Absolutely Abba

It’s only been five months and it’s pretty surreal. The absence of my father is so permanent that the pain of the permanence is the hurt that re-visits most often. It’s also the place where the mirage of the faint and passing thoughts that I am about to see him show up. Those brief and passing moments where I forget the unforgettable give way quickly to the realization of reality.

With that said, I am not an orphan. My father on earth has gone the way of all the earth, but my Father in Heaven is increasingly prominent in my consciousness. The infinity of God co-exists with the intimacy of God and He is Father in the connection of distant to personal.

No matter what the challenge or celebration is, the need for a Dad is real for all of us. We want and need the pivotal relationship with an earthly father and where there are fractures or voids, we hurt and want. The earthly father experience, however, is a flawed and temporal expression of the perfect and eternal identity of who God is for us and through us if we will simply come home to Him.

Coming home to the Father is a daily choice made first and foremost in our will. It’s not a theological debate nor is it complicated set of rules to follow. Our return to the Father through the grace and sacrifice of Jesus is a daily submission of our will and our lives to His goodness and sovereignty. It’s our will that has to die first.

When we will submit our wants, the return on that investment is freedom. When we die to our drivers and choose to depend wholly on the One who is Holy, the fruit of His life can come through us. We can exchange our anxiety and self-consciousness for His peace and love. He loves His kids and that love is the greatest satisfier of any of the wants, fears or forecasts we entertain when we are driving.

Trust is fostered in the silence. Time spent quietly considering and connecting to God as Abba, or Father, or Daddy is an investment into the satisfaction of things that otherwise unleash my will to have its way. These brief and passing moments where I realize the Absolute give way to temporary distractions of earthly temptations and I am in need of my Abba again. Thankfully, I am not an orphan and He shows up time and time again.

Floods that Wash Our Soul

When I was practicing criminal defense law, my job and responsibility was to ensure justice. As a zealous advocate, I worked to ensure that the government operated within the boundaries of freedom in the case of my client. Case by case, the protection of freedom for one ensures freedom for all.

In some cases, I would ask the court for mercy. The facts and due process led to a likely if not certain guilty finding and the only thing left as an advocate were arguments for measures of mercy. What I saw then and see more clearly now is that justice and mercy can operate simultaneously.

Mercy does not come at the sacrifice of justice nor does justice come at the expense of mercy. They are compatible vengeance doesn’t trump restraint and compassion isn’t given precedence over order. The balance of each ensures the other and the result can have consequences without the sacrifice of empathy.

Truthfully, while I would zealously attempt to represent my client within legal boundaries, I also realized that some clients were better off in jail. It would be in their best interests to have to deal with consequences with hopes that those consequences would propel them towards a greater destiny than their current trajectory. It was, at times, merciful for a criminal defendant to be found guilty and sentenced to jail.

Check out this passage in Nahum 1:6-7: “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him, but with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh; he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness.”

The Lord is good but He will bring discipline. He loves people and will destroy things that are within them which stand against His goodness and prevent trust in Him. It is merciful for Him to provide consequences where we are not given completely over to His goodness. The net result of the interaction is that we can get to the end of ourselves and rest in a new-found faith in Him.

I had clients that needed to face consequences, but they are not unique. We all have areas of self-reliance that deserve the merciful response of restored order even when that appears to come at our expense. In those times where our flesh and soul are pressed, His Spirit is given territory within us that previously was reserved for us.

Destruction of Our Escape is an Act of Love

There is a persistent temptation to imagine things how they could be and a trap that is set for us as we move towards our imaginations. Our imaginations of tranquility projected into lake, mountain or beach homes, perfect jobs, abundant resources, etc. are illusions. The imaginations won’t include our vulnerabilities, insecurities or the totality of our humanity.

If only we could fix the conditions that agitate our peace, then we will have arrived. Time, relationships, money and jobs (or lack thereof) are common areas we would like to fortify within our preferences. Within the walls of our desired fortress, however, is us and outside the boundaries of our protections is a world full of trouble that won’t be held back.

Where does God reside in our efforts to build a perfect life? Who is sovereign in our imagination?

Where we limit and submit Him to us, then we assume the place and responsibility He holds. We sit on His throne and rule in sovereignty that is inferior yet temporarily primary. We idolize our ability to create an existence that exceeds a need for Him as our Lord. We idolize us.

It is His love that tears down our castles. He is the one that graciously destroys the efforts of our idolatry. There is a fine line between love and anger and, in this case, His anger is love. His pursuit of us despite us is merciful and loving without regard to our arrogance and isolationism.

“The Sovereign Lord has sworn by himself—the Lord God Almighty declares: “I abhor the pride of Jacob and detest his fortresses; I will deliver up the city and everything in it.” Amos 6:8.

God swears by Himself because He can, but when we attempt to do the same, we fall short. Ultimately, He will tear down our fortresses and pride for our good. He will leave us in a heap of ruins and when we look up to survey the aftermath, we may finally actually see Him for Who He is, not who we attempted to imagine Him into being.

Freedom is found in identity. Our identity as declared and decided by a Creator that loves us and wants a relationship with the real us. His identity, as well, in actuality and not in the imaginative attempts to create an oasis for ourselves in the middle of life’s realities.

It’s Easter. So What?

It doesn’t necessarily matter, does it? The day on a calendar or even the reason for the day on the calendar are irrelevant for most people. They don’t mean a thing until and unless they mean everything. For some people, they matter so little that the step towards church on this Sunday is their only real thought of God all year. For others, they routinely go to church but seldom go to the Cross. It doesn’t matter until it costs everything.

