Revealed

For most of my life my false self protected me from the pain of rejection (what others might think, which was important to me) by burying the feelings of caring, pretending it didn’t matter, and bulling through life – arranging it in the way he pleased. But ultimately driven to create an acceptable facade which would garner the very praise he appeared to shun. Being known as “a nice guy”, or a “good man” became first my protection and finally my prison. No one was able to truly know me, and the thought of being truly known became terrifying – even as my heart of hearts longed for it. I suspected that my truest self would fail the test, as I wondered “am I enough?”and “Can the me of very me have any value?”. Then finally my world crashed down around my shoulders like the prodigal son’s and I was forced into a choice of either strengthening my facade or sacrificing it on the altar of love. In anguish I cried to the Father, “will you take me, this mess, as I am?”, and before the words were fully completed He rushed to take me in his arms with a joyful “YES!”. I had been a Christian since a young child, but then I began to really know who this God is and fell in love with him as I experienced his overwhelming love for the me of very me. My heart of hearts. My truest self.

Now my false self has been brought into the light of day – or rather the light of the Life of Jesus. What My truest self does is an outflow of that Life. It comes out of an intimate relationship with Jesus. That tender intimacy which “awakens within the security of knowing we are thoroughly and sincerely liked by someone. The mere presence of that special someone in a crowded room brings an inward sigh of relief and a strong sense of feeling safe. The experience of a warm, caring affective presence banishes our fears. The defense mechanisms of the imposter – sarcasm, name-dropping, self-righteousness, the need to impress others – fall away. We become more open, real, vulnerable, and affectionate. We grow tender.”

Being unconcerned with what others think is no longer a reaction born out of a fear of rejection, but a response flowing from intimately knowing Jesus and experiencing his delight in me. Jesus has transformed my fear of people into a love for them, and that has made all the difference.

Blind Hearts

There is a daily need as believers in Christ to remember who we are in Jesus. Our ability to abide in Jesus and experience the power of his Life flowing through us every waking moment is inextricably linked to believing who God says we are to him. That he has given us a new heart and it is good. That we are no longer slaves, but free people. That he longs for an intimate relationship with us. That now Jesus not only calls us his “friends”, but his siblings, children of Daddy Father and fellow heirs to everything that is His. Remembering who we are is being continuously aware of our “present risenness”. That is, the current state of our truest identity. The other end of the string to that knot is having our eyes opened to the vastness of God’s tender love for us. Having eyes to see that we already have what we seek, and what we have is much more than we could possibly imagine. As Paul told the Ephesians, “…I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power…to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Eph 3:17-19) It has been described as “God ‘crazed with love’ and ‘drunk with love’ embodied in Jesus dwelling within us.” I absolutely love that imagery. The wild, crazy, unself-conscious, immutable love of God. And it is such because there is no rational explanation for it. We do not deserve it. He shouldn’t give it. And yet God yields himself to love for everyone without restraint or moderation. What power! What grace! What beauty!

It is in this awareness that the impact of sin, pain, struggles, battles, and sorrow in daily life as experienced by our current body begin to fade like yesterday’s news. It is there, in the constant abiding, that an otherwise terrifying journey is risked. That impossible ventures are miraculously completed. That real life is truly lived. As our eyes are fixed on God and we bask in the glow of his love, fear of difficult things ceases and with opened eyes we see the mystery of Christ in us and experience the divine romance for ourselves. When mighty storms rage, we are found in the bow of the boat, sleeping peacefully. When locked with the Enemy in fierce battle, we fight with tranquility. When the ledge on which we stand crumbles, we free-fall through the darkened mist with calm assurance. When walking through the valley of the shadow of death, we fear no evil because He is with us.

” Hope knows that if great trials are avoided, great deeds remain undone, and the possibility of growth into greatness of soul is aborted. Pessimism and defeatism are never the fruit of the life-giving Spirit but rather reveal our unawareness of present risenness.” Brennan Manning

In your daily conversations with Jesus tell him with your whole heart, “I desire You. Please give me sight. Heal my blinded eyes and help me to see you and everything I already possess in the fullness of God. I want to know you. Open my eyes to who you truly are, free of any personal projections or restraints I have placed on you in my mind. Let me see you as you long to be seen. Help me to know you as you long to be known. Let my ears be opened to know the loving kindness of your voice and my heart to know the strong comfort of your arms. Help me see myself through your loving eyes that I might experience abundant life with You in every waking moment.”

And He will.

Free to Love

“The great enemy of the life of faith in God is not sin, but the good which is not good enough.” Oswald Chambers

The greatest enemy of the church is not smoking, drinking, dancing, and swearing. It is hearts and minds imprisoned by the idea that we all must do more, be better, and please God. The heart bound by the “good which is not good enough”.

What if you could live a life focused on God instead of “doing better”?

John 3:16 is one of the most quoted verses in the Bible, and because of that it’s impact is often lost in the religious fog of Christian culture. Slow down for a moment and really think about it. Repeat it to yourself. “For God so loved the world”. So loved. So. Loved. The I AM so loved. The Infinite so loved. The God of Angel Armies so loved. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” Before you were born. Before you knew him. Before you believed. Now. This Moment. So loved.

What if the heart of God was filled with tenderness for you? What if he liked you?

Our lives and the church can be transformed by that kind of love. God did not keep his love to himself, but invited us to be a part of it. “So loved the world that he gave his only Son.” Not only to humbly experience everything we do as a man himself. Not only to die a terrible death as a sacrifice for all. Not only to rise victorious from the grave freeing us from a life lived in slavery to sin and the law. But He also came to invite us to be one in friendship and intimacy with Him as Jesus was by the mystery of “Christ in me” and my life “hidden in Christ”. The tender love of God, so powerful and wild has been shared freely with us. If we can truly believe we are so loved by God just as we are, and that through belief in Jesus we have been given new hearts and new natures just as he says, it is then we can be genuinely free. Free to live. Free to love. Free to invite others into that love.

What if your eyes were truly opened to what God sees? What if when you walked through Walmart or stood in line to check out, you saw the people around you as Jesus sees them? Imagine looking around as their outer shell fades away, and their “body of death” becomes transparent so that you see their true selves with the eyes of your Father. Tender eyes. Compassionate eyes. Eyes that keep no record of wrongs.  Eyes that so love. How might you relate differently to them? How might you relate differently to yourself?

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” God sent Jesus to save us from a life of trying. To save us from a life imprisoned and enslaved to sin and death. To save us from living a false life. He didn’t do all that just to save us from something, however. God sent his Son to offer us true Life, His life, abundant life, right now. To be lived today. A tender invitation to be in Him and he in us. An invitation to a life of intimate relationship, and out of that relationship we will bear the fruit of His love abundantly. His Kingdom is here. Now. In you and me.

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can you, except you abide in me.” (John 15:4)  The branch does not try harder to do good and bear fruit. It simply abides in the branch and the life of the branch flows through it and the fruit grows. So keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, and let his Life in you bear the fruit of reckless love to be enjoyed by all who eat of it.

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Daddy

“The resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children.”    The Apostle Paul – Romans 8:15 MSG

The view out my window is anything but inspiring as it overlooks a gravel parking lot beyond which rises a plain white cinderblock storage building, the large, backlit yellow sign above the red awning advertising ‘Keep Safe’, and assuring the valuable junk within will be stored in a ‘climate controlled’ environment. I’m sitting in a small hotel room in Louisiana, having spent the last few days out of town on business. Not a very inspirational place, but that’s sometimes where we find ourselves. I love how The Message words that verse, describing the Christian life as “adventurously expectant”. Like the life of a child where everything is new and unexpected and wonders never cease. How hard it is to come back to that place with God and life as an adult in this world of fluorescent lights, LED screens, WiFi, and smartphones. Our lives are in constant motion, music blaring, talk radio shouting, tv drowning out real thought. This whole world seems bent on distracting us from personal reflection and true relationship. This hotel room for instance. It has a clock/radio, tv with cable, and free wifi. Perfect for surfing the internet, clicking through endless channels of nothing on, and if you tire of all that listening to music or talk radio to drown out the terrible silence.

