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Tullian

God’s Grace: The Door To Lawlessness Or Freedom?

I wanted to share a excerpt from Jonathan Merritt’s interview with Tullian Tchividjian (Grandson of Billy Graham). It is a fantastic interview with several insightful and thought provoking discussions. I have only listed the first question and response, which is chalk full of valuable thoughts to ponder. I would suggest reading it through the lens of examining your own stance on grace vs. obedience, rather than exclusively focusing on the church’s stance, especially since you and I are critical parts of the church. I hope and pray that this compels you to run more aggressively into the arms of our loving father.

JM: One criticism that has been leveled against the church is that we’ve been more concerned with behavior modification than with grace. Am I correct in saying that you believe this is a valid criticism?

Tullian Tchividjian: There’s no question that for far too long the church has been primarily concerned with external change. Preachers are afraid of grace because they think it undercuts obedience and encourages apathy. If Jesus paid it all and it is finished, if the judgment against us has been fully and finally taken care of, aren’t we opening the door to lawlessness? This is what Judaizers were afraid of: they didn’t like Gospel of free grace because they thought people would get out of control. If God is not mad at me and if he will never love me more than he does right now, then why can’t I party my way through life? The underlying fear is that unconditional grace leads to licentiousness.

While attacks on morality will always come from outside the church, attacks on grace will always come from inside the church because somewhere along the way we’ve come to believe that this whole thing is about behavioral modification and personal moral improvement. We’ve concluded that grace just doesn’t possess the teeth to scare us into changing. As a result we get a steady diet of “do more, try harder” sermons; we get a “to do list” version of Christianity that causes us to believe the focus of the Christian faith is the life of the Christian. So we end up hearing more about “Christian living” than the Christ.

We think this will be what gets people to clean up their act, to fix themselves, to volunteer in the nursery, to obey, to read their Bibles, to change the world–but it actually has the opposite effect. A steady diet of “do more, try harder” sermons doesn’t cause people to do more or try harder…it makes them give up. Legalism produces lawlessness 10 times out of 10.

The fact is, that the solution to restraint-free immorality is not morality. The solution to immorality is the free grace of God. Only undeserved grace can truly melt and transform the heart. The route by which the New Testament exhorts sacrificial love and obedience is not by tempering grace but by driving it home. Charles Spurgeon nailed it when he said, “When I thought God was hard, I found it easy to sin; but when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I beat my breast to think I could ever have rebelled against One who loved me so and sought my good.”

Enjoy the entire interview HERE.

unpcak heart 2

The Glorious Invitation of God

Bring your secrets, bring your scars
Bring your glory, all you are
Bring your daylight, bring your dark
Share your silence
And unpack your heart

~ Phillip Phillips

I’m not sure if this song was written about a guy wanting a gal to feel safe and unpack her heart with him, but that’s not how it landed on me.

To me, this song is a wonderful picture of God’s invitation to us. I don’t need to get myself cleaned up and presentable—if I did, what would be “clean enough”? He wants me just as I am.

He is big enough, gracious enough and loving enough to handle ALL of me. He is not only able to handle my crazy mixed-up heart, but that is his deepest desire! Even my very best friends are unable to offer this and truly deliver the goods.

He is on my side, he longs for me to shed my shadow and rise. He promises to shine his light into my darkness. My deepest regrets are safe with him. He wants all of me. He wants my shame and my madness to tame. He sees true treasure hidden behind the walls that I have constructed.

If anyone knows the real me, it would be him. He’s not bored, disgusted, or irritated by the real me. He desperately wants me to unpack my heart with him and experience his unconditional love and acceptance.

If you want to enjoy an experience of God loving you, listen to this song and feel his heart toward you; hear his glorious invitation to you to unpack your heart.

disappointed

An Unexpected Response

As I sat across the table from my friend, Pastor Randy, I had a tightness in my chest and I was feeling somewhat anxious. I needed to come clean with him on an issue that I had been struggling with. I had finally decided that this issue had snake bitten me too many times and I was going to deal with it. Bringing it out into the light first with God, then my wife and now Pastor Randy, who I didn’t know all that well at the time. I supposed that he would be verbally supportive, but that his eyes would cast shame on me and that he would think long and hard before involving me in any leadership roles at church. What happened next shocked me.

