Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

Hear O Israel

July 8, 2010 7 comments

Shema (image by Yaniv Ben-Arie used by Creative Commons)

Lately I’ve been thinking aloud about listening. I’ve been talking about the different forms of listening like empathic listening, active listening, ethnographic listening. Along the way, I’ve made a bunch of mental notes, and I’m having a hard time keeping up with them.

I remembered a story about listening while I took a shower this morning. It seems I always remember things while in the shower. Sometimes I wonder if I might find a lost set of keys by simply taking a shower. Anyway, back to the remembered story.

Shortly after Kelly and I were married, she noticed a peculiar habit of mine (one among many). I pointed at food during our meals. We would be talking about the day’s events when I would point at the bread. She handed me the bread, and then I’d point to the butter.

At my folks house, she noticed everyone pointed during the meal. After about a month, she asks me, “What’s with all this pointing during the meal times?” No one had ever asked me, so I never even thought about it before.

“Well, my dad likes to tell stories, and he doesn’t like to be interrupted. So in my family, we just started pointing at food instead of asking someone to pass it.”

I grew up listening to my dad’s stories. And in many ways, I’m a better storylistener than storyteller. People tell me their stories. And I like to listen.

But listening is not always easy.

I don’t like the telephone because it’s too easy for me to get distracted from listening. Without the person in front of me, my mind wanders so easily. A friend is talking on the phone. He is trying to remember a mutual acquaintance. “Old so and so. What was his name?”

As he continues talking, all I can hear is, “old so and so.” Only in my mind’s eye, I see the words, “sew and sew.” I see a big pair of scissors opening and closing. Then I see them up on an old Cas Walker building on Broadway. The neon scissors are opening and closing as they cut prices. I hear Cas say, “Shop at the sign of the shears.”

Sign of the shears. That sounds funny. What if the big scissors were atop the Sears building on Central? “Shop at the sign of the Sears.”

I’m slipping. I see a flashing neon light over a steakhouse, “At the Sign of the Steers.” I tumbling down into Alice’s Wonderland of Rhyme when suddenly me friends’ voice breaks the fall, “So what do you think?”

Think? Oh great. What was he talking about? I scramble. “Well, what do you think?” he starts up again. Whew, that was close. I must concentrate. Pay attention.

Like I said, listening can be hard.

Back in Jesus’ day, the Pharisees were a bit hard of hearing as well. They kept misunderstanding what he said. When he told the story of Israel and God’s purposes for His people, He told it in a way that sounded different.

“What is he up to?,” some of them queried suspiciously. They didn’t trust him. Then again, they didn’t trust his Father either. Isaiah told Israel as much. He warned that they would become blind, deaf and lame like the idols they trusted.

One day a Pharisee asks Jesus what is the greatest of the commands. Jesus replies, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” He responds by reciting the “Shema.”

Israel recited, prayed and even posted this command in the Mezuzah they placed in their doorways. Shema comes from the Hebrew word for prayer. First and foremost, the Israelite must hear.

As Jesus speaks, he is not simply repeating Moses’ age old command. He is the Word Made Flesh. And he is the Son of Man who truly obeys the command. He hears and obeys.

As Jesus speaks, it is with the same power and authority of God as He spoke at creation, “Let there be Light.” And there was light. Jesus says, “Hear O Israel.” Even as he speaks the power of God is present to heal deaf ears and mute tongues. When man can no longer hear the Word of God, he loses his power to speak as well. His words fall like powerless chatter.

As we read the story, Jesus’ word, “Hear O Israel” steps out from the page and breaks into our heart. He is speaking directly to us. We are the deaf ones. He is restoring our hearing, and He is engrafting us into Israel. When He says, “Hear O Israel,” we are included.

His Living Word breaks into upon our deaf ears, giving us ears to hear. For only in “Hearing” the Word can we believe. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom 10:17). Now oddly enough, this makes me think of a science fiction movie I recently watched called, Moon.

