Your Dad Can Handle the Middle Finger

I spent a few hours today with a loving, seasoned, and wise shepherd who has been in ministry longer than I've been alive. I experienced so much as he shared his heart with me: I witnessed the affection and love he has for his bride; he told me that he spends most of his time simply being with her. I listened as he shared epic stories of adventure, heartache, and purpose; his care and compassion for others encouraged and inspired me to see people as he sees them - deeply loved and valued. I saw the empathy and tenderness he has for those who have been afflicted by the fires, floods, and fatalities in California, Texas, Florida, Las Vegas, and other parts of our country and world. He revealed the Father's Heart to me. He gave me a beautiful picture of the One whose Heart is moved by the crisis, grief, pain, and suffering of His people. Through his life, I caught a glimpse of the life-giving character of the Father whose Heart aches, longs, and yearns to hold His children close, lift them up into His compassionate care, and repair and restore what has been ruined in our lives.

But if we're honest, we often do not see our Father in this light, do we? I know I don't.

As we contemplate the chaos in our country, world, and in our own lives, what goes on in our hearts and minds as we process and witness the unraveling? How do we respond to the brokenness that seems to destroy our homes, neighborhoods, and relationships? To what or to whom do we turn? Many of us experience helplessness, hopelessness, and even homelessness as we live in the here and now while dreaming of a better tomorrow. If there is a God, we might wonder, what is HIs role in all of this? Is He distant and removed from our sadness and struggle? Does He even care? Is He the One behind all of this madness? Or is He simply too passive and weak to enter into our pain and suffering with healing, renewal, and strength in His hands? How does our Father move into the mess of our lives?

Often, I would argue, we simply want to give God the middle finger and be done with Him.

"Once upon a time, an Episcopal priest from Columbus, Ohio, walked into his church office on a Monday morning and wrote a hasty letter of resignation. Then he went back to his house, sat down at the kitchen table, and wrote a letter to his wife and three children, all under the age of 10, that he was abandoning them. He went to a logging camp in New England and took a job in Vermont as a logger.

One day, on a freezing and frigid January afternoon, the priest was sitting in his aluminum trailer that he had rented. The only source of heat was a tiny, portable, aluminum heater. The heater suddenly quit and died. Within minutes, the temperature in the trailer plunged down to zero. 

Shivering and in a fit of rage, the priest picked up the heater, flung it through the window, and shouted, "God, I hate you. Damn you, God. Get out of my life. I'm finished with this Christian crap. It's all over."

He sank to his knees, defeated and weeping. And in the bright darkness of faith, he heard a voice from within say, "It's okay, son. I understand. I'm here. I am with you, and I am for you." 

Then he heard God weeping within him. God felt what he was feeling. It was an overwhelming feeling of intimacy. That same afternoon, this priest packed his bag and returned to Columbus, Ohio to be reconciled to his family and his church. Since that time he has gone on to pastor the most alive, dynamic, and Spirit-filled Episcopal church in America. Why? Because his Father embraced him, held him, and spoke love into his wayward heart. Our Dad is fine-tuned to our anger and disappointment. He really knows what hurts the human heart."

Throughout the Psalms, the poetic songbook of the Scriptures, we see this theme over and over again: Our Father meets us where we live and invites us to come to Him honestly, openly, and transparently, hiding nothing yet trusting that He is with us in the midst of our mess.

In Psalm 13, David, the famous poet, cries out to his Father from his pit of agony: "How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take council in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?"

David, a warrior-king whose intimacy and relationship with his Father is well-renowned, waves an angry and hurt-filled fist in His face and rages from the depths of his depression and despair. 

This is our cry in the wake of ruin, is it not? When our lives and the lives of those around us seem to be falling apart, we so often get in God's face and scream till we're black and blue - till our throat is sore and our voice becomes a faint yet troubled whisper. There are defining moments in our lives when the pain and suffering is so excruciating that we turn to rage at our Father, yet instead, callously wave our hand in dismay and turn to walk another way. In truth, this is humanity's story: Our Father opens wide HIs arms to us and we run into the arms of other lovers.

Our Father's response to our running away is to run to us.

Our Father's response to our anger and rage is to lift us up and hold us even closer.

