Gift 10 – Holy Curiosity

“Never lose a holy curiosity.” – Albert Einstein

I asked my Freshmen Bible students to read an entire Gospel account while making a list of all their questions as they read. After 3 weeks, a young man told me he’d finished reading the gospel of Matthew. “Great,” I said, “Do you have your list of questions?”

“No,” he replied, “I didn’t have any questions.”

“What? You read the entire book of Matthew and didn’t have a single question?” I asked.

“That’s right,” said the young man.

“You must not have actually read it,” I said.

“No, I read it, Mr. Russ. Honestly, I did!”

“No, no, I’m not accusing you of not ‘reading’ it. I’m sure your eyes passed over the words on the page, but I’m afraid you didn’t read it.”

“…huh?”

I tried explaining that the purpose of the assignment wasn’t for his brain to waterski across the surface of the text, but to scuba dive in the depths of the story looking for peculiarities on the way. Waterskiing is good and fine, but you’re not going to find treasure on the seafloor that way.

Now he was really confused. “Look,” I said, “the point wasn’t just to read the book, or even to just understand it, but to engage the drama on a deeper level. This happens when we ask questions. Make sense?”

Though I’m not sure the student got it, I began thinking more about the importance of curiosity. It’s true, asking questions is one of the most powerful ways of engaging…well, everything—subjects in school, the Bible, the world around you, people. If you’re looking for adventure, then ask a question and follow where it takes you. Asking a question is like stumbling on a path that might lead to some incredible, undiscovered place.

I wholeheartedly believe that genuine curiosity is more valuable than a storehouse of knowledge. You could know as much as the Internet, but if there’s no gas in the tank then you’re not going to go anywhere. Curiosity is the fuel of discovery. It’s a wellspring that never stops bubbling. It’s a spark.

Unfortunately, this spark often dims (and sometimes dies) as a person grows older. I recently read that children ask on average 125 questions a day. Adults ask 6. Most kids are full of wonder, possibility, imagination, and curiosity, while so many adults are fraught with assumptions, routine, suppositions, and the burden of responsibility. I understand this; it makes sense. Becoming an adult is certainly not a bad thing, but something extraordinary happens when you hold on to your curiosity as you grow older.

Need an example? Albert Einstein is considered to be one of the most brilliant minds to have ever lived. He transformed the study of physics by proposing and defending revolutionary ideas about the nature of light, space, and time; concepts that opened the door to the world of quantum physics. Einstein’s conception of the universe changed the way scientists and mathematicians think—his impact is so significant that it will never be fully realized or appreciated. And yet, Einstein denied being the kind of “born genius” that many supposed he was. “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”

Amen.

The best part is that questions are like potato chips: you can’t have just one. Real questions are always connected to more questions, and more questions, and more questions. I believe chasing these questions is a form of worship. I also believe that a day spent without asking questions is essentially sleepwalking. Part of being dangerous is having a mind that is fully awake, alive, and eager to engage the world in new ways.

Here’s some fun ones to get you started: Why is the sky blue? How was chess invented? What makes ocean waves? Who decided there are seven days in a week? How far away is the sun? Where did Jesus grow up? Why is Christmas celebrated on December 25? How does electricity work? And where does your poop go when you flush it down the toilet?

Go get ‘em, son. Have fun.

Gift 9 – God’s Will

Guess what, son, I know God’s will for your life.

Before you start thinking I have some special insight into what college you’re supposed to attend, or I know the name of the girl you’re going to marry, or I can discern what career you need to pursue, let me tell you a story.

About a year ago I was offered a job teaching Bible at a great school in Holland. The only problem was that I already had a teaching job in Lansing that I really enjoyed. Naturally, I wanted to know what I should do. So I asked God.

God didn’t tell me.

As the deadline for my decision approached, I got a little panicky. “Come on God, where do you want me to go? Just tell me and I’ll do it! Any time now would be great.”

Nothing.

I started wondering how this whole “will of God” thing worked. Isn’t He supposed to make it clear to me through a dream, or at least a sign of some sorts? This proved disastrously confusing as I began seeing contradictory signs in every conversation.

“Well God opened the door for you to go, didn’t He? He’s telling you something there.”

“Someone mentioned to me just the other day that you’re having a real impact in Lansing. Interesting that would happen just as you’re making this decision, don’t you think?”

