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.

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

Dying to Live

The combination to unlock our potential is found in our willingness to give up. We are invited into a greatness that is sourced by glory, not ability. The posture to realize the Source is humility.

I watched my dad figure it out over 50 years. He went from hard charging army officer to yielded servant. When I was a boy, the rules were firm and the expectation was obedience. As I grew, permission was granted for manhood. His presence never faltered, but his touch lightened and his greatness grew.

As an adult, I watched my dad step fully into his greatness. Not only was he permissive in his allowance for positions and perspectives of others, but he was humble in his service to practically everyone. He didn’t qualify people based on their education, experience or ability, but offered his education, experience and ability for their good.

He increasingly became less. In the laying down of his considerable “more,” the impact of his influence multiplied. He gave his life over to Jesus, the church and the Kingdom of God. He became of no rank again. The promotion was supernatural.

Then, not longer after his death, I realized that he would be stronger in his death than he was in his life. It made me think of the scene in the first Star Wars movie where Obi Wan allowed Darth Vader to strike him down, declaring his own impact would only increase as a result. When the marker of death is a gate along an eternal story, the multiplication of purpose is passed along. Vision for eternity fuels intentional living temporally.

I keep writing about him because God keeps showing me stuff about Him through him. The passing along of a picture of transformative greatness presents a target. It’s good to see what the target looks like. It’s not a target of performance or behaviors as much as it is a target of disposition. A picture of what becoming less looks like to put more on display.

Jesus came not to be served, but to serve. He walked in authority, yet He was humility. He is love and “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” (1 Corinthians 13:4). Love is less.

More than ever, I am thankful for what Jesus did for my father and I. He saved us and transforms us. I’m not yet where my father ended up, but I know what it looks like. It’s available to anyone willing to lay down their sword.

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.

Concession is Not Belief

Our culture and traditions can lead us to believe things that aren’t true. We are conditioned by our surroundings and our surroundings can suggest we are entitled. We can believe, from our culture, traditions and surroundings, that we believe when we actually don’t.

Belief is more than acclimation. Belief is transformation. Belief will be evident in our exclamation.

1 John 4:15 tells us, “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God.” Honestly, that seems pretty easy; just acknowledge and you are good to go. That bar seems so low that heaven will most certainly be overcrowded.

The idea that shows up as “acknowledges” in that verse may mean more than we think, however. That word can mean, “to agree with” and it can even mean “to concede.” Wow . . . is it possible that John was writing that if we’ll simply concede that Jesus is the Son of God, we are then God carriers? We are born again by concession? Concession is about the same as, “I give up; you win,” so the conceder can move on to another subject. I don’t think so.

Other meanings for that word include “to profess,” as in to profess yourself as a worshipper. Finally, that word by definition, can mean “to praise, celebrate.” Now we are on to something.

When our acknowledgement is more than a concussion, but a profession as a worshipper who praises and celebrates Jesus as the Son of God, then there is evidence that God lives in us and us in Him. That is evidence of new birth by accepting the sacrifice of Jesus.

Cultural Christianity where church attendance and polite concession is not evidence of our belief. Sold out, all in, life changing celebration, praise and worship of Jesus as Son of God is.

We can get fooled into thinking that we are Jesus followers by our suburban insulation and Sunday morning habits. In some ways, those that are in the depths of depravity are better off in that they cannot be fooled into believing they believe. Maybe that’s why God loves us so much that He tells us in Revelation 3:16 that we should either be hot or cold, but lukewarm will get us spit out. Hot is praising, worshipping and celebrating Jesus as the Son of God, cold isn’t self-deceived into thinking they might concede and lukewarm is an aberrant alternative that is deadly in its compromise.

We Don’t Get It Until We Live It

The depths of grace never cease to amaze me. Just when I think I see it that much more clearly, I’m situated to walk in it and realize my view is so limited. My accumulation of knowledge regarding grace has not yet perfected my understanding and acceptance of grace. My actions and reactions in the circumstances I experience prove that there is more.

I had a friend tell me recently that he was going through a challenging legal battle a few years ago and was called to testify in a deposition. He would face unjust accusations. His preparation wasn’t a review of the facts, it was alignment with grace. He watched a scene from “The Passion of the Christ” in which Jesus was accused. He watched it over and over for several hours. The example portrayed which Jesus set before us of what grace lived out looks like was brutal. It was Him standing in the face of completely unjust accusation and not defending Himself. With all the defense in the universe available at His command, He stood in the truth of His identity. His identity was the foundation for His freedom. He knew who He was and who His Father was.

When rooted in the security of identity, there is nothing anyone can do to us that draws a defense. They can spit in our face, call us names, get their facts wrong or whatever else but the freedom born of security rooted in identity frees us from the need to respond. That’s grace and there is no fully knowing it until the spit, accusations, and questions come. Even when we are right. Especially when we are right.

I’m just not there. Not completely. I want to be. I’m trying. Yet, not yet.

Sometimes, for some time, I can hold back when the defense or counter-argument is sitting there for the taking. Sometimes, however, I pick up my tool belt and go to work. When I was practicing law, that was good and right. As I am diving deeper into grace, that kind of work produces a loss even when I win.

My friend knew the story of Jesus before he watched the movie that day before his deposition. He knew Jesus personally as Lord and Savior, as well. The experience of picking up his own cross and following Jesus in a way that afforded him the experience of grace is what changed his soul. The experience of grace facilitated the understanding of the knowledge of grace which was incomplete without the exercise of grace.