Our Father's response to our doubts, fears, and questions is a promise: I am here.

Where is our Father in the midst of the madness and mess?

He is in the center of the carnage, in the depths of the destruction, and in the middle of the mess. He is here. There. Right where you are. He is feeling the weight of the heartache and heartbreak. He is moving, pursuing, and running toward you with compassion, empathy, and love in His Heart. He is inspiring, invoking, inviting, and influencing His image-bearers to enter the fray and help.   He is working to repair, redeem, renew, revive, and restore what has been broken, lost, and ruined. He is making all things new. He is faithful and true. He will never leave your side.

David ends his disturbing song with a violent hope: "But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for He has been good to me."

Wherever you find yourself today, your Dad can handle the middle finger you may want to wave in HIs face. He longs and yearns for you to keep coming to Him, keep getting after Him, keep pouring our your heart, keep raging through agonizing tears, and keep falling into His arms of love that will never let you go. In the madness and mess of our lives, He is there. Present. With.  He is renewing and restoring everything that has been ruined. He makes all things new through His Resurrected Son, the most beautiful and faithful representation of His Heart.

In the aftermath of loss, our Father is unleashing life. He is delivering, healing, rescuing, and saving - even when our eyes fail to see and our hearts deny His intervention. He is gracious, kind, merciful, and true even when our fists rage wildly in His face. He is good no matter what comes our way. And He is revealing His Heart to us through those heroes who have paved the way before us - those men and women like the 80-year-old shepherd whose heart breaks for the wounded, the Episcopal priest who experienced our Father's kindness in the wake of his rebellion, the shepherd boy-turned king who trusted in HIs light even though darkness surrounded him, and the countless others who have dared to wave the middle finger in the face of the Almighty only to be met by affectionate arms and a compassionate embrace inviting us to rest in the One whose promise is always: I am with you. 

His Heart is Your Home

Hi Friends :)

I've decided that this month's blog posts will focus on our Father.

Don't get me wrong. I love Jesus, and I love the Holy Spirit. But I have found that our Father is often overlooked, or at least, misunderstood. So in an attempt to reveal the kind and loving Heart of our Father, this month is dedicated to Him.

This past weekend (October 8th), I shared a message with Cross of Christ about Relationships. The central theme focused on Jesus revealing the relational Heart of our Father through conversation, connection, and community. We, as followers of Jesus, are then empowered with the Holy Spirit to reveal the Heart of Jesus in the ways we relate with others. I shared the story below in an effort to highlight and illustrate the kind of relationship our Father has with us:

"There was once an elderly man dying of cancer. He was not a praying man, but at the end of his life, his curiosity was stirred, so he asked a close friend how to pray. His friend said, "It's simple. Set up an empty chair next to your bed. In faith, imagine your Heavenly Father sitting there and simply pour out your heart to Him. Be honest and open with Him. Simply talk with Him." The man shrugged, and since he didn't have anything to lose, he set up an empty chair and poured out his heart to his Father every day until the cancer stole his last breath. After he died, the man's daughter visited the local priest and asked him to come and minister to her and her family. The priest readily agreed and followed the young lady to her deceased father's home where the rest of their family was waiting. The priest blessed the family, comforted them, listened to them, and mourned with them. After some time, each member of the family went home until only the priest and the deceased man's daughter remained. As the priest turned to leave, the young lady stopped him dead in his tracks:

"Father, I need to share something bizarre and strange with you."

"I'm listening," replied the priest.

"Well sir, when I found my Dad, he was kneeling at the foot of an empty chair by his bed. His head was resting on the cushion of the chair, and his palms were open, facing upward."

This isn't bizarre or strange.

This is the kind of relationship our Father has entered into with us.

Wherever you come from, He invites you to climb into His arms, rest your weary head upon His chest, and listen to His heartbeat. He beckons you to come to Him - to draw near - and rest in His embrace. He calls you to be honest and open with Him, to pour out your heart, and trust that He is good and has your best interests in mind. He doesn't flinch or become frustrated when you fall asleep in His arms. Not at all. He is simply happy to hold you and shower you in His all-consuming love.

