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The Incredible Dad!

happy father's day

Today in over 70 countries around the world, to include the U.S.A, we celebrate Father’s Day.  Fathers are part of the reason we’re here. They are the other side of the biological equation that God created and used to bring us into this world.  They are famous for many things like:

  • Teaching us to ride a bike
  • Throwing us our first football or baseball
  • Teaching us to drive
  • Scaring away your first boyfriend
  • Making some of us sweat as we sought permission to marry his daughter

Fathers are also known for say things like:

  • “You alright?
  • “Are you sure?”
  • “Y’awl better not be playing in that toilet!”
  • “It’s going to be okay, you’ll get them next time!”

Not everyone has pleasant memories of their fathers, or looks fondly at their own performance as fathers. And so, I thank God for His grace and that He can make up for our imperfect earthly fathers by being our perfect, loving and forgiving Heavenly Father.

Today is always a quietly emotional day for me. First because as a son, I am so grateful for the example my own father set for me.  He’s my mentor, my role model and the wind beneath my wings. As a father, I sometimes struggle as I strive to be the same for my own two sons. As an uncle, thousands of miles away from my nieces and nephews, I struggle to be of some presence in their lives.

And just like an amazing Big Brother, Jesus places one of the more beloved and preached parables in the Bible to teach us about the power of forgiveness that we can experience with true repentance, and the opportunity we then have to welcome others into God’s grace as well.  These powerful truths are applicable to all of us in our various roles in life.

Some dads need help connecting with their kids.  Some are clueless about this parenting thing and afraid of messing it up. It’s one job you can’t screw up. Or maybe your own kids have grown up and left the nest and now you find yourself surrounded by a new generation of young people and are not sure how to relate or connect.  Whichever the case, Jesus’ parables in the new testament contain vital lessons for fathers particularly.  One popular story Jesus tells is the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  If you’re familiar with this story you can probably relate to the son’s need for mercy after his journey down Stupid Avenue.

The story is found in Luke 15:11-32.  In telling this story, the main character would appear to be the younger son who was lost and later returned home. However, the true main character of the story is the father. There’s so much to this dad that I relate to just as there’s a bit of each of his two sons in all of us if we’re honest with ourselves.

The first son did the unthinkable. He lived in comfort and luxury. His father was wealthy and had servants. But yet, he saw his dad as a means to getting what he wanted…pleasure.

What was the unthinkable? Wishing his dad were dead in order to get it. That’s what it meant to ask for your inheritance before your dad actually passed away.  You can imagine how loving that relationship was.

The older son saw himself as the “obedient” one. Doing things to gain his dad’s love. It was one of those relationships many of us are probably also familiar with:

  • “Dad will ONLY love me if I get all A’s
  • “Dad will love me if I win the game.”
  • “At least I didn’t screw up like Mikey did.”

In either case, what the dad did in response was mind-blowing!

With the first son…he gave him what he arrogantly asked for and let him go! Think about this for a second: how many of us would actually do this?

You know your kids well. You see the mere immaturity in the request and can script how this would play out even with my own sons.  This Father didn’t force him to stay. Let’s just go ahead and call him Mikey. Mikey left home, blew his inheritance and found himself, broke, busted and disgusted.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably watched your kids make poor choices or head towards bad circumstances and you know that letting them go ahead is harder than yelling them into compliance. But this is what this dad did…he let him go and then waited because “faith makes us sure of what we hope for and gives us proof of what we cannot see.”

The father believed his son would eventually come to his senses. So much so, he did things based on his faith. He planned his return party.  Do you know how crazy that is? Planning a homecoming for someone who wished you dead?!  He was right because Mikey did come to his senses years later and confessed to blowing it.

This is the first takeawayGOD IS WAITING FOR YOU!

Even before you come to your senses, God has eagerly been awaiting your return and has planned a celebration with heaven’s angels.  How do I know that? Because in this story…the father represents God.

Just as the father displayed to Mikey that nothing he’d done before and during the “wonder years” would diminish his love for him. Our heavenly Father’s does the same with us as well.

If you’ve been away or distant or have never established a relationship with Him.  He wants you to know he is so excited to reconnect with you and in fact, the party is already planned.  All that remains is you, the guest of honor, in attendance…AND, he’ll meet you while you’re still on your way.

And so how do we get to this banquet in our honor?  You do what Mikey did which is something the Bible calls repentance.  It is simply agreeing with God’s assessment of our errors, our sin, our disobedience…whatever term you prefer…and then turning away from those things and turning to him to ask him for his forgiveness.