In the story, one man lives on a moon station with no other humans. He has been working there for almost three years and will soon finish his commitment and get to return to earth. But there is a problem. Everything his believes about his world is wrong. He is bind and deaf to what is real, and it will take another voice outside himself to reveal this.

We are like this man working alone on the moon. We have limited knowledge of our world. At any given moment, our perceptions are limited and distorted by our own feelings and responses to the events around us. We misunderstand ourselves and the people around us. We hold grudges; we struggle against bitterness; we remember too many sorrows and not enough joys. We are incapable loving perfectly.

Jesus calls out, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Mark 12:29-31).

He breaks into our self-contained world with His Word of Truth, His Word of Life. He says, “This is the way, walk ye in it.” And acknowledging our complete inability to obey the Father, He answers the command. Jesus, the Son of Man, responds to the call of God and He Loves the Father with all His heart, soul, mind and strength. He loves his neighbor as himself (see John 15:12).

So we rest in Him. We live in Him. We love in Him. By His Spirit, He heals our deaf ears, He anoints our blind eyes, He leads us step by step into a world of truth beyond our distorted perceptions. Through His healing touch, I learn to listen to people around me. I learn to hear them as He hears them. I learn to love as He loves.

He keeps speaking through His Word. He keeps transforming me in His Spirit. He keeps leading me into the love and glory and life of His life in the Father, Son and Spirit.

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:20-26)

Praying Our Father

June 3, 2010 Leave a comment

Photo by Klearchos Kapoutsis (via Creative Commons)

I’d like to offer a series of reflections/prayers in and through the Lord’s prayer. While I’m not exactly sure what I’m doing, how this will turn out, or even if it will make sense, I press ahead in my own foolish exuberance, hoping that something will connect and stir our hearts together.

In writing these simple meditations, I would hope that I might encourage you to write/pray your own reflections in and through the Lord’s prayer. For me, this is a way of soaking and waiting and listening.

This is not simply method or technique I am suggesting, but rather a position before the Lord. We humble ourselves before the Word of God. We pray God’s Word back to Him. For our words fall before His Word. In our helplessness, in our weakness, in our failures, we wait, listen and trust in the faithfulness of our Father who speaks to us through the Son by His Spirit. So come. Let us wait before the Lord of the Word.

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
(wording from Book of Common Prayer)

Our Father, who art in heaven
When teaching us to pray, Jesus does not offer secrets to penetrating the mysteries of heaven. He does not lay out a method for gaining favor with God. He reminds us that the Father knows what we need before we even ask, and then he offers a simple prayer.

He begins by addressing God as “Our Father, who art in heaven.” Blessed be the Lord Creator of Heaven and Earth. Amen. In these words, sweet Lord Jesus teaches us to pray “in communion.” He invites us into the direct and glorious intimacy he shares with the Father. Our Father.

Thanks be to God. Thank Lord for welcoming us into your household. Thank you that when we pray, we do not pray alone. You’ve not left us to pray out of our own miserable weakness. In the mystery of your love, you’ve welcomed us into the sweet communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Even as the words, “Our Father,” rise up from our mouths, we’re joining the prayer of Jesus by the gift of His Spirit. We do not stand alone, but we come before your throne in and through the love of Jesus Christ.

All praises to the goodness of your grace. Who are we to be welcomed into the loving community of your love? Yet in the depths of your love, you’ve not simply raised us up, you’ve raised us together with all the people of God. For as we pray “Our Father,” we join in the chorus of voices arising across time and space from the mouths of your great and glorious communion of saints. We join in the prayers of men like Polycarp who suffered and died at the hands of those who sought to silence the good news of your love. We join in the prayers of farmers, housewives, scholars, and children. We join a great throng of people, stretching across the ages, calling upon you, echoing the simple cry of the Bride and Spirit, “Come!”

Even as your Spirit gives us the breath to say, “Our,” he gives us the grace to say “Father.” We are not orphans. We’ve not been forsaken. We’ve been grasped, loved enclosed in the outstretched arms of “Our Father who art in heaven.” Blessed be your name O great and glorious Father. Amen.