I’d see a quote on Facebook, “Don’t be afraid to move on and start a new chapter.” Next I’d read a magazine article about staying committed to one place for a long time. After a few weeks of seeing “signs” just about everywhere, the only thing I was sure of was that God was messing with me.

I read the way God communicated with his servants in the Bible and become plain jealous.

“You will go on from there until you reach the great tree of Tabor. Three men going up to God at Bethel will meet you there. One will be carrying three young goats, another three loaves of bread, and another a skin of wine. They will greet you and offer you two loaves of bread, which you will accept from them. After that you will go to Gibeah of God, where there is a Philistine outpost. As you approach the town, you will meet a procession of prophets coming down from the high place…” (God speaking to Saul, from 1 Sam. 10).

And on and on. Seriously, God? You gave Saul step-by-step GPS directions and you’re not even going to tell me where to work?

As I became more and more afraid of making the wrong decision and somehow going against God’s will, the Holy Spirit finally spoke up. “Trust Me,” God said. I politely insisted that I’d need more information than that if I was going to make the right decision, but nothing more was said. I was getting ready to bust out some Urim and Thummim (look it up), when a new thought hit me like soaking wet wool fleece (or should it be dry?) to the face: Maybe God’s will isn’t as much about where to be as it is about who to be.

God wanted me to be a man who trusted Him, that much was pretty clear. It was also pretty clear that I hadn’t been trusting. Ironically, I hadn’t been doing God’s will because I was so worried about doing God’s will. All along he wanted me to rest in the assurance that I serve a good God who doesn’t abandon His children at the drop of a hat. So I confidently made the decision to accept the job, knowing that a life surrendered to the Living God could be used anywhere.

I learned that the person I am becoming is often more important to God than where I am going. And this isn’t just a 21st century thing either. God led his people in circles in the wilderness for forty years just to teach them dependence on Him. The Promised Land could wait; their hearts needed shaping first. I think the same is true with us today. Instead of always badgering God about where we should be, perhaps it’s high time we looked to His word about who we should be. We might be surprised by how clear God is about this in His Word.

Son, I can say without a doubt that I know God’s will for your life. God’s will is for you to be humble, thankful, compassionate, joyful, prayerful. He wants you to love Him with all your heart, soul, might, and mind. He wants you to love your neighbor as yourself—even your enemies. He wants you to notice the people others brush past, to care for those who might be hurting, to be salt and light wherever you may be. God wants you to persevere in hard times, to hope in confusing times, and to trust Him at all times. Run after these things and you will be right where God wants you to be.

Gift 8 – A Shovel

Son, I want to offer you the wisdom of a time-tested teacher.

This teacher is unlike any you have ever had; chances are you might not like him at first, but if you listen closely you’ll find he has a lot to offer. While some instructors are animated and entertaining, this particular teacher is monotone and slow-speaking. He’s not the kind to let you lean back in your chair while listening to him lecture. No, he requires active participation. To be honest, I shunned his instruction for many years and only now in my mid-twenties am I starting to see what I have ignored for so long.

The teacher I’m talking about is the shovel. The ordinary, simple shovel. What wisdom can a shovel offer, you ask? Well, I won’t share all of its secrets, but I will share a few things the shovel has taught me recently…

1. Hard work produces respect. This goes two different ways. First, everyone respects a hard worker. I know people whom I disagree with, even people whom I don’t particularly like, but whom I respect because I know they put in their time. Second, I don’t think people can really respect themselves until they’ve worked hard for something and seen a task through till completion. There are few things more satisfying.

2. A person’s gifts are wasted unless they are cultivated by a strong work ethic. Think of the most successful people you know—people like Michael Jordan, Bill Gates, or Steven Spielberg. Not one of these folks rested on natural ability to get by, but became successful through countless hours of commitment, focus, and plain old practice.

3. Spending time in the driveway with a shovel reminds me just how easy I have it. Let’s be honest, most of us have pretty cake lives—I know I do. An hour or two shoveling snow is nothing compared with the sweat and toil of people who’ve come before me. Working hard reminds me of all that I have to be thankful for—things like a job, a wonderful family, a house, and heck, even a driveway to shovel! These things are so easy to take for granted and even complain about until I’m reminded of my many blessings while working to maintain them.

4. Lastly, and most importantly, work is worship. The biblical Hebrew language uses the same word to talk about both (“avodah”), as though they aren’t separate actions at all. Worship isn’t about what kind of work you’re doing, but the heart in which you’re working. Doing the dishes can be worship. Mowing the lawn can be worship. Shoveling the driveway can be worship. Learn this lesson and you will live a life of worship to God.

