Where Does Real Courage Come From?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Slapped Down

                                                                            Reflections on Luke 18:38-39

“And he cried out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent.
                                                                        Luke 18:38-39 (ESV)

I see him there – clutching his cloak, hunkered down in survival mode, praying to God for the crowds to pass and leave him alone.

But at the sound of His name, all that changes. It’s Jesus. He’s here, soon right in front of him, maybe even feet away, and between them a thick wall of people rising above him. Jesus will not see him. Nor will He hear him, how could He? Everyone’s getting louder the closer He gets. But still, He’s here!

Jesus is here!

He tosses the cloak down in front of him and shoots straight up. Up on his knees. His hands stretching toward the sky. His head lifted up and his mouth wide open as he blends his voice into a sea of voices crying out for the Nazarene to stop.

"Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" He yells it over and over, again and again. But the more he yells, the louder he gets, the more he irritates the wall of people in front of him. One of them explodes in anger, turns and rebukes him.

“Shut up! Do you hear me? Shut up!”

It ignites the others and, for a split second, he feels the whole crowd in front turn and slap him down by the force of their words -- strong, almost violent, demanding his immediate silence. He falls back like someone pushed him back.

These voices, he knows them. They are his people, from his town, the same ones who pass by every day and show him mercy. Mercy with a coin or two. Mercy with a word of kindness and pity. These are the ones who keep him alive. He needs them. So why won’t they show him mercy now? Why won’t they lead him to the front and let him be seen by the One who can make him see?

Slapped down.

Mercy on their terms. Mercy tomorrow if he does what they tell him to do today. Mercy not from his equals but from his masters – they give him no choice. He’s got to please them. It’s business. It’s politics. It’s survival. Play the game and win. Resist and suffer the consequences. It’s a beggar’s life. It’s how mercy works.

Always slapped down. Left in the dust, hidden and buried from sight.

            As Jesus passes by.

*       *       *

“These are Eric’s issues, not mine,” I try and tell myself, but I know different. It doesn’t take me long to prove the point. Frustrated with myself, I write Eric.


Had coffee at a diner with Dana yesterday. Did you hear he lost his job again? Third one in eighteen months. He’s taking it hard. Poor guy has zero self-image. His ex-wife is breathing down his neck for money. She tells him he’s a failure at everything he does – husband, father, provider – and he feels every bit of it.

All I know is he knows Jesus. All I want to do is encourage him.

But what happens? Bobby Taylor comes over to our table. Great guy, impressive guy, pastor of the Baptist Church in town. He just got back from India where the Lord powerfully used his team to bring tons of people to Christ. He was beaming with excitement as he told a few stories from his trip. I asked if he could stay.

“I’ve got to go,” he said. “But tell me how you’re doing?”

I couldn’t help myself. I told him some of the amazing stories we’ve had at our church recently. I wanted him to know the Lord has been answering prayers in miraculous ways. As I talked, his face lit up. He slapped my hand with a “high-five”, wished us both well, and was gone. It made me feel really good.

I turned back and saw Dana hunched over the table and staring blankly into his empty coffee cup. “You ok?” I asked stupidly.

“What do you think?” he blurted, not even looking up at me.

“I don’t know,” I said quickly.

He then fired a piercing gaze right through me and I knew I’d hurt him. “Too bad you’re here with me,” he said, his eyes still fixed on mine. “If one of those miracle stories were here, you could have impressed him even more.”

“That’s not true!” I reacted. But it was.

He was right. I did everything I could to impress Bobby Taylor. I wanted that “high-five” and got it. But why? Why did I need his approval so badly? And why do it in front of Dana? How could I have forgotten him? His suffering? He already feels like a failure. What was I thinking? I made him feel worse about himself.

Slapped down.

Just like the crowd did to the beggar. Those in front overpowering those in back. And I wonder, who’s the real blind man in this story?


Eric wrote back, “Mind if I share this with Missy?”

“Go right ahead,” I said, and to my surprise, Eric’s wife wrote next.