In your immeasurable goodness, you O Father spoke this world into existence. You called us forth from our mother’s womb. In your glorious and wondrous grace, you gave us life. And in your great mercy, you called us into life again by redeeming us from the death of ungodliness. We live in the sweet life of your lips. Blessed be the Holy One forever. Amen.

We’ve known the corruption of this world all to well. We’ve known the weariness of earthly sorrows and fleeting joys. We’ve known the anguish of doubt, the pain of loss, the regret of anger. We’ve lost friends to the manifold distractions of time. We’ve lived in the pain of our own human failures.

Yet You O Father dwell beyond the corrupting corruption of this world. You O Glorious Lord dwell in unapproachable light. You dwell in love uninterrupted; you dwell in fullness; you dwell in perfect joy; you dwell in Eternal Communion. Blessed be your name forever. Amen.

Thank you O gracious Father that you’ve not abandoned us in to die in the corrupting corruption on this fading life. But you have healed us in Christ. Truly healed. Fully healed. Even now we glimpse the light of your unfading heavenly communion shining into the frailty of our own earthly hearts.

We praise you. We come to O Lord. We bow. We cry out to you in your unending mercy, “Our Father Who Are in Heaven.”

Categories: prayer Tags: , , ,

Singing Your Song

May 6, 2010 1 comment

The drive to school took about 45 minutes in our VW bug. I’d lay in the back seat, singing goofy little songs.

I still make up goofy little songs.

I believe we were made to sing. In fact, I might go so far as to suggest that each of us is a living, breathing song.

We don’t tell our heart to beat in rhythm. It simply beats. As we join the constant pulse of our hearts, we clap, dance, jump, and sing. Step outside and we might discover a tree, a sun, and even a breeze reminding us to sing (and maybe skip).

At times in life, I’ve lost the song. Too busy trying to be grown-up and look grown-up and respected as a genuine, successful grown-up, I’d forget to sing. Sometimes I’d be too serious, too important, too spiritual, too busy or too depressed to sing.

All sorts of odd folks and experiences help me to remember, help me to hear, help me to start singing again. Sometimes the laughter of birds startled it forth. A walk around the neighborhood, a funny little story, a Psalm of David. And of course, my wife has always been able to stir up a song in my heart.

One of the most profound stirrings of song in my heart came when I began baptizing my imagination in the stories and poems of Celtic Christians. With hearts and pens tuned to the rhythms of the psalmist, the Celtic poets sang the praises of God as they meditated upon His Word, as they beheld His good gifts in the trees, birds, books and people around them.

They praised their friends, their leaders and their loved ones. Yet as one 13th century Irish poet proclaimed,

To praise man is to praise
the One who made him,
and man’s earthly possessions
add to God’s mighty praise.

All metre and mystery
Touch on the Lord at last,
The tide thunders ashore
In praise of the High King.

Their words and hearts were tuned to sing of the great High King Jesus. Even as they sang, they invited the world around them to join in the song:

Glorious Lord, I give you greeting!
Let the church and the chancel praise you,
Let the chancel and the church praise you,
Let the plain and the hill-side praise you,
Let the world’s three well-springs praise you.
Two above wind and one above land,
Let the dark and the daylight praise you.
Abraham, founder of the faith, praise you:
Let the life everlasting praise you,
Let the birds and the honeybees praise you,
Let the shorn stems and the shoots praise you.
Both Aaron and Moses praised you:
Let the male and the female praise you,
Let the seven days and the stars praise you,
Let the air and the ether praise you,
Let the books and the letters praise you,
Let the fish in the swift streams praise you,
Let the thoughts and the actions praise you,
Let the sand-grains and the earth-clods praise you,
Let all the good that’s performed praise you.
And I shall praise you, Lord of glory:
Glorious Lord, I give you greeting!

The more I’ve read, the more I discover a people immersed in prayers and songs. They had prayers for waking up, prayers for sweeping the house, prayers for making the bed, prayers for milking the cows and even prayers for talking a walk.

My walk this day with God,
My walk this day with Christ,
My walk this day with Spirit.
Ho! Ho! Ho! The three-fold all-kindly.

