Mitchell Richards [Words]

The More I Seek, The More I’m Sought

In Luke 15, Jesus gives all these examples of things that are lost, sought out, and eventually found. He talks about this coin, and when the coin is lost the person forgets everything including the other coins, to tear up the house to find it. He tells of a sheep who gets lost and the shepherd who leaves the flock behind to find the one. He also talks about a son who essentially extends his middle finger to his father, takes a bunch of money, and runs to Vegas.

Sometimes I feel a little lost in God’s shuffle. There is what, 9 billion people in the world now? And God is supposed to be God to all of them, regardless if he is the God to them. So out of 9 billion, why would God pay any attention to me? I get this feeling a lot, and somehow God always winks at me and let’s me know that he called dibs on me a long time ago.

I used to play with action figures quite a bit growing up, in fact I think I played with action figures a little too long. Wrestlers were always my favorite. I had all the wrestlers and the rings and everything. I had matches set up everyday, championships, and the whole works. Even right now, within grabbing range, is one of my very first Hulk Hogan action figures.

Each wrestling toy that I had had a story, they had a destination and purpose. Whether they were just a down and out wrestler, never to win a championship, or had a wonderful winning streak going, I knew all their names and their history; the history I had given them. Of course, I had favorites too, perennial champions, main event headliners, and those who always got to be in the steel cage matches.

I had complete control over all of them, and I have always viewed God like this too. I often envision God grabbing action figures (us) off the shelf and playing with them, setting them out on their journeys to success and fame. I imagine him picking up us as action figures, wrestling them around a little bit, with some winning and some losing, and then discarding some of us when our arm falls off or something.

Every once in a while, I feel like God may have lost me under the bed and doesn’t remember that I was once his champion.

When my family moved to Trinidad when I was in the 2nd grade, we had to pack up everything we had and ship it there. It took months for the shipment to get to us, in the shipment were all of my action figures and toys, so it was a boring couple of months. When the shipment finally arrived, I dug through all of my wrestlers to play with them. Honestly, I probably had about 100 or so of them.

But when the shipment arrived, I noticed one was missing. It was the Ultimate Warrior toy with jumping action.

I thought it had to be a mistake, so I searched over all the toys again, but he wasn’t there.

I’ve been that action figure a lot in my life. I think a lot of the times when I feel lost in God’s shuffle, I do stupid things to get noticed, I run away and become the one. I become the sheep, the coin, or the son.

I used to work at this restaurant that served most all of their meals on paper plates. Salads and desserts however went on real, nicer plates. We had hired a bunch of new kids and noticed that a lot of the real plates kept ending up missing. The managers got tired of it happening, so they made us start making a plate count at the end of the shifts. We had x amount of plates and if all those plates weren’t accounted for we had to go out to the trash bags and find them.

Remember, all the other meals were served on paper plates, so digging through the trash was basically digging through people’s scraps and leftover chewed up food. It was disgusting. People are disgusting, and the things they do to their food Is disturbing. But we had to dig through it regardless, all for one plate.

This is what Jesus did.

When we opened the trash bags, we didn’t start cleaning the bag and the paper plates, we just went searching for the real plate. In the same way, Jesus enters into the muck and grease and gross of this world all to come find the one.

He doesn’t enter into the mess and start telling people what they are doing wrong and how to fix it, he enters into the mess and just lives. He enters in and gets dirty.

He doesn’t present us with an easy guide to fixing all of our problems and how to overcome ourselves, he just shows us how to live. He goes and he seeks out the ones that have strayed away. He seeks out the me’s and the you’s, and the coins and the sheep.

He enters into the trash to find the one, and that blows my mind because in my mind God should just be able to pick up the action figure that represents us out of the trash and put us back on the right track, but we aren’t action figures. Instead, God sends Jesus to enter into the trash to get us out of there. He doesn’t send him to ask us how we got there or how to get out, he leaves the other 99 behind and comes to find us.

I’m thankful that Jesus has nothing better to do with his time than to hunt me down in the trash.

Every time I feel like I’m lost it is my own doing because I think I need to know God is there and still paying attention. I need to know that I’m not lost under his bed with a bunch of other weird action figures and headless Barbies. I need to feel His pursuit.

I don’t think this is manipulating God though, I think it is just how we work together. I’m the one sheep that gets lost in the woods often, and I’m sure he gets annoyed a lot when he has to leave everyone else behind to come find me because I thought I saw something moving in those bushes over there.