The Bible puts it like this in 1 John. 1:9: “But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.” Not some unrighteousness. Not only the vile things. ALL unrighteousness!!

Meanwhile, the older brother, let’s call him Johnny, was not pleased.  He was beyond upset and blew up in anger when he heard the house music and smelled the BBQ grilling outback.  You can imagine the conversation. I’ve been working my butt off all these years and this knucklehead son of yours returns home after wishing you dead and living a life of shame and reproach, and you throw him a party?!!

What about me? What about all the good I’ve done? Why do you love him more than me? How many of us can relate to this?

With the older son, dad doesn’t get into a shouting match nor does he call him an ungrateful son. He simply reminds him that he never lacked anything.

If you understand the way inheritances worked in those days, the older son received two-thirds while the younger got a third. So, Johnny got more than Mikey, yet he decided to stay at home and still didn’t feel any closer to dad.  He was still trying to “earn” dad’s love.

How many of us dads remain distant because our kids don’t seem to be able to do enough or meet our expectations?

How many of us grew up in a relationship with our fathers in which we were always striving to earn his approval and hear him say, “Son, I’m proud of you.”  And still to this day, we’re stuck in that cycle of defeat.

Here’s the second takeaway—GOD WANTS TO CONNECT WITH YOU!

Our heavenly Father longs for a relationship with us and that relationship is based on His unconditional love (grace) through our repentance and faith. He offers that to us freely even though it cost Him His only son. The Christian way of life is the only belief system based purely on grace and not on your being good enough or doing good things. Paul explained it in Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast.”

Maybe you’re like Johnny in how you are relating to God…trying to earn his pleasure or dispel his anger by being good enough or religious enough. This parable teaches us that God simply wants a relationship and your attempts are not necessary.

 

Something else Johnny did that we shouldn’t miss was to allow his self-righteousness to keep him from celebrating his own brother’s return.

Sometimes we do this. We forget the sweet, sweet sound of Amazing Grace that saved us when we ourselves were lost and blind. We forget how precious grace felt that hour when we first believed. So, instead of rejoicing in God’s grace and extending it to others, we rush into religious activity and try to earn God’s love by our good deeds while withholding his love and grace from others.

We become like the very people Jesus was telling this story to…the religious leaders of his day who went about judging people while living hypocritical lives.  As a Christian, are you known more for what you stand for OR what you stand against?  If you were in the market place professing your faith, would Christ be writing in the sand and asking those without any sin to cast the first stone or would he ask for the next party with sinners to be held at your house?

No matter how far we are from God. No matter whether we believe God has forgotten about us or how far we’ve drifted from Him. I want you to know it’s never too late to return home. You don’t have to clean up anything.

Remember Mikey didn’t stop by the mall or a Holiday Inn to get cleaned up…he just got up from the pig pen and returned home.

This is the third takeawayGOD WANTS YOU TO COME AS YOU ARE!

This is a story about an incredible earthly father and his relationship to his two sons. It highlights how we separate ourselves from a relationship with our heavenly father by rebelling and satisfying our selfish desires.  Jesus wanted those he shared this parable with to simply realize how much God loved them and wanted to connect with them. More importantly, He wanted them to know they needed to come simply as they were.

This was where I was during my senior year in college. I felt God calling me to Reconnect; but I kept thinking I would only go to church after I’d done some serious scrubbing of the dirt from the pig’s sty. Somehow, I thought that would make me clean enough.

What made me feel that way? Was it the Johnny’s in my community whose judgmental tones I wanted to avoid?

Was it that I felt too far away and unforgivable? That I felt I was too far gone for God to consider or even worry about.

Despite my thinking, God met me where I was just like that earthly father ran out to meet his son on the road.

As a father, as much as I want my sons to be obedient and respectful and kind, what I truly desire is a relationship with each of them. I want them to know how much I love them and I want their “hey dads!” to be just as exuberant and genuine.

This parable isn’t just for fathers and sons. It’s for all of us.  If you’ve been a believer for a while, and like Johnny, find yourself being religious and trying to earn your way; today I want you to know that God is not interested in your religious activity but simply wants to connect with you.

And if you’re like Mikey, lost and at the end of your rope or unsure of all this talk about connecting and coming home; know that God, like the father in this story, has never stopped waiting for your return with open arms and that the “cow is being fattened already on your behalf” as God celebrates that desire in your heart to know Him. He’s been waiting this whole time.