A certain playfulness spills over in many Celtic prayers. In this playfulness a dance with the Creator. God is not away on some far off planet. He is present. Ever present. Fully present. I need to be reminded of a Savior who near, not far:

May Christ be with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ to my right, Christ to my left, Christ where I lie down, Christ where I sit, Christ where I stand, Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me, Christ in every eye which looks on me, Christ in every ear which hears me.

As I listen to the steady cadence of these prayers, these songs, I hear the music in my ever beating heart.

We live in a world with many images but little vision, many sounds but few true words, many jokes but little deep joy. There is suffering all around us and often within us. There are troubles in life we cannot explain. Our dreams and hopes do sometimes whither and fade.

But our heart keeps beating.

We may take a cue from the old pumper and tap a toe, whistle a ditty, make up a song, and then make up another song. We might actually discover music that the good Lord put inside us that we never even realized was there.

As we sing and rejoice in His goodness, we might be surprised how music, like oxygen, rejuvenates, refreshes, and tunes us to the sweet Lord Jesus who ever prays (and sings) over us.

Catechism and the Power to Speak

May 3, 2010 8 comments

I’ve been lingering in Telford Work’s Brazos Commentary on Deuteronomy. His midrashic style invites slow rumination. He introduced the term “apochesis” when discussing Deuteronomy 4:25. He says,

“The apostasy is not just a failure of parent to catechize their children (cf. 6:7). It is a life of ‘apo-chesis’ in which parents train their children away from purity. Apochesis is endemic in our day when tradition is mistrusted, cultural revolution exalted, experimentation treated as expression, and youth glorified for its own sake.”

Work has adapted the term catachesis. This word comes from an ancient Greek term, katēcheō, meaning “to sound from above”(Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 3, Page 637) or to “teach by word of mouth” (Encyclopedia of Christianity, Vol 1, p 360). Two Greek words from this word, “kata” meaning according to, after, against, in, down (Strongs, 2596) and “echos” meaning sound and sometimes used to speak about the roar of the waves (Strongs, 2279).

This word was originally used as a dramatic term. The actors spoke down from the stage to the audience. The Scripture uses the word to mean instruction in the word or way of Jesus. So the idea of sounding from above captures the sense of an echo the resounds both in our instruction and in our reflection. The Word of Jesus resounds through His people and in His people. This word is instructing, guiding, opening our eyes to the Gospel and the way of the Jesus.

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy says the speech is the power to create the future. Using his understanding of speech, we might see catechism as the way resound the Gospel and thus create the future. We remember, we rehearse, we resound the Gospel. The Gospel is a past historical event in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a present encounter in the Living Person of Jesus Christ we meet in and through the Spirit, and a future kingdom will be fully unveiled in the days to come. It seems to me that catechism capture all three tense: past, present and future. Thus we speak, proclaim, declare Christ is King even in the midst of corrupt and ruling powers.

With this in mind, I return to Work’s use of the word “apothesis.” Work is talking about a generation that choose not to speak, has forgotten to speak, has abandoned the power of speech. Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy wrote in the 1940s that he feared we were entering a “speechless future” (The Christian Future). We live in a world where the prevailing norm is a loss of real speech, words that create the future.

Apothesis seems an apt description to me of a people who have abandoned the future by abandoning the past. They have no power to resound the Word of God and thus they simply make sounds, or as Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy said somewhere, we use words for chatter (from one of his lectures). We are surrounded by chattering voices, sounding off bits of data stripped of vital life. Now more than ever, let us relearn to speak by listening to the Word made Flesh and resounding the Word made Flesh.

Free to Love

April 29, 2010 6 comments

One day my brother-in-law bought my dinner. I reached to take the ticket saying, “You don’t have to do that.”

He smiled and said, “You’re right. I don’t have to do this.” Then he proceeded to pay for my meal.

He didn’t have to act. He was free to act.

Makes me think of an old story.

The late afternoon sun beat down upon Mechab’s arms. Heat rose from the dry and broken soil beneath him. His body ached. His thoughts drifted.

