This summer my wife and I packed the family van, loaded up the kids and hit the Florida beaches for some much needed down time. The kids swam countless laps around the three pools at the resort. My wife made countless trips to our third floor room for snacks, sunscreen, and books. I ate countless snacks, put on little sunscreen, and read a lot less than I had planned. It was perfect.
One evening, as the sun was setting and the whole peninsula was awash in pinks and oranges, a rather cool breeze came running up the gulf and sent me running to the hot tub – on any other occasion one could only reasonably call this the tepid tub, because it was never anything that even approached hot – but on this evening, with this odd breeze, it was more than tepid, it was downright toasty.
I was the first one in, but soon enough the bubbling tub, “maximum occupancy 12”, was filled with 16 complete strangers. It was awkward. People don’t like to talk on vacation. I tried not to make eye-contact, a strategy that I learned from watching nature documentaries about gorillas in Central Africa – “never look a male silverback in the eye”. Amazingly, this works pretty well on male homo sapiens too, that is until the middle-aged women couldn’t take it any longer. Within a few moments we were all introducing ourselves – lying about where we lived and where we worked, at least I was. I always do. It’s fun.
The many discussions of “home” pretty much sent everyone packing. No one wants to talk about their work while they are on vacation, that’s why we all drove 12 torturous hours in a minivan with Spongebob DVD’s playing while our wives paint their toes and our sons pee in empty gatorade bottles. As quickly as the cool air had filled the tub, hot air had emptied it. I looked up and it was just me and another guy. He was sitting right across from me, starring right at me, unflinching. It was sort of weird. I was thinking that this guy has obviously not watched enough nature documentaries, that he didn’t know that he was breaking a cardinal rule of nature. Then it occurred to me that perhaps, HE was the male silverback!
He broke the silence. I struggled to remember what lie I had told the people around me a moment or two before about where I lived and what I did. Fortunately, he didn’t ask me about any of that. He wanted to know about my tattoos. He thought I might have been in the military, since one of the most visible tattoos on my forearm is a hand grenade. He laughed like a Roman god when he found out that I was a pastor – I forgot the lie that I had told a few minutes before.
Turns out, he was a soldier, a navy seal. His right leg was shriveled and his back was twisted from the brutal beating that war had placed upon his body. Sadly, his psyche was just as scarred.
For an hour and a half he told me the stories of his numerous deployments. I hardly said a word. Not because I was looking for a way to retreat to my room, but because I didn’t want to. He was a man of incredible experience. Some of it gut wrenching, some of it heroic, all of it compelling. The kind of compelling that causes you to sort of loose sense of time. The kind of compelling that only comes from living experience. He spoke and I was a captive to his story, unable to leave, or even want to. The things that young boys act out, he had lived out. The narrative that Hollywood tries to fit onto two dimensional film he had lived out in 3-d, with his own blood. He spoke with authority, the kind of authority that left an almost tangible impression upon me. Shrapnel had cut his body, his story had cut my heart.
On my way up to my room, still swirling from what I had just heard, the still, small voice of the Spirit spoke to me. “Never settle for less than experience”.
Perhaps the greatest need in all the church is for pastors and worship leaders to be men and women who lead from a place of direct experience.
Moses had a glowing face.
Jacob had a bum hip.
Peter’s preaching cut mens hearts.
Paul was blinded by the light.
John went to heaven.
This kingdom narrative is not a closed one. It is not a story that is finished in any way.The ways that God intersected the lives of human beings in the scriptures, is still his preferred method.
On this, too many of us settle for metaphors.
On this, too many of us are settling for a two-dimensional existence, or even worse, a life in God that is trapped in the bible. There is more. Settle for nothing less.