U-Haul drop offs clog parking lots. The stock in the parent company that owns Ramen noodles is spiking and should remain so for the next six or seven months. Buy now and sell in the spring along with your used books. Incoming freshmen stare at that first pile of books like the apes gawking at the monolith in “2001: a Space Odyssey.” Freshmen dorms in another time zone and latitude fill up with 400-500 strangers. Don’t worry though. C-47’s will transport to drop zones near the center of campus. Maybe buses if our school is in financial crunch. What can it all mean?
Colleges start another year and students have been dump zones for tons of advice on how to do well, make the most of the experience, etc. Much of this will be ignored only to be discovered in retro that some of it was pretty good. I would have studied more; learned to think better. Spending a minute or two with Matthew Lee Anderson or Tim Darymple will be good medicine somewhere down the road. Even if we don’t take their advice, we can pass it along and impress others with how insightful we are since these guys are sharp.
I can’t resist sharing a little of my own. Let me introduce Henry Venn, a pastor in England who, in 1777, sent his son, John, off as a new student at Cambridge University. His advice? “Rise early. Shun idleness. Read the Bible with prayer. Take care that your bed be thoroughly dry and lay for the first night in your waistcoat, breeches and stockings. Don’t let spiritual immaturity make you arrogant or excessive. Be chaste, sober and humble. Keep a diary. Study standing up. And every other morning attend your mouth and clean it well with snuff, which I find of great service to my teeth.” Doesn’t that just say it all? How could I add anything to that?
Just a couple of things to tuck away. It’s almost a lock that we will be doing a paper or two. When that happens, we should make every attempt to integrate our classwork with our faith both as a witness to our profs and to do some push-ups with our brains that will deepen us. When crunch time to submit that topic for approval draws near, you might want to take a look here, here, here, and here.
You’ll need some crash, let down, mental rest, unwind, take a break kind of things where you can pull away from the books and lose yourself. Here are a couple of ideas if we’d like to keep our brain purring on low idle while we do it. “Be Thinking” and “Theology Network” both come from InterVarsity in the UK. Not stuffy at all and a sharp take that differs from North America as the UK is more strongly steeped in postmodernism, secularism and pluralism. But we’re moving right along in the same direction. For those of us of a somewhat satirical bent who could use some community who agree that parts of our faith are more than a little weird, I introduce the gang at shipoffools.com. Think Monty Python geeks who love Jesus. THAT should draw in a few of us. For those of us who remember The Wittenberg Door (“The Door” for hardcores), meet their cousins.
A couple of recreational reads. “Surprised by Oxford” by Carolyn Weber talks about a student whom Jesus irresistibly draws to Himself in grad school at Oxford. With all the hand wringing about how the university is death to faith (It can be.), I love it when someone stands up and shouts that Jesus Christ loves the campus. Jesus Christ hasn’t forsaken the university; Christians have surrendered the field. The deeper the darkness, the brighter His light shines.
Read number two – a fiction called “The Veritas Conspiracy” by Shaunti Feldhahn. It’s about a Christian freshman at Harvard and how she gets caught up in much bigger things than she expected while struggling to just get started in college. Shaunti is a Harvard grad who gets the campus vibe just right. The Christian group rings true with what’s out there and the rest of the characters run true to type and seem real. Spiritual warfare is written about more intelligently than in many other Christian books – more subtle and nuanced with a bigger Kingdom picture in mind. Much fiction on spiritual warfare is cartoonish – not here. There are professors in league with the evil one (Some of us might have thought this in rash moments.) and there are students demonized as well (I can guarantee that more than a few profs have wondered about this.) A reader will come away with more than a good read.
Her book “The Lights of Tenth Street” could be a parable of the evils of sex slavery and abuse, such a passion with many students today. Many Christians know sexual abuse and its fallout. “Tenth Street” is good medicine. Read it and you will know exactly who to share it with. Both of Shaunti’s books can be scored on the cheap at Amazon. And now for some final words from a couple of old dogs. First, A.E. Whitman.
“If you knew that there was One greater than yourself, Who knows you better than you can know yourself, and loves you better than you can love yourself, Who can make you all you ought to be, steadier than your squalid nature, able to save you from squandering your glorious life, Who searches you beyond the standards of earth…One Who gathered into Himself all great and good things and causes, blending into His beauty all the enduring color of life, Who could turn your dreams into visions, and make real the things you hoped were true, and if that One had ever done one unmistakable thing to prove, even at the price of blood – His own blood – that you could come to Him, and having failed, come again. Would you not fall at His feet with the treasure of your years, your powers, service and love? And is there not on such (Jesus), and does He not call you?”
And Philips Brooks (my caps and note) -
“The great hunger everywhere is for life. All things are reaching up towards it. All living things are craving an increase of it. Into this world come Christ and announces Himself as that world’s Saviour and satisfier, in virtue first of his bestowal of vitality…’I come to you here that you may live, that you may have life, and that you may have it more abundantly.’ So speaks Christ to the student…Of such life, and of brave, earnest students entering into its fullness, may this new year…be full.”
If you think this might encourage a student or those who love them, please share, subscribe, Twitter and all that social media stuff. If you already subscribe, then think about joining Geezer 1, the online clubhouse for geezeronthequad.com. It’s a mix of students, student ministry leaders, professors, administrators, theologians, artists, writers, musicians, composers, booksellers, broadcasters, pastors, cultural thinkers and entrepreneurs and a few campus rats who think that Jesus Christ thinks that the university is a special place. They’re a sharp bunch and you will only make us better. Check it out and request to join or email us at email@example.com. If the Facebook dog eats your homework (and he sometimes does), we’ll ask you to resubmit.
Pease return your seat to the upright position and give your infrared night vision goggles to the attendant as you exit to the rear. See you next post at geezeronthequad.com
Most college students don’t seem to do mornings. Maybe it has to do with being up till past midnight studying, playing video/computer games, Facebooking and Internet surfing, charting our fantasy football team, untangling a roommate’s relationship issues, crying, screaming and banging our head on the wall over our own relationship issues, going out for late night pizza even though we’re not hungry, etc. In the morning we throw on a sweatshirt, jeans or workout pants (The pants do not go on over the head. Always remember this.) and then we snatch a bagel from the breakfast line and gnaw on it as we cross the quad with a coffee IV in the arm headed for that always fun 8 o’clock class.
That makes starting the day with God problematic. I may barely have pulse and respiration and that brain wave thing is really in question. And Psalm 103:1 says,”…and all that is within me, bless His holy name.” Not only does this Scripture throw open the doors of our inner closets, it speaks to effort and intensity when we come to God. When we come to God, let’s come full-bore bringing everything we have. Grace (which I will revisit in a minute) has become a pretense for laziness, contentment with mediocrity and/or subliminal entitlement to indulge in low-grade rebellion toward God. It’s compost for excuses. God’s grace should be a launch pad toward excellence. Read Paul in I Corinthians 15:10. “…his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them…” This seems to play well to the Christian “navy seal” or “olympic gymnasts” among us who start the day with a devotional read from the early church fathers, four to eight chapters of bible reading, memory work on five verses and fifteen minutes of worship incorporating a blend of classic hymns, contemporary praise and a medieval chant to mix it up.
At the moment Jesus died, the veil of the temple ripped in two from top to bottom. Have we noticed? Yes, we know but have we noticed? From that moment on anybody can enter the presence of God. We don’t have to be the high priest, ritually cleansed and carrying the blood of the Passover lamb to be sprinkled on the mercy-seat. We don’t have to be spiritual gymnasts or have it together. Just show up and walk through the veil. Don’t get me wrong. I admire the people who do all the things or the equivalent thereof in the last paragraph. In the many shifts my spiritual life has made, I’ve done some of that. But when we start to falter, we start beating ourselves up because we’re falling behind in our bible reading or can only memorize two verses a week. It becomes performance and God can’t be pleased when we don’t touch the bar.
Worship is meeting with God, walking through the veil no matter what shape we’re in. It’s not about goose bumps or having it together. It’s about showing up and walking into the Holiest of Holies where He is. On a lot of days, “…all that is within me…” isn’t very much. We come with a handful of crumbs instead of trophies and merit badges. In the microseconds I feel together and with it, I envision myself as St. Bruno the Cool, the spiritually jitterbugging cousin of Mother Theresa or some other super saint decked out in spandex and feathers like a pro wrestler. Most days I’m a slug. “…all that is within me…” doesn’t just speak of effort and intensity, it speaks of intentionality. I don’t have much in the tank today. My faithfulness would be hard to find with a microscope. too small to pick up with tweezers. But the veil is held open and He is in there; I certainly haven’t earned it. I have too many screw ups to impress Him. I’ve hurt Him too much. But I’m coming. This is grace, the gasoline that runs the Christian faith.
A good start-up point comes in an old prayer from the Orthodox church. It’s called the Jesus Prayer. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.” There’s no magic in it; it simply kicks off the day framing both Who Jesus is and who we are. Saying it a few times has nothing to do with the chanting of a mantra which, instead of bringing focus, reduces our minds and spirits to soup. Repeating it locks us into the Cross, the Saviour Who died on it and my need for this Crucified God (a good description by Jurgen Moltmann). It not only brings to center stage my need of mercy for sin brought to that moment but sensitizes me to the sin which will manifest itself in the day to come.
An old John Wayne western called “The Cowboys” has the big guy on a cattle drive with a bunch of young boys. Some bad guys try to steal the herd; they grab the scruffy cook and prepare to string him up. The cook meekly asks if he can make his peace with God before they hang him and they agree. The old man bows his head and prays, “Lord, forgive me for all the men I’ve killed. And forgive me for all the men I’m going to kill today.” Forgive me, Lord, for all the people I will kill today with my tongue in gossip or with my words on social media. Forgive me for the souls I will wither today by holding others in quiet contempt because of their appearance, the frat or sorority they belong to that isn’t mine, their intellectual, athletic or musical gifts that eclipse mine. Forgive me for slashing the image of God in another out of jealousy for the friends they seem to have that I do not. They are not the authors of my loneliness. Forgive me for the souls hurting to be loved whom I will starve by withholding my time and listening ear. Forgive me for being so intent on myself, locked up inside my own little bubble that I won’t notice or care about the collateral damage of these souls piling up around my feet like windblown trash on the street while I walk through this day. Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.
The veil is not only torn but held open for us; He is inside. “…all that is within me…” If we live in a place right now where the Spirit runs free and hot making us hungry and bold, then come. If we’re swallowed by sin, failure and guilt, then come. If the flatness we bring to the day makes a stack of pancakes look like Mt. Everest, then come. Once we start showing up… just because, He will draw us in and we’ll be coming more often no matter what time of day it is.
If you think this might encourage students or those who love them, then share, subscribe, Twitter and all that social media stuff. If you already subscribe, you might want to be part of Geezer 1, the Facebook online clubhouse for geezeronthequad.com. It’s a mix of students, student ministry leaders, professors, administrators, artists, writers, musicians, composers, broadcasters, booksellers, pastors, cultural thinkers and entrepreneurs as well as a few campus rats who think that Jesus Christ thinks the university is a great place. They’re a sharp group and you will only make us better. Take a look at Geezer 1 and request to join. Or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If the Facebook dog eats your homework (and he sometimes does), we will ask you to resubmit.
Please return your seat to the upright position and give your infrared night vision goggles to the attendant as you exit to the rear. See you next post at geezeronthequad.com.
Sometimes you just have to clean up where you live. For college students, this often takes place in the spring when we move out of the dorm, apartment, cave, treehouse, large appliance crate behind the laundromat, out from under the front porch at the Xi house or whatever housing arrangement we had working during the school year (and, in some cases, I’m not exaggerating much). How did all these old, green and fuzzy pizza crusts get here? I could sell this mess in the bottom of the closet to farmers as compost and cut the cost of books next fall. The dumpsters on campus overflow with an amazing array of items that could furnish a number of houses (and a lot of trash). This provokes an onslaught of battalions of trash pickers who swarm in like the plagues of Egypt. Our souls need the same thing but how do we get started with this? Let me suggest something that, used daily, saves us from the once a year shovel out.
“… Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is in me, bless his holy name.” Remembering what we said about blessing the Lord, does “all that is in me” do Him good and bring Him joy? It’s an instant throwing open the doors of every closet of our souls for inventory. Please note that this doesn’t mean we use the Bible to rummage around and find something to beat ourselves up over. We can do that without the Bible and while the Holy Spirit convicts of sin, He is not in the shame business (We’ll have to talk about that sometime.) It’s like having a junk drawer. If we don’t have one now, we will when we exit school and have our own place. The junk drawer is storage Nirvana for every little thing that might be useful someday and for small things we absolutely don’t want to lose. As time passes, we start dumping stuff in there with no rhyme or reason as to why we’re hanging on to them in the first place. The drawer gets so cluttered with ill-defined things that we quit looking in there at all if we can still open it.
Most Christians succumb to spiritual clutter. We’re not necessarily done in by the big blow outs – the bodies buried in the crawl space or that we forgot to wipe the blood off the chainsaw the last time we used it. We clog up with unexamined things of the heart, with shallow and misfocused priorities, with small obediences compromised, with innocent hindrances unrecognized and indulged. A daily kiss on the cheek from “…all that is within me” immediately flags this kind of thing and raises the question “Is this blessing God, doing Him or me any good at all and, if not, why am I hanging onto it or allowing it to hang around inside me?”
For the last couple of years before I married and moved out, I had a favorite pair of sneakers, black canvas low-cuts. Electrician’s tape was all that held the fabric tops to the soles. Mom stayed after me to throw them out and, during the summers, she made several valiant attempts to throw them out for me. But I would wake up and grope around the floor feeling for them. If I found nothing, I’d jerk awake and run for the trash out behind the house where, more than a few times, I saved my babies. My parents came to visit us for our first Thanksgiving. Right away, Mom noticed, “You have new sneakers.” “Yes,” I replied, “Gay thought they were a ragged mess so she threw them out.” I think she probably cried on the way home. It’s not love until she can throw away your favorite sneakers.
We cherish idols made from rags in our heart. Some of them used to be worth something. A lot of things just accumulate and we don’t know how they got there. We know we need to sort them out and pitch a lot of it but can’t bring ourselves to do it. Into this mess, the Holy Spirit whispers, “…let all that is within me bless His holy name.” Could it be that we aren’t really acknowledging the love of Jesus Christ until we’ve let Him throw away a few of our sneakers?
If you think this might encourage either students or those who love them, then share, subscribe, Twitter and all that social media stuff. If you already subscribe, you might want to check out Geezer 1, the Facebook online clubhouse for geezeronthequad.com. It’s a mix of students, student ministry leaders, professors, administrators, artists, writers, musicians, composers, booksellers, broadcasters, pastors, cultural thinkers and entrepreneurs as well as a few campus rats who think that Jesus Christ thinks that the university is a great place. They’re a sharp bunch; you coming on board will only make us better. Take a look and ask to join at Geezer1. Or you can email us at email@example.com. If the Facebook dog eats your homework (and he sometimes does…), we’ll ask you to resubmit.
Please return your seat to the upright position and give your infrared night vision goggles to the attendant as you exit to the rear. See you next post at geezeronthequad.com
I said, “If you do anything like that to us, we’ll kill you in your sleep.” My wife quickly jumped in. “No, we won’t. We’ll kill you while you’re awake so you’ll know who did it!” What provoked this outburst of parental affection? Our kids asked that question that invariably comes up (No, not “Where did I come from?” Buying them from Romanian Gypsies at a rest stop on the interstate or a pack of wolves leaving them by our tent flap on a camping trip worked for us for a long time. Keep both in mind.). How did the two of you get together? We met doing ministry at the small Christian college we both attended. The school rented an old house right between the black downtown and poor white neighborhoods and said, “Have fun kids. Do Jesus stuff.” Gay and I went door-to-door meeting families; I could run fast enough (then) to divert the dogs from chasing her and she could beat down any local thugs who harassed us. We decided we were a good team for more than just college outreach. We met in September and by December 2, we were engaged.
I called my Dad to tell him that I was engaged to a girl I’d only known three months and that he and Mom had never met and barely heard of. The conversation sort of went like this.
“David, that’s great but promise me you’ll finish your degree down there.”
“Dad, we have that all figured out. We’re going to leave here, get married this summer and start seminary next fall.”
“Let’s talk about it when you come home for Christmas. But at least promise me you’ll finish out the year.”
“We have that all figured out too. You know all that money we had banked up for this next semester? We took it all out of the bank and used it to buy the engagement and wedding rings. But I’ve got a job on campus and everything’s going to be fine!”
Long pause…”We’ll talk about that when you get home too.”
I don’t remember how many garbage cans I scrubbed. All I saw was the glow of those rings on her finger; nothing else mattered.
Worship has more than a splash of this kind of thing to it; two persons swallowed up in love with each other each other and one of them is God. However things fall out from there just doesn’t matter. “Bless the Lord…” The Old Testament makes a big deal of blessing. And so do we. I want blessed. Don’t you? Think of the alternative. Being cursed is on nobody’s “bucket list”! And I don’t care whether it comes through others or from God Himself. Directly or indirectly, all blessing comes from God. But here’s the catch; we primarily think of blessing as something to get instead of to give. That’s why Psalm 103 is a cool breeze to the heart.
The word meaning “to bless” swirls together two beautiful ideas like peanut butter and chocolate. One describes “kneeling down”. Sometimes we do that because we drop something, sometimes because we’re forced. But this describes a deliberate willing to kneel because we’re compelled to acknowledge the intrinsic value and magnificence of someone overshadowing us in quality, character and/or beauty. It’s a humbling that dignifies the kneeler as they kneel. It lifts us as we bend. The second idea involves doing good to another, not so much in ways that they want, but in ways that are appropriate to what they need. Nobody can cause as much damage as a person wanting to help who has no idea as to what needs to be done. Good intentions cause big explosions. “Blessing” means hitting the bulls-eyes in the deep places of another with laser-like precision.
Because God loves us, He has given us the amazing capacity of bringing delight to His heart. We can bless Him. My children and grandchildren don’t have to do anything to stoke deep joy in my heart. They don’t have to perform or do things for me. First, they just look at me with light all over their faces. Then they put my name with it. Hearing “Grandpa” come out of a child’s mouth aimed at me is good medicine. Then “I love you”. To hear that pushed our way by someone who really means it make us kings who don’t need thrones or castles. The Creator of the cosmos and beyond, the God of the burning bush and Red Sea, the Jesus of healings, the Sermon on the Mount and the Cross, the Spirit of Pentecost – all ripple with joy at our undivided attention through this thing called worship (individual or corporate). And one never knows what crazy things we might end up doing or where we might end up going or who might disagree or challenge us. Two in love don’t care about things like that.
Bless the Lord…
By the way, you might be interested to know that we killed neither of our children. They’ve since married in a kinder, gentler manner than their parents and have given us seven grandchildren. But we’ve seen flecks of whitewater in those seven growing chunks of the image of God that should wash away any boredom from our future. Looks interesting…bless the Lord.
If you think this might encourage either students or someone who loves them, then share, subscribe, Twitter and all that social media stuff. If you already subscribe, then you might want to think about joining Geezer 1, the online Facebook clubhouse for geezeronthequad.com. It’s a mix of students, student ministry leaders, professors, administrators, artists, writers, musicians, composers, booksellers, broadcasters, pastors, cultural thinkers and entrepreneurs and a few campus rats who think that Jesus Christ thinks that the university is a great place. They’re a sharp bunch; you will only make us better. Take a look and ask to join at Geezer 1. Or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If the Facebook dog eats your homework (and he sometimes does), we will ask you to resubmit.
Please return your seat to the upright position and give your infrared night vision goggles to the attendant as you exit to the rear. See you next post at geezeronthequad.com.
When we embrace truth but only walk in the shallows of it, we vaccinate ourselves from catching the life truth gives. When believing becomes “what we’re supposed to do” but no more, we wrap our soul in a full body cast. We wonder where the joy and meaning went if we ever had it. And we sometimes get nasty with anyone who has what we long for. Everything Jesus said in Luke 15 up till now (lost sheep, lost coin, lost son) was His response to people who didn’t like Jesus’ dinner companions (Luke 15:1). Jesus laid out in spades how eagerly God sought after the hopelessly lost and utterly rejected, how much He loved and cherished them and how greatly He and all of heaven exploded in joy over even one found and turned around. This really frosted the Pharisees’ donuts ; Jesus knew it would. That was the plan and that’s why the story isn’t over. We still have one son on the front lawn. Jesus now drags His audience into story; the Pharisees and teachers of the law are the good son.
And they were good – not a felon among them. The key is verse 29. “…Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.” I’ve done the God thing right, by Your rules all the way! Where are the “goodies” for me? Saul of Tarsus was a guy who did the God thing “right” and he did it hard, allowing neither himself nor others any slack. “…circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” (Phil 3:4b-6) He had the network, the blood lines, the credentials, quite a platform. That’s why the Christians drove him mad. Their transformation and joy ate through his barren soul like acid. He hated their guts – “breathing out threats and slaughter”, Acts 9:1 says. These Christians, Jewish traitors and heretics all, enjoyed everything he longed and hungered for – for free, without hard work of any kind.
