My friend Linda wrote this in response to my most recent article “The Gift of Suffering.” In just three sentences, she captured more truth than most of us will in a lifetime. She is not defeated. She refuses to look at her life from the perspective of mortality, only. Her soul has an anchor and nothing can shove her off from her hope. While most of us fly upside-down, as Dallas Willard wrote in his book Divine Conspiracy, Linda flies right-side-up. She’s looking at things from the right perspective: THIS IS NOT PARADISE. Her home is with God. I’d bet that most of my problems come when I fall into the trap of thinking that this world is Paradise, placing all of my hope in this crippled basket. ”There is no thing worth keeping if it keeps you from its Giver.” There’s something so deep about that, I hope you roll it over in your soul, again and again, until it wakes you up. May nothing keep us from the Source of our joy. Thank you, Linda, and we are praying for you.
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“I’m gay.” That’s what the note said. It was the last thing his teenage son wrote before he hung himself in the attic. That was the second personal tragedy in my friend’s life. First, his wife left him. Now, alone in his home with the cold body of his son, he was enduring what no father should have to go through. It’s just not right. My friend thought to himself, “Had my son only known how much I loved him and that what he wrote on the note didn’t matter.”
Just over a year later, the police came to the workplace of my friend. More bad news. They told him that his other son had been shot, as he was trying to break up a fight between two others. In case you’re doubting, this is a true story—and it’s just not right. No father should have to go through what my friend did.
It’s been many years since these tragedies, but no amount of time can take away the sting.
It’s been many years since another tragedy, in fact, it’s been many centuries. But that sickening feeling in the gut remains. No father should have to go through what this Father had to go through.
And it’s just not right. That’s the thought you’re supposed to have when you hear about the life and death of Jesus. Any honest reading of Mark’s Gospel will give you this feeling. The historian and writer Mark spends most of his ink establishing Jesus as God’s Son. The first fourteen chapters of his book are loaded with descriptions of Jesus’ divinity, power, perfection, and right to the helm of the cosmos. Jesus was God’s Son: he healed the sick, made the blind to see and the deaf to hear. He displayed stunning power over demons and nature. Quite literally, Jesus walked on water.
No person ever lived like he. No human had a resume like his. He didn’t just act like God, he was God. All honor and glory should be his. He ought to have the right over every life, to dispose of every creature as he wished. Indeed, he ought to exercise that right, especially given what we’ve done to our world and to each other. We are so dark and he is so pure.
Then Mark turns the corner in his book in chapter 14. He begins to take him down a few notches. He narrates the humiliation of Jesus.
What did this humiliation look like? Jesus was betrayed by one of his closest followers (14:43). He was lied about, slandered, and testified against (14:56). He was spit upon and slapped (14:65). He was outright disowned (14:71). He was legally accused (15:3). He was judged less than a murderer, who was released (15:11). He was mocked by a fake robe and a crown of thorns, struck on the head, stripped, tortured, and ultimately crucified (15:17-20). On top of that, his remaining possessions were stolen from him (15:24) and everyone passing by his lifeless body reviled him (15:32).
After knowing what you know about Jesus and then reading how it all turns out, your overwhelming sensation should be, “That’s just not right.”
Anyone with a pulse should have the same moral outrage as that of my friend, if you truly grasp the significance of Jesus’ death. This isn’t to minimize the pain that my friend went through, but to recalibrate your view of Jesus. It was a tragedy. God’s Son should never have to go through what he went through.
So why did he do it? Why was he abused? Why was he humiliated?
Because God didn’t want to go another day without you. It feels like I’m committing an indecency even writing these words, but they are utterly true. God chose to forsake his Son so that he could forgive you. God crushed his boy in order to welcome you into his arms. God, help me as I say this—God felt the same moral outrage at the thought of losing you, as we feel at the thought of losing a child. God looked at you, seeing what might become of you if he didn’t intervene, and said, “That is not right.”
© Samuel Kee, 2012
Recently, one of my friends was shot and killed in a drive by shooting. His name was Phil. I worked alongside of Phil in a local grocery store, stocking shelves at 3 or 4 in the morning. We loved telling jokes—the kind that are only funny that early in the morning—discussing the problems with health insurance, sharing stories about our families, and complaining about the gloves we used in the frozen food section. Phil loved showing me a picture of his little boy. Phil loved working out, energy drinks, and Mardi gras. He was one of the easiest going guys I know; he was 23 years old.
He was in a car when it happened, on his way to the barber shop.
