I have this friend. His name is Dan.
I met Dan under some fairly tense circumstances. After a Sunday worship service just over two years ago, our lead pastor had to leave the service fairly quickly to make it to another engagement. Before he could leave, though, he caught me and informed me that a couple in our church had come seeking counsel from a church elder. He asked that I stick around to talk with them, neither of us knowing exactly what they wished to discuss, and I agreed.
I had no idea what I was walking into.
When I got in the room with Dan and his wife, having never met either of them at that point, it didn’t take much discussion to see where they were at; their marriage of many years was standing at the edge of the end. I don’t want to try and recapitulate all of a story that’s not mine, but it would suffice to say this; the devil was having his way with this marriage, enslaving Dan in sin and nurturing in his wife a hardheartedness and cynicism that left forgiveness and restoration about a million miles beyond the realm of “remote possibility.”
I don’t remember much of what I offered that day to this couple I’ve come to love, but I do remember clearly telling them this: “Right now I know this feels as close to hell on earth as there is, but I promise you, Jesus can take this trash and make it treasure.” Later, our lead pastor and I met with them to talk about the path to restoration.
Flash forward two years: Dan is celebrating two years of sobriety. His marriage is being restored by Christ’s work in he and his wife’s life together. His children are seeing the truth of the gospel recreate the man they know as their dad. Dan and I meet regularly to discuss the Bible. In short, God is truly at work making “all things new” in my friend’s life.
Here’s an interesting sidenote, though. I shave my head; Dan shaves his head. I wear rectangular, black-rimmed glasses; Dan wears a similar pair. I have a big, bushy beard; so does Dan. It’s not uncommon for people to say that Dan looks a lot like me. I don’t think we’re spitting images of one another, but at least one of our interns at church has had the embarassment of wholeheartedly greeting the wrong one of us as “Dr. Love.” I join in the joke, often calling Dan my stunt double or kidding people that it was him on stage leading worship, not me (or maybe I’m not kidding…hmmm).
Here’s the lastest, though. Dan is shaving off his beard for an upcoming occasion. The beard being the most strikingly similar feature we currently share, this will undoubtedly put a damper on the stunt double joke.
And, so…I think it’s time for the beard to go.
Not for the sake of the joke, mind you; no, here’s the reason. You see, the joke is always that Dan looks like Andy; not usually the other way around. Maybe that’s because more people around church know me; I’m more visible because I’m on a stage most weeks because of my role as an elder and overseer of the worship ministry at Freshwater right now. Additionally, I’ve taken a discipling role in Dan’s life, coming alongside him as he grows and matures in his faith. In that way, I suppose I have and do exert influence in Dan’s life.
Still, I want to make it clear that just as Dan wants to imitate me in some ways, I, too, want to imitate him. I grew up in church, and after 34 years of constant proximity to faith, I far too often fail to feel wonder and amazement at who God is. Church life sometimes becomes so routine that I lose the point of why we gather, why we worship corporately, why we look into the word of God together and let it speak light into the dark corners of our lives. Sometimes I hear so much about God and his work that I forget that by opening my eyes, I can actually SEE God at work in the world around me. In short, I too frequently fail to take notice and marvel at God’s righteousness coupled with his great love for us shown in the work of Jesus Christ and the unity we share with him through the Holy Spirit.
Dan doesn’t have that kind of baggage; everything is new to him. He longs to grow in Christ, to dive into the word and mine it for truth, to be taught by those further down the path of faith than himself. He feels no need to keep up illusions that he is full of answers, that he’s some sage full of wisdom, or that he is anything more than a sinner turned saint by grace through faith. These desires are contagious; when we meet together it is not solely for his benefit. More often than not, I think I may actually be the one walking away with the greater blessing. I cannot walk away from a morning coffee with Dan not knowing in my heart that by the presence and work of the Spirit, Jesus truly is at work renewing and restoring, raising dead men to life through the same power by which He, the risen Christ, conquered the grave.
Thus, as much as I love the beard, as goes Dan’s, so goes mine. I know they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but trust me, I have no desire to merely flatter a friend; rather, I consider it a great honor when people mistake me for him.
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