I suppose that my shock was based on several false assumptions about God, Pastors and Randy. Although I knew about God from a life-time of bible studies and I had good experiences with Pastors, I still felt an instinctive sense of shame that trumped everything else. I had somehow constructed a belief that God required me to prove my sincerity through my actions and attitude before his stern look of shame could begin to soften. I’m not entirely sure where I picked that up, but IT WAS NOT FROM GOD. You see, God doesn’t use shame like a club to beat us into submission. He desires to remove shame – a misconception of who we are and what we’re worth. He is also realistic about the need to remove it often. He knows who he is dealing with. He had a plan of redemption from the very beginning. He is never surprised or shocked when I blow it. When I come into the light and agree with him that I have blown it, he is gracious and instantly welcomes me back with open arms and a wide smile. Shocking!

As I sat across the table from Pastor Randy, I quickly got to the matter that was on my heart and spat it out in one long breath. Before I could inhale my next breath, Randy’s eyes lit up with joy and he busted out an ear to ear grin, as he said to me, “Praise the Lord brother, you are free!” I was not expecting that, even in my most optimistic fantasy.

Could this be an appropriate response from a Pastor? How could he greet my confession of a life lived from a selfish, rebellious place with that? I didn’t even get a scripture or a “game plan for change” from him. He heard what I had said, and was genuinely excited for me and what it meant for my relationship with God. He trusted that Jesus had already done all the work and he was wanting to celebrate the victory that Jesus had in my life. No guilt. No shame. Just smiles and celebrating.

As surprising as this reaction was, after I thought about it, this is an exact representation of how God rolls. He celebrates when the prodigal comes home. He doesn’t want us to come into the light so that he can shame us, but so that he can connect with us. The exercise of confession is simply agreeing with God that you’ve made poor choices that are taking you away from him. That’s it.

It is not my declaring that I will do better next time that unlocks the freedom that Jesus purchased on the cross, but rather my confession (agreement with God). While this is not the same as repentance, it is a massive step in that direction. Once I realize that I can release the shame attached to my sin, I am perfectly set up for a U-turn of the heart (A.K.A. repentance). It can be very difficult to complete that U-turn while pulling an overloaded trailer of shame and trying to prove that, “I will do it better next time”.

Even though I have been a believer for more than 40 years, I continue to be amazed and awestruck at God’s generosity and grace towards me. I am so thankful that he chose to show it to me through my friend Pastor Randy. I pray that I can continue to embrace the good news and integrate it like Randy has, so that others may be blessed by God’s image being reflected in me and my reactions.

baby-surprise (2)

God Is Not The Least Bit Impressed

When speaking during a retreat or at one of our Aphesis Group weekend experiences, I will often strongly exclaim, “God’s love and delight for us is deeper than we can ever imagine … however, he is not the least bit impressed with us.” The looks on people’s faces tell me this sometimes sounds confusing. But in reality, our love and affection for our children works the same way.

After only two years of marriage, my wife Renee told me it was her deep desire to start having children. This caused a lot of anxiety for me. I told her I wasn’t ready to be a father; I had enough love for her as my wife but I didn’t have enough love in me for a son or daughter. Reluctantly, I gave in.

Less than a year later, we were in the birthing room at the hospital. With my doubts still very much intact, there I was waiting for this child I didn’t have enough love for to be born. Then it happened. My first daughter arrived. Something happened to me in the first moment of my daughter Savannah’s birth. Love flooded my heart for her. Within the first minute of seeing her I declared to my soul and quietly to the world, “I love this little one with all my heart…I would die for this little girl. If anyone threatens this little one, they will feel the full weight of my wrath.” All doubt about having enough love and about my being a father quickly faded.

Why? What happened?

