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Cakes, red meat, and fresh neckties fly off the shelves this week. I’m grateful for the ease with which I could choose a card for my wonderful dad. But many struggle with this weekend’s holiday. I heard a comedian wish aloud for a card without overstated accolades, reading something like, “Well, Dad, I guess you did the best you could.”

Others experience deeper strife than choosing an appropriate card. Father’s Day torments the orphaned, abused, or widowed. A strong sense of loss comes with grieving a beloved man or aching over the empty hole never filled by a father’s love.

God never designed fatherhood to hurt us. Nor did He intend for the role to fill a permanent need. Fathers were built into our life cycle design as a model to help us better understand significant aspects of our relationship to the Ultimate Father. A temporary model to help explain the source Who fulfills our needs forever. The Creator employs earthly dads to point their children toward relationship with a heavenly Father. Dads are meant to serve as imperfect place-holders to demonstrate the role of Our Perfect Father who will fulfill our needs forever. Where humans can only attempt to provide, God sustains us with a sufficiency beyond our expectations. Whether you have a good, hurtful, or missing one, Christ offers us all access to intimate, fulfilling relationship with a Perfect Father. No one needs to remain fatherless.

Mothers raise and nurture children, also conveying certain God-head characteristics when fulfilling their roles well. Some of the Lord’s qualities can be modeled by both parents, in different ways. For the sake of Father’s Day, let’s focus on specific divine attributes reflected in the ideal design of a father’s role.  These include protection, provision, discipline, and fatherly love.

“The Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went” (Deuteronomy 1:31).

In Deuteronomy, we see the Lord’s provision and protection described in tandem. Earthly fathers are engineered for provision and protection, but cannot meet all physical or spiritual needs for a growing individual. Human insufficiency illuminates our need for God as the ultimate resource. Like a good dad, God doesn’t indulge our every desire, but only He can sustain us by identifying and meeting our true needs. Responsible fathers try to protect their kids without insulating them from opportunities to grow. While we might experience hardship, the Lord can use our struggles toward increasing our strength. He alone can guard us against the forces of evil.

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
    and do not resent his rebuke,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
    as a father the son he delights in” (Proverbs 3:11-12).

Discipline wasn’t fun when our parents delivered it. We often shrink from the notion of loving rebuke from God. Unlike the unreliable outcomes of human correction, our heavenly Father only sets boundaries which offer increasing benefit to us. His guidance prevents disaster and steers us toward glorious, abundant life. Sinful tendencies resemble nits in our hair, and the Lord removes them as often as we allow Him to comb them out.

As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13).

Ideal dads show some compassion to their kids. Many never experienced this quality during childhood. Even those who had caring fathers didn’t get selfless adoration at all times. People in this broken world love imperfectly. Why did Scripture offer this insufficient analogy? Because the ancients living in Old Testament period needed a relevant starting point for understanding their relationship with God. Before Christ set aside His glory to dwell among us in human form, nothing on earth came close to the love of God. Jesus alone offered exact representation of the Father’s love.

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Unconditional. Suffering when we hurt. Willing to suffer for us. Selfless. Unlimited. Over-the-top. Amazing. Beyond all our imagination can comprehend. Blowing all other concepts of love out of the water. THAT is the love our Father extends to us.

This weekend, while honoring those designed to point toward heaven, consider the gift of the cross. Christ’s outstretched arms leave no one excluded from access to a perfect Father. If you’ve never accepted the ultimate love gift of eternal life, let this be your opportunity to respond to Jesus’ scarred hands and receive His embrace. It only takes a simple but sincere prayer, like, “I need You, Jesus. I’m all yours.”

Today could begin your endless Father’s Day.

“Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you will not fall into temptation.’ He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed,  ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. ‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them. ‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation’” (Luke 22:39-46).

