Anyway, back to the brilliant book and person. The person was Dr. Jay Strack and the book was The Three Success Secrets of Shamgar. I would highly recommend it. All the great qualities of a great book - it was short, it was a fast read, and it was thought provoking. The book was about Shamgar - the Old Testament character who, according to Judges 3:31 and 5:6, killed 600 Philistines with an oxgoad. Dr. Strack's basic premise was that Shamgar was able to accomplish this because he followed this simple statement: Do what you can with what you have where you are. It was so idiotically simple that you knew it was true. So, I started thinking about how I needed to try to do what I could with what I have where I was.
So, recently I began really diving back into God and trying to draw closer to Him. Little did I know that what God was doing was helping me to take an inventory of those three things. And, as I looked back on this old blog, I realize that I already addressed two of those things. The first was Where I Am. If you study literature, you realize that one of the absolute essential elements is setting. The setting of a story is where it takes place - but that is not limited to just a location. It also applies to a time, a mindset, an atmosphere. To say that Saving Private Ryan's setting is just France really limits the story. But to really be accurate you need to say that it is set in France, during World War Two, as the Allies make a last ditch effort to defeat the Axis, and as the small group of soldiers are sent on a bizarre and probably suidical mission. All of that plays into the setting. So Where I Am also included Who I Am. It was not just an exploration of the location of my body, but also the location and condition of my mind.
The next thing was What I Have. I did that recently as I began to explore God's Truth. What I have is the undeniable and incredibly powerful Word of God. God took great pains to show me that His Word is enough to free captives and to break the chains of sin. He also wanted me to realize that it is not something to be ignored or tossed aside. It should be the most important thing we have.
Well, recently I unknowingly was moved into an exploration of What I Can Do. And that is what this post is all about. As I wrote in those two other posts I mentioned, God has a way of making things pretty clear, even to brilliant people. After hearing the same message in numerous sermons, and in books, and from people, I guess I needed to start listening. (I know that this was an extremely roundabout way to get here, but bear with me - I'm still working all this out in my head.)
Here's how God decided to get my attention on this thing:
- My wife took a class this past semester about ethics in science. The teacher was a liberal. And she went on numerous rants that, had I been in the class, would have caused me to "start a scene." But my wonderful wife sat there, got angry sometimes, and listened sometimes. So she started to ask me what I thought about certain social issues. I, as a good Baptist, immediately consulted the typical Southern Baptist Republican Religious Right Conservative Handbook, 2006 Version and tried to refute the professor while making her appear to be unstable. The only problem was, on several issues she was right. And that didn't match my Handbook. Which was very disconcerting to me. I began to realize that maybe my Handbook was not always right.
- I have a friend named Tiffany. She's a weirdo. I say that in the nicest way - weirdos are fine by me. I say she's weird because she thinks the opposite of me in so many ways. Well, she keeps on talking to me about stuff, and it really started to make me think. She does all this socially conscious stuff. She doesn't eat meat and takes part in these things to build awareness. She gets mad at me because I throw toner containers away instead of sending them to a recycling place. So I poke fun at her (to her face) because that's what I do with people who make me feel uncomfortable. So then I started to listen to her and realize that in many things, she was right. And that got me thinking about my Handbook again.
- I read Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. I had been avoiding it for years. Literally. I had the book because a ton of people I knew had read it. But several of my friends who read that Handbook had labelled it heresy and said that Miller was a wackjob. So I had assumed that it was to be avoided. Well I finally read it. And I realized why people felt like they did about the book. It was because it made you think about why you do what you do. And people don't like doing that. They just want to follow the Handbook.
- I listened to some more Dallas Theological sermons, and they started to take a different stance. One guy talked about 1 Peter 3:15 (one of my favorite verse and one I've taught several times). But he didn't take the stance I usually do. Instead he talked about how we should witness. Then I listened to a guy about how Christians need to engage the culture, and often on their terms.
- I took a good hard look at that Handbook and who the author was. And unlike what I had been led to believe, it wasn't written by God. It was written by a bunch of guys who were trying to do the right thing. And I realized that I needed to rethink how I approach life.
I don't witness to people. Part of that is because I don't know very many unsaved people. I live next to some, and I buy smoothies from Juice It Up from them, and I shop at the Publix with them. But I don't tell them about God. I also don't give money to God or His Church or His people. Well, sometimes I do, but I don't all the time. I have come up with an astounding argument against the concept of tithing that is espoused by the modern Church. I still think my argument is right, but I never give money - which is wrong. I don't help people in general. I ignore most social causes because they are headed up by liberals or actors. I drive by homeless people as fast as I can. I don't think about saving the environment. I pay very little attention to places like Darfur or New Orleans. Mostly, thinking about those things make me uncomfortable. And I don't like being uncomfortable. So I ignore those things because, honestly, I don't want to feel those pains. I have enough to worry about with my own life.
That was one of Miller's point in Jazz. He said that people are horribly self-absorbed and selfish. And he is right. I am that way. I always look at situations in light of how they affect me. And if they don't directly affect me - and if dealing with them make me feel bad - I ignore them. So I took a good honest look at myself and realized how far away I am from what Jesus was. Yes, I'm a good person. I work at at church, I teach Sunday School and am pretty good at it, I write Christian essays, I am starting a ministry to help people. I'm a good guy. But, for the second time in my life I have gotten to become a very good mediocre Christian. This time, I'm much further along than I was when I was 20. But I am far from being like Jesus. I write off sin as something that happens in my life. In fact, I feel worse about eating ice cream at night than about thinking impure or angry thoughts. I ignore the hurting people all around me so that I can focus on helping the hurting people far away from me. I am passionate about helping people in Montreal and Australia see God, but don't ever contact my high school friend who is in prison. Jesus hung out with the prostitutes and tax collectors and lepers and dirtbags. I walk on the other side of the sidewalk. I fight semi-racist thoughts about lots of people. I think all liberals are always wrong.
God has been trying to show me that I need to break out of this current view of the world - you know, the one with me at the center. I need to start being aware of the world and people around me. I need to contact Ellis in prison. I need to be free with my money with God. I need to be careful with how I look at the environment. I need to stop being a selfish pig and start worrying about all those people out there. I need to reconnect my sensitivity button and let God show me where people need help. Even as I'm about to embark on this new mission to rescue people from being addicted to the lustful sirens of the Internet, I need to really really HURT for those people.
About a year ago, when I read Dr. Strack's book, I tried to come up with my answer to that challenge. What could I do, where I was, with what I had? The problem was that I was doing the wrong things, in the wrong place, with the wrong mindset, and with the wrong tools. Sure, they were "good things." But they were not the right things. God wanted to move me into a completely different place. So now, when I look at that question, my answer is completely different. As I answered that, I realized that it did not include those identifiers that I had always found so vital. It was a new and uncomfortable thing. And it is great.
I am a child of God who is standing on the precipice of an unknown adventure. I am armed with only the Truth of God, and the skills that God gave me to wield that Truth in battle for Him. And God wants me to go into my world and start to make a true difference for Him - not for me - for HIM -- and for those people who so desperately need to feel the freedom only He can offer. I need to care for them, and reach out to them, and to love them. I need to let their pain hurt me. I need to trust God completely to give me what I need. And I need to follow Him with abandon - and abandonment of my comfort zone, my prejudices, my Handbook. I need to rely on His Book, and His Love, and His Mind.
I don't know if any of that made sense, and three days from now I may be completely mortified by what I wrote. But right now, that's the best I can do to put a handle on what is churning in my soul.