Posts Tagged ‘intimacy with the Father’

Separation… The distance between us says a lot about our relationships.  It can be reflected in physical dimensions, but in reality it is the total sum of emotional, physical, and spiritual space between us that really matters.

I read a great book which I highly recommend called The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith.  Doctor Smith does an outstanding job of identifying the false narratives we may have about God and comparing them to the narratives Jesus gives us about God.  I’ve thought about this idea of separation and intimacy a lot over the past few months at least in part because of this book.

I love the story of the prodigal son.  At different times in my life I have identified with any and all of the three characters in the story – the wayward younger son, the dutiful older son, and the hopeful father.  In telling this story Jesus illustrates this theme of separation and restoration in a manner that brings out the physical, emotional, and ultimately spiritual distance that exists to be bridged.

‘Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

“ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ ”’  Luke 15:11-32

Even while he was physically present in the home of his father, the younger son was emotionally and spiritually distant.  His heart was drawn toward foreign lands and taboo customs.  I feel certain his father knew this.  Yet rather than force the younger son to stay physically present he not only allowed him to go, he enabled him to physically leave.  I’d never really considered it before, but the father wasn’t obligated to give the younger son his inheritance.  In fact, there are two things striking here.  The inheritance is not due until the father dies.  And the inheritance for the younger children is usually meager.  The oldest son was due the bulk of the estate and the younger children were to be given a small inheritance – enough to start a life, but not half the farm.  Yet that’s what this father did.  In so doing he provided the younger son the means to put into effect the physical distance that matched the spiritual and emotional distance he had always had.  The father gave the son the means to do the very things he had taught his children all their life not to do.

In Jesus telling of the story, the older son doesn’t really show up much until the end.  I want to point out that the older son also had his fair share of distance to overcome.  At the end of the story when the younger son has come to his senses, when he has repented of his sin and recognized his self-imposed distance between himself and his father, we see rejoicing and reconciliation between youngest son and dad.  But the separation between father and oldest son then becomes evident.  I believe that this separation was predominantly spiritual up until this point.  In his pouting, the oldest son expresses anger emanating from a prideful spirit.  The distance that had likely remained mostly hidden was brought to light.

I’ve always been intrigued by why Jesus tagged this on at the end of the story, almost as a footnote.  I think the answer lies in this thought of the distance between us and God.  One of the paramount messages of Jesus was the elimination of the distance between God and His children.  Jesus was Emmanuel – God with us.  That was a radical thought back then, even as it still is for many today.  The entirety of “God with us” is a bigger truth than we can fully comprehend.  But in this story we see the father doing something radical… and painful.  I had never really seen it as what it had to be – the father’s extreme faith.  Toward the youngest son it was faith that when he hit bottom he would look up and realize that the distance he had put between himself and his father was something he didn’t want to exist any longer.  For the oldest son it was faith that he would understand that physical closeness was not the same as intimacy and that one day he would move into true intimacy with his father.

Our Father will do anything to eliminate the distance between us.  He wants intimacy with us and He is willing to suffer to see it accomplished.  For years I’ve marveled at the suffering Jesus endured at the cross.  As my faith matured and I became a dad, I also marveled at the suffering God the Father had to endure to send His Son to suffer on our behalf.  Today I realize that God feels the pain of separation with those He has called to be His children.  Yet He allows us to “walk away” because His greatest desire is for our complete reconciliation with Him.  To achieve this we have to see the distance for what it is – separation from the only Love that is truly healing… separation from the only Love that can completely reconcile… separation from the only Love that completes us…separation from intimacy with our Father Who is Love.

Through my work with our church’s care team and in our home group, I am praying for several folks who have prodigal children.  My heart aches for them because we too have experienced children who walk away from us and from the Father.  I suspect there are those who are reading this who’s feet may fit the shoes of someone in this story… the parent or one of the two children.  Know this, God is with you wherever you are even if you have turned your back on Him.  He loves you beyond your understanding.  He loves you with an everlasting love.  And He has done everything to make it possible for you to experience intimacy with Him and within the family of love He has called you to.  Simply turn to Him.  Call out to Him.  Ask Jesus to help you.  Ask Him to show you how to eliminate the distance between you and God.  You’ll be amazed.  The distance can be bridged in moment through a whispered, “Yes Lord.”