Mechab dreamed of eating honey, bread and some fresh cheese. Traveling back to Samaria from Jericho, he’d soon be resting in the arms of his beloved. Mechab smiled. The draining swelter of this balmy day would not slow his pace toward home.

A groan interrupted his thoughts.

Turning aside, Mechab looked for the source of this human anguish. Lying down the hill in a ditch that sometimes flowed with spring water, Mechab saw him.

As he looked, the grief of suffering pierced his side, and Mechab felt the grieving of this poor fellow deep in his bowels. Called by the agony of a fellow traveler, Mechab ran to the side of this, this Jew.

Without considering the implications of his actions, Mechab wrapped his strong arms around this wounded merchant. His sweat mixed with this man’s blood.

This was not his blood. Or the blood of his people. This man was his enemy. This Jew despised Mechab and his people. This Jew might just consider it God’s justice if Mechab were beaten and left for dead. This Jew could not even look at Mechab.

The force of ethnic tabus should have repealed Mechab, should have driven him away, should have formed an unassailable barrier between Mechab and this man.

But they didn’t.

Answering the call of one groaning voice that penetrated his thoughts, his heart, his stomach, Mechab acted without consideration. He violated his tribal, ethnic expectations to love this one man who cried out for help. In Mechab’s world, he violated the ethics of his culture to love and care for this man.

He didn’t have to help this man. He was free to help this man.

Ivan Illich once described this parable as a story of freedom. As Jesus told this strange story to bewildered Jewish listeners, he described a freedom that no one could understand. He described the freedom of the people of God.

This is a freedom from obligation, a freedom from duty, a freedom from cultural or ethnic expectations. This is a freedom that steps outside of status, race, and all power structures. This is a freedom to simply love another human being.

When Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. He didn’t have to serve them. He was free to serve them.

When Jesus reconciled us to Himself. He didn’t have to bear our sin and suffering. He was free to bear our sin and suffering.

Jesus reveals a freedom of love that flows between Him and His Father. Jesus reveals a Love of the Spirit that blows where it will. In the Father, Son and Spirit, we behold and are immersed in a freedom that cannot be constrained, cannot be blocked, cannot be defeated. We behold a Love that creates and sustains us. We behold a Love that redeems.

Outside of this love, we are not, cannot be free. We are bound by our culture, our family, our society, our emotions, our sexual and physical drives, our expectations, our hurts, our struggles, our resentments, our memories.

In Christ alone, we are free.

There is more to say on this, but for now I’ll stop.

May we ask the Spirit of God to teach us the freedom to live by the breath of His love. We are free to bless, to encourage. By His Spirit, we step forward into a boundless love that knows no limit. A love that embraces friend and enemy alike.

We are free to love one another extravagantly, giving everything away–even our lives.

What’s Your Story?

April 22, 2010 4 comments

Storytelling circle. Photo by Darien Library (via Creative Commons)

I turned to my wife and said, “So how deeply is God planning to humiliate me?”

You ever say something you wish you could take back?

Frustration gave rise to words that fell out of my mouth like dead birds thumping onto a stone floor. The stories we tell ourselves and the stories we tell others are distorted by our blind eyes and deaf ears. We speak wrongly because we see wrongly and we hear wrongly.

The other night, I took a stack of 3 x 5 cards and wrote various movie genres on each card like “Comedy,” “Sci-Fi,” “Mystery” and “Horror.” Then I handed each person in the group card and asked them to tell their story in the genre listed on the card. Within moments, one person told a story of their life as mystery, another as war, another as sci-fi. The genre gave us a lens through which we filtered our memories and perspectives.

As we listen and tell stories, we may realize that our own story is a mystery, a comedy, a tragedy, an adventure and even a horror story. And yet, there are times, we trap ourselves in one story. It may be the story of a relentless pursuit for money like Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street.” It may be the tale of unredeemable regret like Briony Tallis in “Atonement.”

