I am drawn to Jesus, irresistibly, because he positioned himself as the dividing point of life—my life. . . . Sometimes I accept Jesus’ audacious claim without question. Sometimes, I confess, I wonder what difference it should make to my life that a man lived two thousand years ago in a place called Galilee. Can I resolve this inner tension between doubter and lover?
Deep faith is scarred faith.
Faith can be stirred within the walls of church buildings, but faith is formed and nourished in the waiting rooms of hospitals, helplessly witnessing a thirty-one-year-old sister suffer, holding kids affected by the AIDS epidemic, and being stretched outside of our own social makeup.
It’s a good thing to be able to memorize the names of the sixty-six books of the Bible by the age of five, but not if you’ve never had a meal with someone from another race
by the age of sixteen. Not if you’ve never shaken a hand in a soup kitchen. Not if you don’t know the names of your neighbors.
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A guy walked into my office a while back. I was fairly new to Memphis at the time, but he had literally spent years of his life on its streets. His worn-down body slumped in my recliner, and I could sense his heavy burden. He looked depressed, physically and mentally drained. He had recently entered into an AA program, and one of the Twelve Steps encourages the confession of sins. I’m not a priest. A black suit with a white collar is quite different from my everyday wardrobe, which consists of blue jeans with a golf shirt, shirttail hanging out. We didn’t know each other very well, but he felt like I was a safe place for him to unload the secrets of his life. He took a deep breath and then began confessing.
“Josh, let me begin at the age of fourteen when I murdered someone for the first time.”
Okay, in my decade of full-time ministry I’ve heard all kinds of confessions. I’ve heard about adultery, cheating on taxes, pornography, racism, masturbation, cheering for the Yankees, and teenagers seeking advice because they got a tattoo without their parents’ consent. This was the first time I felt uneasy about a confession. Maybe it’s because he said “for the first time,” meaning there were more murder confessions
coming. Maybe it’s because he was sitting between me and the door, and my mind immediately began going through scenarios of what I’d do if he lifted his street-smart body from my recliner and approached me with both hands stretched out for a stranglehold. I calmed myself. I had seen three seasons of 24, and when in difficult situations like this, who wouldn’t ask, “What would Jack Bauer do?”
For the next forty-five minutes I heard about thirty years of complete brokenness and pain. He laid it all out in front of me, year after year of betrayal and utter darkness. For a moment I wanted to hit Pause on our conversation in order to call my mom and dad to thank them for a wonderful childhood. I thought I had it rough because my parents refused to buy us automotive vehicles when we turned sixteen. My new friend had only been a Christ follower for a couple of years, but he felt lost, unforgiven, and guilty. He defined the first thirty years of his life as a complete failure. And that’s when I interrupted, feeling the need to speak Christ into this situation.
“Listen here. Do you believe that God has the power to redeem you? Do you believe that God can rewrite the next thirty years of your life? Do you believe that he has the power to usher you into a better story—a story that will be so beautiful, so glorious, so redeeming that your life will bear witness to the power of the resurrection of Jesus? You are a man with physical and emotional scars. Do you believe that God can redeem your scars?”
He lifted his head. The brokenness was still evident, but there was a look of hope that asked, “Is there really a God who can redeem these scars?”
Isn’t that the good news of the Jesus story? Faith isn’t about forgetting the past, but redeeming the past. It’s the story of a God who is able to recreate from life’s scars.
Deep faith is scarred faith.
Faith isn’t something that is downloaded into a brain like antivirus software onto a desktop. It is about lived experiences. Faith doesn’t run deep because one is stuffed with right answers. It is cultivated by asking the right questions. Faith is about journey, experience, movement, and process. It is about adventure. And one thing we know about adventure is that there are moments of pain, regret, wounds, suspense, and questioning.
And so we receive this two-word invitation from Jesus: “Follow me.” We would much rather focus on words like “Accept me” and “Believe in me,” because these phrases tend to be more about the mind and what we believe in our hearts. But “Follow me” is an invitation into life. It’s not about Jesus getting into our hearts so much as it is about us getting into Jesus. It is physical as much as it is mental.
To respond to these two words might just wreck your life as you know it. Or so it has mine.
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I did something when my oldest son was only three weeks old that most first-time dads don’t do: I went skydiving. I can still remember driving south of Houston on I-45 drinking 5-hour ENERGY shots with my friends, as if we really needed an energy boost considering we were within a few hours of free-falling from thirteen thousand feet at a speed of 120 miles per hour.
