Lost and Found

Darrin’s scripture “workshop” group is starting up tomorrow, and for the first group meeting, he asked us to share a brief, memorized piece of scripture with the group (which will hopefully be comprised of several people who have taken part in various FCC creative arts projects over the past year or so). At some point, we may end up reading for the congregation, though I’m not sure if it will be the pieces from tomorrow night or not.

I’ve never been one of those people who talks all the time about this or that verse being their “life verse,” because for me, I think it would be difficult, and darn near impossible to try and summarize my feelings about and toward Jesus with just a single verse. Yet somehow, when I got the email from Darrin about the group, the very first verse that popped into my mind was from the Gospel of Luke, verses 17 through 20. The parable of the prodigal.

Since I have been a believer, that brief story has been one that I have come back to again and again, and it hits me right in the bread basket each time I read it. I think that’s because I have spent so much time wasting my inheritance, and also because I am continually amazed at what God did for me when—like the son—I returned to Him, acknowledging my unworthiness.

I find myself thinking of that story in regard to my boys all the time. Whether or not they acknowledge it or I acknowledge it, they will be looking to me to see how things are done, and how to treat people. They will wonder how to respond to God in times of adversity, and hardship, and blessings. If I am the leader of our family I hope to be, then these are all things David and John will be looking to me for answers about.

And one of the more complex things I’ve been thinking about, and wondering how on earth to explain it to them, is what to do when we mess up. When we turn away from God, willfully. When we know what we should do, and do the exact opposite. It could be for lots of reasons. Maybe we feel we’re entitled to something because life has been a bitch, and we deserve _______. Or who knows why?

But we fall, and we sin, and one day we wonder what to do about it. We wonder if we can go back. We wonder if God will still listen to our entreaties.

I need to show my kids that we’re never so far from God that we can’t turn back toward Him. I need them to know that His love for us is so much greater than our mistakes. And silly as it sounds, I need them to know that I am not some perfect ideal of belief, of faith. I need them to know I’ve fallen, too. That I’ve been light years from God, and that even as far as I’ve been, when I turned back to Him, God was waiting for me.

Which leads me to Luke 15: 17-20

17“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20So 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 compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him…”

There are a few books in the bible I’ve read more than once. More that I’ve read several times—and many, unfortunately, that I haven’t read at all. But I keep coming back to Luke; especially, the parables found in Luke 15. I must have read Luke more than a dozen times in the past year. Particularly, the parable of the lost son.

Today, I remembered that I posted about it last year, and it occurred to me to go back and raid my own post. Maybe it’s just that I’ve been feeling like the lost son again of late—the lost son ready to return to my Father.

Lately, I’ve felt like I’ve been wasting away my inheritance. Wasting it with my feeble prayer life and even feebler discipleship. Wasting it with my poor example to David and John about what it takes to me a man. Wasting it by not being the strong leader my family needs me to be.

And now, I’m ready to come back to my Father. So again, I turned to my old friend Luke. But maybe it isn’t just me. Who among those who believe has not done the same? Who hasn’t been the lost son? Who hasn’t taken generosity and love for granted? I think of all the times I’ve responded to God in a like manner. Maybe that’s the point, though. At least for me.

Personal conviction. And awareness that I need to repent anew.

Something always strikes me about that parable. Not so much the son’s apparent repentance–to me that smacked of forced contrition, not true remorse. It’s kind of hard to tell from the brief passage that mentions it. Of course, that could just be the cynic that still lives somewhere deep inside me. Just look at the son, though. He’s broke, and hungry, and has nowhere else to go. He’s just relating what he’s going to do, not baring his heart, or even seeking forgiveness. He came to his senses, it says, but that’s all. The son could have just been talking about finding a meal at that point.

He’d wasted away his inheritance. There was a famine. Why not return to the source of the inheritance, where the servants fared better than he was at the time?

Certainly, all those things are important. Yet what impacted me most was the father.

His grace toward the son.

The passage mentions that he sees his son when he was still a long way off, so he had to be outside looking for him. Scanning the horizon. Desperate to see his son return. I can see him standing there, shading his eyes with a hand.




Not seeing.

Yet every day, looking.

It does not say how long he looked for his son. Only that:

”But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him…”

It kind of makes you think about the shepherd looking for his ONE lost sheep, rather than writing it off because he still has 99. He will pursue the lost one, and he will be filled with Joy when he makes it back home with that one sheep across his shoulders.

That’s the same Joy God feels when we return to the fold.

How he felt when, like the prodigal, I came to my senses. When I stood, looking across the Colorado river with tears running down my face and holes in the knees of my jeans. Was it forced contrition with me? Perhaps in a sense it was. But God did not care how I came back to him—just that I returned.

He felt joy. And scripture also tells us that angels rejoice.

But look again at the father’s reaction upon seeing his son.

“his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him…”

He did not stand waiting with his arms crossed, brow furrowed with displeasure. He did not grudgingly accept a tentative and awkward apology.

He was filled with compassion for his son, and he ran to him.

