The Secret Fondness of a Father

It was a perfect California day! Sun shining, top down–not a cloud in the sky! Oh yeah! Brad had been looking forward to this afternoon for over a month. Nichole, his oldest, was back from Africa and today was the mutually cherished, annual trek into the city, for opening day of Giants baseball at Pac Bell Park. As the black Speedster shot out of the tunnel, the cool bay air hit their faces and a crystal clear view sprawled across the horizon all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Brad quietly relished the moment with joy, as Nichole launched into their familiar style of challenge and repartee. Words flew back and forth effortlessly between the bucket seats. Like clockwork, the boasting went into fifth gear, over which of them, would clean house this year in fantasy baseball.

As the two verbal fencers parried and reposted, Nichole was clueless to the subterranean stream of palpable emotions, coursing through the heart of her biggest fan. Brad basked in the sense of deep fondness and pride only a dad knows. A pride mixed with dreams and aspirations for a daughter’s life and future.

“She has no idea how amazing she is” he mused. “She’ll never know till she sits with her own kid after years of love and investment. I wonder how much she grasps how deeply I dote upon her–how many hours and days I have passionately prayed for who she is and will become in her future.”

The game was a welcome diversion from the pace of the international travel Brad had been buried in for most of the last six months.  It reminded him as He sat alongside Nichole, how quickly life passes by in the blink of an eye.  Flashbacks and snapshots of her passage from little girl, to the woman sitting off his right elbow, repeatedly lured his attention away from the action on the field. Deep satisfaction over her maturity and capable independence was mixed with the growing sense that he would not be the epicenter of her world in years to come.

“But that’s a good thing,” he mused with mixed emotions only a dad understands. “It’s right he reassured himself. Its what should happen.”

The post-game review was lively as usual between the two on the way back across the bridge.  As they cruised up the side of the foothills the rapid-fire pace of the conversation slowed to a lull, each passenger drifting into quiet contemplation.

“Daddy.” Nichole’s voice broke the pregnant silence. “You know how you have told me so many times, how much you know me like the back of your hand and how much you really love what you see in my life. I don’t think I have ever told you how much that means to me.

If its true that you feel that way, well I am just wondering if we could spend more time together and go deeper. I don’t feel like I know you as well as you know me, and I really would like to. We have so much fun together. I know what I have with you, some of my friends would die for to have with their dad’s, but, I’ve really been thinking about it a lot lately.

I’m getting older –and  … well I don’t want to go any further into my life, without you and I –well, really being close. Do you know what I mean? I really want to know what makes you tick.

I guess I see lots of my other friends these days and they have no relationship with their dads. They pretty much move out and just go their separate ways.

I guess what I am saying Daddy, is no matter where I head or go in life, I really want my life to have you in the equation. I really respect you and want to be like you. I want you to be excited about the way I am living life. Does that make sense?”

The lines in the road blurred like looking through water on a windshield, as tears formed in Brad’s eyes. He fought a loosing battle to contain the rage of warm emotions that ambushed his soul.

“Oh Coley, “his voice cracked, “that makes so much sense to me honey. Are you kidding? There is nothing more important in the world to me than you and our family. Of course I want that. You know at the game today, I was just thinking about how amazing you are and capable of standing on your own two feet. I was even thinking to myself, you are so ready for life that you will blast off even if I was to die tomorrow. I am so proud of you.

Someday when you have kiddos of your own, you’ll get the tightrope walk of letting them go to be their own person, but the tug on your heart of still wanting to be involved in their life.

I so want to honor you and give you your space as an adult, but are you kidding Nichole, I would love to go deeper and for us to know each other more intimately. I want to share whatever of me you want.  What you have just asked is every dad’s dream.

Exodus 33

 12 One day Moses said to the LORD, “You have been telling me, ‘Take these people up to the Promised Land.’ But you haven’t told me whom you will send with me. You have told me, ‘I know you by name, and I look favorably on you.’

13 If it is true that you look favorably on me, let me know your ways so I may understand you more fully and continue to enjoy your favor. And remember that this nation is your very own people.”

14 The LORD replied, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest—everything will be fine for you.”
15 Then Moses said, “If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place.