So how do we get back to the childlike way? I think it begins with silence. I think it begins with the real. Turn off the radio and tv. Turn off your phone and computer. Go outside and take a walk alone. Sit quietly for a long time on your back porch and take in the sounds and smells God has created. Immerse yourself in the touches, tastes, sounds, and scents of what God has made and give him thanks for all of it. Intentionally abide with God alone in the world he created. Then, as Paul says, “know who he is, and know who you are: Father and child.” Not in a formal sense, but as in an adventurously expectant “Papa? Daddy? What’s next?” Alone with your Papa, as his beloved child quiet your soul and still your thoughts. Allow the warm embrace of his perfect love to enfold you. A love which keeps no record of wrongs. A love which invites. A love which is shared. A love from which nothing can separate you. The love of a doting Father on his favored child, who’s eyes shine with delight in the everyday things you do. A Daddy who is pleased just because you are his child, a pleasure borne on the wings of your birth. Delighted because you are, and you are his. Look around you in silence at what God has made and know that you are more important to him than any of it. Reach up with childlike trust as his warm hand enfolds yours and let this Truth fill your heart, soul, and mind as he leads you on new adventures. Do this often, and the counterfeit life this world offers will fade into insignificance like forgotten toys and you will find wholeness in the comforting presence of Papa.

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The Pleasure of Love

John Brennan, in his book Abba’s Child, writes this,

“But God loves who we really are – whether we like it or not….No amount of spiritual makeup can render us more presentable to Him…His love, which called us into existence, calls us to come out of self-hatred and step into His truth. ‘Come to me now,’ Jesus says. ‘Acknowledge and accept who I want to be for you: a Savior of boundless compassion, infinite patience, unbearable forgiveness, and love that keeps no score of wrongs. Quit projecting onto Me your own feelings about yourself. At this moment your life is a bruised reed, and I will not crush it; a smoldering wick, and I will not quench it. You are in a safe place.'”

Can you feel the healing and freedom in receiving that kind of unrestrained, audacious love? This beautiful Jesus longs for you. The true you. Every broken, wounded part of you. You are in a safe place! When we put on the coat of false self to hide who we truly are, we rob the world of the most precious part of who we are – our brokenness. In keeping our wounds at arms length from ourselves, we are robbed from experiencing the intimate touch of the Healer. It is only in acknowledging our wounds and brokenness that we can offer healing to others. It is only through the wounds and brokenness of Jesus that he can offer healing to us! Without the Man-of-Sorrows, our grief would remain uncomforted. Without our own sorrows, there would be no hope for others.

When I was a child growing up amid the 10,000 lakes of Minnesota, I remember playing softball with 4-H in the summer. I enjoyed the time with friends and the satisfaction of physical activity. A self-conscious child, I had already begun to wear my own coat of false self. The approval of others was my drug, and good behavior was my coat to cover the person I thought was unacceptable. As I got older, the coat grew, with my reputation to others dictating everything I did. Good behavior and reputation (what people said about me) became my idol. One day, during a game of softball, the ball connected with my bat in a satisfying thwack! and I watched the ball in a perfect line drive to left field. I had never had one feel so good, and after rounding the bases to home plate, I walked behind the catch-fence to where some of our dads were standing. Flush with good feelings, I stood unnoticed behind the coach and a friend’s dad. The coach, who had not praised me before, was telling him what a great job I had done. “That was quite a hit!”, he glowed. I felt giddy with happiness. Suddenly, he became aware of me standing close. “What are you doing here?”, he asked, clearly nonplussed and displeased I had possibly overheard. I was embarrassed, obviously having heard something I shouldn’t have and from that day on I added another layer of protection to my coat. A careless attitude for praise. Don’t misunderstand, recognition was still as important to me as ever and I would do all I could to get it, but now I would hide that fact and bury it deep where it could not hurt me. I learned that direct praise is shameful, and should only be casually acknowledged and ignored if overheard. Naturally, this form of self-hatred was projected onto how I related to Jesus, and infected my view of him for most of my life. He didn’t want me to experience his pleasure for me – if he had any for me at all. I didn’t think there was anything in me he would ever take pleasure in, and so my behavior became the way to find it.