We may get stuck in tragedies like the never-ending martyr, abandoned lover, or forsaken friend. We may die in those stories. Judas betrayed Jesus and then hung himself before the story changed. Peter betrayed Jesus, but later was surprised with the story of renewed love and fellowship as Jesus walked with him along the beach.

Our dreams, hopes and fantasies may collide with our lives. In the fog of the struggle, we may grow blind to all memories and experiences of joy and blessing and love, as we are swallowed by pain and hurt and humiliation. I know this is so because I’ve often been trapped in the wrong stories. Stories I told. Stories I rehearsed. Stories I believed. Stories that were plainly and simply false.

We’re good at believing false stories. Either believing our own press that we’re better than we are or believing the lies of hopelessness and despair.

Two men stumble toward Emmaus. As they walk, they rehearse the loss of every hope, every dream, every thing. Just a few days ago they were watching the beginning of a new day for all of Israel. The long awaited king had finally come. While he still walked and talked in secret, the unveiling of his kingdom and restoration of Israel was imminent. Just a week ago it seemed Jesus was about to ascend his throne and bring the enemies of Israel under his footstool.

But the sun set and would never rise again. They stumbled in dark rehearsing the strange turn of events as Jesus fell into the hands of the wicked and seemed powerless to resist. The one who commanded demons, who raised the dead, who commanded the skies and seas, could not stop the deadly blows of his enemies. Within hours of capture, he was brutally tortured, mocked and hung till dead.

Walking in the sickening grief of all consuming loss, they told a story of monumental tragedy and loss. They told their story to one another. They told their story to the stranger who walked beside them.

As they turned aside for the evening, the stranger turned the story upon them. He stepped into their story. He rehearsed their story, Israel’s story, the story of a world forsaken and cursed by God. As he retold the story, he unveiled the light of God’s faithful Word, stretching from Eden to the end of time. Where they saw despair, he revealed hope. Where they saw loss, he revealed gain. Where they saw death, he revealed life.

Jesus stepped into their story and changed everything. He freed them from the binding and blinding power of stories that crippled and isolated His people from the unveiling of His love. Jesus enters into the story of His people again and again, with light for darkness, laughter for sorrow, life for death.

Sometimes we find ourselves trapped in stories–even good ones. But we are still so very blind and so very deaf. What do we do?

We bring our successes and sorrows to Jesus, the One who was dead but now is Alive forevermore. We come, we cry, we listen, we wait.

Only He can gives us eyes to see and ears to hear. He can teach us how to sing in the dark, laugh in the face of death, play in the light of His unending love. Come Spirit of Christ and teach us. We are blind and we are weak, and we long to hear you, we long to see you.

As we listen to the rhythms of His story, we learn to sing again. Our words take flight and rise into the skies joining in a song of praise to the wonders of His grace.

Responding to Surprise

April 14, 2010 2 comments

Picture by Archie McPhee Seattle (via Creative Commons)

Responding to Surprise
by Doug Floyd

The car pulls in the driveway. A man gets out and walk up slowly to the darkened house. He nervously shakes the keys in his hand and unlocks the door. Suddenly, a clamor of voices explode from the house, “Surprise.” Lights flick on, balloons bounce out, and people pop out from every nook and corner. A surprise like this can be exciting, embarrassing, and even a bit scary.

Have you ever been surprised?

Near my 40th birthday, Kelly finally pulled off a successful surprise party after several attempts. We were going to meet her sister and brother-in-law for lunch. I was hungry and could barely wait to eat. Since the restaurant was on the lake in Dandridge, we had to drive for a few minutes while my stomach growled.

Finally in the middle of nowhere, we arrived.

Dang. The place was full! “If there’s a long wait, let’s go somewhere else!” We walked in and suddenly I was surrounded by friends and family shouting, “Surprise!” It was a magical moment.

Surprises can bring joy, fear, and even laughter. Some surprises can change our whole world.

When I was four or five, my dad performed a magic show for us in the attic of our old house. I was transfixed. He picked up a milk pitched. Pour the milk into a newspaper cone and then showered us with confetti! The milk had vanished. He could make water stop in mid-air. He could vanish coins and pull them from my ear. Everything he touched seemed full of ancient mysterious power.