I have this kid on the soccer team that I coach who is legally blind. When we are playing games, if I don’t pay enough attention, he is wandering around the field, hanging on the goal, picking flowers and weeds, and I have to yell at him to pay attention. To be honest, it can be kind of frustrating when you’re trying to play a game and one of the kids is wandering away not even close to the ball or to the action. Then I just can’t help but laugh about the whole thing because I love that kid so much and wouldn’t trade him for any other player in our league. And the more I think of it, the more I am like this boy and the more I think God just understands my curiosity and can’t help but laugh.

Because when I run away, when I start to wander, I’m not doing it out of disobedience as much as I just want to keep moving. I can’t sit still knowing that God has a plan for me, and I’m impatient because I know that God’s plans are good. I’m the coin, the sheep, and the son. God is never far behind me, and I am never far from his sight. The more I seek, the more I’m sought.

And this makes sense to me, because God is funny like that.

Follow Mitchell on Twitter @MitchellWords

Hands Down: Some Brief Thoughts on Easter

This Lent season, we all pulled together and sacrificed something for 40 days in preparation of Easter. I’m sure it taught us a lot about Jesus and suffering. We all gave up things like chocolate and Facebook. Meanwhile, all Jesus has done this Lent season is conquer death and save the world.

You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to. Pretty much the same thing.

It’s a good thing God was in charge of sending his son to die for our sins and not us. Actually, the more I look at the stories of the Bible the more it just proves to me that God always had Jesus as the plan. The Bible is a collection of stories, especially the Old Testament, of what life looks like when you have people in charge, when you have people trying to save the world. We, as people, can only make it so far.

There are some really good moments in there too, moments when it almost looks like the world has been redeemed and everything is going to be fine. Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark, Moses, King David, and down the line. There is hope in all of these stories, but they never end the way the story of Jesus ends, with salvation and grace and an empty tomb.

It’s a good thing God sent Jesus to redeem us, because if he were to ask me to do it, I’d say, “Sure thing boss.” and then go try and hide when the magnitude of the moment set in.

When Jesus dies on Friday, life faces death and life wins hands down. When the tomb is empty on Sunday, grace goes against sin and grace wins hands down.

So as we celebrate Easter together this year, and move on with our lives by eating chocolate again, or being able to drink soda, remember that the tomb is still empty. Death was defeated and grace has swept over the land.

Three Feet To The Left: Moving Mountains

There’s this verse in the Bible where Jesus is talking about faith as small as a mustard seed. He says that if you even had just a little faith, then you could move a mountain.

When I was little and heard this verse talked about in sermons and lessons in Sunday school, I always imagined myself standing before a jagged mountain with a snow capped top. I would stand there in my vision, put my index and middle fingers of both of my hands on my temples and telekinetically move the mountain with my mind three feet to the left.

Even in my imagination I don’t think I ever moved a mountain.

I still have that same vision when people talk about that verse. It is one of those ingrained things about being a Christian, having to see things the same way for a long time. It’s really hard to break these paradigms. I will always see myself in front of a mountain trying to move it with my mind, how I’ll blink or something and the mountain will be somewhere else. I will always imagine myself not moving it most of the time too.

I’ve gone on record multiple times as saying that Jesus is dumb in the way he does everything backwards.

When I was younger, I tried walking on water. It’s the same principle as moving mountains, at least as a sermon outline. Have a tiny amount of faith, move mountains. Keep your eyes on Jesus, walk on water. It’s all BS really, because I’ve tried walking on water and I’ve tried moving mountains and it never works. Does this mean I don’t have any faith in Jesus?

Again, Jesus is backwards.

Nowhere in the Bible does it say that faith is easy. In fact, if you read the same copy I have, it says quite the opposite. You read the book of Job and you realize that life and faith in God are difficult adventures. Nowhere in the Bible does it say the mountain is going to move three feet to the left without a little work, however there may be preachers who tell you otherwise.

In the backwards gospel of Jesus, moving mountains by faith requires us to climb to top of that snow capped mountain, grab a handful of rocks, go back down the mountains, go three feet to the left and drop the rocks. Faith kicks in the moment you drop the rocks and go back up to the top of the mountain, grab a handful of rocks, go back down the mountain, three feet to the left, drop. Back up the mountain, handful of rocks, down the mountain, three feet to the left and drop.

This is faith.

