I turned forty recently. I don’t feel any different and apart from the increase of a few white hairs making their way into my stubble I’m told I don’t look the part either. Yet it seems the responsibility of the masses to remind me that my life is now half over. Thus was the position I found myself in as I sat across from a friend over coffee on this most recent birthday morning.
“What do you want to do that you haven’t done with the first half of your life?” he asked.
I was at a loss. In my youth I was all about what I could do for God. It was a drive born of zeal and facilitated in judgment. I had accomplished many things. Yet for all I had accomplished I had left a trail of wounded and broken souls in my wake. Some I had broken. Others I had found in such a state and simply passed them by leaving them to sink. Worse still, others I had drowned with the waves and weight of my self-righteous judgments. Regardless, over the past three years I had become haunted by the shipwrecks.
As I reflected upon the inquiry I vocalized a truth that I had long been harboring. I wasn’t really interested in “doing” anything. I wanted to “be” something.
“I want to be a man of grace” I replied.
Two days later I was walking the streets of Little Italy in San Diego. As I traversed the crowd the Holy Spirit began testifying of the truth that every person was a vessel meant to carry the Spirit of God. Sadly most of these vessels were adrift, lost at sea. Some were sinking beneath the waves. Yet for all, this truth remained; only the grace of God can save.
As this somber reality invaded my conscience I passed by a lonely store front. In another life it had been a showroom for seafaring vessels. Atop its faded brick exterior was affixed a testament of hope.
“A rising tide lifts all boats”
If a rising tide lifts all boats, may grace ever be the tide.
Sara Groves sings,
“Every burden I have carried,
Every joy – it’s understood.
Life with you is half as hard,
And twice as good.”
Every day there are reminders of God’s presence, reflections of his goodness. These are the things in life we don’t deserve. She’s mine and I love her!
My shins hurt. Ache to be precise. With every step I take they tell me how much they despise me and my tendency to act upon a whim.
It started last July. I was 39, weighed 205 pounds and felt like crap. As I sat on my porch swing like a bloated slug I said, “I gotta do something.” Then on a whim I just got up and decided I was going to run a mile. I can’t tell you for certain how long it took me to run that mile because I’m pretty sure the space time continuum came to a screeching halt out of pure shock! All I know for certain is that when everything stopped jiggling and oxygen again returned to my brain restoring conscious thought, I was alive. No thanks to my whim!
The truth is, what I thought was just a whim last July was actually a catalyst to a transformation. After recovering from my 1 mile near death experience a few days later I said, “I wonder if I could do two miles?” I found out I could. I went on to run my first 5K, then another, then a 6 mile obstacle race through the woods all while carrying an 8 pound sledge hammer! Ya, that’s me and my hammer on the right…mud soaked and wearing man tights! By the beginning of October I lost over 20 pounds in under 10 weeks. Today my shins hurt because I’m training for a marathon. A race I agreed to run with a friend…on a whim.
Here is the thing. Whims have the power to kill you; like bringing home a new Ford F150 King Ranch truck without discussing it with your spouse! A cautionary tale for another day. But, whims also have the uncanny ability to spur us on to accomplish great things! Those moments that spring forth from a random “what if” or an “I wonder” like Jonathan to his armor barer in 1 Samuel 14:1-15. A seemingly random whim of “Hey, what if we went over to the garrison of those uncircumcised dudes?” ended in a slaughter of their national enemies!
Truth be told, some “whims” are actually the Holy Spirit prompting us to step out in faith and make a change. What about you? What whim is the Holy Spirit actually spurring you to act on and allow Him to work through? Trust me…it’s not the King Ranch!!!!
NEEDTOBREATH crooned on the stereo as I cruised down the highway.
Be the light in the crack ,Be the one that’s been there on a camel’s back, Slow to anger, quick to laugh, Be more heart and less attack
I sang along with the refrain…Be more heart and less attack.
Be the wheels not the track, Be the wanderer that’s coming back, Leave the past right where it’s at, Be more heart and less attack
“YOU FREAKING MORON!” I suddenly shouted at the car which cut me off narrowly missing my front bumper as I hit the brakes. The words hung ringing in my ears as the song played on…
The more you take the less you have, ‘Cause it’s you in the mirror staring back, Quick to let go slow to react, Be more heart and less attack
As I caught my reflection in the rear view mirror I hung my head in shame. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”
I wish I could say this is just a story, a parable to convey a truth. But it’s not. I wish I had never shouted those words that only God and I heard, but I did. While not a parable, my reality gives voice to one immutable truth. The “old man” is still there and while usually buried deep beneath the surface he is quick to be resurrected.
