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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Training Up a Child

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“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.

Under the Olive Tree

And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.

Mark 14:51,52

I saw things no one else saw.

I was there that night in the olive garden. The place known as Gethsemane. It was my one of my father’s many fields that our family owned. They were the perfect places to go and be alone. I had gone to consider the recent events in our community regarding the one known as Jesus of Nazareth. Nothing had divided the people more than the words and works of this man. Or was he God?

Thinking no one would be in the gardens at this hour, I left our home dressed very modestly. The spring evening was pleasant, with just a warm, faint breeze blowing through the trees on this balmy night in Jerusalem.

Then I heard the voice.

Frightened, I crouched low. I walked gently on the stones that marked the path through the olive grove, careful not to be heard. Someone was crying out in great pain. Agony.

I had never heard anything like it. Or since.

I don’t ever want to hear that distress and wail ever again.

Not the words. But the pain conveyed in them. Someone was pleading. Requesting permission to change what appeared to be an agreed upon course of action.

If possible, remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.

I listened. No response. Who was this? And who was he talking to? I crept closer.

Inching gingerly along the rugged trail, I crouched low to see who it was that was in such great pain and turmoil. Who it was that was pouring out his heart without response.

It was Jesus of Nazareth! He was kneeling in the tiny space between two mature olive trees. Resting underneath the trees appeared to be three of his companions. Sleeping. A fine group of watchmen they were, allowing me to get within 15 feet of their master! Just then, he raised his voice loudly.

My father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.

He was praying to God! Loudly, fervently. With the certainty of one who knew God!

I had never heard anyone pray in such a way! I was gripped with fear and amazement all at once. I looked more closely and noticed that blood was coming off his brow. He appeared to be  perspiring blood. His prayer was so intense, so filled with tremendous urgency. And yet there was no answer. Jesus seemed to know that there wouldn’t be. Whatever cup he was asking to avoid was unavoidable. The weight of this reality had set in on Jesus.

He waited. He looked toward heaven. He was crying, while his friends were sleeping.

No answer.

Suddenly a group of soldiers violated  the night with their torches, clubs and vile hatred.

They seized Jesus, treating him roughly. I was so caught up in the moment that I forgotten about my proximity to the events unfolding before my eyes. Panicked, I gave up my position of anonymity. Two of the guards seized me by the garment, which came off in their hands and facilitated my escape.

In the years since I have often thought of that night. I told no one of my true identity. But I have thought deeply about the prayer of Jesus of Nazareth that night.

What was the cup he would drink?

God promised that his enemies would be forced to drink the cup of his wrath.

I have the strangest and strongest sense that Jesus drank that cup for me.

I believe he died in my place.

That he died in the place of all those who believe in him.

That he was condemned for my sins.

He took my place on that cross. Freely.

My debt he paid, and my death he died that night.

And it is marvelous in my sight.

 

It’s Good Being the Boss

I’ve got about 100 people who are required to respond to my authority. When I say “jump”, …well, you know the rest. I’d like to believe they obey because they want to, that it is an action born out of a fierce loyalty to my unquestioned love for each of the men that I oversee. Something tells me otherwise. While I do have their best in mind, this isn’t my first rodeo.

I’ve been in their shoes. I know what it’s like just to put food on the table. Yet, I hope they know I’m not like all the other centurions.

Being a Roman soldier in Israel is not the assignment I wanted. I’d much rather be closer to home. Transplanting my family to Capernaum hasn’t been an easy task for any of us. Thankfully Caesar has provided a servant to support our families during our long hours of patrolling the provinces of Judah.

These are interesting times.

While I’ve been here the last seven years, I’ve never heard or seen quite the buzz that is stirring up these Jews. A man known as Jesus of Nazareth is doing and saying things that are both wonderful and threatening. Wonderful to the common people, and threatening to the status quo.

I’ve had the chance to see him. Albeit briefly. The people throng after him. Hang on his words. Pursue him. Beg him for miracles. Bring people to him to touch. I must confess, there is something about him. Even from a distance as he crisscrosses through Israel, I find myself drawn to him as well. Yet, I am thankful to not be in need of his power like the masses.

I never want to be in such desperation.

But I am.

Our faithful and trusted servant, Alexander, was in a terrible accident. While leading our children through the rugged hillside of Judea, he pushed our children away from a stampeding herd of goats that had broken free from the their shepherd. Now being pursued by ravenous wolves, there frantic path had intersected with that of my children. Alexander’s fearless heroism had saved my children’s lives, but also left him in the way of a panic-stricken flock. He lay paralyzed in our house.

I determined that asking Jesus of Nazareth for help was more important than looking weak in the eyes of my soldiers and the Jewish people. My commitment to maintaining the facade of independence, self-reliance and autonomy cracked. I imagined how sacrificial my servant had been for my family.

Giving up my pride was a small price to pay.

As he passed through Capernaum, I made my move. I could feel all the eyes of the people on me. I made my pitch. I didn’t need Jesus to even come to my house. I know how to give directions, but I also know how to take them. If Jesus said it, I’d believe it.

Inexplicably, I felt faith welling up in my heart, and leaving through my lips.

What was I thinking? What was I saying? I felt so foolish. Weak. Vulnerable. The complete opposite of how I think of myself, and how I want others to see me. Before I could retract my statement or pull the words out of the air, Jesus did the unexpected.

He applauded my faith!

Said he had never seen anything like it before! Me! Who knew?

Then he told me to go home. Alexander was healed.

I have to confess that put my faith to the test. I really did believe that Jesus could my friend from a distance. That he didn’t need to actually touch him to raise him. But now that he told me to go, taking me at my word…I was being challenged to take him at his word!

I stood there. Frozen for what seemed like an eternity. No one said anything. Silence. All eyes on me. Jesus’ expression compelled action. His words. His eyes. They spoke to me. They inspired more faith.

The first step was the hardest.

Each one become easier as I journeyed home. I played out every possible scenario. He would still be paralyzed, and I would be utterly humiliated. That I should have brought Jesus with me. Then, he heard the words and remembered the face. I kept going.

As I rounded the corner towards home, my children greeted my with shouts of joy and tears of gratitude! Had I heard, they screamed in delight! Alexander was healed! Up on his feet, like nothing had ever happened!

I collapsed into their arms and rejoiced with them. And told them about Jesus.

We have seen his power, and it is marvelous in our eyes.