The Way in the Wilderness; Streams in the Wasteland

Two things have been elusive to me: contentment and joy. The drive that pushes can also produce the anxiety that wishes. Wishes of better circumstances, less trouble, greater comfort or whatever can distract from the abundance of the moment. The feast that is evident with every meal when no meals are missed. The protection of shelter when the rain never gets on me as I sleep.

Never. Never a missed meal or homeless exposure. Yet, those things don’t seem to matter even though they are foundational to everything the rest of the things (according to Maslow). When they are overlooked, the top of the pyramid is always one or more anxious wish out of reach but seemingly within reach with a little more effort.

Lately, however, I’m seeing it differently. I’m considering the joy that is available within the problems. I’m intentionally orienting towards joy and contentment when the trouble squawks, opportunities tempt or worry taunts. I don’t have it figured out or mastered but I’m seeing the target and getting the words which are the ability to hit the bullseye.

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.” – Isaiah 43:19

The way is in the middle of the wilderness; not after deliverance from the wilderness. It’s right there among the wilderness and all the shadows that are inherent in wilderness culture. The streams interrupt the wasteland but they don’t overcome it. The enjoyment, relief, satisfaction and thanksgiving for the way and the streams are available within the context of the wilderness and wasteland. One doesn’t cease to exist because of the existence of the other; they co-exist.

I’m learning to sit in the stream and not care about the wasteland which is still looming. The emotions that are stirred from the observation of the negative possibilities that the wasteland holds don’t have to be given priority. The cool of the stream and sound of its trickling will prevail if they are given their due. The peaceful and consistent reassurance of their refreshment will be enjoyed right up until the point where I focus on the threats of the wasteland.

Peace is in the river despite the limits of the river banks but the shore of the wasteland will consume everything that I give it. Stepping out of the stream into the wasteland to fix the wasteland is a fool’s errand. In this world, we will have trouble; that’s not going to change. The way and the stream are not of this world.

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.

 

This is Worse and Better Than I Thought

The pain that comes in the wake of losing my father has layers that I didn’t expect. I’m caught off guard by the emotions that accompany the hurt.

I didn’t expect the fear. For the first time in 50 years, the guy that I could always count on isn’t there. The safe place, reliable counsel, unconditional love and complete support is gone. The result included a feeling of vulnerability that I didn’t expect because I have never felt it before. I found myself uncovered and unprotected in a way that I had never known.

I’ve ministered to hundreds of people with significant dad issues and represented hundreds more as a criminal defense attorney. I’ve understood the reality of the how important the dad relationship is and diagnosed the cause and effect correctly. I didn’t know and couldn’t have known the depth of the fear that accompanies the hurt.

I have felt aloneness in the adjustment to my father’s absence even though I enjoyed the benefit of his presence for 50 years. It breaks my heart to know that some people go through their entire life with the pain and fear that come from an absent father without knowing the joy of the contrast. I don’t have to stay in the hurt or the fear and neither do they, but the fact that I know what it’s supposed to feel like is a huge benefit.

In the processing of the grief and void of my dad’s consistency, I’ve realized the love of the Father. I’ve known it before, but it’s different now. It was incredible always, but it’s different when there isn’t a father. The joy of knowing that I am a son to the One that gave me a father in the first place is tangible.

No matter if your father story is one of a good dad, bad dad or somewhere in the middle dad, the target and invitation is always to the Father. He wants to provide the eternal relationship which may or may not have been modeled well in your temporal experience.

God gave His son so we could be sons and daughters. We are invited into the security of a relationship which will never end. We are invited into the safe place, reliable counsel, unconditional love and complete support of a Father that is perfect and forever. We don’t have to be afraid; we can be loved.

The Final Promotion

The day before the surgery, I texted my dad to tell him that I didn’t have any peace with the plan to open his chest up. By a prophetic nudge, I was prompted to make my concerns known to him. He answered back:

“Son,

I can understand your concerns. I considered taking the stent route. Why would anybody think of having their chest cut open a second time? I just don’t have any faith that is a long-term fix and I don’t want to suffer a heart attack when one collapses.

Your mom and I both have prayed this thru and are at total peace with the choice. God has blessed us with good health and beautiful family and we have wanted for nothing. We believe he watches over us in all circumstances and our lives on earth will be as long or short as He wills.

I love you and take great pride in the man you have become. Take peace that we rest in the grace of God.

Dad”

I’ve re-read this text time and time again. I’ve copied it and saved it. I value it and don’t want to lose it. I love how he calls me “Son” in it. I can hear his voice when I read it.

