Words That Change the World

Several years ago, I did an internship at a church where I had a friend named Matt.  Matt had a crush on a young lady named Amy, who also attended the church, but the poor guy couldn’t figure out if she felt the same way about him or just liked him as a friend.   Every day he would fill me in the latest developments, and every night I would come home from work and update my wife on the unfolding saga. 

One day Amy decided she actually did want to go out with him, and I couldn’t wait to see my wife to tell her that they were officially an item.   Everybody loves juicy gossip, right?  So, when we met for dinner that night, I just blurted it out.  

Now, here’s where things went bad.  What I meant to say was, “Guess what?   I have big news.  Matt has a girlfriend.”  However, what I actually said was, “Guess what?  I have a girlfriend!”

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Almost Famous

Over the summer my favorite author came to speak at our church.  I happened to be scheduled to do an announcement that weekend in the service, which I knew meant we would be sharing the same backstage space. 

I could see the danger signs coming from miles away.  This author is a literary hero of mine. I’m a writer.  I bleed books.  I have a tendency to talk too much.  How could this end well?

I was dying to meet him but felt certain I’d blow it one way or another and make a total idiot of myself.  So I told my wife my brilliant strategy – avoid him like the plague.  Better to blow him off than to  humiliate myself with a celebrity encounter gone bad. 

Everything started off fine.  I went to a pre-service production meeting and didn’t see him.  But at the end, when everyone got up to leave, there he was.  I hadn’t seen him because he’d been sitting only two seats away.  I couldn’t believe it.  I was only two seats away from a guy who’d written some of the greatest books I’ve ever read.  

Okay, I thought, what’s the harm?  I should at least say hi.  Fortunately, the weekend producer moved in on him first, monopolizing the conversation.  Just as well, I figured.  Better to stick to the original plan.  That way no one gets hurt or embarrassed. 

If only the story ended there. 

About a half an hour later I realized I’d forgotten to pick up my microphone for the weekend, and on my way back stage I stopped off in a restroom in the back hall.   Just as I finished washing my hands, Mr. Author stepped up to the sink.  So much for avoiding him like the plague.

We were the only two guys in the bathroom.  The only two guys.  I don’t know how things go in the ladies’ room, but men don’t talk to each other in the bathroom.  Not to our friends.  Not to strangers. And especially not to our favorite authors. 

Everything inside me told me to keep my mouth shut and run like the wind.  But then some deluded part of my brain said, “Just introduce yourself.  What’s the worst that could happen?”

The worst that could happen is that once I started talking, I couldn’t actually stop.  Not only did I introduce myself, not only did I tell him how much I loved his writing, not only did I list my favorite books of his by name, but then I began to tell him how I’m actually a writer too and that his writing both encouraged me spiritually and influenced me in the craft of writing itself.  

Believe me, that’s the Cliff Notes version.  I don’t even know if the poor guy had a chance to wash his hands.

To his credit, the author was incredibly cool and gracious and did a great job pretending that he wasn’t totally freaked out by the creepy, stalker fan who had cornered him in the restroom for three and half hours.  Okay, so it was actually just a couple of minutes, but trust me, it felt much longer.

This is why I have a rule against meeting famous people.  What good can possibly come of it?  The way I figure it, our celebrity/anonymous fan relationship works just fine the way it is.  Why mess with a good thing?  They produce stuff I like.  I buy it.  They make money.  Everyone walks away a winner. 

But once I meet them, the whole relationship changes.  Suddenly I’m under all this pressure to create a positive celebrity/fan moment that is ripe with the opportunity for bitter disappointment.  When I’m an anonymous fan, I can pretend that if my favorite celebrities met me, they’d actually like me.  They’d think I was cool and want to hang out.   Once we meet, though, I turn into a stammering moron, making them wonder if I’m off my medication.

Yet by the end of the weekend, my story had a happy ending, and I actually had an awesome conversation with this author about the message he’s given in the service.   Yeah, the bathroom fiasco was painful, but I wouldn’t trade that later conversation for anything.  

It makes me think of stories in the Bible about people encountering God.  It’s one thing to meet a famous person, but to meet the most famous being of all time?  The Creator of the universe and all that is?  People came totally unglued, and rightly so. 

Yet, God has this weird thing about making Himself approachable.  He loves it.  Time and time again in the Bible you see God doing things to make it possible for people to actually have a conversation with Him without completely losing it. 

He even set all of that planet-shaping power aside and took on flesh so that He could come and hang out with His people.  In Jesus, people could talk to God face-to-face.  Touch Him even.  Be held by Him.  All without fear or intimidation.

So many times, I think people talk so much about God that they’re too freaked out to actually talk to God.  Why would God ever want to talk to me?  What if I don’t say the right thing or use the right words?  He seriously knows everything I’ve ever done?  Oh, this is going to be awkward. 

But it’s not.  At least not on His end.  See God’s not into having fans.  He’s more into having friends, children even, children who are always welcome to sit down and just enjoy His company.  How could I ever settle for being a fan, when I have a Father who offers me so much more?

Faith Like a Ninja

When I was eleven years old I wanted to be a ninja.  I had thoroughly weighed my career options at this point – doctor, lawyer, teacher, ninja – and found that the ancient art of ninjutsu was the best fit for my particular skills.  Sure, you can make a lot of money as a doctor, but can you take out a room full of battle-hardened soldiers and disappear in a puff of smoke?  Doubtful. 

Ninja was totally the way to go.  Yeah, I was overweight, clumsy and didn’t know any karate, but I had some black sweats and a ski mask that I was pretty sure would make up for it.  Now all I needed were weapons. 

I talked my parents into taking me to a martial arts store and buying me a set of wooden nunchucks and a couple of throwing stars.  The thing they don’t tell you when they sell you nunchucks is that it’s really easy to crack yourself in the head with them and really hard to hit anyone else.  I’m sure if I had a CAT scan today, it would reveal multiple skull fractures dating from 1983. 

But these are the lessons you learn along the way to becoming a world class ninja. 

When I first began to follow God back in college, it was a little like my ninja days.  I was so excited that I went out and bought all the gear: a new Bible, lots of books and t-shirts with cheesy, Christian slogans.  I never got the fish bumper sticker, though, because I didn’t want to make God look bad when I ticked people off in traffic.  But other than that, I was set. 

I had all the God stuff I needed to be a world class believer!

Over time, though, I got cracked in the skull with my own spiritual immaturity.  Sure, I had a clever t-shirt that told you all about Jesus, but in a lot of ways, I was still a jerk.  I cared more about fitting in than doing the right thing and excluded people who needed connection so I could spend more time with my friends.  In short, my God-gear said one thing, but my character said another. 

You want to know the coolest thing about ninjas?  They’re stealth warriors.  They don’t wear ninja t-shirts or drive around with ninja bumper stickers.  In fact, you wouldn’t even know they were a ninja until it was too late.  

The most spiritually mature people I’ve ever met are like that.  They just live out their faith in simple, quiet obedience, demonstrating God’s love through acts of kindness and sacrificial generosity.  Their God gear isn’t a t-shirt.  It’s a bucket and a mop.  They’re servants at heart and it shows in everything they do. 

I have nothing against people buying merchandise that helps encourage them in their faith, but as for me, I’m done with it.  I’m ready to go stealth.  I want to grow in a faith that surprises people because, like my ninja counterparts, you never see it coming.