The Strange and the Stranger

Who do you need to make space for that is strange to you?

Who is your “hard to love” person? On every street and in every home lives someone who is hard to love. If you look down your street or across the dinner table and don’t see one, it might mean you are the “hard to love” person. Who in your world do you think is too far from God’s grace or secretly hope they are too far? Who is too dirty, rude, obnoxious or strange to sit at God’s table?

Let me suggest a few possibilities:

A gay person.
A greedy person
A man who has been convicted of domestic violence
A radical feminist
An Oakland Raider fan
A black person
A conservative
An undocumented immigrant
A white supremacist
A Muslim
A millennial who plays video games all day.

When we really absorb Jesus into our core, we all will be people who are marked by humility and hospitality. The challenge for you and me is to always be ready to offer hospitality to the strange and the strangers of this world.

Let me tell you a true story that happened to me a few years ago…

One of us said, “What is that moving this way?” Someone reached for their spyglasses and described what they saw. At thirteen thousand feet and walking towards us a half a mile away was a man with no backpack, rain gear, or anything you might normally consider important while climbing the alpine ridges of the Sangre De Cristo mountains. But there he came as quick as you please.

He was wearing a floppy straw hat with a red bandanna wrapped around the sweatband with some sort of cordage to tie it under his chin. He wore a plain white fruit-of-the-loom undershirt and sky-blue, unhemmed polyester dress slacks that had been cut off mid-thigh. The stray strands blew like spider webs in the breeze. On his feet were a pair of low-grade suede hiking shoes and white cotton athletic socks. Dangling from his leather belt was an almost empty half-gallon milk jug.

As this was described to us our mood moved from disbelief to confusion to incredulity. We had seventy-pound packs, three-hundred-dollar backpacking boots, not a stitch of cotton on our bodies. We were prepared for hypothermia. We had rain gear, rope, food for six days, water purification tablets, sleeping bags, emergency gear, and first aid kit. We were totally prepared for these rugged mountains.

Not this guy.

When he approached our group he smiled and said, “Howdy!” His glasses were thick, and they fogged up as he looked at us. He was barely breathing hard at altitude. He scratched at his right forearm, then his neck and then at his thigh. Someone asked where he was camped and he shrugged and tossed his head to his left and down the line of ridges indicating south and said, “Back thataway.”

“Where you headed?” we asked next. With the same vagueness, he jutted out his chin northward and said, “Thataway.”

We sat on a 13,200-foot pass where there was no trail and no shelter in any direction. Where had this guy come from and where was he going?

He untwisted the lid to the milk jug and took a swallow of the little water that was left in the jug, wiped his mouth and grinned. We were dumbstruck. He was dressed more like a beach bum from the south Texas gulf coast than a man walking alpine ridges in Colorado.

An awkward silence hung between us.

Finally, someone asked him if he needed anything.

“I’m alright,” he said. “Bugs are really bad, aren’t they? I could use some insect repellent if you could spare any” he said. He was covered with pink bumps, some scabbed over, and some looked infected. Smallpox or a hornet’s nest was the first thing that came to my mind when I saw him standing there scratching.

My friend Jim jumped up and said, “I have a second bottle of ‘Jungle Juice’ I’ll give you.”

“No. Just squirt me a little in this sandwich bag.” He reached in his pocket pulled out a crumpled-up baggie, turned it inside out dumping some crumbs and held it open for Jim. About six or seven good squirts was enough he said. He twisted a knot in the top of it and put it into his pocket, rubbed the spillage on his arms, legs, neck, and face.

“Don’t get any of that juice on your glasses, it’ll dissolve your lenses,” someone offered. Nervous laughter rippled around our group.

“Well,” he said. “I better get going. Thanks for the bug juice.” He grinned, looked northward and off he went. We watched him drop down over the edge of the ridge; never to be seen again.

We sat there, slack-jawed.

Someone quoted:

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:3

Wait, one more thing…

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. Matthew 25:34-36

I am not certain that an angel will show up when we show the kindness of God, but I do know that the King of Kings always shows up where we accept the strange and the stranger.

