Sinners, Saints, & the furious love of God—-Day #10 of the 30 day challenge to blog

I once met an unlikely saint, and his name was Justin Eubanks. Justin is a hilarious hillbilly from Anderson, Indiana. He joined my sketch team in college, called The Color Green, and he’s been one of my best friends ever since. Justin & I have many things in common. We both love smoking cigarettes, road trips, Jesus, and share a common struggle. We both tend to gravitate to despair. And at times we not only visit, we put up a tent, and campout until the fire has long gone out and were left in the cold, frost bitten, hungry, lonely, and without hope. We knew this of each other pretty early on. I have a really fond memory of when we were vagabonds together for the summer of 2001. Our group, The Color Green hopped in a 15 passenger van provided by Anderson University and we traveled from camp to camp to camp to camp to church to camp to camp to camp. That really is one of the best summers of my life, and a close second & third were making “Ragamuffin” & “Brennan.”
 
The fond memory. I remember we were in Ohio I think. And nearby the camp was a restaurant. And at that restaurant was a bar. Most nights we went there after the camp day ended. We weren’t supposed to drink, not by the camps standards, or the Universities. And that summer for the most part we didn’t. But on my 21st birthday Justin bought me a Jack & Coke, and the bartender gave me a shot. (I think Justin bought himself one or two as well).
 
One of those nights. Justin & I talked late into the night. I think on this particular night Shawn, PC, & Randy stayed back at the camp. Justin & I drank coffee, journaled, read. We’d stop each other & read excerpts from books like Practicing the Presence of God, Orthodoxy, Ragamuffin Gospel, Abba’s Child, Cost of Discipleship, & the Bible. We were having our own little meeting of the Dead Poets Society. Eight months before was when I met & had a smoke with Brennan Manning. I was a fan before, now there was no stopping me. I remember on this particular evening I had the gas pedal all the way to the floor…”Brennan Manning this…Brennan Manning that”…and Justin stopped me and said…”you know Dave, You’re my Brennan Manning.” I was floored, humbled, honored, and confused. Justin went on to tell me about his battle with depression that looms over his head like a dark cloud, and haunts his heart like a poltergeist. I pushed the books, journals, and coffee to the side, grabbed his hands and said, “Me too.” We wept, we hugged, and ever since we’ve had a bond that would stand the test of time.
 
After I shipwrecked my life and landed on the lonely island, also known as Los Angeles. I have fond memories of going to the library and use the computer to use email. Smart phones didn’t exist, and I didn’t have a computer. I would sit in that Library and read emails from Justin. Those first few years in LA were hard ones. They were lonely ones. Maybe the loneliest of my entire life. I even had a few friends, and was even dating a wonderful woman, but I was miserable. And I knew it. And so did everyone else.
 
I’m not sure where it started. I think it started like most things do. Slowly. But we started ending our emails with St. Justin, & St. David. Justin you can correct me if I’m wrong…but I think it started by Justin lifting my spirit out of some type of gutter of depression & suicidal thoughts. I know I’m never going to kill myself, no matter how close I come internally, because that would’ve been the time I would’ve done it, if any. And if I’m remembering this right, Justin called me St. David of Los Angeles, or St. David the Vagabond or something like that..well this grew into us both starting & ending our emails with the moniker.
 
I’d say Dear St. Justin of the redneck hillbillies….and He’d say St. David of the Green Van with too many bumper stickers….but most were actually quite serious, and we’d use them to paint a picture of where our hearts were. Like I can remember one more than one occasion signing and email with St. David of the suicidal thoughts, and him the same.
 
There’s a handful of friends, including my wife, that have literally saved my life. And I wouldn’t be here without them. Bryan Bontrager, Matt Gast, Todd Davis, Dave Mullins Matt Liechty, Kyle Jennings, BJ Bales, Jesse Bryan, Randy Wheeler, & of course St. Justin of the smokes too many cigarettes.
 
Justin and I both, are the two biggest, reckless, and ugly sinners you’ve ever met. We have some similar struggles inside and out. But maybe the biggest is going to sound the simplest, but it’s really not. It’s really not at all. We both find it almost impossible, if not all together unconceivable that the Childhood song of “Jesus Loves Me” could actually be true. We’ve just messed up too bad in life. And continue to struggle. We’re not like our other brothers & sisters in the faith, who just seem to be better at being obedient & faithful….and we hate ourselves for it. I truly hate my sin. And thank God, because it was St. Augustine who said, “Everything is a gift.” And while I hate that I sin at all, I’m thankful for the gift that I at least hate it.
 