These are a few things I learned while shoveling the driveway this winter, but it’s not all. Just wait and see the ways in which you will be shaped while working hard at something. And don’t worry, son, I won’t hog all the hard work. As soon as you can walk I’ll have a shovel with your Dangeruss name on it so we can shovel together ☺. You’re welcome.
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Gift 7 – Presence

Hear, O Israel, The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. – Deuteronomy 6

The passage above is one of the most important biblical texts for both Jews and for Christians. Many theologians see Deuteronomy 6 (also known as the Shema) as God’s strong claim to be the one and only God in a time and place where polytheism was common. However, the ambiguity of the original Hebrew words offers some room for play.

My Hebrew professor suggested that “the LORD is one” might very well be an acknowledgment of God’s undivided-ness. God is one, whole, never split in his care and attention toward his people. The LORD is one. The second sentence, then, becomes an invitation for God’s people to be one in their attention back to God—the very thing that happens when we love Him with all our heart, all our soul, and all our might.

Being one is not something we’re very good at this day in age. Right now I have 11 tabs open on my Internet browser. You can call me, text me, tweet me, facetime me, Skype me, email me, or message me and I’ll know within 5 seconds because I’m partially “present” to all these avenues. I’m writing this blog while watching TV while having a conversation with my wife while texting my brother. Really.

Our culture breeds dividedness in countless clever ways. While I’m by no means anti-technology, one effect of our modern gadgets is that we’ve become absent while being present. I’m here, but I’m also somewhere else. I’m with you, but I’m also with them. We’ve become so incredibly efficient that a person can be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The faster you go, the more productive you can be, the busier you become, the more worlds you can live in at nearly the same time…and what has happened to the God I worship and the people I love? They’ve become dashes on a long list of things to do. I can no longer give myself in love, but only pieces of my attention—an eye, an ear, but never all of me.

But son, listen carefully: God refuses to be one of your tabs. He’s not interested in being one of your many distractions. God wants you. He wants you to be with Him heart, soul, mind, and body. Whole. One. Perhaps God’s gift of a Sabbath day is one way for us to stop and be present to God’s presence in the midst of a busy schedule. Sabbath is a reminder that one doesn’t run after God by going faster, but by slowing down.

When present-ness is our goal, children become our teachers (perhaps this is part of the reason Jesus says that we must become like kids to participate in the Kingdom of God). I’ve noticed this lately with my niece. No matter how many times I throw her in the air, or play “peekaboo”, or simply act like she stung my hand after a good high five, she always wants to keep playing as though this is the one thing on her schedule for the day, as though her entire world for the time being has a population of two.

Presence isn’t about being in more places, but being more in a place. Presence is about value, substance, authenticity, being one. Hurry and worry are two excellent ways of being somewhere else while being right here. Slowing down and trusting is the only way to be present.

The Living God is here, now. The question is, are you?

Gift 6 – Conflict

My English students and I discovered a profound connection between conflict and significance. All the stories ever told—everything from children’s books to multi-million dollar movie productions—contain conflict. Conflict is essentially any problem or dilemma that requires overcoming and is usually introduced towards the beginning of a story to get the ball rolling. Our favorite stories are almost always the ones that have the greatest conflicts; the ones in which evil has all but won the day just before that glimmer of hope becomes a reality and conquers the darkness. These are the stories we remember, not because they are happy and easy all the way through but because they contain great conflict and great characters that overcome adversity.

Now consider the fact that our culture is all about making life easier. Think about T.V. advertisements. Everything from microwave-safe Tupperware to the latest smart phone model is marketed on the promise that it will make your life easier, faster, smoother. In other words, less conflict. We are people obsessed with eliminating all forms of conflict from our lives because, well, easier is better right?

Then why are so many people dissatisfied, restless, purposeless, and hungry for something more?

The answer can be found in a semester of freshmen English. A good story cannot exist without significant conflict that needs overcoming, and the same is true of a significant life. When our desire for conflict-free lives influences our choices, the way we work, the way we conduct our relationships; when we consistently choose the easiest possible path, we are actually uprooting the potential for significance, the possibility that our stories will be worth telling.

What does Jesus tell us about following Him? “In this world you will have trouble,” and “If they persecuted me they will also persecute you,” and “Enter through the narrow gate.”

