If you would’ve predicted seven years ago that today I’d not only be involved in a Christian ministry but get up in front of a roomful of broken people and try to convince them only Jesus can put them back together again I would’ve suggested you get your head examined ASAP. Yet God puts me in that position time and time again. For some crazy reason He trusts I won’t stumble over my tongue and fail to communicate His hope-filled message of salvation. Has He empowered me with the wisdom, charisma and strength of an apostle? Not on your life. Truth be known, most of the time I feel I sound like what Paul described as “…a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). Thus I figure the Holy Spirit is in some way taking my public speaking inexperience and supernaturally transforming it into something He can use to further God’s will. I can sympathize with Brennan Manning’s self-assessment; “I continue to marvel at the many people who have allowed me to enter the inner chamber of their hearts because they’ve been able to recognize Jesus hidden in me.”
God knew what He was doing, though. He led me to a place where I could be my rarely profound, frequently unintelligible self and still be a serviceable gear wheel in His plan. That place is Celebrate Recovery. There I’ve been put in a situation where my trust in Him is of the utmost importance. Foremost, I have to trust that, since I’ve asked Him to, God’s working through me. His presence is the only way those who’ve come seeking help for their debilitating hurts, hang-ups and habits will gain at least a vague impression I’m doing the best I can to tell them the truth about Christ. If they don’t trust I’m being honest about genuine help, both divine and human, being readily available I’m not going to make any difference. And, when all is said and done, isn’t that what we’d like to have said about us at our memorial service? That we served the Lord faithfully and, in doing so, made a difference? Frederick Buechner wrote, “To lend each other a hand when we’re falling, perhaps that’s the only work that matters in the end.”
I know I mention CR in my writings often and I pray my readers never get the idea it’s a sure-fire remedy for whatever ails a person. It ain’t. CR has never healed anyone. The ministry’s goal is simple: lead souls to Jesus. Only He can heal. It wasn’t a colorful banner over the door or pithy mottos in the handouts that made me feel I’d found the right place on my initial visit. It was the dedicated men and women that show up and conduct the meetings week in and week out, unselfishly displaying the love of Christ to everyone in attendance, who were making the tangible difference I needed to witness. I’d struggled most of my life with a lack of sexual integrity, with pride, with self-loathing and feelings of spiritual inadequacy. The volunteers at CR, not harboring any ulterior motive whatsoever, saw something in me I’d never seen in myself. They didn’t just tell me Jesus loves me, they related to me in a way that proved they viewed me as being lovable. In the months and years that followed I slowly realized I could trust the sin-forgiving Lord they were so happy to serve because I saw firsthand how much they trusted Him. And that thick atmosphere of trust allowed me to become more cognizant of and transparent about my sinful nature.
The concept of opening up and freely talking about one’s weaknesses, obsessions and compulsions in the company of a gender-specific small group of folks can generate great anxiety. That is, until you do it and you notice nobody in the room winces because they’ve all been there, done that. That’s when, because there’s nothing to hold it up any longer, the wall of denial disintegrates and the healing begins. All fears you’d be branded a shameful hypocrite or a despicable human being, deserving only to be ostracized, evaporate in that wonderful moment when you find non-judgmental acceptance from others who’ve been where you are. All of a sudden you discover you have friends you never knew existed. And, furthermore, you find out your Savior feels the same way about you. In John 15:15 He stated, “…I have called you friends…” I admit for most of my life I attached many adjectives to what I thought God’s true personality included but friendly wasn’t one of them until I saw it demonstrated in the actions of His adopted children.
