Father’s Day, Hats, and Hand Grenades

fathersdaysignI suppose it would have been appropriate for me to post about Father’s Day a little earlier than 7PM on Sunday, but frankly I didn’t plan on writing a Father’s Day blog post this year. Then two things happened to change my mind.

First, my Pastor read something from the pulpit this morning. Then, I stumbled on this great Father’s Day picture and just had to share it with y’all.

While the casual observer might think this hilarious photo is out of character with the rest of this post, in a weird and wonderful way the two go together like steaks and charcoal. I’m quite certain that when my daughter Sara sees this she’ll roar, because she and I have such similar senses of humor that we usually can just look at each other, instantly think of the same punch line, and burst into simultaneous laughter while everyone else is wondering what’s so funny.

Sara, who is now 30 years old and just finished her eighth year teaching German to elementary school kids, is fond of saying that she is a fascinating study of nature versus nurture. The interesting thing is that when people who know us learn we are a blended family they always assume she’s my blood and Sharon adopted her, when in fact it was I who adopted Sara on December 18, 1992.

Which brings us to the second part of this post, the part that happened first. This morning, my Pastor read something from the pulpit. I recognized the piece before the first sentence reached the back row—a 500 word essay Sara wrote last year when she nominated me for the Arkansas Baptist News Father of the Year award. Here is what she wrote, without a single jot or tittle edited by me:

Most people just take the father God gives them at birth.  Not me.

God knew I needed a father I could touch to understand how much I am loved by Him.  After all, a woman’s image of God is often a replica of her image of her earthly father.  Since 1990, I’ve had a clearer image of God’s love because of my father.

I was nine, in 1989, when my mama met him.  She loved him a lot.  She asked if I loved him too. Until then, every man I had ever loved had gone away and left me and my mama behind.  I wanted my mama to have him.  I wanted to love him, but I was afraid he’d leave her, so I wouldn’t let myself. After all, it was my father who had abandoned me after my parents divorced in 1987.

About a year later in July 1990, my mama married him, but I was still afraid to love him.

It took some time, but eventually, I learned to trust him.  I asked him to become my father, legally. I was fourteen when on December 18, 1992, he stood before a judge, telling God and man that he chose me; that he wanted to be my father.  I wanted that too.

It’s been over fifteen years since that day.

I didn’t know it then, but I was broken inside, when it came to understanding what it meant to have a father who loves me and really does want me to be his daughter.  God knew that, and He always provides.

My father had been prepared, by God, to have a daughter.  He wanted a daughter even though there hadn’t been a girl born into his family in many generations.  God knew that he’d have a daughter and gave him the desire to be a little girl’s father.  God gives us the desires of our hearts.

At times, I have felt forsaken, abandoned, and so alone that I couldn’t see the presence of anyone around me–even God, Himself.  Thankfully, God put His skin on my father to help me learn to see Him when I feel alone.

As I have learned to trust him, I have trusted God more too.  I’ve always known, in my head, that God wants to tuck me in at night, wipe away my tears, walk hand in hand with me, and be my Father.  I can say that in the past fifteen years, I’ve been able to move that knowledge, slowly, from my head into my heart.

People often say that it takes a “real man” to be a father.  If you’re adopted, there’s more.  Because it takes a VERY special kind of “real man” to be a father to someone else’s child.

I’m exceedingly grateful that I know a “VERY special kind of ‘real man'”.  He’s more than a father to me.  He picked me to be his daughter.

His name is Dan Case, and I love him a lot.

–Sara Case, Fathers’ Day, 2008

Even though I’d read this before—more than once—I will admit to shedding humble tears. I am so very blessed, and so thankful for God’s amazing restoration and grace in my life, that I’ve found it difficult to find words to express myself. If you know me, you know that anything that can shut me up so effectively is a mighty big deal.

I love you, Sara. Thanks for a wonderful Father’s Day–and for the privilege of being your father.

