Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance (2000, Harvest House Publishers)
I need more than a bedtime story, I need more than a youth group God.I am looking for a savior. A guide. An existential answer to my questions about purpose and meaning. I want true fulfillment in my Christian faith. I am looking for joy.
It occurs to me it is not so much the aim of the devil to lure me with evil as it is to preoccupy me with the meaningless.
Could we, with human reason, process the finality of death, we would be very different souls, giving more than we take, forgiving easily, and listening with all that is in us for the answers to questions we would not have otherwise asked.
It gives me great confidence and pride to think that, had the Israelites been influenced by German engineering, Paul and Timothy might have journeyed in an old Volkswagen camping van.
No poet, in his greatest imaginings, could conceive of anything greater than the real;
It does not escape me that I am blessed to be included in this tale of a billion human conflicts and singular resolution.
Sometimes I think these self-righteous labors are attempts to impress myself rather than sincere strides toward God.
This is a James Taylor moment and we are stuck with a piano player who wants to sound like Enya and a southern funk band that, somewhere along the line, fell into thinking Alabama is a sweet place to call home.
There are two types of men in this world--one is looking for a woman to make his life complete and the other is looking for a woman to join his complete life.
"I guess I'm looking for what any guy is looking for. I want a companion, you know. Just someone to share life with. I want her to be my biggest fan and I want to be her biggest fan, too. I want us to raise kids in a home where they know their parents are in love with each other, with them, and with God. I guess that's all I want."
"You know what I want in a woman, Paul?"
"A friend. A true friend; someone who knows me and loves me anyway. You know, like when I'm through putting my best foot forward, she's still there, still the same."
"Living with a woman is going to be really tough. They tend to be really domesticated, you know. They fold things and clean things and know what they are going to have for dinner several hours before it's time to eat."
Outside of God's perspective, even romance loses its significance. Not in riches or in romance do we find fulfillment, but in God.
The graves all are silent. The caskets are vacant. Stalin has no more wisdom for us. Nietzsche is preserved in books, having forgotten to lift his casket lid and tell us he was right. Muhammad gives us the slip. So does Buddha. It is Christ alone who defeats the grave. Nothing is left in the tomb but echoes and cobwebs. And so we do well to listen to Him with the ears of dying men.
Angry people are stupid people.
If worship is sustenance, then modern worship is fast food.
Worship is not just something we feel, it is something we sweat.
"All this beauty makes a person realize how insignificant they are," Paul says.
"How insignificant I am. You're the insignificant one"
He grins real big as he realizes how his words sounded. "I didn't mean it like that," he chuckles.
"No, I know what you meant, bud. I was just thinking kind of the same thing. I was looking at all this depth and it came to me how very shallow you are."
"Ha, ha," Paul chortles. He takes a few steps down the trail and turns. "You know, Don, I was just looking at this little flowery cactus here and thinking how nice it looks and it made me realize how ugly you are."
"Is that right," I say. "Well, I was just considering how smart these rocks look and it made me realize how dumb you are." With that I give him a little kick in the backside.
"How smart these rocks are?" he heckles. "Well, I was just looking at that cloud up there, reflecting on its beauty and stuff, and it hit me how much you smell."
"Is that right," I say. "The cloud made you realize that, huh?"
Paul distances himself a little and keeps turning to see if I am going to kick him again. He's got this grin going like he got the last laugh.
"You know, Paul, I was just looking at this pebble and it made me realize that I'm going to tackle you and throw you off the ledge."
"I see. That's real deep, Don. The pebble; you got that from a pebble?"
The early bird catches the worm But I have never been one for worms. I am not sure what the late bird catches, but I will feast with him today. Probably porridge.
Too much chicken soup for the soul is not a good thing. Working men eat meat and potatoes.
Life is too complicated to use analogies to describe it.
But I do all of this, not because I want to life scripturally, but because church culture has a certain rhythm. And when you have marched to this beat since infancy, it is difficult to break free from.
How does a person separate true, personal religion from a religion of conformity? Christianity is not really as white and wealthy and judgmental as we might want it to be.
I do not believe that I have a thinking problem as much as a feeling problem. What I mean is, I know the Christian answer to most questions but I do not always live accordingly. I am not pagan. But my "goodness" is the product of moral upbringing, not of a coherent biblical worldview. I tend do to and thing as I feel like doing and thinking. There is rarely an exception. I am guided by Pavlovian instincts. Church culture has a vocabulary, and I have learned it well. There is a dress code too, and my clothes are well within the acceptable parameters, I wear Dockers and plaid shirts, as is silently required of twenty-something Christians. I only vote Republican, which is also silently required.
