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God’s been talking about going deeper. I love it when what He is telling me in one place begins to be reflected in other places, when the song that He is singing to me softly begins to resound from every direction, reinforcing the absolute truth of His words and my ability to retain them.
I just finished reading Ted Dekker’s book, Outlaw, and was only mildly surprised to find God speaking to me about going deeper even in those pages. (I’ll be sharing a full review of Ted’s book here shortly.)
In Outlaw, the primary characters learned to view their bodies as mere costumes. Through this knowledge, a peace that surpasses understanding is found. One who knows who he is in Christ; who he is in the arms and eyes of his Creator; who knows from Whom his very essence is derived, and the security of believing that his Essence-giver is indestructible, this one cannot be destroyed. Even pain is mitigated by the understanding that only the costume is being affected.
But then, a new kind of anguish struck, one that even the strongest character found overwhelming. Rejection assaulted him, loneliness swelled within him and for once, he couldn’t relegate the pain to simply a costume experience. This new pain could be said to bruise his very soul. And for moments, pages even, I feared for him. I identified with him.
But then, he went deeper.
You see, it’s not that our spirits, our souls, cannot be bruised. It is not that they cannot feel pain. But the truth is, the peace is found when we look a little bit deeper and realize, that despite the pain, there never was any danger.
For those who believe in Jesus and have rested all their hope in His finished work, there really is no danger. Even if the costume cries and bleeds, even if the spirit weeps, there never is any danger. And that’s where the peace is found – peering a little bit deeper.
Below the surface, even in the strongest of hurricanes, the water is safe and still. A submarine need only dive deeper to continue blissfully unaware of the surface destruction. Far below the chaos, for the marine life, there really is no danger.
Below your agony, below your sorrow, below your physical pain, your loneliness, your fear; below, slightly deeper, there really is no danger.
I will bless the LORD who guides me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
I know the LORD is always with me.
I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.
No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice.
My body rests in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead
or allow your holy oned to rot in the grave.
You will show me the way of life,
granting me the joy of your presence
and the pleasures of living with you forever.
If I hadn’t heard Ted Dekker speak in person at the re:Write conference in Austin, TX, I probably never would have picked up this book. I like to read true stories and prefer a good dose of probability if not historicity in my fiction. To the casual reader, Outlaw, delivers neither.
The first 21 chapters follow Julian, a lonely, unattached, single mother perplexed by a mysterious song in a repetitive dream. Feeling as if she has nothing to lose, Julian and her two-year-old son, Stephen, leave their home in Atlanta in search of the dream’s source, its meaning. And here the story opens, with Julian and Stephen “tossed about like a cork on a raging dark sea off the northern tip of Queensland in 1963”.
A sudden storm capsizes the boat, taking the captain under with it. Julian is rescued alone by three indigenous warriors representative of three tribes collectively called the Tulim, living in a jungle valley by the same name. Briefly, Julian clings to the hope that she will escape or be freed and return to her homeland. But, she also wonders if life without her son is worth living. Perhaps she would rather die at the hand of uncivilized strangers.
Julian never goes home.
I won’t wreck the story by divulging details, but I will try to explain the feelings that, Outlaw, evoked in me.
Most nights, I put the book aside determined not to pick it up again. I wasn’t drawn in. I didn’t identify with Julian. The jungle setting and depictions of tribal life seemed to stretch my imagination. But somehow, perhaps a bit like Julian’s winsome melody, Outlaw, held some magnetic power over me.
Outlaw’s obvious themes are sacrifice and redemption. But what captivated me was Dekker’s description of humanity. Through key characters, Dekker reveals his perception of human bodies as costumes, our immortal spirits as our true selves and the freedom that comes from internalizing this truth. I could almost taste a new freedom; personally feel chains and inhibitions fall away as his characters progressively released their fears of pain, loss and loneliness and embraced the all-sufficiency of The Father.
A few things marred my appreciation for this book. Three characters seemed to simply disappear without proper closure and the demise of one seemed unnecessary and slightly outside of the narrative’s flow. Secondly, in the final chapters, it is a little difficult to discern between what is happening to flesh and blood characters and what might be happening to them postmortem in their eternal existence.
