It’s Good to Hear Your Voice

It’s good to hear your voice.

Those are sweet words to hear. Not that my voice is so special. Frankly, when hear it…I don’t really care for it so much. I’d rather sound like Morgan Freeman. Max McClean or maybe an Aussie.

No…I’m sure no one is particularly fond of my ‘voice’ in terms of vocal quality. Yet it is so great to hear those words. It is equally as wonderful to speak them to another. They are what we say when we reconnect with someone with whom we have been estranged from. Regardless of time and fault, restoration is sweet. So sweet.

Quick!”

I wonder what the Prodigal was thinking as he began his journey home. I wonder what he expected to hear from his father after he gave his carefully rehearsed speech. Would his father reject him? Would he yell at him? Would he get the silent treatment? His tone of voice would certainly be telling as to the mind of the father.

“Quick!” He said to the servants who accompanied him at all times. Quick…what? Quick…get the knife? Quick…gather the community to stone me? No, it didn’t sound like he was mad at the Prodigal. Not at all.

“Quick…get the best robe, and bring it! And get the word out that we are having a party at our house tonight!” What, thought the Prodigal, is the father going to do with his robe? He had the best robe in the house! And why is he celebrating, and inviting the whole village?

It didn’t take long for the Prodigal to figure it out. His speech would not be finished. The father wouldn’t hear his voice anymore. The Father wanted His voice to be heard over all the other voices. The ones that he must have heard among the villagers, the servants and even his own son. Vanquish him. Banish him. Humiliate him…for all he has done to you!

“Quick! Let’s take away the shame that he has brought on himself. Let’s cover him with the best robe…because love covers a multitude of sins. Quick…let’s reintroduce him to the community. He has suffered enough for his sins.

“Quick!”

Father, its good to hear your voice again.

It’s good to be home again.

And may my voice sound like yours. May my heart beat like yours. May my feet move like yours. May I be completely and sufficiently be overwhelmed by your amazing grace. And may I never have the desire to leave home again.

 

 

 

 

 

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Expectant

Expectant

I once gave my wife a broom for her birthday.

Once.

I’m that guy. And yes, I’m still married. Thank you very much.

And while that ‘present’ reflected a significant low point in our marriage, I would actually descend to a new depth several years later. I inferred. Correction, I actually suggested to my wife that I was of greater value to her than 10 children.

Not the thing you say to a woman scorned. To a woman despairing. To a woman waiting.

To a barren woman.

Hannah was my first wife. My second wife I took while married to her. I needed children.  To carry on my family name. To assist me in my labor. Hannah, unfortunately, could not become pregnant.

What else was I supposed to do?

So I married again. The now popular saying, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” might have originally been attributed to the very complicated arrangement that I was now responsible for managing. Poorly, I might add.

My second wife was relentless in her disdain for Hannah. At any  opportunity she would remind Hannah of her flat stomach and empty womb. It was a death blow that that was dealt on a monthly basis. 

Yet Hannah remained expectant.

She sought her comfort from God Almighty.

On one of her many excursions to Shiloh, where we traveled once a year to worship Yahweh, she laid herself bare before Him. I’ll never forget it. Forsaking my comfort, she cried out to The Lord with words that were inaudible. Her lips moved, but no sound came from them. Oh, how I longed to comfort her! How I longed to give her what she desired. What every woman hopes for.

The priest at that time was Eli. He misinterpreted Hannah’s tear-laden intercession as drunkenness. He didn’t know my Hannah. She was pouring out her soul to The Lord. Like I had never seen before. Or since.

Finally Eli understood what was really happening. He whispered into Hannah’s ear.

And she became expectant.

Even though nothing changed, everything changed.

Hannah faced the jeering and public humiliation of barrenness with a new resolve. An inner strength. The kind that one can only possess when the promises of The Lord possess you. She was confident in the One who keeps His covenant of love to those who love Him. The reality of joy, steadfastness and peace was undeniable in the countenance of Hannah.

She was expectant. Then she was expecting.

And gave birth to Samuel. And then gave Samuel away. Keeping her promise to the One who kept His.

I know. I watched it all go down. Like an actor with a single line in a play. But I can now say that I too, am expectant. I’ve learned to trust in the One who can be trusted. The One who satisfies our desires with good things. The One who redeems our lives from the pit.