Follow Jesus and conflict is guaranteed. This revelation led the freshmen and me to a insightful question: Are many of us bored with the Christian life because we’ve traded the commands of Jesus for the comfortable life? Perhaps following Jesus was never about finding the easiest way out of difficulty, but rather about living lives of significance. Whether it means standing up to peer pressure, confronting a deeply rooted addiction, or befriending the “least” at the risk of losing your reputation, following Jesus always leads to conflict. And as we learn in Freshmen English, conflict always leads to a better story.

Son, a dangerous man doesn’t buy the lie that easier = better, nor does he run from conflict in pursuit of the easiest path; rather, he accepts the call of Jesus and follows where he leads, even if he leads to a cross.

Gift 5 – Action Figures

“[We need to] just land the plane on our plans to make a difference by getting to the ‘do’ part of faith…love is never stationary. In the end, love doesn’t just keep thinking about it or keep planning for it. Simply put: love does.” – Bob Goff

“Christian life is action: not speculating, not debating, but doing.” – Frederick W. Robertson (1816 – 1853)

“Dear Children, let us not love with words or speech but with action and in truth.” – 1 John 3:18

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When I was a kid I collected action figures almost obsessively. I would heap blankets on the floor of my bedroom and stage “mountain” battles between my GI-Joes and Star Wars toys. The cool thing about action figures is that the characters are made as though halfway through a motion—slashing with a lightsaber, running to the crime scene, flying on a skateboard while tossing a pizza in the air (Michelangelo the ninja turtle). They’re doing something.

Have you ever met a kid who wanted to play with an opinion figure? Me neither.

Imagine a boy getting his toys together for a meeting. “Okay guys, today we’re going to discuss the pros and cons of being a polypropylene composite.” Doesn’t happen. We’d rather do something. The reason companies make action figures instead of opinion figures is because no one ever wanted to play with an opinion figure. There’s a word kids use to describe things like this that are all words and no action: boring.

In Matthew 25, Jesus separates all people in to one of two groups—one group going with him and his father, the other group going away to be punished. The folks who get to go with Jesus are the ones who fed the hungry and thirsty, invited strangers to become friends, clothed the naked, took care of the sick, and visited the imprisoned. In other words, the ones who did stuff. The interesting thing is that Jesus didn’t ask the people on his right what they thought about predestination or about Christians getting tattoos, shockingly, he didn’t even ask them what they believed. He simply saw what they had done and knew right away what was in their hearts.

Son, when Christ returns I want you to be found—like an action figure—in the middle of doing something. Being dangerous isn’t about having certain ideas, or agreeing with other Christians, or even just about believing certain things, but about a heart so filled with love for God that it comes out. Sometimes Christian culture (Christian school, church, etc.) can be breeding grounds for opinion figures; boring Christians who talk too much (I’m guilty!), but the Bible is like an exercise DVD in that it’s no good being passive. Imagine watching “Power Body Strength Training” while sitting on the couch eating French fries. What’s the point? Likewise, Jesus asks time and time again, “What’s the point of hearing my words if you’re not going to do them?”

So lets make a deal: I’ll stop writing, you stop reading. Receive the love of God with open arms and go do something about it!

Gift 4 – Perseverance

Son, I want to tell you the story of how I got to marry your mom.

There was this beautiful girl I’d seen a few times in a college Bible study. We knew each other a little bit—she knew my name and I knew hers, but that was about it. I wanted to get to know her better and told one of my best friends, Ron. Well, Sunday after Church Ron and I went to The Wooden Shoe restaurant for lunch, and lo and behold, the beautiful girl from Bible study was working there! What luck! Unfortunately, Ron didn’t realize that this was the girl I’d been talking about; he basically blew my chances of getting to know her by fleeing the restaurant (and taking me with him) when he heard about free waffles somewhere else.

We got to the car.
Me: “Ron, you idiot, that was the girl!”
Ron: “Oh shoot, I’m so sorry, let’s go back in.”
Me: “No, we’re not going back in! We’d look even more crazy if we did that!”
Ron: “Well let’s come back next week then.”

And we did. A group of friends and I came back the next week, and the week after that, and the week after that, for something like 8 weeks in a row just to have this girl as a waitress (Stalker-ish? Maybe). Finally, after 8 weeks of small talk I knew I had to make a move. “So, what are you studying in college?” I asked.

“I’m a nursing major and Spanish minor,” she replied.

Close enough, I thought to myself. “I love Spanish!” The truth is, son, I knew about 3 words in Spanish.