He had voiced much of what was in the text to my mother. He didn’t want to live in fear of a heart attack and was seeking a fix that would afford him the freedom to live. He still had passion for his purpose on earth, but if the surgery didn’t work out, he was completely comfortable with eternity as his next stop. He was completely assured of his salvation in Jesus and the promise of heaven. It was a compelling assurance vs. the compromise of a life lived on earth in fear and reservations.

The total peace that he had was real. That eternal peace wasn’t assurance of temporal outcomes. He knew he could die. Yet, he would live.

There is no way to live life with healthy zeal until and unless we know that life on earth is just the first chapter. All of eternity is available beyond the experience we have here and now. The next step is one into promotion. My father had been promoted a bunch of times in his career but nothing compared to this one.

It hurts from this perspective but the joy we can have for the ones that are promoted is available in Jesus. Without Jesus and His promise of eternal life, there is no hope beyond the pain of death. With Him, however, the sting of death is softened as death gives way to new life.

I really mean that, and so did my dad. So does Jesus.

Seeking Treasure in the Trouble

We don’t always get what we want. Our prayers are not equivalent to lottery tickets. God tells us that in this world we are going to have trouble. So bad things happen to good people. Not because God is doing bad things to people, but because He loves people enough to let them make choices and there are cascading consequences in a fallen world. The hard things can be good things.

In the Social Media age, the good news and big smiles are on display as we put our virtual best foot forward. Comparison between our trouble and other people’s smiles can feed frustration in the wake of problems. If we choose to evaluate our situation, consequences, problems, trouble, God, etc. in such a shallow manner, we will miss it.

We’ll miss the treasure available in the deep dive. The good stuff is often in the middle of the hard stuff. When our efforts and desires leave us disappointed and out of options, we can tap into more. We can tap into eternity.

The happiness that comes from good things is insignificant compared to the joy that is eternally available despite bad things. The peace that we can know exceeds our understanding and affirms God’s goodness when we choose to be thankful where we would otherwise be anxious.

Whether or not 2017 was your best year ever, there is a depth that is available even as you reflect. Ask God to show Himself in circumstances where you didn’t realize Him. Ask Him to comfort your soul and connect the dots of understanding in the wake of otherwise unsatisfying experiences. Press into Him and wait; He is faithful and He is good.

There is always more in Him and the trials that we face affirm us as much as they do Him. He tells us that we can inherit eternal treasures and share in His glory if we will choose to share in his sufferings (Romans 8:17). Bad things happen, so we can either choose to invite Him into the middle of those things seeking His glory and our inheritance or we can form some bad theology around our shallow expectations.

The Exponential Power of a Life Well Lived

My father passed away on Friday rather unexpectedly. There was a complication with an operation he had on Tuesday and he was gone quickly. On its face, all that is left is grief and questions; underneath the top layer, there is inspiration.

My father’s life was not his own; he gave it away. He had given his life to Jesus and the purposes of the Kingdom of God. He served in his church and community as his full-time job in his retirement years. He was looking for ways to bless and serve others right up to the end of his life. He made much of Jesus in the life that he lived.

He also gave his life to his family. My sister and I, along with our families, children and grandchildren, received the incredible inheritance of a living picture. A living picture of a life lived with integrity, humility, reliability and selflessness, among other things. We got to see what it looks like to finish well. We got a good look at the target of a life well lived. You’ve got to see the target to be able to hit it.

For 50 years, I enjoyed the steady and consistent teaching of shoulder to shoulder experience with a man who did it. There were no unanswered questions as his affirmation, love and support were both spoken and unspoken. That is an incredible gift and I am more thankful than I can describe. The heritage he crafted is a legacy to steward and multiply. It calls me into the purpose of generational impact. The context of generational impact is eternity.

Without context, there cannot be understanding. Understanding facilitates purpose. Purpose is collaborative in the sense that we all have opportunities to agree with others in our purpose to multiply our impact as well as theirs. Purpose brings us full circle back to context.

He was not afraid of what happens next. The reason he wasn’t afraid is because he was increasingly acclimated. He knew of heaven for heaven’s sake because his life was increasingly agreeing with heaven on earth. The lines between here and there got blurry as he sought a supernatural impact even in the restraint of his natural surroundings.

God blesses generations and generations carry momentum. The Kingdom advances with increasing momentum and we’ll realize it as we agree. When we have eyes to see beyond the visible, there is more than death; there is life from death.

We are grieving and that is good and right. The sadness is real; the pain is tangible. Context, purpose and understanding use grief as fuel for glory. “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” (2 Cor 4:17)