One day he taught me the magic. First, he simply showed me how to vanish coin. Then milk in newspaper. He taught and bought me all my magic tricks. I practiced and practiced and practiced.

By seven years old, I was performing my first show to neighbor kids on the front porch. For the next 15 years, magic was intertwined with almost every part of my life. My dad took me to New York City, so I could visit the old magic stores with the old magic men. One man made a ball jump into my hand while my fist was closed tight. Wow!

As I grew older, performing magic shows was second nature. I performed for family gatherings, birthday parties, and eventually at local stores. The love of magic put me onto the stage performing, and by the time I entered High School, I kept on performing in plays and musicals. Instead of writing book reports, I made films with my friend Vik.

Vik and I dreamed of moving to Hollywood. In the meantime, I entered college and studied Theatre major. All the while, I earned much of my income performing magic shows.

In 1984, I took my box of magic and headed north with our church class on a spring break mission trip. While most of the mission trips were in Daytona or Puerto Rico, our church always headed north into the last remainder of winter. I guess it was a “test of faith.” Upon arriving in Clio, Michigan, we worked in the church, shared the gospel door to door, and held evening services. I was part of a drama team that usually highlighted some spiritual truth in each of our skits. But I also had my box of magic.

One night the call came.

“Doug, we want you to preach the gospel while you’re performing your show at the Nursing Home tonight.”

I was prepared to entertain. Not to preach. As soon as our drama team finished, I was whisked away in a van to a nearby Nursing Home. As I stepped into the facility, the choir was finishing their last piece.

“Doug, you’re next.”

As I stepped out in front of the crowd, I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do. And then came a surprise I could have never expected. I heard the Lord speak to me. For the next 45 minutes, he guided me, telling me what to say and showing me what to do.

This surprise change everything. I could never go back to before that night.

When I returned to Tennessee, I continued to hear Him. All through high school and into college, I had read the Bible virtually every day. And never heard anything. Now when I opened the Scripture, someone was talking to me. To me.

Jesus surprises all of us in different ways. My passion was performing. He stepped into that passion and opened my eyes to the fullness of His love in way I had never grasped.

Everything changed, and yet everything was the same.

My vision for films faded as I longed to preach. Even my beloved magic eventually slipped to the side. And yet, even I responded to the surprise of God, I was still the same person. The skills I learned in performing have been part of my whole ministry. My passion for theatre expressed itself in new ways. When Jesus encountered me, he met me, Doug. He didn’t make me Paul the Apostle.

When He encountered Saul on the road to Damascus. Paul was a Pharisee. Jesus spoke to Saul, and everything changed. Saul became Paul and began to preach the gospel. And yet, Paul became to the voice among the apostles who would write and teach and discuss how Torah changed as a result of Jesus’s resurrection. Jesus completed the call of Paul as Pharisee into a true scribe who rightly discerned the word of truth.

When Jesus surprised me, He transformed me, and yet began fulfilling the Doug he had created me to be. In the grand surprise of His love, He is calls us to become who we are. But we only become who we are in relationship with Him. We were created in and through Christ, for “without Him nothing was made that is made.”

You were created in and through Christ. I was created in and through Christ. Paul was created in and through Christ. Thus, Athanasius reminds us that since He created us, He redeems. We are redeemed in and through Christ.

In the surprise of His love, He enters our world: our interests, our skills, our heritage. He is transforming it. But our lives are not all beautiful. There is ugliness. There is pain. There is confusion and doubt. In the struggle of living, we may win a prize, but we may lose a job. We may discover a new friend, but we may discover an untreatable illness. The surprises we encounter in living can weaken us.

Jesus enters into every part of our lives. Every part of my life. Every part of your life. It is only as “you” that you will fulfill what he created. When He surprises you with His love, He steps into every bit of your life past, present and future.

He is transforming us into His glory.

As I reflect upon that, I can write no more. I can only pause and bow before a love that is so wonderful, so amazing, so surprising.

%d bloggers like this: