Grand Theft Auto

Some of you know this story well. You lived it too. But others may be surprised to know that when I was fifteen years old I stole a car. Actually I think the legal term for it is joyriding. I had no intention of keeping the car, and such intention is a necessary component for theft. But the proper definition has long been ignored in my family. For decades the story of Kristie stealing a car has been retold.
Melissa is one of my oldest and dearest friends, and one Saturday night in 1987, we were hanging out at her house. Her parents were out for the night, and we were talking about a boy we had decided we no longer liked. I cannot explain the lack of logic. I cannot explain the utter stupidity of it. But I had the bright idea of grabbing a couple of eggs and driving over to his house. Melissa needed convincing. I told her that it’d be fun. I may not have had a license but I was a good driver. Finally, we grabbed a couple of eggs and got in the car.
Everything was going swimmingly as we exited her neighborhood. But then we came to a four-way stop, and wonder of wonders, a police car pulled up across from us. His presence caused me to stammer, to utterly panic. We had been intending to turn left, but now I thought maybe we should turn right. I flipped the turn signal up and down and then up again, and well, it was pretty suspicious-looking. And then when I did finally turn right I doubt it was my turn. So we made it about a quarter of a mile from her house before we were pulled over. And I won’t go into the harrowing details of sitting in that caged police car, maybe another time, but it was not fun. Melissa was practically hyperventilating. And I could write a whole other post about being dropped off by the police at my sister’s house. My parents were out of town that weekend, and yet another blog could be written about finally telling my mom, and how I had to have my brother Craig by my side for the bravery to do it.
So the car was hauled away and my dad wrote her dad a check for the impounding. It was humiliating. I never wanted to see her family again. I was too ashamed. But after about two weeks, which seemed an eternity, her dad called me on the phone. It was a Sunday afternoon in early December.
“Kristie, Honey,” he said, “We want you to go to the mall with us. We miss you.”
“Okay,” I answered, voice quivering.
A half hour later, their family of five picked me up. I piled in, feeling something like a sewer rat.
There must have been some exchange involving, “I’m sorry,” but I don’t remember that. What I do remember is laughing until my face hurt. At every intersection all the way to the mall, her dad did a Kristie, flipping the turn signal up and down and then up, acting like a panicked goof.
What a picture of forgiveness!
Jesus said, she who has been forgiven much loves much. (Luke 7:47). And I love that family. Oh, how I love them. They were always, always so good to me. I vacationed with them, and I even lived with them while our new house was being built. But nothing made more of an impression on me than their willingness to forgive me.
There are many lessons imbedded in this story. But I’m only going to highlight two. The first is that we should have that same kind of heartsick love for God. The more we become aware of our own sinfulness and shortcomings the more we should feel overcome with love and gratitude. He has forgiven it all, the big hairy sins and the little things too, all through the sacrifice of His Son.
The second lesson is that if we want people to love us, and every person has a desperate need for love, maybe we should think hard about being more forgiving.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, let us forgive this week as we have been forgiven!

Fender Bender Grace

About a week ago, right after we dropped off our carpool buddy, the boys and I were involved in a bit of fender bender. It was a strange sort of accident because we were sitting at a stop sign, one car back from the road, waiting to turn right. I was talking to the boys asking about school, when the car in front of us smashed into us. I guess the woman might have thought her car was sticking out into traffic. I don’t know for sure what her rationale was, I just know she put it in reverse and floored it the four feet she had of space.

After taking a brief look at the boys, I popped out of the car, and so did the attractive, middle-aged Asian woman who bashed us.
“Oh my gosh,” she said, arms flailing. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. Sun so bright. I’m so sorry.”
The sun excuse was just plain silly, but we were unharmed and the spectacular J-Team van also looked perfect. Well, “perfect” is a bit of a stretch with 108K miles and nearly seven years of boys, but it definitely didn’t look any different than it had five minutes before.
“It’s okay,” I said. “Please do not worry about it.”
But then she saw the boys in the van, and went from upset to nearly hysterical.
“Oh and you have children, I am so sorry. So so sorry.”
At this point I didn’t know what to do so I hugged her. “Please do not worry,” I said, patting her back. “They are fine. Really.”
Finally, she got back in her spiffy car, and I climbed back into the van and was greeted with bewilderment from Nate. “Mom, why did you hug her?” The hugging did not compute in his supremely logical little mind. What ensued was a very sweet conversation about grace and mercy.
But it made me think about another fender bender from years ago. I think I was seventeen, but I may have been sixteen. I was driving a cute little Mazda RX7, which I have no idea how I scored. My brother, Craig, was the advocate in me getting it. But it was in my possession for only a few hours before some lady took a left turn way too tight and smashed me while I was literally stopped at a light. And although many of the details are blurry after all these years, I think this woman probably apologized too. I do remember that she wet herself over the accident. Yes, that pitiful detail is still vivid. I am ashamed, horribly ashamed, that I didn’t feel one bit sorry for her. I was furious that my cute little car was smashed up, aghast that someone could be that careless, and ticked that I was being terribly inconvenienced. Whatever an anti-hug looks like, that’s what I gave her.
Yes, I was a mere child, and yes, there was actual damage, but maturity and severity have little to do with the difference in my reaction. You see I am a completely different person now, and I have a completely different heart. I may have claimed Jesus as my Savior as a little girl, but I did almost nothing to pursue him as my Lord. And my heart of stone wasn’t softened by a mere confession of faith. It remained cold and hard until the Holy Spirit, through the relationship of knowing Him and loving Him, started to melt my pride and purify my emotions. Of course, I am only a work in progress, clinging with white knuckles to the promise that He who began a good work will carry it on to completion. (Philippians 1:6). But I am encouraged that I do see some progress, at least in the realm of minor traffic accidents. And shouldn’t we all see progress in many areas of our lives? This week may we ask ourselves this most important question: In what ways, in what areas, am I becoming more and more like my Savior?

