Where Does Real Courage Come From?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


                                                          Reflections on Luke 15:11-12

 A man had two sons.  The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.”
                                                                                                Luke 15:11-12

Luke tells us the Pharisees and scribes grumbled at Jesus. They couldn’t understand why He was a friend of sinners. 1 Why receive them? Why eat with them? Didn’t the Law demand complete separation – no contact whatsoever? So why didn’t He comply? In response, in kindness, Jesus told them story after story.

About His kingdom. About His Father.

            A man had two sons. Wealthy sons.

Not in money. It had nothing to do with money. It had everything to do with their father, their family. Compassion reigned in their home. These young men had what many in this world only dream of having – they had love. They had their father’s heart. What compares to that? These are the true riches God intends every person to have and these men had it to the full. Beyond full.

This, this alone, made them vastly rich.

But the younger son doesn’t see it that way. “Father, give me.” He wants his money. He wants out. He demands his inheritance. But how is that possible? That money comes only after his father has died, not before. Who does this? Why this violence? He’s taking what’s not yet his. He’s breaking the natural order of God’s law. He’s assaulting his father – does he know that?

By treating him like he’s already dead.

His father should say no, but he doesn’t. He gives his son the money. He knows what no father should know -- his son’s heart has already left him. Soon enough, the young man gathers his things, loads his transport, and leaves home. I wonder, did he look back? Did he see his father’s face – grieving, weeping?

As if, actually, he’s the one who died.

How do these things happen? How can our children break from us like that – taking what they can, spitting in our face, despising our love, and choosing to live life contrary to everything they know is right and true?

Outside their home. Outside their God.

His son disappears over the horizon and he dies another death. He knows how the story plays out. He’ll go to a foreign country, worshipping foreign gods, and squander his entire estate on parties and prostitutes.2 How does he know that? He knows that because his son, his dear son, has already squandered the one and only thing in life that matters most.

His heart.

And so he marks the spot. The place where he last saw his son. And every day, morning and night, he knows he will stand here and look. Wait. Hope.

And cry.

*       *       *

I called my wife on the drive home from work. “Hey, how was your day?”

“Did you hear about Callie?” Erilynne asked abruptly.

“No,” I said, “What happened?”

“She’s in the hospital. Dave called early this afternoon and asked if I had time to go and visit her. Of course, I said ‘yes’. I just got back a half hour ago.”

“It’s not life threatening, is it?”

“I don’t think so. I’ll fill you in when you get here,” she said, trying to be hopeful. But there was hesitation in her voice that concerned me.

As I pulled the car into the driveway, Erilynne was in the yard walking our Old English Sheepdog. She waved with a hint of a smile but I could see the worry on her face. We’ve known Dave and Callie for the better part of ten years and Callie, especially, since she works side by side with Erilynne in the women’s ministry at church. They’re friends, talking every couple of days or so and meeting for lunch occasionally. Whatever this was, I knew it was serious.

Per usual, our sheepdog came running full blast the moment she saw my car. I opened the door and she came crashing in, barely letting me out. As I stooped down to play with her, I kept my eyes on Erilynne walking towards me.

“So, this doesn’t sound good, huh?” I started.

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “I’m not sure what to make of it.”


“Dave asked me to call him when I got to the hospital. He said he’d meet me at the information desk and take me to Callie’s room. I didn’t think much of it, at first, but it seemed odd to me. Why didn’t he just give me her room number? Well, it turns out, Dave wanted to talk to me before I saw Callie. He wanted me to tell me privately that she was admitted this afternoon to the psych ward.”

“Psych ward? Callie?” I said, puzzled.

“Yeah, apparently she’s been suffering from depression in the last few weeks. He said the doctors think it’s a hormonal imbalance. Apparently, there was a surprise pregnancy and miscarriage a few months ago none of us knew about. He said she’s handled it pretty well up to now. But, I guess, last night or this morning it got worse. He kept telling me, ‘She’s going to be fine. They just need to monitor her for a few days and bring her systems back into balance.’”

I could tell she wasn’t convinced.

“When we got to the room, Callie’s mom was there. She was friendly, as usual, but as adamant as Dave was – ‘Everything’s going to be fine. She’s only in for a few days. It’s been a rough few months’ – that kind of thing. But I could tell in Callie’s eyes something else was going on.”

“Like what?” I asked.

“Like fear. Like Dave and her mom are covering up what really happened. I mean both of them went out of their way to keep the conversation upbeat and pleasant. Callie was quiet for most of it. Then, a little while later when I started to leave, Callie grabbed my hand and asked me to pray for her – which I did – but after, she whispered, ‘Can we talk?’ I’m telling you, she’s scared.”

