will lose it, but he who gives his life to helping others will find it.

True living is only found by giving our lives for others. True love gives to others when you may not get anything back. I determine to live sacrificially and love dangerously.

Jack (aka Jesus) - Part 2

I found out from a coworker that the man's name was Jack. The fire that took so much from him physically also took the lives of his wife and children. I called him by name the next several times he came to order food and also helped him bag up the food and steady his drink. A couple times when I had money on me I covered it for him.

One night after work I saw Jack walking along the road near the store. I pulled over and got out of the car. Finally, a chance to witness to him about the love of God and the price Jesus paid for him. However, as soon as I started telling him that God loved him, he became furious and raised both hands toward heaven (if he had fingers, I knew which ones would be up). The spit and snot flew as he exclaimed two words that obviously were meant to be "F___ God!" My heart sank. He started walking away and I walked after him, surprised that he wasn't more receptive to someone who had treated him with respect and dignity. Finally, I realized he wasn't going to have anything to do with me, and I let him go.

A couple nights later, I saw Jack again. He seemed to be struggling with something. I pulled over, got out of my car and said hi to him. He had a cigarette in his mouth and gave me an open matchbook. It was cold and windy. Instead of waiting for me to strike the match and hold it up to him, he leaned down as I was striking the match. I exclaimed, "Be careful, I don't want to burn you." Then I realized what I had said. "Mark, you stupid IDIOT! Of all the things to say!" I couldn't believe I had said it, but I moved on and lit his cigarette. In my opinion, it was better to consider it no big deal and go on than it would be to try to backpedal and apologize. As soon as the cigarette was lit, he nodded a thank you and took off walking like he had a couple nights prior. I got back in my warm car and prayed for him.

I didn't see Jack the next day, or the next. A week went by, then two. I began to be hopeful that he had found somewhere to stay. I still lived with my parents and there were no bedrooms available, nor did I know of any shelters in the area. Hopefully he was okay. Several days later the same coworker who had told me Jack's name informed me that he had jumped in front of a moving truck and killed himself.

Maybe you thought this was going to be a good story. Maybe you thought it was going to be a testimony. Maybe you thought you were going to read a happy ending. I certainly did, so the harsh reality that not every story has a happy ending hit me hard. Very hard. I don't like to feel like I failed. And, I sure as heck don't want to wonder whether I might have contributed to the story's tragic ending. Those are questions that can eat at someone. Those are the thoughts that haunt. Those are the places where life gets uncomfortable, and life is not supposed to be uncomfortable, right?


Jack (aka Jesus) - Part 1

When I was in my late teens I was working at the concession stand of a local discount store. It was Black Friday and I was frantically trying to fill orders and check people out. Then, something interesting happened. The line that had been constantly long became shorter and shorter. I soon saw why. A man approached the counter who had been severely burned. He had no fingers and the bumps that were his thumbs were barely movable. One eye had been seared almost shut (not even sure had an eye on that side) and the other could only open halfway. He had open sores on his virtually-hairless head which were probably a result of running into things. He had no ears and had snot running out of the two holes where his nose used to be. His mouth had also been seared shut on one side, making his speech pretty much unintelligible. It was also very evident that he was homeless.

I'm sure we've all been in the situation where you meet someone that has been maimed or scarred in some try not to look at the deformity so as not to make him or her self-conscious. With this man, people looked away quickly, put their arms around their children, and hustled the other direction. Nobody wanted to even stand in line with him. It rips my heart up to think about how this man must have felt. Where do you look? How do you avoid looking where you think you're not supposed to? What do you say? How do you act? These are questions that make people uncomfortable, and it seems so many people, Christians included, serve the god of comfort.

When I looked into this man's eye, I recognized him. It was Jesus. Suddenly, there was an overwhelming love that came over me and I just wanted to hug him, but I was behind the counter. So, I smiled and said, "Hi, what can I get for you." I treated him just like I treated everyone else. After I interpreted his order (from his pointing, grunting, and head nods/shakes) I got his food and drink and he handed me a bill. When I gave him his change, I put one hand under his hand and held it steady while I gave him the coins. He looked at me, stunned that I would touch him...especially on his stump. I smiled and said, "Have a great day!" As he was picking up his food and drink from the counter, he couldn't handle both, and he accidentally spilled his drink. Out of frustration he threw his food down as well and stormed out of the store. I immediately began cleaning up the mess and prayed for him under my breath. My supervisor came over and exclaimed, "You let me know when that man comes here, he's not allowed in this store!" In no uncertain terms I told her that I was going to serve anyone who is a paying customer and challenged her to fire me for that. She didn't.

