Planning His Escape

Over the last few years, it became pretty clear to me that my dad had already made plans for his escape. It had become apparent that as this world grew dimmer for him, the call for him to come home had grown louder. So just after his 88th birthday, I experience him now . . . as absent from the body and present with the Lord. He is now realizing his heart’s desire – to know face to face what his faith had long confessed . . . that a life set free from the confines of this world is more wonderful than our minds could ever hope to imagine.

My father was not a great man, at least not in the common way greatness is thought of, but he was a good man, who loved the Lord and desired to do his will, as best as he knew how. I would do well to have my life measured favorably in just this way. He was a man of many flaws. So I will not pretend that he was some larger than life, heroic figure – because he most certainly would not have wanted to be remembered in that way. He knew all too well his own flaws and failings, but he also knew them to be an integral part of his redemptive story. He knew that ultimately the power of God is given far more glory when shinning through our weakness and brokenness.

He had a keen intellect, an affable personality, and a very expressive passion. But for me it is his wisdom that will linger longer and continue to speak into my life when all else has faded from memory. Because the wisdom he imparted to me shaped me into the man I am today. Here are just a few examples:

He taught me that it wasn’t enough to simply think – but I must be willing to think about my thinking . . . to be willing to examine carefully why it is I choose to think the way I do. He knew that our superficial beliefs require the scrutiny of intellectual honesty – but that can only happen if we are humble enough to hold intellectual honesty in high regard.

29314639_10155360297538202_5939009862703775744_nHe taught me that our whole life is spent trying to figure out how to get out of our own way – and that most of us don’t even know that’s what we’re trying to figure out. So not only was this excellent advice in regards to a golf swing (something my father was constantly tinkering with) – but it offers a unique insight about the human psyche. A primer for how I might begin to work through my own psychological and emotional baggage and in turn help others identify the many ways they sabotage their own lives.

He taught me that people choose to believe what they want to believe. And even though most folks like to imagine that they’ve chosen their beliefs after having carefully weighed all the evidence and having logically come to a conclusion – in truth, it has been their passions that have been leading them to their beliefs, all along. Because self-deception is inescapable.

And if you pull a thread through these three examples you’ll likely discover the unifying principle he was trying to convey to me – that I must always be honest with myself . . . so as to have an uncluttered appreciation for God’s presence in my life. So I learned to seek a naked honesty, because after all, God always sees us naked, stripped of all the subterfuge and pretense we clothe ourselves in. He sees our failures and flaws, and all of the many broken places inside of us — and yet, he loves us with a love beyond measure . . . and my father was a great expression of what that kind of love actually looked like . . . I guess that was something else my dad taught me.

. . . and now he gets to see the wide open vista that awaits us


The Seduction of Merit (9 of 9)

When a star athlete signs a record breaking contract, you can bet dollars to donuts, that for the next couple of seasons, if not longer, that this athlete will turn in a sub-par performance – history has demonstrated this time and again. There’s an additional psychological burden in play here – a cheering fan base can quickly become a jeering mob if a player receiving an above average compensation, turns in an average performance.

In this way the shifting weight of expectations can tip the scales out of balance – where the reward for doing something well enjoys a short lived accolade . . . disappearing into a disenchanted “What have you done lately?” Success, when caught in this type of performance loop, begins to resemble the Sisyphus Stone – you arrive at the top after having given everything you have to get there . . . only to realize that you’re not allowed to stay.

But this is only the most conspicuous permutation of the performance paradigm, a paradigm that, in truth, is subtly infused into every relationship we’re in. We come into this world seeking affirmation, only to discover that affirmation is the coin of the relational realm. Extending and withholding affirmation is often the subtext of how we conduct our relationships – more than we’d like to admit. Earning favor is what we assume is expected of us . . . because it’s exactly what we expect of others.

So it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out how this can become a perverse distortion of our own sense of worth and significance – to allow our own value to be measured in terms of what we deserve and what we can merit. And then because that’s not insidious enough – we measure everyone else’s value by creating our own criterion for how they are to merit our approval, respect, and love . . . and in so doing we end up sabotaging every relationship we’re in.

165493383It’s a very seductive notion to believe we have the right to determine someone else’s value, as if a person’s innate value was something that could be negotiated on our own terms. Now, this isn’t something we consciously do, but it is a dynamic at work subverting relationships, all the same . . . as it is one of the most egregious vestiges of the fall. When our relationship with God was lost, we lost the ability to know ourselves as valuable — because that value is completely predicated on being made in His image . . . so everything since has been our vain attempt to make what is broken work as it was intended.

This is what makes the gospel such good news – that in being reconciled to God we can begin to remember what our real significance is, and how that significance can’t be merited, but is immutably established by God . . . which means that any attempt to determine someone else’s value apart from this is in direct conflict with God’s assessment. In this way, the admonition of Jesus for us to love one another as he has loved us (John 13:34), and the syllogism of 1 John 4:12 “No one has ever seen God: if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” – gives us no room for imposing our own system of merit . . . and in the presence of such love — why would we?

What he offers, we could never earn . . .