Monday, November 10, 2008

The Teddy Bear

Yesterday was a fantastic day! We held services in our back yard for the second week in a row. It was a beautiful, breezy day, and aside from the occasional airlplane flying by and my dog Buddy attempting to engage in a bark-off with the neighbor's dog, everything was great.

Jeff started a new series about who Convergence Christian Church (C3) will be as a church. He reintroduced us all to "Zeke" (that cute little stick guy you see in the sidebar of this blog). I'll tell you more about him another time. I'm so very excited about what he represents and some of the ways he we help spread the word. (Mare, you'll be getting a little "Zeke" in your package.) I want to tell you all about him, but for purposes of journalistic integrity, I need to talk to Jeff and make sure I get things straight.

After a late lunch yesterday, I met my dad in LaGrange, TX to pick up my son. He played in a golf tournament near Austin. He got third place, BTW. Driving by myself gave me time to think. I have a gazillion ideas I want to write about (well, okay -- 5, 6 tops, but you know what I mean.) All these ideas are in their infant stages, so for now I want to share an excerpt from one of my favorite books. May it bless you as it has blessed me.

Excerpt from: I became a Christian and all I got was this lousy t-shirt: Replacing Souvenir Religion with Authentic Spritial Passion, by Vince Antonucci

Even though I had become a Christian, even though I was preaching sermon after sermon on the topic, still I couldn't feel like I was the one Jesus loves, and it held me back from living a life with him.

I continued to wrestle with the question: how could Jesus love me when I knew I wasn't worth loving?

Finally, the answer came out. Actually, the answer came down, again, from my mom's attic.

We were visiting my mother, who would soon be moving from our old house into a condo. She informed us that we'd be leaving with with a bunch of stuff she had been saving for me. Soon it all came down -- Legos, matchbox cars, books and...a teddy bear. It was my teddy bear, from when I was little. It was a mess. Years earlier, my mother had sewn an ear back on. She had done reconstructive surgery on its neck and back. It was missing fur around its eyes, on both feet, and on his back by the little music handle. It had a big scar across its head. The cutest thing was the four little pieces of fur missing from where my four fingers used to hold it constantly. My finger marks had become permantly embedded in my bear.

When I was little, I loved this bear. I carried it everywhere. My mother would turn the music handle and it would make music, bad music, but I would move in tight and that music would comfort me and lull me to sleep.

I loved this bear, but there was nothing lovable, nothing valuable about the bear itself. Even when it was new it was obviously not an expensive stuffed animal. It probably cost a few dollars at the time. If you tried to sell it at a garage sale today you might ask for a quarter. It's just not valuable, except that it is to me, and especially back when I was a kid.

I loved this bear. But I didn't love it because it was valuable. I loved it because...I loved it. I loved it because it was my bear. My love was not based on its value, rather my love made this bear valuable. My love gave this bear significance. When I was a kid, you could have offered me a vacation to Disney World and I wouldn't have traded my bear for it. If my parents had held a yard sale back then and asked me how much we should sell my bear for, I would have said a million dollars...and that wouldn't have been enough. They would have said, "Well, silly, it only cost us a couple of dollars, and it's gotten really beat up since then." I would have said, "I don't care. I won't sell it. It's my bear and I love him."

And finally I understood how Jesus could love me when I wasn't worth loving.

I realized that the love I had for my bear is essentially the same kind of love God has for me. It's not a love that loves because the object of the love is valuable; it's a love that gives value.

God knew me. He knew what I was worth in the beginning, he knew the damage that had been done to me over the years, he knew my current condition. But the most significant thing God knew about me was that I was his. I may have been beat up, pulled out of shape, ripped, and left with the stuffing hanging out, but I was his. I may not have looked like much to anyone else, but I was his. And so he loved me. And his love gave me value, significance and importance.

Now, I have to admit, I still struggle with this sometimes. Because it's not just realizing that I'm loved. It's living it. It's abiding in Jesus, in his love, moment by moment. And I have good days and bad when it comes to living in his love. It's like I constantly need reminders....

Well, other people may have told you that you're not worth much, but the truth is that God wouldn't trade you for anything. In fact, when he set the price tag on you, it was his Son.

And you may be torn and broken. You may still bear the marks of deep wounds. But God is a master at reconstructive surgery.

And perhaps, because of all of this, you have difficulty connecting with God. You feel like your prayers bounce back at you off the ceiling. At church others sing out worship songs, but you struggle to, not necessarily because you have a bad voice, but because the words come from a bad heart. And so you're sure that to God, it's bad music. But no, when God hears you, he moves in tight.

You know why? Because you are his. Because since the beginning of your life, you have belonged to him. He shaped you in your mother's womb and his finger marks are permanently embedded in you.

You are the one Jesus loves.


SHerri said...

This is beautiful.
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

That's awesome.

Mare said...

"and his fingerprints are permanently embedded in you." gees. That's good stuff. What a beautiful illlustration.
Can't wait to meet Zeke. =)

Christina Cooper said...

Wow, that is it. :)

Christina Cooper
If I Only Had One Wish

Helen said...

