Monday, January 28, 2008

Dorothy Part 1: The Visitation

Rom 12:15 NIV - Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

I met Dorothy on two separate occasions that I recall; once at her home when I stopped in with her son Paul, one of my very best friends, to help move or pick up a piece of furniture; and at least once at Paul’s house when one of his girls had a birthday party. While I don’t remember spending time in substantive discourse with her, I remember having this distinct impression: she is a woman of real strength. To me she carried herself in a way that was covertly resolute and self-evidently confident, as if she had a concealed weapon yet everyone knew it. Over the past few days I was honored to learn even more about her character and her life while looking through the windows of the past with family and friends. Dorothy was promoted to heaven last Wednesday. She was about a month shy of her 82nd birthday.

The common term for a “wake” around here, at least in non-catholic circles, is “visitation.” I find both terms a bit odd in light of the circumstance. The most conventional interpretation of “wake” is that it means to “watch” or “stand guard.” Some also believe it is to watch to see if the loved one will “awaken” or “wake up.” These days we most often refer to it as a “visitation” because we visit with family members to offer our comfort and support. It was obvious when I walked into the funeral home for a visit Sunday afternoon that Dorothy had touched many lives. She has touched mine deeply through her son Paul. The incredible man he has become is testimony to the deposits she made in his life. They have born the fruit of Righteousness in him, and his siblings. They are her vines pollinated from her vineyard of virtue.

As we sat and watched a slideshow tribute, Paul turned to me and asked, “Did I ever tell you about when she got saved?” “No, I don’t think so.” Dorothy’s father had abandoned his family several years earlier and left his wife to raise seven girls all by her self in the backwoods of Louisiana. A certain neighborhood lady would stop by his grandmother’s house each week and invite their family to church. Each time the lady left the home empty-handed. Finally, Dorothy’s mom told her daughters that she was getting embarrassed that none of her girls would go to church.

Dorothy decided to take one for the team and volunteered. That was the night she heard the gospel for the very first time and got saved. Paul could hardly finish the story as he broke down somewhere between grief and joy. I told him it reminded me of the scripture when Jesus said, “You did not choose me but I chose you…” (John 15:16) In an interesting quirky divine appointment years later in Fort Worth, Texas, this same woman who took Paul’s mother to church, would also become Paul’s Sunday-school teacher. This was the visitation of Jesus through a persistent lady who lived “Love thy neighbor.”

As I drove home from the visitation, the Lord reminded me of His encounter with Mary and Martha at Lazarus’ FIRST death (John 11: 17-37). Martha had faith. Mary had grief. Jesus responded to both. Martha said she knew that “even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Mary just fell at his feet and sobbed. Scripture says Jesus was deeply moved and wept. In the moment, he responded to Mary’s grief, and in the end He responded to Martha’s faith. I am always challenged on how to respond to someone’s grief. My first inclination is to throw my arms around them and just weep with them and I’m pretty sure that is okay with most folks. I usually follow it with a prayer and then sit in awkward disposition feeling helpless and human, and thankful I don’t have to be God.

The experience also reminded of a movie I once saw called Guarding Tess. Doug (Nicolas Cage) is a Secret Service Agent in charge of the detail assigned to protect Tess Carlisle (Shirley MacLaine), widow of a former U.S. President, and close personal friend of the current President. Doug has just completed his rotation when he finds that she has requested he be assigned to her permanently. Doug is crushed. He desperately wants off of her detail because she is very difficult to guard and makes her detail crazy with her whimsical demands. Then one day it all comes to a head and she breaks down and reveals why she’s requested him. She pulls out a video of her husband’s funeral and there is Doug in the pew weeping and sobbing. Such great love. Such great loss. In the moment Tess knew Doug was genuine and she could trust her life to him.

I sense God wants us to be “in the moment” as well as eternal – Resurrection AND Life. He wants us to help resurrect a broken heart, and breathe life into a crushed spirit. Come along side, come as you are, and just be real. Words may fail, but love never does. We need to have the faith of Martha that no matter what, as long as Jesus is in the equation, everything will be okay. And we need to have the honesty of Mary to bear bitter tears and weep openly to mourn with those that mourn. In their moment of need, people need to know that they can trust their life, their emotions, and even their sins to us. In short, people need to know they can be naked in a safe place without ridicule or breach. THAT is the Kingdom of God. THAT is loving one another.

I love you Paul. You are a great man. I see in part where you got it.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Bare Essentials

Heb 4:13-16; Key verse - Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight, everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Col 2:2-3; Key verse - My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love…

Some time ago I was honored to attend a men’s ministry event that challenged the very core of my spirit. It was an event that taught me what being naked or laid bare was all about. It was hosted by a group of guys that were unashamed to confess their shame. That may not be totally accurate. Maybe it was that they somehow overcame their own personal pride and fear of what others would think in order to make an eternal deposit into the lives of other men with similar struggles and weaknesses. Exposing their shame was a price they would readily pay to be an agent of deliverance for others and bring healing to themselves.

These men told their stories in a way that redefined the word authenticity for me; a completely naked portrayal of their journey to healing and wholeness. They told of lives stained with addictions, promiscuity, and abuse. Some of their painful battles they shared with us were some of the very things I wrestle with, I suspect some of the things many of you struggle with, and even some things most of us could never understand or comprehend, but it was their testimony and their victory. There wasn’t a victim in the bunch, just a group of men who understood they are more than over-comers in a hostile and unforgiving world. To witness such unmitigated and raw honesty firsthand was a watershed moment in my life that continues to pay dividends to this day.