And how do you get there? How do you return home?

You do what Mikey did by repenting and turning to God to ask him for his forgiveness.

And if you’ve been home but still feel distant, how do you get closer? By realizing you don’t need to earn, or be good enough, for his approval.

The story of this father and his two sons, is about us and our relationship with our Heavenly Father.  He is waiting for us, He wants to connect with us, and He wants us to come just as we are.

 

 

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Nothing Happy About Memorial Day

There’s nothing happy about Memorial Day. It’s a day of somber reflection for those brave souls whose graves we mark with Old Glory this time every year. We owe them, at a minimum, 3 minutes at 3:00pm remembering their sacrifice. 

We also need to remember the sacrifices paid by the families whose loved ones will never return. As some have stated well, if we don’t we risk seeing freedom as a birthright and forgetting it comes at a profound price. 

Americans should understand that freedom takes every instrument of our national power: diplomacy, information, our military, and our economy…and we’re good at it! But there are times when it takes even more…it takes the blood of men and women willing to face down the enemy’s gun barrel. 

So we owe it to these heroes to thank the good Lord daily for them and if not, do we deserve to enjoy the fruits of their full measure of devotion? 

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Thoughts Matter

“The man who thinks he can and the man who thinks he can’t are both right.” 

— Confucius

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Heard Recently…

– God is a great travel agent but He’s not big on itineraries

– Mountain top experiences are preparation for valley work

– Man complicates, God simplifies

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Letter from a Birmingham Jail: A Call to Service

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

In April 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. was imprisoned in Birmingham Alabama for participating in a nonviolent demonstration against segregation. As we all took time to ponder his work, message, and dream yesterday, I also took time to read one of his writings (something I’ve tried to do every year). 

At the time of his imprisonement, religious leaders in the south penned a public statement expressing concern and caution that his nonviolent protests would lead to violence and that instead, he should let the courts handle the issues. His letter from Birmingham jail was his response to those religious leaders and is a must read for us today. As I read it again and again, some quotes really jumped out at me; quotes we’ve all heard time and time again and are apropo today.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

“I am sure that each of you would want to go beyond the superficial social analyst who looks merely at effects and does not grapple with underlying causes.”

“History is the long tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.”

“…freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

“…justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.  Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appealing silence of the good people.”

So many of us struggle with the balance between “doing something of value to the world outside our comfort zones” or remaining armchair quarterbacks and limiting our contribution to a “like” button. MLK’s letter is yet another charge to all of us to be open-eyed about issues affecting our fellow man and doing something.

This weekend I listened to a friend of mine relay his story to an audience of men about how he gave up a career in the army as a surgeon to serve as a medical missionary in South America. The call on his heart to do missions came when he was 17! It took another 17 years for God to prepare him and arm him with all the tools he would need to carry out his calling. 

We all have a gift; endowed upon us by our creator with a specific mission to serve. Read MLK’s letter this week, then go out and do something.

Let’s go.

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Be Kind to Strangers 

I really enjoy train travel. As much as I like driving for hours at a time, I also enjoy being a train passenger lost in a world camouflaged by my headphones. A world where I laugh quietly at Robin Williams’ jokes or bob my head to a LeCrae song. I thought this weekend’s trip to watch my son’s football game would be typical of my previous travels. Until I arrived at the train platform and realized it was a holiday weekend in the country of my residence. EVERYONE was traveling; the train was crowded and some of the travelers had already had a few hours head start on drinking. As I approached my stop, I tried to squeeze out of my seat and head to the door without causing a commotion.
I made it out before the train’s doors were shut closed and headed for my connecting platform then it hit me: I didn’t have my cellphone. Ugh!

It must have fallen out of my pocket in my attempts to squeeze out of the compartment. Double-ugh!!

I had just printed 250 business cards with that phone number listed. Triple ugh!!!

That was the number mum routinely sends me text messages on. #%<**##!!!!

I stood there helplessly for about a minute, then gathered my thoughts and went into problem-solving mode. I reached for my other phone (yes, I have two phones–don’t judge) and called my missing phone.

“Hello?” The male voice on the other questioned. I asked if he spoke English and told him I had dropped my phone on the train. He said he did, told me to hold, and then hung up. aargh!!
I took a deep breath, waited 30 seconds and called again. This time a female voice answered. Her English was better and I could feel my stress level dropping as we made arrangements for me to get the phone back on my return journey.

