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.

Floods that Wash Our Soul

When I was practicing criminal defense law, my job and responsibility was to ensure justice. As a zealous advocate, I worked to ensure that the government operated within the boundaries of freedom in the case of my client. Case by case, the protection of freedom for one ensures freedom for all.

In some cases, I would ask the court for mercy. The facts and due process led to a likely if not certain guilty finding and the only thing left as an advocate were arguments for measures of mercy. What I saw then and see more clearly now is that justice and mercy can operate simultaneously.

Mercy does not come at the sacrifice of justice nor does justice come at the expense of mercy. They are compatible vengeance doesn’t trump restraint and compassion isn’t given precedence over order. The balance of each ensures the other and the result can have consequences without the sacrifice of empathy.

Truthfully, while I would zealously attempt to represent my client within legal boundaries, I also realized that some clients were better off in jail. It would be in their best interests to have to deal with consequences with hopes that those consequences would propel them towards a greater destiny than their current trajectory. It was, at times, merciful for a criminal defendant to be found guilty and sentenced to jail.

Check out this passage in Nahum 1:6-7: “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him, but with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh; he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness.”

The Lord is good but He will bring discipline. He loves people and will destroy things that are within them which stand against His goodness and prevent trust in Him. It is merciful for Him to provide consequences where we are not given completely over to His goodness. The net result of the interaction is that we can get to the end of ourselves and rest in a new-found faith in Him.

I had clients that needed to face consequences, but they are not unique. We all have areas of self-reliance that deserve the merciful response of restored order even when that appears to come at our expense. In those times where our flesh and soul are pressed, His Spirit is given territory within us that previously was reserved for us.

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.

Avoiding an Ambush

Years ago, when I was still single, I began to want more. I was living pretty fast, from one weekend to the next, and began to question where there might be more. I ducked into churches figuring that there would likely be some answers there.

At the time, I felt very inadequate by comparison to all the nice people who were there. After all, I figured, they were closer to figuring it out than I was since they were there before I arrived. My life and their lives had to be drastically different and I was sure they would disapprove of me if they knew more about me. I would sit on the back row and try to not engage with anyone, for fear of exposure.

At one of my visits to one of the churches, there was a powerful speaker and from what I could tell he was talking of things that were true. It felt like God was in it and the “more” that I was seeking was somewhere in or around this deal. Towards the end, with every head bowed and every eye closed, the speaker asked us to raise our hands if we thought or felt or decided something, although I truly don’t remember what that something was. In any case, I raised my hand from my seat in the back row.

The next thing I knew, there was somebody sitting next to me with a clipboard and a pen to get my information and ask me some questions. I was shocked at how efficiently they saw my hand that had been up for a few seconds and dispatched someone to close the deal, whatever the deal was. I felt tricked and ambushed and I never returned to that church.

Years later, what I know is that I am just as jacked up as the most confused seeker even though I’m there most weeks. I know that I speak and teach and minister and I am just as messed up as every regular attendee, seeker or critic. Whatever they are still figuring out, likely so am I as I still want to sit on the back row sometimes and just slip my hand up in the air without anyone converging on me with a clipboard.

We are all figuring it out and we don’t need to be tricked to take another step. We need to be loved. We need grace that displays itself as transparent honesty regarding our struggles and limitations. We need a knowing look of affirmation and encouragement more than we need our information captured. At least that’s what I need and I figure that I’m not alone.

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.

 

Greatness Just Is

Several years ago, I was with my family at the airport trying to get on a flight that was oversold and it didn’t look like it was going to happen. They issued a boarding pass but then took it back. The way it played out left us literally standing at the gate with our luggage in hand ready to head down the ramp at a moment’s notice. My dad had dropped us off at the airport and was waiting in the baggage claim area outside of security, watching through the glass. I looked over at him as we waited at the gate and realized that his oversight was a great comfort.

There he was, standing patiently and watching to see if we were going to get on. Nothing particularly dramatic about it, but it was a great snapshot of what he has done for me my entire life. He’s been there, watching and waiting, ready to help if needed. There was nothing he could do about getting me on that flight so it wasn’t a matter of fixing things for me. It was his presence that was the offering which brought me comfort. He’s a great dad.

The power of presence is often underrated. Just being there offers confidence, security and support among other things and is the greatest gift we can often offer another. In fact, just being there and supporting when there is nothing else we can do to “fix” something is the kind of love that allows those that we love to work through things with the comfort of knowing that if they can’t work it out they still won’t be alone. It assures them of a place at the table of family and community which allows for living.

My Dad is always there. I can walk with the comfort of His presence even when He is letting me work through the details of my choices and the consequences of those choices from a safe observation point. The oversight and invite are an assurance of my place in the world during times when the world seems to offer no place. The consistency of His offering is that when I draw nearer, there is a peace in the middle of the questions of life. There is acceptance among rejection and strength for the next step. He’s a great Dad.