Naturally, the family of this former high school honor student is outraged, and no doubt plenty of people are seeking revenge. I, too am upset. I would love to have another chance to talk with Phil. But regardless of what I would say to Phil, given the chance to see him again, I think a better scenario would be to hear what Phil would have to say to me, given just one more chance.
The Hebrew Scriptures say “Teach us to number our days, so that we can gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). The truly wise person is the one who lives with the end in view, filtering all of life’s decisions, whether big or small, through his or her own finitude. The unwise person lives only for today, for passions and pleasures that will fade.
If God is real, then everything is tinted with eternity. God is not just another category of life, to go alongside of “work” or “family” or “hobbies;” rather, God’s shadow eclipses everything, casting eternity on it all.
It’s a miracle that I’m alive today; it’s a miracle that you are alive today. We’re fooling ourselves if we deny this, if we pretend that our car couldn’t be next. Take a moment to meditate on how you want to spend your day, knowing that tomorrow is not promised.
© Samuel Kee, 2011
A friend of mine passed away late last night, her name was Darlene Anderson. She was a courageous woman, who fought a three-year long battle with cancer. She is survived by her dear husband, Ted, her children, grandchildren, and many friends.
Darlene meant a lot to a lot of people, especially to me. She believed in me over the years and stood up for me many times. She was never afraid of adversity, I can honestly say that. I’ve witnessed her head straight into a storm, completely undaunted, again and again. She was a truly brave human being.
And she could talk to anyone, which is one thing about her that I admired so much. One time we were eating at a camp together. Joining us at the table was a young man that we did not know. He wore dark clothes, was big, and intimidating. He kept his head down and wore headphones, making it clear that he did not want to talk with anyone. As it turns out, he also had some sort of mental handicap. I knew that Darlene was good at making conversation, but this was a true test! I thought to myself, “There is no way that she can get this guy to talk.”
In about 30 seconds, she found a way to engage him in conversation. After a minute, he lifted his head; and after three minutes, she had him laughing. She was talking with him and he was talking with her. I’ll never forget that moment. Darlene was a complete social genius. She could talk to anyone and make anyone feel comfortable with her, no matter how awkward or ostracized they felt.
Did I mention that she was fearless? She was never afraid to stand up for what was right or to go the extra mile toward justice. You always knew where she stood.
She genuinely cared for me, my wife, and my children, sacrificing her time and energy to help us.
She thought the world of her husband—telling me so multiple times—and treasured each of her five children. She was so proud of you.
In Psalm 23, David writes, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” Darlene did not pitch her tent in the valley, but blazed an inspiring trail through it; and now she is safe on the other side. Safe? Yes, safe. Death to her was not the real thing, but only a shadow. And nobody is afraid of a shadow. The shadow of an animal cannot bite; the shadow of a sword cannot kill. Neither can the shadow of death harm those who walk through the valley, for Jesus has made the journey safe for us.
Darlene, my family and I love you. You trusted God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
The newborn baby was thrown out, into a field, where it lay in its own blood, encircled by its own uncut umbilical cord. The baby wore nothing but bruises, mud, and blood. Its parents did not want it, nor did they take the time to wash it, wrap it, or pity it. It’s hard for me to say this, but the parents even abhorred their own child, the day that it was born.
It was a girl.
She had no eye to pity her, as she lay in the tall grass of the field, waiting to die.
Then a man came along and saw her wallowing in her own blood. Getting down on both knees beside her and gently placing her into his hands, he said, “Oh child, live!” (Ezekiel 16:6). The gentle man did everything in his power to care for this little girl. He cleansed her, clothed her, and loved her. As the story goes in the Old Testament book of Ezekiel, “I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became mine” (Ezekiel 16:8).
We are the little girl, abandoned and left to die, wallowing in our own blood and caked with mud. We are in a lonely and ironic field, whose flowers are beautiful, but whose elements are brutal. We long for someone to come along and say to our souls, “You are mine.” That alone would be enough to rescue us, restore us, and redeem us.
The man did not need the baby he found in the field, he wanted her; and there’s a huge difference between “need” and “want.”
The part that stands out to me today has to do with his actions toward her. The passage in Ezekiel details very carefully how the man washed her, anointed her, and clothed her. “Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with fine leather. I wrapped you in fine linen and covered you with silk.” (Ezek 16:9-10). He goes on to describe the costly jewelry he placed upon her.