Be blessed today and be a blessing.

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God is almost never limited by our lack.

We can lack money and yet God can provide the means for whatever He calls us to do.  My thoughts run to a little boy with two fish and five loaves on a remote hillside with Jesus and a crowd of thousands, hungry after a day of teaching and healing.

We can lack strength and yet Paul passes on what Jesus said to Him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” (2Cor 12:9)

We can lack intellect, but God can still use us.  I have been in a number of situations where I did not know “the answer” and yet the answer has always come.

But I realized the other day that there is one definite lack on our part that can constrain God… the lack of humility!  The lack of humility is powerful, ugly, and spiritually deadly.

There is value in specifically saying “lack of humility” and not simply calling it pride.  Being proud of your children, your country, your church can all stray into an unhealthy region, but for the most part these do not capture the attitude that the bible means when it says in a number of places, “God opposes the proud” (James 4:6).  The lack of humility is that kind of proud.  It is a cancer that sucks the life out of relationships, beginning with our relationship with the Father.

God loves us and He wants us to live in intimacy with Him.  The level of intimacy God desires is predicated upon mutual love, trust, and honesty.  Coming clean about every aspect of our life – from acts done or not done, words uttered or not uttered, even thoughts we’ve harbored requires a humility and honesty that does not come easily to us.  In fact it often requires a degree of divine support to achieve.  But He is near to us to lend us this help if we but bend our hearts toward Him in humility.

As I consider what this humility looks like several pictures come to mind.  A child listening in rapt attention and a teachable spirit… a parent returning from deployment falling on their knees and embracing their family… a “terminally” ill patient who is given a new lease on life.  God is the giver of all good gifts.  As He gives what He desires (which is always better than what we deserve) we should recognize the opportunity to give thanks and receive with humility all that the Lord wants for us.  Often, it is in these moments that He will speak wisdom into our lives that we can’t hear otherwise.

This morning I awoke with a very clear picture of what the lack of humility looks like.  It is one of the formational stories of the nation of Israel and it is found in the 2nd book of the bible, Exodus.  What had begun as a flight to sanctuary at the end of the Genesis had become servitude and slavery 400 years later.  The Pharaoh’s government had become a hard task-master and the people of Israel were crying out for deliverance.  God raised up Moses to serve as His human voice.  The message to Pharaoh was simple, “Let my people go.”  But Pharaoh, who was considered a god in that culture, refused.  Time and again God sent signs of His power and authority to convince Pharaoh and give Him the opportunity to bend His will to the Lord Almighty.  But Pharaoh would not.  The bible says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

Friends, this is a vital spiritual truth.  The longer and harder we resist the Lord, the more difficult it becomes to respond to Him.  It is not that God’s love is not there nor is it that He won’t accept us.  The issue is that until we are humble enough to acknowledge that He is God and we are not, we can’t bend our knee to Him and submit to the foundational truth of faith that God is the great “I AM”, the wholly, Holy Other.  While I am thrilled that my heavenly Father loves me and desires to fellowship with me, it never changes the fact that He is the LORD God Almighty, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

The lack of humility can keep a person from accepting Christ, God’s provision to reconcile fallen humans with Himself.  But it can also rear it’s ugly head after conversion and stifle the spiritual growth the Lord intends for His children.  When I consider my faith walk, I can see how the lack of humility was a key factor in many of the lulls.

The message of today’s post is simple.  Take a moment to examine your life.  Do you have a deficit of humility that is limiting your relationship with God and others?  Are you thankful for the small gifts of grace you receive or are you disappointed because you feel slighted in some way?  Is God actively speaking to you and using you for positive change or is it quiet when you call out to Him?  If any of these answers make you realize that you have a deficit of humility, congratulations! Recognizing this is the hardest step.  Turn to God with your whole heart, acknowledge your sin (if you haven’t already figured it out, the lack of humility is a sin), accept His Lordship over you, and begin to walk in fresh fellowship with the Holy Spirit.