The King, I tell you. The King.

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My Pastor Friend

Me, Dave, and Mt. Princeton

This past week I was privileged to spend a week hosting one of my writing and pastoring heros. David Hansen is now retired, but he has led a very wonderful life as a pastor and writer. The thing that struck me as we spent time together was how surprised he was at the impact that he has had on pastors all over the nation through his writings.

His book The Art of Pastoring is still in print and I give it away to pastors all the time.

I asked him permission to share this with you. Here is Dave’s tribute to one of his mentors:

The Eugene Peterson I knew for over thirty years was a sanctified genius who gave what he had to the work of the Kingdom of God including whatever it meant to be a fully Christian man to anyone he happened to be with. The fact is that Eugene was a better man in his personal relationships than he was in his very best writings, sermons and lectures. The result of this is that we can all aspire to be as good as Eugene was when he was at his very best.

I met Eugene and his amazing wife Jan in the late 1980s. I was pastoring two little churches in the Bitterroot Valley, South of Missoula, Montana. One day I received a phone call from my brother-in-law, Bruce Becker, who at the time was pastoring a Presbyterian church in northwest Ohio. He told me he had attended a one-day seminar led by a Presbyterian pastor named Eugene Peterson and he said, “You and he read a lot of the same stuff, he likes Karl Barth.”

One of the two churches I was pastoring was half Presbyterian and half American Baptist, (the latter being my denomination) so I looked around in the office and sure enough I found a booklet listing Presbyterian churches and pastors in the U.S. I looked up Eugene and mailed him a letter to his church in Bel Air, Maryland. About a month later I received a letter from him from an address on Flathead Lake! (It’s about two hours north of where we were living at the time.) He invited me up to spend the night with him and Jan. So I drove my powder blue ’65 Volkswagen Bug to their place on the lake. I arrived at about 10:30 in the morning. Following a warm welcome from both, Jan went to the kitchen to prepare lunch while Eugene and I talked books.

We enjoyed a delicious conversation about authors common to both of us, including Karl Barth, P.T. Forsyth, and Baron von Hugel. At one point I mentioned that I was discouraged in my pastoral counseling, (I was pretending to be a psychologist). He asked me if I had ever heard of something called “Spiritual Direction”. “No” I responded. He said he had tried the “be a psychologist” route himself and had failed miserably but there was another way. He talked about pastoral care which was a “listening for God’s work” in the life of the parishioner which included cross experiences as well as resurrection. It sounded wonderful. This non-method valued the life of the Cross and Resurrection in the person’s life. Jan called for lunch, and as I rose from my seat Eugene said emphatically, “read St. John of the Cross”.

Lunch with Jan and Eugene was delicious food and fellowship. At one point, Jan asked me “Which one of Eugene’s books do you like the best? I said, “I’ve never read anything by him.” She looked stumped, he laughed out loud. Thus, began a thirty-something year journey with two very dear people.

When Eugene wrote his autobiography, he entitled it simply, “The Pastor” a peculiar title considering all the things he’d done in his life. He appreciated his years lecturing and mentoring students at Regent College, but he never lost track of what he was first and foremost vocationally – a pastor. He communicated to me several times over his years at Regent that on a level basic to what God had made him to be, he felt out of place at Regent College.

One day, fairly early in his Regent years, I called him and asked him in a smart-alecky kind of way, what it was like “being a professor”. “It’s terrible”, he said “I don’t know who I am here. I’m a pastor, not a professor. I’m a preacher, not a lecturer.” So I asked him, “What’s the difference between being a professor and being a pastor.”

He answered immediately (he obviously had thought about it). “Professors are the “CPA’s (certified public accountants) of the Kingdom. They work to purify, categorize and store the truth. We pastors use the truth like a football. We run with it try to score with it, we get tackled sometimes and kick it through the goalposts.” I thought: that is exactly what I do and what I love doing. That’s not to say that he did not enjoy his time at Regent. Of course, he did – but he never felt like he made the transition from being a pastor to a “professor”.

