Wretch

My aunt Cathy gave my mom this bible when I was 11 years old.  It had this greenish, imitation leather cover, with my mom’s name inscribed on the cover in gold letters. “Lila Wilkins.” 

It was a “Living Bible” translation, and I remember looking at it once or twice and thinking it was odd that it didn’t have all the “thees” and “thous” I was accustomed to hearing when bible verses were mentioned.  This one was paraphrased, and in plain, everyday language. 

I could understand it, in a sense.

But I didn’t, not really. 

I remember my mom reading it from time to time, but as far as I know, she never attended any church, and it wasn’t until shortly before her death that I heard her pray for the first time.  That bible sat next to a chair my mom liked for most of my childhood, and would occasionally gather a nice thick coating of dust.

That was the first bible I ever saw in my house growing up, and it did not see much use.   Not from any of my siblings, and certainly not from me. And anyway, I didn’t think the bible was something I needed to be concerned with–kids didn’t really need to worry about anything like salvation, or redemption, or really even Grace, for that matter. 

Did they?

 I didn’t think so.  I did not consider much at all beyond the nose on my face, or my hunger, or need to have fun with my friends.

It seemed OK to just live my life as I wanted to, first as a child, just having fun, going to school, and reading comic books–or even books in general.  I wasn’t concerned about anything but being a kid.

And when my mom started to get sick, it seemed like more of an inconvenience than anything else.  Of course, I didn’t want her to suffer, or to be in the hospital (which happened quite frequently when I was between 10 and 13).  But I didn’t want to do anything to make it easier on her, either.

So I did my own thing.

Whatever I wanted.

And nothing happened, except my mom got sicker for a while.  Then she got better, but also only for a while. 

And I still did my own thing.

Grace was not a part of my life, nor was Jesus.  I knew a couple of my friends went to church, but they didn’t seem any different or better for it.  They did what they did as well, and then they went to church.  Sometimes we would boost Playboy magazines from this liquor store next to their house, and paper our forts and treehouses with the pictures.

And my mom sat in her chair, missing a big chunk out of her calf muscle, and part of her stomach.  Her intestines would bulge against her side, and you could see this huge…pocket of guts.

Her bible gathered dust.

I stole skin magazines with my friends.

The brothers and I struck up this odd friendship with another boy in our class that no one else liked, a kid named David, that had bad eyes, bad clothes, a weird last name, and was a Jehovah’s witness.  He caught crap from everyone, almost every day.  It was pathetic.

We never would hang out with him at school, but he lived a short distance down Fanita from the Laird brothers, so we would sometimes play football with him in the field next to the brother’s house, or enlist him as a decoy when we needed new “wallpaper.” 

David was weird.  He didn’t like sports, he didn’t like comics.  He didn’t like it when the brothers would occasionally mention God, or their church.

He never mentioned his, except to say how they couldn’t celebrate certain holidays.  It seemed like a dumb religion to three boys in the 8th grade.

One night, after replacing the wallpaper in our latest fort with a Suzanne Sommers pictorial, David decided to tell us something that made no sense at all.

He said he liked guys.

Our response was something along the lines of “what the hell are you talking about?”

He repeated it.

Ravi asked him if he was a fag, to which David replied in the affirmative. 

We thought he was kidding, of course, but he soon made it abundantly clear he was very serious, repeating his original statement three or four different ways.

We couldn’t believe it.

13.  Coming out to people he didn’t know that well.  Opening up part of himself to people he probably thought of as his friends, and probably his only friends.

We kicked him out of the fort, hurling sexual epithets at him as he left, and told him he’d better not think about coming anywhere near any of us ever again.  I could hear him crying as he crossed the lawn.

The Monday after that happened, we went to school and practically the first thing we did was tell everyone we came across what David had told us.

The three of us went to the vice principal’s office, but did not get in any real trouble.  We were made to apologize to David, but nothing of consequence happened to us.

But David was a ghost at that school for the rest of the 8th grade.

13.  A ghost.

While I enjoyed the rest of my year before high school, while I walked around Disneyland on the 8th grade trip with my friends, David walked around with one of the chaperones, because no kid wanted to be seen with him.

A ghost.

I didn’t think about my mom’s bible gathering dust, but I knew it was there.

I only spoke to David once more before high school started.  I went to his house one day, not really having a clear plan of action.  Just feeling like I needed to go there.  I had a sense that what we’d done was wrong, very wrong, but I did not really understand why it was wrong.

I just knew it was.

I remember him coming out onto the front porch and kind of standing there.  I’d never felt more awkward.  “Listen, man.” I said.  “About what happened…”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said.

I left it at that.  I knew I should apologize. 

But I didn’t.

