October 11, 2014 § 10 Comments
Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge
A friend died this week. The truth is that I can barely write these words without weeping. It isn’t merely that a friend passed away, but someone who was so convinced that God is a generous God, that he became one of the most generous people I’ve ever known.
While alive Lewis never wanted people to know the extent of his generosity. To look at him, he would be the last person you would assume this of. His daily garb was a white or light blue guayabara, slacks and a shirt pocket full of pens, notepad and a cell phone. He evoked a semblance more like that of John Madden than some polished mogul.
Yet Lewis was a pioneer in the cruise line industry, the owner and developer of one of the most successful food service companies in the business.
Somewhere in his journey, Lewis met Jesus and through the guidance of his pastor (and my mentor), he learned that the Kingdom of God is worthy of our lives, our hearts – and our resources. So he became someone who gave generously – to the Church – to Missions organizations – to Missionaries – to Christian schools – to Community Projects – to out-of-work strangers – to struggling single-parent families – to drug rehabs – to ministers – to widows – all the while believing that he could never out give God.
All of this, Lewis did, joyfully and secretly behind the scenes. Even when he and his wife lost their college-aged son to a rare heart condition, his faith was unwavering in the midst of his unspeakable grief.
As his pastor, each year I would be the recipient of an envelope stuffed with thousands of dollars that he wanted for me to anonymously distribute to people in need – no tax write-offs – no publicity – no recognition – just gifts. I’ll never forget knocking on the door of a single mom who was barely making it, to say, ‘Merry Christmas from someone who cares, and who loves the Lord,’ and the look of joyful amazement on her face. That indeed made my Christmas very merry.
This doesn’t even scratch the surface.
That was Lewis. He didn’t do it to be noticed or even thanked. In fact this may be the first public mention of his generosity. He quietly served on boards, embraced ministries, visited widows, ate with outcasts and befriended the lonely – just as Jesus did.
And I guess what I’m getting at is this: In his liberality Lewis discovered his life. He wasn’t generous to impress or to prove anything, and he would be the first to admit to being unfinished and broken. No, Lewis gave because he was free. He truly found himself in giving himself away.
I am going to miss Lewis – our annual phone conversations and predictions about the Hurricanes’ football program, and our deep talks about life and loss and faith and heaven. Because fortunately, in the mix of ministry and life, I was blessed to discover Lewis’ greatest value to be that of friend.
And now he is home, reunited with his son, and his generous Savior, Lord and Friend, Jesus.
What good, sweet news…
January 18, 2014 § Leave a comment
Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge
Working through our Mom’s home was a huge undertaking. We had a five-day window to sift through more than 3,000 square feet and nearly-50 years of accumulation to decide what was junk, what we would sell and what each of us wanted to take home, before closing down the house we grew up in. Amazingly, between reminiscences, one more football game on our side yard, and picture-taking, we got it done, and by the time we left Miami, the house was empty, clean and on the market.
Somewhere in the mad dash we came upon a huge stockpile of tapes and CD’s, nearly all of which were sermons I had preached through the years. Before the dawn of podcasts and church web sites, Mom had my messages mailed to her weekly.
It took roughly one second to decide to toss the stash.
I can’t tell you that Mom listened to each of them, though I wouldn’t be surprised if she had. And admittedly, had I meticulously sifted through the titles, I probably would have categorized them according to how well or poorly I felt about each delivery.
But it wouldn’t be because of the quality of my messages that Mom continued to listen, rather that she loved and was proud of her son, just as she was of each of her other four children.
If there were any particular snare I fall prey to every single day, it is that every fiber of my being wants to believe that I am measured, and that my value is determined by what I do, rather than by who I am in Christ.
There is always a deep-seated desire to work myself out of my own mess, and perhaps more sinister, an even deeper unwillingness to accept that God is a Father who loves and accepts me with full knowledge of how insecure, flawed and disposed to sin that I will always be until I make it Home. Put another way, there is something within me that resists accepting that my righteousness is in Jesus rather than anything I have done or can do.
But has it ever occurred to you that love’s truest measure can only come, not when we are lovely, but when we are utterly unlovable?
This means that everything we need for the Father to lavish love on us as His children, Jesus secured on the Cross. The math is simple: ‘We love because he first loved us.’ (1 John 4:19). It’s all there…
What better news could there be?
September 15, 2012 § 1 Comment
Last week was one of reflection and remembrance of that horrible day, September 11, 2001 – so many memories. This past Thanksgiving Day our family, along with friends, took the train to NYC for the Macy’s Parade, and part of our day involved going to the 9/11 Memorial. It would be impossible to put into words what I felt because the memory of that visit just after the attacks remains so fresh and real.
The picture in this post is from the yet-to-be-completed museum that is situated on a corner of the Memorial property. If you could actually stand in that spot you would see twisted metal from the original structure on the other side of the glass. It remains as it was from the moment of the collapse on that horrific day.
Because we are unfinished, in some way, each of us is like a monument of twisted steel. We bear the reminders of our painful experiences. Some of that pain is self-inflicted, but some, the result of what has been inflicted upon us.
While going through pictures from the Monument, I realized that this picture was not only of the twisted steel from the attack it memorializes, but also my own reflection as well. Yes, that’s me in the picture. I’ll get back to the picture in a moment.
At the end of the day, when it comes to being free from the chains of the memories of past hurts, the gospel clearly teaches that the only path to such freedom is that we forgive. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true.
The best way to understand this is to consider when you have ever been hurt. I mean really hurt. Damaged. Wounded. Stolen from. Humiliated. Disgraced. Devastated. Crushed. Cheated.
You know what I mean when I say that such things bring unspeakable pain.
What did you want when this happened?
Revenge? Probably. If you’re human. I get that. We want someone to suffer as we did. But in his profound book, Free of Charge, Miroslav Volf says that when we say we want justice, we really want revenge, and we always want to cause more pain than we experienced. That is our nature. We say we want justice, but we would never settle for that.
No, the answer is to forgive, and the way to forgive is to do more than make a pronouncement – such pronouncements usually come from a misguided sense of Christian duty, but lead to even more bitterness and mounting resentment.
No, Volf says that to forgive is actually to condemn, and then to leave it to God for vindication.
But this is no cakewalk, and in fact it is impossible to forgive, unless, as in that picture, we see ourselves in the wreckage caused by others. Because the truth is that behind every evil act is an evil intention, and I am full of evil intentions, even if I don’t commit those particular acts. Only God’s grace restrains my wicked imagination.
And my only hope for more than surviving, but also for being truly free, from the evil that has been committed against me, and from the tyrannical prison of daily bitterness, is to see myself in it, and to believe that while I never have to excuse sin or bear the blame for someone else’s sins against me, I also don’t have to live in the daily misery of reliving what may never be reconciled on this side of heaven. Frankly, that’s their problem!
Essentially this is Jesus’ point in His story of the Unforgiving Servant: Forgiveness always begins by seeing that we too have been forgiven much (Matthew 18).
Because we have. Jesus affirmed this when He prayed, ‘Father forgive them…’
And this is our good news…