Dear Thad,

Thanks for letting me read what you wrote Eric.

I can’t believe you froze the frame on the blind man when he was rebuked by the crowd in front of him. Did you know most of us never recover from that?

We get pushed down and that’s our place. We spend the rest of our lives there. We do what the people in charge of us tell us to do. If we please them, it goes well for us. If we fight back, we may gain some ground. But not much.

Eventually, we learn it’s easier to stay put and be quiet.

Every once and a while, warriors come along. They fight the system. They stand up and push back those who pushed them back. I have a dear friend like that. All her life, she’s been ruled by strong men. Her father’s voice is the loudest. He loves her but he believes women have their place in society and in church.

She disagrees. She fights him on it and he fights back with the deadliest weapon of all. He stops loving her. So she pushes harder. She became a leading activist in the church for women to have equal voice in leadership and ministry. There are many who support her, many who do not. Her father stopped speaking to her.

And then he died.

“I want you part of this movement,” she tells me over lunch.

Part of me wants to. I actually agree with much of what she says. But not like this. I am not a warrior. I don’t believe the Lord wants us to fight those who slap us down and push us back. If we do, they define us. They steal our hearts. I won’t let them have that kind of power over me. At the same time, I don’t believe I’m supposed to just sit there in the dust and do nothing. Pushed back and stay back. There’s another way, a better way, and again I tell you, most of us never see it.

Jesus is passing by and I choose Him.

“But I am part of this movement,” I say to her, as I hold up a glass of cold ice tea. “I’m your friend!”

She smiles, clinks her glass to mine, and says, “Yes, you are!”

Somewhere deep inside me, I doubt if she’ll ever recover. The wound of her father is real and deep and decades old. But I stay close. For I too have a mission. I have a cause and for this, I guess you could say, I am every bit a warrior.

I point her to Jesus.

I tell her He’s passing by.

And then I pray that maybe today, maybe for a second or two, she’ll take her eyes off her oppressors and put them on the One who can heal her tired soul.


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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Distant Thunder

                                                    Reflections on Luke 18:36

“Now hearing a crowd going by, he began to inquire what this was.”
                                                                        Luke 18:36

I’m guessing he heard before anyone else saw.

In the distance, he picks up a sound that’s different – but what? Like a storm way out on the horizon whispering its terrors, something was there. He strains to hear above the conversations and movement around him. It has all the feel of a swarm of people, their collective voices making a sound he can’t distinguish. Are they coming here? How many and why? Will they see him and respect his space?

The sound like thunder grows louder.

“What is coming?” he cries, wanting someone to see for him.

Soon enough, the ground underneath tells another story. He feels the vibration of people running in his direction. He hears voices, high pitched with excitement and knows a crowd is forming around him. Whatever it is, they see it now.

“Somebody tell me what’s going on!” he shouts, but still no one answers.

The sounds near him drown out the sounds in the distance. The roadside is swelling with people. He feels them brushing by. I wonder if he’s scared. Masses of people on the move endanger the blind. They’re looking elsewhere. They don’t see him. They don’t look down. They push. They fight for the front. They can’t see their frenzy to see is trampling down those who can’t see.

He shouts all the more. Not for mercy. Not for alms. Just to survive. If they hear him, maybe they’ll see him and not hurt him.

It’s close now. He reaches out and grabs someone tight. “What’s happening here?” he demands. A voice comes back, young and surprisingly kind.

“Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”

*       *       *

I sent a note to my friend.


Your question has haunted me these past few days. Does the tiniest piece of me wrestle for recognition and praise?

Yes, I guess I do.

I’m spending time these days in Luke’s story of the blind man. As I pictured the large crowds around Jesus, I couldn’t help hearing the sounds of their cheers. Of course, they were cheering for Him. But I was suddenly struck by your question and wondered if I needed a sliver of those cheers for me.

I see it when I look back on my life – clear as day. I wanted the popularity and success of the preachers I studied under. Ask me then, I’d have denied it.

Am I denying it now? Talk to me?


A few days later, he responded.


            The story of the blind man is helpful.