On the eve before His crucifixion, Jesus knew each detail of the unprecedented suffering awaiting Him. Jeering pagans would scourge him until near death. The priests who claimed His Father as God would insist they strip and kill Him. He would drag a beam through the dusty streets, as those He suffered to rescue spat upon His battered body. His raw flesh nailed to rough wood, He would hang to suffocate in the blistering sun. And that wasn’t the worst of it. He would also bear the immeasurable weight of every sin from the advent of time until the distant end of all days. Incomparable physical, emotional, and spiritual agony.

Jesus foresaw all this as He poured the Passover wine. Three years of cherished moments with these men culminated in this final message.He ripped the bread and explained its secret meaning to blank stares. In conclusion, He handed the elements to the dear friends who would soon abandon Him.

The scent of roast lamb floated through the streets. Jesus led them beyond the hard-packed roads until the murmurings faded and lush grasses eased their steps. With the steep incline, His legs strained under the added weight of His coming journey. They settled under a favorite cluster of trees in the garden. Gentle breezes lulled His full-bellied companions into repose. Jesus offered a vital exhortation to his too-comfortable students.

“Pray that you will not fall into temptation.”

He surrendered Himself in a crucial prayer. Angels responded to strengthen Him. Christ continued His fervent interaction with the Father. Until—

Every nerve and hair prickled as He recognized this moment. The time had come.

Jesus returned to wake his dozing supporters. Yes, He realized their frailty. But He must impress the concept of crucial prayer. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

Christ’s insistence upon prayer at this moment renders it a crucial matter. The word ‘crucial’ derives its significance from its parent term, crucifixion. Though comprehension eluded the disciples until after the resurrection, we now benefit from Christ’s magnificent teaching delivered on Maundy Thursday. He

  • Forgiveness. He fulfilled the secret meaning of Passover as the Messiah Lamb Who redeems us from the consequences of sin. Despite impending betrayals and our continued undeserving nature, He demonstrated ultimate grace.
  • Service. He modeled the nature of a servant, explaining an additional impact of His coming sacrifice as providing inspiration for selfless living.
  • Submission. He surrendered Himself in prayer to the Father, Who strengthened Him to face unimaginable agony. During His crucial prayer, the Lord sent angelic support.
  • Crucial Prayer. He exhorted His followers to pray against temptation. He knew the trials awaiting them in the coming season. He knows prayer is our essential resource to fortify and equip us foll all that lies ahead.

This Maundy Thursday, as you reflect upon Jesus’ message to the disciples at the Last Supper and Gethsemane, will you join me in committing to a discipline of crucial prayer?

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And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Ephesians 6:18).

A dust cloud thundering with hooves approaches from the horizon. Screams erupt as the grey shadow roars through the towns just ahead of us. The war razes our land. And we stand in its path.

Helmets glimmer with our Kingdom crest, announcing our identity and preserving our minds. Shoulder to shoulder, our formation aligns reliable breastplates to guard our line against infiltration. We dig our heels into the position set for us. Magnificent swords ring out as soldiers draw and flash them into the sun’s brilliance. Shields high, we hold onto hope as the first legion arrives.

One shield quivers–mine. I feel the oncoming stampede rattling through my boots and into my knees. The beastly snorts fall within earshot, and I imagine the heat of their breath on my neck. There must be something more I can do than watch them pillage the countryside. Something more than waiting in fear like this.

I have a weapon to fend off the evils near enough to grab my throat. I tighten my sweaty grip on the hilt. The Word gleams, ready for hand-to-hand combat. Yet, like any other moment on this battlefront, this is no time to worry. I must engage my long range weapon. My armor-piercing javelin of prayer whooshes through impossible miles of darkness. In the village alley, a howl ends with a whimper as prayer strikes the enemy’s heart.

Ephesians lists all other elements of Roman armor by name, but leaves the obvious last piece of the analogy to assumption. Readers could easily follow the list and draw the final correlation. Soldiers wore one set of protective gear, carried one shield, and brought one sword to the battle. The final element stood out in memory as their exclusive long range weapon. Most soldiers carried at least two javelins. The armor-piercing spearhead broke through enemy formations and set up a victorious momentum before the onset of battle.