What We Need Most

Outside of the purely physical — food, shelter, and water — what is your most basic need? Is it love? Is it a sense of belonging? Is it transcendent meaning? Is it companionship? One of our most basic needs, and one we don’t often think about, is the need to be forgiven. We have all said and done things that have hurt other people. Oftentimes the victims of our careless words or selfish actions are among the very dearest in our lives. Without forgiveness, relationships are simply not sustainable. After all, there is always some measure of transgression.
It’s not surprising then, given our need for it, that forgiveness is a major theme throughout the Bible. There are many excellent examples woven through scripture, from Joseph forgiving his brothers, to the very profound words of the Lord’s Prayer, to Jesus forgiving the thief on the cross. But one of my favorite passages on forgiveness is the parable of the unmerciful servant, found in Matthew 18. It needs to be read in its entirety, but in essence, after being forgiven a debt on the order of $5 Billion (yes, that’s Billion with a B), the unmerciful servant immediately goes out and starts choking a man who owes him $7500. (These figures are the U.S. currency estimates of Lon Solomon at Mclean Bible Church)
And we’ve all seen these two scenarios played out in life, haven’t we? We’ve witnessed beautiful acts of forgiveness, and we have tremendous respect for anyone who has mercy on someone who has wronged them and caused them great pain. Unfortunately, we are more familiar with the refusal to forgive, and we know all too well the ugly mark of bitterness and the disfigurement, inwardly and outwardly, wrought by acidic grudges. Of course the telling signs are easy to see in others, but how often do we examine the depths of our own hearts to root out these destructive feelings and attitudes?

And how does a person forgive deep hurts anyway? You cannot just decide as a matter of the will to forgive, can you? As a follower of Jesus Christ, I believe forgiveness is a supernatural work of God Almighty. The more earth-shattering the hurt, the more we need God’s help to forgive. But we can learn a lot from the parable as well. The first part, where the servant is forgiven a staggering, downright mind-boggling debt, represents how much God has forgiven us. Certainly the sum that is cancelled is there to illustrate a point. How could this servant repay a debt of $5 Billion? Well, clearly the answer is that he couldn’t, just as nothing we could do in this life could possibly make up for how we’ve wronged our loving Creator.
But the part of the story that is so compelling and instructive, in terms of us trying to be merciful to others, is easily missed. When the king in the parable heard the servant’s plea for mercy, his heart went out to him. In other words, he had compassion on him; he took pity on him. How often when you are wronged does your heart go out to the wrongdoer? It’s profound, isn’t it? You have to really humanize that person. You have to put yourself in their shoes; you have to consider that as a person with a fallen little mind and a dark heart, that you could even do what they did. C.S. Lewis said, “As regards my own sin it is a safe bet (though not a certainty) that the excuses are not really so good as I think: as regards other men’s sins against me it is a safe bet (though not a certainty) that the excuses are better than I think.” The Weight of Glory
So what does it mean then when we won’t humanize the wrongdoer, when we won’t have compassion? What about when we go out and start figuratively choking the wrongdoers in our lives just like the unmerciful servant? Is it just a character flaw? Is it just something we need to work on? I don’t think so. A person who truly embraces the grace extended to them extends grace to others. The capacity to forgive is actually a mark, a necessary mark, of true Christian belief. If we aren’t able to forgive, we’ve missed what Jesus did on the cross. As Lewis said, “We must forgive all our enemies or be damned.” Maybe that sounds a little harsh; maybe it sounds a little oversimplified. The truth often does.
So my prayer this week, leading up to Palm Sunday, is that I will take seriously my call to forgive. May God forgive me, as I forgive others, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Here is the link to a great sermon on forgiveness from Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.

This Ironic Paradoxical Life

Life is full of irony and paradoxes. My dictionary defines paradox as something that “seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth,” and suggests that an “essential feature of irony is the indirect presentation of a contradiction between an action or expression and the context in which is occurs.”