I’m expectant. Are you?

(inspired by our time at Shiloh)

Beautiful Things

Stunning.

That may be the best word to describe the overwhelming sense of awe one experiences when entering into The Land. Even the decor in the airport. God has indeed blessed the people of Israel with an amazing and undeniable ability to reflect our Creator’s creativity!

In our first stop we visited the port city of Jaffa. It’s a fascinating city, with a rich history that connects God’s love to the world. Our guide was unpacking it’s biblical heritage when he made an interesting observation: “Every beautiful structure in the Bible was started by the Jews, and completed by the Gentiles.”

I don’t think I heard another word he said.

Started by the Jews. Finished by the Gentiles. The Temple’s foundation was Jerusalem stone, and completed with cedar from Lebanon. The Gospel goes first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles. The Bride won’t be arrayed in all her glory until all the nations are invited.

The tapestry God is crafting starts in Jerusalem. The one He is finishing will include thread, yarn and cotton from every tribe and language on the face of the earth.  God loves His creation. Every one of us. His love and beauty are on display for all to see, and is still yet to be seen.

We have a part in the completion of the story.

We are both seam and seamstress.

We are both clay and potter.

We are both ink and writer.

What is God making you into? What kind of song? What type of sculpture?

Not to worry! Three I know for sure. It’s beautiful. It will take people’s breath away.

And. He will finish what He has started.

First to the Jew. Then to the Gentile. Until the whole world knows that God makes beautiful things out of us.

To the praise and glory of His Name.

 

Freeing the Hand of God

There’s an interesting and unique dynamic among the people of Israel. A tension that must be lived with on an everyday basis. There’s no escaping this daily reality.

 

How to live with in grace and live with unimaginably pain filled memories. How to live in freedom and not live in fear. How to look forward and not be afraid to look back.

 

I’m not an extensive traveler. But in my limited excursions, I can tell you what I have come to observe with my eyes. I’ve seen the unimaginable poverty of Haiti. Exposed to the bleak conditions of India. Experienced the paralyzing despair of the Deep South. Observed the grim wrinkle-laden faces of the post-Communist Eastern Europeans.

 

Everyone wears their pain. We each just wear it differently.

 

Then there is Israel. A people and a land who live with the daily awareness that most of the world is against them. Not indifferent towards them. Actually against them. Weapons are trained on them from literally every direction. Simply for being Jews.

 

In So Cal we live with the possibility of an earthquake on a daily basis. We know that the Big One is coming. We also know it has been over 25 years since the last significant quake hit us. So still knowing that the possibility exists, we live as though it hasn’t happened. And won’t happen again.

 

But earthquakes don’t have faces.

 

Today, we met a family who saw the face of terror.

 

The Ortiz family. Their son opened a package on The Jewish holiday of Purim. A time of gift-giving. This ‘gift’ was a bomb that cut through his entire body. By the grace of God, he is alive and living a somewhat regular life, attending college in New York. But how do you go on living, knowing the horrific combination of pain, anger and fear that lives in your heart!

 

How do you get out of bed? How do you laugh again, knowing that there are people who want you to die? How do you give gifts again, living with the memories of your son’s blood on your walls? How do love again, when the resentment and anger rise with you in the morning?

 

These were the questions we had for our new friends. Their answer I will never forget. It may be the most important reason for my coming to Israel this year:

 

Forgiveness freed the hands of God

 

While I know and believe in a Sovereign God, I found this answer to be compelling on so many levels. Because the essence of the Christian faith is predicated on God’s unmerited forgiveness to His incredibly rebellious creation. Once forgiven by God, the highest form of love by the forgiven is indeed forgiveness. It may be the most certain and powerful expression by those who have come to understand our own depravity in the face of God’s unwavering offer of grace to those who can comprehend even a small fraction of our unworthiness of such kindness.

 

Forgiveness frees the hand of God

 

It allows the flow of grace to continue unobstructed.

 

It allows the expression of the Gospel to have a face.

 

It allows the recipient to discover the trailhead to the headwaters of continuous refreshing.

 

It allows the captive to be set free. And remain free.

 

It is what sets the Christian faith apart from all others.

 

So today I choose freedom. It’s why Jesus came into this world.

