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.

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.

Quest for Oneness Begins With One

Love is discovered in the most unexpected places.  For me, it was on a marriage retreat.  I can tell that’s going to take some explaining, after all why would discovering love be unexpected while away with my wife?  Because the love I discovered on retreat wasn’t for my wife.  Now I really have some explaining to do.  I knew I loved my wife.  The surprising love I discovered while on this marriage retreat was for me.

It was the next to last day of the weeklong retreat and as I’m prone to do, I rose early, poured a cup of coffee and was enjoying some quiet reading.  The night before, the founder and facilitator of the retreat asked if it had been a good week.  “It’s been great,” I told him.  “Great teaching and time with God, as well as between my Julie and me; great opportunities for us to set some things in order.  It’s been great.”

It was about to go from great to transformational.

While I didn’t hate me, up until that point in my life I never really loved me, either.  There’s a difference between self-hatred and a lack of self-love.  We can not love ourselves, even not like ourselves, and still not hate ourselves.  As I read in solitude that morning, Matthew 22:39 jumped off the page and into my heart as never before:  Love your neighbor as yourself.”

To understand the full impact of these five words we need to understand the context.  In Matthew 22:34-36, the Pharisees test Jesus by asking Him which commandment is the greatest.  Jesus’ reply to this final in a litany of questions confounds and silences the Pharisees.

“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments’” (Matthew 22:37-40).

The greatest commandment isn’t just to love God but also to love others, but that edict to love others comes with a qualifier, “as yourself.”  The limitation on our ability to keep God’s greatest command to love is how much we love ourselves.  “Love your neighbor as yourself,” means the most I can love anyone is the degree to which I love myself.  Sitting on that couch drinking coffee that morning I realized I did not love myself.  Never had.

This was huge.  I can’t love others if I don’t love me.  As I pondered this truth, it got personal.  This was more than not being able to love the folks next door or the stranger at the grocery store.  It was deeper and more compelling than that.  Not loving me meant I couldn’t love my wife.  Not loving me meant I couldn’t love God.

I was wrecked and started to cry.  Once I started, I couldn’t stop; I wanted to love me and I wanted to love others.  I wanted to love my wife and I wanted to love God.  I cried, “Please, God, help me to love me.”  He answered.

From Abundant and Free; Seeing Life Through the Lens of Grace available on Amazon.

Note: The “retreat” mentioned is Q1: The Quest for Oneness more information available here.

It’s Time to Go Fishing; You’re Invited

The opportunities we are given come by way of invitation but the invitations are a bit loaded. It is our choice to accept or not, but if we pay attention and have eyes to see, we will want to say “yes.” When we see deeper, shallow is no longer satisfying. From that place that lacks satisfaction, we will be willing to further.

In Luke 5:10, Jesus calls the first disciples to be fishers of men. He was talking to fishermen so the description was applicable and  somewhat easy to understand, I suppose; at least to a degree. What had to make it more clear happened just before the declaration.

Leading up to that invitation/declaration, those same fisherman had experienced the power of what they were being invited into. They had been fishing, unsuccessfully, and Jesus came with a word. The word He gave them about where and how to fish produced an abundant catch that was overflowing. It was so abundant, in fact, that the boats started to sink.

The result was an immediate realization of His holiness and their relatively un-holiness. They realized their depravity and the need for grace. From that realization, they actually wanted to send Jesus away in verse 8. But He stayed; in fact, He not only stayed, but He invited them.

We likely won’t realize our purpose in the agreement that results in being fishers of men until we see the abundance and holiness of Jesus and receive His grace for our depravity. When we see from those realizations, we will want to agree in the purpose of the Kingdom by seeing and reaching people. We’ll start to see people like He sees them after we see us like He sees us.

Being fishers of men is not a burden to be weird with people or threaten them with hell. It is a realization of your need for God’s grace and salvation through Jesus and the unbridled passion that comes from the abundance that you realize you have been given. Then, from the joy of your salvation, you simply can’t help but want to connect with people and share the treasure.