This is the heart of relationship: washing off someone’s dirt in order to reveal the beautiful person beneath. Prejudice does the opposite, it flings more mud and causes more blood, covering the beauty and condemning the priceless soul. Thus, true community can be modeled after this portrait of the man and his little girl. Community is the place where we cleanse away the dirt from others in order to see who they really are. We refuse to live with stereotypes, fears, and apathy toward one another. We don’t settle for letting others wallow in the filth in which they were cast, but are nurses, every one of us, who care for and covenant with each other.
We claim each other, too, just as we have been claimed by God: You are mine! I’ll take you, dirt and all. Then, after claiming each other, the community refuses to leave a person as he or she was found. We cleanse each other, clothe each other, adorn each other. We make each other beautiful, despite the tragedies of our past.
There are more out there, too, you know. Many more people thrown out into the field, waiting for someone to come along and notice.
© Samuel Kee, 2011
I don’t know why I’ve been so captivated by this question lately. Maybe because having friends has been so hard and yet so rewarding for me over the years. I’m the kind of guy that only needs a couple of friends, rather than a bunch. The author Larry Osborn said that people are like Legos (the plastic, puzzle pieces with “bumps” on them). Some Legos have six or more connecting bumps and, therefore, can latch onto multiple friends at once. Other Legos, on the other hand, only have one or two connecting bumps. These Legos can only hold one or two other Legos at any given time. People are like Legos; some of us can connect to multiple friends, while others can only hold one or two.
I’m the Lego with just one or two bumps. I can only connect to a couple of friends and I only need a couple of friends. My best friend is my wife.
We don’t get a lot of help in this area, either. This is the other part that puzzles me. There are only a few books about how to be a better friend; there are a quite a few children’s books on friendship, however. But there’s not a lot of help for adults, especially when it comes to Christian friendship. Most adults that I talk to, tell me that they feel so alone. In a recent conference I attended, Mark Driscoll pointed out that in the last two thousand years, there’s only been one book that’s been written on friendship between husbands and wives, for instance.
Yesterday, I was talking with Paul Till, who’s a Yale grad and a pioneer teacher in the Czech Republic. His creativity and passion in teaching high school students utterly astounds me. Since he works with high school students, and since high school students seem to have a knack for making friends, I asked him to help me understand this idea of Christian friendship. As we sat together over burgers, fries, and cream soda, we both felt admittedly baffled by this topic. We could readily talk about theories of atonement, ancient theodicies, or second temple Judaism, but we found it a bit of a stretch to talk about and define Christian friendship—at least I did. Why is that?
Eventually, nonetheless, my friend Paul pointed out the “strange” ways Jesus went about making friends. In John 1, Jesus initiates his friendship with Nathaniel by giving him a robust complement, saying something like, “Here is an honest-to-goodness Israelite, who is as true as they come” (John 1:47). Imagine what it would be like if someone approached you by shouting complements? Or, in John 3, Jesus starts his friendship with Nicodemus, the one who would eventually burry Jesus, with a puzzling statement, one that was more irritating than illuminating, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again!” (John 3:3). Still, to the Samaritan woman, whom Jesus was supposed to avoid because of massive cultural stigmas, Jesus begins his friendship by asking her to fulfill a need that he has, “Will you give me a drink?” (John 4:7). When it came to making friends, Jesus didn’t mess around, but sought to restore the value of the other.
Philos is the Greek word for friend. Before meaning “friend,” philos was an adjective that meant “dear” or “valuable.” A friend is someone who is dear or valuable to you. Think about how you treat things of great value in your life, like a favorite gadget or car or piece of jewelry. We do almost anything to protect, cherish, and honor things of value; and it’s no trouble to do so. Because we know how valuable some things are, it’s worth the physical, social, and emotional effort. Like Jesus, we’ll not let the value of our friends go unrealized, but will do whatever it takes to treasure them.
I can’t get away from a statement in Ephesians about Jesus’ love for the church, “[Christ] loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:25-27). People are like treasures covered with mud; a friend is someone who washes away the mud.
And that’s what it means to be a friend, too.
© Samuel Kee, 2011
The gang of older boys threw my friend up against the wall of the club where we liked to hang out. Then one of the boys slammed my friend’s face against a metal vent, causing a large gash on the right side of his face above his lip. My best friend was bleeding and I didn’t know what to do. I remember consciously disengaging from the fight, because I didn’t want to be the next one to have my face pounded. At the same time, I felt so guilty for not standing up for my friend.
As a freshman in high school, I weighed only 85 pounds and I would have been up against several older and stronger boys. Looking back, I know it wouldn’t have ended well for me, had I engaged in the fight. Nonetheless, looking back, I wish I had done something.