We stood on a patch of dirt in front of his house that passed for a lawn, and he gestured behind him.  “My sister, my brother, and me live in the house.”  He pointed behind me.  “My parents live there.”

I turned to look at a smallish, bright silver airstream trailer. Parked to the side of the largish front lawn.

His parents lived in a trailer, and their three children lived in the house.  It didn’t make sense.

I left a few minutes after that, with a vague feeling of unease that didn’t leave me for hours.  I literally never spoke to David outside of school after that day.

I would think about that evening in the fort for years.  How we treated him.  I would think about the next day at school, and how we told everyone what he’d trusted us with.

I felt like a bastard.

I still do, sometimes.

I could probably go on for hours about what a rotten person I’d been various times in my life.  I’d treated my mother badly when she was sick, and scared, and even crying.

I had not heard a friend’s cry for help, and he’d taken a leap he couldn’t come back from.

I had been a bad brother, and uncle, cousin, and friend.

I’d stolen, and lied, and treated women as objects.  I’d helped someone end their marriage, instead of working to save it.

I’d done many things I was ashamed of, that I knew displeased God.

But here’s the thing.

I was a wretch–always had been.

But I was saved, by the blood of Jesus.

By Amazing Grace…

It has only been recently that I’ve begun to see myself even a fraction of the way Jesus sees me, which is not as a wretch.

Rather, he sees me as his son.  Made perfect and beautiful by His Son, by the blood of the lamb.

He sees me as a reflection of Himself.

Child.

Son.

Redeemed.

Forgiven.

Part of me will regret the way I treated David (and my mom), for the rest of my life.  But I have learned now the need to love above all other things.

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

I still struggle with Grace for people at times.  I probably always will.  But I do my best to treat them with respect, and love them the best I can.

The interesting thing is that ever since my encounter with David back in 1982, God has continuously sent a stream of gay men and women into my life, or perhaps more accurately, sent me into theirs.

I see the opportunity to love them where they have only received condemnation before.

I see they need God just as much as anyone else does, and condemning them for who they choose to sleep with does not show them Jesus in any way. And it isn’t mine to do.

I see they are loved as much as me.

They were died for by the same Jesus I was.

I think about that all the time, and I try to let that guide the way I treat them, or anyone, for that matter.

I still have my mom’s bible, by the way.  It sits on my bookshelf as I type this, within arm’s reach.

I do not let it gather dust.

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Sanctify

This morning, I woke with the word “sanctification” in my head.  Very nearly on my lips.  Actually, I may even have said it to myself.  I sat in my usual chair to read, and thought about it for a couple of seconds.  And then asked Jesus.

What about sanctification, Lord?

The answer was merely the word repeated again.

“Sanctification.”

What does that mean, Father?  What do you want me to know about sanctification, or being sanctified?

“Sanctification.”

And that was it.  No more words.  I prayed about it for a few minutes longer, and then it was time to finish packing for Yuma, and play with Sumo a little before I left.

But when I got to work, I was still thinking about it.  I’ve never really been one to hear from God the way you hear about others doing it, so it was interesting that the time I did, I didn’t really understand what he was saying to me.  For Pete’s sake, I wasn’t really even sure what the word meant.

So I looked it up.

according to dictionary.com, the top 3 definitions of “sanctify” are: 

1. to make holy; set apart as sacred; consecrate.
2. to purify or free from sin: Sanctify your hearts.
3. to impart religious sanction to; render legitimate or binding: to sanctify a vow.

Looking at those definitions, the first thought that occurred to me was, “Sanctify?  How in heck am I supposed to sanctify anything?  Make holy?  It’s hard to even make anything clean.

And the truth is, I can’t make anything Holy.  I can’t purify.  I can bless, but if it isn’t in the name of Jesus, my blessing would be without meaning or power.  And I certainly can’t free anyone or anything from sin, not even myself.  There’s only one way to do that, after all.

The third definition talks about rendering religious significance to, and also mentions making legitimate or binding.  I don’t believe I can make anything have a particular religious significance, either.  How could I make anything merely significant, religious or otherwise?

I think the answer lies in what is significant to me.  It doesn’t make sense to me to invest too much of any kind of significance on an object–an object is simply that.  I can’t sanctify an object.  I could make it into a golden calf of sorts, but that only makes me a pagan idiot.  And the object, whatever it is, is still just matter. Or cells.  Whatever.

What can be sanctified, then?  What can be rendered legitimate or binding?

I think it gets even more complicated.  You can have something be legally binding, but devoid of any real kind of significance.  Contracts, for instance.  You can be bound to something via a piece of paper, but the paper itself is meaningless without something of you on it that makes it real and identifies it with you.

We don’t make a contract with God, certainly, but when we accept him into our hearts and lives, when we begin to be fathered by Him, we are sanctified.  We are made legitimate.  Our names are written in His book, and His blood makes the whole thing binding…

Then we’re made Holy.

