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I Would Wrestle A Bear

Erik Cooper —  April 10, 2013 — 1 Comment

When my daughter was two years old she ran away from home. It wasn’t exactly a pre-meditated fleeing. Truth is, someone (most likely me) left the back fence gate unlatched. So while my wife stepped inside to answer the phone, our little (evil) Yorkshire terrier made a break for it, taking our sweet little toddler as an accomplice on her cross-neighborhood joy-run.

Who knew a two year old with a saggy diaper could run so fast? In less than 60 seconds she was gone. Vanished. Completely out of sight.

A panicked call had me speeding home from the office while a band of concerned neighbors started the hunt. Thankfully, just as I was frantically screeching into our development, relief came. They’d found her (and unfortunately the dog, too) nearly three streets away and just a few yards short of a retention pond, completely oblivious to the chaos her devious curiosity had created.


Here’s what I know…

I would have wrestled a bear to find my daughter that day (because, as you know, there is a burgeoning kodiak population here in suburban Indianapolis). Nothing else mattered. Meetings. Deadlines. Obligations. Life paused until she was back home safe where she belonged. We dropped everything to go and find her.

And that’s exactly the way God feels about you and me (but I fear we’re internally wired to think the opposite).

We see it from the very first chapters of the Bible:

“The woman stared at the fruit. It looked beautiful and tasty. She wanted the wisdom that it would give her, and she ate some of the fruit. Her husband was there with her, so she gave some to him, and he ate it too. At once they saw what they had done, and they realized they were naked. Then they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves. Late in the afternoon, when the breeze began to blow, the man and woman heard the Lord God walking in the garden. So they hid behind some trees.

The Lord God called out to the man and asked, “Where are you?”

-Genesis 3:6-9

When Adam & Eve sinned, they were the ones that covered up. They were the ones that ran and hid. God came looking for them.

And He’s been pursuing us ever since.

You see, we instinctively think we have to clean things up. That we’re the ones who right the wrongs. That we’re the ones who must do the work to fill the gap between our sinful selves and a holy God. That we’re the ones who have to pay the price. That we’re the ones sentenced to go looking for a God who has hidden Himself from our ugly screw-ups.

But let me remind you, Holiness came looking for sinfulness. Jesus chased you all the way to a cross. Not to destroy you, but to redeem you. And then to empower you, transform you, and call you to something greater.

He’s looking for you. Right where you’re at. No matter where you’re at. It’s time to stop hiding and let yourself to be found.

I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t in church on Easter Sunday. After 12 years in full-time ministry (and most of the rest of them in leadership without the paycheck), I might have some insight into how a newly retired NFL player feels on that first weekend in September. Weird.

Instead of preparing to lead masses of worshippers, I found myself leading a mass of Spring Breakers back across the 3.6 mile Destin Mid-Bay Bridge on a 12-hour drive back to reality. Like any good government-built project, the use of the Bay Bridge comes with a price tag. So even as we enjoyed the scenic view over Choctawhachee Bay, I was quietly searching every nook and cranny of the dash for the $3 fare it was going to take to earn our passage home. But then I got a surprise.

“Go ahead sir, the car in front of you paid your toll.”

Paid my toll? My expense? My debt?

How unexpectedly apropos on Easter Sunday.


A few months ago I stumbled onto a new word – Tetelestai.

It’s a Greek word, found only two times in all of Scripture. Both in the book of John. Both in reference to the death of Jesus. Literally translated it means completed, or as it reads in John 19:30, “It is finished.” In New Testament times, it was a term regularly used in reference to a paid debt, stamped onto business documents to show a bill was paid in full.

If you’ve been a regular reader of this blog over the past year or so, you’re well aware that this church kid has been completely re-captured by the scandal of grace. That because of Jesus, there is nothing left to earn. Nothing left to pay for. That the chasm we could not cross has been crossed on our behalf. That the love we crave is given, not worked for. That in Christ, it truly is finished.