The limits of our intellect do not in any way limit God’s ability to use us.  The limits of our humility constrain how, and how much God can work in and through us.  Choose humility and throw off those constraints.  Reach for the Father’s hand and talk a walk with the One Who loves you to the uttermost.  You will be so happy that you did.

Be blessed my friend and be a blessing to those the Lord puts in your life today.

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I hit the drive-thru for supper this evening.  At the window I noticed the attendant yawn in boredom as she waited for my order.  A high schooler making a little pocket money perhaps.  Hopefully not a single mom trying to make ends meet.  I meant to slip in, slip out, and quietly eat my gyro in the room while I finished up some work for the plant, but because I had to wait I took the time to notice.

When she turned to hand me my order, I looked her in the eye gave her the most sincere “Thank you, mam” I could.  Behind the thanks was a heartfelt prayer that the Lord bless her and help her to know she is adored by a loving Father in heaven….

I got word a little while ago that a friend’s father passed away suddenly last night.  He had been up and down with illness, but until last night every down was followed by an up.  Actually, I guess last night was the ultimate recovery for one who knows the Lord.  But it is still a time of separation and loss for the family left behind.  Our heart goes out to them in empathy, sharing a small slice of their pain.  We will grieve with them as they offer up their last goodbyes to Big John.

At 55 years old I am most likely past the halfway point in my earthly life – closer to the end than the beginning.  Since I gave Jesus my life almost 33 years ago I have not worried about dying.  With my heart issue, I really haven’t fretted about dying even though I was on the cusp of a potentially fatal heart attack.  But I have pondered becoming irrelevant.

I want my life to count.  Not in a famous or noteworthy way, but in accomplishing those things that God wants me to accomplish.  Ephesians 2:10 says: “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  I know God is at work, but I also understand he has not made me a puppet.  I am given choices.  I can choose to take the easier way, the popular path.  I can go with the flow if I decide to.  But that is not what I sense in my spirit is God’s best.  Simply sliding through life does not line up with where I hear God calling me.  I don’t think it is where God is calling you either, dear reader.

The call is becoming clearer.  It is birthed in intimacy with God, our Father, in blessed union with Jesus our Lord and Savior, and confirmed by His Holy Spirit in our inner being as we willingly submit to His direction in our life.  It is a life of supreme relevance to those the Lord brings into our lives, regardless of how long or how brief that contact may be.

Tonight as I come to the end of the day, I ask for guidance on how to make these final moments count.  “Lord, please pray through me.”  “Father, show me who needs a word of encouragement.”  “Jesus, please prepare me for a day of relevance in your kingdom work and the lives you touch through me tomorrow.”

You are loved and you are relevant my friend.  God has called you into the deepest intimacy with Him.  It is beyond our reckoning.  But that’s okay because He will initiate it, He will draw us deeper, and He will accomplish His purpose as we simply seek Him with all that we are.  From out of that intimacy He makes us relevant.  It is tied first to the fact that we are His adopted children (Romans 8:15), but it is made manifest in the people we meet and get to love on every single day.

Be blessed today and be a blessing!

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Intimacy with God grows as we are obedient. When we discern His voice, confirm it with the Word, recognize the affirmation in our spirit, and do what He says, we take a step in maturity.  Much of what He asks of us will either align with loving Him with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength or loving our neighbors as ourselves.

I once thought this meant a lot of hard work – hours scouring the Word, knees raw from prolonged prayer, exhaustion from tackling every opportunity of service to others. In my exuberance I was the energizer bunny Christian rushing here and there doing everything that I imagined a good follower of Jesus might do.  There were many spiritual high points and I am confident that along the way the Father has taken my offering and used it in furthering His purpose.  But I also see I have sometimes bowled over people, stepped on toes and generally left a wake of damage that I did not intend.

So if hard work was not sufficient to ensure godly growth, what are we to do?  The answer is that we begin by focusing less on doing, at least at first, and we seek to be who God created us and saved us to be – His beloved child.  Like an infant, our growth is a process that is best measured in gradual milestones.  The first step in a child’s development is the recognition and bonding of the child to the parent.  Developing the connection and deepening the familial bond is our first priority.  While this will last our entire life, it is our most important task when we first begin to follow Jesus.  In the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians we learn that Paul, one of the most learned of men, headed into the wilderness of Arabia for an extended period immediately after his conversion before launching into full time ministry.  We do well to emulate his progression of seeking God’s face and guidance before jumping into “doing” for the Lord.