A simple truth that I learned in this experience was this: The extent to which I have access to others will directly correspond to how naked I am willing to get or be in front of them. Or, said another way; the level of access others will give me to their life will correspond directly to the level to which I am willing to bare myself to them. How can I encourage if I don’t know the need? How can I “wound a friend” if I am not a friend first? How can I see scars through suits of armor? I can’t. If, however, I am willing to be naked and show the cellulite of my soul, the warts of my heart, and scars of my flesh, then I am more apt to be trusted with the pain of others. We believers often talk about “a safe place” but can we really be trusted? I believe this is, in part, why we are told in the Book of James to confess our faults one to another that we may be healed. In the confessing is the healing. In the healing is the encouraging. In the encouraging is the courage to confess again and so the cycle continues.

This principle of “nakedness” is also why the marriage bed is so special. It is there where you find the level of intimacy and openness meant for no other place on the planet save the altar of God. It is what makes the marriage covenant unique, that bed sacred, and the relationship so inimitable – well sort of. Scripture does instruct that my relationship with my wife is to imitate my relationship with my savior. As the bride of Christ I see the one true example of what a husband should be. As I learn to relate to him and receive how He relates to me, I can appropriate that same unconditional love and grace in our marriage. Ever scar, every mole, and every wrinkle is beautiful because they belong to my beloved Ally – the one whom I love unconditionally, and with whom I am irrevocably united.

So how do we model that with others? As we dish our dirt, we are in that place of vulnerability, or equal exposure as it were. Shared liability brings mutual funds. As we unload and cast our care on the body of Christ, we also provide others with a unique opportunity to do the same. When Jesus put His shoulder to the cross He taught us to carry one another’s burdens and sins. He was eventually stripped of all dignity in front of an entire city as He bled and died. In his final moments, in full view of that gawking mocking crowd, He taught us to lay aside our selfish pride and take up a cause greater than ourselves: others. As I pick up my cross and follow Him I’m struck with the revelation that I have an empty shoulder to pick up another if I need to. The only way I can do this is if I am willing to set aside that part of me that wants to exalt itself over you and/or your need.

In the coming days, weeks, months, and hopefully years, my prayer is that I am able to disrobe in a way that debunks the TMI notion. Hopefully it will be less girls-gone-wild and more about this green clay tile. So today I want challenge you to stand naked in front of a mirror and ask the husband of heaven to show you what makes you distinctly you. Also ask Him what scars he wants to heal, and the ones He wants you to reveal. I suspect you will be surprised at some of His answers. Baring a soul helps in bearing a cross, and is essential for eternal deposits to bear fruit. I encourage you to be real…and be real naked.


Heb 4:13-16 (NIV)
Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight, everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-- yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Col 2:2-3 (NIV)
My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Eagerly Waiting Patiently

Rom 8:18-25 (NIV) I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

One of the most common challenges facing believers today is frustration. I have a Master’s Degree in it. Let me explain. The Master has allowed me to experience it to a certain degree throughout my entire life. For most of it I have lived in circumstances that were conducive to this climate of frustration. The youngest of three and only boy I found myself “odd-man-out” at an early age. Added to that I have always been small in stature and was one of the smallest kids in my class all the way through High School. Also, we were a paycheck-to-paycheck middle-class family so there was no social or economic advantage from which to draw. Said simply, there has been little in the way of my sojourn that hasn’t involved a fair amount of frustration. I know we could compare and contrast conditions of third world countries and we’ll do that another time.

I remember when I was a young boy of around 8, I had this intuitive revelation that it was okay to just chat and visit with God. I spoke to him like I would speak to any of you; as a friend. I shared my frustrations and He listened. I commanded Him to fix it and He would chuckle and say “I will.” When it didn’t happen on my time table, frustration grew. Back to the “outer courts” I would stomp to express my disappointment in Him. “I thought I could count on you! I thought you said you would fix it! I thought you loved me! I thought You were God and could fix anything!” His gentle response was “You can.” “I did and I will.” “I do.” “I Am.” It all seemed shallow at times until I came to understand the magnitude of the “I Am,” His perspective on my life, and His bigger-than-I-could-ever-imagine investment in me. I began to learn the principle of surrender. For a young man with a point to prove and a huge chip on the shoulder, surrender was rarely an option. Learning it has been, and continues to be, something of a challenge.

About three years ago we had a minister from New Zealand at our church who operates in the gift of exposing others. I’m kidding - he has a prophetic anointing that is married to encouragement. He spoke to many individuals that day from the platform, including my oldest daughter and me. We had never met this man yet through the revelation of the Holy Spirit he began to speak of things only God could have known. As he was talking to my daughter I was gob-smacked with the accuracy of his statements. He moved on and spoke to a few others and then came back to me. He spoke of a knot of frustration he could see in my belly. He said that God was going to undo the knot. He was right on. The knot had replaced a river of living water and had dammed it shut. Frustration brings spiritual constipation. Before you know it toxins and waste fill your heart and mind. Cynicism creeps in and you get creepy or snotty or angry or resentful or all of the above. Red flags go up where white ones should reside.

Surrender. That’s what I love about the charismatic worship experience. When I lift my hands, I surrender my pride, my territory, my vessel, and my kingdom to Him, and to His. I surrender all. It’s hard. It sucks, and yet it rocks. When I fully surrender my frustration with my situation, I find myself in the position of eager expectation. Once again I dance in the Holy of Holies with my Father and best friend instead of pacing the outer courts with my selfish ambitions and petitions. As I groan inwardly I can love outwardly. I am enabled to look past the tip of my nose and see the Father and coming King, and my brothers and sisters. I remember my adoption papers are signed with my name in the Book, so I wait eagerly for His appearance. Hope is restored. Hope melts frustration.

Eagerly I wait patiently in hope…in surrender.