Faith isn’t expecting Jesus or the mountain to do all the work for us; it’s getting our hands dirty. Faith happens when you’re 10 handfuls in and you’re questioning why the hell you’re moving a mountain to begin with. Faith is continuing to do it regardless. Faith is dropping the F bomb when you think about God, but still carrying the rocks. Nowhere in my Bible does it say moving a mountain is instantaneous.

Not to say that God has us do meaningless tasks for his pleasure and to teach us a lesson, this is all relevant and applicable to our lives. Faith is the mountain itself.

Up the mountain, handful, back down, three feet to the left, drop.

Faith has never come easy for me. It’s an ongoing process of moving rocks by the handful and questioning the whole time what the point is. For me, faith isn’t a task at hand as much as it’s a hopeful thing. It isn’t about moving the mountain for the purpose of moving a mountain; it’s about moving a mountain to find out who you are along the way.

Moving the mountain isn’t about developing faith in the hopes that one day you may have faith in Jesus, it’s about having faith in Jesus. Period. You’re not going through this life in hopes that one day you can have faith, you’re not going through life by the handful to understand you have faith right now, you’re doing this so you can have faith right now.

Jesus isn’t telling us to move mountains with telekinesis, he’s telling us to climb a mountain, grab a handful of rocks, take it down the mountain, go three feet to the left, and drop it. Rinse and repeat.

When we pick our heads up along this journey of moving mountains, we will realize Jesus has been there the whole time when we are cursing him and the journey under our breath. He’s been there when we take long breaks. But even better yet, he’s been there the whole time climbing to the top of the mountain with us, grabbing a handful of rocks with us, going down the mountain with us, three feet to the left with us, drop, and back up with us.

To You.

Last night, I got to attend a sneak peak of the movie Blue Like Jazz (in theaters April 13).  I have to admit that I was extremely geeked out o be able to see it.  The movie is based on the book of the same name by Donald Miller. (trailer at the end of post)

 

I’m a huge Don Miller fan and it would take a lot for me to not get behind anything he is apart of, and the film is no different.  I remember reading Blue Like Jazz for the first time years ago.  I remember buying it at a used bookstore in Texas and reading through it pretty quickly.  At that time, I was still kind of dabbling with my own writing and still trying to find my voice as a writer, and Blue Like Jazz inspired me quite a bit.

 

But even more so, it helped me realize that I’m not alone in feeling generally lost when it comes to my own spirituality and the importance for me to write about that.  I’ve had a lot of people tell me that they’ve connected with the way I write, and by that I assume they mean the way I rarely write definitively.  I write coming from a place of extreme uncertainty and with little hope of resolve.  I write like I don’t have it all together, because I don’t.

 

I’d like to say that my style of writing fits what many of us are going through as Christians.  You can take chunks of my writing and find themes of the different things I’m going through.  Right now, I’ve been writing about grace a lot because that’s what I need more than anything right now; grace is the thing I don’t understand the most about Jesus right now.

 

Seeing Blue Like Jazz last night transported me back to that time when I first read it and was very lost.  It also made me realize how far I’ve come in my faith and my writing, and even though I’m extremely hard on myself on both of those things, how successful I’ve become.  I’m very proud of where I am and where I will continue to go.  I am extremely thankful to you, the readers, for this as well.  You push me through rough spots and give me an audience to talk about what I think many of us are going through…

 

None of us have it all figured out and I hope none of these pretend to.  In the big picture, I’m just a crazy guy wandering through the woods, looking for Jesus, and talking to myself.  You all are just unfortunate enough to be within earshot of my own journey along the path of your own.  One day we will all meet up at the campfire and swap our stories and I’ll find my sanity.

 

This entry is just to say thanks for being around, for reading, and for telling your friends and sharing my writings.  I am forever grateful for that.  With school and a hundred other things going on right now, I’m not able to write and post as often, but I will never stop.  I love you, and thanks.

 

(And on a side note, the movie itself was really special.  Perhaps I am a little biast because of my Don Miller man crush, but in the same way the book opened u a conversation amongst Christians, a conversation that is still going on, the movie does too.  I urge you to see it.  It is not a Christian movie as much as it’s a movie (a wonderfully put together, professional movie) about a person finding out who they are.  Go see it April 13 and I’ll come with you.)


