Wednesday, June 19, 2013

In Which the [midnight of] The Fatherless Generation Find Hope

 Long before any of us came to identify with this "fatherless generation," the prophet Malachi warned us  of the curse that would follow should fathers choose to reject their children.

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction. [Mal. 4:5-6] 

And then, boom, the Old Testament closes. It does seem we should heed attention to the final words that walk us into centuries of silence. And it is so interesting that these are in fact the words God chooses to close with. I don't think I have ever paid quite enough attention to them in fact, until I began reading John Sowers' The Fatherless Generation. 

Perhaps, in this twentieth century, we are in fact experiencing the harsh reality of that prophecy, says John Sowers. Can it be that we are experiencing the kind of fallout Malachi warned against some twenty-five hundred years ago? The hearts of the fathers are not turned to their children nor are the hearts of the children turned to the fathers. Can it be we now bear the full weight of this fatherless curse?

In Luke we see Jesus identifies Malachi's "Elijah" as John the Baptist. John's mission was to "make straight" and prepare the way for Christ by calling people to turn to God and by turning the hearts of the fathers to their children. So in this sense, Malachi's prophecy was specifically fulfilled in time and history in the person of John. 

At the same time, there is the over-arching backdrop of "that great and dreadful day of the Lord" offering up some end-time significance. So even though the prophecy was fulfilled, suggests Sowers, it is still of current and ongoing relevance. There is a current, divine expectation for its fulfillment, which is the reconciliation between fathers and their children. According to the prophecy, this generational reconciliation prepares the way--as John the Baptist did--for the coming day of the Lord. 

That's crazy to think about huh? That as this blackest midnight gives way to the light of day and reconciliation among fathers and children regulates back to the norm [whatever that might mean], we know the way is being more deeply paved into eternity and Christ's return coming. After all, His reconciliation to us is only manifest through love for His own Son, who has made a way for us to relate rightly to Him as Father. I am in awe of this image of fathers reconciling to sons and daughters being indicative of His coming, if that is indeed the case, because it could be starting here and now with us, the midnight fatherless bound to see the light of Christ sooner or later.

What a testimony to His glory, that He'd chose to us, the worst of the worst, the nearly 50% growing up without dad--to actually usher in His coming through the reconciliation of us to our fathers. What a picture. What grace & mercy to be found at His throne. 

Commentary on Malachi's prophecy by Gordon Dalbey says:
Healing between fathers and children is not simply a psychological exercise to bring greater peace of mind; in fact, it's the essential pre-requisite to fulfilling God's purposes on earth. When fathers are reconciled with sons and daughters, God's saving power is released among us; conversely, when fathers and children remain at odds with one another, powers of destruction are beckoned.

We are witnessing the midnight of this generation, claims Sowers. And I'd have to agree. It's both a personal tragedy for so many of us and also a widespread epidemic which in some form often effects every single one of us--a fatherless generation determined to devour itself. Prophecy being fulfilled. 

As we see, this epidemic plays out in the rage and violence of our fatherless sons and the decay and promiscuity of our fatherless daughters. The heart of this generation is being ripped out and left bleeding on the ground. Seeds of shame and despair have been sown into the gaping wound. And we are reaping a bitter harvest. 

As I hear the stats rolling through my head of the suicides and prison populations and drug use and teen pregnancy and abuse cases that are all at least two to three times (often much MORE) higher for the boy or girl growing up without a dad, it just seems such a simple solution and yet the complexity of it all is overwhelming.

I hear my own story in these numbers and I remember being one. A nameless, worthless, predestined statistic on the clipboard in their hands. My behavior fell in line flawlessly with their calculations and projections for my life. I remember one doctor telling my mom to just admit me now, as it would save her much hassle later, as my life was irreversible and the damage done. Now, simply a case to be maintained by the state, a clipboard that scribed my identity (and lack there of).

I don't have it all figured out. I see the need to raise up men that know how to be men and I am thankful to see glimpses of it around me. Then there is the rescue of the ones, like myself, upon whom the fathers have already turned away. That's one reason I am so thankful for organizations such as The Mentoring Project and the body of Christ itself, just operating in it's fulness to pull in and care for those otherwise cast out, an experience that has largely been the catalyst to Christ's redemption in my own life. I also see the need for the curse to be broken in the next generation, the ones to be raised up by the midnight of the fatherless. A bit of a scary thought, huh?