It is the process that is godliness, not so much the end result. A godly man will involve himself in the process of being godly. For godliness is not so much a place we are going as it is the going itself.
We have come one hundred miles and both the tortoise and the hare have passed us laughing.
"Why don't people believe?"
"Why don't they believe what?"
"I don't know. Not everyone has a Volkswagen."
"I don't mean any disrespect. I truly don't. But Texas isn't nature. Texas is city and smog and humidity and heat."
The uncomfortable moments in a person's life make great stories down the road.
Life is, without a doubt, complex and confusing. My faith is my sanity. There are people who choose to live on the surface of things. I have yet to find the surface. And with all the beauty in the underneath, I am not certain I want to live on the surface should I find it. I stopped looking a long time ago.
The more I ponder God's way, the more I believe He changes a person, or molds a person through enlightenment. He changes a person's mind.
When we ask ourselves if we are walking with Christ, I believe we need to ask oursleves this question: Has Christ changed the way I view the world lately?
"I think that is a big problem with a lot of Christians," Paul begins. "We want to feel special. And there are times when it does, you know. But not all the time. Sometimes life just feels like life. We have to put our faith in God.
"I'm saying that a lot of Christians want to be recognized for their godliness, and a lot of people mistake the recognition for godliness itself."
"But I think that God does not so much take us from point A to point B in the physical world as He takes us from not knowing Him to knowing Him."
"Well, a lot of times we are looking for a sign that tells us we're godly. We want to preach, or be a missionary or whatever, all to help ourselves believe that God is using us. We look everywhere but to God to make us feel godly. We try to convince others we are godly so that we can convince ourselves we are godly. The bottom line is that godliness is about relationship, not about image"
Cupid is fat and slow and can't hit moving targets.
Poppycock religion is America's new faith. It is easy. It is quick. It allows a person to feel spiritual, seem intellectual, have a faith to follow, and have something interesting to talk about over coffee. Poppycock is the quick-fix diet of the spiritual industry. It sells. It rarely threatens or confronts the seeker, allowing each to forge his own individual "religion." The poppycock believer changes the rules as he goes. If he misses a basket, he will say that a missd basket is still worth two points. The poppycock believer does not serve his god, rather his god serves him. He has everything to gain and nothing to lose.
It is Christianity, I believe, that truly faces the facts of reality. The Christian does not try to create his or her own reality. Our search for the truth leads us to Christ. Faith costs something (as all things of worth do) and obedience is hard, but God has poured out His love for us and given us the grace that empowers us to obey.
It is the occupation of a Christian to glorify God.
The multitude of formulas (for living the Christian life with success) proposed by Christian writers, preacher, conference speakers, and televangelists simply confuse me. They have different ideas about how it is done, offering promises of fulfillment and joy based on three easy steps, four points of action, or the five smooth stones that David threw.
Many of us associate the Christian faith as a list of do's and dont's, to be sure. But the Christian life is to be oriented in relationship, why is there so much talk of formula? Could it be that the reason we are more interested in forumla than relationship is that we would like to deal with our need for religion without dealing with the complications of relationship? That even though we have chosen the Christian faith instead of "poppycock religion," we ultimately want the same thing as the pagan? And what is that? Easy answers, comfortable sentiments, beliefs that make us feel good. So we go through the motions. We go to our churches, we read our self-help books, we watch our religious television, and we check each item off our to-do list as if we were doing work for pay. One thing I am sure of. This is not the kind of real-life faith I'm looking for.
In America, the first generation out of slavery invented jazz music. It is a free-form expression. It comes from the soul and it is true.
Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.
Some people skip through life; some people are dragged through it. I sometimes wonder whether we are moving through time or time is moving through us.
I believe that the greatest trick of the devil is not to get us into some sort of evil but rather have us wasting time. This is why the devil tries so hard to get Christians to be religious. If he can sink a man's mind into habit, he will prevent his heart from engaging God.
I honestly don't believe we will be solving the greater human conflict with our efforts. The problem is not a certain type of legislation or even a certain politician; the problem is the same that it has always been. I am the problem.
I think every conscious person, every person who is awake to the functioning principles within his reality, has a moment where he stops blaming the problems in the world on group think, on humanity and authority, and starts to face himself. I hate this more than anything. This is the hardest principle within Christian spirituality for me to deal with. The problem is not out there; the problem is the needy beast of a thing that lives in my chest.