 

Will you choose it as well?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every Day is Valentine’s Day

For the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers…

For the past several months I have been visiting my folks on a regular basis. Why is that newsworthy, you may ask? Well, because in the past four months my mom has developed acute dementia. Christmas Day, everything is fine.

January comes, but my mom didn’t come with the new year.

She is slowly leaving us. Without saying goodbye.

In one of my recent visits I noticed a card set neatly among the family photos. There hasn’t been any movement in this neatly displayed arrangement for some time, and it has always been the temporary resting place for all the cards honoring special events. Curious, I looked closer, wondering what was being celebrated in late April.

It was a Valentine’s Card. From my dad to my mom.

With All My Love…it began.

I was dumbfounded. Usually the cards came down within two weeks, tops, after the significant day had passed. But there it was. A Valentine’s Day card in April. That was was quickly erased by a second and more astounding notion.

Why bother?

I thought. Dad, mom doesn’t even know where she is living anymore. She thinks her folks are still alive and that she is moving home any day now. Surely she hasn’t even seen this card, let alone understood it’s contents.

She doesn’t recognize your love for her, I thought. So, why bother?

Then it hit me. The Cross is God’s timeless display of His love for His lost creation. God shows His love in this, that while we were sinners, Christ died for us.

I’ve always wanted to fix that verse. I wanted the verb tenses to be consistent. How can God be presently revealing His love through an event that took place 2,000 years ago? And why bother? Loving a people that won’t recognize the magnitude of His love for them?

So now it’s all coming together for me.

While my Mom may not recognize my Father’s love for her, I do. And maybe, just maybe, in a moment of clarity or healing, she will see that card and realize the love her husband has for her. And has had for her for over 50 years.

And perhaps someone will see a cross one day, and realize that God the Father loves them. Perhaps it will be in the form of service, friendship or worship. But whatever form the Cross takes, it will be seen for what it was meant to be seen as: God’s timeless demonstration of love for His wayward creation. The Cross is His Valentine’s card…and it is never going to be removed as a result of time passing. Or because of our blindness. Or because of a lack of results.

God isn’t a pragmatist in regard to love.  And apparently neither is my Dad. If they had been, love would have been measured, restrained and withheld.

And the greatest of these is love. Because it never fails. Even if we do. Even when we do.

So I’m more determined to love without condition. Not holding back because I fear failure. Or because I anticipate a lack of response.

I will love the way my Fathers have loved. Without regard for recognition or result. In that, there is great reward.

Training Up a Child

photo

“Train up a child in the way that he should go, so that when he is old…”

Are you ready?

I’ve asked that question to probably close to 200 hundred men as we have prepared to make the walk. The entrance into a wedding ceremony and into an entirely new life.

This time it was different. This time it was my son.

Are you ready?

It was part rhetorical and part pragmatic. It might as well been a question I asked myself. Was I ready? Ready to let go of the only other testosterone-carrying member of the family! We’d shared so many adventures together over the years. Connected on so many unique levels.

Are you ready?

He looked at me and nodded. We shared a look. And that’s when the tears started. He was as ready as any 23 year old is prepared for marriage. I had dedicated the better part of the last 14 years getting him ready for manhood. As we stepped out of the house and into view of the wedding guests, the emotion of the moment swept over me as I began to think of the journey Christian had walked alongside me towards his future. I saw the faces of the men who had sojourned with us on this road together. Yes, it was so worth every moment of planning, preparation and participation in his life. As we rounded the corner to begin our ascent to the altar, I considered the things we had done right as parents. Like a good baseball player, we had more outs than hits.

But the hits were home runs.

Rewarding effort over result. This is unnatural for men to do. I don’t care what you say. We are a results-driven culture. I had grown up under the yoke of perfectionism, and become a people pleaser as a result. A slave to the need to be liked, loved and approved. A funny thing happened. The more we emphasized effort, the harder Christian worked. And achieved.

We were intentional about the men in his life. We began a journey to manhood when he was 11 that included four of his friends and their dads.

He had significant rites of passage celebrations with the significant men in his life, five in total. In his stocking at Christmas were cards that were the gifts of time with important men. They included surfing, adventure as well as financial planning and career advice. He went through a manhood class at 18 and has attended 10 Men’s Retreats. Men’s retreats.

