I dropped my pen in my journal and snapped the elastic band around it. The plane's lurching to every point of the compass required it. I'd been writing for hours and my hand was tired. Having spent the last twelve days out of country I was finally arriving back home in San Antonio to my family, weary and thankful for this trip's conclusion.
But I was now reluctant to leave my seat. Over the previous 12 hours of flight Father had been pouring into me revelation of Himself He'd kept concealed until this exact time.
What happened through the pages of my journal was that my eyes were opened to see a lifetime of brilliant fathering come together in a way that today, on Father's Day 2018, leaves me more deeply in love with my first and truest Father than ever before.
Beloved Son Again
Over the last decade or so, God has been inviting me back into boyhood. Every wise father knows it's the only place a man's journey into true strength can start, and who but God the Father can make this possible for a man already grown?
So He invited me to be His beloved son again, both re-awakening and then quenching my long ignored thirst for beauty and adventure. The boy scout and poet inside me now feels free to clamber over rocks in search of a new horizon that whispers something fresh of the nature of God. Now when I find a landscape that speaks, I am learning to just sit with Him in silence and allow the revelation to consume me. I would never have done that years ago. Life moved too fast to enjoy the boyish gift of wonder.
This rescue of the boy inside me has been a recovered treasure, my favorite gift from the Father, ever. With every fresh page of my journals I see more clearly how the beloved son season is prologue to the work and adventures to come. It's what made a ministry adventure in Norway even possible.
A word about northern Norway: It is "bru-tifal", my word to attempt to describe it's brutal beauty. The population is scarce because few have the fortitude to live there. The only way to sit and behold Norway's coastline is with a humble awareness of your fragility. It is a "thin place" whose cold attraction allows human participation only when it is in a good mood. The smooth contours of the fjord-cut mountains testify to the inconceivable forces of ice, pressure and time that have wielded a power as vexing as the one that pounded out stars and atoms. When I first saw this landscape I was intimidated by it's power, but since then it's warm people and cold tundra have come to feel comfortably familiar.
That trek to the Finnmark in 2016 was for ministry purposes, the third in three Summers. But while this pristine and haunting landscape is one I will never tire of exploring, the novelty of that third trip felt strangely lackluster next to the slower pace Summer offered here in Texas with my family. But during the course of those flights home, something seismic had shifted in my heart.
After 10 days plus 37 hours of travel, 4 in-flight movies, nine pages of writing, and many many hours of headphone worship, I hurriedly scribbled one last line into my journal on June 24, 2016.
Some crucifixion required
Truth be told I've spent most of my life trying to avoid being overlooked. To not feel seen by others has always felt to me like death, so in response I had crafted for myself a unique and indispensable identity, and then stayed busy promoting myself. I know I'm not alone in this. We all do it, compensate for what we fear we are, or are not, and we tend to call it our "personality".
This "personality" we cobble together most often is built on what we feel we do best. I leaned heavily on my giftings of being thoughtful, creative, intense and a good listener, but while I looked pretty together to most people, under the hood I was really a sponge. I had become skillful at using subtle control and manipulation to emotionally drain others in an attempt to stay saturated with their affirmation. It is a painful memory to think about, and the enemy would have me make camp in the shame of it.
This false self always produces a thoroughly unsatisfying lifestyle of exhaustion and repeated defeats. And my particular brand of coping had a murderous contempt for joy. With all my strategies to secure a kind of "life" on my own, I was actually losing it, just as Jesus warned (MT 16:25). Only now after years of humbling myself in pursuit of truth can I see the folly of this self-promotion. But clarity does not equal restoration. You can be crystal-clear about your broken-ness and at the same time feel as hopeless as ever. And this is why we need both a Savior and a Father.
In dedication to the painful but necessary crucifixion of my personality, the Father had spent the previous 14 years squeezing my sponge until it was painfully empty, so He then could fill it with Himself. The new "beloved son Jay" is learning, s - l - o - w - l - y, to be filled with Father's validation, but the old Jay still attempts resurrection time and again. While a new life is available, there is a voice of evil ceaselessly bargaining to cut a deal and settle for an "improved man" instead of the "True Man".
