30 December 2005

With 2006's swift approach I've been thinking about amends.

Have you ever been unwilling to make amends because the cost seemed too real or too precious? I know I have. Most of the time I've found it easier to over-estimate the cost of making amends and underestimate the cost of allowing unforgiveness, bitterness or other unhealthy emotions to live rent-free in my heart, in my mind, in my life.

Proving once again that math is more "rational" than "emotional" and that when rooted in emotion instead of truth, "estimates about the cost/benefit ratio of doing the right thing” are more often "off" than "on".

Making amends is probably the closest most of us will ever be to being a medical doctor ("I'm not a doctor, but I play one on TV ... and in my own life!") Using our senses, our intellect, our experiences, and our hearts to "make a diagnosis" isn't "risky," enough to avoid doing it … despite what psychoanalysts say.

We are not helpless children, wandering through life – constantly looking for a hand to hold onto. We are adults. Not invincible, but strong and true, and in many ways wanting the best for ourselves.

Yes we all struggle with sin, but despite this bent to try and live life on our own, our search for wholeness and redemption isn’t always rooted in selfishness. And it’s in our moments of clarity, where our longings to “set things right” trumps our desire to “get our own way” that we can choose to turn our sails into the wind of God, so our ships can chart new courses of purpose and vision.

So let's not be afraid to diagnose our own conditions and then take the medicine we need, that we want. For it is in swallowing our pride and then this soul-prescription of making amends where healing begins.

Walking through difficult chapters of life brings us a certain kind of medicine we cannot find on any other road. In fact, much of the medicine we have the opportunity to digest during tough chapters (ie., hearty doses of compassion, honesty, determination, loyalty and trust) are what will later (usually just when we most need it) bring forth the discernment and courage we need to live into the amends needed.

During thorny circumstances it’s as though God softens our hearts, and stiffens our resolve to be different kinds of people. And without the episodes of pain and struggle, we seldom have the insight needed to stay on the God-path with passion, character and freedom.

I mean, damn, even a blind man can stay on the path if he has the right cane. But we need more than a cane. If we’re to begin trusting our leadings, become people of amends, and proceed through life without fear, we need a new pair of eyes.

God, give me a new pair of eyes. Eyes to see myself, others and You with the clarity I need. Give me a heart to be a repairer of bridges burned, a reblazer of relationship-paths that have been too-long neglected, and a restorer of the belief (in my own life and in others) of the reality that You care about the day-to-day stuff of my life – and that the closer I remain to You, the less of a mess my life will be.

God, help me to live life with fewer regrets by becoming who doesn’t fear making amends. Godspeed.



13 December 2005


If we want an easy faith, there are plenty to choose from. But following Jesus Christ isn’t one of them. Rewarding? Yes. Fulfilling? Without a doubt. But easy? Hardly ever. Which brings us to the second ship I believe God calls us to burn if we’re going to begin living life and faith with a sense of DESTINY instead of FATE. Christ calls us to BURN THE SHIP OF EASY, FEEL-GOOD RELIGION so we can get on with the work and discipline of being His disciples.

Oh, we love it when Jesus invites us to take His yoke upon us because after all, He’s the One who said in Matthew 11:28, that His “yoke is easy and His burden is light.” And for far too many Christians, these words sound exactly like the kind of connection with God we want: Where we go is up to us, not God. What we do is up to us, not God.

But I don’t think for a minute that Jesus was talking about a light, tranquil, non-demanding, airy, easy, feel-good religion in Matthew 11:28 …
What about the context of Jesus’ words in Matthew 11? He’d just been focusing on the sin of unrepentance and on people who couldn’t wait to see Him do outward, physical miracles, but who didn’t want to have a thing with the inward, spiritual miracle of the new birth.

And so it’s to these people … and to any of us who might be in need of this exhortation today … that Jesus Christ is saying … and I’m paraphrasing here …

“Hanging onto sin – now that’s hard work. Why would you choose to cling to sin when you can cling to Me instead? I died and came back to life to free you from the weight of sin. If you choose to walk in the dark, then get ready for a spiritual workout. Following and obeying Me is easy compared to the day-to-day drama of sinning as a way of life. But it’s not easy in the way most people think of easy.

It’s easy in the way that mastering Bach on the organ is easy when compared to mastering the moral bankruptcy it takes to rob a 7-11 or beat your spouse. Sure it takes work to become spiritually mature, and maturing adults instead of falling-down-all-the-time runny-nosed Jesus-toddlers. But take My word for it – it’s a pursuit that will invigorate you instead of depleting you. Come, on what do you say?” In Romans 8:29 Paul says, “God, in his foreknowledge, has chosen us to take on the family likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ.”