It is only recently and through much brokenness that I have allowed my heart of hearts to receive the pleasure of Jesus for me. He glows with pleasure and love for me. I have met the Truth, and discovered his longing for me exactly as I am today. Right now. But it required me to open every deep, hidden place to Jesus. Remember, He is a safe place. He will not crush the bruised reed or put out the smoldering wick. I have experienced that for myself.

So shed your protective coat and let yourself see everything you are, and allow His life to fill yours. God does not love you in spite of your sins, he loves you with your sins! This is not about saving your soul. This is about setting you free. Trust the reckless, wild, crazy, audacious love of God! There is no greater love than His love for you! You truly are the Beloved of the Father!

Let Jesus take you deeper and further on his great adventure, and allow Him to enfold you in the loving arms of intimate relationship with him, the Lover of Your Soul.

Questions

There are two questions for every Believer in Christ to which we must all find the answer. Our very freedom depends upon it.

Who am I, really?

And

Who is Jesus, truly?

If you don’t know the answers to these questions or aren’t sure, sacrifice all if you must, but find out.

Now, these will not merely be answered by the passing on of dry information. The answers are alive and must be discovered personally and relationally.

It will require you to find out who you are not and to unlearn much about yourself you have believed. You will need to believe things contrary to how you have seen Jesus and yourself up until now, and then never let them go. You will have to forget what lies behind you, and eagerly press forward to the truth. The answers will also open unhealed scars, and you will have the opportunity to ask Jesus to heal your wounds.

Make it your daily quest to find the answers. Dedicate your hours to discovering who Jesus truly is, and finding intimacy with him. Find out who he said you are, and what he thinks of you.

When you find the truth, hold on to it with all your heart, soul, mind, and will. Remember it always. Live in the freedom the truth brings. Jesus will seem more alive and real than ever, and you will not recognize who you have become.

The truth is, Jesus has always been more alive than ever and you have always been who you are. Only now the fog has lifted and the eyes of your heart have been opened and you have shed your coat of false self revealing what was there all along!

Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find……

Put your whole heart into it. Freedom is right behind that door. Start knocking…..

Mother’s Day Toast

In honor of Mother’s Day, I decided to think back to the very first impressions or memories I have of my Mom. What finally struggled its way through the mists of time was an impression of a very tall person. Feelings of safety and security were present, along with the idea that this person was best avoided if I planned any “questionable” activities. Like telling my sister I hated her and Jesus. Awareness was not a large part of my life when I was 4 years old, so that one was overheard by Mom. On the bright side that story ends with me asking Jesus into my heart, so good times.

When I was at the age of my earliest memories we lived in an old neighborhood in Minneapolis/St. Paul. To my recollection, it was a small, white, wood-frame house with an enclosed front porch, sandwiched between other houses of the same vintage. The curb was lined with huge elm trees, their massive roots causing the sidewalk running in front of the houses to buckle in places. The back door opened to a small, grass-covered yard with wooden fencing on two sides providing privacy from our neighbors. There was a small separate garage with carriage doors out back of the house, one wall right up against the alley which ran behind all the homes on our block. I think I played with some of the kids in the house across the alley behind us. That was also the house and yard featured in a recurring dream. It was the dream where my 4-year-old self was being chased around the backyard and side of the house by a giant grasshopper. He would chase me round and round the house, my little legs pumping furiously while my body moved as though the air was made of molasses, the grasshopper’s giant hind legs driving him ever closer. I would sometimes keep the round, plastic wading pool between me and the grasshopper, but eventually would lose my nerve and make a break for the back door before I woke up breathing hard, my heart pounding fiercely in my chest. I think back now and wonder what would have happened in my dream if I had thought to stop running and ask him what he wanted. He probably would have eaten me.

