Where Does Real Courage Come From?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Cloak Free

                                             Reflections on Mark 10:50 / Luke 18:43

Throwing aside his cloak…

Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him, glorifying God; and when all the people saw it, they gave praise to God.
                                                            Mark 10:50 and Luke 18:43

He takes off into the air.

It’s hysterical and delightful all at the same time. He’s dancing but he doesn’t know how. What Jew doesn’t know how to dance – and dance with joy?! It’s part of culture. It’s common life at all celebrations. It’s what King David did before the ark “with all his might.” Same with Miriam on the banks of the Red Sea.1 And yet, how could he know? He’s never seen it. Look at him, up he goes, taking flight.

Leaping, twirling, his new eyes taking it all in – the sun and clouds, the stunned faces in the crowd, then back to Jesus. He circles Him once, then twice, all the while singing praise to God at the top of his lungs with a song everybody knows.

                        "The Lord is my strength and song,
                        And He has become my salvation;
                        This is my God, and I will praise Him…”

            Then he shouts, “I can see! I can see!” and then sings it again.

The people are elated, breaking into applause and cheers. Joy, infectious joy, is everywhere. They clap, they sing, they shout praises to God and echo his voice with, “He can see! He can see!” as the beggar breaks into the next verse.

                        "Who is like You among the gods, O Lord?
                        Who is like You, majestic in holiness,
                        Awesome in praises, working wonders…
                        The Lord shall reign forever and ever."  2

The man’s eyes are now transfixed on Jesus. Everybody’s is. And why not? He did what no one can do. He made the blind see! And though it may have looked confusing – like the man’s actually praising Jesus in his praise to God – the crowd doesn’t care. They’re doing it too as if they can see Jesus like he sees Jesus!

Sight for everyone! Miraculous sight!

With that, Jesus starts walking the road again. The crowd moves with Him. So does the beggar as he slips behind to follow Him – still singing, still leaping into the sky with  no thought, no care, he’d forgotten the one thing in life he owned.

His everything.

It just lay there, lifeless and still, all balled up in a heap and trampled down as the crowd passed over it. His cloak – buried in the dust – just like his old life.

The picture of what was.

Never again will he come to that horrible office on the side of the road, spread out that dirty old cloak, and beg for mercy. Never again will he hear people call him “beggar” or “blind” or “cursed.” Instead, he will be honored in the streets and in the marketplaces, in the synagogues and at the city gate. For the mercy and kindness of God came for him and opened his eyes. And though Luke doesn’t tell us his name, we know all we need to know about him.

He follows Jesus now. Everywhere He goes.

Cloak free.

*       *       *

Erilynne and I got to the dinner fifteen minutes late. Eric and Missy had invited us to sit at their table for the local Rescue Mission fund raiser. Cliff and Lydia were also at our table along with two other couples.

The banquet hall was packed – “some six hundred people,” Eric told me.

For the last ten years or so, Cliff and Eric have spent most of their Saturday mornings down at the Rescue Mission. They both share a singular passion for the men who’ve come off the streets or out of prison, most addicted to alcohol and drugs, most coming out of a poor, violent, and destructive way of life.

“What do you guys do together?” I once asked Eric.

“We always start with Bible study and prayer. The rest of the time, we hang out with them. Some days it’s nothing more than that. Other days, some may need counseling or some one-on-one time, that sort of thing. What matters is that Cliff and I are consistent. It’s the only way to build trust. Every Saturday – one of us or both of us. That’s what makes it work.”

The evening was spectacular. Great dinner with engaging presentations.

Until the unexpected happened.

The Executive Director of the Mission rose to the microphone and said, in a loud, cheery voice: “Eric, come on up here and give the closing prayer, would you?” Eric didn’t hesitate. He rose from his seat and made his way to the front.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the Director continued, “this is a man who has given every Saturday morning for the last ten years to the men of the Mission!”

He made no mention of Cliff.

Before anyone could respond, Eric took the microphone and asked people to bow their head and pray with him. He was brilliant. He took all the attention away from himself and pointed us to Jesus as he ended the prayer in this way:

You hear the cries of the lowly and hurting
The beaten down and broken-hearted
Men and women no different than anyone of us
To You tonight belongs the glory and praise
For Your mercy and favor, Your grace and love
Receive the offering we bring tonight in Jesus’ name. Amen

The Director then announced, “Let’s hear it for Eric tonight!”

