Pilgrim Notes

Reflections along the way.

Month: April 2010

Free to Love

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The force of ethnic tabus should have repealed Mechab, should have driven him away, should have formed an unassailable barrier between Mechab and this man.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

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

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.

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