It was at that house where I was under our Plymouth “working on it” with my Dad while the engine was running (it was the 1970’s) and my little hand reached out to touch a spinning pulley. A finger zipped between the pulley and fan belt and surprised the heck out of me. I might have said “heck” if I had known bad words, but since I didn’t know any I casually scrambled out from underneath the car and acted like nothing had happened. No use drawing attention and risking offending the tall people in charge.

The most vivid memory I have in the “Best-of” earliest memories of Mom is in that same little white house. When I was 4-5 years old my mother was a young 29-30-year-old with three beautiful children. Well, one beautiful child anyway, the other two were my sisters. One sister was 15 months older and the other 13 months younger than me, so Mom had her hands full. Girls can be very difficult. It was an idyllic summer afternoon in the Twin Cities. The sun was warm, the air was happy and buzzed with insects, our quiet street dappled beneath the shade of the great elms. The little white house was quiet, the open front door allowing a cool breeze to pass through the screen door of the porch to the peaceful interior. The peaceful interior was what first alerted my napping mother to a potential catastrophe. She no doubt deserved the nap, my sisters having taxed her to the extreme, bless her heart. I have no memory of leaving the house, my three-year-old sister chasing after me, but I do remember walking down the sidewalk about a block to the Tom Thumb convenience store. I remember walking in past the open glass door with its cigarette advertisements and accepting the chocolate which was offered to me. (When you put candy bars at the same eye level as a small child, that’s pretty much a standing offer to help yourself.) I’m pretty sure I shared some of the booty with my little sister. She was no doubt a bad influence on me – you know how three-year-olds can be. I might have gotten away with it, but my mistake was going back for seconds. The concerned man behind the counter asked me where my mother was, assuming I must have one. I told him I didn’t. Skeptical, he wrote a note on a piece of paper instructing me to take it to her, so I obediently left the store. Walking through the parking lot, I let the note blow away. Shortly after that, I looked up and the more vivid of memories splashes like a home movie in living color across the screen of my mind. A very tall, unhappy-looking mother was striding with great purpose down the cracked sidewalk toward us. I suspected she might be unhappy with me and skillfully abandoned the spent candy wrappers in the grass next to me. I’m not sure exactly how our conversation went, but as mom got down to eye level with me I do remember denying any wrongdoing as she stared into my innocent, chocolate-covered face. I was marched like a prisoner of war back to the Tom Thumb, where I was made to apologize for stealing. It wasn’t over. This poor, tired, young mother walked us home past all my discarded wrappers and sent me immediately to my cell where I could hear her on the phone talking with the Warden. That did not bode well. Dad received a call at work from his crying wife and listened to her describe the recent adventures of his children, her feeling like a failure, and asking him what on earth she should do. Let’s just say it involved spankings. A lot of spankings. It must have made an impression on me, because I’ve never gone with my sister to rob Tom Thumb again.

If I could give a toast to my Mom and to all the mothers I’ve ever known, it would go something like this:

Here’s to band-aids on boo-boo’s and a kiss to make it better. Here’s to what’s-for-dinner, and chore lists. Here’s to getting everyone to dress up for family pictures. Here’s to a messy house and piles of laundry. Here’s to the last one out the door on Sunday morning. Here’s to a listening ear and an always ready hug. Here’s to a tender touch when we are sick. Here’s to telling us we have it in us do anything, even when we don’t. Here’s to the person who introduced us by her very presence to beauty and romance. Here’s to the woman who believes with hope, who loves completely, sacrifices fully, and comforts so truly. Here’s to Mom.

Cheers.