If you aren’t connecting with, relating to and fishing for others to share the treasure of your salvation, perhaps you have forgotten the abundance that you have been given? Perhaps you are shameful in your sin or focused on your lack? If so, it’s OK; simply remember and see. Then say “yes” to the invitation.

Seeing Past the Labels

We are more complex than the labels we depend on to try to quantify our qualities. We call ourselves things and we call other people things in an effort to package and control the human variable. Most of the time, we look at the obvious and immediate at the expense of the hidden and eternal.

When I was practicing criminal defense law, I would not have been an effective advocate if I had decided to label each client with the crime they were accused of. Even if the labels were attached following a conviction or confession, I would be missing the opportunity to see the person and agree with their design. They weren’t designed to be a criminal; their intention was hijacked somewhere along the way.

Seeing the person afforded the opportunity to speak about the person in agreement with who they are; not based on what they had done. That was true of the accused and it is true of the less obvious accusations more common to day-to-day  life. There are people every day who, on the surface, are “wrong” in various forms. Yet, even if accurate assessments of justice, grace calls us to look beyond the flaws and into the design.

There is a character in Scripture that we have labeled as “doubting Thomas.” When Jesus was resurrected, Thomas says he won’t believe the resurrection of Jesus unless he is able to touch the wounds of the resurrected body of Jesus. So Jesus presents Himself in John 20 and meets Thomas right where his lack of had him stalled. That’s grace.

Interestingly, in John 11 the same man operated with a different label. He was traveling with Jesus as they heard of the death of Lazarus and Jesus decided to go to where Lazarus was. It was pointed out that this was the same place where people had tried to stone Jesus and would likely try again. This was dangerous and anyone with Jesus could lose their life, too.

The reaction of Thomas, however, was different from the label he gets in chapter 20. Thomas says, “let’s go with Him, so we can die, too.”

Maybe figuring Thomas out isn’t so easy. Is he doubting or courageous? Yes. Depends on the day; just like it does for any of us.

There are things we do that we are working out. Sometimes we are doubting and sometimes we are courageous. Neither necessarily affords us a title; both reflect the working out of our identity through a soul that wrestles with the eternal nature of God’s Spirit. Both require grace.

Not para, but Part Of

You’ve got to know who you are. When you know who you are, everything flows from that as you do the thing(s) you are designed to do. It’s the first step towards understanding your context and understanding your context is the first step towards fulfilling your purpose.

I recently took the responsibility of becoming the Executive Director of Fellowship of the Sword. For the first time in the 15 year history of the organization, the ministry is Board-led where it had been founder-led. The fact that the Founders, Richard and Paige Henderson, had the courage and humility to facilitate the transfer is remarkable. For many organizations, the founder’s unwillingness to hand off operations cripples the capacity and potential of incredible vision.

Some would call FTS a “para-church” organization. One of the most important and enlightening things I have heard from Richard over the past several weeks is his clarification of that tag. “We are not a para-church, because ‘para-church’ means to come beside the church. We are not coming beside the church, but we are part of the church,” Richard said.

There is only one church. It’s not different churches determined by different buildings. There is one Bride of Christ. We are here to serve His Bride as part of His Body. We are in, not beside.

This is a big deal for many reasons, one of which was that the only grant of authority that Jesus gave was to make disciples (Matthew 28). He didn’t commission us to start a ministry or facilitate a Quest or anything else unless it is to contribute to the disciple making process. He gives us that authority and the mechanism through which that occurs is the local church.

This opportunity comes several years after answering a call into ministry which moved me away from a fulfilling practice of law. The only way that Julie and I want to do things is on a call from the Lord. His call includes this recent invitation to serve the local church through this ministry called Fellowship of the Sword.

The primary mechanism by which the Lord has equipped FTS for this purpose is the facilitation of Quest and HeartQuest events, which serve as catalysts in the disciple making process. That process, first and foremost, is accomplished through the local church. It’s our pleasure to serve the local church in this way as hearts get awakened and set in healthy rhythms, to be alive in their purpose and passions which are to be carried out in their eternal context. That context is as part of a local church.