The anxiety was building as we got dressed in our blue jumpsuits. A thirty-minute instruction video provided comic relief as we were forced to practice our free-falling skills while lying facedown on the carpet. It was a moment for grown men to become like fifteen-year-old boys in a locker room.
My breathing was back to normal until one of our instructors said, “Hey, we’re minutes away from boarding the plane. I’ll be right back. I’m going to see if I can find a parachute that works.” Needless to say, we entered into freak-out mode again.
Halfway up in the plane, the professional I was jumping with leaned over my shoulder, and over the loud engine he screamed, “When you go home, go to YouTube and type in ‘Wildest Weddings,’ and you can watch my wedding ceremony.”
So, I did it.
Check this out: this guy and his bride-to-be were on an airplane. He was in a tux; she was dressed in pants with a white top. The minister sat on the plane in front of them and had them recite their vows.
“Do you take this woman to be your wife?”
Then, looking at the bride: “Do you take this man to be your husband?”
“Yes, but, if you want me, you have to come and get me.” She turned toward the door of the plane and jumped out. The groom didn’t hesitate. He jumped out after her.
The four-team video crew was filming a wedding taking place between fifteen thousand and five thousand feet in the air. Dropping at a rate of five seconds per one thousand feet doesn’t give you much time to exchange rings and kisses, but they did it. Think how crazy this is: it’s one thing for a woman to put a guy’s ring on his finger while free-falling at ridiculous speeds because it only costs a couple hundred bucks, but it’s another thing to exchange a ring that has a fat rock on it.
Fortunately, they were able to pull their parachutes, and when they hit the ground—or, better said, when they landed on the ground—a minister ran over to the landing spot to pronounce them husband and wife.
How’s that for adventure?
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We love adventures because of the thrill and sheer magnitude of suspense. It usually involves close friends or relatives, because adventures aren’t nearly as fun if you’re alone. Adventures provide memories that will last a lifetime.
In fact, nonadventurous people are usually lousy communicators, because their Rolodex of life is often void of authentic experiences.
But most of us have a love/hate relationship with adventures.
Adventures involve sacrifice, time, and commitment. Whether it’s the churning stomach of a free fall or the soreness of pounding-the-concrete training for a marathon, adventures cost something.
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It’s interesting, as one friend says, that Jesus spent most of his time trying to get people to take seriously the life that is lived outside of the Temple, yet we have spent nearly two thousand years trying to get life back into a Temple. It’s much easier to have a Bring a Friend Day at church than it is to have a Be the Church Day. One involves inviting friends to come inside of a church so that the worship minister and teaching pastor can lead them to Jesus. The other involves people taking their own lives into the streets and neighborhoods to become living sacrifices or, as many say now, to become the hands and feet of Jesus.
When faith fails to acknowledge the power of adventure, it soon becomes wrapped in discrete forms of legalism that strangle the joy of following Jesus in the present world.
Faith without adventure is reduced to crossing our fingers and hoping that we get into heaven in the end instead of answering the radical call of Jesus to experience the abundant life that he has to offer in the here and now.
To strip adventure and risk taking from faith and spirituality causes immense oppression, injustice, and brokenness throughout our world, because people no longer hear the voice of Jesus calling them into the places soaked with his breath, sweat, and tears. And if they do hear his voice, they are more prone to offer up a quick prayer or write a check than to restore dignity to people through handshakes, hugs, or any kind of actual touch.
“Follow me” is an invitation into the abundant life. In fact, however you choose to interpret “abundant life” will determine how you choose to live this life. If “abundant life” only means being with Jesus after you die, then you will most likely live as a person who will do little to advance the kingdom of God on this earth. But if you believe that the “abundant life” begins on earth, then you will enter into the joy of following the one who came claiming to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life, right now.
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Adventures do something to us. They wake us up. They give us life.
But they also leave us with scars: permanent tattoos
bearing witness to the fact that we have lived life. Scars have stories, and they force us to ask questions:
■ How did it get there?
■ What caused it?
■ Why did it happen?
■ How did you survive?
■ Who helped you?
■ What was therapy like?
■ How has it changed you?
■ Where is God when it hurts?
No one solicits scars. We don’t ask for them. We don’t sign up for them. We don’t endorse them. They just happen. The most painful scars might not be physical; they might be social, emotional, or personal.
Choosing to answer the invitation to follow Jesus will leave us with scar-worn bodies, or so this book will suggest. I’m inviting you on a journey with me. It begins autobiographically, but I think you’ll quickly find that my story is one among many. In fact, we’re all wrapped up in this greater narrative of a world that is groaning for redemption.