Why should these “losers” have Jesus attention and favor like that? We’re the ones who work hard to please God. Actually, Jesus did eat with them too on occasion but it always ended with them getting hot and huffy because they never earned Jesus’ approval. Anytime we think anyone has to be like us in some way to come to Jesus, to be used by or be pleasing to Jesus, the Pharisee gene percolates in our spiritual DNA. Anytime someone has to like our music, dress like us, believe secondary doctrines like we do (Jonathan Edwards would be clueless as to what the “rapture” was.), use only our version of the Bible (or dares to use THAT OTHER Bible), agree with the infallibility of our favorite author or preacher or be part of our campus group to be right with God, we haven’t been enjoying tea and scones with Jesus.
The good son stands outside listening to the party warm up. Not only can he walk inside anytime he wants, the father tells him this was always there for him. He could have had the party whenever he wanted; all he had to do was tear himself away from the work that he thought insured his father’s love and approval. Jesus pays the Pharisees respect here. The Pharisees have become a buzzword for dead faith. But at one time, they were the heroes of the faith. Before we write off other Christians as being dead, maybe we should remember there’s more under the hood in any soul than we see. Many Christians, churches or groups that we’re tempted to write off (a chronic sin of self-righteousness for some under the age of forty) as dead have past chapters of fire, joy and glory. It’s as if Jesus says, “Look! You stood strong for God’s truth when it cost and you risked everything. All your rules have a good root; you want to keep the Law of God and help others to keep it too. You keep the feasts faithfully. You tithe even your spices and never miss a synagogue service on the sabbath. But you’ve lost track of what pleases the Father. You’ve been seduced quietly over a couple hundred years into the sins of respectability – pride, wealth, power and the approval of men. And you’ve reshaped the Father into your own image. You think He approves of you but can’t be sure so you can’t get off the performance and pretense trip. You need to stop hating these human scabs I eat with and join them. All the joys, love and satisfactions of knowing and loving God have been there for you all these many years, there whenever you wanted them. You’ve spent so much time fussing over wrappers that will be thrown away that you can’t recognize the gift. There’s still room between a tax collector and a prostitute. SO WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO?”
A lot of students I’ve spoken to over the last thirty years came to campus from church youth groups. That’s not bad but if the campus group remains a youth group surrogate, these students will move into larger adult life in a full body cast of churchiness, seduced by the sins of religious respectability (Including self righteousness against other people and groups that don’t smell like them.) The great thing about campus ministry is that it gives us the time to shed the old wrappers and props that may have given real support and brought us to where we are in Jesus Christ. Much of what brought us to”now” will not take us to “later” – types of worship services, old theological beliefs, former leaders no matter how much we loved them, old cliques of Christian friends. Now Jesus offers us a seat with new people who aren’t like us, who agitate and aggravate us, who we once wondered if they could even be Christian. And these love Him more than we do, show more of the fruit of the Spirit than the daily rot we bring to our days and have boldness that both embarrasses us and provokes our criticisms. SO WHAT ARE WE GONNA DO?
If you think this might encourage a student or someone who loves them, then subscribe, share, Twitter and all that social media stuff. If you already subscribe, then you might think about joining Geezer 1, the Facebook clubhouse for geezeronthequad.com. It’s mix of students, student ministry leaders, professors, administrators, artists, writers, musicians, composers, broadcasters, booksellers, pastors, cultural thinkers and entrepreneurs as well as a few campus rats who think that Jesus Christ thinks that the university is a special place. They’re a sharp bunch; you will only make us better. Just go to Geezer 1 and ask to join or you can go email@example.com and ask to join there. If the Facebook dog eats your homework (and he sometimes does), we will ask you to resubmit. Please return your seat to the upright position and give your infrared night vision goggles to the attendant as you exit to the rear. See you next post at geezeronthequad.com.
Jesus is one shrewd cookie. Sometimes He fools us all and hides the sticking point in plain sight. Like here. Many would call the last post the Parable of the Prodigal Son. But verse 11 plainly says, “A man had two sons.” So the story isn’t over with the barbecue. Second, Jesus doesn’t paint a Kinkaide-esque finale for the “Chicken Soup for a First Century Pharisee Soul.” A father starts out separated from a rebellious son only to wind up alienated from “the good kid” at the end with the loose ends left loose. What’s up?
