Doin' It Halfway Since 1996

being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus

Category Archives: Never Beyond Series

Never Beyond – On Wearing Masks

This post is a response to the Never Beyond poster series from People of the Second Chance. The question: Who would you give a second chance?

I kind of really completely incredulously laughed out loud when I saw the People of the Second Chance poster this week.

Darth Vader. Really? I mean, I know that there would be fictitious bad guys. But really?

I thought to the delight of my husband I might need to watch the Star Wars episodes again, but a quick trip to IMDb gave me a good refresher on this villain’s history (check out the link for a brief synopsis if you haven’t seen the movies, which begs the question “Where have you been the last three and a half decades?”).

But, like most conversations that People of the Second Chance start, this one got me thinking. And while I feel a little silly talking about a character like he’s a real person, I’m going to have to for the sake of this discussion of grace.

Darth Vader wasn’t always a self-assured bad guy (of course, it took George Lucus sixteen years to make us privy to that information, but I digress). He used to be sweet, enslaved, Anakin Skywalker. From a young age, he was told he was destined for greatness. His destiny plotted over and determined by those who wanted to use him for his supposed power. He was a victim to political games. Though a Jedi, he still was captive to the human heart. He knew loss, he knew love, he knew greed and power. He felt betrayal, even if it wasn’t always real. Eventually, his anger and bitterness overwhelmed him and turned him into a ruthless, cold-hearted killer. Instead of fighting for good, he turns to the dark side and becomes its champion. Eventually he dies in a battle to the death with his son. At the end of it all, he asks to be un-masked and receives redemption when son and father encounter each other face to face for the first time.

Ahem. Give me a second as I wash the nerdiness from my hands. Alright. Commencing grace discussion in 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . .

For whatever reason, when I think about Darth Vader, I always remember the shriveled old man under the mask. I assume this is because I was very young when the first movies came out. When I saw this part of the movie, I realized that he was just a man, and not really all that scary.

Aren’t we all a little bit like Darth Vader?

No, not the ruthless-I-wear-a-scary-black-plastic-helmet-mask-and-can-and-will-kill-you-with-a-thought Vader.

I’m talking about the please-take-off-this-mask-and-see-me-for-who-I-really-am Vader.

There is a longing in all of us to be known. But, for whatever reason, we think that’s impossible. Or at least we act like it is.

We wear masks all day long, no matter how worn they are, no matter how cracked they are. We think people can’t see through them. No, we HOPE that people can’t see through them.

Conversely, we are just as content to continue looking at others’ masks without really expecting to see the real person behind them. Whether we only see the mask presented to us and take it as real OR we see the broken, cracked, faded mask and choose NOT to see what’s behind it, we humans sure like our masks. And we don’t usually wear just one. We have one for our families, one for our co-workers, one for our friends, one for the people at church. We have A LOT of masks.

Photo Credit: Flickr by user Robert Louden

Every night we take off our masks and face ourselves in the mirror. We wonder, for a brief second, what people would think if they could see the real you staring back at them.

“No!” we tell ourselves. “It’s too shameful. Too scary. Mustn’t let them see the real me. They’d hate me. They would never believe the things I’ve done, what I’ve said, how I’ve acted. Every bad thought, every insecurity, every ugly thought, every scar must continue to stay hidden.”

We look at our worn masks, some chipped by stones thrown at us. Others are just old from wear. They’re cracked and the paint is chipping. We tell ourselves that our masks are enough. We’ll put them away for the night, fall into bed from exhaustion of juggling all our masks, and then pick them up again to put them on in the morning.

We’re scared that if people really knew us, if they really saw who we are, they’d reject us.

Being transparent is a weakness because being transparent shows the weaknesses.

But aren’t you tired of fighting? Aren’t all those masks you’re carrying heavy? Have you traded the real you for an inaccurate imitation?

Aren’t  you peeking through the cracks of your masks mentally begging the person on the other side to see you, the real you – the broken, needs forgiveness, longs for authenticity, overwhelmed-and-drowning-in-a-fallen-world you?

I’m going to tell you a little secret:

Grace makes un-masking possible. It makes it bearable. It even makes us more human.

When we accept grace from God, we’re also required to turn around and generously give it.

Suddenly, masks are silly.

When you bring grace into play, we’re all equal. We’re all the same. We’re all in desperate need of it.

Your scars, my cuts, his bruises, the bags under her eyes from endless nights of crying all become completely normal. We’re all so very broken.

But we’re all so very within reach of redemption.

Un-masking is difficult at first. Because sometimes, people do reject you. Sometimes, the other person refuses to let go of his or her mask.

But my experience has been that taking off the mask, or refusing to put the mask on in the first place, makes way for the most incredible human relationships.

I have found that when I lay it all on the floor, when I show off all the imperfections that are me, people suddenly feel at ease.

They don’t feel like they have to keep holding up that mask. They are willing to share some of their imperfections. They want to be real.