I had this wonderful conversation once with Dave Mullins, Rich Mullins brother, who said, “You know my hang up with the whole Ragamuffin community?” And I said, “What?” And he said, “They tend to go man God loves me, and nothing else matters…but if they looked closely at my brother, and Brennan they had something…that they don’t…and that is….they were not okay with their sin….sure they could sin with the best of them…but they were not okay with it.”
 
Reminds me of G.K. Chesterton quote…”If you’re going to sin. Sin Boldly.” But I think for Justin, & I, and maybe many others who have wrestled with the monster called depression might say is…Frequent & even reckless sin comes from…disbelief. “There’s no way that God could really love me, so what does it matter if I destroy my life.” And if you get there…if you fall down the inward spiral…that’s just it…you’re so inward focused that all you can see is yourself. You can’t see that not only is your sin destroying you. It’s also destroying other people. Even if you just withdrawl, don’t call people back, and shut yourself in your house. You are depriving the people you love of life. The life that comes from your friendship with them.
 
All I can really do is speak for myself at the end of the day. I can’t speak thoroughly for St. Justin. It’s just what I see from the sidelines. We tend to be prodigals, and vagabonds running away from God, because the truth of God’s love just seems too good to be true. Because imagine if it was true. If you could accept that God was crazy in love with you. I mean, if you really fell into that truth. If you bathed in that truth. If you were cleansed by that truth. If you could understand that when you wake up in the morning God goes, “They’re awake!” And jumps up and down. Just like I do when my beautiful baby girl wakes up. If you could understand that God doesn’t flinch when you sin and blow it. If you could believe that the rumor is not a rumor, but it’s true. It’s truer than true. The rumor “that God expects you to fail more than you do.”
 
I was once speaking at a camp. And a dear friend said, “you need to learn other messages than just the Love of God.” And let me speak to the truth that…he may be right. I needed to get better at speaking, more studied, and versatile versus repetitive & redundant. But in that moment I turned to my dear friend and said…”There is no other message.”
 
And aside from using that as an excuse to not become a better or more studied speaker…I do believe that you can know as much Bible as you possibly can, you can know all the inner workings of socio-economics, be completely bathed in obedience, be a zealot for social justice domestically & abroad, be a fiery evangelist, be a perseverant missionary, and even a martyr for your faith…but if all of that shit doesn’t lay on the foundation of the love of God, it’s is absolutely nothing. It is pure saw dust. Because my friends, you’ve missed the whole point of the Gospel of Jesus. Yes the Gospel is God saves sinners through his son Jesus. That’s the good news, but like my friend Alex Early said in his book “The Reckless Love of God”…if you miss the WHY? You’ve missed everything.
 
And at times St. Justin & I do. And maybe we still do. And who knows, maybe you too? But that’s the hope of the gospel. The hope of the gospel is found buried in the why of the gospel. The undying and restless, and reckless hope of the gospel if found in the why. And it is the heartbeat of God’s affection for you. For me. And for St. Justin of the valley of depression & despair.
 
We are saints. Not saints because we’ve been canonized, but saints because of the love of God & the blood of his son. If you’ve accepted the fact that you are accepted. You are a saint. But what saint will you be. St. So & So of the legalistic to-do list earning God’s love…or will you answer the passionate love affair that the heartbeat of God is calling you into…the one that burns day & night…will you become not just St. So & So…but St. The One Jesus loves living out of my identity as God’s beloved child and responding to his furious love.
 
I hope so. I hope you will. And I hope that for myself, and for St. Justin of the one who is loved unconditionally “Without boundary, limit, or breaking point”. The one who is passionately loved “as he is & not as he should be”…the one who is calling him out of his sin…and into a love affair…the one who’s heart breaks for him not to run away from him…but to run to him. The one who is being haunted by the furious love of God.
 
I love you St. Justin. Thanks for saving my life more times than I can count.
 
Love,
 
St. David, the one who Jesus loves
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~ by David Leo Schultz on October 15, 2015.

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