So this week after Easter, I want to remind you to continue living that way. Now that the great reminder of Easter is over, don’t fall back into an “earn as you go” mentality. Because of Jesus, everything has already been earned. You are free to love and to serve the world around you with the grace you’ve been given, not because that’s what makes God happy with you, but because all the acceptance you long for has already been provided through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It is finished. Completed. Paid for. Tetelestai.

It’s time to add that word to your lexicon.

Charles Barkley got a lot of flack back in the early 90’s when he boldly declared he wasn’t a role model for kids.

“I’m paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court.”

(And on the English language, Sir Charles. Don’t forget the English language).


So would it shock you if I insinuated that Jesus might be telling you the exact same thing? Of course I’m overstating to make a point (sort of).

Jesus undoubtedly said…

Follow me.

Look to me.

Learn from me.

I am the way.

He certainly came to show us what perfection looks like. But to focus on Jesus solely as a model for righteousness has the potential of distracting us from the life-changing truth that He also wants to become our righteousness.

Did you catch that?

The standard Jesus set with His life is meant to challenge us. Inspire us. Call us to something greater. But it’s also meant to crush us. To up the ante. To destroy any notion that we are capable of achieving the holiness and perfection He models (and God requires) on our own.

“I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, AND ENABLED ME TO DO IT.

–Galatians 2:19 MSG

Jesus lived perfection, to model perfection, to become our perfection. Jesus is not (just) your role model. He is the source of the Christian life itself. And that, my friends, is some seriously Good News.

I was honored to preach for my friend, Nate Pyle, this past weekend at Christ’s Community Church on the north side of Indy. I wish it had been under better circumstances, but once again God was gracious enough to let me share a message that continues to rock my own world.

If you have a few minutes today, I hope you’ll press play. Maybe you’ve forgotten why this whole Jesus thing is actually good news. Maybe you’re tired, overwhelmed, and exhausted. Maybe you define your place with God by what you do (or don’t do) for Him, instead of what He has already done for you.

This message is changing me. Maybe you can find some hope in it today, too.

Earn As You Go Christianity

(Click the controls above to listen).

I’ll never forget the excitement of creating my first piece of music, a song I co-wrote with my friend Nathan LaGrange to use at the church where we were both employed to lead worship. It was a labor of love, born out of pure passion and shared imagination. We had no idea if it would work, if it would connect with people at all.

It did.

That one song became the energy that launched six live worship albums, a recording contract, and an eight year run of creative growth that all those involved still look back on with awe and gratefulness.


But that one song’s success also had a downside. Every time I sat down to write, I always wondered if I could do it again. If I could recapture the magic. Would the next song be as special as that first one? My raw passion to create turned into fearful need to re-create. And even as I look back on that rich season of my life, part of me still asks “how can I achieve that feeling again?” That sense of being caught up in momentum bigger than myself? How do I get “back there?”

And therein lies the beauty and the risk of life’s most meaningful moments. We rarely cherish them while they’re happening, and then when we realize that they did, we spend our future trying to recapture even the smallest of glimpses in the rear view mirror. When we stop imagining, we stop living forward.

I try to encourage my kids to spend time creating something themselves and quit the bad habit of only ingesting other people’s creative work (aka the television). “Draw a picture, pen a story, write a song” I hear myself saying. But consuming is easier than creating. Creativity takes time and effort and can feel extremely risky. What if it isn’t any good? Or what if it’s just not as good?

And then I realize how much of my life is spent running from the same questions.

I watch a lot of “television” of my own – classic broadcasts in the form of memories. Remember that? How can we do that again? How do we recapture that feeling? Can it ever be that good again? How do we get back there? And the driving force of my life quietly becomes longing for what was instead of creating what might yet be. That’s a tragedy. But it’s never too late to change course.

There is still beautiful music inside of you, too. Do you believe that? It’s time to step away from the numbing glow of your memory screen and begin to dream again – with you art, your career, with your family, in your relationships. It’s time to stir up your imagination, dare to risk, and take a crack at creating something new.

I guarantee your greatest song is yet to be written. Start writing.