One time in the early 1990’s he mailed me some translations he’d made of some Psalms. In his letter, he intimated that the voice he was using in these translations were something he might publish someday. The first translation was Psalm 1. The last clause of Psalm 1:1, the old translations say something like “…nor sit in the seat of mockers.” He had translated that clause, “…or go to smart-ass college.” I suggested to him that he might not get that line published!

Eugene, a man from his beloved home state of Montana, knew just how someone might say it there. In fact, there are a number of “Montanaisms” in The Message. I can hear a Montana accent in it frequently. It definitely doesn’t make it less valuable than translations by New Testament and Old Testament scholars where you can hear the “accent” of the professional academy.

One time, Eugene got really mad at me and I deserved it. Here’s how it went. I had been blessed in that in our frequent dialogs by phone and letter, Eugene thought enough of my thoughts about pastoral ministry that he suggested I should try out writing for publication. He gave me a double blessing in that he gave my name to InterVarsity Press and Leadership Journal as someone who might be able to publish with them.

As it turned out, the break he gave me worked out. I began writing for Leadership, and in 1994, my first book, The Art of Pastoring, Ministry Without all the Answers came out with Inter-Varsity Press. In less than a decade, I had four books out, scads of articles, and speaking gigs galore. Then the writing stopped. My publishers were still enthusiastic about my work and prodded me, but I had nothing more to write about. I tried again and again but I was done. I was frustrated. One day, my frustration poured out on him. I called him (he was at Regent College by that time) and told him my tale of woe, ending with – “I guess from now on I’ll just be a pastor.” (I am really embarrassed to admit that I said that but I really did say it.)

SILENCE over the phone. I knew I was in for it. “ONLY a PASTOR” he exclaimed stridently.

“That’s the highest calling there is…you can’t go any higher than that!” “You’re right,” I admitted…sheepishly and ashamedly.

I bring this shame-faced story up because it gives us an important insight into how he saw himself. When he titled his autobiography The Pastor he gave himself the highest title and the highest honor he could think of. Not “The Professor” not, “The Writer” not, “The Bible Translator”, but “The Pastor”, that’s where his heart always was.

Eugene Peterson was a pastor and that’s really how he thought about himself. It’s a truth he never abandoned about himself, when he was at Regent, and when he was translating The Message and after that and into retirement and as he and his amazing wife Jan kept pastoring people through hosting people at their place at Regent and their home on Flathead Lake in Montana.

If you need more evidence that Eugene thought of himself first and foremost as a pastor, it is reported by his son Eric, a Presbyterian minister in Spokane, Washington, that one of Eugene’s last verbalizations came when he said, out of a stupor, out of the blue, “It seems so sacred that they trusted me so much.”

This line means so much to me personally, right now, because this past January 2018, I retired after forty years in the ministry. I reflect back that people trusted me during some of the toughest times in their lives – what an honor! Yes, there were a few hair-brained schemes I came up with over the years where, thank goodness, they didn’t trust me; but the overall impression is one of being trusted and being welcome in people’s lives and what an awesome privilege that was.

You can have that too. You don’t have to be a Eugene Peterson author-writer-“professor” to live the kind of life he led. The best of Eugene was how sanctified he was in person for pastoral ministry when he was a pastor in Bel Air or meeting with fellow pilgrims at their place in Montana or at Regent College.

You can do what Eugene Peterson did when he was at his very best and who’s to say you can’t do it just as well or better than he did. Being a pastor and a pastoral person was what he treasured most about himself. And may God bless you with the same impression about your life now over many years.

I did the writing, speaking, teaching gig. It was okay. But looking back I wouldn’t trade having been a pastor for forty years for any of that other stuff. I’m no genius, and I’m not all that sanctified, but if I could take something of Eugene’s and have it for my own, it would be to be like him as a pastor and as a human being. In my opinion, he was better at being a human than he was at anything else he did.

