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“Répondez, s’il vous plaît .”

“Reply, if you please.”

“Please respond.”

Weddings.  Birthday celebrations.  Graduations.  Special dinners.  Ceremonies marking promotions, retirement, or other significant milestones in life.  Award presentations.  All of these are events to which you might receive a special, personal invitation.  In this age of email, text, and Twitter, there is something extraordinarily nice about receiving a printed, formal invitation to an event. 

“You are cordially invited to …”  “The honor of your presence is requested at …”  It is not a summons for jury duty or a subpoena to appear in court.  You are not being compelled to attend.  The invitation communicates your value as a person to the one who is inviting you, and the event is described in such a way that enhances your desire to be present. 

Jesus invites.  Jesus asks.  Jesus offers. 

As the eternal Son of God, a sharer in the Divine Nature, and the Creator of the cosmos who has all authority in heaven and on earth, Jesus has every right to compel His creation to submit to His will.  He could have entered the world as an authoritarian overlord who barked orders, screamed commands at His subjects, and demanded conformity to His iron-fisted rule. 

Instead, He came with an offer of eternal life, an invitation to salvation.  He didn’t “round up” disciples like a rancher herding animals, forcibly driving them to a destination.  As the gentle Shepherd, He said, “Follow me,” and left it up to individual hearts and minds to listen to His voice and follow in His steps. 

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). 

Jesus invites us because He loves us and because He wants what is eternally best for us.  He doesn’t want us to have to suffer the consequences for our sins.  He desires our presence with Him for eternity.  He wants us to enjoy abundant life, even while we are here on this earth.  He longs to grant us forgiveness, peace, comfort, hope, and fellowship.  But He loves us enough to let us choose acceptance or rejection of His gift and grace. 

Have you RSVPed?

Stuff Christians Like, written by Jonathan Acuff, is a satirical look at many of the things Christians frequently say and do.  Let me rephrase that: it is extremely satirical.  As effective satire, it has you thinking at one moment, “How could he be so irreverent, insensitive, and off-base; I would have never written that.”  The next minute you are laughing and saying, “Man, he got that one right!”  In the introduction to the book, Acuff writes, “Do you love Jesus?  Me too.  This book is for you.  Do you think we Christians are weird?  Me too.  This book is for you.” 

Near the end of the book, Acuff shares a few entries that are less silly and more sobering than most of his material.  In one of them he compares some of our efforts at evangelism with sending a friend suggestion on Facebook. 

I will accept anyone’s friend request on Facebook…but I never accept friend suggestions.  If you’ve never used Facebook, a friend suggestion is a feature where you can send a note to someone and essentially say, “I think you should be friends with this person.”  You get the other person’s name and a little photo of them.  If you choose to accept it, then you send that suggested person a friend request…

The truth is that sometimes I drop Jesus into someone’s lap like I’m sending a random friend suggestion on Facebook.  I don’t really tell them much about him.  I don’t really invest in the life of the person I’m talking to.  I don’t even listen to their story.  I just rush to the end of my agenda and essentially say, “Yeah, yeah, regardless of what’s going on with you and your whole situation, I’d like to send you this friend suggestion to connect with Jesus.  Here you go, vaya con Dios, stranger.”  It’s kind of like a Jesus drive-by, me just spraying folks with the name of Christ and hoping it sticks.  I don’t think that’s a particularly good thing.  I can’t imagine that’s what God had in mind when he gave us the Great Commission.  So what can we do to change that?  How do we not just “friend suggest” Jesus?”

Acuff’s answer is to really invest ourselves in people’s lives, sincerely listen to their stories and their struggles, and then ask them, “Who is carrying all that with you?”  Very often, their answer is “no one.”  At that point we have an opportunity to meaningfully introduce them to a true Friend who can help them carry “all that.”  