Part 2 coming soon...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Reality Check - Part 4

Do you see, do you see
All the people sinking down
Don't you care, don't you care
Are you gonna let them drown

How can you be so numb
Not to care if they come
You close your eyes
And pretend the job's done

"Oh bless me lord, bless me Lord"
You know it's all I ever hear
No one aches, no one hurts
No one even sheds one tear

But He cries, He weeps, He bleeds
And He cares for you needs
And you just lay back
And keep soaking it in
Oh can't you see it's such a sin

'Cause He brings people to you door
And you turn them away
As you smile and say
"God bless you, be at peace"
And all heaven just weeps
'Cause Jesus came to you door
You've left him out on the streets

Open up open up
And give yourself away
You see the need, you hear the cries
So how can you delay

God's calling and you're the one
But like Jonah you run
He's told you to speak
But you keep holding it in
Of can't you see it's such a sin

The world is sleeping in the dark
That the church just can't fight
'Cause it's asleep in the light
How can you be so dead
When you've been so well fed
Jesus rose from the grave
And you, you can't even get out of bed

Oh, Jesus rose from the dead
Come on get out of your bed

How can you be so numb
Not to care if they come
You close your eyes
And pretend the job's done
You close your eyes
And pretend the job's done

Don't close your eyes
Don't pretend the job's done
Come away, come away, come away with me my love
Come away, come away, come away with me my love

"Asleep in the Light" by Keith Green

Reality Check - Part 3

I read three books over the past several days that gave me a spiritual butt-whooping. They were:

"Red Letters: Living a Faith That Bleeds" by Tom Davis
"Fields of the Fatherless" by Tom Davis
"Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God" by Francis Chan

These books made me realize that I have become too comfortable. They hit me like a ton of bricks because I realized that I haven't been aggressive enough with seeking out people to help. While I have done things to assist people whose paths just happen to cross mine, I have waited for opportunities instead of searching for them.

Consider the account of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25. Notice that the goats argued (verses 44-45)...

Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’

The goats, just like the Marines in part 1 of this post, thought they were doing everything right. How many Christians today think Christianity is this:
1) Read a chapter or two of the Bible each day
2) Say a quick prayer before meals
3) Try to go to church regularly and tithe
4) Show God's love by being friendly and nice to people
5) Try to live a perfect life by avoiding all the "bad" sins

I don't know about you, but I don't see any of the above items in mentioned in Matthew 25. These things, while Biblical and important, can easily be viewed as obligations rather than things we do out of sheer love for Jesus. What IS mentioned is whether we got out of our comfort zone and helped those people that society has forgotten. I have never been satisfied by the status quo, but I have sometimes felt alone in the desire for more. Reading the books I mentioned earlier made me realize I am not alone. There are people, dare I say movements, that are going back to the basics of Christianity - a heart to God and a hand to man.

I am officially out of my comfort zone. No longer will I let convenience determine when I will launch out into the things God has placed in my heart. My faith is either growing or decaying. What kinds of things am I doing that require faith? It's time to step out of the boat.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Reality Check - Part 2

Leaving a church is a very, very serious thing. I consider it a's that serious. I have never been a pastor, but I can only imagine what is must be like when people leave a church just because they don't agree with something the pastor said. That's like filing for divorce because you and your spouse disagree on something - stupid. Biblically, there is a valid reason for divorce, and that is "marital unfaithfulness." I think everyone would agree that an affair is marital unfaithfulness, but I have also heard people teach that unfaithfulness extends beyond that. My personal opinion is that abusive situations fall into that category as well. Much to say in that area, but for now, I will stick to the point that I am making: Marriage is a covenant before God and should be taken as such, but when one person breaks the covenant, there is Biblical support that the other is free to choose whether they will stay or go. Some stay and try to salvage things. Some go.

The Bible says that God places people in a position of authority (Rom 13:1-2). We are to be in submission to those in authority except in the case where they are giving directions contrary to God's Word. We all are under the spiritual authority of our pastors. However, the Apostle Paul said that it IS possible to abuse the authority given by God (1 Cor 9:18) and/or act in such a way that "disqualifies" oneself from being a leader (1 Cor 9:27). With that in mind, it seems to me that "pastoral unfaithfulness" would give people Biblical support for leaving a church. Just like a spouse can choose to stay and hope for the best in a marital unfaithfulness situation, a church member can choose to stay or go. Some stay and try to salvage things. Some go.

