Not Born Retarded

So. It’s been awhile. Life is keeping me busy. Being a preacher again is keeping me busy. But don’t think I am complaining. The Lake Harbour Drive church is simply amazing. We have been welcomed, loved on, and the process continues. Sometimes I think they are the most easily made happy people ever… especially when it comes to preaching.

My confidence is improving, but still I am amazed…

I have added a few new speaking engagements to my speaking page. My elders have said I have a message and they want to make me available to share it. I think they must have all been running a fever at that time.

In the meantime, I want to continue dedicating time to writing my book, but that has proven to be elusive… If I were to self-diagnois, I’d say I suffer from fear of rejection and fear of success.

Crazy, I am sure.

This coming Sunday morning, I am teaching a one-time class with our 20″s & 30’s group–we are beginning a new study together the following week. So while we wait for everybody to get a book, I am filling one class time with something different. I choose a chapter of what I have written previously to share with them. It’s from my book and maybe you will be blessed by it too.

At any rate, I love my readers and thank each of you for taking this journey with me…

Les, Jr.

Not Born Retarded

Ah, look at all the lonely people
Ah, look at all the lonely people

Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for?

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Father McKenzie writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear
No one comes near
Look at him working, darning his socks in the night when there’s nobody there
What does he care?

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Ah, look at all the lonely people
Ah, look at all the lonely people

Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name
Nobody came
Father McKenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave
No one was saved

All the lonely people (Ah, look at all the lonely people)
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people (Ah, look at all the lonely people)
Where do they all belong?
The Beatles

Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called.
“Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.” “Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.” The next morning Abraham got up early. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac. Then he chopped wood for a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day of their journey, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. “Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the servants. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.”
So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them walked on together, Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” “God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together.
When they arrived at the place where God had told him to go, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Yes,” Abraham replied. “Here I am!”
“Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said. “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.” Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son. Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
Genesis 12:1-14, NLT

I was taught through much of my life that it was wrong to hate anything.
But I do.

You may be tempted to think I hate Paul Buckman for what he did. I tried to. I want to. Sometimes I think I feel the need to. But the simple truth is it takes too much energy and time to keep that hatred stoked and burning. I knew Paul Buckman but for a short time.

With apologies to those who may have loved him, it’s best for my well being to just let him go. He is in the hands of God and however He works that out is His business.

On the other hand, being fully human, I claim inconsistency.
Like you, there are many inconsistencies in my life.

There are some things I hate with a passion.

I hate the word retarded. And that’s probably the largest understatement you’ll read today.

I hate the word retarded.

If you ever feel the need to have your butt kicked or your insides pulled out through your nostrils (trying to be as descriptive as I can without being profane or obscene), let the parent of a mentally challenged or handicapped child hear you calling their kid retarded. Or describing them as someone who rides the short-bus.

I hate the word retarded.

I hate it because that was how so many saw Cole and others like him.
I am not in denial. I know he was (hallelujah, no more).

But with or without his mental and physical limitations, he was worthy of respect and love. He was a good boy who didn’t deserve the horrors that befell him–even the one that afflicted him from birth.

The bitter truth is we are all retarded in some fashion or another. Not a single one of us is a perfect physical specimen without flaws. And that’s just on the outside. In our hearts and minds, in our thinking and attitudes, we all are less than what God intended.

Cole was retarded. It makes me nauseated to think, say, and write it. I know how the world saw him. But those who knew him best saw the incredible gift of ministry and love he gave to the world.

Years ago when I was a youth minister, Cole was my greatest asset. He brought those kids together like nothing else could. I am proud he is my son.

Being retarded was just another example of the weakness of God. God could have healed him, but He didn’t. And still God was at work in Cole’s life and through Cole, the lives of others.

Reading through the pages and stories of the Bible, there are no characters that are retarded at first sight. But the truth is, any number of characters were damaged goods–and by damaged, I mean the way we would look at them.

Take David as one example. God called him a man after His own heart. We know him as a dysfunctional husband, father and leader. And still, he did great things for God and His chosen people.

So there is a sense in which you could call every person in the Bible–other than Jesus of course–somewhat dysfunctional at best, stunted in the middle, and retarded at worst.

I’d like you consider the story of Isaac in that light.
Can you imagine what it must have been like living with Abraham, the Father of Faith?

You know, son, back in my day, when God spoke, we listened.
He said, go, and we went. He said, leave, and we left.
He said, you’re gonna have a son who will be the child of promise and a whole nation will come from him. That’s you, boy. And in just a few minutes we are gonna load up and head up that mountain to offer a sacrifice. And don’t you worry your little head one bit, you carry the firewood and God (said in a voice like Jerry Clower, Gaaawwwd) will provide the sacrifice…

Do you remember the old sitcom, Different Strokes? Gary Coleman had a signature line he would use on his brother… What you talking about, Willis?

In my crazy imagination, I hear Isaac saying something similar especially about the time he realizes he’s the sacrifice his father is offering.

How old was Isaac when this episode occurs? There is vast disagreement. Some say between 18 and 20 years old. Others around 33 years old. The Jewish historian Josephus, says he was 25 years old. And still others who believe he was around 37 years old. The one thing they all agree on? Isaac was no small boy when this incident happened–a small boy couldn’t have carried the wood needed for such a large sacrifice.