Like the ancient warrior, repeated use of long range artillery grants me an advantage. My arsenal carries as many javelins as I choose to throw. The limitations of prayer’s impact lie within my field of awareness. Focus, Tina, and remember to keep hurling those spears. I must identify areas of potential attack and pray for other victims of war.

I also need to resist distractions which hijack my focus. Lifting up  concerns that enter my mind while praying can add to my conversation with God. The risky mental detours occur when I’m not praying and serve to prevent or shorten my intimate moments with the Lord. These can include things like hurry, anxiety, or selfish attitudes. Complacency ranks high among focus-derailers, as do those less obvious forms of idolatry we modern folks fail to recognize.

As Paul warned the early Christians, we share the same need to “be alert.” A self-check habit can help identify distractions curtailing prayer. Once a week, reflect on prayer habits and note any trends. Keep track of attitudes or priorities encroaching upon quiet time with Jesus.

War rages, both in our personal space and beyond us. The world stands in desperate need of armor-piercing prayers. I need yours, you need mine, and the shrill cries of victims roil in the dark clouds across the earth. Let’s not neglect our greatest advantage. We can take up these final weapons together, encouraging one another to remain focused and engaged.

 while I was still in prayer, Gabriel . . . came to me in swift flight” (Daniel 19:21).

“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matthew 21:22).

“Jesus . . .  rebuked the impure spirit . . . He replied, ‘This kind can come out only by prayer’” (Mark 9:25-29).

“The angel answered, ‘Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God'” (Acts 10:4).

“prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.  Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:15-16).

“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer” (1 Peter 3:12).

“The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand” (Revelation 8:4).

20140521_164204Bridges draw my eyes up and across their magnificent structures. Age and wear tug at my slumbering imagination, inspiring me to wonder at a bridge’s creation and years of shouldering live burdens toward safety. The builder invested careful engineering before setting the first stone at its foundation. Intense toil erected its magnificent path. The suffering laborer knew his work would provide means to cross a treacherous divide. For those who would follow his work, the bridge offered freedom from grave pitfalls below. The number of bridge goers would continue to increase beyond the end of the worker’s life. How many life stories plodded across this divide? Who paused to gaze into the ravine below and consider the passion required to secure their way?

So it is with our Bridge to Eternal Hope. Our Father, the Great Bridge Builder, engineered our way as soon as its need began. When sin ruptured the earth and triggered an epic collapse, a ravine gaped between the Father and His children. Deadly pitfalls threatened us, and we could not reach Him. The Father placed each stone with precise engineering, His heart empassioned to carry His children home securely. At the perfect moment, He set the Cornerstone which would never falter. Christ toiled and suffered, rending His body as building materials for the cross beams. He crafted a bridge to traverse the impossible divide.

We no more need linger on this forsaken shore. The passage welcomes us, drawing our wondering eyes up and over its secure structure. Let’s cross together with thankful and joyous hearts, pausing to cast a tearful gaze across the ravine. Thank You, Lord, for making the Way for us.

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

 

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. ..But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,  made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christand seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,…For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:1-9

“God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.” 1Timothy 2:3-6

She brushed past us in the school hallway. Her shoulders sagged beneath the weight of brimming tears. Flushed cheeks and nose betrayed her struggle to withhold sobs. She avoided eye contact.  The girl continued down the hall in silence, as if she hoped to take cover before the cry burst forth.

Did she know I prayed for her? As a complete stranger to her, I didn’t dare stop her or say anything that might add embarrassment to her morning. Of the dozen sorrow triggers I can imagine for high school orientation, I had no idea which one crushed her heart. I cannot say whether she whisked home without a single friend to ask what was wrong. I don’t know where she broke open to release that imminent flood of tears.

Perhaps the girl believed her stifled cries went unnoticed. If so, I pray she learns the truth. Though she’ll never know I cared, may her heart come to know One Who loves her without limit. If she sobs in a subterranean cave or weeps at the bottom of the sea, His heart will feel each stab of her pain. No cry is hidden from His ear.