Acuff concludes:

But it’s not one of those questions you can ask and then disappear as soon as you’ve friend suggested Jesus.  You have to be willing to carry “all that” with the person you’re talking with.  You can’t fade into the weeds of life like dissolving into the sea of profiles on Facebook.  That’s why witnessing is hard.  That’s why it’s easier to friend suggest Jesus to strangers than it is to introduce your friend Jesus to someone.  It’s not right, but I think that’s why it happens.  And I’m tired of it happening with me.”            

I was in the Heart of Dixie on Saturday visiting my Dad when No. 19 South Carolina defeated No. 1 Alabama by a score of 35-21.  I think every television in the rehabilitation center was tuned in to the game.  You could hear the broadcast reverberating up and down the halls, creating a strange sort of “surround sound” effect.  Residents and staff were cheering wildly or yelling, “Oh, no!”  It was pretty much the same later in the day during the Auburn-Kentucky game.

The Gamecocks handed the Crimson Tide their first loss since 2007, snapping a streak of 29 regular-season wins and 18 straight Southeastern Conference victories.  Staying No. 1 is tough.  You know intellectually that a loss will eventually come, but it is still a tough blow emotionally when it arrives.  The defeat was probably made a little more bitter to Bama fans by the fact that it came at the hands of a Steve Spurrier team.  Spurrier is a coach that opposing fans in the SEC seem to love to hate, probably because he wins so much.  Or maybe it’s the visor!

During the week prior to Saturday’s game, coach Spurrier had challenged his team by saying,  “If fate is going to smile on South Carolina, then we have to give it a chance.  Who knows?  If you give fate a chance, something big may happen.”  

Spurrier’s phrase “give fate a chance” appeared numerous times in the post-game reporting.  It was hailed as a brilliant motivational and inspirational message to his team.  I kept waiting for a reporter to write, “What?  Give fate a chance?  Isn’t that an oxymoron?  That makes absolutely no sense.”  You can go with fate or put your hope in chance, but you can’t have it both ways.  Fate relates to what is considered to be predetermined and inevitable; it will happen, regardless of any other circumstances.  Chance has to do with probabilities, randomness, and “luck.” 

Seriously, when I first read Steve Spurrier’s statement I thought:  Give fate a chance?  This is going to be an instant classic.  Yogi Berra is going to be beating himself up and asking, “Why didn’t I say that?”

Deep down, I think Spurrier knows that the victory had nothing to do with fate or chance.  When a player suggested during the postgame celebration that the game ball be presented to fate, the coach proudly accepted it on fate’s behalf.  As a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, NFL player, NFL coach, and a college coach who has won a national championship and six SEC championships, Spurrier knows what it takes to win a football game: talent, heart, preparation, and execution.  Neither fate nor chance appeared on his resume when he was hired at South Carolina. 

By the way, God didn’t have anything to do with the outcome of the game either.  While He may be concerned about the character and integrity of players and coaches and whether they exhibit humility in victory and resolve in defeat, He doesn’t influence the numbers on the scoreboard or in the win-loss column.  With war waging around the globe, children starving by the millions, natural disasters leaving entire cities homeless and in need, and evil running rampant in this world, I wouldn’t dare risk offense to my Father by selfishly requesting a victory for “my team” or for assistance in finding a convenient parking space.  Don’t get me started on that last one!

The tension between faith and doubt, confidence and uncertainty, spiritual strength and weakness is something that we learn to live with in our walk of discipleship with Jesus.  Only when faith becomes sight will there no longer be any room for doubt.  Until then, we continue to work through periodic assaults which have the potential to undermine our faith.  Some of these simply result from life on planet Earth with its suffering, pain, hardship, and inequities.  Others are brought on by direct, intentional attempts by Satan to shake our trust in the Father.  He prowls and seeks to devour; he secures radar lock on our hearts and launches his missiles; he schemes and plots against us.   

Jesus encountered a distraught, heartbroken father who was desperate to find a solution to the torment and harm brought upon his young son by one of Satan’s minions.  In his emotional exhaustion, he spoke to Jesus in terms of “ifs” and “possibilities.”  The Savior challenged the man to steer through his doubts to more a confident faith in the power of the Son of God.  He replied, “I do believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).  The man humbly acknowledged the coexistence of faith and doubt in his heart and his longing for deeper trust.  His admission did not bring condemnation from Jesus, but a response of healing for the man’s son.  Jesus understands the spiritual tension within us and offers us strength to endure and overcome it.        