You can tell I admire Eugene to the skies, but I still haven’t read all his books, and I don’t use The Message as my Bible, (my Bible-savvy wife does) but may God bless us all with the same aspiration and the same success as Eugene “The Human Being”. That’s what I want to emulate. That’s what I remember, that’s who I want to be like. Not the author, not the professor, not even the pastor, rather, to emulate the Man.

David Hansen did just that. He is at his heart a pastor. And I am proud to call him my friend.

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29 Dead in 24 Hours

O Lord embed your beauty and goodness deep in our hearts and hear our lament.
We cry out because people are being murdered in our land faster than our eyes can brim with tears.
And honestly Lord, we sometimes feel as if you are far too passive in the presence of this evil.
We want you to protect us from this hatred, Lord

We cry out because people are being murdered in our land faster than our eyes can brim with tears.
We fear our hearts will grow numb to this common occurrence of gun violence.
We want you to protect us from this hatred, Lord
Don’t let our tears dry up and our prayers lose their pain.

We fear our hearts will grow numb to this common occurrence of gun violence.
And honestly Lord, we sometimes feel as if you are far too passive in the presence of this evil.
Don’t let our tears dry up and our prayers lose their pain.
So, Lord, embed your beauty and goodness deep in our hearts and hear our lament.

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Ellsworth’s Wine

“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” 1 John 3:2-3

The witness from the ancient book that we love is that one fine day we who have a covenant relationship with Jesus will be transformed to look exactly like him. That change begins in this life as we live, under his influence and infilling, one moment after another. It happens incrementally, but it happens to the faithful follower of Jesus.

Listen to a description of two men. Both are men that I know, but I have hidden their identity…

The first man, I’ll call Cary, has Hollywood good looks—athletic and charismatic. Men want to be him, and women want to be with him. Wherever he goes to speak and give his Christian testimony, people stand to their feet and cheer. He wears the latest fashion—tattoos, skinny jeans, and short-sleeved Tee shirts with rolled-up sleeves to show off his muscular arms. He has written several best-selling books. He is on everyone’s watch list as an up and coming preacher.

But long ago his love for applause has replaced his love for the Savior he so eloquently talks about to an adoring crowd. The subterranean pressure of performance is getting to him and he drinks a glass of wine every night just to be able to sleep. People don’t know it, but that glass of wine is turning into a problem and he sneaks a glass during the day to just calm his nerves. No one is the wiser.

He doesn’t remember when it happened, but now his faith is something he does to be noticed. And people still flock to see and hear him and get his autograph. Cary is headed for a crash somewhere in his life. Intuitively, he knows this, but it doesn’t stop him from filling his schedule with more adrenalin hits for his darker self. His focus on the externals has won him a following but bankrupted his soul.

Cary doesn’t like the life he is living, but he is so far down the road it feels like he’s gone too far to go back.

And then there is a man I’ll call Ellsworth who lives by himself in the mountains of Colorado. He is stooped in the shoulders and unsteady on his feet. He can’t hear very well and uses a cane as he walks from his old truck into the church house Sunday after Sunday. He carries a 4-inch thick King James Bible that has been marked up so much that it is hard to see where the personal notes and the typed words start and end. The bible is worn and tattered and the edges are stained brown from the oil, dirt, and continued years of immersing himself in the yellowed old love letter.

He rarely speaks in Church, save when he is asked to pray.

“Dear Lord Jesus, kind, loving, heavenly Father,” he begins each prayer. And everyone leans in the direction of his soft voice that sounds like he is talking to an old friend. At some point during his prayer, his voice might break into a spurt of a laugh—“Hah!”—and then lilt down into a gentle sob.

His pastor leans on him for encouragement and often asks him to pray for the specific needs of those in the congregation. No one in the congregation knows that he has prayed for each of them by name and that of their children.

Ellsworth can’t “do” much anymore, but then again he quit trying to “do” for the Lord long ago. Now he just spends his days loving everyone who comes across his path and prays and prays and prays.

Leaving church recently he was heard humming to himself the tune Nearer My God To Thee. One of the verses in that hymn reads as follows:

There in my Father’s home, safe and at rest,
There is my Savior’s love, perfectly blest,
Age after age, nearer my God to Thee.