Instead, I ran; we both did. We managed to escape from these boys by ducking into a nearby movie theater. My friend had a bloody face and we both were shaking, but we were safely in the front row of a movie that was just about to begin.
The movie was Dead Poet’s Society and the year was 1990. This movie would eventually become my all time favorite. It’s the story of a remarkable teacher who inspires boys to seize the day—carpe diem! At the end of the film, the teacher is forced out of his own classroom by the school administration. The teacher was accused of stirring up too much passion in these impressionable boys, indirectly leading to the death of one of the brightest and most successful students.
As Dr. Keating is being escorted out of his classroom, the shyest boy in the class, who throughout the movie struggles to gain confidence in himself, gets out of his chair, lifts his leg into the air and then ascends to the top of his desk. He stands up boldly on top of his desk, amidst all the other boys who are still seated. He stands in bold triumph as he addresses his teacher through a poem by Walt Whitman, “O Captain, My Captain!” he heralds.
I’ll never forget the feeling that rushed through my body as that moment played out on the screen. It was one of the greatest moments in movie history. The theater erupted in applause.
I can’t help but draw a parallel between that triumphant moment and how I let my friend down a couple hours before. He was willing to stand up for his teacher; I failed to stand up for my friend.
I know what you’re thinking: “Oh, don’t be so hard on yourself; it was smart of you to back down.” Perhaps it was, but I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like to fight for my friend.
I hope I never wonder what it would have been like to fight for my wife or what it would have been like to fight for my children. I hope I never wonder what it would have been like to fight for my faith or for my church. I hope I never wonder what it would have been like to fight for Scripture or what I believe in. I hope I never wonder what it would have been like to stand up.
Each day, we face a series of desks in our path. Some of us treat them like an obstacle course and some of us treat them like a mountain. We choose to maneuver around them or we choose to climb them.
Probably the greatest desk you’ll face is yourself. Will you be yourself or will you bow down and be who others want you to be?
There is nothing wrong with you. I hope you stand up for that.
I know what you’re thinking again: “But there’s a ton wrong with me; I am full of sin and I make mistakes, etc., etc.”
Yes, but I am not talking about your sins or mistakes; I am talking about you. Let me repeat: there’s nothing wrong with you. If God was willing to become a human so that he could die for you, and if God is now standing up for you, as that’s what “resurrection” means, then you have nothing to fear. If God is for you, then who can stand against you (Romans 8:31)?
Get up on the desk and fight for those you love, including yourself.
© 2010 by Samuel Kee
I have had people fight against me and for me. It’s pretty easy to admit that I like the latter more than the former! Some time ago, when some people were making life difficult for me, a friend of mine, who happened to wield helpful authority, said to me, “Don’t worry, I’m fighting for you.”
Since then, I’ve seen him fight for me again and again. I can’t fully explain how much this means to me.
Especially when I don’t feel like fighting for myself. And now I’m talking about my own personal, spiritual journey. I have those days and weeks when the battle against my soul is strong. Sometimes I feel the victory, sometimes I feel the defeat. A lot of the time, I feel shame and am overwhelmed by personal failure. Faith does not come easy; it has us cornered in the ring and we feel the enemy’s gloves pounding the breath right out of our bones.
As I was reading Scripture yesterday, I found some words of strength in Hebrews 7:25. “He [Jesus] is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” In other words, since Jesus is God, he will always live to fight for us. To intercede for another is to place yourself in the way of the approaching threat. You absorb the threat for another. Since Jesus is God, he lives forever; this means that he fights forever for us.
There is never a moment in your life when you do not have someone who is fighting for you. Jesus fights for those who place their lives in his hands. He prays for you day and night. He defends your honor, even when you are swimming in dishonor.
John Calvin wrote in his Institutes:
“For Christ’s righteousness, which as it alone is perfect, alone can bear the sight of God, must appear in court on our behalf, and stand surety [as our complete deposit] in judgment, Furnished with this righteousness, we obtain continual forgiveness of sins in faith. Covered with this purity, the sordidness and uncleanness of our imperfections are not ascribed to us but are hidden as if buried that they may not come into God’s judgment.”
Jesus appears in court for us, only instead of presenting our “sordid” works to the judge, he hides them in his coat; instead, he shows the judge all of his “righteous” works, telling the judge that these righteous works belong to us. While our sins remain buried in his side, his purity clothes us before the judge.
We have nothing to fear so long as Jesus is interceding for us. Though his hands are bloody from boxing our bullies away, ours hands are pure, for our fight is to pray.
© 2010 by Samuel Kee