16 How will anyone know that you look favorably on me—on me and on your people—if you don’t go with us? For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth.”

17 The LORD replied to Moses, “I will indeed do what you have asked, for I look favorably on you, and I know you by name.”

Have you paused to think lately about the nature of God as your Abba? Abba is a term of endearment. The cultural equivalent of the term “Daddy” we would use, to denote the intimacy we feel toward our earthly dad.

Genesis 33 offers us an insightful peek into the intimacy that Moses had with His Abba and vice- versa. It was a relationship where Moses was invited into the very lap of God. Like us, his doubts about his worthiness and struggles to believe that God really doted upon Him and would care for him, drove Him to seek assurances.

Over and again, God says to Moses, “ I know you by name … I will go with you personally … I will give you rest … everything will be fine for you … I will do what you ask … I look favorably on you … I know you by name.

Like Moses, we often have no idea how much our Abba dotes upon us. We have no clue, the hours in eternity he has spent, praying for us and for all that we are and all we will become. Our own brokenness, makes understanding and belief in God’s raging and relentless tenderness toward us, an illusive reality … difficult to embrace and find confidence in.

Pause this morning, and in pregnant silence, insert yourself in to this story and become Moses. Hear God say to you today, “ I know you by name … I will go with you personally … I will give you rest … everything will be fine for you … I will do what you ask … I look favorably on you … I know you by name.

When you hear it … embrace it. When you embrace it … break the silence and tell Abba how much you want know Him better and how desperately you want Him to be involved in the deepest parts of your life.

You couldn’t give Him a greater gift as a Dad.

Posted in God's Love Language, Intimacy With Jesus, Relentless Love of God | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The Rest of Grace

I walked for years in self-acclaim,
In prideful paths I blazed;
In feats and trophies shiny bright,
Men’s praises were my gain.

Through suffering deep and sorrow vast,
Effacing self bore cost;
I met myself in the light of God,
Earned trophies suffered loss.

Awakened thus to who I am,
a man in utter need.
All striving lost, I rest with peace,
In His vast love for me.

Set free henceforth to lose all masks,
Ne’er future actor be;
The Grace of God my cell unlocks,
Forever I live free.

My heart shall cry for those I see,
Lives bound in quest to BE;
Divine calls out relentless plea,
Come find true self in Me.

For all you fear and lack in trust,
I’ve paid the price to gain;
Tis wrapped and waiting to unfold,
At your heart’s cry of my Name.

So come tired desperate thespian,
Leave props and masks behind;
For what you seek is mine to craft,
Twill unfold when you are mine.

Posted in Grace, Intimacy With Jesus, Relentless Love of God | 2 Comments

Life Is in the Laying Down and Letting Go

Reading 15 Days of Prayer with Catherine of Siena this morning. She was an amazing young girl with a depth of intimacy with Jesus far beyond most people twice and three times her age.

I am reminded afresh this morning that all of life and the secrets to undying and unswerving affection for Christ really does lie in meditating upon His blood, shed upon the cross for me. It may seem morbid to ponder the blood spilt in such a horrific and brutal fashion, but the fact is that all that was done to Jesus He could have easily prevented.

Being all-powerful God, He could have easily clung to His rights as Creator and Sovereign Lord. Being all-powerful and just, He could easily have annihilated, in a breath, His captors and persecutors. He could have easily answered the cries and cat calls to save himself and come down off the cross. But no, He willfully submitted to the suffering, and Love Divine held him on the cross for me.

He suffered and He died for Love. He persevered in obedience, at the cost of His own pain and disgrace and bore the stripes of the Father’s righteous judgement …. For nothing more than that I might be forgiven and free of the bonds of sin and death.

It is counter intuitive. It is counter to human nature. It is counter to the selfish fallen nature of mankind. A nature bent toward lavishing self with comfort, happiness, pleasantries of all forms as though they are the very source of life. We cling to the entitlements of life, being gods and the center of our own universe, around which all else orbits to serve our every need and want. We avoid as the plague, situations of pain, suffering, discomfort, sacrifice, self-effacement, loss of possessions. We fiercely protect and contend for those things from which the phantom of our invented selves finds its deepest meaning and sense of being and purpose.