It’s what I long for, people.

AUTHENTICITY.

None of us are perfect. Masks are unnecessary. I don’t want your mask. I want the real you.

The raw-bruised and battered by the world-imperfect-tossed out-despised by men-accepted by Christ-grace covered you.

So, let’s not wait like Vader until our dying breath to take off our masks.

Let’s step out into the light. Let’s expose our true selves. Let’s know and be known. Not just to God, but to each other too.

Never Beyond – Mike Tyson: On Being the Prodigal’s Brother

This post is a response to the Never Beyond poster series from People of the Second Chance. The question: Who would you give a second chance?

Christians LOVE the parable about the prodigal son and for good reason. It’s an example of God’s extravagant grace toward us.

Even if we don’t realize all the cultural implications of Jesus’ day in the parable, we love thinking about how God runs to us and lavishes us with his love.

Stop for second and take a minute to read Luke 15:11-32.

Often times, we identify quite easily with the son who has rudely asked for, received and squandered his inheritance. The bitter taste of the world and fair-weather friends still lingers on our tongues. We can relate to his being in the pit of pigs, wondering if he even has a chance to go home and be a servant for his father. We rejoice in the thought of the son’s repentance. We are thankful to know that God loves us as much as the father loved his son.

It makes us feel good. It makes us feel loved. It makes us feel wanted.

But there’s more to the parable. The prodigal is not the only son. There’s another son. A more responsible, diligent, faithful son.

This son, the eldest, has dutifully obeyed and followed his father. He has done all that he was supposed to do as a son. He’s worked hard and taken care of the family business. He’s stayed with his aging father. He’s been the good son.

But then his black sheep brother returns. Repentant.

And the father throws him an extravagant, lavish party to celebrate his return.

The older brother is angry. He complains. He’s bitter. He doesn’t understand why this terrible son receives such a compassionate and gracious reception. He refuses to embrace his brother as the father does. He refuses to come inside to join the party.

The father, full of love, says to him, “‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:31-32)

The parable begs for an ending. We don’t know if the older brother decided to join the celebration or if he decided to stay outside and wallow in his bitterness.

This week’s People of the Second Chance Never Beyond poster depicts Mike Tyson.

You know him, right? If you’re a child of the 80s like me (man, I’m getting old), you probably remember him as a boxing legend. You may have played Mike Tyson’s Punch Out on the old school Nintendo system. You might also remember him as a really bad guy. He has a pretty long rap sheet. I won’t list it here. But do an internet search and you’ll find a myriad of websites that list his sins for all the world to see.

Just like the younger brother, he lived in excess. He partied hard. He was (and still is) famous. He was important by the world’s standards. He’s probably tasted all the world has to offer. The people who enjoyed his success dropped him when things got bad. He hit rock bottom and the entire world got ringside seats to watch his downfall. When he fell, he fell hard. When he fell, those who claimed to love him began to hate him. Everyone believed he got what he deserved, including me.

I would imagine that it’s been pretty lonely for Mike Tyson.

On Sunday evening, Mike Tyson tweeted this:

I don’t claim to know Mike Tyson’s heart. What I do know is that repentant sinners receive lavish love from God the father. If Mike Tyson has God like he says, if he has come to his senses, if he has repented – then God the Father ran with open arms to validate him as son. He gave him a robe. He gave him shoes. HE WAS FORGIVEN. Mike Tyson received the same measure of grace that all the rest of us prodigals have (in case you were wondering, that’s an overabundance, never-ending, gushing with loving kindness, eternity’s worth of grace).

Forget about Mike Tyson for a second. What about the people in your life? You know, that person you can’t stand at work? The mother in play group who is ALWAYS bragging about her kids and putting down your parenting styles? Your black sheep relative who everyone in the family hopes can’t make it to the family gathering? Your neighbor whose dog keeps tearing up your flower bed? What about those people? You might be the prodigal’s brother if the thought of God running to them (like he did you) to lavish his love upon them makes your stomach turn. But the truth is that the fountain of grace from which YOU and I drink is the same fountain of grace offered to them.

When that truth sinks into our thick skulls and hard hearts, do we want to be like the older brother? If that person we despise comes repentant before the cross, are we going to complain and argue and try to explain to God why someone like Mike Tyson (or our co-worker, peer, relative, neighbor) shouldn’t receive a party and someone like us should? Are we going to really believe that our duty to God and all the “good” stuff we’ve done for God gives us more merit? That somehow we deserve more because we think we made better choices for ourselves?

When someone else is the prodigal, especially if it’s someone we don’t particularly like, we have a choice. We can either pout outside the house sipping from the cup of bitterness OR we can rejoice, go inside, and party it up because “he was dead, but now he’s alive. He was lost, but now is found.”

Which will you choose?

If you want to hear the sermon that inspired me this week and helped me write this post, click here. Just want to send a thanks to my pastor Mark Cary for sharing these words of wisdom.

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