Easter is the celebration of resurrection of Christ from the dead, but many people know that. What they don’t know is why that matters to them. The religious nod in the cultural tradition actually reinforces the question for non-believers of “so, what?”

“That’s it? That’s all you got? A nice building, shiny people, a few songs and a story? Why should I care?”

There is nothing nice or shiny or song-ey or entertaining about the resurrection. Resurrection is the power of glory on display in the King of Kings to be made available to all of us . . . if.

If we’ll follow Him to the cross. If we will die to us and receive His life as ours. If we’re willing to give up everything and be hated by the world and be persecuted by church people and non-church people alike. That’s when it matters. When we are done with us and willing to make it all that matters. The love of the Father calls to us and His love is all-in for us . . . it is an all-in relationship.

The death of Jesus is our invitation into His glory but it costs us the death of our soul for the glory of His Spirit. We don’t believe until we give up and we won’t give up as long as we think we have a better alternative. For as long as our comfort, ability, compromise, religion, preferences, expectations and offenses else keep us from laying down our life, His death is not a compelling invitation. If His death is not inviting, then the glory of His resurrection is not attainable. There’s only one glory at a time; the glory of God or the glory of me.

I hope the churches are full today and I hope people decide that the story they hear matters to them personally. I hope that hope is better than control for people who go to church the other Sundays as well as the one time a year check-ins. I hope glory is birthed from people laying down their lives and that it matters more than it ever has.

 

Slowing Down to Live

I was starting to get a little consumed with the practice of law. There are all kinds of perceptions regarding lawyers lifestyles and work practices. What I have found is that it is challenging, rewarding and can sometimes be consuming.

We are invited into people’s problems and the weight of that kind of responsibility is real. I realized that I was carrying the weight to a degree that was affecting my own life in a slightly problematic way. Things were getting out-of-order.

Little by little, I was becoming too much “the lawyer” at the sacrifice of “the husband” or “the father.” It wasn’t drastic but my priorities and thoughts were increasingly sliding towards practicing law instead of being the man I was called to be in the rest of my life. When I got home, I was too tired and when I was there, I wasn’t fully present as I mentally recapped the previous day and prepared for the next.

One morning, almost by accident, the contrast became glaring and the solution emerged. For several reasons, there was a morning that I found myself hanging out a little longer at the house before heading to the office. I had an extra cup of coffee and sat with the kids as they began to get ready, eat breakfast and get going with their day. I enjoyed my family first instead of thinking I had to be out the door quite as fast as I normally was.

The time that it took to enjoy that extra cup of coffee at home was an incredible vehicle in re-ordering my priorities. I really enjoyed the peace and order of starting the day with the family and have started to take that time whenever possible. The physical act of staying home for the extra cup of coffee helped align my mental and emotional priorities.

Our physical disciplines and habits reflect the priorities of our character. A shift in how we spend our time and money reflects the priority we give to time and money. When either of those two resources take a top spot on our list of most important, then they knock other things from the top spot. Making first things first is sometimes as easy as a cup of coffee.

The Cost of Abandon

In my mid-30s, I was working in corporate America and becoming increasingly dissatisfied.  Some of the dissatisfaction was from corporate politics and compromise; some was simply revelation of the way I’m “hardwired.”  In the midst of my dissatisfaction, I read Half Time: Moving from Success to Significance, by Bob Buford.  That book, along with some other things that happened about that time, changed everything for me.

It changed the lens through which I viewed opportunity and purpose and was the mechanism that most singlehandedly gave permission to my “want to.”  Most significantly, it gave me permission to explore endeavors that were more about making a difference than about personal achievement.  It was an invitation into life’s adventure.  I accepted.

The desire to achieve great and glorious things is part of our royal DNA.  It draws us beyond our natural limitations to be part of something larger than life.  It’s the call of Jesus into the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.  It’s agreeing with Him in the advancement of His purposes and plans in our lives and the lives of others.

As partakers of the benefits of grace, we’re invited into this epic journey.  It costs everything and is much more difficult than paths of the status quo.  The shaping of credentials for involvement in the Kingdom comes at the expense of our soul, which we crucify to allow His Spirit to live in places previously reserved for us.  Transformation comes from the inside out as we increasingly learn to let go of everything we otherwise squeeze for comfort and security.  He has to be our only Source.

Jesus transforms you and includes you.  You go places and do things you never dreamed of when you jump off the cliff of the predictable and into the unknown of a journey with Holy Spirit.  I haven’t arrived and I don’t have it all figured out. At the same time, I’ve seen enough and know from experience that He is faithful.

Catching a glimpse of the vision for our destiny tempts us to believe the distance between where we are and where we’re going somehow has been eliminated.  Thoroughbred racehorses may see the finish line as they round the final curve, but it’s up to the jockey to pace the horse until he knows it can run uninhibited for the final distance.  The revelation of our God-breathed gifts and abilities tempts us to forget there’s a process necessary to position us to handle the manifestation of those gifts and abilities.  Just because you see it, doesn’t mean you’re ready for it.

Changes are necessary to realize the “what’s next” in life.  Dissatisfaction with compromise comes at the cost of abandon.  Put another way, the only way you take hold of the future is to let go of the present.  That idea as a concept is easy; the practical realities of leaving the familiar are challenging.  It hurts to let go, and setting out on a quest into uncharted territory is scary.

– From Abundant and Free; Seeing Life Through the Lens of Grace