In the cross of Christ we see our perceived identity at risk, and so the soul is loath to ponder and linger at the foot of the cross for its call upon our lives is far too costly. And yet, if we stare intently enough, we see that those things that we guard so dear, are the very things that keep us from embracing the stupendous and breath-taking love that Jesus so longs to pour out to us. They are the substance and structure of the very ramparts that keep our intimate experience with the love of God at bay, as if He was an enemy seeking to penetrate the castle walls to plunder and destroy our very lives.

How insane! Surely he seeks to break down the walls, because within those walls we languish in desperation of soul and meaninglessness. We inhabit the halls of the fortress, not as a King secure in the reality of his Kingly existence, but as a pauper, playing role of King in an imaginary kingdom, empty and void of liberating truth and distant and separated from the reality and destiny that the true King yearns to pour out in torrents through our mind and soul.

“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”   

John 12:24-25

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Good Friday: God’s Love Won!

On a Friday somewhere around  1,978 years ago, “God’s Love WON”.

Driven by love, through His willing death on a cross, Jesus won …
victory and freedom over sin and death,
release forever from guilt and shame,
reconciliation with God,
a rich inheritance and adoption as God’s sons and daughters,
a sure resurrection to eternal life,
relationship and romance with God forever.

One Friday,
One sacrifice,
Once for all,

He is eager to share it all with us. It cost him everything to “Win It.”

It was Love’s Great Exchange … His Life for Ours.
Good Friday beacons us to the same great exchange.
The exchange of OUR life to WIN HIS.

It’s our choice …

Real love is costly, He sweat over His decision.

but Good Friday reminds us …

Only LOVE Wins.

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Compassion Brings a Smile

Barely a whimper escaped the lips of the five-year-old Ugandan boy as I broke through the scabbed over crusted ulcer, ravaging the side of his leg. The instant the peroxide laden cotton ball broke through the surface, reopening the two-inch wide wound, a broiling mass of ensconced maggots began to writhe, as their putrid lair was breached. I marveled at the steely and expressionless countenance of my patient. “What kind of pain and suffering in your short life, makes a little five-year-old, immune to pain and devoid of the ability or willingness to cry?”

As we had opened our makeshift clinic under a tree in the middle of the refugee camp that afternoon, the word spread like wildfire. Mizugus; white foreigners; were treating children and providing first aid! It seemed that every mother in the camp of 40,000 had come running with all their children in tow.

As part of the team stripped and bathed the dirtiest, those who looked as though they had not bathed in months, others triaged the ones with the greatest wounds and brought them to our little first aid team.
My heart began to break, as child after child came bearing gaping wounds that began as small cuts or scratches. Because of a lack of simple wisdom and knowledge of first-aid and hygiene, small scratches were now limb and life threatening diseases.

Left uncared for, this boy, his ravaged leg now stretched across my lap as he reclined in the grass, would surely loose his leg or die. He would become another preventable statistic of a cruel and corrupt society that cared not for its own. He would become another victim of a selfish world, too caught up in the pace of life and its empty pursuits, to glance the direction of this boy, and millions of others that face a similar plight.

The words began to play over and over again in my mind, “This should not be… this should not be.” It echoed louder and louder as my cotton ball dug deeper, slowly purging all the infection and rotted tissue from the wound.

For an instant I panicked as I saw the crimson color of blood cover the fingers of my latex glove. Oh my gosh! We had just reviewed yesterday that HIV was rampant in this camp and that most were infected including the children. What was I doing and what was I risking in this simple act of compassion and service.
As I finished dressing the wound and wrapping the last round of tape around his dark skinned leg, my heart calmed and momentary fear was replaced with a sense of God’s protection. But more than that I was overtaken by a sense of God’s presence and His love for these people.

I laid my hand on my little guys head and prayed for God’s protection over his life. I pleaded that someday he would know a different life than the one he had known the first five years. As I opened my eyes, his expressionless face and steely gaze broke forth into a broad smile. No human language was necessary for me to hear him say, “Thank you Mr.” He knew he was loved. He knew that some stranger had touched him in a way that had brought him healing.

In an instant God met my longing for connection I had longed for, just the day before, as I watched my lady gracefully pass by me on the dirt road, carrying her burden on her head. Today, my burden was alleviated a little bit, through the broad and grateful smile of my five-year-old patient.