I spend 95 percent of my time thinking about myself anyway. I don't have to watch the evening news to see that the world is bad, I only have to look at myself. I am not browbeating myself here; I am only saying that true change, true life-giving, God-honoring change wound have to start with the individual. I was the very problem I had been protesting. I wanted to make a sign that read "I AM THE PROBLEM."
I went there to try to get my head around this idea, this idea that the problem in the universe lives within me. I can't think of anything more progressive than the embrace of this fundamental idea.
Six billion people live in this world, and I can only muster thoughts for one. Me.
For a moment, sitting there in above the city, I imagined life outside narcissism. I wondered how beautiful it might be to think of others as more important than myself. I wondered at how peaceful it might be not to be pestered by that childish voice that wants for pleasures and attention. I wondered what it would be like not to live in a house of mirrors, everywhere I go being reminded of myself.
I think every well-adjusted human being has dealt squarely with his or her own depravity.
Nothing is going to change in the Congo until you and I figure out what is wrong with the person in the mirror.
I associated much of Christian doctrine with children's stories because I grew up in church. My Sunday school teachers had turned Bible narrative into children's fables. They talked about Noah and the ark because the story had animals in it. They failed to mention that this was when God massacred all of humanity.
It took me a while to realize that these stories, while often used with children, are not at all children's stories. I think the devil has tricked us into thinking so much of biblical theology is a story fit for kids. How did we come to think the story of Noah's ark is appropriate for children? Can you imagine a children's book about Noah's ark complete with paintings of people gasping in gallons of water, mothers grasping their children while their bodies go flying down white-rapid rivers, the children's tiny heads being bashed against rocks or hung up in fallen trees? I don't think a children's book like that would sell many copies.
Without the Christian explanation of original sin, the seemingly silly story of Adam and Eve and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, there was no explanation of conflict. At all.
The magical proposition of the gospel, once free from the clasps of fairy tale, was very adult to me, very gritty like something from Hemingway or Steinbeck, like something with copious amounts of sex and blood. Christian spirituality was not a children's story. It wasn't cute or neat. It was mystical and odd and clean, and it was reaching into the dirty. There was wonder in it and enchantment.
Perhaps, I thought, Christian spirituality really was the difference between illusion and magic.
Early on, I made the mistake of wanting spiritual feelings to endure and remain romantic. Like a new couple expecting to always feel in love, I operated my faith thinking God and I were going to walk around smelling flowers. When this didn't happen, I became confused.
What was more frustrating than the loss of exhilaration was the return of my struggles with sin. I had become a Christian, so why did I still struggle with lust, greed, and envy? Why did I want to get drunk at parties or cheat on tests?
I think the things we want most in life, the things we think will set us free, are not the things we need.
Because of sin, I am self-addicted, living in the wreckage of the fall, my body, my heart, and my affections are prone to love things that kill me.
My answer to this dilemma was self-discipline. I figured I could just make myself do good things, think good thoughts about other people, but that was no easier than walking up to a complete stranger and falling in love with them. I could go through the motions for a while, but sooner or later my heart would testify to its true love: darkness. Then I would get up and try again. The cycle was dehumanizing.
Your problem is not that God is not fulfilling, your problem is that you are spoiled.
I realized in and instant that I desired false gods because Jesus wouldn't jump through my hoops, and I realized that, like Tony, my faith was about image and ego, not about practicing spirituality.
I had the image of a spiritual person, but I was bowing down to the idols of religiosity and philosophy.
I feel like I am constantly saying things I don't mean. I tell people they should share their faith, but I don't feel like sharing my faith. I tell people that should be in the Word, but I am only in the Word because I have to teach the Word. I said to a guy the other day, 'God bless you.' What does that mean? I have been saying that stuff all my life, but what does it mean? Then I started thinking about all the crap I say. All the clichés, all the parroted slogans. I have become an infomercial for God, and I don't even use the product.
The days and weeks before a true commitment to Jesus can be terrible and lonely. I think I was feeling bitter about the human experience. I never asked to be human. Nobody can to the womb and explained the situation to me, asking for my permission to go into the world and live and breathe and eat and feel joy and pain. I started thinking about how odd it was to be human, how we are stuck inside this skin, forced to be attracted to the opposite sex, forced to eat food, and use the rest room and then stuck to the earth by gravity. I spent an entire week feeling bitter because I couldn't breathe underwater. I told God I wanted to be a fish. I also felt a little bitter about sleep. Why do we have to sleep? I wanted to be able to stay awake for as long as I wanted, but God had put me in this body that had to sleep. Life no longer seemed like and experience of freedom.