Be the wheels not the track ,Be the wanderer that’s coming back, Leave the past right where it’s at, Be more heart and less attack, Be more heart and less attack, Be more heart and less attack
I can justify myself stating “we’ve all been there and said things we regret.” I can ignore this event; pretend it never happened. Or I can own it and acknowledge my need to nail that “old man” to the cross once again.
Justification is cheap. To ignore is to lie.
I stuck my hat out, I caught the rain drops I drank the water, I felt my veins block I’m near the sanctified, I’m near broken I’m down the river, I’m near the open
I’m down the river to where I’m going
I choose the cross…
(*Lyrics are from More Heart, Less Attack by NEEDTOBREATH)
If you had to pick one word to describe yourself what would it be? Funny, successful, attractive…perhaps when you look in the mirror the words echoing in your mind have a darker voice. Perhaps that voice says you are fat, ugly, worthless or unlovable. If I had one word to describe myself I would say “marked”.
Webster’s dictionary defines a mark as “a visible impression assumed or imposed.” My life bears the impressions…the scars… the marks of the encounters I’ve had and the choices I’ve made. It also bears the resulting marks of choices others in my life have made that affected more than them.
For many years I allowed these scars to define me, whether directly or indirectly. For even my attempts to cover and not be defined by my scars was an action born out of my scars. Despite my efforts I was marked; perhaps not to the world but to myself. Try as I may I could not escape my scarlet letter.
On Halloween night 1998 I received another mark. On that night I had an encounter with the risen Jesus which left an imprint upon my life that has been growing ever since. It is a mark of His person that has been imprinted upon my being. It is a mark of renewal and it heals all my other marks. Jesus says, “Behold, I make all things new!” His imprint on my being is a mark of Life.
I’m no longer ashamed of my marks. They are no longer a scarlet letter. I bear a greater mark. My mark is a symbol of love; it is an emblem of grace. Above all it is a testament to the power of renewal. I have been marked by Life…for life. That is the mark, the visible impression I have received. That is the mark I am now called to leave behind on the people I encounter each day.
If every encounter leaves a mark, what mark are you leaving behind?
My neighbor’s kid, he’s a squatter. No…literally, a squatter. The kid lives on my side lawn. From dawn till dusk he’s there….in my yard. But it’s not his uninvited presence that irks me. It’s the fact that, well, like I said…he’s a squatter. The kid literally will drop trow and cop a squat anywhere. I don’t know why. Could be nature, could be nurture. I don’t know. But I do know where…my lawn!
Now when in the course of this six year olds life he decided to go ‘free range’ is a mystery to me. Like a lawn gnome that leaves you wondering, “Why?” this kid’s presence and miscreant activities leave me befuddled. There are only two things I know for sure:
- He’s not my kid. I’ve got four of my own and while their names may occasionally escape me I still recognize their faces!
- This isn’t his yard. I verify that fact with every monthly mortgage payment!
So the question remains, “What event in the course of this six year olds life led him to believe that my lawn is his? What instilled this squatter’s mentality?”
Truth is many of us are no different than my neighbor’s kid. We too go through this life as squatters. Laying claim to that which we paid no price for and ‘dumping’ on others along the way.
Jesus said, “…the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44 italics mine)
Far too often we see the field. We see the treasure in it, but like squatters we feed off the treasure without buying the field. Instead we hop the fence and free range. We call to God when in need and forget him when things are fine. We’ll attend church as long as it doesn’t go over one hour. We want programs for our kids, but were just too busy to help teach. We’ll freely give our opinion as to the latest message, event, lack of event, and the general state of everything holy, yet refuse to be a part of any potential solution. And let’s not forget about our wallets which instinctively pucker up tighter than a snare drum or are conveniently not on us when the offering plate is passed.
Squatters take while refusing to give. They ingest, but the only impartation they deposit is similar to that which can be found on my lawn!
Now if you’re young in your spiritual life you may not know any better. Like my neighbor’s kid. When he was two or three and still potty training it wasn’t that big of deal. But eventually time moves on and so should we. At six the kid should know better and spiritually we should too.
There really is little excuse for prolonged immaturity. At its core it’s simply selfishness. My neighbor’s kid doesn’t want to be inconvenienced to stop playing and go to his own house to use the bathroom. He doesn’t want to pay that price. Don’t let it be that way in your spiritual life.
Remember, while we are commanded to love everybody…nobody likes a squatter.