Deuteronomy 33:12 illustrates this reality beautifully: “Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in Him, for He shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between His shoulders" (NIV).

You are your Father's beloved child.

You are secure in His love.

He defends, protects, and shields you all day long.

And you, beloved of your Father, are at home upon His Heart.

Do you feel abandoned, marginalized, & rejected? His Heart is your home.

Have you experienced abuse, attack, & opposition? His Heart is your home.

Are you an addict, criminal, or outcast? His Heart is your home.

Are you bedraggled, beat up, & broken? His Heart is your home. 

Are you lonely, ostracized, & misunderstood? His Heart is your home.

Do you hurt? Are you sad? Stuck? His Heart is your home.

Is there a cry clinging to your throat?

A longing hidden deep within your soul?

Does depression, despair, and darkness shroud you more than sunlight?

His Heart is your home.

A wise man once said: "Prayer is simply resting in the reality that our Father delights in us and loves us."

Rest in the delight and love of your Father this week, beloved.

Relax in His arms and know that you are secure in His presence.

He holds you close to His Heart - in an eternal embrace.

In the words of the young poet, Casey Kosberg, "He will never let you go."

His Heart is your home.

The Furious Longing of God

In The Wisdom of Tenderness, Brennan Manning tells the story of Edward Farrell, a man who traveled from his hometown of Detroit to visit Ireland, where he would celebrate his uncle's 80th birthday.

Early on the morning of his uncle's birthday, they went for a walk along the shores of Lake Killarney. As the Sun rose, his uncle turned and stared straight into the breaking light. For 20 minutes they stood in silence, and then his elderly uncle began to skip along the shoreline, a radiant smile on his face.

After catching up with him, Edward asked, "Uncle Seamus, you look very happy. Do you want to tell me why?"

"Yes, lad," the old man said, tears washing down his face. "You see, the Father is very fond of me. Ah, me Father is so very fond of me."

Do you know that God not only loves you but that He likes you, desires you, delights in you, enjoys you, and is very fond of you?

Most of us do not live out of the reckless, raging fury that people call the love of God.

When I was growing up, I struggled to believe that God delighted in me, enjoyed me, and pursued me with a reckless, relentless, and radical love. I grew up just north of Detroit, in the care of kind and loving parents who have revealed the Heart of God to me and my 5 brothers (one of whom is now safe in the arms of Jesus) throughout our lives. But due to poor decisions I made in junior high and high school, I viewed God as distant, disappointed, and disengaged. How could He desire me? How could He delight in me, enjoy me, and long for me with such an enduring and steadfast love? I was a mess. A rebel. A troublemaker. A scrawny ragamuffin distrusted by administrators, policemen, and teachers.

As guilt and shame made barricades around my heart during my teenage years, I sought belonging, identity, and security in whatever and whomever would satisfy my need for love. Fitting in was my highest goal. Looking good was my greatest dream. Being accepted was the deepest longing of my wayward heart. I did whatever I could to numb the pain, fill the void, appease the beast, and quench the thirst of my aching soul. I was not acquainted with the God who receives rebel-rousers with open arms. I was not familiar with the God who lavishes affection, love, and tenderness upon criminals. I was unaware of the God who loves the unlovable ones with such an intense and passionate longing that no creature could fully comprehend. Even though I grew up in a grace-filled, loving, and merciful home, I saw God as a Judge who reminded me of my mistakes ... a Taskmaster impatiently waiting for me to get my act together.

When I turned 18, my family threw a banger of a birthday party for me. At this point in my life, I was getting more involved in church - playing drums for the worship team, leading youth group conversations, and participating in mission trips. While faithful people of God were speaking into my life and my heart was being awakened and stirred by the Holy Spirit, I continued to carry baggage and burdens from my past. As my 18th birthday party was wrapping up, my Grandpa Don (a dear family friend whom I've called Grandpa since childhood) came up to me and said that God had words to share with me. I automatically and immediately assumed that God had a bone to pick with me. He was going to bring up a hidden or secret issue from my past that was unknown to me and my family. He was going to expose me, reprimand me, chastise me, and put me in my place. This is what was going through my mind as we prepared to pray.