And if we want to “take on the family likeness of Jesus Christ,” then there are some things we must first begin to “take off.”
So don’t deceive yourself into thinking that this “taking off” is easy. It’s a lot of things, but easy isn’t one of them.

In fact, BURNING THE SHIP OF SELF-RELIANCE is the “working out of our salvation” that Paul talks about in Philippians 2:12 and it’s the work Jesus spoke of in John 6:27 when he said, “Do not work for the food which perishes, but work for the food which endures to eternal life.” (italics mine)
Now I know that we don’t work for salvation.

But you know what? We do work toward maturity. Or as my friend from the coal-mining mountains of Pennsylvania, Kelvin Mays used to say, going after maturity in Christ, “ain’t no ride in no pink duck.”
So Jesus calls us to BURN THE SHIP OF SELF-RELIANCE and begin depending on Him.

And Jesus calls us to BURN THE SHIP OF EASY, FEEL-GOOD RELIGION and begin understanding the weight of our sin and the cost of discipleship.

But Jesus also calls us to BURN THE SHIP OF SPIRITUAL PRETENSE. But more about that later ... Godspeed.



13 December 2005
1:30 a.m.

One night in the summer of my 14th year, I stayed up late at a friend's house and watched a movie that managed to confront and shape some of what I now think about life, death, and the often times strange intermingling of the two. In Cold Blood, a shadowy black and white film made in 1964, starred Robert Blake and Scott Wilson.

It was based on Truman Capote's book of the same title, and in 134 minutes it told, in chilling and documentary-like fashion, the true story of two men who went on a crime-spree in Kansas in the late 1950's or early 1960's —a spree which ended in their taking the lives of an entire family. I've never been able to forget four things about director Richard Brooks' movie.

  1. The slain family's last name: “Clutter”.
  2. The killing scenes in the house.
  3. A scene minutes before his execution in which Blake is staring out a window and the reflection of the rain drops running down the outside of the window looked like the tears that should have been streaming down his own cheeks.
  4. The execution hanging of Robert Blake at the end of the movie.
Tonight I've stayed up late once again. This time in my "home-away-from-home" in the SE Michigan town of Adrian. And the drama that’s been played out before me the past several of hours has been the real-life drama of Stanley Tookie Williams.

Tonight at 12:01 a.m. Williams was strapped to a gurney at California's San Quentin Prison, and at 12:16 a.m. he was put to death for the murders of four people he was convicted of killing in 1979.

Over the past weeks, as William's execution has moved nearer, and as California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger made it clear that he wouldn't stand in the way of the State of California's right (by the vote of the people) to follow through with the execution, I've found myself vacillating back and forth on the issues involved.

“People who murder people deserve to be killed,” I say to myself in moments of reflection on what it must feel like to be a relative of one of the victims. People left behind with scarred memories and raped dreams.

“People are made in the image of God, and only God has the right to enforce justice to the point of taking a life in some kind of unholy exchange for the life taken” I answer when asking myself if I could administer the injection, if I could throw the switch, if I could fire the bullet.

By the news accounts, tonight's execution of Stanley Tookie Williams was textbook smooth; hospital clean —nearly “antiseptic” one television reporter put it. How odd it seems to compare the seemingly peaceful way Williams died and the violent ways in which his four victims died.

But tonight as I get ready to close the chapter on this day of my life, I'm questioning if the victim's families now feel any closer to God right now than they did at 12:01 a.m.? I'm wondering if Tookie feels any closer to God than he did at 12:01 a.m.?

I'm wondering if the words “I am innocent,” the three little words Tookie continued to speak until he drifted toward death, spoke only of his resolve that he hadn't committed the crimes he'd been convicted of, or if they also spoke to an inner healing he'd found, and longed to somehow pass onto the families of the victims ... the ones who watched ... the ones who waited ... the ones who for so many years had known such seemingly irreparable ways?

Tonight I feel a lot like I felt when I watched that movie so many years ago: scared, a bit distant from God but longing to be closer, unsettlingly uncertain about issues of good and evil, and tired. But in my heart I also think I believe that the killing of Stanley Tookie Williams was as wrong as the deaths of the four people he'd been convicted of murdering.

As I go off to bed, the names of dead are running through my head, and I picture them as people gently created by God, as people intimately known by God, and as people passionately loved by God. Albert Owens , Yen-I Yang, his wife Tsai-Shai Yang, and their daughter, Yee-Chen Lin.

And as I'm thinking of these people I have an unshakeable picture in my mind that if I was in heaven right now and had the opportunity to see God looking out a window, I wouldn't have to rely on the mere reflections of rain or gimmicky camera angles to see tears running down God’s cheeks. Godspeed.