He ran.

He ran, probably forgoing all semblance of dignity.

He ran, robes flying, probably with arms extended. Running across the field to his lost son.

He ran, and he was filled with compassion.

He ran, and when he got to him at last, he threw his arms around him, and kissed him.

No condemnation, no judgement.

Just love.

He threw him a party, and killed the fatted calf.

This morning, I read that passage again and I thought about Jesus scanning the horizon for me, desperate to see me. I thought of him running toward me with his arms outstretched, running across a field to get to me. He’d been waiting for me all the time I’d been holding out, waiting for me to come to him. Waiting for me to come burdened, and afraid, and encumbered by the world.

He waited for me, even though I was not ready. Me, in my dirty robes.
He waited for me with his shepherd’s arms outstretched. He waited for me, in my unclean and starving state—impure in both thought and action.

Me, covered in the filth of my journey home.


And when he saw me, he could wait no longer.

He ran. And when he finally reached me, he threw his arms around me
and kissed me.

And there was rejoicing in heaven.

Love Sustains

The thing I remember most about September 11, 2001 is not the images of planes flying into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, or of New York firefighters running into the twin towers. It isn’t the ghostly pictures and video of the forever altered New York skyline afterward.

Of course, on the day itself I was consumed by watching news coverage like everyone else was. I wanted to know what was going on. I wanted to know if some foreign army was going to come charging into my neighborhood like in that Red Dawn movie. I remember seeing still pictures of people falling from the towers, and wanting someone to blame, someone to hate. It was that very day we got someone to demonize, to hate, and to hunt.

I wanted payback, just like everyone else did (the double tap from SEAL team six would not come for 10 more years).

Yet after the initial burst of horror, I began to see that the world was still going to keep turning. The United States was not going to be subject to an invasion, at least not right then.

More and more information kept coming out in the days and weeks following the attacks. There were so many stories of heroism, and quiet accounts of Grace where you would have least expected it. Out of all those things, what got to me most was the phone calls.

Many of the passengers on the doomed flights were able to call loved ones and speak to them before their deaths. I can’t imagine have to either make or receive that sort of phone call, but in the midst of what they were going through it was probably a blessing, and by most accounts, gave those making the calls some peace in their final moments.

That’s what I remember most about September 11, 2001.

To the best of my knowledge, none of those calls featured words of hate. Rather, in their last moments, those men and women thought of their loved ones, and in many cases, thought of God. I think of Todd Beamer, who along with a few other passengers, was about to try and take back the plane from the hijackers on United Flight 93. Beamer, unable to reach his wife, spoke with an operator, I think, and asked her to tell his family several things, none of which was regarding hate.

Because hate does not sustain. Hate destroys. Hate piloted those planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennysylvania.

It is love that sustains, and love that carried the passengers on those flights to their maker that clear morning. I didn’t think about it like that for years, but time, and healing, and experiencing that love myself has given me much perspective.

I don’t know how different I am now from the person I was on 9/11/2001. Those who knew me then would have to tell me. But I know the anger I felt then is not with me anymore. What I felt was righteous anger and a desire for vengeance toward the perpetrators of that day just seemed to melt away with the years, and a growing closeness to God.

Yes, it was a tragedy of incomprehensible proportions, and yes, I hate that it happened. But that feeling doesn’t clinch like a fist in my stomach any longer when I think of it. It doesn’t because the sustaining love of Christ Jesus has replaced the fear, and anger, and obsessive need for vengeance.

I felt it–felt all those things–just like you did, and many still do.

Just to be clear, I am not certain I believe the age-old maxim that time heals all wounds. I think in this case–in my case–love healed much more than time ever could on its own. I allowed my past to pull me farther and farther from God, and at the time it made perfect sense to me. I could retreat into the fortress of self-pity and entitlement I had built for myself, and hate all the people I blamed for my lot in life.

I can remember what that felt like, even though I do not feel it anymore, and haven’t in a number of years.

Loving God brought me closer to Him, and I allowed him into my withered heart, where He took up residence and remains today.

Without that, I would be nothing. Without that, I, too, would be withered. If I was lucky enough to still be alive.

I was not sustained by the hate I felt toward anyone or anything. I can see that so clearly now.

Let me close with a great Third Day song…


Originally posted a few years ago. Thought of it today for obvious reasons…

If I’m in the office working, I usually spend a good portion of the day listening to music on my phone—it conveniently doubles as my mp3 player, since my actual player was stolen from my car a while back.

I started off my day as I usually do, by setting the player to “shuffle” and letting my Blackberry play DJ.
Today, I started with 5 or 6 songs from P.O.D.’s CD “Satellite” all in a row.


It made me think of where and when I bought the CD (which I still have today). I picked it up at the Walmart in Parkway Plaza, on September 11th, 2001.

People used to talk a great deal about what they were doing that day when they heard of the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. I was on my way to work, and heard about it on the radio. I started off with my usual morning show, and then figured I’d flip to Howard Stern, since he was in New York.