10 minute drives. Everything in our community is about a 10 minute drive. We determined that this was the equivalent of what is described in Deuteronomy as the Shema. The modern day version of “walking along the road…” So we were intentional about our conversations in the car. Not all were redemptive, but many were. This is where we had what some might call family devotions. We never successfully had traditional family devotions.  The kids kind of laughed when I tried. But talking in the car was organic. I think that’s why it worked. I think that’s why God ordained it that way. “When you walk along the road…talk about these things.”

Coach to Counselor. At 15, I determined that I had spent enough coaching Christian. Giving him directives and the like. I needed to close my mouth a little more and open my ears to him. I had told him about all I could without him asking. It was now time to let him come to me. And he did. Often it began like this: “Dad, I was thinking…” I trained myself to put aside all I was doing and to try to create a safe environment for the conversation to continue. With God’s grace, they often did.

Speaking of grace. There were many more failures than successes. See baseball player analogy. We don’t claim to be great parents. We have a gracious God who heard our cries for mercy, and gave us a firm place to stand. We aren’t the only ones He does that for.

Are you ready?

He nodded yes. We locked his for a long, wonderful moment that can only be shared by a father and son. Yes, he was ready. By the grace of God, he is.

We walked out of the house and began his journey into a whole new life.

A New Man

It’s still hard to speak about. To think about.

Even though it has been so many years. I am frequently asked to tell my story. Which I do with some reluctance. I do so only to give others hope. Maybe even you. If Jesus Christ can change my life, He can change yours too.

I grew up in the region of the Gerasenes. We were on the wrong side of lake, so to speak. The Gerasenes is located on the east side of the Sea of Galilee. We are a mixture of Jews and Greeks, farmers and fishermen. We are perhaps best known in Galilean region for our massive cemetery on the rolling hillside, the only one in our community.

People come here to get away from the city. We are loners, fiercely private and very protective. Outsiders are not given a warm reception, often treated with open contempt.

This is the place I call home.

I have fond memories as a child. Working the fields with my father, enjoying the Sea with my siblings. But my life took a different turn in my teenage years. I became a hellion. Lawless. I was a thief, a drunkard and a bully. I brought shame to my family, forcing my father to expel me from our home.

I was cut off from those I loved. I wallowed in my bitterness and drowned myself with wine. I burned with anger towards those who I had perceived had done me wrong. Yet, in the early watches of the morning, I knew I had brought this unbearable loneliness and isolation on myself. I continued to rage against an invisible enemy.

Then I slipped into darkness.

I have no memory of the next five years. Only the scars to prove they actually took place.

The only knowledge I have of those years comes from little sister. She apparently never stopped hoping and praying for me. She says that I lost my mind, wandering aimlessly through our city and yes, making graveyard my home.

I began to terrorize our entire community. When the authorities attempted to subdue me, their chains could not contain me. Cutting myself with shards of clay pots, I howled into the evening. Cursing the day I was born and the breasts that nursed me.

I was a man possessed.

One day that all changed. Jesus of Nazareth had relocated to the town of Capernaum, just a little north of us. Rather than pursuing a large haul of tilapia that morning, He made the unexpected decision to enter our town. I can’t imagine what would make Him think that was a good idea. Looking back now, I’m eternally glad He did!

My sister says that as soon as Jesus climbed out of the boat onto the rocky shoreline of the Gerasenes, I confronted Him. With full force, completely naked and screaming profane words I came at Him. It was a merciless and file display of evil. So I am told.

This is where I begin to remember again. Inexplicably I found myself sitting at the feet of Jesus. Dressed and in my right mind, my heart was racing with joy! What had happened! I felt like was a different person! Here I was, in the posture of a student waiting to be asked by the Rabbi to become a disciple. To follow Him.

I was ready to leave the Gerasenes. I had no life here. I was hated, and rightfully so. I wanted a new life. A second chance. So I asked Jesus if I could join His group and begin a new life. To my surprise, He denied me. Rather, He said, “Stay here and tell everyone what God has done for you.”

That’s exactly what I did. Looking back, I think I may have been the first missionary to be sent by the Lord Jesus. I didn’t want to stay here, but now I see the beauty and wisdom of my Savior. Who better to be a living proof of the goodness and power of God to our community than me, sadly? I was an object of scorn, ridicule and fear for years, and who had been transformed in a moment into an object of grace, love and hope.

If He can do that for me, what can He do for you? 

He has done this, and it is marvelous in our sight.