I told you I fight this all the time. There are a host of reasons why. The first is the most obvious: We are fallen people. Our hearts are empty. We need the One who made us to fill us and nothing else but Him satisfies. But we do what we always do and push Him away, filling our hearts with other things we think will work.

They never do. We need Him. I need Him.

My story is simple. I crave attention. Always have. But, for me, it’s more than the size of the crowd or the sound of their cheers. I want to know who’s in the crowd. Is somebody famous going to hear me preach?  Somebody with reputation and well-known in the community? That’s when I feel the cravings come back.

I want somebody who is somebody to think I’m somebody too.

So, if I were in Luke’s story, I’d be studying the crowd. I’d be looking for the well-dressed, the dignitaries, the community leaders.

I’ll take their cheers. You can have the rest. Deal?


Like always, he surprises me, digging deeper than I want to go. I read it again and think, “Who does this? Who openly confesses, ‘I crave attention?’”

I wonder, is that me too?

I don’t think I’ve ever talked to anybody about this subject before but, even if I did, I’d probably say what Eric just said. Jesus is the only One who satisfies our deepest approval needs. No one else can. I knew that. Eric knew that.

So why does he press so hard?

Odd to remember it now, but George came to mind. Eric and I attended his retirement party after fifty years serving as a clergyman. All George could talk about was George -- endlessly. For well over an hour, we sat there listening to all the places he’d been, all the people he’d met – world leaders, presidents, senators, newsmakers – making it sound like they were all his closest friends.

“Don’t let me get like that!” I whispered to Eric as George droned on. He rolled his eyes, pitched his nose haughtily in the air as we made fun of old George.

“A clear case of M.A.D.” Eric whispered back.

“What’s that?”

He twisted up his face like a Halloween mask, “Massive Approval Disorder!”

I laughed -- as quietly as I could -- until I cried.

“Yeah, probably shouldn’t have said that!” Eric admitted when I got him on the phone a little later and reminded him of that night with George. “Especially since I’m dealing with M.A.D. too!”

“Not like him,” I said, reassuringly.

“A lot like him,” he shot back. “The only difference is I know I have a problem and I’m trying to work through it.”

When he heard my silence on the other end of the phone, he continued. “You know my story, right? My aunt and uncle raised me. I call them ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ but they’re not really. My parents didn’t want me. They split up, went their separate ways, my aunt and uncle took me in and raised me with my cousins who were pretty close in age. I’ve never even met my parents.”

“I think you told me that once.”

“Ever since, I’ve had this longing inside craving attention, needing to be needed, wanting people that matter to see me, recognize me, like me. It’s why I first went into ministry. I met a lot of pastors like George – adored by crowds, recognized by the elite of society. I wanted that in my life, same thing.”

“That’s how you got into ministry?”

“I came to Christ three years after I was ordained.”


“Yeah, all because of this. It’s like the Lord helped me see the abandonment I felt as a child, that sense of being tossed away by my parents, was profoundly controlling me and, worse, hurting others. Honestly, if I needed someone’s approval, I’d stomp over anybody just to get it and I really didn’t care.”

“So what did you do?”

“I called a friend.”

“Is that how you met Christ?”

“Sort of,” he laughed. And then he painted a picture that, once again, quietly stabbed at my own heart. I put his words in my journal late that same night.

“If we could climb back into Luke’s story of the blind man,” Eric said, “then you’d see the change that happened in me. I stopped pretending I was a disciple of Jesus. I stopped needing the cheers from the important people in the crowd.

I needed Him now. I needed Him to heal my heart and I’d do anything to get it.

So picture me as one of the faces in the crowd. See me as one of the lucky ones who pushed, shoved and fought my way to the front so He could see me when He passes by. I’m the one screaming at the top of my lungs for Him to stop and pay attention to me. Just me. Nobody else.

Especially not the poor blind man behind me. The one I just stepped on to get here. The one who calls me his storm.

The distant thunder that came and rolled right over him.

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John 15:1-11, the Vine and the branches. "Is He everything to you?