I stood there, trying to take it all in. It just didn’t sound like Callie to me.

“So if it’s not hormonal imbalance,” I asked, “what is it?”

She didn’t hesitate. “I’m thinking the worst.”

“Worst?” I said, not understanding.

“I think she may have tried to kill herself.”

Over the next few days, I came alongside Dave as Erilynne continued seeing Callie during visiting hours at the hospital. She never got her alone. There was always someone there and always this look of desperation in Callie’s eyes. One night, when I got home, Erilynne said she’d found something in one of her journals from a few years back.

“I want you to read this,” she said, handing it to me. I took it, noting it was her prayer journal from 2010.

Sometimes I get the feeling I can’t find the real Callie. She doesn’t let me in. And when she does – when she drops her guard – I’m not sure I like what I see. Don’t get me wrong. She’s perfect for the women who come on Thursdays -- especially the women she counsels. She’s bright, gifted, attractive, and deeply respected.

Lord, I’m grateful for her. You know that.

Today, at lunch, I sensed it again. We sat down, the four of us, and somehow got talking about how You care for our most intimate, mundane needs. Jo shared, then Beckie, then me. Quite naturally, we turned to Callie. She was right there with us, engaged in the conversation, and quick to share a story…

About someone else.

Maybe the others didn’t notice. But I did. I never hear Callie’s story. She never speaks about You in her life. She speaks about You in the Bible. She speaks about You in other people. But never her and You – from the heart, intimate and real. And I’m left wondering – does she know You? Is she with You?

Or, in her heart, has she gone off to some far, distant country?

Is she, like the prodigal son, a prodigal daughter? The same – because she knows the power and depth of Your love for her but somehow rejects it? Doesn’t believe it? Turns from it and, in turning, squanders it? No, she’s not living her rebellion out loud like the prodigal son. Nothing indecent. Nothing immoral.

Just far away from You.

If this is true, Lord, bring her home. Please, in Jesus’ name, bring her home.

1 See Matthew 11:19
2 The expression, “parties and prostitutes” is found in The Living Bible and resonates with how the older brother viewed his younger brother’s escapades. See Luke 15:30.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

With All My Heart

                                                           Reflections on Matthew 18:35

My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.                                                                                                                                       Matthew 18:35

I wonder if the parable is over. Did it end as the chamber doors closed and the man who received mercy but showed no mercy was taken away – gone, until the unpayable is paid in full?

If so, the final words are spoken by Jesus to His disciples. They are hard words, piercing words, “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you…” If Peter wanted an answer to his question, he got it. “Lord,” he’d asked, “how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Seven times?”

“No, Peter,” Jesus said by telling the story. “Forever times.”

We forgive as we’ve been forgiven.

It’s as if Jesus said, “My heavenly Father has chosen to do the impossible for you. Do the impossible for others and live. Not because you ‘ought’ to but because mercy has touched your heart and mercy is what you do – always.”

But maybe the parable isn’t over.

Maybe the scene is still playing out. Maybe these words belong to the King as he stands there, the wicked slave gone, his anger subsiding.

“It’s not supposed to be this way,” he tells the people in his chamber. “I took the debt myself – at great cost. I did it because it’s what compassion does. It’s what mercy does. We forgive. We love. It’s the Royal Law of my Kingdom. It is the way of my Father because it is who my Father is.

“Who doesn’t know this?” he said, bewildered.

“When mercy enters your heart,” he went on, “it changes your heart. It becomes your teacher – showing you how to do as it has been done for you. This man – did we not see him rejoice and sing? But I tell you, mercy never entered his heart. He despised it. He beat a man nearly to death.

“Open your heart, my friends, and let My Father’s mercy in. If you do, and if you do it with all your heart, you will love as you’ve been loved. You’ll forgive as you’ve been forgiven. Mercy will reign inside you. You’ll know it. You’ll feel it. But mark my words, if you do not, what happened here today…

“Will also happen to you…”

*       *       *

Ricky was staring out the window – a line of tears streaking down both sides of his face. He’d pushed his food away and sat there like he’d climbed back into the nightmare all over again – the film replaying, the emotions stabbing his insides. We sat there awhile, not saying anything.

“My pastor told me to give him to Jesus,” Ricky started. “What happens now is between him and the Lord. Not me and him. Not anymore. That part is done. But pastor said, ‘You be careful. Sin is crouching at your door.’”

