The Relief of Redemption

This morning, I had the honor of baptizing 6 adults; 2 woman from the diversion center across the street from our church, and two married couples. All with powerful stories that were shared publicly for all to hear.

And I stood next to each one, and listened to their story being read, I couldn’t help but notice the details that were quite clearly NOT left out. Details of drug abuse, addiction, and dealing. Details of alcoholism, depression, and deep pain. Details of rape, family dysfunctions, and even suicide attempts.

What, in heaven’s name would drive anyone to divulge their past in such certain, unmistakable terms? There they stood, truth told, unashamed. What was it? It was redemption.

When we are redeemed, we are set free. But not merely freedom from our past, but from the shame of our past. Freedom from caring any longer about what people think of where we came from, or what we’ve done. Freedom to, as the hymnist penned it, “the uttermost”.

I used to work in a boardwalk arcade in Cape May, New Jersey. It was one of several summer jobs I had as a teenager. One of the tasks I had was to stand behind the “redemption counter”. Kids would play the games; skee-ball, slot machines, and other things that would dispense tickets and tokens instead of money. Then, when they were done playing, they would bring their tickets and tokens to the redemption counter, turn them in to me, and I’d tell them how many points they had earned. They would then choose a prize that corresponded with that point amount.

My favorite moments were when a small child would come up to the redemption counter with their heart set on a particular prize in the glass case that separated us. Yet they’d be woefully short on points to “afford” the object of their desire. These moments were my favorite because I would take the points they had, give a quick look around to see if the manager were nearby, and give the child the thing they so wanted, yet were so far from being able to afford.

Redemption is a powerful thing. In fact, the only thing more powerful than redemption is unearned redemption. And that’s where we all stand. We are all woefully short on “points”, yet the Father takes all we have and all we are and dispenses to us grace, forgiveness, hope, and peace.

Dry lifeguard

One day this past summer, I came home to my son sitting in the kitchen next to a window. He had his chair facing the window, and he had a whistle around his neck. “Crews, what are you doing?” I asked. “I’m a lifeguard”, he said. Then I looked out the window to see my other kids playing in the kiddie pool we had in the side yard. As a lifeguard, he wasn’t entirely helpful, but he was dry.
It made me think about how close I’m willing to get to people who need help. Sometimes I’d rather play the part of Christ’s hands and feet without actually using my hands and feet. I’d much rather stay dry, because, well, that’s more comfortable. But to really make a difference for Jesus in this life as spiritual lifeguards, we’ve got to be willing to get wet.

Cat and Mouse

I was driving home the other day on Newby’s Bridge Road. I had come upon a curve in the road (one of millions). When I got about half way through the curve, I saw a cat standing directly in the middle of my lane–facing directly toward my car. Not crossing, not moving, just standing–stunned I suppose.

“What in the world is this cat doing?”, I thought within a nanosecond. And then I saw it. Scurrying across the other lane, moving quickly away from the cat…was a mouse.

And in that moment I was reminded of the Enemy’ s predictable, and yet all too productive plan: To lure us with whatever means necessary straight into the path of our oncoming demise.

It reminded me to be wise; to be careful what I’m willing to chase.

Grace hums.

So there I was, standing next to my locked car. Staring at the keys laughing at me from the driver’s seat. I had pulled into the bank parking lot, had apparently put my keys in my lap while I signed the check I was going to cash, got out, and locked the door behind me. Keys inside. You been there? You feel my pain, then.

So, I figure, “Well, I’m here to cash a check. I’m gonna cash a check.” So I went inside and after the transaction was made, I sheepishly asked the bank teller if I could use her phone. The 1/2 second look she gave back was enough to say that she wasn’t really into me using her phone. Oh, didn’t I mention? I locked my phone in the car, too. “I’ll be right back”, I figured. “Who’s gonna call me in such a short period of time?”

