I won’t give much of an introduction because this is a long (but excellent) review.
If I were to ask you for a list of books that have had the most profound effect of you, which books would be on your list? The books on my list have much to do with my emotional response to the book, which has much to do with what was going on in my life at the time. Such was the case when I read I became a Christian and all I got was this lousy t-shirt by Vince Antonucci. I was a member of a church family whom I loved, but I was also thinking very seriously about moving way out of my comfort zone in order to help plant a church. I was asking some hard questions about how the Church was (and wasn’t) being the hands and feet of Jesus.
In all honesty, I wasn’t expecting to find any of my questions answered when I bought this book. I bought the book at a church planter’s conference after attending a workshop Vince taught–mostly because I was curious what a pastor who reminded me much more of Joe Pesci in “My Cousin Vinnie” than Billy Graham could possibly add to the conversation about real life faith.
I was not disappointed. The following is the product description from Amazon:
Many people find themselves asking, “Is this it?” “We all read about the life Jesus describes and are painfully aware that our lives don’t match his words,” says Vince Antonucci, a disarmingly funny and edgy pastor. Raised by a Jewish mother and abandoned by his professional poker-playing father, Antonucci found Jesus at age twenty after studying the New Testament. When he finally went to church, he was disappointed to discover a “boring, stale religion.” Through provocative storytelling and raw honesty, Antonucci unearths the life Jesus lived and wants us to experience, challenging us to move past spiritual boredom into a faith that’s exciting, beautiful, and powerful. Recommended for all Christians thirsty for a fresh perspective on Christianity.
Vince is a master of the object lesson. And while you will find this book full of such lessons, this one in particular continues to have a profound affect on me today:
Even though I had become a Christian, even though I was preaching sermon after sermon on the topic, still I couldn’t feel like I was the one Jesus loves, and it held me back from living a life with him. I continued to wrestle with the question: how could Jesus love me when I knew I wasn’t worth loving?
Finally, the answer came out. Actually, the answer came down, again, from my mom’s attic.
We were visiting my mother, who would soon be moving from our old house into a condo. She informed us that we’d be leaving with with a bunch of stuff she had been saving for me. Soon it all came down — Legos, matchbox cars, books and…a teddy bear. It was my teddy bear, from when I was little. It was a mess. Years earlier, my mother had sewn an ear back on. She had done reconstructive surgery on its neck and back. It was missing fur around its eyes, on both feet, and on his back by the little music handle. It had a big scar across its head. The cutest thing was the four little pieces of fur missing from where my four fingers used to hold it constantly. My finger marks had become permantly embedded in my bear.
When I was little, I loved this bear. I carried it everywhere. My mother would turn the music handle and it would make music, bad music, but I would move in tight and that music would comfort me and lull me to sleep.
I loved this bear, but there was nothing lovable, nothing valuable about the bear itself. Even when it was new it was obviously not an expensive stuffed animal. It probably cost a few dollars at the time. If you tried to sell it at a garage sale today you might ask for a quarter. It’s just not valuable, except that it is to me, and especially back when I was a kid.
I loved this bear. But I didn’t love it because it was valuable. I loved it because…I loved it. I loved it because it was my bear. My love was not based on its value, rather my love made this bear valuable. My love gave this bear significance. When I was a kid, you could have offered me a vacation to Disney World and I wouldn’t have traded my bear for it. If my parents had held a yard sale back then and asked me how much we should sell my bear for, I would have said a million dollars…and that wouldn’t have been enough. They would have said, “Well, silly, it only cost us a couple of dollars, and it’s gotten really beat up since then.” I would have said, “I don’t care. I won’t sell it. It’s my bear and I love him.”
And finally I understood how Jesus could love me when I wasn’t worth loving.
I realized that the love I had for my bear is essentially the same kind of love God has for me. It’s not a love that loves because the object of the love is valuable; it’s a love that gives value.
God knew me. He knew what I was worth in the beginning, he knew the damage that had been done to me over the years, he knew my current condition. But the most significant thing God knew about me was that I was his. I may have been beat up, pulled out of shape, ripped, and left with the stuffing hanging out, but I was his. I may not have looked like much to anyone else, but I was his. And so he loved me. And his love gave me value, significance and importance.
Now, I have to admit, I still struggle with this sometimes. Because it’s not just realizing that I’m loved. It’s living it. It’s abiding in Jesus, in his love, moment by moment. And I have good days and bad when it comes to living in his love. It’s like I constantly need reminders….
Well, other people may have told you that you’re not worth much, but the truth is that God wouldn’t trade you for anything. In fact, when he set the price tag on you, it was his Son.
And you may be torn and broken. You may still bear the marks of deep wounds. But God is a master at reconstructive surgery.
And perhaps, because of all of this, you have difficulty connecting with God. You feel like your prayers bounce back at you off the ceiling. At church others sing out worship songs, but you struggle to, not necessarily because you have a bad voice, but because the words come from a bad heart. And so you’re sure that to God, it’s bad music. But no, when God hears you, he moves in tight.
You know why? Because you are his. Because since the beginning of your life, you have belonged to him. He shaped you in your mother’s womb and his finger marks are permanently embedded in you.
You are the one Jesus loves.
How much did I love this book? I bought a case of them and gave a copy to everyone I thought needed to read it. That case didn’t last very long…
Thank you, Katdish. I loved Blue Like Jazz so much that I bought a copy for all of my friends. Although I just bought one copy and told my friends to pass it around. Buying a whole case seemed kinda expensive! 🙂
Here are all the books that have been recommended thus far:
If you click on any of these book links and subsequently purchase one, I will get a small commission from Amazon. I have decided that all commissions will go toward my family’s Well Fund, to try to build a well for a needy community in Africa.