I have to confess I had believed the worst would happen. I didn’t anticipate a stranger would go out of their way to return a high end smartphone. I rushed to buy a gift to give this kind stranger when we met. Last night, during the exchange, I gave her a bottle of wine, shook her boyfriend’s hand as he said: “welcome to our country!”

I smiled. It was indeed an excellent way to leave a positive impression on a visitor.
I’m a big fan of “paying it forward” and a believer in Hebrews 13:2:

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

Not calling myself an angel, far from it. Just reinforcing the power of kindness when opportunities present themselves. Just be kind…period. In fact, make it a point to aggressively seek ways to be kind to strangers. Try doing it without looking for anything in return. Sometimes we feel we deserve a pat on the back. Don’t. It’s like wondering why you didn’t get nominated for the “volunteer of the year” award.  Really?

Challenge for the week: Find ways to be a secret giver.

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“I’ve Been to the Mountain Top”

Shere Hills Jos Plateau State

Shere Hills Jos Plateau State

The first time I remember hiking it wasn’t even called hiking. I was an 11-year old military school cadet and we were sent out on a road march into the hills of northern Nigeria. We were given a map, a compass, and told when supper would be served. We had some water and no snacks. Just a dozen young boys out in the woods looking for clues. It wasn’t a fun experience although some of the scenery was breath-taking. My team got lost, couldn’t find any of the clues we were supposed to when we were supposed to, and bickered amongst each other for hours. By the time we made it back to camp, the food was almost gone. I didn’t make any vows that day but let’s just say words like camping and hiking were relegated to the recesses of my memory bank.

Fast forward a few years and this time I’m a 19-year old college cadet. Another road march; a very familiar scenario. The environment, a bit more controlled. Woods, yes but bound by a fence line. We were on a large military base in the midwest of the U.S. This was a test of our ability to survive and operate. Figure out what was edible and what wasn’t. Learn to take cover, avoid being seen. There was a sense of adventure on this one and of course, every thing I’d learned in military school came back to me. I was calmer this time. I fell into a natural role as the cool, calm, and collected cadet offering suggestions when needed and calming fears when they arose.

The Rock, Gardez

View of The Rock from a Forward Operating Base in South West Asia.

Then there was “The Rock”. This time I’m a lot older and in a more hostile environment.  I was an advisor at a base in South West Asia located in a valley and surrounded by mountain ranges and outposts said to have been built by Alexander the Great’s soldiers. We were already sitting at 7,500 feet. Those assigned to this location were challenged to climb “The Rock” at least once before their tour was over. And what would one get? You guessed it…a t-shirt! It was a tough climb up to 9,250 feet and very thin air. I remember the gasping like it was yesterday. It took about 3 hours to get to the top and another 2 hours to get back down. I did get a t-shirt and proudly counted myself among those brave enough to dare take on and conquer “The Rock”…not Dwayne Johnson. 🙂

So today I find myself in yet another valley, this time in Bavaria and the view is breathtaking.  I’m reminded of the words to a song my mom would sing when I was little:

“When through the woods, and forest glades I wander, And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.  When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee, How great Thou art! How great Thou art! 

[The hymn “How Great Thou Art” is based on a Swedish folk melody and was adapted and written by an english missionary, Stuart K. Hine based on his experiences in the Carpathian mountains.]

Krammerspitze Mountain Top

Krammerspitze Mountain Top

There’s something about mountains that inspires us inwardly. That adventurer I thought I’d pushed away time and time again came rearing its head and I decided to not only admire the beauty of God’s creation, but to also experience it by hiking.  At first I took the tourist option and climbed the Zugspitze with the cable car and oh what a view it was!  I was on the highest point in Germany and on a clear day, I’m told you can see all the way to Italy. I looked down and saw hikers who looked like ants from where I stood.  I was inspired by their courage, sense of adventure, and resilience.  From the bottom it was a 5,900 foot climb and most people did it in two days.  I hadn’t climbed or walked that far before, well airplane rides don’t count.  So I signed up for a guided hike as soon as I could.  A week before the big hike, I decided to go on a day-hike just to evaluate my mental and physical readiness. I’d had mixed experiences in the past but this one was all on me. The Krammerspitze Mountain sat at about 6,500 feet and I was told the hike took about 5-6 hours (not counting stops for lunch, etc.)  I made some mistakes on this outing; like forgetting my trekking poles for example (you definitely need those) or not packing enough electrolytes (cramped muscles are never fun) or not getting a good idea of where the peak was actually located (thought I was done when I still had an hour of climbing left, lol). Thanks to friendly fellow hikers, I made it up and back, with needed rest and lunch, in 8 hours. My knees and feet didn’t appreciate the trek, but my mind did. I took what I learned that day and prepared myself to tackle the Zugspitze.