As for the narrative seeming a little far-fetched, the Author’s Note explains it was in fact realistic, however outside of the average reader’s experience. Dekker was raised the son of missionaries in the jungles of Irian Jaya. He lived among a tribe of cannibals called the Dani tribe. I particularly appreciated this revelation as it lent authenticity to the story instead of simple, wild imagination.
As I sit here, my littlest sister is laboring to bring Henry Jordan Martin into the big wide world. I was just there, just visiting Texas, hoping against realism that Henry would come while I was there, but alas, he was simply waiting for me to leave.
This brings me full circle, to ponder the chapter I read in C.S. Lewis’ book, The Great Divorce, last night. At the same time, it highlights a recent Facebook post by a man I have admired for most of my life.
Just a brief background:
Harold Ray Wells, is the father of two of my best friends growing up. What time wasn’t spent in our home around the school desk was often enjoyed in their living room eating breadsticks and homemade cheese sauce, in the backyard harvesting honeysuckle and stalking slugs, at church with them or on vacation with them at Grand Lake.
Mr. Wells was my parents’ Sunday school teacher. He exuded a poise that comes only from being inhabited by the Holy Spirit. He was quiet, intentional, relaxed, happy and peaceful. He was almost an enigma to me as a child, How does he do that?
My heart was crushed when I learned a few years back that he had been falsely accused of a crime. As a police officer nearing retirement and with a stellar reputation, the charges seemed rubber, ridiculous and contrived as they were, we prayed that the lies would bounce off of him and shatter on the floor at the feet of his accusers. God hasn’t seen fit to let that happen. So Mr. Wells is now in prison, awaiting response to his appeal.
Frequently, those of us who pray for him are privy to pieces of his journals and letters that he sends out to encourage us – imagine – him encouraging us. Reminds you of Paul, right?
“Waiting for the love of my life to visit and listening to ‘interludes’. I was thinking that just as I am unworthy of prison, to a much greater reality I’m unfit for paradise. How can I ever complain when both are gifts and both must be received with thanksgiving? Knowing both are divine appointments, designed that God might be glorified. One is temporary and one is eternal. When does ‘eternal’ take place? Before today, before yesterday? If eternal life with God (as Charles Stanley points out) happens the moment we trust God – then could it be that our resurrected life begins at that time and what does that mean? This life, with all it involves, has no power, ownership, or control over us. We are buried with Him in baptism, raised/resurrected with Him to walk in newness of life – a glorified life in a fallen world. The evidence of Christ in you – NOW. How do I do this? Through the crucible of life. I feel as if I am in the 4th quarter of the life testing. What am I made of? Who am I? Who is God? I am experiencing the overwhelming, surrounding knowledge of God’s blessings.”
I added the bolding, because that’s the question I want to address.
When does ‘eternal’ take place?
Consider Lewis’ reference to those on a trial run to Heaven as “ghosts”. And when he treads upon the terra firma of that land, he finds it’s foliage more solid than himself.
The grass, hard as diamonds to my unsubstantial feel, made me feel as if I were walking on wrinkled rock, and I suffered pains like those of the mermaid in Hans Andersen. A bird ran across in front of me and I envied it. It belonged to that country and was as real a the grass.
Most of the time, most people press through this atmosphere, feel the rush of it against their skin and believe that they are real, that where they are and what they do is real. And, even most Christians act as if we won’t live forever. Our habits and decisions are refined to exploit today, and fend off the ultimate end of our personal worlds.
But what if eternal has already begun? What if we will only become more real over time, through long walks with God, through intimate conversations with Jesus and solemn attentiveness to the Holy Spirit? What if we don’t need to squeeze every drop of pleasure out of this moment, because we anticipate endless moments, ever better, stretched through the expanse of eternity?
The Prodigal Son has been bugging me lately – because I’m not him. I think most Christians read this story and try to fit themselves into his shoes. They bemoan their wayward habits; then praise the good Father who welcomes them home with forgiveness. Honestly, the more I read this familiar story, I am starting to think the Prodigal had it more “right” than his good-guy big brother.