I plead with the Holy Spirit to bring her a friend who will impart Christ’s love to her. She should not continue to feel unheard, unseen, or alone in her suffering. In more ways than one, she is not alone. Far too many people struggle in silent isolation from others, unaware of how precious they are to God. Christ reaches toward the lost and broken with compassion-scarred hands. I wish more people knew that He hears every moan and cherishes each tear as part of His own heart’s pain.

We can become the flesh of His embrace, reaching out to share love with the outcasts and the crushed souls. Whether today’s call is to prayer, an intimate conversation, or a blog post, the Spirit will prompt us. Offer hope. Show them Who cares. Though culture insists on qualifications like intelligence, vigor, or status, God seeks heartfelt obedience. Those who listen to the Spirit can brighten the world. One shivering soul at a time. In these chilling times, a throng of suffering hearts depends on us.

 

“The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;he delivers them from all their troubles.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:17-18).

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
     and provide for those who grieve” (Isaiah 61:1-3).

“When they cry out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate” (Exodus 22:27).

“You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted;
    you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed” (Psalm 10:17-18)

Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering” (Isaiah 53:4).

“You Yourself have recorded my wanderings.
Put my tears in Your bottle.
Are they not in Your records?” (Psalm 56:7-8)

 

I glanced at the movie pass offer, displayed on a banner across the bloodmobile.

I just used my last movie pass with my son the other day. Maybe it’s a good day to give blood. I feel healthy, after all, and so much of our community struggles with a cold right now.

I strode into the chapel for worship and prayed for guidance. At the close of the service, I exited the double doors to face the blue bus again. I tilted my head and studied the option.

A whisper descended into my mind’s weak ear. “Not now. Go get a cup of coffee.”

I rounded the corner toward the social hall. I could get some coffee, stand available for a divine encounter, then proceed to the bloodmobile. Halfway down the sidewalk, a boy scout held a posterboard advertisement for a pancake breakfast.

Pancake breakfast? I don’t eat pancakes. I can’t possibly go in there and just get a cup of coffee without getting the scouts’ breakfast. There also won’t be many opportunities to bless or encourage others, since they’ll all be seated at tables with food I won’t be sharing.

I whirled around.

I can get some diet soda while donating blood. That should serve me just as well as coffee.

A nagging uncertainty pricked at my spirit as I marched across the street. I peered inside the bloodmobile at the empty benches.

“I must’ve come at just the right time.” I grinned at the phlebotomist and ascended the steps.

Paperwork and vitals breezed along without issue, but the ease ended there.

“Just a little prick, now,” the technician said.

Familiar with the process, I nodded. “Hope there’s not too much scar tissue. I’ve given blood from that arm many times.”

“Let me get someone to help.” He turned away.

I glanced at the clear tube extending from my arm. “That’s strange.”

The woman who took my paperwork elevated my elbow and jabbed the needle deep into my arm. I winced at the unfamiliar pain level. Needles never bothered me before. The clock ticked past eleven, each passing minute increasing my tardiness to teach the eleventh grade Sunday school class.

“Give the ball a squeeze every few seconds,” he reminded me. “You’re almost done.”

Squeezing sent a jolt through my arm. That’s never happened before. 

When the donation ended, he instructed me to raise my arm for a few seconds. He cleared me to lower it and another technician tried to apply a bandage. Profuse bleeding ensued, so she told me to raise my arm again. That’s never happened before, either.

At quarter past eleven, I hustled to the far building. My sole remaining student waved to me from the classroom across the hall. I joined the other class and apologized. Despite dizziness, I engaged the students with my usual passion for the Word.

I considered running errands after church, but a tug toward home persuaded me to put them off until later in the afternoon. I checked on my son’s cough, worked on some writing, and clipped coupons with no further dizziness.

On my way to the first of my errands, I processed my experience aloud. “I don’t think I’ll give blood again for a long time.”

I considered several shades of thread at the fabric store, but struggled to decide in the poor light. I took two in hand and grabbed a third.

The thought sifted into mind. “Don’t buy a third. Two is sufficient.”