Then he climbed into his old truck and drove away—alone; dust trailing after him down the dirt drive at his Church.

Brennan Manning tells a story about a priest from Detroit named Edward Farrell who went on his two-week summer vacation to Ireland. His one living uncle was about to celebrate his eightieth birthday. On the great day, the priest and his uncle got up before dawn and dressed in silence. They took a walk along the shores of Lake Killarney and stopped to watch the sunrise. Standing side by side not a word exchanged and staring straight at the rising sun. Suddenly the uncle turned and went skipping down the road. He was radiant, beaming, smiling from ear to ear.

His nephew said, “Uncle Seamus, you really look happy.”

“I am, lad.”

“Want to tell me why?”

His eighty-year-old uncle replied, “Yes, you see, my Abba is very fond of me.”

Live at rest in the Father’s love and you will find a joy from Him that might put a skip in your walk, no matter how faltering your step.

And please pray for Cary.

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Fearless Love

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. 1 John 4:17

Fear will keep you from love and love will keep you from fear. It is possible to get conformity of behavior based on fear—at least for a period of time. Every dog owner knows this. Every parent of young children knows this. Law enforcement officers know this, to a degree. But fear is not the primary way God wants to relate to his children.

Sometimes it’s funny what fear makes a full-grown man do.

A few years ago, I had spent an afternoon shopping for my grandson’s birthday gifts which lay in the back of my Jeep. My mind was on auto drive thinking about different people in my church as I was singing loud to a Bruce Hornsby song on the radio.

Then I heard a distant siren from somewhere behind me and a muted Public Address voice with all the authority that comes with someone who carries a badge and a gun, “Halt! Where do you think you are going?”

I looked into all of my mirrors, straining to get a glimpse of the flashing red and blue lights of the police officer that was yelling at me. I looked and he was not ahead of me, not behind me, not beside me yet the siren was still there and the voice from One Adam Twelve was still hollering at me.

I was getting more and more afraid, so I began to pull over and wondered what I might have done to irritate the officer so much that he has to yell at me over the PA system and turn his siren on but without flashing emergency lights.

Did I run a red light? Was I speeding? Did I change lanes inappropriately? Did he think I fit the description of a mass murderer or terrorist? Maybe he thought I was an Oakland Raider fan. What could I have possibly done to incur such wrath when the only thing I had been doing for the last hour was to purchase—not contraband— but toys for my grandson?

That badge and gun have gone to this guy’s head, I said to myself. Then the siren went off again and the voice on the PA system from somewhere behind me says, “To infinity and beyond!”

The tumblers in my brain all began to click in recognition. Buzz Lightyear had fallen over in the backseat and activated his button and he had been cycling through all of his lines from the movie Toy Story.

I remember saying, “That is funny right there, Joe. You crossed two lanes of traffic and were about to put your hands on the hood of your Jeep and get spread-eagle for a—toy.” What motivated me to change that many lanes of traffic? Fear.

Relating to God based primarily on fear is not the way God desires for us to function.

There is an obscure British film from the nineties called Cold Comfort Farm. One of the characters, played by Ian McLellan (Gandalf), is a preacher for a strange sect called “The Church of the Quivering Brethren.” And they’re so called because when the Word is preached to them, their only response is to quiver. There’s a scene in the church and the sermon is all about hell. There’s no gospel to it – just about how badly people will be burned in hell. And they just sit there and quiver.

At one point the preacher shouts out how if you burn your hand in the kitchen what do you do? You put butter on it to soothe the pain, he says. Well, there ain’t no butter in Hell! And they herk and jerk and quiver.

The old Apostle John reminds us, So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.

Some of you are quivering in your souls and you don’t need to.

He goes on to say, We love because he first loved us.

But what if I am not loved back? Jesus might have wondered that very thing. But do you remember what His Father said to him at his baptism? The Heavenly Father said, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you, I am well pleased.”