Like the chiseled Arctic coastline, and like Jesus himself, God's sons are born again and then disciplined in full view of the world. God's intention is that we become attention grabbing revelations of some aspect of His nature and goodness that can be seen nowhere else. This is, in part, what inspired St. Irenaeus to write
"The glory of God is man fully alive."
But to become fully alive you must first die and be resurrected.
A New Name
Just prior to the trip my spirit was quickened while reading Psalm 51 where David repents and begs God for restoration. Eugene Peterson's "The Message" captures it this way:
"Give me a job teaching rebels your ways,
so the lost can find their way home."
With the speed and indelible nature of cattle being branded, the Father playfully yet seriously whispered the name "Rebel Leader" into my soul.
If that sounds new or crazy, it's not. Scripture is filled with such instances where a change in ownership results in a name change. God was giving me a small piece of His vision for me, something tangible to work toward. It was also an inside joke between two friends trading well-timed soundbites from favorite movies. His reference was super clear as my mind made the jump to light speed, instantly taking me to the cockpit of Luke Skywalker's X-Wing, helping lead a Rebellion against the evil Empire. I cherish that playful and perfectly aimed revelation, but plainly understood what He was asking:
"Son, will you help me bring my other boys home? They are lost and they do not know my heart for them."
And my heart leapt in response "Of course Papa. With your help I can do this."
Having heard God speak so clearly, I felt the tide turning as some long awaited truth was finally accessing the innermost parts of my soul. Hearing what God has to say changes things dramatically.
And that's what had made this third trip to Norway different than the previous two: I was finally able to experience the critical value of my participation in God's work, but without the self promotion or the accompanying self-contempt I'd formerly punished myself with.
After 44 years of trying to be liked, I felt miraculously released from the historic pursuit of people's affirmation. This time I knew my motive had not been to feel significant or to be noticed, but I was instead simply responding to my Father's heart for other men like me, who were also trying to find their way back home.
Contrasting the methods of cultural Christianity to God's methods, I have learned these 2 powerful truths:
1. Crucifying the old man is impossible if you have no vision for the New Man that Father is inviting you to become.
2. The love of God is a more creative craftsman than the fear of man. And stronger too. The supremacy of God's vision for your life is untouchable.
The "New You" God is resurrecting is truer, lighter and far less burdened of heart than the old. Could the explanation of God's patient love with us be anything other than that His gaze is always fixed on this new you, and never on the old you? As a friend explained to me,
"God is always relating to the man you are becoming, the one He can already clearly see, but that you have not yet had the deep pleasure to meet."
God sat in Seat 36B
The pace of these trips overseas allows little time for reflection, so on the return flights home I always take a trip into my journal and ask God "What was this trip all about?"
My search is aided by simple questions like:
Why did you bring me on this trip?
What was my greatest perceived need on this trip?
Did I leave my family well, feeling loved and protected?
What fears did I encounter?
Was I well prepared?
Will I ever go back?
God, was your mission through me accomplished?
The answers to these questions serve to reveal a lighter me and a bigger God each trip. I am beginning to live out discipleship as Dallas Willard so succinctly defines it:
"It is more of me belonging to more of God."
Once my hand got tired of writing I threw on my Bose headphones, closed my eyes and was taken to another place as I listened to Shane and Shane ("Psalms Vol.2") for hours. As soon as the music started, tears of joy began to flow and I did not want them to stop. I can't recall a time of such prolonged intimacy and peace with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
As never before I felt the Father giving rest to my weary heart, vanquishing fear, and offering profoundly comforting words of encouragement. Right there in seat 36C I knew myself to be completely loved, in no need to perform, in perfect union with Him, and nearer to heaven than I have ever felt. It was a state of joy and universal peace I didn't know was possible.
It was in this state of heart and mind that my hands penned that last line in my journal...
“God, I don’t want to get off this plane... Thank you for your rescue.”
Who do you say that I am?
God was not finished, but had another diamond to uncover.