Whatever, right? Processing that is like brainy boot camp. I’m almost too intellectually fat and lazy to work through it. Yet I find it ironically paradoxical that Sam, in the wisdom of his eighteen months of doing life, fights so hard against sleep. The child is never ready for bed. I’ve spent hours upon hours rocking him, giving much thought to why. Why does he fight it? And I think I’ve come up with the answer. It’s about control. We’re born with an “I’m calling the shots” attitude. We have an innate confidence that we know what we need. The paradox is that it is only in surrender that Sam gets the one thing he really does need: sleep.
This little nursery phenomenon represents the human story. We go through life thinking we know what we need and how to get it. Our perceived needs evolve over time so there is an ever-present striving. Many think life is about sex, status, and stuff, but the satisfaction these bring is fleeting. The hedonist knows that he will always need more pleasure, the billionaire CEO isn’t satisfied by status (see Oracle’s Larry Ellison), and things always fail to fulfill (See previous post, You, Happier.). Our real needs are to know where we came from, what our purpose is, how we are supposed to live, and what happens when we die. Written in our DNA is a need to explain the evil that is in this world, a desire for justice, a hunger for love, and a yearning for forgiveness. You can search the world over for answers to these questions. Different worldviews and religions offer different answers, and some can be very appealing. But Jesus Christ is unique in all of history because no other worldview or religion addresses all of these needs. (Ravi Zacharias often speaks to this. Learn more at www.rzim.org).
But just think about it. Jesus explains our origin, gives us transcendent meaning, provides a morality with which to live, and offers us eternal life. The Bible describes how evil entered our world and our hearts, it gives us guidance for how to mete out justice on earth and provides the hope of ultimate justice. The Bible also explains and satisfies our hunger of love. Finally, redemptive forgiveness is found in the person of Jesus Christ. His sacrifice not only pays for our sins, it obligates us to forgive one another as we have been forgiven.
So Jesus isn’t a set of rules. He’s an answer to the longings of our hearts. In fact, Jesus is THE ANSWER. And how do we take hold of Him and his gracious offer to satisfy our deepest needs? Just like Sam, only in surrender.
After thinking about this I’ve come up with my own definition of paradox. It is something that is true, but in our subjective analysis seems contradictory. It doesn’t seem like surrender could possibly be the answer, but it is. It doesn’t seem like God could be both three and one, but He is.
The fact that our “fallen little minds” (a favorite Joe Stowell line) can even recognize any paradox illustrates that there is something beyond our subjective comprehension. We operate in the dimensions of this world, but many things, including paradoxes, point to a dimension we don’t yet understand.
Someday Sam will recognize his need for sleep. He won’t fight anymore. And someday I’ll understand how it is that God is three and one. Until then I’ve got faith that I know what’s best for my son, and more importantly, I’ve got faith to believe that Jesus is God’s Son.

Kiss of Grace

The prodigal son is one of my favorite Bible stories. It is so rich that it seems there’s a fresh insight every time I read it or hear it taught. If you haven’t read it recently, and by recently I mean sometime today, take a minute and savor it. (Luke 15:11-32).

Could there be a better picture of grace? There’s just something ingrained in us that gravitates toward hearts that forgive, toward souls that love regardless of performance. Does it melt your heart that the father sees him while he is still a long way off? And when he spots his son he takes off running to meet him. Running. Have you ever seen a middle-aged man running to greet a son? I never have. I’ve witnessed reunions of families I do not know in airports. My eyes have stung to see a father cling to his son, so proud, so filled with joy to fold him into his arms again. But none of us has ever witnessed a reunion like Jesus describes.

First of all, I don’t know anyone who demanded their inheritance early, received it without reservation, and then squandered it in Vegas. And in our humanness it is very difficult to imagine that when the What-Happens-in-Vegas-Stays-in-Vegas dude crawls home to Daddy he receives a warm reception, a downright bash thrown in his honor. No questions asked. No condemnation. No disapproving looks. No lectures. We cannot fathom it because it is not a human story.

It is a supernatural story about divine grace. We are the lost children. God is the loving father, watching for us, waiting patiently, spotting us while we are yet a long way off. He runs to us, and even when we’ve made a total mess of our lives, His heart is filled with compassion. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done, what we’ve squandered away, He throws his arms around us and He kisses us.

Even though the parable is primarily about our relationship with our Heavenly Father, there is much we can apply to our earthly relationships. It was pointed out to me the other day that the father in the parable kisses the son before the son even has a chance to give his spiel about sinning against heaven and his dad. Isn’t that indicting? What if the next time someone wrongs you, you kiss them and throw your arms around them even before they have a chance to explain themselves. In fact, how about just once forgiving someone without a single condition, without a single demand. Now, that’s grace. Isn’t it fun to think about how that person would react?

By power of the Spirit, I am determined to try it. I’ll let you know how it goes.

And even though I never can get any of you to comment, I sure would love to hear about your own kiss of grace.