Where There is Faith, There is Hope

Things in court had not gone like I had hoping one morning and I was engaged in beating myself up a little bit when I got jerked into the present by a crying mother and a little girl. The mom had some problems with her driving record and had been driving without a license. If convicted of driving without a license, which was the third time the had been caught, it meant a mandatory ten days in jail.

When I met with her, she had her four or five-year old daughter with her and we talked about the possibilities. The mother was done. She was completely worn out by her effort and failures. Her tears flowed generously and her sweet, angelic little daughter reached up assuredly with comfort and compassion. I cried, too.

Somehow we connected through some reference to or evidence in faith. The lady had hope in her faith even through the challenge and discouragement of being a single mom. Based on that common ground, we prayed.

Then, we re-grouped, said a prayer together and went into court. We were going in to see the toughest judge in the city and the charge isn’t exactly difficult to prove. The officer has to testify about why he pulled you over and show that you don’t have a license. Court records would establish that it was the third time. Ten days in jail seemed certain and there were no apparent legal maneuvers nor any tangible hope.

Truthfully, the judge acted out of character. This judge was incredibly tough and I couldn’t have imagined anything but jail time. Against all reason or experience, the most serious of her charges was reduced and she walked out of the courtroom with some fines but no jail time.

This was a victory against hopelessness. A victory against the scars that might have come in the heart and soul of that little girl if there had been the difficult conversation of where mommy will be for the next ten days. A victory against doubt of the very existence of or interest from a God she had been crying out to but the circumstances never quite gave way.

There are people every day who have situations you can’t fix, but you can agree with hope found in some common faith. Even if just a mustard seed where the judge is harsh and the law is clear, grace can break through.

The Glorious Paradox of Life and Death

I do the stuff for a living and, as a result, the life can get sucked right out of me. When you are expected to know things, say things, write things related to God, the expectation is that you are at least a pretty good guy. After all, the God stuff you are presenting is good stuff and you are an avenue for that eternal good, so you should be temporally good. It’s a trap.

I’m not a good guy and when I think that I am, the disconnect begins. When I think that I’m basically moral, religious and that I do good stuff, my self-righteousness is being fed. I am forced to consider my good stuff to justify the good guy label. That is a road with no end that gets tiresome and it leaves open a flank susceptible to attack. The flip side of my goodness is my humanness and if I’m caught in the trap of being good, then I’m insecure related to my imperfections.

Taken a step further, when I’m tending to my self-righteousness, I’m completely disconnected from the righteousness of Christ. When I’m reinforcing my own goodness, I don’t need His grace. I’ve got it covered, after all, as I should since I’m a professional at His stuff. Ugh.

It’s only when I can embrace my depravity that I value His grace. When I value His grace, I can connect with Him. When I connect with Him, I receive His identity. When I receive His identity, I receive His righteousness. When I receive His righteousness, I am secure. My security, then, is rooted in recognition of my depravity; it’s a glorious paradox.

My soul is sick. Always has been and always will be. Jeremiah 17:9 says my heart (soul) is desperately wicked. It literally says by definition that it is incurable. There is no hope for it; it is terminal. It has to die.

It is only when I can recognize my incurable sickness that I can decide to go ahead and die. It’s only when I quit gasping for breath related to my goodness and give up that there is hope for me. The hope is not from me, but from Christ Jesus. He is my only hope. Yesterday, today and tomorrow; only Him through the dead me provides life through me, whether I do this for a living or not.

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.