The Most Critical Components Towards Realization of Our Purpose

Practicing law provided insight into things applicable well beyond the criminal justice system. Circumstances that had resulted in criminal ramifications exposed things that otherwise would go unnoticed. The insulation of the suburbs or compromise of excuses eroded under the scrutiny of the law. In other words, there were things that were true for people charged with a crime that are just as true for those of us living “normal” lives but we can’t see them based on our relative comfort or distraction.

When I was introduced to someone who was in the middle of a lifestyle of problems, resulting in repetitive criminal charges and other issues, there were consistently two things that were present. The #1 most consistent thing that was inconsistent in the lives of troubled people was fatherlessness. Almost every time I asked an habitual offender where their father was, it was a tragic story.

As things shifted, I became increasingly engaged with “good” people from the suburbs, typically from a church in the suburbs. When they had persistent struggles, the #1 thing that I have found to be an underlying agitate is their father relationship. The father relationship is incredibly pivotal to how we view God and how we view ourselves. Our realization of God’s true identity and our realization of our own identity according to Him is foundation to our freedom. If we have unresolved issues with our dad, we are often going to struggle realizing the Fatherhood of our Dad.

The second most consistent inconsistency is purposelessness. Where people lack purpose, whether impoverished criminal defendants or suburban professionals, they tend to struggle. We are wired for “why.” We need to get up every day knowing that the world has a need and we have a contribution to the solution. Realization of our place is the next question after realization of our identity.

We don’t realize our identity or our purpose “one time at band camp.” There are gates of realization along the pathway of a journey. They are markers and clues on our quest into eternity. Those gates and markers tend to come in difficult times when we have to answer questions within us that we don’t have the answer to. We need the Designer to show us how He wired us and what He intends for that unique wiring. Questions can bring revelation and revelation unlocks the application of our identity and design. You don’t have to wait for the hard times to ask the deep questions any more than you have to be charged with a crime to need to figure things out.

 

The Connection of Comfort

We were in Northern Virginia this past weekend and decided to head into Washington D.C. on the way to the airport. We had mentioned going in to see some monuments if we had time and the kids had shown strong interest in doing so. We were running short of time as we had to catch a flight, but we decided to give it a try.

We drove past the Jefferson Memorial, the Capital and the White House as we looked for a place to park. Without much time to waste, we were fortunate to find a parking spot as D.C. was crowded with tourists. From our parking spot, we walked past the Vietnam Memorial towards our intended destination, which was the Lincoln Memorial. After checking it out, in addition to the reflecting pool and Washington Monument (from a distance), we had to head back to the car and onto the airport.

We walked back towards the Vietnam Memorial towards our car. I’ve been to the Vietnam Memorial before; it impacted me then as well as this time both going and coming. My father served two tours in Vietnam and the names on that wall of those that didn’t come home are a grim provocation of what could have been for my dad and our family. I’m thankful.

As we were moving towards our car, I was processing some emotion as we walked briskly to be on time for our flight. Julie noticed an older Asian man along the pathway where we were walking near the Vietnam Memorial. She noticed he was weeping. It caused her to cry as we continued to walk and, about 50 yards past the man, she had to go back. She turned and jogged back towards him.

When she reached him, she comforted him and asked him if she could give him a hug. If you know her, you aren’t surprised. He smiled and welcomed the comfort. That was it. We had to go; we had a flight to catch.

I’m really glad we decided to detour our trip to the airport. The kids loved it and this brief encounter was rich and deep. While the man was a little older than me, he apparently has a story that cause him emotions in much the same way that the realization of what could have become my story did for me.

Holy Spirit is the Comforter and He lives within every born-again believer in Jesus. He lives in us not only because we need comfort, but also because other people do. Giving comfort is a testimony of Jesus, with or without words. The expression of the heart of God is accomplished through people with people. People around us are weeping and we get to connect heaven to earth if we’ll notice earth and offer heaven.