In time the child begins to communicate.  Again their primary source of communication is with their parents. Long before the child can begin to verbalize their own thoughts into words, their parents are talking to them, singing to them, reading to them. Our Father God is doing the same with us.  He loves us and He communicates that love in myriad ways.  This past weekend as I finally decided to rise from a particularly restless night, the Lord whispered in my spirit, “Come let me kiss you.” As I slipped into the front room of our house and the warm rays of the early dawn struck my face, I knew my Father was kissing me, His presence overwhelmed me, and it was good beyond description.  As I sit on this plane between two passengers absorbed in their own world, I can still feel the Father’s touch.  I know He is with me.  I know He loves me.  Oh, I am a fortunate and blessed man!

As I basked in the Father’s touch He spoke to me many things. Some were very personal and I don’t need to share those now except to say, He knows us intimately and He will speak to us intimately as we choose to make Him our Lord and the center of our being.  The one thing that He spoke that I recognized as for this blog was His call to obedience.

Continuing the metaphor of a child to parent, as we continue to grow in the Lord, we will be given increasing responsibility.  God will continue to pour into us His life, His light, His wisdom, and His heart.  As these become established in us, His vision and His call arise. There is a universal aspect of His call – reach the lost, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, encourage the down-hearted.  But in our growing intimacy He will be specific with us: the co-worker that the Lord brings to mind repeatedly, the message that powerfully reminds us of a particular need that we can meet, the phone call that comes when you are praying, “Lord use me.”

Response to the universal call is a good thing.  Response to our specific call is the best thing.  As I write this a picture comes to mind.  The Grinch provides an excellent illustration.  He had stolen every single bit the outward manifestation of Christmas from the Who’s.  Yet when he heard the Who’s still singing their joyful Christmas songs, he recognized the reason we celebrate is so much bigger than the gifts and food.   It is the reason for the season – Jesus.  His undersized heart grew 3X at that moment and he responded in abundant measure.  This same thing happens to us.  When, in our intimacy with the Father, He speaks and we enthusiastically receive and respond, our heart grows.  We are blessed as much or perhaps even more than those God has prompted us to love.

Today I encourage you to go deep with God.  Let His love embrace you.  Listen to His whispered words of love and let them wrap around you and fill you.  As you snuggle into His embrace, listen for your next step.  His call is a life in Him and with Him.  As you grow He will give you ”kingdom tasks” to accomplish IN HIM.  He is the King as well as our Father.  As such we are princes and princesses of the kingdom, living and working under our Father’s authority.  That is our blessed privilege.  Our growth and our Father’s favor are the fruit of our obedience.

Have a blessed day my friend as you live in intimacy with the Lord and walk in faithful obedience.

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It is Wednesday of Holy Week in Jerusalem the year 30 AD.  Jesus has less than 48 hours before He is nailed to the wooden beams of a Roman cross.

I often try to put myself in the place of others to see from their perspective.  I have found this an excellent approach at building empathy.  I wonder what Jesus’ mindset was on this Wednesday.  He knew what was before Him.  He had mentioned it to His disciples on numerous occasions (even though it appears they didn’t grasp the immediacy of his prophetic words).  Yet we see in the scripture that Jesus continued His routine.  He resided outside the city, probably in Bethany (Matt 21:17).  His early morning would be spent in communion with the Father.  One of the things I didn’t realize until lately was that Jesus didn’t need to carry a written scroll of the sacred texts.  He had these memorized.  This was actually common among religious Jews, so it is a safe assumption that Jesus knew them by heart.  Of course He knew them – He helped write them.  John 1 tells us that Jesus is the “Word of God” so He knew the scriptures more intimately than any religious person ever could.  He actually understood what each line and phrase was intended to convey.  And that was another reason that He and the religious leaders so often clashed.