 

 

Old Sin, New Grace: The Art of Redemption

In the creative process, sometimes things come to you as if they were handed down to you.  As if the words or ideas were somewhere floating around with the stars and one day it decided to plummet to earth, right to your mind.  This is one of those things.  Unfortunately for creativity and inspiration, they don’t always speak the same language, so it often comes out as a broken language, like an American tourist in France shouting English in broken sentences, thinking that if he says it louder and slower then the person who knows no English will finally capture it’s essence.  This sort of feels like that, so hang tight.  It all begins with a thought…

 

Satan is as old as sin, but God is as new as grace.

 

Since the beginning we have been constantly lied to about sin.  If there is one element of the Creation story that lacks creativity it is the lie involved with sin.

 

When we think back to ourselves as sinners, we connect with Adam and Eve at the scene of the tree in the garden.  The taste of the fruit is still fresh on their lips, and there, in the beginning, we find Satan and we find sin.  If we fast-forward to 15 minutes ago, we find ourselves with the taste of fruit still fresh on our own lips, with the tree not too far away, and we find Satan and we find sin.

 

Not much has changed sine that moment in the garden.  And what I meant earlier when I said that sin and Satan lack creativity is that everything has been the same since this moment.  The lies never change.  The thing that stumbled Adam and Eve stumbled me 15 minutes ago.  There is nothing creative about Satan’s plan and execution, the only creative element is the way we continue to find ways to hide our sin.  For Adam and Eve, it was clothes.  They sinned and when the disruption took place they could feel it in their bones, they could feel it on their skin, and the immediate reaction was to cover up what they were feeling.  For us, well, it’s all a little different, but it’s still really all the same…we just want to hide.

 

The only thing about the Creation story that lacks creativity is sin.

 

But if there is one thing that redeems this absence of creativity, it is the presence of grace.

 

When we thing of our own sin, we look back to Adam and Eve in the garden, we transport our spirit to the beginning.  So in our mind, we connect the beginning of everything to sin.  We see sin as something that has been there since the beginning; therefore we sort of see it as a part of us.

 

But this is just another lie.

 

Sin wasn’t there at the beginning.  Was it sin that spoke the world into existence?  The air and the planets, the animals and atoms?  Was it sin that breathed life into man?  Was it sin that saw something was off and broke that man and created a woman?  Was it sin that tossed the stars into their places or moved the earth into just the right spot?  Was it sin that smiled and saw that everything was good?  Was it sin that put the smile on a baby’s face?

 

Was it sin in the beginning?

 

Or was it something else?

 

It was grace that breathed into my lungs and made me a man.  It was grace that dug out the Grand Canyon that day so I could imagine my sins at the bottom.  It was grace that threw the stars into the night.  It was grace at the beginning, not sin.

 

If our lives are a painting, grace is the canvas.  The foundations of our lives are rooted in grace, not sin.  The paint on the canvas, over time, has become very dark with the blacks and greys of sin, but the canvas is still grace.  The picture, once vivid and bright, has become blurred and smeared over time, but the canvas is still grace.

 

The canvas is grace and the picture becomes overwhelmed by the dark paint of sin.  So when we look at it, we see ourselves, our story, we see our painting as sin.

 

You, your story, is not a story of sin.  Sin lacks creativity.  Your story is not one of mistakes, lost ways, and shortcomings.  You, your story, is a story of grace, a grace that breathes creativity.  Your story is one that speaks of a path lost, but a paradise found.

 

We may think our lives are defined in the painting by sin, and to us all we may see is the darkness of the art.  All we may see is our mistakes and wrong paths, but we cannot forget what our foundation is.  These are the uncreative lies we’ve heard forever.  Satan is as old as sin; his ways are as old as sin, but God…his ways are new everyday.  His ways are new and fresh as the day is young. And his ways…well…

 

With grace as our canvas, the painting becomes dark over time.  But something happens in the process, it’s called redemption.  Because again, sin lacks creativity and grace breathes it.  Sin eats ham and cheese sandwiches every day for lunch, but grace feasts on the buffet in the banquet it created.

 

The artist of our painting paints himself into it.  He, the Creator himself, enters into the painting and takes in the grey stokes of paint to reveal the vivid masterpiece underneath.  The Artist soaks in the shades of black to reveal the original beauty, the beauty that has been there since the beginning, the beauty of grace.  So with our canvases of grace and with Jesus as our artist, may we understand that everything is redeemed; that sin was not there in the beginning, it was grace.  The remedy was there long before the disease.