Submission to authority, and when to challenge or act outside that authority, is something that the two Marines in Part 1 learned the hard way. They blindly followed the orders of their superior officer and forgot their duty as Marines. All of us will stand before God and give account for our lives. Some have rebelled against Godly authority figures and they will have to answer for that. On the flip side, if we blindly follow authority figures who have abused their authority, will we not still be under judgment like the two Marines? I don't want to be in either group. Seems to me that so many Christians today do fall into one or the other, and that is why I wanted to write about it. More soon...

Reality Check - Part 1

"A Few Good Men" is a movie that speaks loudly to the situation in many churches today. If you haven't seen the movie, here is a brief summary and script excerpt (sources: and

Marine Pfc. William T. Santiago, stationed at Guantanamo, Cuba, just did not measure up to the high standards set by the U.S. Marine Corps. He is killed in a hazing incident perpetrated by Pfc. Lawson Downey and Lance Cpl. Harold W. Dawson. A mis-matched set of Navy lawyers is given the task of providing the defense in the court martial. And over the whole idea is the shadow of Col. Nathan Jessep (played by Jack Nicholson), who commands the Marines at Guantanamo. We know almost immediately that Jessep is the source of all the evil that has taken place. Little effort is spared in the script to make Jessep as vile and politically incorrect as possible. The goals of our three defense lawyers are first, to stop conflicting with each other; second, to put together a case to help Downey and Dawson; and third, if possible, to at the same time bring down the incredibly nasty Col. Jessep.

If you have seen the movie, you know that Tom Cruise's character baits Col. Jessep (Jack Nicholson) into admitting he was the one that ordered the code red which led to Santiago's death. The rogue soldier is arrested and led out of the courtroom. The two marines who carried out the orders naturally assume this means they are off the hook. The verdict reading follows:

All rise!

Have you reached a verdict?
- We have, sir. Corporal Dawson and Private Downey. Of the charge of murder, the members find the accused -- not guilty. On the charge of conspiracy to commit murder, the members find the accused -- not guilty. On the charge of conduct unbecoming a US Marine, the members find the accused guilty as charged.

You are sentenced to time already served, and to be dishonourably discharged from the Marines. This court-martial is adjourned.

Downey: What did that mean? Hal? What did that mean? Colonel Jessep said he ordered the Code Red. What did we do wrong?

Dawson: It's not that simple.

Downey: We did nothing wrong!

Dawson: Yeah, we did. We're supposed to fight for people who can't fight for themselves. We were supposed to fight for Willy.

So many parallels here...Part 2 coming soon.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Purging Begins

Ever reach that breaking point of emotion or frustration (or both) when you are not sure whether to yell at the top of your lungs or fall down and weep (or both)? I have been there for about three months, but have been traveling toward that breaking point for years. The one year project I mentioned in an earlier post got cut short at 6 months (Jan 30th). It could not have come at a better time. Long story, but I'm completely spent. This past week I took care of some high priority to-do items, one of which was to cast out the lines for my next project. Now, I regroup. I desperately need a time of solace and renewal. That renewal will occur as I pray/fast, feed on Scripture and books that rock my spirit, and write (blog posts, songs, etc). So, I managed to get a great rate ($20/day) on an extended-stay hotel a mile from my home, where I will stay during the day and let God speak. I am reminded of Margaret Becker's song "Find Me" because that's where I am right now. I am seeking and listening.

I'm gonna move on down to Elliston
Let my hair grow wild and free
Rent a second story studio
Find the other side of me
I'm gonna sit out on the edge of the fire escape
Feel a little destitute
Search for feelings that will help me remember
The love that I had for You
Find me, find me
I'll wait for You
Find me, find me
I'll wait for You
I'm gonna give away my stereo
Give away my T.V.
I'm going back to essentials, a chair and a lamp
And the Book that You wrote to me
You see, I'm looking for the You that used to speak so clear
I'm looking for the me that had a heart to hear
And I'm looking for the passion that help me her
On the edge
You see, I'm looking for the me that I used to know
I'm looking for the love that was out of control
'Cause I feel a little cold here in the afterglow
Find me, find me
I'll, I'll wait for You

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