It occurred to me as I patted my little guy on the head and sent him on his way that Jesus came to a similar camp of lost and abandoned people in pain. A camp called Planet Earth. He gave up all the comforts of home, far from any environment polluted with pain and suffering. He rolled up his sleeves and set about cleaning out the festering and brutal wounds of sin that covered the hearts and souls of men and women.

He purged the sin that was slowly and mercilessly bringing death to all it touched, and he worried not about putting on gloves.  In fact He came knowing He would contract their deadly diseases and that He would ultimately die of their diseases in His quest to bring them healing and wholeness.

He did it willingly and He did it with expectation of joy.

For the joy set before Him, He endured The Cross.

I hope I will care less about the gloves in days to come and more about the pain around me. There is something amazing about a love that can turn a steely expression and void countenance into a smile.

“Solidarity with those who suffer, frees the one who receives it and liberates the one who gives it, through the conscious awareness that “I am the other”

Brennan Manning

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Meeting Compassion on a Dirt Road in Uganda

“Who are you,” I pondered, as the black African woman plodded along the Ugandan dirt road before me? Defying gravity, her large burden was bundled and balanced perfectly atop her head.

“What are the hurts and pain you carry in your heart? What are the dreams you used to cherish for yourself and your children before the war mercilessly ripped them from your heart. Before time faded them over the years into a dull and distant memory?

How do you carry on after twenty three years of living in abject poverty and squalor, with no hope of anything ever changing? What kinds of burdens do you carry, not so neatly wrapped and balanced, inside your heart and mind?”

She was just one of fourty thousand who live in Opit, a camp for Internally Displaced People; an IDP Camp set up by the government to protect the Acholi tribes people from the attacks of the LRA rebels.

As my eyes moved to track her graceful form along the road, my heart moved me to try and stand in her ragged and worn sandals.

She was no different than me. Certainly she could remember what it was like before the war. She could remember when life was good; what it was like to have a home, and live in the village her family had resided in for generations.

As a mom she must have had mother’s dreams and aspirations for her children. Dreams for a good and happy life. But instead she lives everyday with the reality of being displaced; torn from all that gives a human comfort and hope.

She is resigned to a rhythm of life that is no more than sitting and waiting for the quarterly food drop to the camp. She is resigned to the fact that her husband, stripped of his dignity, faced with his powerlessness to provide a future for his family, has joined with the rest of the men in the camp in drinking alcohol he has learned to make from the grain. An elixir to drown his sorrows and deftly separate his soul from the painful daily reminder of all he has lost and all he is not. She is resigned to the fact that her children, born in the camp, may never know anything outside the dismal and hopeless existence that brutally robs every youngster of the ability to dream and have aspirations for a bright future and hope.

As she walked on down the road into the rising sun of a new morning, I was left on my perch on my rough hewn bench with just my quiet thoughts and a deep sense of frustration. The compassion welling in my heart for the people my walking lady represented collided violently with my inability to communicate.

I came half way around the world hoping to be with people that had needs. Wanting to connect and maybe understand and enter their pain. I wanted to be able to give an encouraging word or hear someones problems and pray with them. I wanted to be the vehicle God used to make someone smile. Even if only for a few minutes perhaps I could help them know that God had not abandoned them, in this seemingly God forsaken patch of ground, far from anything very comforting and satisfying to a human soul.

But the barrier of language kept those aspirations at bay, creating a formidable wall that kept intimacy, vulnerability, communication and the chance for solidarity just beyond the reach of my unsatisfied hunger to connect.

Henri Nouwen defines compassion as the ability to “suffer with” others.

Compassion means going directly to those people and places where suffering is most acute and building a home there. God’s compassion is total, absolute, and unconditional, without reservation. It is the compassion of the one who keeps going to the most forgotten corners of the world, and who cannot rest as long as he knows that there are still human beings with tears in their eyes.

This morning I am perched on a different bench half way around the world, at my local coffee stop called Yellow Wood.

My village of Alamo is a far cry from Opit. But as the sun rises on a new day, familiar yet distant individuals walk by me in a continual parade through the asphalt parking lot and down the concrete path that leads to the local village watering hole.