First, we need to show some respect for the invisible pain of the good kid. When he heard the DJ testing the sound system and asked what was going on, he lost it. He’s just come in from sweating his tail off in Dad’s fields; he was probably the foreman who ran the whole show and had done it for weeks, months, maybe years. When I left a pastorate in another place, a man came and bestowed on me a deep honor when he said, “If I’d had a son, I would have wanted him to be like you.” (The incident with the chain saw at the Dairy Queen didn’t happen until years later. I can explain that but I digress.) The second son was the son all the Pharisee and scribes listening to Jesus would have wanted. They all would’ve been proud. He’s never been a problem. And that was the problem.
“Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him.” (Luke 15:29, 30) Yes, some of us always got good grades, excelled in sports, helped with the chores or worked a part-time job, graduated with honors and modest financial aid. We worked our way through college and finished in four years without debt. But who noticed?
Our goodness made us invisible because of the “Prodigal” (more than one?) who ate up Mom and Dad’s attention and energy to where there wasn’t much love left (or at least it felt that way). The Prodigal was always getting yelled at for laziness and getting suspended in school. Other parents kept calling about the fights with their kids. Mom and Dad kept searching his or her room but never ours. That’s how they found the cigarettes, the pornography, the condoms or pills, the weed, etc. The “Prodigal” came home in police cars, appeared in court and psychiatrist’s offices as well as ER’s and rehab centers. They spent time in various lock ups. When we couldn’t manage to keep them out of trouble, we were in trouble. “And when all this happened, where were YOU!”
A couple had four children. Their two sons made their life “colorful and interesting” for almost twenty years. For most of that time, everyone’s bedroom had special alarms in case one of the sons entered in their sleep attempting to kill them. The Mom came to me to discuss the youngest daughter’s wedding. She said, “You know us. You know Jane’s life has been crap. Can you help us make this really special?” Sometimes a whole childhood can evaporate out of the life of The Good Kid. Sometimes the parents can’t stop it and have to play catch up. Jane’s wedding was special; the glow in her eyes throughout the ceremony is bookmarked in my mental scrapbook.The good son had a point but not enough to seal his case. The stories about a lost sheep, a lost coin and here a lost son all were arrows in Jesus’ quiver. Each one found its mark and stuck deep. Next post we’ll see who got stuck.
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She nodded too quickly. Anyone jumping in too quickly when I speak to students could become part of the show. Here, at what used to be called the University of Western Ontario (now Western University), she caught my eye. Speaking out of this Scripture, I said, “Nobody should understand the Prodigal Son like college students. You know… the old man’s driving you crazy; you just have to get out of the house.” They laughed. She nodded – vigorously. Pointing at her, I asked, “Where are you from?” Wolfville, Nova Scotia, came the reply. “So,” I went on, “you could be sleeping in your own bed tonight and commuting to Acadia University. Or you could commute the 55 miles to Dalhousie University in Halifax if you were hardcore about drinking Mom and Dad’s orange juice. But here you are in London, Ontario, halfway across Canada(1258 miles, 2025 kilometers, eh?) from free room and board. Worth it?” Her affirmative head pumping would severely dislocate a neck vertebrae in most people.
Sin makes us dumb. Our wants become our needs. Our belly, our glands and our emotions slide into the driver’s seat. We only recognize the voice of God when our mouth is open and our brain disengaged. We infallibly know what life is about and what will make us happy. And we must have it now no matter who else gets hurt. This guy had stars and big city lights in his eyes. And if he was ever going to get out of this nowhere town, it had to be now or he might be stuck here the rest of his life. A mom shook her head telling me about her daughter, a high school friend of my children, who moved in with a boyfriend. “She said she had to go and make her own mistakes.” Nobody makes their own mistakes; there’s no creativity in human fallenness. We go and do the same dumb things as thousands (millions?) before us and imagine we’ll escape the consequences.
Hitting up the old man for an early payoff on the inheritance would be outrageous today but it knocked the top off the charts back in Jesus’ time. A son like this could be stoned to death according to the law of Moses. The old man handing it over without a fuss would earn the contempt of any Pharisee listening. We almost never value what costs us nothing. So the kid took the money and ran. Harry Ironside, an old pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, said, “Where there’s light, there’s flies.” Money draws flies too and I’m sure the son had no trouble finding help in quickly spending every dime on partying.
