Monday, June 8, 2009

"Coach God"

I read this weekend that God is like a track coach for slow people. (Now it's two days later and I remembered: Anne Lamott. That's where I read it. In a book called "Grace Eventually." Good stuff.)


Blows the whistle. Throws us a towel. Gives us a cup of Gatorade. We’re on a knee, panting. He’s telling us we’re on a good pace, perfect pace for us, on this day. He’s thrilled we finally got on the track, into the race. (Secretly you have to believe that when we’re not looking he shakes his head a bit and whispers, “Lord, have mercy.” Or, in his case, “Me, have mercy.")

The perfectionist streak that filled me like water fills a glass is slowly draining. That frees me up to write some stuff here and be OK if it comes out in tiny sections, maybe not all glued together just right. I could write a book. Maybe two books. Wait … I AM writing two books! Did I mention that? One goes to the agent person in two months. Not sure about the other one. But please save $20 so you can buy one. We’ll get to that later. I’ll keep mentioning it. You keep saving money…And remind me to keep reminding you…

So about trying to write these kinds of things…You eat an elephant a bite at a time, right? The longest journey starts with a single step. A penny saved is a penny earned. Too many cooks in the kitchen spo….. wait a minute; What I’m saying is that I can write a little now and then as I go along. Starting with …

For years I thought I was a good person (some days) and other days I didn’t feel I was a very good person at all. The people who loved me most began to think the exact same thing. Who wants to hang around an egomaniac with an inferiority complex? Yeah, me neither. If anyone hated me most, it was me. I didn’t want to be that person anymore, ever. So if you have been down a similar road (and we all have) …

The very first thing that I had to get into my heart before I could have any peace or any relationship with God or any transforming, real, authentic change was that he really did love me. Some people have had this kind of love modeled for them on earth. I had, to a degree. But I didn’t believe it. The reasons: the self-sufficiency we’re all born with, all of us wanting to be our own Saviors; some “life experiences,” abandonment and that kind of a deal; perfectionism. The list is a little longer -- sort of like "War and Peace" is a little longer than the 23rd Psalm -- so I’ll expound later. The best way I’ve heard it described, and this from someone who I think really loved me, was “Teddyisms.” The body of work was a mess.

Your gifts? Super. Your character? Not too good.

Your talent? Admirable. Your character? Needs a complete overhaul.

But what can change that?

There’s more to the big story than this, but at the core, the answer is love. And not just any love, but God’s love. His kindness. His goodness. For no motivation other than love.

What do you get the guy who has everything? Jesus comes to earth and says, “I’m going to die for you. Somebody has to and I’m the only one who can. And I’m going to do this because I want to.” So you and me say, “OK. What can we do for you?”

Hello? He created everything, had love in the Father and Holy Spirit, and all he needed. His sole motivation was to cover us in glory, knowing we couldn’t do it ourselves. Love.

That sounds kind of deep, but it’s really hard to explain even now, and I’ve thought but I can’t come up with a ‘funny’ way to say it right now, or a less intense way. The best way I can put it today is to say that in my experience, until Jesus is really a person to me, until he is more than a force but instead a real person, I can’t change what needs changing, which are the moral compartments of my heart. That place where all the “sin seeds” in every single person are planted. The heart has to have something to worship. It’s going to have a God. (Thou shalt have no other gods before me, He said. Which tells us we’re going to have a god, always. What or who will the God be?) So if my loves aren’t ordered, if God is not the true love and the first love, everything else, every other love, will be disordered.

But to think that the son of God himself died for me? We were so ungodly that it took the Creator himself to do this? We don’t deserve that, right? Of course not. I don’t. You don’t. That’s kind of hard to really get into your mind. Of COURSE it’s hard to absorb. That’s why we’ve got to think and think and think a bit. Read the Word. Talk to others. Get some community going. Pray pray pray. And somehow, as God promised, it moves from your head to your heart.

And then you’re in business.

You’re in business when you can feel this to be true and when, at least most of the time, you can believe it: That before the stars were formed, God found favor in you. Wrote your name into the slain Lamb’s Book of Life. Once you can see what this “man of sorrows” did for you, you can’t be the same. That’s got to humble any of us. If it’s really inside you, if he moves in, it will. It has to. That’s the kind of industrial-strength love that changes the chambers of the heart, not because you are scared of God, but because you want to please him. You don’t want to disappoint a friend, not now that you know what a friend is, not now that you have traded a fear of rejection for a love that will always let you in and never let you down. When he gets real to you, you understand that he is either genuinely pleased or genuinely hurt, depending on your actions. So your actions begin to change simply because you know you are loved and you want to love back. You don’t want to hurt ANYone, especially God, and all sin (I know that’s a big and tough and hard-to-accept word, but it’s important and our biggest problem, God says,) hurts God. And then the timidity starts to wear off and you can move in confidence into the world, move out to love, the best you know how that day. I don’t know how people survive without it. (No … yes I do. I did it. A lot of us have done it. All of us have. Survival. It’s not pretty.)

And I don’t think any of us bring a bunch of love to Jesus at the start. I heard a man say yesterday that he’s never seen anyone “come to Jesus” out of victory. We come when we’re scared or discouraged or – and this might be the best-case scenario – totally broken. We come in defeat, with what little piece of pseudo-love we have, and we offer that, and Jesus accepts it.

We’re all blind spiritually in different spots; we start seeing because of a relationship with him. I remember thinking a while back that I needed to go to church more and hang out with Christians more and find out what’s really “allowable” under God’s law and all like that and I even did that for a while. “A while” meaning years. But nothing changed until, instead of talking to myself and others dishonestly, I started talking to Jesus, as honestly as I knew how on that day, something like, “I’m blind and I am begging you to open my eyes because if you are there, I want to see you. I’ve proven to myself that I don’t see right.”

What I was drawn to after that was the Gospels. Reading them intently, to see if he loved me. Read John. Read Mark. Read Matthew and Luke and skip over and read I John. Read it while you’re asking Jesus if he really loves you and if he’s really real. Look at his compassion, his gentleness, his courage, his honesty. Look at that and try to convince yourself that he doesn’t love you when every word breathes that he loves you completely.

Pray for faith; he’s the one who gives it; you can’t conjure it up on your own, which I’d always thought you could. Ache in the direction of Christ and read those books and get quiet and picture the cross and ask God to make all that real to you. Or that’s how I did it. I had to go outside and stare at dirt for more than an hour and picture a cross and people around and all that. I had to watch “The Passion” and I had to keep telling myself that at a moment in time, this really did happen. And I asked some people to share with me how Jesus was real to them. That was the start, for me anyway.

All these years I’ve heard “Jesus loves you” and “His love will save you” and all like that and I’d always nodded, with great intentions, OK and that’s fine and I know and I understand. That’s what I said inside my head. Certainly Jesus loves me.

But, I didn’t know squat.

The ability of the human heart to deny, that’s what has separated us from God to start with. But if you can be awake for a minute when Jesus comes after you, if you can have that one moment of stillness, enough to notice him for all he is, and if you hurt badly enough and you’ve hurt others, which is always a byproduct since none of us lives in isolation, you might be lucky enough to consider that this miracle you’ve heard about all your life might really be true.

And if that’s the case then you will likely suddenly find yourself walking to the track with your little ‘slow person’ track jersey in your hand.

Last fall the days went by and I found I kept talking to him. One day, if it happened for you as it did for me, you might hear yourself saying, “I’m scared, but I believe you died for me. I believe you had to or I would be out out out. I really do believe you love me. Keep showing me that please, and keep showing me the most rotten parts of my heart because I don’t want to disappoint you. Because you love me. I’m going to run for you.”