The knowledge of God seeped out of my brain and into my heart.
I know a little of why there is blood in my body, pumping life into my limbs and thought into my brain. I am wanted by God. He is wanting to preserve me, to guide me through the darkness of the shadow of death, up into the highlands of His presence and afterlife. I understand that I am temporary, in this shell of a thing on this dirt of an earth. I am being tempted by Satan, we are all being tempted by Satan, but I am preserved to tell those who do not know about our Savior and Redeemer. This is why Paul had no questions. This is why he could be beaten one day, imprisoned the next, and released only to be beaten again and never ask God why. He understood the earth was fallen. He understood the rules of Rome could not save mankind, that mankind could not save itself; rather, it must be rescued, and he knew he was not in the promised land, but still in the desert, and like Joshua and Caleb he was shouting, "Follow me and trust God!"
My most recent faith struggle is not one of intellect. I don't really do that anymore. Sooner or later you just figure out there are some guys who don't believe in God and they can prove He doesn't exist, and some other guys who can prove He does exist, and the argument stopped being about God a long time ago and now it's about who is smarter, and honestly, I don't care.
And that's when I realized that believing in God is as much like falling in love as it is like making a decision. Love is both something that happens to you and something you decide upon.
I was wondering the other day, why it is we turn pop figures into idols? I have a theory, of course. I think we have this need to be cool, that there is this undercurrent in society that says some people are cool and some people aren't. And it is very, very important that we are cool. So when we find somebody who is cool on television or on the radio, we associate ourselves with this person to feel valid ourselves. And the problem I have with this is that we rarely know what the person believes whom we are associating ourselves with. The problem with this is that it indicates there is less value in what people believe, what they stand for; it only matters that they are cool. In other words, who cares what I believe about life, I only care that I am cool. Because in the end, the undercurrent running through culture is not giving people value based upon what they believe and what they are doing to aid society, the undercurrent is deciding their value based upon whether of not they are cool.
Satan, who I believe exists as much as I believe Jesus exists, wants us to believe meaningless things for meaningless reasons.
But the trouble with deep belief is that it costs something. And there is something inside me, some selfish beast of a subtle thing that doesn't like the truth at all because it carries responsibility, and if I actually believe these things I have to do something about them.
Even our beliefs have become trend statements. We don't even believe things because we believe them anymore. We only believe things because they are cool things to believe.
The problem with Christian belief--I mean real Christian belief, the belief that there is a God and a devil and a heaven and a hell--is that it is not a fashionable thing to believe.
If you believe something, passionately, people will follow you because they think you know something they don't, some clue to the meaning of the universe. Passion is tricky, though, because it can point to nothing just as easily as it points to something
Passion about nothing is like pouring gasoline into a car without wheels.
What I believe is not what I say I believe; what I believe is what I do.
The churches I attended would embrace war metaphor. They would talk about how we are in a battle, and I agreed with them, only they wouldn't clarify that we were battling poverty and hate and injustice and pride and the power of darkness. They left us thinking that our war was against liberals and homosexuals. Their teaching would have me believe I was the good person in the world and the liberals were the bad people in the world. Jesus taught that we are all bad and He is good, and He wants to rescue us because there is a war going on and we are hostages in that war. The truth is we are supposed to love the hippies, the liberals, and even the Democrats, and that God wants us to think of them as more important than ourselves. Anything short of this is not true to the teachings of Jesus.
Here's a tip I've never used: I understand you can learn a great deal of girldom by reading Pride and Prejudice, and I own a copy, but I have never read it. I tried. It was given to me by a girl with a little not inside that read: What is in this book is the heart of a woman. I am sure the heart of a woman is pure and lovely, but the first chapter of said heart is hopelessly boring.
I think if you like somebody you have to tell them. It might be embarrassing to say it, but you will never regret stepping up.
I've had about fifty people tell me that I fear intimacy. And it is true. I fear what people will think of me, and that is the reason I don't date very often. People really like me a lot when they only know me a little, but I have this great fear that if they knew me a lot they wouldn't like me. That is the number one thing that scares me about having a wife because she would have to know me pretty well in order to marry me and I think if she got to know me pretty well she wouldn't like me anymore.
