The night I received Christ I returned to my dorm room and looked at the large framed picture hanging over my desk. In it a man stretched himself over a cliff to save a lamb caught on a ledge. I had bought the antique print several years before. But in that moment, for the first time, I recognized it was not just any man, but the Man—Jesus Christ. The Shepherd had left the 99 for me, the one lost sheep. Eternity had poured into me. The power of an endless life.
Eternal life is the force behind our living in the day to day. Jesus said, “I came to give life, and life abundantly.” The first time I read these words, I wasn’t a Christian, making my way through the gospels, intrigued by this radical called Jesus. What did he mean when he said life abundantly? I didn’t have an answer until a real honest-to-goodness friend explained it. I call him real because at that time I was still a card carrying hippie-God-is-dead throw back. I needed someone like him to stick with me through my crazy notions and theological tangents.
Here’s what he told me: ‘You need to be ready to step out of the concept of life as just living, and into the idea of life draped in purpose, intent on the finish of God’s will, to enjoy a kind of density of living. To put it succinctly, living in the power of an endless life. The power is seen in grace, love, justice and sacrifice, the stuff formed when we live to the unselfish hilt.’ It’s what I interpret now as a kind of Christian Chutzpah. (defined as shameless audacity)
I was reminded of this last week when I ran into Abraham in a park next to my daughter Calla’s home. He came up from behind and shouted, “what’s da ‘service’ awl about?” I wasn’t sure what he meant until he pointed to the back of my tee shirt from a summer mission a few years back. This 81 year-old Jewish Brooklynite had a lot of Chutzpah!
He asked me to call him Al, and we got into an animated conversation. We both had lived in Brooklyn, both had Jewish roots on our dad’s side, and both had family in the little town in north Georgia where my parents live. He kept stepping closer, so I decided that social distancing would have to wait. God was doing something special. Abraham had the Chutzpah thing down tight. What he needed was a little bit of Christian Chutzpah, and I was feeling up to it.
He asked about my background, so I told him about how little I had understood the deep issues of life growing up in a family without spiritual instruction. “In college though, I collided with a stranger and met a friend, and all of that led me to belief in Jesus as Messiah.” His eyes grew wide, and he smiled. “I have a cousin,” he began….and he told me about the southern side of his family, the ones who read the Bible, and had gotten involved with an organization called Jews for Jesus. “You probably heard a dem?” I nodded. In the end we parted, and he said he wanted to see me again.
As it turned out, the day before I left Austin, Al came around and we chatted in the garage. He seemed like a lonely man, and I listened to his stories of his brother who sits on the board of Chase Manhattan Bank with 97 year-old Henry Kissinger, of his years in Brooklyn, and of his wife who passed last year after a stroke. “Life in that nursing home fa a whole yeh’ was tough,” he said. He wasn’t going to accept Christ right there, but I prayed for him and he slowly turned and walked away.
It was then that the full force of this idea of Christian Chutzpah came into focus. It’s not the goal to live long, but to live well. To take every opportunity that stands before us, believe it’s no coincidence. It’s the audacity to see every person as a vibrant breathtaking story, who wants to be heard, to be understood, to be known. To believe that God has placed eternity in the hearts of his creation, and because of that, more people are open and willing to hear His story than we would ever imagine.
Christian Chutzpah. This holy shameless audacity to tell the story often, tell it well.
How do we find it?
It’s already ours. In the power of an endless life.