It’s simple, really. When I saw Savannah for the first time, it took only seconds to realize I was looking at a reflection of my image and the image of the woman (Renee) I adored, and love poured into my heart. Savannah reflected the image of us! She was a product of our love and delight in each other. The births of each of our four children had the same effect on me. To this day, I am as moved and amazed as I was in those first moments. My children are now all adults, but as I look at them I still see this blend of my image and my wife’s image. Its effect on me is still the same. I’m still crazy in love with our image bearers.

At first sight I fell in love with my daughter Savannah; however, I was not the least bit impressed with her. She couldn’t stand up, walk, talk, work, or really do anything of use. As a matter of fact, her deficits far outweighed her assets. She produced all kinds of smelly disgusting messes and didn’t add any productive value to our new family, yet our love and delight in her was deeper than words can adequately express. Our love and delight was not because of her potential or what we thought she would become; our love and delight was in who she was to us AS IS!

It is only after I became a father that I could begin to grasp the mystery of God’s love and delight in me. I am a reflection of his image! God is not the least bit impressed with me or my abilities or what I can do, just as I was not impressed with Savannah’s abilities or what she could do. I’m convinced God is not impressed or favorably influenced by ANY of our gifts, abilities, or accomplishments. He does not love us for what we can do, but rather he loves us with the love and delight of a Creator and, even more so, the love of a father and mother who see in their offspring the image of themselves. God the Father’s love and delight for us goes as deep as his relationship with his Holy Son Jesus. The thought is mind blowing, astonishing, profound, and humbling. Those moments that I can move this thought from my head to my heart are transformational.

 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one  I in them and you in me so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

  John 17:22-24

Waffle-Wisk-Batter

Waffle Rest

I love it when my dad cooks for me. I used to live just minutes from my parents and could enjoy Dad’s cooking frequently, but God’s design for my missionary career now means I live 900 miles away. On a recent trip “back home” to see my family, I stayed with my folks and my dad made me waffles for dinner. The happiness that took over in me as I watched him mix batter, supervise the waffle iron, and prepare bacon and eggs to nestle next to the syrupy goodness that would soon be on my plate, made me reflect on why I sometimes long for him to do this very thing when I am three states away in my own home, feeling homesick. I knew that just a few days later when I was up north in my own kitchen, I would soon feel this longing for him to cook again.

What is it about his cooking for me? About his asking me what I want for dinner, pestering me until I tell him what I am really hungry for? Why was an aching space in me touched to watch him whisk ingredients together and listen to him tell me to clear my work from the table so he could set it with all we would need for a very tasty, but not exceptionally elegant, meal?

I realized that what I get homesick for is my dad’s delight in doing this. He can’t make it fast enough or yummy enough for me. And it’s not because I am selfish or greedy. He just loves to give and I love to receive his delight. I have years of experience and reassurance that my dad knows I don’t need him to cook for me, but that he thoroughly enjoys doing this for me. I have learned to anticipate this act of love and relax in it, offering gently to help but not needing to intervene in his activity and show over and again that I can do it and he need not be bothered.

I wish I would do this more often with God. Sit in his kitchen, let him tend to me, relax in his delighted love and care. Trust that he is pleased to be with me and have me receive his love. Honestly, I spend a significant amount of time telling God how to make “waffles”, rushing in and grabbing the whisk and ingredients, trying to prove my gratitude to him and that he needn’t be bothered about tending to me, as I know he has much bigger and more important things to do. I don’t sit at rest, trusting that he will let me know when to clear the table or do the dishes or crack the eggs, or simply do nothing but bask in his delight. I forget to gently ask and talk with him about what he has for me in the each moment because I am busy rushing to act in hopes that he is not regretful of letting me into his Kingdom or remorseful that he saved such a slovenly servant. I try to earn my keep rather than be his daughter. I try to fill the ache in my own heart, rather than telling God what I am really hungry for and letting him provide precisely from his never-exhausted cupboards.

Thankfully, God is also never exhausted of inviting me to sit once again, rest and wait in his presence, and practice my faith, my active trust, that though there are good works he has prepared for me to do, I am first to fill myself with his delight and love in me as a daughter. God is always making waffles for me.

chicken cup crop

Broken Cups

Sweeping calligraphy. Brilliant Jade. Ornate carvings. Exquisite porcelain. Ancient bronze. Priceless texts.