After breaking fast with His disciples He would head to back into Jerusalem probably over the road from the Mount of Olives.  Let’s take a minute and consider what breakfast would look like.  Jesus, fresh from His time with His Father in prayer and having been awake for some time already, would be fresh and alive.  I can visualize various members of His band coming in and picking up a piece bread and fruit the women have spread on the table and playful conversations picking up.

“Andrew, did you sleep in the barn again?  You have straw sticking out of your hair.” John asks Andrew as he sleepily walks into the large room.

“Speak for yourself John.  From your smell I would say you slept in the barn AND you haven’t bathed in a month,” Andrew replies.

“Andrew, he is just a boy.”  James exclaims.  “He hasn’t learned that a man must bath at least once a week if he is to share close quarters with his friends.  Out in the fields and walking in the wilderness he can get away with only the occasional ritual bath, but not when we all come to Jerusalem.”

“He will get His ritual bath soon enough,” Jesus says.  “We all will be cleansed very soon.  Passover is upon us my brothers.  A very special Passover indeed.”

After breaking fast they would take the 30 minute or so walk to Jerusalem entering through one of the massive gates in the city wall.  They would proceed to the Temple.  One of Jesus’ favorite places to teach was Solomon’s colonnade.  Here he would take a seat and begin to teach.

These final few days were a political chess match.  Jesus continued to teach and heal while the religious leaders repeatedly tried to trap Him in His words.  One day they asked Him about paying taxes expecting Him to either anger the authorities by saying NO or displeasing the crowds by saying YES.  Instead Jesus says, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and unto God, that which is God’s”.   Another time they demand to know by whose authority He is teaching.  They did not sanction Him therefore that are suspect of His credentials.  Not to mention He takes issue with a significant number of their interpretations of the law.  Jesus answers their question with a question.  “I will answer you if you answer my question first.  John’s baptism – where did it come from?  Was it from heaven or of human origin?”  Now they are trapped because they did not accept John’s baptism and message, but they know the people did.  To answer as they truly believe would risk a riot and further alienation from the people.  But to answer otherwise would reveal their blatant hypocrisy.  So they say, “We don’t know.”

If He was stressed by the continued manipulations of the temple leaders, none of the Gospels bear this out.  And personally, I don’t expect that these things surprised or stressed Jesus.  Not because of the fact of His divinity, but because of His intimacy and trust in the Father.  The impression I take from studying Jesus in the scriptures is One who is 100% confident in Himself because of His absolute connection with the Lord of the Universe.  There is no sin to disrupt that connection.  He consistently seeks to know the Father’s will and communes with Him constantly.  And He is obedient to the uttermost.

A logical question arises – did Jesus know all the events each day held beforehand?  We see that a number of times He is aware of what is going to happen… sending the disciples ahead for the donkey on Palm Sunday, waiting for Lazarus to die before heading to Bethany to raise Him, seeing Nathaniel under the tree before they meet.  But I don’t think this has to be extrapolated that He knows every detail of every day.  In fact, I think He knew the details that He needed to know to be in the right place at the right time.  And I am sure that He was given the words He needed at the time they were needed (see Mark 13:11).  This came from His communion with and total faith in the Father which was reflected in complete obedience.  But in keeping with one of the “secondary” reasons He came and lived among us, for Him to effectively model a life we are to strive for, He would have to “walk by faith and not by sight” some of the time.

I encourage you to take time to put yourself in Jesus’ place on this Wednesday in His final week.  Consider what might be going through His mind.  How did He find the will to move resolutely toward His death rather than look for the way to escape.  Then apply that to where you are right now.  What incremental step can you take to grow your faith and move a little closer to the person the Lord has called you to be… the Lord has equipped you to be… the Lord died for you to be.  Don’t misunderstand.  The Lord isn’t calling a person of little to no faith to immediately become one who boldly faces down the religious leaders and willingly dies for Christ.  But He is calling us to grow in our faith today to be a little stronger today than yesterday.  And then tomorrow to grow a little stronger than we were today.  In time, perhaps less than we can imagine, the Lord will put us in places were our natural response would have been to run and hide, but our faith response becomes to stand and proclaim the goodness and richness of the Lord.

Be blessed today my friend and allow the Lord to make you a blessing to those He puts in your path this day.


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