What happens when secrets are shared

I was walking with a close friend last fall, and the conversation steered from present struggles into the past. He began to recount a difficult event from his early childhood, and the next thing I knew he was choking back tears. I was at first surprised by his honesty and then honored that he would reveal such a defining moment in his life, one he had kept secret from most. I then realized that I understood my friend in a way I had never known, and I loved him now as a brother all the more.

My one experience is repeatedly multiplied in the story groups I have led for a number of years. Here men gather to reveal their story bit by bit and to listen in to the stories of others. The same response occurs. First there is surprise at the honesty and then a sense of feeling honored with such secrets. Finally, there is an growing understanding and love that is transformational. We not only know others; we feel known. Shame is shattered, and love begins to heal.

But take all this one step further. The Bible is the revelation of God’s secrets. It shows us the heart of God in a way we could have never guessed at on our own. David declares that “the Lord confides in those who fear him” (Ps. 25:14).  To those who are willing to listen, God wants to share the secrets of his heart to us in the Scriptures. We should feel surprised at such a revelation—surprise, and then honor, and finally understanding and love. For God wants to be known and loved, and he wants us to feel known and loved also.

Jesus went in the same direction. He said that all that he had received from the Father he made known to his disciples. That’s why he called them friends, not slaves (John 15:15). He also wants us as his followers to feel that special connection to him and to his Father, to listen in and understand his heart, and then to love him with all of our hearts, staying in his love by offering it to those around us. It is in this love that shame is obliterated.

Two questions to leave you with: What secrets in your heart do you need to reveal? And what would change if you read the Bible as the revelation of God’s heart to you?

For more information about story groups beginning this fall, please contact me at landmarkjourney@gmail.com

The Joy Of Death: A Final Look

This weekend I spoke the benediction at the funeral of a dear friend. Two days later I ate lunch with another friend who recently lost his spouse to cancer. Both experiences still taste of death, the stripping finality, the grinding loss, the unappeasable loneliness. How could anyone associate death with joy? Isn’t this something approaching sacrilege?

Nevertheless, surprising clues have surfaced that point me elsewhere. One clue comes from my previous avoidance of funerals. I disliked thinking of death and often found excuses not to attend. But now I am eager to go, to celebrate the life and mourn the loss. I no longer deny the reality of death, and somehow it feels more robust to do live that way.

Another clue surfaced when I went skydiving. To be flung out of a plane at 14,000 feet was fearful enough, yet it was followed by fifteen seconds of raw terror as I accelerated into a void. But when I reached terminal velocity, I opened my eyes and felt as if I was floating on a pillow of air, experiencing the wonder of free fall for one whole minute. It occurred to me later that this may be a helpful parallel to death, when the terror of the unknown yields to something wondrous.

A final clue came with Jesus himself. He was always talking about his death and then asking his followers to join him in it (see Mark 8:34). But the point was never just to die. The whole point of dying was to be able to follow him, and in that following to feel his presence and know his personal counsel.

What would that look like to walk into his death every day? Perhaps it’s letting go of a grudge or giving away money you have clung to. Perhaps it’s fighting a long-held addiction or releasing someone you have been overly dependent on. Perhaps it’s fasting a meal or fasting technology for a day. However we enter Jesus’ death, we will begin to feel a growing freedom to detach from what is truly causing death and reattach to him. And then we make a stunning discovery.

We aren’t dying. We’re coming alive.

And when we face the death of our bodies, it will only be more of the same. Death will be the gateway into more life, more joy. Only Jesus could take something so ugly and turn it into beauty.

So where do you need to start dying today?

The joy of death

I watched my mother die of terminal cancer a number of years ago. It was ugly and heart-wrenching. I know of others right now who are facing death’s door, and it’s grievous to consider. How could anything good come out of death, much less joy?

When I was in college, I read a book called The Denial of Death. The basic thesis was that so much of modern life tries to ignore or suppress the reality of death. It is the ultimate “living in denial.” And this is the root of so many of our anxieties and fears, our psychoses and neuroses. But I recall no solution being offered in the book.

Enter Jesus. There is nothing about him that lived in denial. He faced head on the reality of death. In fact, he said that’s why he came to earth. He then blazed a pioneering path through the terrifying darkness of death into the wide open landscape of the resurrection. But he said more.

He told us to follow the same path. And there he would give us his joy (see John 15:11). What in the world could that mean?

The  Scottish author George MacDonald perhaps gives us a clue in one of his novels, Wilfred Cumbermede. In a dream one night, Wilfred chases a bewitching beauty named Anastasia (from the Greek word for resurrection). He looks for her in room after room of a great palace until he finds her in a chapel completely wrapped in thick drapery. When he asks her name, she replies it is death, the one he has been chasing all his life. She beckons him to enter a dungeon door in the corner of the chapel. He follows as she leads them down endless dark stairs and passageways until they come to another door.

As it opens, there is a blast of radiant light, and Wilfred sees a landscape opening up of dazzling beauty, of water and wind, sun and hills. But the sight is short-lived. As Anastasia stands on the threshold, the drapery drops off. He finally sees her wondrous face only to watch her close the door. He is left outside, weeping convulsively, and then awakens from the dream.

Using the power of imagery, MacDonald is trying to tell the same truth: in choosing to follow Jesus into his death, we will find unspeakable joy.

But what could that mean in daily life? Stay tuned for next week’s blog!

Parenting out of fear…or hope?

The question loomed up again this weekend. This time it happened at my daughter’s graduation from Lee University. Rachel’s experience at Lee has just been stellar. She has loved her professors and made deep connections with her peers. Both ceremonies (one a commissioning and the other a graduation) were very emotional moments for Heidi and I, leaving us in both tears. We had watched Rachel persevere through the rigors of college, and now she was finally finishing! We were both happy for her and sad to see her time at Lee come to an end. But to see the joy and hope on her face gave us both confidence. Her future is still unknown, but we know the One who knows the future. And that’s all that matters.

All throughout our journey as parents, Heidi and I have been tempted to parent out of fear. And we have fallen into it at times. Fear is a powerful short-term motivator, and there are so many things to fear when it comes to our children. Just pick up the morning newspaper: wars and famines, earthquakes and droughts, sexual abuse and bullying, car wrecks and crime. The face of evil leers at us every day, and we can so easily cower in fear. But fear is also a terrible long-term motivator. Children pick up on it from their parents and become fearful themselves, or they revolt at some point from the shackles those fears produce.

There are certain things Heidi and I have prayed for both daughters over the years to help us stay away from parenting out of fear:

1. “Father, you love our children so much more than we ever could. We can release them to your care.”

2. “Father, our children were never ours anyway. They were a precious gift from you for a season.”

3. “Father, we want our children to play whatever part they need to play in the story you are writing. Build your kingdom through them.”

These prayers don’t make the fears automatically disappear, but they sure do help us keep moving toward hope, the the hope of the kingdom, the hope of the resurrection, the great hope to which he has called us (see Eph. 1:18).

Heidi and I always tell ourselves that the best is yet to come. That’s not vapid optimism. It’s the gospel truth, for all us.

Including our children.