Dear Friend,

When you were a little kid playing at the church, I never imagined I would someday be praying for you to kick your heroin addiction. It seems that one year you did a weird church program we had—Caravans or something. It was corny and about twenty years out of date and Nazarene. I just remember Teckla and I trying to be “fun”—something I always find taxing.

I don’t know what happened. Whether something happened at your church or if it was the run-in you had with one of the pastors at our church.  Something embittered you against the church and perhaps against God. You have always been gracious to Teckla and me, but your hurt and anger showed up in the songs you wrote.

What can I say? First, on behalf of any believer who has been unkind or hypocritical, I apologize. Please forgive us. Yea, I see the irony of asking this of someone who may no longer believe in God. But really there is much “Christians” need to be forgiven. I would like to say, “Hey, I’m not like those folks that hurt you!” But I know that on a bad day I could be. So forgive us!

It is, however, also true that you were probably not hurt by Christians who were acting too much like Jesus. My experience is that it is always the opposite—people not acting much like Jesus at all. This point matters a ton. If the problem is people not being enough like Jesus, then moving further from Him isn’t the answer. It is hard to do, but really the wounds of unChrist-like people should make us follow Jesus even closer. Such wounds can, if given to God, deepen our commitment to let our words and hands minister only the grace and healing of Jesus.

I am not saying, as you probably often heard, to take your eyes off people and keep them on God. We need to look most closely at those people who are the “real deal”—genuine followers of Jesus who faithfully express His love. I am sure you know some. We do not have to pretend fake or mean Christians don’t exist; we just have to see them as flawed, struggling people—who like us are loved by God. God is calling them to wholeness just like He is calling us. In the end, it is true that our eyes must be on Jesus—but this a delight, not a denial of reality.

Second, I love you. I have prayed for you a lot over the years. When I imagine you surrendered to Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit, I always see a prophet—someone like Jeremiah in whose bones God’s Word burned. In some of your beautiful blues songs, I hear the aching heart of a prophet. Sometimes after one of your sadder songs, I want to say, “It is time to stop hanging your harp [guitar] on the willows beside the rivers of Babylon. It is time to return from exile.” I still believe God is your heart’s true home. Please come home.

I hate how cliché and worn out important Biblical ideas have become. I am watching a rare snow storm here in Myrtle Point and wish these swirling snowflakes could express the exquisite beauty God offers to those who are born again: cleansing, purity, newness. I have seen the world-weariness in your eyes and heard the despair in your songs. But all my love for you cries  out—there is hope! Change is possible! God brings the dead back to life. He makes all things new.

Most importantly, I know God is there for you because every time I pray for you, I feel the depth of His love for you moving in me. I can feel how God longs to wrap his arms around you—his wandering son. Because of God’s faithful love, not all those who wander are lost.

About Mark

I live in Myrtle Point, Oregon with my wife Teckla and am the father of four boys. Currently I teach writing and literature at Southwest Oregon Community College. I am a graduate of Myrtle Point High School, Northwest Nazarene College, and have a Masters in English from Washington State University.
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