I don't fully know where the wrestling ends and the action spurs to transformation but I do know that Christ is coming and so is reconciliation, eternally for each of us who have accepted Christ as Lord.

There is of course, no promise each of us will see it in our lifetimes, but what about our babies...and theirs? That's us ya'll. That's the darkness we're in now leading into the light of day for His glory. And I don't know about you, but that is the hope in which I must be anchored. 

In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son,born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

And a few stats:
63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes (US Dept. Of Health/Census) – 5 times the average.
90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes – 32 times the average.
85% of all children who show behavior disorders come from fatherless homes – 20 times the average.  (Center for Disease Control)
80% of rapists with anger problems come from fatherless homes –14 times the average.  (Justice & Behavior, Vol 14, p. 403-26)
71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes – 9 times the average.  (National Principals Association Report)
85% of all youths in prison come from fatherless homes – 20 times the average.  (Fulton Co. Georgia, Texas Dept. of Correction)
71% of pregnant teenagers lack a father. [U.S. Department of Health and Human Services press release, Friday, March 26, 1999]

Sunday, June 16, 2013

In Which We Celebrate Father's Day

I spent most of this day before the day in the midst of my friends who come to this little town from oceans far away. They study and we do life together--we talk a lot and eat even more. Several times throughout the day's festivities the topic of Father's Day has popped up. I've kept my responses simple and when asked what I will do to celebrate my dad, I found myself seeking joy from a Father that doesn't change because let's just face it--mine is always up and down.

As I graciously broke the silence that often follows my response of the fact that I actually don't have relationship with my dad at this point, I pushed these girls from Egypt, Vietnam, and Indonesia to tell me more about their traditions. Well, we actually only celebrate Mother's day in my country, the first replied. Yeah, me too. We also do not celebrate the day of the father, the second and third chimed in.

The obvious follow up--well why do they only celebrate the mother in all three of these countries?

Their answers were a bit incomplete and it's left me thinking. I guess knowing this day was coming, hasn't left me exactly looking forward to it this week. But every single time the topic comes up, God is binding up these wounds and all I can see is grace written across my wall.

A year ago, I remember weeping through this day and retreating to the privacy of four walls that separated me from any possible joy that could touch me for these twenty-four hours. Celebrating would be wrong--I should feel really bad today, really sad, I remember thinking. At the time, I was in the home of a man who I was learning to trust as father figure and the wounds were oozing steady at that point. I remember feeling like I could never see past the pain, like it would never let up. And you know what, feeling the pain made me feel like he was experiencing it too. Like my somber attitude would make him hurt, make him pay. And that was only gift I wanted to offer up to him that day. Let's just make that clear.

I remember hearing the flip of the calendar would heal and counting it rubbish. But a year later, I know so intimately the perfect Father and His love is redeeming this charred, broken one.

A powerful conversation happened this week, with the dad of the kiddos I nanny for. He spoke of his life, the journey to here and now, and I listened to him share of a road I have watched my own dad wonder on down so many years of his life. The difference between the two men so small on the surface, after all what is two years without a drink when it comes to choosing your family? I only wish my dad could have also "gotten it" when I was an infant as he has done for his boys. I told him what a blessing it is that he could be fully present and engaged with his boys, the way his decision to choose them over the bottle will set them apart from most of their peers. All day through I found myself reminding the boys every chance I got how awesome their daddy is and they soaked it up with such joy.

And now as I wrestle with this concept of only celebrating the mother's in the world abroad, my flesh longs to move to a nation where this is the norm. To not have to have a day dedicated to remembering all that my dad is not and all that I wish he were. It's like Father's Day offers the pull to remember the pain he has caused as I witness the scars rise up on my arms in the process. But today, I realize just how off I am in that mindset, unbiblical even.

In fact, I think we don't honor the father's in our culture enough--the ones that are seeing the call. They are broken and they mess up, they are humbled by their role and in continual pursuit of fulfilling it. They are the warriors that find strength in the working of Christ in their weaknesses. These are the men that gown me in redemption and crown me in grace. They are the ones through whom I know Christ is all sufficient in my life, not by their words as much as the sharpening they offer and the trust they guard well.