Recently I've come to recognize a major difference in the Western and Eastern way of thinking. Our Western thinking, born from the Greeks, has the tendency to describe God using adjectives like "loving, powerful, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and just." While not inaccurate in describing the nature of God, they are impersonal, difficult to picture in the mind and embrace with the heart.
How exactly do you picture God as "omniscient" in your mind?
These adjectives, while true, are also statements Satan himself could use to describe God. However, in Eastern thinking, the same question "How would you describe God?" would be answered very differently. More like King David:
“The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior— from violent men you save me... I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies. -2 Samuel 22:1-4
Add to David's descriptions others used by other sons, including Jesus, who knew the Father intimately:
"My Bread, Water, Shelter, My Mountain, My Shepherd, My Father, My Everlasting Light, Lion, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, the Way, Truth, Life, River of Life, Advocate..."
These descriptors of God are nouns, concrete, and deeply personal pictures that come from a man's life story in which God has come through, miraculously meeting a man in his time of deepest need, slaying his enemies and feeding his body and soul in a dry and weary land. They also describe the intimate relationship between father and son.
Such concrete confessions of who God is cannot be used by Satan, which gives them a unique power in battle. In response to this new teaching I felt an invitation to discover a new name to offer back to my God...a personal picture that symbolizes His heroic role in my story and celebrates His rescue of my life.
And then it came to me as I was reflecting on these Norway trips.
On day two of the hike out of Mehamn, we camped on a beach at the end of a long deep valley lined with gently curving mountains. The slopes and valley were strewn with the oddest boulders whose shape and appearance are what you might imagine a dragon's egg might look like.
I have a long history with stockpiles of rock. I owned a company that measured them with lasers for 12 years. I stood on piles of stones that were perfectly manicured, as if an artist had been given the keys to a massive bulldozer and then managed to somehow sculpt them without scratching even one.
These massive piles were perfectly contoured, perfectly stacked and made of equally gorgeous rocks, smoothed to an unusual roundness. Days later I asked some locals how this was possible and they informed me they'd been rounded and smoothed long ago when massive, unstoppable sheets of ice peeled the rock from every impeding surface and tumbled them hundred of miles to the shoreline where they lay, now each individually painted with intricate patterns of green and white moss. I could kick myself today that I did not think to take a picture of these piles.
I was standing on what once had been a mountain, now sentenced by the power of God to reside in the sea. The mountains had been brought low and the valley had been raised up. In His playfulness what He revealed to me, right there in seat 36C, was that He had three times taken me to the other side of the globe to reveal the metaphor for the colossal re-landscaping God was up to in my heart.
And I was able to supernaturally answer the question Jesus asked to Peter. "Who do you say that I AM?"
"God You are My Glacier."
In God you have a Father, an Advocate, a slow and unstoppable force with the desire and power to level mountains you thought were impassable, who uses the shattered pieces of those mountains to raise up the humble places that have long plagued you with shame and fear. He is smoothing the rough places and giving us, His sons, ever greater access to Him on the ancient path.
Brother, we are meant to be fjords, staggering channels that reveal God's love and massive power to reshape a man's life, bearing evidence to all that God will make a way through impossible terrain to help a man find the ancient path that will lead back home.
So what is your impossible?
Truth be told, God is already at work here.
And what is God's new, true name for you?
His answer will change the course of your life.
And what life-changing metaphor is Father wanting you to discover by asking you this deeply personal and powerful question:
"Who do YOU, (insert your name here) say that I AM?
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it.
-Jesus (MT 16:15-18
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
I will go before you and will level the mountains;
I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron.
I will give you hidden treasures,
riches stored in secret places,
so that you may know that I am the Lord,
the God of Israel, who summons you by name.
...Jesus answered. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.
Happy Father's Day Papa! Who is like you? Absolutely none. I love you. Thank you that you are both willing and able to make the impossible possible. According to your love for me, carry on to completion this work of construction You have so powerfully begun in me. Continue the excavation process. Whatever the cost, You have my permission, as long as You continue to walk beside me as You always have. You have actually made this painful death process a pleasure. Thank You God for your massive and powerful love and pursuit of my soul.
Love you Pa,