Jesus needed to hear those words and He needed to remember them over the next three and a half years of ups, downs, outs, attacks, misunderstandings and all the subversive things done to discredit His ministry.

You are the son of the devil, they would say.
No, I’m the beloved of God, He would remember.
You are a drunkard and a sinner, they would say.
No, I’m the beloved of God, He would remember.
You are a bastard child, they would say.
No, I am the beloved of God, He would remember.
You are a lawbreaker, they would say.
No, I am the beloved of God, He would remember.
Get down off the cross, if you are the Son of God, they would scream.
No, I am the beloved of God, He would remember.

And because of that voice of affirmation, Jesus was not afraid of people. And so, He was able to love them.

The same Spirit that descended upon Jesus at His baptism now resides inside of you—that means you have nothing to fear. You can love the unlovable—just like He did when He loved you.

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Exclusion or Embrace?

How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. – Saint John

My brother Jay is one year younger than me. Growing up we loved each other and, of course, hated each other. One time my mother sent me to the chicken coop to gather eggs when I was about 6 years old. It was summertime and I took my shirt off to use to cradle the eggs. As I was gathering the eggs, my brother had secretly captured one of the hens, snuck behind me and through the hen on my bare back. The frightened hen began to climb up my back, flap her wings in such a way that they slapped me in the face and made a noise from the nether world in my ears.

I wheeled around and there was my red-headed brother laughing. I chased him into the barn picked up a short-handled hoe and began to pound the blade into the ground, all the while threatening him with it. Suddenly the well-worn and smooth handle slipped out of my hand and flew across the barn with the blade landing just above his left eye. Sliced open his skin…the arterial spray of blood squirting all over the barn was spectacular …we were in a bad Stephen King novel. Not “Children of the Corn,” but “Children of the Chicken Coop.”

To this day when I see my brother carrying a live chicken, I get a little jumpy.

God intended brotherhood to be a great blessing and a place for a loving embrace. Instead, it can become a battleground. What is true in our family of origin is often true in our families of faith.

Henri Nouwen reminds us,

Community is the place where the person I least want to be there is always there.

One of the striking things about Jesus is that He didn’t work really hard to make sure He put together a small group of people who were naturally compatible with each other. One of them was a man named Simon the Zealot. Zealots were an extremist nationalist political party, committed to the overthrow of the Roman government by any means possible, violence if necessary, and sometimes assassinations. They hated the Romans.

The only people they hated more than the Romans were the people who collaborated with the Romans, like tax collectors who were Jewish people willing to collaborate with the Romans for corrupt financial gain. Zealots were freedom fighters or terrorists, depending upon your political point of view.

When Jesus formed his little congregation of misfits He said, Simon, you’re a Zealot. You despise Romans and collaborators like tax collectors. I’ll take you. And then He said to Matthew, you’re a collaborator and a despised tax collector–+I’ll take you. You can room with Simon. You guys should have some interesting talks with each other.

Can you imagine what it was like?

Jesus was teaching by word and deed:

Embrace the geeks.
Embrace the nerds.
Embrace the wimps.
Embrace those who have dandruff and blemishes and all manner of bad breath.
Embrace those who have no fashion sense.
Embrace the uncoordinated.
Embrace the middle-managers.
Embrace the wrinkled.
Embrace the anxious.
Embrace the unemployed.
Embrace the “river rats.”
Embrace the homeless.
Embrace the “deplorables.”
Embrace the refugees at the border.
Embrace the chronically angry.
Embrace the liberals.
Embrace the sexually addicted and the sexually frustrated.
Embrace the mentally ill.
Embrace the HIV positive.
Embrace the parents who failed.
Embrace the children who ran away.
Embrace the divorced.
Embrace the barren.
Embrace the pregnant out of wedlock.
Embrace the failures.

Embrace, embrace, embrace, embrace…

We are to be a community who embraces and includes each other, not a body that is filled with hatred and exclusion. This is why John emphasizes that we know we love God—when we love each other. This is the in-breaking of God’s new community. John says this is proof that we have moved from death to life.