I walk the halls of the National Palace Museum in Taipei, in awe of the beauty and history. The 650,000+ pieces housed here represent a millennium of imperial collecting by emperors and royal families through four dynasties. The story of the rescue and preservation of these antiquities from The Forbidden City in Beijing is astonishing and miraculous.

My companions and I are in rapt attention as our knowledgeable guide describes the creation of a porcelain cup for the emperor: the precision of lacquer work, the delicate handling of clay and brush. One hundred craftsmen would all fashion the same cup. Then, the master artist presents the three most impressive pieces to the emperor. The imperial leader selects one. The other 99 are destroyed. The broken shards of the “unacceptable” are buried, that no one may replicate or reassemble what the leader has commanded destroyed. No one else may have these pieces of art or utensils that would place them in equal worth with the one known as “the ruler of all under heaven.”

While mesmerized by the beauty, my heart is crushed by the weight of the other 99. How does it feel as an artisan to have the one thing that could potentially make you worthy to the emperor, could bring honor to your family, could bring you from shame and hiddenness, not make the cut? Even the craftsman who is ”chosen” is only as good as his next piece of work. Will he make the cut, be acceptable next time around? Can he repeat his performance?

How grateful I am for a heavenly Father whose cherishing and keeping depends not one bit on performance. He holds and treasures all 100 because He made them with precision of design, delicate handling of heart and soul. In fact, he keeps the 99 safe in his love while he pursues the one who has wandered away, who feels lost and ashamed and unworthy. It is his will that none of his little ones perish (Matthew 18:12-14). Our glorious King calls us wholly acceptable, bestows on us the same love and righteousness as he does his own family, his precious son. When we are held up for inspection and evaluation we are found unique, priceless, and stunning, every broken shard reclaimed and redeemed.

Image credit: www.liveauctioneers.com

father son hug2

Imagined Journal Entries From Home (3 of 3)

A hand embraced my shoulder from behind. Turning me away from the cross toward himself, there stood before me an older man, his face full of strength but with eyes full of understanding and compassion. It was as though his eyes peered into the deepest part of my soul. I can’t fully describe the awe I experienced as I looked into his eyes. When he spoke it was as though a thousand waterfalls were funneled into the voice of a man.

I heard his words clearly say, “Tim, I’m your Heavenly Father … your Abba!” Fear filled my already brittle-feeling soul and once again I fell to my knees. In fear I recoiled. Tears flowed from my eyes … once again in deep shame and guilt of my unworthiness to be standing in the presence of … my Creator! From the voice of a thousand waters, his voice changed to that of a gentle older man.

“Don’t be afraid my son!” Once again, God TOUCHED ME! His hand gently lifted my face. Now standing beside God the Father was Jesus.

Softly, Jesus said, “Tim, we wanted to bring you here to see.”

I looked at him and said, “You’re not …”.

Before I could finish my sentence he said with a smile on his face, “I am not bound by time. This happened long ago.” Lifting me to my feet and facing me toward him, looking into my eyes again, he gently said, “I died for all the guilt, shame, worthlessness and fear you have felt and are feeling right now.”

God the Father said, “Tim … YOU ARE FORGIVEN! YOU’RE FREE!”