The View From The Cross

Contemplating the various Good Friday observances—or lack thereof—taking place today, I found myself recalling a conversation I had fifteen years ago while living in Virginia Beach. I had the privilege of performing the role of High Priest in the tenth anniversary season of The Man Called Jesus, a top-shelf passion play that, with changes of name and venue but the same core personnel and message,  is celebrating it’s twenty-fifth season this week.

My remembrance is a conversation with Robert Klein, an outstanding actor who had performed in the role of Jesus for five years at the time (and is performing his twentieth season in the role this week). Working with Robert was a remarkable experience. His grasp of character and focused portrayal was so intense that, as High Priest, it was all I could do to not fall on my face and repent. Talking with him one day during rehearsal, I asked him about his experience developing the character. Preparing the character for the first time changed his life forever, because he had to focus on seeing things as Jesus would see them. After five years, he believed preparing for that role was the greatest spiritual growth exercise in his life.

Think about it. Jesus knew exactly what would happen. He knew the mission he had to accomplish. He knew that every road he traveled led to an agonizing death on a cruel Roman cross. With that knowledge, every photon that entered his eyes took on greater meaning and intensity.  Given his deeper knowledge, what did Jesus see as from his unique vantage point on the Cross?

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The eyes of Jesus’ body had an excellent view of the strange mix of people that had gathered to witness his execution. Beneath his feet, Roman soldiers rolled the dice, dividing His clothing among them. To one side a group of women wept, mourning the one that they had loved and followed. On the other side, Jewish elders hurled insults and challenged His claim to be the Christ, saying: “He saved others, but he cannot save himself.”

Jesus’ disciples were there. Scattered. Dazed. Confused by their great leader’s apparent surrender. Jesus’ mother stood among them and wept, releasing thirty-three years of pent-up motherly angst. Before her pregnancy became visible to the gossips and judgmental neighbors who assumed her to be a sinner, she knew the boy in her belly was the Son of God. She had always known this day would come. The sight of the sharp swords of the Roman soldiers must have triggered memories of the day when she dedicated her eight-day old firstborn son to the Lord—the day when Simeon, the old man who prophesied over her baby, looked into her eyes and warned her of the heartache that would accompany her calling, saying: “A sword will pierce your very soul.”

Surrounding all these main players, a sea of spectators gathered at Golgotha because it was the trendy place to be at the moment. The same fickle crowd had hailed Jesus as King of the Jews just a week before. Earlier on that day of execution they had chanted, “Crucify Him!” and demanded the release of a known criminal named Barabbas rather than the one they once praised.

The eyes of Jesus’ soul didn’t see the crowd. He saw each person as a unique individual. He saw their needs, their hurts, their misunderstanding. He saw Mary, his mother, and felt her heartache at watching her son die a slow, miserable death. Jesus commissioned the disciple John to care for Mary, to take her in as he would his own mother, a loving act of compassion that not only served his mother’s needs, but met the unspoken need of John to love and serve his dying Lord.

The clueless mob of bloodthirsty onlookers must have caused Jesus’ tender heart to break. They didn’t even begin to comprehend the redemptive scene they witnessed.  Yet Jesus felt no anger or bitterness, as you or I might. He looked through eyes full of compassion, longing for them to accept the sacrifice he offered on their behalf. He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t even know what they’re doing.”

Jesus’ disciples—the men whom He had walked beside, trained and lived with for three years—had no more insight than the ignorant mob. He saw their confusion, their heartache, their utter cluelessness.  Only one man on that gruesome hilltop understood the events taking place that day, but Jesus knew his disciples’ mourning would soon turn into laughter, their tears into shouts of joy, their discouragement into vision and purpose.

The eyes of Jesus’ Spirit saw what only the Son of God could comprehend. For the first time in all eternity, Jesus experienced isolation from his Father and understood the depth of human depravity and sin. Demons danced around him with delight, celebrating their supposed victory—but with eyes not limited in time and space, Jesus also saw those demons cowering in darkened corners three days later. He saw an eternal bridge, christened with his blood, that would allow mankind the same intimate, personal relationship with God that Adam and Eve enjoyed in Eden before they sinned—the relationship they were meant to have with their maker. When others saw only defeat, Jesus saw the coming victory.