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THE ART OF WAR

“These are the nations that God left there, using them to test the Israelites who had no experience in the Canaanite wars. He did it to train the descendants of Israel, the ones who had no battle experience, in the art of war.” (Judges 3:1-2 MSG)

This is remarkable. Israel has fought her way into the promised land, one king at a time, but Joshua has died and this next generation grew up playing Call of Duty on Xbox while their Dad’s were off fighting real wars. Now Israel is without a leader and shacking up with strange gods, and the Lord is angry. His anger is the anger of betrayal. He has loved and rescued his beloved Israel for many years, but now she looks longingly at her neighbor’s gods, and jealousy rises in the heart of the I AM. (Let that wonderful and terrible thought sink in.) Yet even as his heart breaks He is concerned for her future.  She is unprepared to defeat and drive out her enemies, having no fighting experience at all. This adulterous nation is still HIS nation, and the great Lover is going to fight for her heart. But first she needs to survive. And so instead of driving them out himself, He leaves the enemy in the promised land. On purpose. To train Israel in the art of war.

Why does life have to be so hard? In my life, it seems like the attacks from Satan are planned for those times when I am tired, feeling discouraged, or struggling with circumstances. In other words, when I am feeling weak he ambushes me. That can’t be coincidence. Sometimes I see it coming and just surrender. Really. Too tired to fight, I wave the white flag of surrender. I say this to my shame. Other times I bravely take out my sword and face the hordes, thrusting and parrying, skillfully holding off the enemy for five minutes before my arm wearies and my mad skills turn into wild flailing before losing the battle altogether. Tired. Frustrated. Ashamed. But then I hear the encouraging voice of my Teacher, “Well done! Now let’s try that again, but hold your arm this way and widen your stance. Not so tense. Relax your grip. There. Good! Now FIGHT!” His words are never condemning or harsh. I am tired, but He tells me I have what it takes and so I go again. This is my training ground as I push forward ever closer to the Kingdom. Pilgrims Progress describes it in this story:

“Then the Interpreter took him, and led him up towards the door of the palace; and behold, at the door stood a great company of men, desiring to go in; but dared not. There also sat a man at a little distance from the door, at a table-side, with a book and his inkhorn before him, to take the name of him that should enter therein; he saw also, that in the doorway stood many men in armor to keep it, being resolved to do the men that would enter what hurt and mischief they could. Now was Christian somewhat amazed. At last, when every man started back for fear of the armed men, Christian saw a man of a very stout countenance come up to the man that sat there to write, saying, Set down my name, Sir: and when he had done so, he saw the man draw his sword, and put a helmet upon his head, and rush toward the door upon the armed men, who laid upon him with deadly force; but the man, not at all discouraged, fell to cutting and hacking most fiercely. So after he had received and given many wounds to those that attempted to keep him out, he cut his way through them all, and pressed forward into the palace, at which there was a pleasant voice heard from those that were within, even of those that walked upon the top of the palace, saying–‘Come in, come in; Eternal glory you shall win.'”    John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress

The “man of stout countenance” was a man who had been well trained by the Master and afterwards served several tours of duty perfecting his skill in battle. He was not discouraged at the thought of battle. Fighting was as breathing to him. Wounds proof that he had truly fought and lived. Scars considered as badges of honor. He had embraced war long ago. If I was dropped behind physical enemy lines, I would want to be with a troop filled with these kind of men. Fierce. Battle tested. Experienced. They wouldn’t want me, because I don’t know anything about physical war and have zero tours of duty, so I would be a liability to true warriors. But I have been on several spiritual tours of battle. There are more tours to come, and I know it. I am learning to say with courage “Set down my name, Sir.” I have learned that if I am not willing to risk the wounds and scars, I will have nothing to offer those who follow behind. If I don’t accept the discipline of training from the Master, I cannot hope to stand before the gate and hack my way in. I must accept – no, embrace the reality that I was born into a world at war, and consider it an honor to share the scars of Jesus. Oh, how humbling it is to be considered worthy of such an honor! The tender, generous love of God offers me a place in the battle to hone my skills, never leaving my side, having offered His very life for me. It has always been this way, even when I was unwilling to see it.