The following week, tIMG_1599emparatures had dropped slightly, it had rained almost everyday and we knew it had even snowed at the top of the mountain. There were 11 of us in the group aged 12 to 60-something.  We pushed-through, we talked, we stopped to take pictures and at night we slept in the closest quarters I’d ever seen. Amazing how quickly 11 people with one focus can bond.  By far, this turned out to be the best hike I’d ever been on (although my hike total sits at only 1/2 a dozen). It was everything I expected it to be: Grueling, cold, wet, picturesque, exhilarating, and a priceless sense of accomplishment at the end.

I can now say that “I’ve been to the Mountain Top” and I’m glad God “allowed me to go up to the mountain” and that He let me “look over” and “consider all, the works His hands have made”.  To Him Be the Glory!!

Zugspitze Mountain

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Again on Prayer

  

Today I found a chance to teach my sons deeper lessons on prayer by watching the movie Bruce Almighty.

Three lessons:
1. God answers prayers in three ways: Yes. No. Maybe.
2. Left to us, we’d want yes answers to all our prayers and it would result in chaos.
3. Our deepest desire in prayer is to desire God’s will above our own. Christ exemplified that in his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. “Not my will but your will be done…”
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Condemn Not

image

Pieter Bruegel, Oil on panel, 24cm x 34cm. Courtauld Institute Galleries, London

John 8:4-11

“Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

To professing Christians: Are you known more for what you stand against, or for what you stand for?

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STRENGTH THROUGH STORMS

Received this from a friend today who knows the value of journaling thoughts that come to mind in the midnight hour. She’s given me permission to share on this blog. POWERFUL!

———————————

I am a parent and I am an airman. I struggle every single day to balance the two…by myself. I am alone and I am scared, often. I became a widowed mother of 2 at the age of 24, and then a widowed mother of 3 again at 27.  I lost my first husband to a battle with drugs that stole his life and the memories that my children could have had with him before they were old enough to even remember him. 

I lost my fiancé to a motorcycle accident on Thanksgiving day that obliterated the possibility that he would know what it felt like to hold his first child in his arms surrounded by our little family that adored him. 

I have very few friends; when I am not working I am cleaning, cooking, helping with homework, paying bills, grocery shopping, tending children, or attempting some form of hygiene of my own amidst my chores…on the days I’m not utterly exhausted. Oh, let’s not forget…volunteering and education are key in the whole person concept these days. 

I am a coordinator for a volunteer corps for the base I am stationed at and I am slowly working on my Bachelors degree because it’s getting harder for me to be judged only on the quality of my work. How you ask? I cry myself to sleep some nights, others I’m too tired and am not even sure how I made it into my pajamas let alone to my bed. I wake up and do what I was always taught to do…keep going, don’t give up, push harder. 

Nobody likes to fail, and failing would start by not getting out of bed. Why do I keep going? I can honestly say I have lost count of how many times I have been so tired of it all, and so exhausted in the last few years that I wanted to just stop and give up. But then, every single time, I couldn’t do it…I couldn’t give up. I reminded myself that someone else had it worse, there’s always worse and there’s no way that I wanted my children to see me give up.  After everything that THEY have been through, they were watching ME. They were learning how to cope through ME. I reminded myself that I will show them that even through the most devastating times, that they CAN be strong, that they CAN get through it. I could not let them see me give up if I want to instill this quality in them. The humanity and compassion they have learned as they dried the tears running down my face. And then I realized, they were not the only ones watching me. 

While we may not be able to put onto a performance evaluation the real life success of struggles that truly makes someone a leader, I sleep so much better seeing my resilience help someone else bounce back.  We think our struggles no matter how big or small are our own, and they’re not. While we may feel the the heavy burden and the root of that instance, our branches touch so many that can relate. It may not be just our children that we are teaching these qualities to but our friends, our families, our coworkers, and even our friends that we may or may not ever even talk to on social networks. 

I get up every morning and I tell myself that I have no other choice!! I will succeed today! Today is not the day I am defeated by myself or by life! I will not be pushed down off this mountain I have worked so hard to climb because I want to reach the top; and I don’t want to do it alone, but I will if I have to! 


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