On this Father's day I worship with arms raised high amidst the body, because keeping them down seems to rob Him of the glory He is due and work on the cross that is setting me free to more joyfully surrender my heart to Him as abba Father. Lord, I surrender all. God has opened up my house and table to two dads [and families] that have truly fulfilled the call before their wives and kiddos, pulling me up under their arm as well. What a blessing it was to honor them today, as small and insufficient as it might have been. I see redemption this year, in the body of Christ before Jesus is even back. It is both humbling and joy-filled. A gift that not many girls in my shoes have been offered. And today, it is changing the way I interact with this day of celebration. I would do this every week, if I could, because these men in our lives, they need to be reminded. They need to be encouraged and challenged by the call.

We need not over-simplify the day with golf balls and hats [or in my case Duck Dynasty paraphernalia and ping-pong awesomeness], as these temporal items could never inscribe the greatness of a dad fulfilling His God-given role to lead his home, honor his wife, discipline his children, maintain his position as provider and protector. The way both of these men have allowed me to partake in various degrees and portions of that is an experience that words fall short of expressing. My heart is softer this year, my wounds are sealing and these men, well, God's used them in countless details of the process.

As it stands, I probably won't call dad today. It's passing by the year mark of no words spoken and I just see Jesus more. There is guilt and sadness that lingers into these later hours, and yet I don't really want to give this day to him, because when I look at the legacy implanted as of late, it's not his to celebrate. And for now, that is where God has me and by His gracious leading, I have to be okay with that. There is still a significance to the day, one that I feel I have fulfilled in honoring the men that have guarded me and graciously walked with me, both physically here in Fayetteville and lovingly, prayerfully back in St. Louis.

Friends, I know many of you can relate on various levels to the short-comings and absences of your own dads in your life. I know the pain and guilt can seen overbearing in seasons, especially on this one day each year as your every glance is met with laughter and rejoicing of those around you. And maybe, it just makes you more angry and grievous. We are a generation that wants to be found. There is a grieving anytime there is a loss. And for so many of us, Father's Day becomes symbolic of the loss. So our natural response, of course, is withdrawing into grief and shame even.

Fatherlessness creates an appetite in the soul that demands fulfillment. -Josh Sowers [The Fatherless Generation]

But today, I say the Fatherless Generation reclaims this day, so to speak. Because through the loss we are found. And in the finding there is an appetite fulfilled in Christ's perfection as Father. And my level of belonging to the man that gave birth to me is just not long-lasting enough to anchor my soul anyhow. And ya'll, I need to be anchored!

There is one hope in all of this, one promise that so far exceeds our belonging to the fatherless generation--and that is the royal priesthood, the adoption as sons and daughters, the title of co-hair, the all together beautiful, the bride, the one in whom He is well pleased. The cross should point us heavenbound, as the Perfect Father must remain set apart in our earthly yearnings and belonging unmet.  He is enough.

So let's celebrate that, on this Father's Day. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

On Why I am Rich [and What it Means for India]

I have these three kids fifty hours a week and I drive the fancy country-club car, pull up to that big ole' house beyond the gate and have money thrown my every direction for the sake of entertainment. The countless activities and new shoes and camps and often bi-weekly lunches at Chickfila. Sometimes I leave the sunglasses on even as it begins to sink behind the hills as I drive southbound in my twenty year old set a wheels.

I pull up to my little brick house and Toby [my car] squeals [quite loudly] to a stop, I lift up the shades to see a different reality. Mine. At 6pm my little dream world pauses as dinner, dishes, studying, cleaning and bills take over again. Stress always brings out the ugly. And money, well I never feel like there's enough.

I grew up with little but mom always hid the lesser reality behind gifts wrapped in bows and a purple couch centered on the living room wall. My dad always owed her ( money and some of it will never be seen. It was his job to protect and provide, neither of which he could offer. So I think at some point in teenagerdom when I walked to my first job at the ice cream store up the road while my friends hung out at the pool and went shopping at the mall, well that's about when the purple accessories began to give way to white walls and that stupid purple couch started looking pretty hollow. 