Though we may stagger, we do not have to fall.  “If the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand” (Psalms 37:23-24).  “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, …” (Ephesians 6:13-14a).

Kerry Ellis’ new album introduced me to another song by the team of Tim Rice, Bjorn Ulvaeus, and Benny Andersson, this one from their musical Kristina which revolves around the story of Swedes who emigrate to the U.S. in the mid-1800s.  The song “You Have to Be There” powerfully captures the struggle between the doubts created by “life” and an underlying faith in God that ultimately cannot be destroyed.  You can click the title below to listen to the song.

You Have to Be There

You have banished me
From the land where I was born
Here upon a foreign shore forsaken
I have followed you and done thy will

Should I kneel to you?
When I rise you strike me down
Once again a little one you’ve taken

Everywhere I turn it’s darker still

What is it, Lord, that you want, that I am not seeing
What, in my innocent prayers, am I failing to say
Never before have I questioned the truth of your being
Never once have I dared
Never until today

All of a tremble I stand on the edge of confusion
Who is to save me if into the darkness I fall
Now that I need more than ever, my God to be near me
Do you hear when I call, are you there, after all

You have to be there, you have to
My life I have placed in thy keep
And without you I am drifting

On a dark and rising sea

You have to be there, you have to
Without you I’d drown in the deep 

Too far, too far from land
The waters drag me down
I reach for your hand

Who, when I die, will throw open his arms to receive me
Who will believe me and take me into his embrace
When I have gone to my rest will you watch me and wake me
When my time comes at last, will you grant me your grace 

I am so small on this earth, I am nothing without you
Daring to doubt you at all is a knife to my heart
Little by little I’m losing my way in the shadows

I am losing my hold, and the world falls apart

You have to be there, you have to
My life I have placed in thy keep
And without you I am drifting

On a dark and rising sea

You have to be there, you have to
Without you I’d drown in the deep 

Too far, too far from land
The waters drag me down
I reach for your hand

As I posted last week, my father experienced a series of severe, near-lethal cardiac events following my mother’s death on September 16.  He spent nearly two weeks in the Coronary Care Unit, including several days under sedation on a ventilator and an intra-aortic balloon pump.  He has now been hospitalized for 19 days, but is greatly improved and should be released to a rehabilitation facility very soon.  Dad’s cardiologists have been astounded by the rate and extent of his recovery to date.  Indeed, God’s response to prayer can be amazing!

The doctors have said that, technically speaking, Dad did not experience a series of heart attacks.  An arteriogram indicated that his six coronary bypasses from 2001 looked remarkably clean and free from blockages.  Rather, he had a classic case of takotsubo cardiomyopathy, sometimes called “broken heart syndrome.” 

“Takotsubo” (meaning “octopus trap”) was coined by cardiologists in Japan for a condition in which the left ventrical bulges dramatically into a shape that resembles the pots that are used by Japanese fishermen in trapping octopus.  The condition is also called apical ballooning cardiomyopathy and stress-induced cardiomyopathy.  My simple understanding of what happens is this: under extreme stress or grief (such as the loss of a loved one), adrenaline levels begin to run so high that the muscle of the heart is suddenly weakened to the point that its ability to pump blood (measured by ejection fraction) is radically diminished.  The result can be acute heart failure, lethal ventricular arrhythmias, and even ventricular rupture.

Dad survived the onset of this condition, and the encouraging news is that his heart, in time, can return to normal function. 

When the friends of Mary and Martha saw Jesus weeping at the tomb of their brother Lazarus, they said, “See how He loved him!”  Dad’s condition is just another indication to me of the depth of his love for Mom and the strength of their affection over the course of 52 years of marriage.

Please continue to pray for Dad as his broken heart, both physical and emotional, begins to heal.        

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October 2010