My Grandpa Don gathered his wife (my Grandma Marcia), my folks, my Grandma Jean (my Mama's Mom), and me into the living room of my family's home in Armada, MI. He said that he wanted to pray over me because God was giving him words to speak to my heart. I shrugged, bowed my head, closed my eyes, and nervously folded my hands. Surely God would give it to me now. I was anxiously waiting for Him to drop the Judge's gavel. I assumed that He was about to pronounce me guilty and dish out severe consequences. I was expecting the worst.

My Grandpa began to pray, and my chin dropped to my chest. What came out of his mouth were beautiful and poetic words expressing who God is and what He thought of me. My Grandpa highlighted His goodness, faithfulness, affection, delight, grace, forgiveness, mercy, love, tenderness, and strength. I could could go on and on describing how my Grandpa revealed the Heart of God. I sat there astonished and astounded. It was Good News! My Grandpa was speaking life-giving words of destiny, hope, and promise. God was not reminding me of my past mistakes. He was revealing His Heart for me, a Heart burning with love for a broken and beloved son whom He deeply loves.

After describing the beautiful character and loving nature of God, my Grandpa paused. This is when the floodgates of my heart and mind burst open. As long as I live I will never forget these words. My Grandpa said: "Nathan, nothing you have ever done, are doing, or will ever do has the power to separate you from the love of God." Immediately, I began to sob and weep in the wake of such reckless love. As my Grandpa spoke those words, I experienced the affectionate embrace, fierce forgiveness, and tender mercies of my Dad. I knew that He forgave me. I knew that He loved me. I knew that He was for me and with me. I knew that Jesus poured out this love upon me through His life, death, and resurrection. And I knew that I would never be the same.

I share this story with you to remind you that the Creative Creator, Divine Designer, Ground of all Being, and Source of all Life ... your Abba, your Dad, your Father, your Papa ... loves you with a fierce, ferocious, and furious love and longing that no one could possibly experience or fully understand this side of eternity. Nothing you have ever done, are doing, or will ever do has the power to separate you from the love of God. God not only loves you, but He likes you, desires you, delights in you, enjoys you, and is very fond of you.

A man named Zephaniah, who ministered to God's people in ancient times, expressed this delight and desire of God in a prophecy he penned several hundred years ago. He wrote: "Do not fear; Zion, let not your hands be weak. The Lord your God is in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing."

Wherever you find yourself today, during this season of life, and in this moment, know that you have a Dad who has been singing a beautiful song over you from eternity past and will be singing this song of love over you for eternity and beyond. His love for you casts out all anxiety and fear. You may go to Him anytime and anywhere. He sees your heart; He gets it; He knows; He understands. He holds the entirety of your life in His hands, and the sacred blood of His Son covers you and overcomes anything that could possibly separate you from His Heart. He is for you and with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you ... no matter what happens ... He will never stop loving you. He is mighty, powerful, and strong enough to rescue and save you from the lie that screams "You're not loved!" You ARE loved. He will calm you in His love. He will dance over you in His love. He will bring you through the valley of shadows in His love. He loves you as you are and where you live. Here. Now. Right where you are. Your Abba loves you.

So cry, dance, laugh, and skip like Uncle Seamus. Like Zephaniah. Like this broken and beloved ragamuffin. You have not received a spirit of fear or timidity leading to slavery, but a Spirit of adoption and sonship though Whom you cry out, "Abba! Father!" He loves you just as much on your dark days as He does on your bright days. Said another way, His love for you does not fade or waver depending on what you do or fail to do. His love is not dependent upon smooth circumstances, success, sorrow, or struggle. His love for you is constant, continual, certain, contagious, and compassionate. His love for you is dependent upon His love for you. And His love for you is displayed, demonstrated, expressed, and revealed most clearly in and through His Beloved Son - the One Whom He loves and the One Who loves us as He is loved.

So be swept up today in the reckless, raging fury that people call the love of God. Rest in the reality that your Abba delights in you and desires you. He is proud of you. Proud to call you His child. He enjoys spending time with you. His Heart longs and yearns for you. And if you catch your eyes looking to the Sun, I dare you to chuckle and say out loud: "Ah, me Father is so very fond of me."