Sunday, June 16, 2013

The best Father's Day gift. Ever.

I'm the kind of Dad who seems to be able to find all sorts of gifts I'd like for Father's Day throughout the year. But Come the actual holiday, I can't seem to remember any gift that I want, for the life of me. Everything they advertise seems like a gimmick. Unnecessary.
Maybe this strange gift amnesia is a gift itself?

I don't know, but I'm quite sure that a simple breakfast from Marco Antonio's surrounded by the satisfied murmurings of my kids enjoying his unrivaled Camarone Chipotle tacos, will do me just fine. Family enjoying good food together is gift aplenty.

Come to think of it though, I did receive one extraordinary Father's Day gift earlier this week. Only, I wasn't the father.
I was witness to a gift given from another daughter to her father.
"Strange," you're thinking, "that witnessing a gift given to another father can bring someone such pleasure?"

Quite understandable to wander.
Unless, of course, you knew the extent to which this daughter had suffered abuse at the hands of this father of hers.
Unless you'd been sitting where my wife and I were sitting that morning, listening soul-shattered to this daughter recount the horrors of her betrayal and violation at the hands of the one man she was born to trust.
Then you would not wander at all.
Then you would shake your head and cover your mouth with me in wonder.
These are the days of miracles and wonder.

father. abuser.
Those two words should never be uttered together. Ever.
But this daughter limped in and leaned upon her Heavenly Father.
In her crushed innocence and crippled shame she leaned.
What twisted demon always skews the blame and leaves the abused feeling shame?
But shame she felt, and lean she did.
Steadily, she leaned in upon her Father, learning to send her abuser away debt free.
Steadily her limp healed to a walk, then to a stride.
She felt heaven thaw the bars of her arctic prison and she began to stride.
Send your debtor away debt free.
And you get out of jail free. You get to stride.

Two years ago on Father's Day, she strode to see her father, now an old man.
She strode to give him a gift and tell him she loved him.
No counsellor would ever recommend this. But she insisted.
I think she had forgiven him more than I had.
I probably relented because I hoped the gesture would heap burning coals on his head.
Why should he ever have a happy father's day?

Her gift to him was a hat and a hug.
It may as well have been the moon.
Redeeming love spilled over from this daughter's brand new heart
and splashed her father's gnarled old soul.

This week she told me that she was sending her father another Father's Day gift.
This time it wasn't a hat. It was a photo. Of her as a little girl.
"God has restored my innocence. My Father in heaven redeemed what was stolen from me.
And my father on earth doesn't need to suffer shame anymore."

Father. Redeemer.
Those two words are glued together with the blood of God's own Son.
Those two words became her favorite words.
And her gifts to him have become my favorite Father's Day gifts.
An annual reminder of the scandalous beauty of the Father's gift of grace to us all.

"How could the abused become healer to the abuser?" you ask.
How could her father ever be redeemed?
I ask the same, shaking my head and covering my mouth in wonder.
These are the days of miracles and wonder.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Ecclesiastes: Goad to Joy

Beethoven's 9th symphony, 'Ode to Joy,' borrows its original lyrics from Friedrich Schiller, the German poet who called his countrymen to hope and happiness with his patriotic poem in 1875.
It began,

"Oh friends, not these tones!
Let us raise our voices in more
Pleasing and more joyful sounds!"
All the world's creatures
Draw joy from nature's breast;
Both the good and the evil
Follow her rose-strewn path.

Beethoven's uplifting melody took the lyrics into the mainstream, and the classical genius made a proverbial top 20 hit out of Schillers' poem.

In 1907 Henry van Dyke wrote the lyrics of the hymn "Joyful, Joyful we adore Thee," to the self-same melody, which has now become a church standard around the world, and has in fact been refreshed in the hearts and minds of many Christians today with Brenton Brown's tasteful reworking of the hymn.
The opening stanza of 'Joyful, Joyful, we adore Thee,' goes as follows:

"Joyful, Joyful we adore Thee,
God of Glory , Lord of light,
Hearts unfold like flowers before thee,
opening to the sun above,
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness,
Drive the dark of doubt away,
Giver of Immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day."

Although both Schiller's and Van Dyke's lyrics are celebratory in tone and tenor, their joy is drawn from contrasting sources. The former draws from nature's breast, the latter from the God of Glory. This is essentially the message of the book of Ecclesiastes. It contrasts the fate of those who chase after joy in created things rather than the Creator.

Solomon is like an actor in a one-man play, who plays two contrasting characters. The one is a secularist, who lives for the here and now, and who seeks joy in pleasure, wisdom, wealth, power and progress. He finds that the more he chases joy, the more illusive it is, like chasing the wind. He is miserable and regretful. I'd go so far as to say that he's morose.

If we stop there, Ecclesiastes will break our hearts, because there's a little (or a lot) of this character in each one of us. But if we see it as a goad given by One Shepherd, it will provoke us to joy. You see, Solomon's second character is a believer, who has eternity set in his heart, and who works, plays, eats, drinks and loves with eternity in mind. He finds ultimate joy in His Creator and can thus enjoy the good gifts of created things without allowing them to replace his true source of joy.

So many Christians are sure Jesus can save, but not so sure that He can satisfy.
Let's allow Ecclesiastes to goad us to repentance from the idols we chase after for joy, and let us return to Jesus, the Savior and Satisfier of our souls. As CS Lewis said, "We are halfhearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us. We are like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are too easily pleased."

Let's allow Ecclesiastes to be a Goad to Joy.