I wonder as I see Bob, the boisterous oldster and leader of the gray haired morning club, what burdens he carries?  I see Larry, an old war vet. He faithfully shows up every morning for his muffin and coffee at 7am.  Is he lonely as a widower? Have his children forgotten him? He is always alone.

I see the morning stroller brigade of young mom’s with babies coming off the Iron Horse trail. I wonder, as one passes by, “what dreams do you have for your kids? How is your marriage? Is your husband absent as he flies all over the country to work and achieve the American dream? Does he come home at 8pm too tired to chat and meet your needs?”

I see Ken, a retired pastor and author who drives three and a half hours from Redding to come to Alamo to write and meet with people he ministers to. His wife has been sick for 38 of their 40 years of marriage.

I see all of them but do I really know them? Am I able to enter their pain? Am I able to live with them and suffer with them? Can I deliver genuine compassion and love? Do I?

In Opit the barrier was language. In Alamo it is time, busyness, my selfishness, guarding my own space. Its the messiness of engaging people in pain that may cost me something of my own individuality and privacy.

I am sure I will ponder for many days my lady in Uganda, who spoke so much to me, about me, without a word as she plodded down her dirt path thousands of miles from my village.

Perhaps as I ponder, Jesus will make me a little more like Him and a lot more willing to be compassionate in my own back yard. Maybe compassion in an IDP camp is easier because its only for a week. After all, I can come home and gaze at life from the safe distance of my bench at my morning watering hole once my week in Uganda is passed and a memory.

Jesus left heaven and came to earth to be with us… to suffer with us. There is a message in that for all who would say, “Lord make me like you… make me like you.”

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The Clapham Sect – A Company of Friends

William Wilberforce (1759-1833) was the Member of the English Parliament who led the campaign to abolish the slave trade in England. A committed Christian, Wilberforce received the following note from the aging John Wesley:

…unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you?

Wilberforce’s forty years of public life and activity were filled with one moral and religious project after another. In addition to his abolition work, he was consistently involved in church work which included the Church Missionary Society, the British and Foreign Bible Society, the School Society, the Sunday School Society and others. His public philanthropic efforts were many, including relieving the suffering of the manufacturing poor and French refugees while always working actively in reform movements addressing such injustices in hospital care, asylums, infirmaries, and penitentiaries. A great public reformer, Wilberforce was also a strong family man and deeply disciplined in his dedication to Jesus Christ.

What’s little known is that he had an amazing circle of friends.

Throughout history groups of men and women have banded together to promote causes they believe in. When abolition was defeated in Parliament in 1789, Wilberforce and his closest friend, Henry Thornton, called together such a group–the Clapham Sect, as it became known. This informal group of friends included Charles Grant and Edward Elliot, brother in law to William Pitt. William Smith, Granville Sharpe, James Stephen, Zachary and Selina Macaulay, and others joined these “Saints” in the village of Clapham, a prosperous suburb five miles from the heart of London.

The common bond that held these friends together was “the desire to apply their faith in Jesus Christ to personal, social, political, national and international matters.” Making no claim to be theologians, they worshiped together, prayed together and studied the Bible seriously, believing that they were representatives of God’s kingdom on earth and faithful stewards of all God had given them.

Richard Gathro said the Chapham Sect shared these characteristics:

1. A common commitment to Jesus Christ and a clear sense of calling.
2. A commitment to lifelong friendship and mutual submission.
3. A thoughtful pursuit of causes marked by careful research, planning and strategy.
4. A friendship that was inclusive and focused on essentials. (Wilberforce, for example was Wesleyan and his closest friend Henry Thornton a Calvinist.)
5. A long view on completing projects. Abolition of the slave trade took over 20 years.
6. They saw no dictonomy between evangelism and social action. Their magazine, The Christian Observer, exemplified this.
7. Their faith was integral to all of life…family, career, friendship and more. They allowed no compartmentalization.
8. They made family life a clear priority and delighted in each other’s marriages and children.
9. They enabled one another. They recognized each other’s passions and supported one another in them.
10. They worshiped both privately and publicly, gathering twice weekly at the Clapham Church.

(Source: C.S. Lewis Institute Report, Summer 2001. See article by Richard Gathro)

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