“And when they had preached the Good News to that city and made many disciples, they returned,….strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.'” (Acts 14:22)

I mentioned the Master. My Teacher. He trains my hands for war, but that is not all. He is always with me, and He loves me with so great a love. I can call on him anytime the forces arrayed against me are too strong. I forget that sometimes. Often when I most need to remember. But the secret is that he loves coming through for me. He gives me strength to fight, but when I am weak He is strong:

The terrible noise of battle fades to a faraway din as my focus narrows on the dark form of my enemy directly in front of me. Our swords have crossed, and as steel clashes and sparks fly I sense this one is too strong for me. I am tired, and my mind is not clear. I desperately parry and step back as darkness swirls around me. I cannot see clearly. A stone rolls under my foot and I stumble to a knee. I cry out in my weakness, “Jesus, save me!” I am on one knee now, groping for my sword which has fallen to the ground. I raise the shield as my terrible adversary smiles an ugly smile, his black weapon descending, his taunts piercing my heart. “You are so weak! You will never be enough!” I hold my shield above me, feeling the weight of those words, when his grotesque expression falters a mere moment before he vanishes with a crack and mighty flash of brilliant white light and all I see is the face of my Deliverer. He heard my cry. He arrived in time. He smiles at me kindly and offers his hand. “You fought well. You are truly a warrior, my friend.” That’s the kind of Friend he is. So good and kind, and the most cunning warrior I know. I will forever love Him.

“The real meaning of eternal life is a life that can face anything it has to face without wavering. If we take this view, life becomes one great romance, a glorious opportunity for seeing marvelous things all the time. God is disciplining us to get us into this central place of power.” Oswald Chambers

The discipline of war. The divine romance. The marvelous adventure.

 

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Never Too Old

My 9 year old son told me last night that he didn’t want to get older.

I was surprised by his admission. We were stretched out on my bed, propped up with pillows against the headboard, my son snuggled up on my left side having just finished another chapter in the book we are reading together. Reading to him looks nothing like the idyllic picture that might come to your mind of father and son sitting close in a big chair,  cocooned by lamp light, the young boy enraptured by the story and his fathers voice. No. Our storytime looks like this:

Dad opens the book and calls to his son in the other room, “Storytime!”

“Ok, be right there!”

Five days later. Loudly. “Are you coming?”

“Coming!” The sound of running feet. A young boy enters, crackling with energy, his hands full of toys.

“Climb up here next to me and let’s review where we are in the story.”

“Oh!” The crackling energy holds up a finger. “I forgot my blanket!”

At my nod, he bolts from the room. I wonder if I have time to get a drink.

A bright flash and crack fills the room and somehow he has appeared on my bed. Toys scatter in terror. I am used to this display, so I bravely remain seated against my fortress of pillows.

“Are you ready?”

He nods vigorously, hands reaching out to recapture fleeing toys.

As I read, he is constantly moving, playing with figurines and random-looking objects which hold meanings known only to him. I pause occasionally looking up from the page to ask him what he’s doing under the bed.

“Are you listening?”, checking to make sure he’s still with me.

”I dropped something through the crack, but I found it.”

To a casual observer it looks like I am reading out loud to myself as my son plays in his own world (sort of) quietly to himself. Look longer, and you will start to notice perpetual motion pause for a heartbeat as the story reaches a point of suspense, eyes wide and face frozen with an eagerness to know how things will turn out. Other times he interrupts the narrative to ask an insightful question or to insert a random comment, always returning again to his toys. It used to bother me. Now not as much. It is who he is, and I love who he is.

Afterwards we snuggle. It’s always like that. The book closes, the toys are forgotten, and we sit against pillows as he wraps skinny arms around my chest and lays his mop of hair against me. We talk about the book and then other things. Today we talk about his 10th birthday coming up in a week. He is excited about the gifts, but then he surprises me with:

“I don’t want to get older.” He snuggles closer.

I don’t know how to respond. I always wanted to be older, and I love being older.