At that moment a warm breeze hit my face and embraced … entered … soothed …comforted … filled me in a way I cannot begin to describe. In that moment I felt deeply known, understood, valued, and FULL. It was the Holy Spirit. It was the most incredible, euphoric sense I’ve ever felt. No experience on earth ever came close. In the blink of an eye I was back in the garden but this time not only was I facing God the Son, but he was now in the arms of the Father. I fell to my knees in worship. On my knees in plush green grass with the Tree of Life in the background and enveloped in the summer-like breeze of the Holy Spirit, all I could think to say was “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” Once again an explosion of joy, laughter and laughcry broke out. Present once again in the midst of loved ones we danced, embraced, laughed, cried, and laughcried. We all, including God the Father and Son, joined in song. The green leaves from the Tree of Life swirled around us, carried in the breeze of the Holy Spirit. It was as if everyone in their own spirit continually recounted all the great blessings and gifts given to us, and we sang of God’s forgiveness, love, and grace. We sang with voices full of great joy, tears, and laughter. We danced, we sang, we laughcried, and we embraced for what seemed like days. None of our joyous expressions were borne out of obligation, guilt, or a sense of duty. It all just flowed out of our deeply touched hearts. I could dance and sing and not be tired. It was all real, authentic, and heartfelt. “I am home,” I kept thinking and proclaiming! “I am home.”

Time and paper does not permit me to tell you of all I experienced.

Of all my new friends.

Of all my new discoveries and new perspectives.

Of the people, heroes of the faith with whom I dined. Learning, seeing with my own eyes critical moments of history and the Holy One’s interventions and acts.

Of the first taste of the sweet water from the River of Life.

Of the many reunions, the moments greeting loved ones and friends who took their first bite of the Tree of Life. Reliving through them my first look at Jesus’ face.

Of the deep friendship, camaraderie, and brotherhood we treasured.

I Can FEEL. More deeply and more freely than ever.

I Can SEE WITH SUCH CLARITY.

There is such beauty in this place, in the people here.

I FEEL SUCH TREMENDOUS ENEGY, BUT AT THE SAME TIME … SUCH REST.

We each spent time with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, in groups but also individually; it’s weird.

Do I dare describe our dwelling places?

Do I dare tell of what it’s like to behold the face of the Father?

Do I tell of all that I have learned, conversations with people about whom I have only read?

Do I dare tell of what he has allowed me to see on earth from heaven?

He says that the time is drawing near, the time of the renewing of heavens and earth. We sometimes speak of it here.

He told us we will join him with our loved ones at that time.

He tells us of our new bodies we will receive at the Second Coming.

We (the Saints who have died the second death) will be front and center. What a time that will be. He tells us of the wedding feast and of the New Jerusalem … it’s going to be awesome.

I must go now. Jesus has arranged for me and a few others to sit with Moses. He is going to recount for us his time on earth and what pen and paper could not fully describe of all the Lord did. I dreamed of this time.

If only the Lord would allow me to tell a few moments of what it’s like here to some of my friends and family. Oh, how they would invest their time differently.

P.S. The Father just told me he has already written of it!! Ha ha hah! I guess that’s true! Blessed are those who believe.

What words cannot express,

Your Brother,

Tim

[artwork credit: Charlie Mackesy]

pasture-sunset

Imagined Journal Entries from Home (2 of 3)

I remember I was looking into my dad’s eyes as he told me, “We have so much to talk about, so much to catch up on. Tim, it’s all so incredible …” My dad stopped mid-sentence. His eyes were being drawn to someone behind me. I could tell by the look on his face—a look of excitement, joy, and anticipation—that it was again someone he could not wait for me to see. A joyful, holy hush fell across the crowd. Dad looked back into my eyes and deeply smiled. “Tim, he’s here.”

I turned, and there he was. Though I had never seen him, I knew him with certainty. For the first time I looked into the eyes of the Lord Jesus. He had the same look of joy, gladness, welcome, and anticipation that my dad had on his face. Opening his arms, HE RAN TO ME. He embraced me, lifted me off my feet, and spun me around, saying, “You’re home, you’re home, Tim … you’re home!” He grabbed my face and looked deeply into my eyes and said, “I’ve longed for this moment.”

Spontaneously, my Uncle Jim shouted out, “What eyes have not seen, what ears have not heard, so has he prepared for those who love him!” Then came another shout of joy and laughter from what was now a growing multitude of people. The Lord embraced me repeatedly, and WE BOTH laughcried for what seemed like a long time. I could hardly believe it; he was not only touching me, but he was joyfully, sincerely, and repeatedly embracing and kissing me on the cheeks, forehead, and hands. It was as though he really had longed to see me.