“Oh yeah? Would you be interested in helping teach an ESL class for Spanish speaking adults in the community with me on Tuesday nights?”

“Um…yes, I would love that.”

She walked away; my friends all looked at me like I was crazy. Great, I thought, I’ve got one week to learn Spanish.

To make a long story a little shorter, we began teaching the class together and it didn’t take long for her to realize I was a fraud (on the first day I showed a picture of my 1 year old niece to the class and communicated, in Spanish, that the little girl was my girlfriend). But I stuck it out, learned a bit more Spanish, and eventually got a dinner date with this beautiful multi-lingual waitress who is now my wife.

While this might sound like perseverance, to be honest, it’s really not. Running after a beautiful girl (and even pretending to speak foreign languages to spend time with her) isn’t really all that difficult. The difficult part comes later, and this is the gift I want to point you towards. True perseverance starts when your desire to move forward stalls. When instead of excitement and romance, you’re figuring out who will pay bills, who will scoop the dog poop from the yard, who will clean up all those dirty dishes in the sink. Perseverance is all about the decisions you make to keep serving, to keep loving, and to keep hoping in life when it would be easier not to. This is what will make you a dangerous man. And though this is extremely difficult at times, the man who perseveres becomes a little more like the Leader of our tribe, and will someday taste the sweet fruit of his resolve that so many have forgone in search of a happiness that comes without perseverance—a kind of happiness that doesn’t exist.

Adios por ahora 😉

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Gift 3 – Wonder

“Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder, and he gave it to me.”

– Abraham Joshua Heschel

So come to find out the sun is humongous. Like really big.

I mean, the earth alone is unimaginably large. Just last year scientists discovered a remote part of the Amazon rainforest that people had never been to before and found 258 new species of plants, 84 new kinds of fish, 22 new reptiles, 18 undocumented birds, and 1 new mammal (it’s a monkey that purrs like a cat when it is happy). How crazy that we’ve lived on this planet for thousands and thousands of years and haven’t even seen the whole thing yet!

A few days ago I walked from Zeeland to Holland (about 7 miles) and it took for-ev-er. As long as my exhausting walk took, the distance registers less than the diameter of a grain of sand on google maps, even when just looking at little ol’ Michgian. My fist thought was that Lewis and Clarke must have been insane. My second thought was something along the lines of, Whoa, Earth is a beast.

But as massively massive as planet Earth is, my brain pooped its pants when I was told that the sun is an estimated million times bigger. A million times bigger?!?!…what?

Does it seem just a little humorous to anyone else that there is giant ball one million times bigger than our entire planet floating in our sight all day long—oh, and did I mention that the massive sphere is basically on fire!—and no one even acts like this is unusual?

Pardon me…PAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! WHAT?! If my brain had a diaper it would currently be full. I mean, a million times bigger than earth?! What does that even mean?

When you stop to think about it, everything is pretty much awesome. A few weeks ago I started making a list of amazing things that I’d been taking for granted all my life. Here is a little snippet:

– Everything in my house came from the earth. The toaster, the lamp, the television—all these things came from the ground and are only in their current form after a complicated and precise series of processes and exchanges. It’s like Adam and Eve were given the earth and a piece of paper saying “some assembly required” and here we are today with skyscrapers and jet skis like they magically fell from the sky.

– How the human body works. I’ve had one my whole life and still have no clue what’s going on. My brain works without my telling it to. My heart beats without my telling it to. My eyes see without my telling them to. The whole thing is one astonishing compilation of cells, organs…cells…and I think other stuff too (my biological knowledge is slightly limited ☺).

– People get so excited over 3D movies, apparently forgetting that life was already 3D to begin with though nobody seemed to notice.

The more you think about it the more you start to realize that everything is awesome, and strange, and unexplainable. Here is where the gift comes in. Wonder is essentially having eyes to see. Wonder means living with the conviction that everything connects to everything else. Wonder is going to the border of things imaginable and placing your palms against your brain’s boundaries to feel the warmth of God’s breath on the other side.

This is a valuable gift because there aren’t many folks with wide-open eyes. Not only will wonder make you a visionary in the dullness of everyday, but more importantly, it will become a wellspring of worship swelling up and over in your life. Oh, and I almost forgot, it will make school way less boring.