Long ago Saint Augustine wrote, “A friend is someone who knows everything about you and totally accepts you as you are.” Deep down isn’t that what we all yearn for? The Gospel informs us Jesus Christ satisfies in every aspect and to all extents that very yearning. All we have to do is trust Him. Paul Tillich wisely defined trust as “the courage to accept acceptance.” Once we realize we can be brutally honest with other Christians about our bad behavior and doubts, our laziness and lusts, our anemic or non-existent prayer life, our phony religious posturing, our corrupted motives and deceitful hearts, etc. we find it much easier to come clean with God (not to mention ourselves) about those things. When we do that and no thunderous bolt of lightning strikes us down on the spot our trust in the Lord starts to grow. Jesus becomes what Manning called, “…the friend who will never fail, the faithful one who will never be lacking in fidelity, even when people are unfaithful to Him, the stranger to self-hatred who estranges us from self-hatred.” The Bible confirms that, once we’re saved, He literally becomes part of us in the form of the Holy Spirit. He weaves Himself into the fabric of who we are. This clarifies what the Scriptures mean by, “If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, since he cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). Walter Kasper said, “Experiencing God’s love in Jesus Christ means experiencing that one has been unreservedly accepted, approved and infinitely loved, that one can and should accept oneself and one’s neighbor.” That knowledge will be both the cure for our spiritual apathy and the impetus spurring us into action. It should demolish our complacency and instill in us an insatiable urge to know more about our magnificent Savior so we can share the love He so generously lavishes upon us with everyone we encounter. Eugene Peterson’s translation of John 4:16 speaks volumes about Christ’s life-altering love: “We know it so well, we’ve embraced it heart and soul, this love that comes from God.”
The simplicity of Jesus’ uncomplicated request for our trust, “Do not let your hearts be distressed. You believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1), can’t be overemphasized. If we don’t trust He can clear up our misconceptions about the Heavenly Father, if we don’t trust His yoke is light and easy to bear, that He not only loves us but likes us, that He wants us to consider Him our best friend and advocate, we’re missing the point entirely. Does that mean we dare not have occasional doubts? Of course not. We live on a fallen planet and, whether we like it or not, the devil’s still creating havoc on terra firma. Satan delights in doing everything he can to make us question if God even exists! Look, faith is the result of dealing objectively and prayerfully with doubt. Hope arises from overcoming the world-nurtured specter of worry. Both faith and hope flow like living water from the fountain of assurances found exclusively in God’s Holy Word. Trust arrives once we become cognizant that our Creator’s promise of an awesome, never-ending future in His glorious kingdom is all we can truly count on as authentic and real. Whenever tragedies strike us and fear wants to climb in and take over it’s up to us to draw on the power of the Holy Spirit living inside and deliberately proclaim unwavering trust in our Lord who said “…take courage – I have conquered the world” (John 16:33) and “…remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). There is, indeed, power in the name of Jesus and His power is available 24/7. Our ever-increasing trust in Him leads to what Thomas Merton called “a certitude which is very, very deep because it is not our own personal certitude, it is the certitude of God Himself in us.”
Something that doesn’t get mentioned frequently is the fact that Jesus called His Father in heaven the modern equivalent of “Daddy.” That’s what the term “Abba” means in Aramaic. If that level of intimacy with the great I AM who oversees the entire universe makes us uncomfortable today imagine how irreverent and downright offensive it sounded to the Jewish honchos 2,000 years ago. However, Christ proved familiarity doesn’t necessarily erode respect. Jesus understood His Father. He revered Him. He obeyed Him. Yet He wanted to convey to us that by His using that affectionate form of address we’d know we may approach God as securely and innocently as a toddler confidently taking their parent’s hand to lead them in the dark. Jesus didn’t refer to His Father as “Daddy” out of vapid or corny sentimentalism. On the contrary, by doing so He was engaging in and inviting us into, along with Him, an awareness of God’s transcendence no one had ever imagined possible. He was showing us our Heavenly Father is so incredibly loving, merciful and good we’d feel right at home sitting in His lap. Psalm 103:13 reads, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on his faithful followers.” Jesus didn’t approach His Abba in a solemn or timid, walking-on-eggshells manner. Hebrews 5:7 states, “During his earthly life Christ offered both requests and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death and he was heard because of his devotion.” I think that verse indicates Jesus wants us to always be completely honest with God in our prayers. I concur with what Manning wrote: “I want neither a terrorist spirituality that keeps me in a perpetual state of fright about being in right relationship with my Heavenly Father nor a sappy spirituality that portrays God as such a benign teddy bear that there’s no aberrant behavior or desire of mine that he will not condone. I want a relationship with the Abba of Jesus, who is infinitely compassionate with my brokenness and at the same time an awesome, incomprehensible, and unwieldy Mystery.”