“Why don’t you?”, I finally ask.

“I am afraid. When I’m young I get to do things, but if I’m a teenager maybe I won’t anymore.”

“What things?”

“I get to snuggle mom now, but I’m afraid when I’m older I won’t be able to anymore.”

My heart sighs. I hold him close. I tell him not to be afraid. Things will change, but when you no longer have mom to snuggle, God will give you someone else. “When I got older God gave me you to snuggle.” He nods and smiles. We pray and then I kiss my son, sending him to brush his teeth and then to bed. The activity helps me avoid my own feelings of how much I’m going to miss this, too. But now alone in the quiet of my own thoughts, I wonder.

How often have I held tightly to what I cannot keep, fearing the unknowable future? How often has my imagination failed to show me a good future in the light of what I know today? Why am I thankful for the gifts my Father has given me today yet find it difficult to believe He has good gifts planned for me tomorrow? Why do I live like this life is all there is instead of living as part of an eternal future? A real future. A better future.

Thank God I am never too old to need His faithful, loving arms holding me close. In that place, worry and fear fade away.

In the words of Ira Stanphill,

I don’t know about tomorrow
I just live from day to day
I don’t borrow from its sunshine
For its skies may turn to gray
I don’t worry o’er the future
For I know what Jesus said
And today I’ll walk beside Him
For He knows what is ahead
Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand

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Foolish Battles

We stared at each other, stone faced, both waiting for the other to make the first move as the pressure builds between us. We are standing in that awkward place of not knowing how we arrived at this tense situation and both hoping there is a graceful way out. Stubbornness has entered the room, and he whispers in both our ears.

My 14-year-old son had just told me “no”.

My son inherited sarcasm from his mother. She has said that many times. Unfortunately, if the light is right, he inherited my looks. He’s glad not to have inherited my hairline. He has said that many times. So I am used to his wit, which I don’t always get, but tolerate and sometimes think is funny. He will probably grow into it.

Standing in the kitchen, the scene took place as it might in any household. We had just finished a dinner I prepared, and I told him he was doing the dishes tonight. He told me “no”. He may have been trying out some of his sarcasm on me. I wanted to believe that, but it felt different and silence fell on the room like a heavy weight. We stared. Maybe this was about to be one of those “I think I can take the old man” moments. He can’t. I didn’t want it to be. I just wanted him to say, “Sure, Dad! Thanks for dinner!” I think that happens in fairy tales.

Standing there, he cannot even imagine how much I love him. He does not know the countless hours of concern I have felt for his welfare. He cannot know my thoughts for his future, or the things I do for him of which he may be forever unaware. He has no way of knowing the battles he will and must face as a man. But I know and grieve for the pain he will experience. Some of that pain will come from me. I cannot keep him from it, but I do what I can to prepare him for the fight. Sometimes I don’t do what I should. I want good things for him and will do what I am able as his father to help. I would sacrifice my life for him to live, and in some ways I do – even as I live.

I had no wise words to diffuse the situation. Often words fail me when I need them most. I smiled a tight smile that might have broken my face and left the room. I heard dishes rattling in the sink shortly after. But I felt……….bad inside. Like an evil shadow had passed over my house, the dragon searching for a way in. I feel no fear, because I know how to fight him. But my son is not ready, and that weighs on me. I went into my room and met with my Father. He has a lot of experience turning hot-blooded young men into wise warriors, and I was feeling inadequate as a father. I prayed, “Please, Daddy, do not let my son escape You. I cannot be to him everything he needs. Please chase him down like you did me, and help me to show You to him.”

And in the quiet reassuring Voice I have come to know so well, He said, “Trust Me.”.

And I do. With the peace and confidence I’ve only experienced through the Life and Truth which flows in my heart, I found my son in the kitchen, put my arms around him, and told him how much I love him. Just like my Father does for me. Even if my teenage son doesn’t show it, I can see in his eyes that I’ve passed some of my strength to him. He stands straighter. I leave him to finish the dishes.

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