The Impact of Fathers

I used to volunteer in youth prisons and over time developed a routine which I tended to default to when I met a young man (ages 14-17) for the first time in the facility. I would introduce myself and ask the boy his name and where he was from. He was reluctant to interact at all and would usually be looking at the floor with no interest in opening up even a little bit about himself.

I would then ask him where his father is and that would get his attention; he would usually look at me with interest for the first time. His eyes would communicate, “How did you know?” I would often have to repeat the question as he was caught off guard, “where is your father?”

The stories were always terrible; they were dead, in prison, never been around, drunk, on drugs, etc. The only reasonable response at that point in our conversation was, “I’m sorry; I’m really sorry that you have had to deal with that.” I can’t fix it, I can only hope to meet the kid where he is and show some comfort that his story and hurt is legitimate.

That was often a start to talk more about the hurts in his life that he had been challenged with and the choices that flowed from those circumstances. Connecting the heart and the head to begin to understand that he wasn’t weird for being angry and that the anger came from the hurt. Understand the hurt, hopefully choose to forgive and maybe begin to walk out of the cycle.

When I would offer comfort, however, it wouldn’t initially be received. “It’s alright,” or “It doesn’t matter” was always the response. Always. They were in prison; it mattered.

The need for affirmation and acceptance with unconditional love is foundational; we all need it. The connection to our experience with our father produces a lens within us for how we see God, how we see ourselves and how we see the world. The best dad in the world, however, isn’t the target; the Father is.

Our dad relationship is either a bridge or a barrier to realizing the love of the Father. Ideally, we have a father relationship that fosters an easier realization of trust and acceptance than abusive, neglectful earthly experiences would. Either way, though, we seek to hear from the Father, “You’re a son . . . and I’m pleased with you.”

Acknowledging the condition of our hearts related to our experience with our biological father positions us to hear from the Father. When we have let go in the natural, we can receive in the supernatural. Through the sacrifice of Jesus, we can hear this testimony of the Holy Spirit. From that, we will call out, “Abba (Daddy), Father!”

 

 

Tuning Out, Turning Off to Tune In and Fill Up

There is nothing wrong with routine; in fact, the framework of “normal” can help to define the supernatural by contrast. When normal becomes distracting, however, it’s possible to miss the tell-tale signs of the Kingdom of God. That’s where I got to recently.

I have known times in my life when I knew the presence of God. I could discern His voice and fingerprints and drew life from the breath He would breathe into otherwise routine situations. Lately, however, it seemed that there wasn’t much fellowship in the flow.

About two weeks ago, I realized that I had formed a habit of distraction. I was on my phone almost constantly. Checking this or checking that left me missing what might otherwise be noticed in the spaces now occupied by technology. Then I went on Quest.

I’ve been going on Quest since 2008 and got into a bit of a routine there, too. I got used to the time away and didn’t value the disconnection. This time, however, as I was recounting the routine I had gotten into I heard an invitation. As I shared that I had not been to the river in several years, I heard a whisper of invitation to “come to the river.”

I went to the river, crossed it and climbed up a slope on the other side. I found a rock and spent time reading, writing, listening to music, praying and just being. I was connecting. I was relating. I was enjoying the breath of God in the moments afforded. I didn’t have to; I had chosen not to plenty of times before. This was good and right and refreshing.

The next day I didn’t perceive any specific invitation, but went out of my own accord. I made my way to the middle of the river on rocks that protruded just above the surface of the water and considered stepping off of those rocks into the stream just to get further into the middle. Any urgency that I might otherwise respond to had faded with 48 hours away from the routine and I was in no hurry to jump out to the middle. Then, after waiting and considering the present reality, I saw little stepping rocks just up a little further that took me out to the middle of the middle.

I can’t explain it other than to say it filled me from the inside. God met me in that time of no distraction and ministered to my soul. He filled me and healed me and called me His son . . . and the phone wasn’t a distraction to detour me from receiving.