"You know, Don, marriage is worth the trade. You lose all your freedom but you get this friend. This incredible friend."
"I mean that to be in a relationship with God is to be loved purely and furiously. And a person who thinks himself unlovable cannot be in a relationship with God because he can't accept who God is; a Being that is love. We learn that we are lovable or unlovable from other people," Paul says. "That is why God tells us so many times to love each other."
I no longer think being in love is the polar opposite of being alone, however. I say that because I used to want to be in love again as I assumed this was the opposite of loneliness. I think being in love is an opposite of loneliness, but not the opposite. There are other things I now crave when I am lonely, like community, like friendship, like family. I think our society puts too much pressure on romantic love, and that is why so many romances fail. Romance can't possibly carry all that we want it to.
Tony the Beat Poet says the words alone, lonely and loneliness are three of the most powerful words in the English language. I agree with Tony. Those words say that we are human; they are like the words hunger and thirst. But they are not words about the body, they are words about the soul.
When you live on your own for a long time, however, your personality changes because you go so much into yourself you lose the ability to be social, to understand what is and isn't normal behavior. There is an entire world inside yourself, and if you let yourself, you can get so deep inside it you will forget the way to the surface. Other people keep our souls alive, just like food and water does with our body.
I think it is interesting that God designed people to need other people. We see those cigarette advertisements with the rugged cowboy riding around alone on a horse, and we think that is strength, when, really, it is like setting your soul down on a couch and not exercising it. The soul needs to interact with other people to be healthy.
Jesus does not want us floating through space or sitting in front of our televisions. Jesus wants us interacting, eating together, laughing together, praying together. Loneliness is something that came with the fall.
The most difficult lie I have ever contended with is this: Life is a story about me.
I hear addicts talk about the shakes and panic attacks and the highs and lows of resisting their habit, and to some degree I understand them because I have had habits of my own, but no drug is so powerful as the drug of self. No rut in the mind is so deep as the one that says I am the world, the world belongs to me, all people are characters in my play. There is no addiction so powerful as self addiction.
It was the affection of Christ, not the brutality of a town, that healed Zacchaeus.
It comforts me to think that if we are created beings, the thing that created us would have to be greater than us, so much greater, in fact, that we would not be able to understand it. It would have to be greater than the facts of our reality, and so it would seem to us, look out from within our reality, that is would contradict reason. But reason itself would suggest it would have to be greater that reality, or it would not be reasonable.
Many of our attempts to understand Christian faith have only cheapened it. I can no more understand the totality of God that the pancake I made for breakfast understands the complexity of me. The little we do understand, that grain of sand our minds are capable of grasping, those ideas such as God is good, God feels, God loves, God knows all, are enough to keep our hearts dwelling on His majesty and otherness forever.
Here's what I've started thinking: All the wonder of God happens right above our arithmetic and formula. The more I climb outside my pat answers, the more invigorating the view, the more my heart enters into worship.
I think we have two choices in the face of such big beauty: terror and awe. And this is precisely why we attempt to chart God, because we want to be able to predict Him, to dissect Him, to carry Him around in our dog and pony show. We are too proud to feel awe and to fearful to feel terror. We reduce Him to math so we don't have to fear Him, and yet the Bible tells us fear is the appropriate response, that it is the beginning of wisdom.
Too much of our time is spent trying to chart God on a grid, and too little is spent allowing our hearts to feel awe. By reducing Christian spirituality to formula, we deprive our hearts of wonder.
I don't think there is any better worship than wonder.
It is always the simple things that change our lives.
Life will reveal answers at the pace life wishes to do so. You feel like running, but life is on a stroll. This is how God does things.
The problem with Christian culture is we think of love as a commodity. We use it like money.
I used love like money, but love doesn't work like money. It is not a commodity. When we barter with it, we all lose. When the church does not love its enemies, it fuels their rage. It makes them hate us more.
When everybody thinks you are nuts you finally just give in to their pressure and actually go nuts.
I have come to understand that strength, inner strength, comes from receiving love as much as it comes from giving it...God's love will never change us if we don't accept it.
There is this lie floating around that says I am supposed to be able to do life alone, without any help, without stopping to worship something bigger than myself. But I actually believe there is something bigger than me, and I need for there to be something bigger than me. I need someone to put awe inside me; I need to come second to someone who has everything figured out.
All great characters in stories are the ones who give their lives to something bigger than themselves. And in all of the stories I don't find anyone more noble than Jesus.