Maybe that’s what this morning was about.  I needed to reflect on what it is to be made Holy.  I needed to think about what “Sanctification” meant to me.

What does it mean to you?

Resistance is Futile

I try to fight stuff.  I do.  Sometimes I win, but often I don’t.  But I was thinking about it, and it seemed to me that the times I don’t are the times my focus is not in the right place.  Kind of like focusing too much on the problem, and not enough on the solution.

An example would be the problem I mentioned a while back about food, or my diet.  However you want to say it.  What I would do would be to focus on the food itself.  What I could have.  What I could not, or should not have.  And eventually, what I could not have would take the place of what I could in my thinking. 

I would stress out and obsess about it, but I would not think about what would actually help.  

Making Jesus the focus, rather than trying to lean on my own strength–or weakness, depending on how you look at it.  I wonder now how much less difficult it would have been to “trust in the Lord, and lean not on my own understanding.”

My tendency is to try and fight battles like that on my own.  I lose them.

Or maybe lust could be the problem.  If you’re struggling with pornography, for example.  Or maybe, as a believer, you’re trying to adhere to biblical abstinence (and that works the same for a man or woman, I believe).   Or it could be alcohol, or drugs.  These things, especially, I think people are inclined to try and fight on their own.

Not surprising, really.  These things are embarrassing.  Lacking self-control is embarrassing.  And really, it should be easy to not….indulge, shouldn’t it?  In whatever the vice, whatever the sin.

But it isn’t easy at all.

It’s tough.  And since I always try and fight these fights alone, it’s just that much tougher.  I focus on the battle.  I focus on the problem.  I miss the solution.  I think a lot of people do.

We miss God in all of it.

I think the solution is that we need to look a little higher than the earth, and that often isn’t the case at all. We need to look beyond our stomachs, or thirsts, or “needs” for chemicals, or our libidos.

We need to look beyond ourselves for answers.

We need to look to God first.

To God.

Not that it will make everything easy, because it won’t.  But if we have a loftier focus than the earth, if we

Turn our eyes upon Jesus

then the things of earth really will grow strangely dim, or at least dimmer.

And we’ll be able to see. 

And be helped.

And fight.

And win.

Grace is enough

Some days I don’t feel much like a new creation.

Probably everyone who believes has those kind of days–days where you feel subject to your base, primal urges, instead of having them be subject to you, and to God.  Or maybe I’ll just get really angry at someone in traffic, or in line at the grocery store.  You know what I mean?  There’s always going to be someone who cuts you off, or who brings 37 items into the express lane.

My first response to these people is always anger, and never grace.  At the least, I want to yell at them.  I want to try and make them understand they’re an idiot, and I’ve been horribly inconvenienced.

I don’t do it, but I want to.

The injustice of it all.

And it feels like simply wanting to do those things is sin.  It is.

If God knows my every thought, and numbers the hairs on my head (well, he did when I had hair.  Maybe he counts my eyelashes now), then wouldn’t he know that I want to do a flying sidekick into some old lady’s face in Albertsons because she didn’t start making out her check before she got to the cash register?

Of course he would.

Or how about if or when I spot some attractive young woman walking on the street and let my mind wander for a second?  Or think about being intimate with a significant other?

While it’s true that the former potential situation feels more sinful than the latter as I write it, both of them actually feel that way sometimes, depending on the context.

The truth is that there are certainly untold number of situations that could or would feel sinful, and when I’m in them, I feel miles from God.  I don’t feel like a new creation.  I don’t feel cleansed by the blood of Christ. 

I feel dirty as hell.  I feel tainted by the world.

 

                  (…..What can wash away my sin?
                           Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
                                     What can make me whole again?
                                                Nothing but the blood of Jesus….)

But the Word promises that isn’t the case, if I know Jesus.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement,[i] through faith in his blood.” Romans 3: 23-25

He was sacrificed, for my atonement.  He IS sacrificed for my atonement.  Daily, His blood makes me clean, even when I don’t feel that way.

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Romans 6: 1-4

Live a new life.  I get to live a new life.  I want to live a new life, subject to the will of God, and not to sin.

and then this, from 2 Corinthians 17-21:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin[a] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

We might become the righteousness of God? 

Imagine that.

Change the world

I never wanted to change the world. 

I would look at it sometimes and see that it needed changing, and in some cases, really was a horrible freaking place.  But even at those times, I could see that the best I could do was try and change my own personal world, or perhaps better said, ask God to change it.

If he can change me, and my world, and set me on a path that would cause me to interact with others that could or would be impacted by my story, then he can do the same for anyone else, if they but ask.  So what I have been moved to do of late is to simply tell people what God has done–and how He’s changed me.