Gift 2 – Nothing and Something

My new campers would be arriving in just a few hours, so I made my way across a big field towards my cabin to clean when I saw another counselor, Silas, wrestling with what looked like a camper (he was with a group of kids that had arrived earlier in the week). I thought they were just playing around until I got closer and Silas waved me over looking pretty serious. Apparently the camper was giving him some trouble…lots of trouble. Both Silas and the 14-year-old kid were scratched up a bit; the boy was injuring himself and Silas.

Silas asked me to stay with the camper while he went to find our supervisors. So I sat down next to this kid who by now had given up the wrestling match and was just crying on the ground (thank goodness…about the not wrestling part). I tried making small talk but the boy wouldn’t even give me his name. I watched him cry into his own arms and noticed he was pretty dirty: dirt under his finger and toenails and scratches and scabs on his body and face. He had cuts on his wrists as well.

After about ten minutes he began talking through his tears about all sorts of things. His name was Matt. He said he was so angry and sick of being himself. He was tired of feeling the way he did and tired of God ignoring his prayers for help. He said the only way he could think of to get rid of all his feelings was to simply not exist anymore.

My heart dropped and broke and cried and did about ten other things. I started praying like crazy for God to give me something to say. Eventually Silas came back; I walked them to their cabin before going to my own to clean. I kept praying while I swept the place out, asking God to do something, to change the way this kid was feeling. I got a little angry. “Let me get this straight, God, so you say that you love people, but you’re just not willing to do anything about it? Really?”
At this point I really believe the Holy Spirit guided my heart, saying, “What if you gave him your ring?” Hooooollllddddd on just a minute. I had gotten the ring earlier that summer in Israel and had worn it every day since. It says in Hebrew, I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine. It was without a doubt my most precious possession; something I planned on passing on to my son someday as a sacred heirloom of sorts (you know, like Lord of the Rings or something). I was not giving it away to some kid I hardly knew. As I continued sweeping out my cabin I had quite a nice wrestling match with the Holy Spirit. It went something like this:

Me: My ring is a symbol of my commitment to You, God. You wouldn’t want me to give that away, would you?
God: If you keep it against my leading it will instead be, in your eyes, a symbol of your lack of commitment to Me.
Me: But what if I give Matt the ring and he doesn’t understand how much it means to me? He probably won’t care about it half as much as I do and it will be a waste.
God: Yeah, I know what you mean. My Son meant everything to Me, and people still don’t get the half of it. Yet I still gave Him to you.
Me: Touché. But God, seriously…
God: So let me get this straight, you’re saying that you love people, but you’re just not willing to do anything about it?

That last bit sounded vaguely familiar…Finally, I thought about Matt’s wounded wrists and understood that though my gift might not mean anything to him, I had to try. I walked through the woods from my cabin to the one in which Matt was staying. Knocking on the door I said, “Hey Matt, can I talk to you for a minute?” He joined my on the porch probably thinking he was in trouble or something.

I told Matt that I’d been thinking about what he said and how he feels like God doesn’t care about him. I showed him my ring, telling him that I’d gotten it in Israel as a reminder of how much God loves me. I said, “This ring is my most precious possession. And you wanna know something cool? The most precious thing to God was His Son, Jesus, but He still gave Him for you so that you would know for sure that He loves you and He’s with you.” I took the ring off my finger and said, “So I want to give this to you. To remind you that God is with you and He loves you.”
I know, not the most eloquent sermon in the world, but it didn’t seem to matter. Matt froze while his eyes got huge in disbelief. He said, “Wait, are you serious?” I nodded, and without another word he wrapped his arms around me (this was the first of five huge hugs he gave me in just a few minutes). He was inexpressibly happy and grateful. He put it on right away and it fit perfectly. His eyes filled with tears as I did my best to keep mine in. “I didn’t tell you this earlier,” Matt said, “But tomorrow is my birthday.”

“Well this is God’s birthday present to you, then,” I said.

“Yeah, I think so,” he said, smiling. We talked for a few minutes before I walked back to my cabin, thanking God for the cool opportunity.

I kid you not, one year later I was back working at this same camp when a taller, more-alive Matt walked up to me still wearing the same ring I’d given him a year earlier. We sat down by the soccer field while he told me all about how much better his past year had been. “Last year,” said Matt, “Before you gave me your ring, I was planning on, you know, ending things when I got home from camp. But this birthday present from God changed my mind.”

Wow. I was speechless. Was this young man’s life worth losing a ring over? Definitely.