Wow! You said that so well. "I realized that the love I had for my bear is essentially the same kind of love God has for me. It's not a love that loves because the object of the love is valuable; it's a love that gives value." With your permission, I would love to read this to my C.C.D. students, or at least to the people I teach with. This was so touching, and perhaps the most accurate analogy of God's love I've read.

katdish said...


Absolutely. Although, for the record, those are Vince Antonucci's words, not mine. I loved that book so much that I bought a case of his books and gave them out to until I only had one left. A little background on Vince -- he grew up in New Jersey with a Jewish mother and an absent father who was a professional gambler. I met him at a church planter's convention last summer. Imagine a young Joe Pesci in "Good Fellas".

Here's another excerpt that I also love:

Staff members at my church take one day each month to fast and pray. It's a day designed to get away and get close to God, to focus on him and pray for the church. I decided to spend one prayer and fasting day at Burger King. I know this sounds bizzare, but I wasn't going to eat. Normally, I go to a park or the beach on my prayer day, but it was cold outside, so I wanted a place where I could be inside but by myself. When I do my fasting day I don't eat, but I do drink, so I thought, I'll go to Burger King, get a Coke, sit there for a couple hours, read my Bible, and write in my journal. So I went in, got my Coke, sat down, and started reading.
Two minutes later a dirty, smelly guy came walking up. He was obviously extremely poor, probably homeless. He started pacing in front of my table. I glanced up several times but tried not to make eye contact because I wanted to keep reading my bible. After all, this was a day for me. My goal was to get me closer to God. Finally, I felt guilty and thought, This isn't right. Vince, you need to take some time, die to yourself, and love this guy. So I asked, "Hey, can I help you with anything?"
Turns out the guy was from India. He started talking, but I could barely decipher his words. Finally, he handed me a piece of paper. It was a job application for Burger King. I said, "Oh, you want to apply here. Do you need help filling this out?" He nodded yes, so we got to work. It was difficult. One question asked about experience. I think he said he used to be a cook. In Florida? India? Indiana? Another requested his home address, but he didn't have one. It took nearly an hour. Finally, we were done and he walked to the counter to turn it in. I thought, It's good that I helped him, but I'm glad that's over. I went back to reading.
One minute later he was sitting back at my table. I said, "Oh, Hi." He sat and stared at me. I thought, Maybe he's hungry. "Do you need something to eat?" I asked. He said yes, so I gave him a few dollars. And he appreciated it. He really appreciated it. He grabbed both my hands and started rubbing them all over his face and neck. I thought,! This is so weird! Finally, after the thirty most awkward seconds of my life, he grabbed my money and disappeared. I thought, Wow. Well, it's a good thing that I helped him. But I am so glad that's over. I went back to reading.
Two minutes later he was sitting back at my table. This time he had a burger and fries. I thought, Maybe he just needs someone to talk to. I started a conversation, and then he asked me about the Bible I was reading. I started to explain that I believed in Jesus. A smile erupted on his face and he pulled his wallet out. He proudly showed me a picture of Jesus. I said, "Yeah, that's who I'm telling you about!" Then he proceeded to show me pictures of Buddha, Muhammad, a goat, Reggie Jackson, there may have been some pictures of Regis Philbin, the Dali Lama, and Bea Arthur in there as well. He became very serious and asked, "Do you know what God's name is?"
I said, "Yes, I'm trying to explain to you --I believe his name is Jesus. Jesus is God's Son."
He said, "No! God's name is twenty-one!"
"God's name is twenty-one. Do you understand?" he demanded.
"Yeah, you just said God's name is Twenty-one."
His voice was rising, "No. No! God's name is twenty-one."
I repeated, "God's name is Twenty-one."
"No! God's name is Twenty-one!"
"Got it. God's name is Twenty-one."
"No! God's name is Twenty-one!"
Finally, I put an end to our Abbot and Costello routine and asked him to please explain what he meant. He tried. I think what he was struggling to say was that he believed that all religions worship the same God and that God is called by twenty-one different names in the various religions of the world, and so he has twenty-one names.
"Okay, I understand now," I said. "But I believe there is only one God, and Jesus was his Son."
"He asked, "Do you know who is God today?"
I answered, "Twenty-one?"
"No," he said. "Today, you are God to me."
"No, I'm not God," I responded.
"Yes, you are," he countered.
"No," I explained. "I'm trying to show you the love of God, but I'm not God."
"No. Today you love me," he said. "You help me. You feed me. Who is God? He loves, he helps, he feeds. Today, you are God to me."
In one sense he was theologically wrong, because I'm certainly not God. But in another sense, he was right. Because God has asked me to represent him, to be his ambassador.
We need to be the good news before we share the good news so that our gospel has integrity. We need to make the gospel beautiful again. We need to lose all the trappings so people can experience the natural beauty of God's good news. We need to show people what life in God's kingdom is like before we invite them into it.

(excerpt from I became a Christian and all I got was this lousy t-shirt: Replacing Souvenir Religion with Authentic Spiritual Passion" by Vince Antonucci)

And, it's official: Longest comment ever!