Maybe it’s like Pastor Mike says, and someone is out there waiting to hear my story.  I don’t know.  I just know I want to tell people about it.  I am changed, and I continue to change, thanks to the Holy Spirit working in my life.  I continue to heal. 

And lately, that healing has been especially moving and powerful.  God has sent a person to me, an amazing, beautiful woman of God, a woman that is helping me to heal one of my most painful wounds–my heart.  She’s a blessing, and I can’t believe that I’m with her sometimes.

But I am. 

We got to worship together this past weekend, and it was hopefully a portent of things to come.  I look forward to finding out. My world is changing….

Lately, it seems like the blessings are piling up for me.  I haven’t done anything special to deserve them, yet there they are.

I am so thankful…

Taken from the “stuff Christians like” website…

#397. Feeling too small for God.

The world is pretty big. There are a lot of countries, with millions and millions of square miles of people and land and ocean. The universe is even bigger than that. I’ve never been but from the photos I’ve seen it’s massive. Pathways of stars, belts of black holes and galaxies and planets. It’s just endless, and somewhere up there, God knows your boyfriend broke up with you.

Maybe He doesn’t. I mean, maybe He’s up there and He’s working on really big stuff. He’s healing famines and trying to bring peace to war torn lands. The greatness of His issues makes your little issues look ordinary and simple and maybe even boring.

But every now and then I come across a verse that shakes my deep belief that I am beneath God’s radar. One that I love is Psalm 56:8. Here, in what hopefully makes me look pretty smart, is the King James Version:

“Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?”

But maybe you’re not old school, so here’s what the New Living Translation says:

“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”

I think that’s beautiful. Can you imagine that? Can you picture God doing that? Taking His giant hands and tenderly picking up every single one of your tears? Knowing why they came, understanding what they mean, placing them in His bottle, so that He can comfort you.

That’s how God spends his days.

That’s how small this big universe is.

The Face of Jesus

So today I got this email, and it was full of really nice, valid sentiments, and several really good points I need to be reminded about on a regular basis.  But that isn’t what this is about.  I just noticed something and I was wondering if anyone else notices the same kind of thing I did…

at the bottom of the email, there was a picture of Jesus–well, more like a copy of a painting, which looked very much like any of probably a million paitings you see in Catholic churches and households all around the world.  The part of that which I found interesting was that the Jesus in the painting did not look like someone born in Bethlehem, and noted as being a Nazarene Carpenter (“can anything good come from Nazareth?”).  No.  He looked like a white guy about 6 feet tall, with blue eyes and honey-colored hair, who could have been a starting point guard for the Jerusalem Globetrotters.

But if that isn’t what Jesus looked like, what did he look like?   And does it even matter?  It doesn’t matter to me.  I couldn’t find anything much in the Bible that described him.  But take a look at Isaiah 53: 2 ” 2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
       and like a root out of dry ground.
       He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
       nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him…

Does that sound like the guy from Jesus Christ Superstar?  Not to me.

I think he would have been of average size.  I think he would have probably been dark complected, or at least very tanned.  It’s the desert, for pity’s sake.  His hands would have been callused and strong from his work.  His feet, and robes would probably have been dirty from walking across his corner of the world.  If the above quoted old testament prophecy is to be believed, he would have been a perfectly ordinary-looking middle eastern man in his early thirties.

But this passive-looking gentleman with blue eyes?  I really doubt it.  I wonder who first came up with this “version” of Jesus?

You don’t see the man who upended tables in the temple, and made a whip from cords in those kinds of pictures.  You don’t see a man who weeps desperately for the people he’s come to save.  You don’t see a man carrying the heaviest of burdens.  No. 

If I may turn again to Isaiah:

3 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.

 4 Surely he took up our infirmities
       and carried our sorrows,
       yet we considered him stricken by God,
       smitten by him, and afflicted.

 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
       he was crushed for our iniquities;
       the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
       and by his wounds we are healed.

How in the world would you depict a man like that?  Do you create features, and assign personality to them?  Do you represent the Light of the World solely as a mild-looking shepherd with a sheep across his back, or walking along patting little kids on the head?  How can you convey what he really looks like?  The answer is, you can’t.  You just can’t.

I saw a picture of a statue a few years ago, by some Danish or Northern European sculptor whose name escapes me.  I don’t know what the sculpture was made of, but it depicted a perfectly normal looking man, sitting on a stool and teaching.  His head is slightly bent, as he is speaking to a few children sitting in a semi-circle around him at his feet.  You can see the man’s entire body as he sits on the stool, except for his face, which is obscured by his longish hair hanging in front of it.  The children gaze raptly up at him, and the caption at the base of the statue reads:

If you want to see the face of Jesus, you have to sit at his feet.”