The Shack is Not the Authority, but Neither are You or I

At the risk of drawing fire from the religious elites, I saw The Shack the other day. I loved it. I loved the sweet and inviting nature of how God was portrayed and it caused me to want to draw closer to Him. I have no intention of defending the movie theologically or entering into a debate about it. I came out encouraged in the Lord, the One True God, and that’s a win.

Whether the movie is perfect or not wasn’t really the question for me as much as I was open to considering God while watching the movie. Neither the book nor the movie will replace my Bible. The story draws me to know Him better and the inspired and infallible Bible reveals His depth like no man-made source can. I saw many things about the God of the Bible portrayed through the characters of The Shack and I agree with those things while considering Him, not my mastery of the philosophy of Him.

God isn’t a history lesson or philosophy to be mastered. God is God, present tense and real beyond comprehension even while being relational. None of us have Him figured out. Not you or me or William P. Young. As far as I can tell, Mr. Young didn’t set out to replace or even supplement the Bible; he was simply telling a story. From what I have read, the essence of that story was born out of Mr. Young’s experience as an abused child and the healing that was found in God as his Father, or Papa.

God stirred my heart in the movie. He called to my humanity and invited me beyond the restraints of this world and into the inexplicable mystery of the next. The depth of eternity is a revelation of the heart much more than it is an understanding of the head. The mystery has value and the pursuit of God through the whispers and whiffs of eternal markers on a temporal trail produce a better me.

People are hurting. Bad things have happened. In this world, we will have trouble. God as Healer, Comforter, Papa and Friend is Biblically sound and personally necessary. Considering Him as Who He is in those reflections of His character might save a life. Forever.

See the movie or don’t see the movie, that isn’t really the point. The idea that you or me or any author of any book has mastered God and cornered the market on the rules of how He should or shouldn’t be shared is a bit arrogant. Don’t be arrogant. I’ll try not to be, too.

 

Exchanging Our Stench for a Sweet Aroma

incenseThere was a time that I was waiting in court for a case I was working on to be called and there was a DUI trial that I watched as I waited. A witness had seen/heard an accident from their living room as it occurred in front of their home. The witness came outside after noticing the crash and testified that the accused driver had an odor of alcohol about them immediately following the accident.

In cross-examination, the defense attorney asked the witness if they had been drinking in their living room prior to witnessing the accident and the witness admitted that they had. The follow-up question, then, was “how did you distinguish between the smell of alcohol on you versus the smell of alcohol that you claimed to smell on the defendant?”

The witness hesitated before finally admitting, “I couldn’t.” The witness couldn’t tell where his smell stopped and the driver’s began yet his initial testimony was condemning of the driver’s condition.

How often do we do that? How easily do we focus on the smell of other’s people’s problems and conditions rather than recognizing that we’ve got our own smell? Do we even consider that our smell could be blending over into their smell to the point that we can’t distinguish where ours starts versus where theirs ends? It’s such an easy thing to think we recognize somebody else’s issues without realizing that our issues that damage our ability to accurately perceive theirs.

Our smell that oozes out is from our inner jealousy, bitterness, lust or other depravity. Socially acceptable suburban conditions that are so commonplace that abnormal is normal. It’s healthy to take a whiff and recognize that it’s there. Only after getting a good whiff of our own aroma can we start to clean out the junk and replace it with healthy and normal, for real. The crud that gets jammed down and festers within us can be exchanged for a sweet-smelling fragrance that reflects humility, forgiveness and selflessness in the place where the mess used to reside.

Jesus came to heal the broken-hearted and set the captives free. That’s you and that’s me. If we receive His sacrifice, we can live forever with Him in heaven. We don’t have to wait until we die to receive the exchange which He offers by His grace. He wants to heal us and set us free for the purposes and plans He has for us on earth. Redemption is available for the stuff that stinks; all we have to do is be willing to smell it for what it is. He’ll take it from there.