I kept saying “You’re real, this place …”

“PARADISE!” he exclaimed. “It’s real, it’s real … it’s real!!” he said with a deep soulful laugh.

Shortly thereafter, however, it hit me. I REMEMBERED. I stepped away from him and fell to my face before him. I remembered what I had done …

I remembered what I had done—what I had not done—time wasted on my own interests and the people I so deeply hurt. I remembered who I was, things I had said, not said. I thought of those whom I should have told of him … of the Gospel.

“This is all real. I should have lived so differently.” I wept bitterly, repeating to the Lord, “I am so sorry. I am so sorry.”

The crowd around us came to a hush, all of them but Jesus falling to their knees, looking at me with eyes full of compassion. It was as though they knew this moment was coming. They watched as Jesus gently lifted my face with his hand and said, “Tim there is something I want you to see.”

I looked deeply into his understanding and compassionate eyes. In that moment he somehow opened my mind. In a blink of an eye I was there! I was standing before the cross and there he was, naked and his flesh torn with blood flowing from his precious frame, being hung on wooden beams by three nails. I was sickened by such cruelty. There I was in the midst of the crowd watching his crucifixion. The majority of those around me sneered and mocked him. I was filled with horror and panic as I saw him, the one whom so warmly welcomed me and embraced me, the one whom I knew … but now knew deeply, suffering … being mocked and ridiculed. Then he looked down from the cross, and even though I was in a crowd of people below him, it was though he looked just at me. He said in a foreign tongue, yet my mind understood, the words, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” In that moment I felt such agony; in that moment I felt such shame and guilt. I cried out, “NO, NO, bring him down! Do you not know whom this is?”

[Artwork Credit: AngelsLightWorldWide.com]
Wildflowers

Imagined Journal Entries From Heaven (1 of 3)

There are days, some more than others, that I simply need hope! I need hope that there is something bigger and better on the other side of the chaos and pain I often feel. There are times I feel the need to park my mind and focus my attention on heaven, that place where Jesus not only promised our struggles and sufferings will finally end, but also where those struggles and sufferings are valued, weighed, and rewarded. Passages like the one below provide me with a backdrop of sorts, giving me some very pictures to help focus the eyes of my heart.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. …14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.

Revelation 22:2-3, 14

The great hope for every child of God is that one day our time here on earth will pass, and in a blink of an eye we’ll be home, feasting together on the Tree of Life. The older I get and the more I experience what this world has to offer, the more I look forward to heaven. I would like to offer a short series of blogs (based on what I understand from the Bible) that are musings of what I imagine that great moment may be like when I step from this “reality” to the next.

It was as though I awoke from a deep sleep, out of a long dream. A slight breeze brushed across my face and hair as I arose. Deep green blush grass pressed between my fingers as I pushed myself up. I felt the warmth of what I thought was a beautiful sunshiny day. As I took in a long, deep breath, the sweet smell of flowers, green grass, and a freshness in the air like that after a summer rain filled my senses. Wow, I felt so … so … refreshed and rejuvenated. As my eyes cleared I saw … I saw such beauty as I sat in the midst of a beautifully lush garden. Behind me was a tall stone wall that was in and of itself very impressive. The beauty of this place I in which I found myself was breathtaking. The flowers and plant life, the river and waterfall … it was all so beautiful … it’s hard to find words to describe it adequately. Instinctively I reached up to push my glasses closer to my face to get a better look. My glasses weren’t there … yet my vision was crystal clear.

“WHAT’S GOING ON HERE? WHERE AM I?” Confused, yet delighted at what I was seeing and the way I was feeling, I reached for a memory that would give me a clue to where I was and how I got here.

Just beyond me was a tree. It was unlike any tree I had ever seen. It was huge and looked hundreds of years old, but its foliage was deep green and its branches were full of vitality and strength and … some type of strange fruit. “I must get a closer look,” I said to myself. Getting up to my feet and walking toward it, I noticed something quit odd. The pain in my right ankle was no longer there. I had forgotten what it was like to not have that pain shooting through my leg.