And with that, six hundred people rose to their feet with thunderous applause and a standing ovation. From the corner of my eye, I saw Cliff and Lydia bolt from the table and head for the exit.

“Where are they?” Eric motioned when he got back to the table.

I shook my head and mouthed back, “Gone.”

It took the better part of a week before I heard from Eric again. I sent him some more reflections on the Luke 18 story – hoping it might encourage him. I knew he’d write back when he was ready.

So what was the other night like for me?

Picture an alcoholic binge drinking after eleven years sober. How does that work for you? I’ve spent my entire life fighting for the approval of others. I’d have done anything to get the applause I got the other night.

I lived for it. I begged for it.

Do you have any idea what it was like to be with the men last Saturday? Half of them were at the fundraiser. They saw what happened. They wouldn’t’ even look me in the eyes. As far as they’re concerned, I’m in this for me, not them. I’m out there saying, “Hey, everybody, look at me! I’m helping those poor suckers down at the Mission!” I tell you this and I’m not kidding, in three minutes of applause we lost the one thing we’ve worked hardest for. We lost their trust.

And no, in case you’re wondering, Cliff wasn’t there. He’s not talking to me right now. He sent a note the morning after: “I need time. I won’t be there this Saturday but next. Tell the men.”

He’s angry and hurt.

And that, for me, is the beggar’s world. If we get it, it’s not enough. Never enough. We want more. We’ll do anything to get more. And if we don’t get it, we turn bitter and angry. I don’t want that life. I lived it for too many years.

I want to dance the beggar’s dance again.

But ever since that night, I’ve stopped. The drug of praise still pours into my veins and I want more. Do you understand? I can feel it. With all my might, I’ve run back to the place where I started. Back to that old, beat-up cloak. My old, trusted friend. I dust it off. I shake it in the wind. And I do what I know best.

I beg for more.

And I dream. One day, His kindness will come back to me. I’ll be done living a beggar’s life once and for all and I will leap again! Sing again!

Cloak free and following Jesus wherever He goes.

Pray for me…

1 2 Samuel 6:14; Exodus 15:20
2  Exodus 15:2, 11, 18

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

I Want To See

                                      Reflections on Mark 10:50/ Luke 18:40-42

Throwing aside his cloak, he jumped up and came to Jesus.
…and when he came near, He questioned him, "What do you want Me to do for you?" And he said, "Lord, I want to regain my sight!" And Jesus said to him, "Receive your sight; your faith has made you well."
                                                            Mark 10:50 and Luke 18:40-42

Every eye was fixed on the beggar.

The crowd between Jesus and the blind man parted like the Red Sea. At once, everybody turned toward the man who jumped to his feet and ran toward Him, ran faster than the ones leading him, like a child exploding into joy.

“Son of David…”

We can see him now, looking every bit the part -- clothes, hair, dirt, bare feet, just not the face. Who can forget the face, wild and shocked, a smile stretching ear to ear in a blaze of happiness? The ones closest can hear him almost singing, repeating the same refrain over and over, “Son of David, He’s calling for me!”
Only seconds pass before the two men stand face to face. People are quieter now. They want to see what He’s going to do. I wonder if the beggar fell to his knees. Isn’t that what we do when we come into the presence of the King? And did he lift his hands into the air – as is his custom day after day – begging for mercy?

“Son of David, Lord, please…”

And I wonder what went through His mind when He first saw him. Did it remind Him of the day He asked His disciples: “Do you know who I am?” And Peter knew. And Jesus told him how he knew: “My Father told you that. He whispered in your ear and let you see what only few see and know what only few know.” Just like this blind man in front of Him, seeing what nobody else in the crowd can see.

The King didn’t need to use words. He could have touched his eyes and been done with it. But, instead, He questioned him. I wish I’d been there to hear it all.

The King:         What do you want Me to do for you?
The Man:         I want to see
The King:         You already see. Everybody here thinks they see – but they can’t – you can. They’re the blind ones. Not you.
The Man:         Have mercy, my Lord.
The King:         Mercy has already come. My Father has opened the eyes of 
                        your heart and given you faith to see all you need to see.
The Man:         But my Lord, please. I want to see.
The King:         (And with that, the King, moved with compassion, granted his
                        request.) Then receive your sight, the faith that makes you see
                        has made you well.

And it happened, just like He said. The scales fell from his eyes and he could see, miraculously see! And best of all, he saw the most spectacular sight ever.

The face of his King!