The dying Messiah looked beyond that momentary pain and saw the results of his sacrifice through history. 3000 people received His salvation on the day of Pentecost as cowardly Peter, who had denied Him three times, boldly preached under the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Jesus saw Saul of Tarsus, a vicious enemy of the Gospel, accept the free gift of grace and become one of the early church’s greatest leaders. He saw an Ethiopian eunuch baptized by Phillip in a roadside pool taking the good news to his homeland.

Countless generations of mankind passed before Jesus’ eyes, generations for whom His sacrifice made possible salvation by grace through faith. Some accepted, some refused, but all made their choice between the free gift of eternal life and the self-chosen curse of eternal death. Billions made their decisions as he watched, not a massive crowd but solitary individuals making their own personal choice between condemnation and grace, death and life. Al Capone. D.L. Moody. Adolf Hitler. Billy Graham. Each made their own personal, eternal choice.

Then, as He looked down that eternal timeline, Jesus saw you. He saw you in your moment of decision, and He knew your name.

Even then, Jesus could have stopped his suffering. He had the authority to call a legion of angels to set Him free.

Instead, He cried out, “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.”

Then, He bowed His head—and He died.

Because He thought you were worth it.

Clammy Times

I’m writing tonight from my hotel room in North East, Maryland (which is the actual name of the town, not a direction or quadrant). I had to stay off-campus tonight, because there were no rooms available at Sandy Cove for tonight. I’m attending the AuthorizeMe workshop on Saturday, and will move to a room at the Cove tomorrow night. For tonight, it’s the Best Western.

 I was reminiscing earlier tonight about the last time I was in this neck ‘o the woods. It was about 25 years ago. Believe it or not, I used to be a Chamber of Commerce executive. I was Executive Director of a the Corry Area Chamber of Commerce, in the small Pennsylvania town of Corry. To make a long story short, I did what I believed was right in a particular situation, and by doing so, I committed policical suicide and was forced to “resign” (aka “get the heck out and we’ll let you maintain a little dignity”). Toward the end of my C of C career, I attended the Institute for Organization Management, an annual seminar event for Chamber Executives that was held in Newark, Delaware. I drove past Newark on my way to North East, Maryland earlier today.

It was my first trip anywhere close to the coast; We were land dwellers. In my experience, clams were breaded strips of mysterious, rubbery stuff that felt like rubber bands in your mouth. There was a clambake one night while we were at Institute, and I was intoduced to steamed Little Neck clams. That’s when the love affair began. I don’t get to eat them often, but I wasn’t about to spend a night in this neighborhood without spending part of it with a bucket of clams.

When I asked at the front desk, there was only one place recommended for seafood — Woody’s Crab House. I had done some homework in advance of the trip, and it didn’t take any selling to get me committed to the place. Woody’s is the kind of place that has brown kraft paper on the tables instead of tablecloths, and a solid core of regular customers who love to sit at those tables and beat steamed blue crabs with a wooden mallet. My supper was a big bucket of clams (3 dozen), a little container of drawn butter, and a Diet Sprite. YUM! What a wonderful delicacy!

What amazes me is that the locals don’t seem all that crazy about seafood. They like it, they eat it, but they don’t get excited about it. I think there’s so much of it that they take it for granted. In the mid-south, we’re kinda like that about barbecue. It’s everywhere–Sharon and I have lunch at Corky’s at least once every week. it’s so plentiful that we tend to take it for granted.

I wonder… are we the same way about God’s grace? It’s plentiful, and it’s everywhere we turn. Have we become so familiar with the Lord that we take Him for granted?

Lord, please don’t let me forget how wondeful, powerful, and precious your grace really is. You’ve done some pretty cool stuff in and through me — please don’t let me forget that it’s You, not me, who is the source of my success and the strength of my life. Thanks for being so lavish with your grace, even though I don’t deserve it.