When Jesus said, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36) I’m pretty sure He was telling us to be merciful not only to others but to ourselves, as well. That’s great advice because I know I’m a walking, talking jumble of unpredictable neuroses and mixed emotions that aren’t always glad to be supervised. That’s okay, though. God knows all about me and loves me regardless. One of the many things Celebrate Recovery has taught me is that I’m a mess and will be until the hour God calls me home. That acknowledgement not only keeps me humble but makes me more appreciative of God’s unconditional love for me. Christ wasn’t here just to save our souls; he was here to teach us how to live. He emphasized we should never be so foolish as to compare the Heavenly Father’s capacity for compassion with ours. I mean, who among us, after being whipped like a farm animal and strung up to die, would be of a mind to utter with labored breath, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34)? Franciscan monk Duns Scotus opined that even if Adam and Eve hadn’t rebelled (thus negating mankind’s need for a Savior), Jesus would’ve still come down in order to reveal the Father’s unlimited compassion. Never forget that Christ preferred to hang out, dine and converse with notorious ne’er-do-wells and sinners rather than the self-righteous, holier-than-thou priests and scholars. That’s why we at CR never turn anyone away from a meeting unless they pose a danger to themselves or others. No one is beyond redemption. 2 Peter 3:9 states, “The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”
Now, while you won’t catch me strolling around in a loud tee shirt that shouts “God is my Daddy”, the example Jesus gave us about how we should rightly view our relationship with the Father in heaven is a source of comfort to me. Thinking of God as my “dear old Dad” doesn’t detract from His transcendent nature or His blindingly brilliant magnificence because His calling Him Abba didn’t prevent Christ from treating Him honorably, praising His name and continuing to hold Him in the highest esteem throughout His life on earth. As a follower of Jesus I should do the same. When Christ said, “He who sees me sees the Father” (John 14:9) He was saying, in effect, “I am perfectly kind, gentle, patient, sympathetic, gracious and loving. So is God. Therefore, He deserves your full, unrestricted trust.” Jesus is God with a human face. Fatherly love is revealed in the unadulterated brotherly love demonstrated by Christ in His attitude toward all men and women. He said, “…I do not say that I will ask the Father on your behalf. For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God” (John 16:26-27). In my estimation that scripture reiterates a basic theme of the New Testament: For us to attain any measurable level of comprehension concerning our Abba (I’m talking about knowing His character, for His essence stays beyond our ability to grasp) we must strive to know Jesus better. Then, and only then, will we avoid attributing any of our conceitedly-conceived, woefully misguided and superstition-fueled perceptions of what and who God is to the magnanimous personality of our Heavenly Father. The bottom line: If we don’t see it in Christ it isn’t in God.
I hate to come off like a broken record but it all comes down to our constant cultivation and dedication to the reinforcement of our trust in God. If we can but chip off, chew on and digest the tiniest sliver of the fact our Heavenly Father loves and cares for us even more than we love and care for our own offspring, our collective and individual psychic enslavement to fear of the unknown will gradually disappear. Manning wrote, “Questions, speculations, and complaints at the absurdity of life, the random accidents and illnesses, the dark nights of the soul, the diminishment of our faculties through aging, our inevitable death, and even the last rag we cling to – our unimpeachable integrity and innocence – all seem inappropriate in the presence of infinite Goodness.” Our trust grows stronger, as Walter Burghardt said in one of my favorite and oft-cited quotes, “not because God has offered proof, but because God has shown His face.”
John Lennon stirred up a major controversy in the 60s when he offhandedly commented that in a decade or so his rock & roll group, The Beatles, would be more popular than Jesus Christ. He regretted saying it not only for the widespread outrage it ignited but because I’m sure he knew his off-the-cuff prediction would eventually turn out to be wrong. As influential as the Fab Four were, there are billions of “millennials” who either have no clue who The Beatles were or think of them merely a footnote in musical history. At the same time I seriously doubt anyone over ten years old has yet to hear of Jesus. Dallas Willard wrote, “I think we finally have to say that Jesus’ enduring relevance is based on his historically proven ability to speak to, to heal and empower, the individual human condition. He matters because of what he brought and what he still brings to ordinary human beings, living their ordinary lives and coping daily with their surroundings. He promises wholeness for their lives. In sharing our weakness he gives us strength and imparts through his companionship a life that has the quality of eternity.” Jesus has asked us to trust Him. We either do or we don’t. But if we don’t then who, tell me who, can we trust? I like what Nazi concentration camp survivor Corrie Ten Boom said; “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”