As I approached the tree its fruit was unlike any I had ever seen before, but looked so delicious I could not resist. It was like the fruit was screaming out for me to pick it and eat it. Reaching up, I plucked a fruit from the tree and buried my teeth into it.

The moment my teeth sank into the fruit, I heard an explosion of joy and laughter and my EYES WERE OPENED … AGAIN! As I turned, it was as though a great group of people appeared out of thin air.

And I saw them … people I had known from my past but who were … the thought hit me … people who had died. I whispered to myself, “I’m in …?”

“You’re home, Tim,” a man said, with a huge smile on his face. As I looked at him the realization hit me … it was him … it was my dad. My heart leaped within me. I ran to him, throwing myself into his strong arms. As we embraced, we both cried, laughed, and laughcried! From this point on I did a lot of laughcrying.

“Is it really you dad?” I asked through my tears. “Is it really you?”

“It is Tim, it is.” Looking me deeply in the eyes he said, “We’ve been waiting for you, Tim.

“You have two arms, Dad!” (My dad had been born with only one arm). He broke out in joyful laughter and said loudly “I know, I know! Now I can hug you properly!” He gave me a big bear hug and spun me around several times.

Others then joined in to greet me! There was a lot of hugging and laughcrying going on with them as well. Turning I said “Dad, am I …?”

“Yes, you’re home,” he said with a big grin on his face. With that statement, there was another explosion of joy from everyone. It was then Dad paused, and with a huge smile he gently turned my face … and I saw her …

“Mom!!!” I cried out. She rushed toward me and once again I was embraced. “You’re home, you’re home, you’re home!” she exclaimed. I felt warmth, joy, and love like I have never felt it before. We all stood for what seemed like hours, repeatedly embracing and kissing each other on the cheek while laughcrying. I was bathing in warm embrace after warm embrace of relatives and good friends who had died before me, along with their newfound friends. We leaped and danced like children. The spirit there was so genuine, so warm, so real, so joyful. I had never felt so loved, accepted, cared for, and deeply known.

That is until I saw him.

Photo by Kathie Slusser

What’s Behind the Door?

I’ve been praying for a friend for the last 16 years. I’m praying for her salvation, for her to know the one who made her and loves her beyond measure and reason. She’s a dear friend of the family and several years ago she had a conversation with my dad about God and faith. She expressed curiosity and a longing to know if something more was out there, but she wasn’t convinced that it was actually worth pursuing; what would she find? My dad told her to just push on the door; if there’s a door in front of you, push on it and see what’s behind it. It can’t hurt to find out what’s behind the door. She has started hovering around the door a bit more lately, but is still tentative to actually press in. She and I had a recent conversation once again about faith and I reminded her of my dad’s words. I invited her to be brave because God can be trusted. “Just push on the door.”

In another conversation about two weeks later, I shared with a different friend about several decisions that I’ve been wrestling with. As we talked, I was surprised that when I slowed down to look at why I was having a tough time making some choices, there was fear underneath my indecision and immobility. Fear of failure and embarrassment, fear of being unproductive with my time, fear of being off track (okay, wrong) about what God actually wants. As we spoke I said, “I don’t often ask God very specific questions. I tend to be kind of vague and just say ‘Wonder what you’re up to God. I wonder what you think about this.’ I don’t ask him to actually show me things, to actually answer me.”

Standing outside my car door, my gentle friend smiled and said, “Because you’re afraid he won’t answer.” My eyes popped open wide and a grin fell across my face as I shook my head. Suddenly I saw it.

I, too, am afraid to push on the door. I, too, am afraid that he won’t be real enough, personal enough, invested enough, caring enough. The instincts in my heart that I can’t always see and name still influence how I see him. And I don’t always press in to find out that he is good and that he can be trusted, the very thing my heart most wants to know.

Friends who speak his truth, who remind me of who he really is and how he sees me, help me come back to his presence. And God himself never stops pursuing my heart. I have growing and learning to do, just like the precious friend for whom I pray. We both get a chance to push on the door and see more of who he is, how he loves, and what grace overcomes.