Years ago, I remember being irritated with my younger sister who seemed to get everything she wanted. Jen got the go-cart she asked for, the kitty, the overnight at a friend’s house, her favorite story at night and on and on. I remember asking her once, “How on earth do you do that? Why do Mom and Dad always say, ‘Yes,’ to you?”
“They don’t,” she insisted, “but they’d tell you, ‘Yes,’ more often too if you just asked.”
At the time, I huffed that I was too mature, I didn’t need to impose upon my parents’ generosity. I wasn’t going to beg for things. I was simply grown-up, dignified, self-sufficient and respectful. It wasn’t polite to ask for things.
Well… Now I think I had my theology wrong.
Most of the time, when we read the brothers’ parable in Luke 15, we focus on the younger boy, the rebel. He’s the one who barged into his dad’s office and demanded to have what was coming to him. At this point, we don’t know anything about big brother. He’s probably out in the field, working his weary little fingers to the bone, thinking about how disciplined he is, how he must be Daddy’s favorite, how he deserves everything he gets.
You know the rest of the youngest’s story, the philandering, the famine, the pig food, his devastation and finally his return and groveling before Daddy. But do you remember where big brother was when the youngest showed up on the porch? He was out in the field – again, probably working his weary little fingers, thinking about how disciplined he was, how proud Daddy must be of him – especially since that good-for-nothing little brother of his ran off.
And the party started without him.
I don’t think Jesus intended for us to tune out the rest of the story. A full eight more verses round out the parable. Big brother (me) finally came in from the field sweaty and tired. The sound of revelry grated on his nerves, exacerbating his fatigue. When he found out that his little brother had come home safe and sound, he staunchly (on principle I’m sure) refused to join the party.
After a few minutes, Daddy came out to encourage his oldest. He got an earful. “How dare you! I’ve been the good son! I’m the one who has never asked you for anything. I’ve done everything you’ve asked. I’ve followed all the rules – and you never did anything special for me!”
“All that I have is yours.”
What do you think of that? All along, all of Daddy’s store houses, fields and wealth were available to his oldest son. All of Daddy’s riches, servants and companionship was simply there for the ASKING.
I realize that’s how I behaved toward my parents in many respects and certainly how I (and I venture most life-long Christians) behave toward my Heavenly Father. I believe the reason we don’t see more miracles, the reason we don’t enjoy more abundant life and full joy, the reason that we do not have peace, wisdom and contentment – is because we do not ask.
Matthew 7:7, “Ask and you will receive…”.
Luke 11:9-13, “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?”
I wonder how much God has stored up for our inheritance, that we’ve never even seen, dreamed of or dared to ask for. Do you realize that since Jesus came and died and redeemed us, we are sons of God and heirs of promise (Galatians 3:29), heirs of all that Christ purchased for us – life and joy and peace.
In the story Jesus told just before the story of the Prodigal son, he spoke of a shepherd who was more excited about finding a lost lamb than he was about 99 sheep who stayed obediently within their stall. I don’t think that’s because of simple relief. I don’t think it’s because he loved that stray so much more than the others. I think it’s because suddenly, that little stray sheep realized how rich and privileged he was to belong to a shepherd. After his rebellion, he knew how good his shepherd was and how safe he was in the shepherd’s arms.
Anyone in any relationship knows how good it feels to be appreciated. God finds His greatest joy in us, His children, when we acknowledge, ask for and enjoy all that He is for us. Don’t miss out!
Blood on my hands.
I struck the heart of God.
And He gave himself for me.
His blood on my hands.
And life pulses through me.
Life blood seeping into pores.
Heart inflating, lungs gasp.
Blood, God blood.
Infinite, perfect blood on my hands.
I cry, tears of anger, loss, gain, redemption.
I claw at passersby,
Some never see me.
Desperate, pleading – His
blood on my hands.
If I can but brush their hand
As they pass me by.
I, the irrelevant, pleading, bloody beggar.
If they might notice His stain.
The stain of His blood
As they pass me by.
Let His contagious blood
Seep through their pores
And that stain on their hand