The Power of Face-to-Face

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I feel it when Heidi speaks to me with words of endearment. I sense it when I see the sparkle in my daughter's eyes. I notice it when a friend walks with me, and we enjoy each other's company. I am aware of it in my small groups as men gather to share their stories. What am I feeling here? What are we all feeling here? The power of face-to-face.

So much of how we understand ourselves comes from something so common and yet so defining, the human face. We sense there delight or rejection, respect or apathy, commendation or shame, connection or division. It's not too bold a statement to make: our very lives are shaped by the looks on the faces of others. And the reverse is also true. We have such power in the looks we give to others, reviving their hearts or bruising them instead.

But take one more step here. What is the power of face-to-face with God? The answer given here in the Scriptures is both arresting and inviting. One place to start is the blessing Aaron was to put on all the Israelites: “The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you” (Num. 6:25). The face of God is not just an interesting footnote in the Bible. It is the summation of all the blessings God wants to give us. For in the face is the heart, and in the heart is the connection. God wants his face to shine on us in Christ, as the warm October rays shine through the cool air of fall (see II Cor. 4:6). In the sunshine of that face, we are to be built up in his grace and delight. But there is more:

“The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace” (vs. 26). Instead of turning away, he intentionally lifts his face and turns it toward us so that we can see how he sees us. We begin to feel how he feels toward us in Christ, beloved sons and daughters, whom he enjoys and wants to embrace. Our whole sense of identity and self-understanding becomes transformed in the look of his face. And the result is that elusive treasure, sought by so many, found by so few, peace—peace with God, with oneself, and with others.

So today when you look at someone, remember the power of face-to-face.

And then remember the face of the Father.


"What is God's lesson plan for you today?"

The question came from my mentor, our former high school principle, and it became the basis for many of our conversations together. It’s a startling question for several reasons.

First, as a high school Bible teacher, I am inundated with this idea: daily lesson plans and weekly lesson plans, curricular topics for the semester, curricular topics for the year. It seems as if my whole job is focused in some way around lesson plans: Are they realistic? Am I covering too much, too little? Do they provoke, stimulate? Do they invite participation, even action? But when the question gets turned on me, it’s a totally different feel. Now I am the one in class, and God is teaching me today.

Second, as a teacher, I am in control of my class and the learning process, and I need to be. But now with this question, I am no longer in control. It is Jesus controlling the learning process, the master teacher and coach, who knows my heart and is scripting my story. To let go of control here requires willingness and surrender. If my students aren’t willing to learn, they won’t. It’s the same with Jesus. To be His disciple just means to be His student. And the willingness to learn comes out of that surrender. But after this decision is made, there is solid comfort. I am His student now. My job is just to get close enough to Him each day to hear His lesson plan for me.

Third, God will use, not just the Scriptures, but everything in our lives to teach us, if (and a big if) we have our ears attuned. My students in class can easily be distracted: playing with iPads, looking out the window, daydreaming about the weekend. I can become frustrated by their inattentiveness, missing the lesson, but we do it with God all the time. He really is trying to teach us every day through His Holy Spirit if we will but listen (see John 14:26).

Finally, God’s lesson plan is a curriculum devised not for our head knowledge, but for our heart experience. He wants to bring our hearts to Him so we can receive His joy, and in so doing, receive Him. He wants our hearts to become His home.

So go ahead, ask it: What is God’s lesson plan for me today? And keep asking it until He answers.

When you least expect it...

                                                                      The Schermerhorn Symphony Hall

                                                                      The Schermerhorn Symphony Hall

Yes, when you least expect it, that's when God sometimes does His best work. Our resistance isn't up because of the surprise factor. So here's what happened to me when I least expected it.

For a long time, God has been helping me uncover so much of my heart that lay buried under years of shame, neglect, and disconnection. My connection to beauty has been one of those buried places. Often I get discouraged at how long the process is taking. Sometimes it's me who is resistant to the next step. So God just surprised me last Friday at the symphony hall downtown. 

Heidi and I had gotten tickets for a morning concert of Rachmaninoff's Symphony #2. We both love this piece, but it's the third movement that holds a special charm for us. Heidi describes it as a melody you wish would go on forever and ever. 

As the lights went out, we settled back simply to listen and enjoy. Little did I know what was about to happen. The first and second movements have their own stunning melodies and harmonies, but with the opening bars of that third movement, something shifted in me. The beauty of the melody wasn't just inviting or enthralling. It was unsettling, even painful. Beauty felt like a fire that was pulling me in. I feared that I would be burned and then consumed, yet I longed to be consumed at the same time. The tears began to come along with sobs I had to restrain in that dignified setting. It was all I could do to hold myself together through the piece.

As Heidi and I left the hall and entered the normal bustling life downtown, I realized that God had snuck up on me, revealing Himself as the Beauty behind the beauty. The door into the sacred vault of ultimate Beauty had opened just a moment, singeing my heart and then searing it with its flaming heat, only to close again. My heart was left in the ashes, pulsating like a glowing cinder in a dying fire.

Why does God give us these moments? To open up our hearts to a deeper longing for Him and then to give us a good hope for that day when the longing will be satisfied by the Beautiful One, God Himself. 

So next time you go to a concert or watch a sunset or climb a mountain, watch out. You never know what may happen.

Conquering Fear of Failure...a postscript

Teaching my former students last Tuesday night.

Teaching my former students last Tuesday night.

I had intended to move on to another common fear in this blog, but something happened last week that demanded changing that plan. That something was the very event that triggered the fear of failure I described in the last blog, the event for all of my former high school students, Let Me Teach You One More Time. Several weeks before the appointed night, I counted a grand total of 11 who had signed up. My stomach dropped. The room I had rented held 80-100, and an images flashed through my imagination of a tiny turnout with the inevitable shame I would feel. Fear clutched at me, but with the loving encouragement of my family, I pressed on.

When the event rolled around last Tuesday, it was nothing like those images. The room was packed. I first shared the journey of my heart as a teacher and then taught them from the Landmarks book about God's story and our identity. The attentiveness was beautiful. But the real fireworks came when a panel of faculty came up and shared their own story with piercing honesty, mesmerizing the listeners. One of the panel, the former headmaster, was so struck by the time that he told me it felt like a holy moment. Students stayed afterwards, almost as if they didn't want to leave.

And I am still hearing the ripple-out effects. Just today I was approached by a mom of one of those students telling me with tears how powerful the evening had been for her son. I look back now at my previous fears, and I'm startled by the contrast. What does this all mean? Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Fear distorts reality. If we listen to our the voice of fear instead of the voice of God, we will always misinterpret life.
  2. Walking with God means faith and obedience. The opposite of that is fear and passivity. Over and over in the Bible He asks men and women to take crazy risks of obedience and trust Him for the result. He is still in that business today.
  3. Taking small risks today trains us to take the bigger ones for God when they come.
  4. Finally, the kingdom of God grows in cycles of desperation and deliverance. We go out on a limb for God, find ourselves in a predicament, and then He comes to the rescue. He gets the glory, and we get the joy. That certainly was my experience here.

So, what risk do you need to take for God today?

Sharing some of their own story, the panel included Daniel Moore, Richard Anderson, and Dan Carpenter.

Sharing some of their own story, the panel included Daniel Moore, Richard Anderson, and Dan Carpenter.