“In what way?” I asked.

He turned toward me, refusing to dry his face. “He kept saying, ‘Don’t you dare walk away, Ricky. You deal straight, you hear me? You bury hate? It will come back. You bury resentment? It will come back. You bury unforgiveness? It will come back and follow you wherever you go. What you were is what you’ll become and a whole lot worse. You deal straight, Ricky. Don’t walk away.’

“’So how am I supposed to do that?’ I asked. ‘He’s dead.’

“’Do your business with Jesus,’ he told me. ‘You take your baggage of the past and lay it on the cross. That’s what we do. We lay the burden down. We lay the hate down. We lay the bitterness down. We say, “Lord Jesus, as You forgave me, I forgive my father. You paid my debt. You did for me – so I do for him.”’

“I told pastor, ‘Makes no sense to me. You know ‘bout my nightmares. You know about judgment day. You think he’s getting through that?’

“’That’s none of your business,’ he said, and said it strong.

“’But,’ I asked, ‘if the Lord won’t show him mercy now, why should I?’”

“Pastor said, ‘I’ll tell you why. I’ll make it real simple for you, Ricky. Did Jesus die on that cross for you? Did He forgive you?’”

“I said, ‘Yes, sir.’”

“’Then you forgive. End of story. How the Lord deals with your father is up to the Lord. But as for you and your house – you serve the Lord. You got that?’”

“I didn’t say anything at first so he started right back up, ‘Don’t you dare walk away. You face this, you face this now. You give your father to the Lord and do right by Him. If you don’t, I promise you – life’s gonna be hard for you Ricky. You do, and you’re free. You break the cycle once and for all. It’s your choice.’

“’I want that,’ I told him, and I meant it. ‘Not just for me. I want it for my girls. I want it for my grandkids. I don’t want what my dad did, or what I did, to be what they do.’

“He said, ‘Then ask the Holy Spirit to come and help you. Ask Him to do what you can’t do and give your father back to God. Then stand back and watch what He does. He will do like He did when He saved you. He will do like He did when He took that guilt off your soul. Just do it the right way.’

 “‘What way is that?’ I asked.

“‘Do it with all your heart,’ he said. So that’s what I’ve been doing. It hasn’t happened yet. Probably won’t till I stop having these nightmares.”

“But your pastor’s right. It’s what you need to do,” I interjected.

“Yes sir, I agree. And I’m thinking I’m not gonna send the letter to Esther and Dora ‘til it’s over – ‘til the Lord has given me peace between me and my dad.”

I nodded and told him it made sense to me. He promised to send me the rest of the letter when he finished and I, in turn, promised to pray for him every day. He seemed appreciative and, for countless reasons, life got busy for both of us. We didn’t see each other for a few months. We talked on the phone a few times but, mostly, we stayed in touch by texting each other a few times a week.

Then one day, in the mail, I found a letter from him. “Prayers answered!” he wrote. “It’s time I send this letter to my girls. Read it, let’s meet, then off it goes! Be blessed, Ricky.” Behind his note were two handwritten pages that I couldn’t wait to read. But, most of all, I couldn’t contain my joy for Ricky. The long, hard road between him and his dad was now safely in the hands of God.

That night, after he hit me, your grandmother spoke truth to me, “Don’t let him change you, Ricky. That happened once, don’t let it happen again.” It was hard. I didn’t see him again ‘til he was laid out in the church. I’m going to be honest. I was angry. I could feel hate churning inside me like the old days -- hate for what he did to me – hate for what he did to our family.

I went to my pastor. He told me the same thing your grandmother did.

When I began writing this letter, I had one thing in mind. I wanted you to know the truth about what I did and what kind of man I am. The men in our family – dating back generations – have done wrong. Especially me. More than anything, I want it to end with me. I want to break the cycle right here, right now, so your kids don’t do what we’ve done. That’s my prayer to God.

I’m not asking you to forgive me.

I’m not asking you to love me.

But I am asking you to stand with me. Pray the Lord sets our family free. Free from hatred and violence. Free from being one thing on the outside and another thing on the inside.

As for me, I choose to do what your grandmother told me to do. I’m clinging to Jesus. If He could forgive me for what I’ve done, then I choose to forgive my father for what he’s done. I choose to be outside what I am inside and what I am inside to be what I am outside. And I pray to God, one day, when I’m stretched out in front of that church, you girls will say of your father. “He did it. He broke the cycle. And he did what we never thought he could do. He loved us – with all his heart.”

And I do.


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Building the character of God’s kindness in the Christian soul

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