He came to Himself. Now he had to work hard at work he used to think beneath his dignity. Now he slopped hogs, the most unclean and nasty of animals in Jewish eyes. I’ll say this once; all manure is not created equal. Pig manure is the worst; trust me on this. Jesus reaches for our gagging reflex when He says the young man even ate their food. He came to himself. Sin always makes us pay whether we believe in it or not. Stripped of the fantasy of the party life, his lunches rubbed his face in the lies he lived.
He came to himself. Our culture drowns in the syrupy sweet goo of positive affirmation. Sometimes the occasion calls for something more bracing than merely the need to feel good about ourselves. Sometimes, in a moment of Holy Spirit induced clarity, we are led to say with broken conviction, “I…am… a…jackass”. Maybe we’ve already been there. Truth be told, maybe a few times. Some of us reading this have earned a merit badge in selfish screw ups. Sometime out in the future, it’ll be a lock.
He had to face Dad, admit his wrong, ask for forgiveness for the hurt caused and take whatever consequences would come – in broken humility with no complaint. It’s the same for everybody; the Bible calls this repentance. What we find when we come to ourselves is that we murdered God. Our sin put Jesus on the cross. When two wolves fight over which will be the new leader of the pack, the loser lies on the ground and bares his throat to the winner. He lies exposed and vulnerable to either death or mercy. We come to ourselves in a Holy Spirit moment and bare our throats to the Father Whose Son we’ve murdered on the cross. “Father, I’ve sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.” This sounds tough and it is. But it’s the ticket, not only to the rest of the story but to all the “goodies” of the Christian life – heaven, all the fruits and work of the Holy Spirit, forgiveness and cleansing, healing of body mind and spirit, the indwelling of Jesus. We covet the “goodies” and even feel entitled to them. But we turn our head, avert our eyes, at the cost of the ticket. We must face the Father about the cross.
Only those who own real guilt taste how sweet mercy can be. The rest of us just want off the hook. Mercy ambushes us. It cuts insistently across the grain of everything we know we have coming and doesn’t wait for us to frame the right formulas. The God Who has been chasing us down like a hound now comes running to meet us, knocks us flat in the middle of our confessions with hugs and kisses, calls the caterers and cues the wardrobe people. The son’s partying loser friends only added to the waste of his life. Bad friends do that. But they really know how to party in heaven. Beyond space and time, the old house rocks with depth and force, shock waves of mercy that earth can’t withstand.
Why? The Father pops the cork every time one jackass comes to Himself. Just one. In a world awash in large numbers that often leaves us too numbed to understand, God the Father rejoices over the infinite value of one. A PhD in micro numbers explained to me, “For us, the number one is Mt. Everest.” It’s huge for God too. I wrote a note to a child today that I will probably never see again. He embraced Jesus Christ as His saviour at Vacation Bible School last week. I said, “There will never be anything you can do that will shock God to where He stops loving you and turns away in disgust. You may get places where you can’t find Him. But you will never be in a place where He can’t find you. No matter what. Believe these things because they are true.”
This summer, God know right where you are. Feel alone? One is a big number to God, especially when the one is someone he loves as much as you. Revelation (Rev 1:10-20) opens with a killer vision of Jesus. Look who saw it. Exiled to a penal colony where they worked you to death, John was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day. Only one person was in church that Sunday. But Jesus showed up…did He ever! For one…like you. Or me. Discouraged at the hardness of hearts around us? The hounds of heaven are all around us, the calf is on the spit and angel tailors stitch robes more beautiful than designer clothes straight from the runway. Maybe this will be the summer where we come to ourselves and in the middle of our broken confession to God, He knocks us flat with mercy, a hug and a kiss. It will be sweet. Take it from an old sinner who still has to shake loose of a few hogs and has many bruises of grace to show for the hard hugs of the Father.
If you think this might encourage either a student or someone who loves them, then share, subscribe, Twitter and all that social media stuff. If you already subscribe, you might think about joining Geezer 1, the Facebook clubhouse for geezeronthequad.com. It’s a mix of students, student ministry leaders, professors, administrators, artists, writers, musicians, composers, broadcasters, booksellers, cultural thinkers and entrepreneurs as well as a few campus rats who think Jesus Christ thinks that universities are special places. You coming on board will only make us better. Just go to Geezer 1 and ask to join or email your request to email@example.com. If the Facebook dog eats your homework (and he sometimes does), we will ask you to resubmit.
Please return your seat to the upright position and give your infrared night vision goggles to the attendant as you exit to the rear. See you next post on geezeronthequad.com.