I felt entitled to more. I wanted to have it easier and I darn well deserved it, after all it wasn't as though I ever had the option of chosing that dead-beat dad or credit-card enslaved mom. I excelled in school and played hard in sports and bought my first car and have school debt and it just isn't fair. Mom taught me money meant happiness and peace, and without it, well, what a miserable life?

In recent years, by unfathomable grace alone, Christ has supplied eternal joy beyond the temporal happiness and the peace in the midst of trial and fear which transcends. I know where my riches are being stored up and yet this generational curse seeps deep. I want my store visible on earth too, most days. And I guess I still consider myself poor in the day to day, maybe even the victim?

But the ugly truth rears it's head in my textbook this week:  "On the basis of global comparisons, it might be argued that very few people in North America are poor in absolute terms--it is the relative deprivation that is morally and socially degrading." Last night I read that in India, 76% of the population lives on $2.00 a day. That's not even enough to cover a single ice cream. Something of which I have been eating several times a week , at least. [The poverty line in the US is over $30 a day for perspective, a fortune for most of the world.]

And then the holy spirit prompts:  How much of your money is going to further my Kingdom and how much is going to further your own?

I know it's all groaning and I hear it louder these days. I joke more about seeing flames and Christ all at once and the accessories in my house probably won't matter so much on that day.

I'm leaving for India in four weeks and the two dollars a day will be over-whleming. For a while. And then I'll be back in this house with these clothes and this stuff. I might sell half of it within that first week or two. And before the year's up I'll have gained it all back and then some. It's sin in my heart when I feel like I need it, when it continually furthers this kingdom of self.

I think it's more common then we admit, at least it is for me. I returned the rug and hid the credit card for a season. We have a house warming party in a week and I wish I were more excited about the gospel pouring forth. But all I can think of is that darn rug that's missing and the thrift store that has taken up residence in my living room. God is allowing me to wrestle for His glory.

And that's where I'm feeling the accuser of guilt and condemnation. But the Truth is, there's none of that in Christ. So rather then feeling worldly sorrow over the furtherance of our own kingdom, it's time we set our eyes on His Kingdom and soon enough, I think our money will follow. 

From a bible standpoint, it's virtually impossible to remember God and forget the poor. It's not about feeling guilty, though. It's about giving. It's that we have and someone else needs. It's about humbling ourselves as Christ. 

For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ Duet. 15:11

We see as well, from Mark's words that the poor had always been among them just as they will always be among us. And in this case, their situation was dire enough for Paul to spread the word all over the growing Christian world that the believers in Jerusalem needed help. And they gave the help!

"If scarcity of goods inherently improves ones spirituality, no biblical text would ever command us to help the poor." -Beth Moore

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. -James 1

According to Moore, "James called both extremes to take stock of what they had coming. Interestingly, one is in the long-term and the other in the short. He called the poor to look BEYOND this life toward their ultimate position in Christ. He called the rich to look TOWARD the end of this life and the futility of earthly riches."

Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.    -Prov. 31:8-9

It's my job to defend and provide for the poor, and I am grateful to be sent to India. I'm grateful to flesh it out on American soil too. As much as I am to speak gospel and this is an imperative part of living it, because I am the rich one being sanded away by this house and car and silly rug as I'm yanked through that needle head with a sinful heart cleansed white and check book being scribed out to Kingdom come.

It's fading, right? Just in front of these eyes. It's all fading fast as that rug on my kitchen floor. 

And He is coming. Hallelujah! 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

And the Letter Goes Out [via new India blog]

Hey Ya’ll!                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

It is hard to believe a whole year has already passed since I returned from India, and it has been a grace-filled one, to say the least. As many of you know, God led me to withdraw from classes and take a job in the business world just over a year ago. That was undoubtedly one of the biggest ways I’ve seen His provision, as this plan made no sense to me at the time. Around the same time, I moved out into the rolling hills of these Ozark Mountains with an incredible family from whom I have learned so much.

The move and job change have so flawlessly testified to God’s faithfulness in my life this year, as He has used this adopted family to show me such a tangible picture of His own love for me. Looking back, God has used this year to restore a lot of brokenness and solidify my own dependency in Him above all else. I am thankful it is a process, and certainly have not arrived, but I see a spirit of steadfastness growing.