So, the teller dials the first number I give her–the number of my friend Adam’s desk at work. No answer. “Can you dial another number?” I ask. I give her the number of Scott’s desk. Nope, not there. I try Robin’s desk. Nada. How about Christy’s desk? Nothing. WHAT THE HECK? WHAT, DID I MISS THE RAPTURE OR SOMETHING? WHERE IS EVERYONE??? “O.K., just one more number–this is the last one, I promise.” No answer.

So, out of options, (and apparently out of friends) I walk outside to my car, totally unsure of exactly what I’m going to do there. I’ve just exhausted my phone-a-friend lifeline and I’ve got no clue what to do next. So, I figure to myself, “Self, this bank building is pretty new. Maybe if you look in the bushes over there, you might find a stray piece of wire or metal that you could use to unlock the door to your car. Good thinking, self.” So, call me crazy, but I actually went digging through the bushes looking for a piece of wire to use. Well, you know those tiny little flags they stick in the ground to mark important power lines or gas lines, or really important stuff like that? Yep, they’re not marking those gas lines too well anymore.

So, I take my tiny little metal wire flag and make a hook shape on the end and spend the next 20 minutes watching the lock on my door wiggle around and NOT unlock. Actually, I think it was more of a dance than a wiggle–a dance that cried out, “You moron! You locked your keys in the car!”

Well, 20 or so minutes of dancing with my door lock, a lady walks out of a bank. Apparently she was just down the counter from me when she heard me tell the teller that I was locked out of my car. She watched as I had made phone call after phone call to people who weren’t there. She had been watching me digging through the bushes like some psycho bushman. And she had watched me dance with my car door lock. She said, “Still haven’t gotten it unlocked?” Thankful for someone, ANYONE to notice my plight, I replied nicely, “Nope. Not yet.”

She came around the car and stood next to me watching with me as the door lock giggled with each pass of my gas pipeline marker flag. A second later she asked, “Where do you live?” I responded, “Oh about 5 minutes from here.” (Really thinking nothing of her question.) “Would you like me to give you a ride?”, she asked. In shock, I said, “You would do that?” She said, “Sure! I’ll give you a ride.” I said, “What kind of angel are you, that you would come over here and offer a total stranger a ride to a place you don’t know?” Her words were unforgettable: “Oh, I’d want someone to do that for me.” And there it was: The Golden Rule, come to life.

So, I yanked the gas pipeline marker from its failed mission and began to walk with her toward her car. And then I raised up my head and saw the car–the HUMMER glistening in the sun that she was driving. I couldn’t help myself. I had to say something: “Oh, are you kidding me? Not only do I get a ride home, but I get a ride home in a Hummer!?! This is unreal!”

Isn’t that just like Jesus? He’s watching me right now. He’s watching my thoughts, and my words, and my actions. He’s watching me fumble through my day, trying not to lose track of my keys, myself or where He is in my life. And after watching for a while, He quietly walks up next to me and says, “Need some help?”

You see, grace is getting what you don’t deserve. I suppose that on some level, I deserve to be still standing there next to my locked 92 Crown Victoria with over 250,000 miles on it. Instead, grace showed up that day in that parking lot and gave me what I didn’t deserve. A ride home in a Hummer. That lady’s name is Lorna. And I’ll never forget that day.

On the road again.

In my line of work, there are seasons of necessary travel. In just a few hours I’m leaving for our annual fall discipleship student retreat. It’s only 2 hours away, but when it comes to being away from my wife and kids, 2 hours might as well be 2 days. And I know they feel it too. I hate being away from them. Independent I’m not. I’m absolutely in need of my wife; desperate need.

Last week, though not “work” related, I traveled to Austin, Texas for a wedding in which I was the “Best Man”. While going through security, I’m noticing something quite alarming. It makes me wonder: How long until we’re all standing naked in the airport security line? Honestly, you’ve got to disrobe yourself of jackets, sweaters, belts, and shoes. Head to toe, you’ve got to take a lot off. It’s just crazy. And do I feel safer? Nope, just less clothed.