Both shows were completely given over to news, and there was lots of speculation about what was going on and if and when the terrorists would strike again.

I got to my office, and someone had a boom box playing the news, and we listened to it all day. At lunch time, another Christian employee (I was a pretty new believer at the time) wanted to have a time of prayer, and I remember she had to go in her office and close the door. I regret that I didn’t go in there with her, but at the time all I could think about is listening to the radio with everyone else. Stupid, I know, but that’s where my mind was.

I got off work at the office, and headed to my second job, as a projectionist/assistant manager at Regal Cinemas Parkway Plaza 18 (I did 7 years in the booth there).

I was a little early, so I stopped off at Walmart to browse for a bit before I went to work.

I picked up the P.O.D. CD because I’d heard the song “Alive” on the radio, and thought it was pretty good. Plus, I knew they were from San Diego, and I thought it was pretty cool they’d made it sort of big, considering they were a Christian band with a positive message and lyrics that openly professed Christ.

The theater ended up closing for the day, and I sat in the booth for a little while and played the CD through twice, thinking about people jumping from windows in the World Trade Center.

Later on that evening, I had dinner with a friend at Claim Jumpers, and everyone was talking about the towers falling. I remember my friend telling me her mother told her to fill up her gas tank because fuel was going to go through the roof.

And at the end of the night, I played my CD through again.

The lyrics really hit me, because while they did glorify God in many of the songs, they also depicted real life, and real problems. And it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the country was going to have a tough haul for a while. And I appreciated that the band didn’t pull a lot of punches, even featuring a song using several Points of view about a school shooting.

Over the next year or so, I played that CD more than any other, and I’m kind of surprised the CD still plays well.

A God thing, maybe.

Anyway, that CD got me through a pretty tough year, and was one of several factors that helped me to see God in a completely different way than I had over the past year or so of my salvation.

Take a listen to two of my favorite songs from that CD. Great lyrics:


Last night I got to watch Jenny’s awesome Dad lead worship, and she and her mother sing harmony at the first ever church service for Living Free Ministries, at the Living Free Recovery Ranch in Yuma, Arizona.

And the service really touched me, and moved me, and upset me, and I really didn’t expect that. It was awesome. It made me think so much.

This is an amazing program whose main purpose is to set people free from the bondage of addiction. It’s led by an anointed servant named Jerry Bunte, who is just on fire for the Lord, and the community of Yuma. And now Living Free is stepping out into the community, and is so much more than just a recovery program.

Last night was really powerful, and the room was almost crackling with the Holy Spirit. The room was small, and hot and crowded. It was what I imagined home churches were like back in the first century.

Jerry said something in his sermon about wanting Jesus to break his heart the way Jesus’ own heart had been broken.

I think that is what will change the world.

If our hearts are broken in that way, then we, the broken, will be able to see people the way Jesus himself did. And we will be consumed by the power of God, rather than the things of earth.

We start by asking God to pour out his spirit on the places that we live, and the people in those places that are lost, and broken, and poor, and hungry. Make no mistake; I do not say this to denigrate in any way the mission field. Missions are something that are powerful, too, and are also of great value.

I just think Michael Jackson had it right when he encouraged us to start with the Man in the Mirror. Or in this case, the community where we live. Jesus did say, “therefore Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

It is just my opinion that sometimes we look so far out, that we can’t see that close to us is also hurt, and hunger, and need. And that is every bit as valid. And while it is true that those people–that is, people here in Yuma, in Arizona, in the United States–have at least heard the Gospel while some people across the world have not, it is also true that they need Jesus here just as much as anyone else does.

Last night I was sitting there listening to the sermon and I was suddenly aware that there were people just a few miles away that were preparing to bed down in the 90+ degree streets, or crowd into a room at Crossroads Mission (another anointed place, by the way. We had the privilege to serve there on several occasions). There were people in my own town that have no idea Jesus loves them because they are sleeping in their cars, and can’t think of what they will feed their children.

Like Jerry said last night, Yuma has a 30% unemployment rate. That means for every, say, 10,000 people who have a job, 3000 people do not. It doesn’t help any that the federal government doesn’t seem to know how much money we have as a country, or how much money we owe.

In any case, I believe this is something we can change. We start small, by just loving people who probably haven’t felt loved, or so much as seen by people in a very long time.

We love them. We show the people in Yuma–or wherever you are–that Jesus loves them, because

“by this all men will know you are my disciples if you love one another”

We go out into the community, and we work, and feed, and most importantly, we pray.

This can be done, but it will not be easy. There will be sweat, and tears, and maybe even blood.

But it has to start somewhere. And that “somewhere” is within us.

We change the world by first allowing the Holy Spirit to change us from within. We ask for a “filling” of the spirit all the time in church. But people forget something.

We are already filled.

We just have to allow ourselves to feel that filling.

And to be changed.

One person at a time, starting with ourselves and the people around us. One community at a time. Street by street, house by house, and city by city. And in my opinion, that is how we change the world.

We Go. And we make disciples of all nations, starting with our own.