Maybe we should write a new hymn melody that includes these words from an old T.V. show in the 80’s:

Making your way in the world today
Takes everything you got
Taking a break from all your worries
It sure would help a lot
Wouldn’t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came
You want to be where you can see
The troubles are all the same
You want to be where everybody knows your name

And so, my friends, may we continue on our journey to be more and more welcoming to those that don’t look like us and continue to be a giving community of gathered sinners who are becoming saints.

Jay is one of my best friends, by the way.

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How to Beat the Devil

“Let all bitterness…be put away from you.” (Eph. 4:31)

It was late at night and on the way to the hunting camp, I got lost on an old logging road and was running low on gas. I began to think about how I could get some white gas out of my camping stove before I ran out when I downshifted and snapped the stick shifter off inside the console. I couldn’t believe it. I was so furious that I ripped the console off the floorboard and found that I could still shift the one-inch nub.

I was almost there and traveling entirely too fast for the rugged terrain when I hit a rock that jarred the jeep so hard that it bent the rim and popped a bulge the size of a baseball on my right front tire.

The force knocked my battery out of its place over onto the alternator where the spinning pulley acted as a skill saw and cut a gash into the side of the battery spraying battery acid over the entire engine. Steam spewed from the acid on the hot engine block, but I was there. I was a bit harried and edgy, but I was there.

In my hurry to leave Denver, I hadn’t taken time to buy a hunting license. I had planned to go down to Meeker the next day to buy a bow hunting license, but it was opening day and I decided to go to town in the afternoon. The odds of me killing an animal were virtually negligible and the possibility of being caught without a license this far back in the woods was very low. We set out about 4:00 in the morning. We didn’t see deer all morning and mid-morning decided to go back to camp for breakfast.

As we topped a little hill, there was a green game warden truck parked at a gate.  When we got close, he asked to see our hunting licenses.  I froze.  I didn’t have one. The game warden checked my arrows for blood and hair.

He began to write me a ticket for hunting big game without a license (a $750.00 fine and no hunting for years in Colorado) I was embarrassed and ashamed. Especially when he asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was a pastor and that bought me a little grace, I reckon. He reduced the ticket to hunting small game without a license that carried a much less severe penalty.

As I was leaving the camp and coming down the mountain, I turned a corner and hit an oncoming Nissan Pathfinder head-on.  No one was hurt, but I couldn’t drive my jeep.  The entire front end was caved in. I had to walk about a mile back up to the hunting camp. I was embarrassed to ask for a ride down to a payphone to call for a tow truck and the Colorado State Highway Patrol.

The Trooper arrived and began to fill out paper work. He asked me what I did for a living—I sighed. He cited me with a traffic violation and offered to give me a ride into Meeker.

The Trooper’s son was serving in the Army and this was during the first Gulf War. He was worried about his boy. He and I talked about that for several miles and then when he stopped the cruiser to let me out at a café, I asked him if I could pray for his son. His eyes brimmed with tears and nodded his head. I prayed and he said, “Pastor, you may think this was a bad day for you, but it was a great day for me.”

“Grrrrrrrr,” I thought.

It was a Saturday evening and I was scheduled to preach the next morning and so I needed someone to make the 3-hour drive to come to get me. I made the call for my ride, slid into a boothe in the cafe to get a bite to eat, drink coffee, and study my sermon notes for the next morning. I took a deep breath, sipped some bad coffee, asked God for forgiveness for breaking the law—thought about the events of the last few days, the trauma, the disobedience—my poor jeep…

Dejected, I cried out, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

And then do you know what I did? I started laughing. If you had been there you would have thought that I had finally and completely lost my mind. I laughed until tears rolled down my cheeks. It wasn’t bitter laughter, nor was it the laughter of cynicism. It was a free and freeing laughter.

What else could I do? When I finished laughing, I noticed a difference. My situation was still as bad as it had been before. Nothing had changed—except me.

Satan hated my laughter. He had some plans that were thwarted by it. He wanted to make me bitter. But because the laughter reflected my acceptance of suffering, it made him bitter.

Better him than me, I figured.

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