Did the people gasp with surprise as the beggar turned toward them? The poor, blind crowd – having no idea who this Nazarene is – awe-struck and amazed as they stared at the blind man who stared at them right back.

*       *       *

I re-read Eric’s story about Zan several times. It’s true of me too. There’s a vast sea of people I can’t see either. If I were to be honest, it’s what drew me to the beggar’s story. I’m the one always racing to the front only to find Jesus calling the one in the back. And what does He do? He makes me watch as He showers kindness and mercy on this man like a summer rain drenching the dry land.

Because kindness is who He is.

Because mercy is what He does.


I write Eric a quick note and copied Missy and Erilynne.
            I come to the beggar’s story and I ask the Lord,
            Why do You do this? Why choose the blind man?
            Why make us see Your compassion for him?
            Is this it? Is this how You get us to see You too?

Missy wrote back to all of us.


You make me think of Mark and Emmy. I miss them so much! Just the thought of Emmy singing in church brings tears to my eyes. Somewhere we’ve got an article Eric wrote celebrating her 25th birthday. We’ll try to find it and sent it along. Oh, and by the way, the first are still last, last still first – it’s a Kingdom of God thing!


She makes me smile, always has. Odd that I hadn’t thought about Mark and Emmy for years. He’d been an associate pastor under Eric eons ago. A gentle man, a kind soul. I didn’t remember the article but I did remember when Eric interviewed Mark. He’d called me soon after and was profoundly moved by his story. And so were we, some months later, when we finally met them both.

“I’ve got the article,” Eric wrote. “Will send a.s.a.p.,” and he did.

Church Newsletter May 1997

We met at Ruby Tuesdays. “It’s Emmy’s favorite restaurant!” Mark smiled.

I’ve wanted to write Mark’s story ever since I heard it nearly three years ago. For whatever reason, we never got around to it. But now, on the eve of Emmy’s 25th birthday, we both knew it was time.

“Judy and I were married thirty-one years ago this August on Cape Cod,” Mark started. Emmy was sitting right next to him in her wheelchair. “A Justice of the Peace did it. Back then, we had no place for God in our lives. Judy was a school nurse and I was an accountant like my father. We didn’t have any big dreams. Just be happy, make money, and enjoy life. That’s about it.”

At the mention of Judy, Emmy smiled, saying, “Mama!” Mark told her Mama was working a shift at the hospital and gave her a sip of her Coke.

“Emmy came along six years later. We were told we couldn’t have children. So Emmy was a surprise. A good surprise! I can’t tell you how excited we were. Judy had a relatively easy pregnancy. We were expecting a healthy child.”

“So you had no idea there were complications?” I asked.

“No, not until she was born.”

“What was that like?” I inquired.

“We immediately knew something was wrong. The doctors whisked her away. A little while later, they told us she had a life-threatening defect in her heart which was affecting her lungs and breathing. On top of that, she had CP (cerebral palsy), she was blind and deaf. They didn’t think she’d make it.”

A big plate of French fries landed in front of Emmy who immediately squealed with delight.

“I’d never really prayed before,” Mark said as he fed Emmy her fries. “But I did then and I was very specific. I asked God to let her see.  I knew I could handle everything else but not that. I needed her to see us, to see Judy and me.”

His voice faded as tears filled his eyes.

“We were three weeks in the hospital. They surgically corrected her heart issue and, around two months later, we realized Emmy could hear.”

“Hear and sing!” I interrupted. Will anybody ever forget Emmy’s face in church when she sings in worship? It’s a like a light from heaven beaming down on her.

“But she couldn’t see,” Mark said emphatically. “I needed her to see. So, one night, when she was six months old, I couldn’t sleep. I went and scooped her out of her crib, held her in my arms, and begged God to let her see. The next night, I did same thing.”

Then Mark nodded his head.

“She opened her eyes and I saw her looking at me. I moved to the left and her eyes moved with me. Then to the right, and she did it again.”

“And you knew…” I said.

“Yeah, I knew. God answered my prayers. One thing led to another, and soon enough Judy and I were in church giving our lives to Christ. All we could tell the pastor was that the Lord had given her sight and when He gave her sight, He gave us sight too.”

Emmy clapped her hands right on cue and then demanded more fries.

“It’s a simple story,” Mark said, looking straight at me. “Emmy is the best gift God could ever give us because she brought Jesus into our lives. She taught us – and still does -- that kindness is who God is and kindness is who He wants us to become.”

And with that, Mark handed me one of Emmy’s fries.

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