So what is the second gift I have for you, son? Nothing. I’m afraid I gave your ring away. On the other hand, I may have gained something even more valuable to pass on. You see I learned that loving people, the way Jesus loved us, almost always costs something. Being dangerous means loving anyway. You might lose time, you might lose money, heck, you might even lose your most valuable possession, but guess what, son? It’s worth it. The value of loving others is immeasurable, incalculable, and life changing. I’m embarrassed and a little ashamed when I think back to how hesitant I had been to give away a thing, and for a person who really needed it. But you’ll soon learn how easy it is to get your priorities mixed up when muddled with the business of everyday life. The gift I want to give you is the reminder that loving people comes first, and that no matter how much you love, no matter how much you give away, it will ever only be a faint echo of the great love Jesus gave to us. Remember that and you will be dangerous.

Gift 1 – A Dangeruss Name

I remember waiting in the bathhouse with ten or so impatient campers.  We had an hour set aside to wash up before breakfast, but since there were only three working showers, the majority of time was spent standing around.  I had just finished shaving and had a good-sized gob of shaving cream left in my hand, so I decided to put it to good use.  “Line up!” I said; the awkward adolescents made their way over to see what I was going to do.  I went to the first boy, smudged my thumb with cream and began drawing lines on his face in what I hoped would look like some kind of native design.  “You are Wild Wolf,” I said in a deep voice, “Brave and true, a defender of the weak.  You will be a great leader of men…” and on and on.

I went on like this down the line of boys, giving each one a different shaving cream “war paint” design and a new name to go along with it.  I was improvising.  I was playing.  But I quickly discovered that they were not.  The young men hushed and drew close to hear what name I would say, to find out what kind of identity I would see and call out in them.  Each boy lifted his face to meet the “paint” while drinking in my words greedily, some even ran back to the cabin to grab a pen and page so they could remember their new name word for word.

What was happening?  Why had this little time-passing game taken on such meaning to these kids?  I quickly realized something I had been seeing all summer as a camp counselor: young people, boys especially, are desperate to find out just who they really are.  And if there’s no one there to show them the way, to see something good and alive and even daring in them; to call it out and nurture that identity, then surely they will look for a name somewhere else.

So I want to give my son a name.  I want to give him an invitation to be someone who has something real and important to do.  A few hundred years ago our communities needed young men, without whom they couldn’t survive.  Now all we need from them is to sit still until the bell rings.  And they know it.  So they go where they’re needed, even if they know it’s not right or even real.  Everything from gangs to video games—after all, aren’t most video games just a way of temporarily being someone else who has a significant role to play in an important story?

A good name is like a path in all this wandering wilderness—an invitation, a summons, a call to go a certain way.  Granted, a road still has to be walked for it to make any difference, but even so, it’s a start.  Names have been used like this in cultures all around the world for thousands of years, most famously in the biblical Hebrew culture, and I want to carry on the tradition.  That’s why my son’s middle name will be “Danger.”  And yes, I’m serious.  First, because what little boy wouldn’t want to be able to say that Danger is his middle name and actually be telling the truth?  And second, because I want my son’s name to be a constant reminder of God’s call and claim upon his life.  To be a doer.  To be an active participant in Christ’s unfolding Kingdom.  To be filled with the Holy Spirit of Jesus that is always dangerous and destructive to the Enemy’s causes.

Looking around (and I must confess, looking in the mirror), it seems we are under the impression that a Christian man is simply someone who thinks certain things, who believes certain things, who has certain “Christian” opinions.  But no matter how much we’d like to believe it, I don’t think our Enemy shutters at our opinions.  I don’t think he is threatened, dare I say, even by our beliefs.  It is only when the power of Christ’s boundless love takes root in one’s hearts that the fruit of action burst up all over to threaten the dominion of darkness.  This is dangerous.   And sadly, this is rare.

Being dangerous doesn’t always look how you’d think it would.  In a culture that prizes quick fixes and easy-way-out-solutions, it might simply mean being in one place for a while.  It might mean leaving your comfort zone to do the right thing.  It might mean being mocked and laughed at while going out of your way to befriend the friendless.  It might mean having the courage to tell the truth when telling a lie would produce better results.  It might mean being vulnerable so that others can lower their guard and feel safe.  Whatever it looks like, my son’s name will be a constant call to follow The Dangerous One, who relentlessly threatens the seeds of loneliness, despair, isolation, hatred, shame, and sorrow planted by our Enemy.  I want my son to know that being a follower of Jesus means being dangerous.