I glanced at the spool. God? My stomach churned. I should go. I replaced the third spool and headed to the check out line.

Customer service hailed me. “I can take you over here.”

As she retrieved my change from the drawer, a tidal wave of nausea overwhelmed me. I knelt and rested my reeling forehead against the counter.

“Do you need a chair?” Three associates rushed from behind the customer service desk.

“Yes, that’d be good. I’m just dizzy all of a sudden…”

“Sit up.”

“Have some chocolate…some Coke…”

I sipped the cola. My gullet resisted the tiny square of candy. “I feel sick…”

A trash can appeared beside the chair. I leaned my head into a dream…things to do…

A crowd of faces hemmed in the fluorescent glare. Linoleum chilled through my tee shirt into my spine and ribs. How did I end up on the floor?

“Are you all right?” A man smiled down at me. “Her color’s looking a bit better now.”

“The ambulance is on its way,” an associate said.

After the EMTs completed their review, my husband arrived from work to support me through the parking lot and drive me home. My son later helped retrieve my car. I spent the unsteady evening in bed.

My failure to tune into the Spirit cost time and energy for countless others. I felt silly and weak, a reminder of my utter dependence on higher strength. Each minor choice carries an  infinite stream of potential contingencies, and God alone foresees them all. When I am tempted to trust my own understanding, I pray His Spirit will bring my public fall to mind. For in my weakness, I must listen.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.” (Proverbs 3:5-8)

May the Lord reward my husband, the anonymous doctor who volunteered his attention, the kind associates at JoAnn’s Fabrics, and Hillsborough County Fire Rescue from His richest treasures of abundant blessings.

“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” Romans 8:15

The term father draws a myriad of emotions from the heart, each one dependent upon past and present relationships. A man who contributed his genes to a child’s physical development might choose to remain present in the child’s life. As a papa, he could shelter, feed, and clothe his child. Some fathers take the full responsibility of nurturing the child’s heart and connecting their spirits to God. These men earn the esteemed title bestowed upon them by their kids–Daddy.

Many daddies have learned to love beyond what their fathers offered them in the past. Present relationships with their own children resonate with beautiful chords of fatherhood instead of the sorrowful tones they experienced from their parents.

Regardless of their pasts, daddies hold a precious opportunity to model heroic love.

Father’s Day brings joy to those of us who had or are devoted daddies. A swelling crowd of aching hearts look on this day with regret, questions. An inner chasm still hungers for approval, security, love. Bitterness often lurks in these empty souls, draining away life and joy. Resentment thwarts current and future attempts to connect with other hearts.

Whether our paternal relationships bring cause for celebration or grief, ending the definition of fatherhood with men delivers grave risk. Human fathers, no matter how heroic, cannot fulfill our needs for love or security. Only God can offer the true love of Abba to our spirits. He alone can meet all of our needs, including renewal from childhood emptiness and pain. Our Heavenly Father exceeds the most heroic man by an unfathomable degree on every point. You name the area of provision, from love to creating life, and He’s outdone all men. Recognizing God’s difference from human fathers bears vital healing for those who didn’t have loving daddies.

He is not at all like your father.

Even if you never realized His presence, Abba has always been there for you. (Psalm 139:5-16)

Even if you didn’t notice His outstretched arms, Abba has always loved you. (Jeremiah 31:3 and John 15:13)

Even if you never listened to Him calling you by name, Abba has accepted you. (Rev.3:20)

Even if you never heard the truth about who you are, Abba extends you a place as a son of God. (Galatians 4:6-7)

Even if you didn’t experience it yet, Abba offers you security. (Psalm 34:7,22 and Jeremiah 29:11, 33:6 and Romans 8:31-39)

God alone can sustain true righteousness, so we have no other with whom to compare His nature. It’s no wonder we fail to grasp how much He differs from men. The truth remains vital to our soul, however. The All-Powerful Creator knows you better than you know yourself, and loves you with extraordinary passion and tenderness.

Whether or not you have a daddy to honor this Father’s Day, take time to celebrate your Abba.