However you read it, can you try to imagine all of this from Isaac’s perspective?
Can you imagine that an incident like this might have stunted your relationship with your Father? With both of them? Can you imagine that when it came to all things God-related, Isaac might very well have been retarded?

How do you have a good relationship going forward when you were the object lesson in testing your father’s faith? How do you relate to God when He called for the same?

From our vantage point, we can surmise that God would have never allowed such a thing to happen in the first place. But, how do we know? How could Isaac have known? His own Dad was willing to take that chance.

Would you blame him if he spent the rest of his life licking his wounds from such an ordeal? Or, would you expect him to move forward as if nothing ever happened?

While he wasn’t born that way, I suspect Isaac was fundamentally and functionally retarded from that point on. I further suspect Eleanor Rigby had nothing on our man, Isaac.

And yet, Isaac was still a part of God’s plan.

So am I.
So are you.

Abraham, The Father of Faith?

I don’t know if this is wise or not, but…

As I write, the new material for my book tends to become the next lesson I preach. Or vice versa.

At any rate, to keep up interest, I thought I’d share a snippet written ultimately I hope for publication…

Though I walk through the valley of darkness

I am not afraid

Cause I know I’m not alone

And if the wind blows east, would you follow me

And if the wind blows north, would ya stay your course

And if the wind blows west, would ya second guess

And if it blows to the south, would you count me out

And if the sun don’t shine, would you still be mine

And if the sky turns grey, would you walk away

Would you say I do, if I say I’ll be

And walk this road through life with me

You know I love youuuuuu

On this lonely road of faith

On this lonely road of faith

(Kid Rock)

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise. Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God. It was by faith that even Sarah was able to have a child, though she was barren and was too old. She believed[a] that God would keep his promise. And so a whole nation came from this one man who was as good as dead—a nation with so many people that, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, there is no way to count them… It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.” Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead. (Hebrews 11:8-12, 17-19 NLT)

Abraham.

The father of faith.

But what exactly is faith?

In my blog Desperately Wanting to Believe Again, some might have been tempted to think I wanted to learn how to believe in God again. That would be the wrong temptation to embrace. When I use the word believe I don’t mean acknowledge God’s existence. To the contrary, I believed then and believe now fervently.

What I have wrestled with is faith.

The belief and trust that God has my best interests at heart. That God really does care. That God loves me.

Like many of you, I know the scriptural definition of faith: Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. (Hebrews 11:1, NLT)

I believe that verse. And yet, it is problematic for me.

The first part I am extremely cool with. I have great confidence that God has given me salvation. I eagerly await the day when Jesus comes back to take us home. I didn’t say if, I said when.

But the second part of the verse in question? Faith gives us assurance about things we cannot see…

I said it was problematic. That’s really understating the case.

I have found it hugely hard to believe God really wants the best for me. I have struggled significantly with the idea God was protecting me or taking care of my family.

Even now, when I see His providence, I still wonder about the past. I still question where we are going.

Whether I wanted it or not, I long ago left my home for a far country. I once wrote on my blog that I mourned the loss of me. If we had experienced only a double murder, that would be massively bad enough. But the loss of wife and son, mother and brother, brought on more changes than we could have ever imagined.

Yes, I have mourned the loss of me.

The connections, the location, the friends, the life once had… It all went away. And faster than you might believe.

I am also appreciative of the faith of Abraham.

God said go and he did.

And for whatever reason, we don’t quite get the questions he might have had. The worries. The fears. And even the loss that came with leaving one life and embarking on another.

Abraham, the Father of faith is presented as a man who unquestioningly trusted God.

It’s a beautiful picture even if it is not quite true.

Before you level a charge of heresy or sacrilege, try to remember some stories from his life of faith. It wasn’t an all cheerful Forest Gump life is a box of chocolates existence.

There were struggles. There were hard times. There was disbelief. There was uncertainty. Remember Sarai? Was she wife or sister? And what about the promise of having a son? Sarai laughed. They played pregnancy games. Poor Ishmael was nothing more than a faithless attempt to make God’s word true.

And then there was the whole deal of sacrificing Isaac. Do you really think Abraham made the trip up the mountain with a light heart unburdened by questions, worries, fears, and doubts?

But if none of this is enough to help you see Abraham as man for whom faith wasn’t always easy, then let me remind you of Sodom and Gomorra. Remember when God was going to destroy those two wicked cities? And Abraham was cheering God on? Right? Except, there was no cheering. Instead there were questions, doubts, fears and disbelief.

Remember what Abraham asked the Lord? What if there fifty righteous people living there in the city? Should not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?

I don’t know about you, but I hear the questions of Abraham’s heart. I see a man of faith who was also a man unafraid to say to the God of the universe, hey, wait a minute. I am not sure about all of this. I see how things aren’t working the way I imagined. Sometimes it doesn’t look like you have my best interests at heart. And yet, I believe even as I doubt.

In a book about zombies and survivors at the end of life as we know it, the author gives vibrancy to an ex-catholic priest turned warrior with these words that resonate still: Faith isn’t the absence of doubt, it’s the decision to believe in something contrary to what you observe. (The Remaining: Refugees, D.J. Molles)

And like the man once told Jesus, I believe; help me with my unbelief.