Impossible Possible

Recently, I was picking up the neighborhood boys to drive them to school along with our kids as is part of our Thursday morning liturgy.  But on this particular day, things were a bit different: our little buddy TJ had declared war on kindergarten and was standing his ground with every bit of strength he could muster.

TJ was a wreck.  My initial assessment would’ve been that he was having a seizure. But a quick glance at the look of exasperation and fatigue, rather than fear, on his mom’s face showed me we were dealing with something different.  He was laid out the on the concrete slab below the front door, hitting his head, screaming and declaring again and again, “I am not going to school!”

If you’re a parent of young kids, you know this story or some version of it, as you’ve lived it time and time again.  Your kid has dug in his proverbial heels and there is no budging. As with every intimate place in our lives, there is simply no way to adequately give visibility to the hidden cost and the hidden battles (and joys) of parenting.

To be honest, I had no idea what to do.

Part of me wanted to offer compassion and let the screaming little guy stay home with his mom as he was demanding.  The other part of me was digging down deep, longing to draw strength from the counsel of a parenting mentor, Dan Allender, who reminds me of the two core questions that God is always exposing through our parenting, both in our kids and in our own hearts.

Beginning with the first day of life outside the womb, every child is asking two core questions: “Am I loved?” and “Can I get my own way?” These two questions mark us throughout life, and the answer we receive sets the course for how we live. As a parent I am called to answer both of these questions not only accurately and continuously, but also simultaneously.

Parenting is not difficult; it is impossible…

Every child, by asking the two core questions, is offering an astounding invitation: ‘Will you love me and be strong? Will you provide a world where for a few brief years I can experiment with passion and play and know that I can fail without losing your delight and joy?’

If we learn to listen to our children, we will find a precious truth: what they deeply crave is the same core desire we find in our own hearts. As we listen, we will learn to ask the same questions of the God who has made us and called us to be parents. We will ask him if he will still delight in us if we take great risks, discard some venerated rules, and sometimes fail miserably in our efforts to raise our children well. And we’ll learn to listen to his answer to us; ‘Yes, you are loved more than you can ever fathom and, you can’t have your own way. But as you pursue my way, you will find the deepest satisfaction your heart can ever know.” Dan Allender, How Children Raise Parents

I stood a few feet away from TJ and his mom under the canopy of an ash tree dressed in autumn gold. Praying in my spirit, I still could not discern what to do.  So I did what mentor Walt Harrington has taught me time and time again—I rolled the dice.

Grasping for tenderness and firmness, I reached down and picked up the raging, tear-filled boy and wrangled him into the seat of my truck. My hope was to somehow say to him through action, “TJ, I love and delight in you even when you are raging and resistant and, precious little buddy, I love you too much to let you have your way.”

I tried all the techniques in my bag of parenting tricks to engage his heart and come into the center of how he was feeling. I tried to empathize, offer humor, tell a ridiculous story and distract; none of it worked.

None of it.

I guess rolling the dice only works every time for the house.

So we just dove into our daily prayer.  In the prayer we come into agreement with Jesus and we ask that He would make the impossible possible.  It’s a bold prayer. It’s a risky one.

And it’s a life-giving prayer to watch—better said, to behold in awe—how it works!  Our family has started with bringing the smallest of impossibilities before God. Our belief is that if we practice our faith with the small things, it’ll grow bigger and stronger and before long we’ll be storming the gates of Heaven with audacious and shameless requests that are beyond our wildest dreams.

So I paused our prayer at that point,

“Jesus, we ask that you make the impossible possible.”

I looked in my rearview mirror and caught TJ’s eyes. “TJ, you know what impossible means?”

“Yes,” he answered, and went on to explain (first time I could get a word out of his boiling-red-silent-treatment face).

“Do you believe that Jesus can make the impossible possible?”

“Yes.”

“Well, you know what seems impossible to me?  You having a great day at school seems impossible.

But guess what, Jesus is so crazy about you that there is nothing He is more excited about in the world today than making your impossible possible. But here’s the deal, you’ve got to want it, you’ve got to believe it. You’ve got to ask for it.

TJ, all I’m asking of you this morning is that you’d take a risk and find out if God is who He says He is. Would you ask Him to make your impossible possible?”

Rolling the dice, particularly in the context of parenting, is crazy.  No it’s more. As Allender says, it is “not difficult, but impossible.” But whatever is done in love seems to constantly guide us again along the narrow road.

I felt some anticipation but mostly fear.  What if his day falls apart?  What if it only gets worse and God is dethroned in His heart?

But the Spirit beckoned me out of my waning and tepid faith, “Victory is in the choosing, not the outcome. You’re going after his heart.  Something in him knows that, and that’s all that matters.  Outcomes are God’s business.”

As we neared the school, I asked TJ if he’d like to choose a song for the final portion of our drive, offering him a country favorite, some rock-n-roll, or Jared Anderson’s Impossible Possible.

TJ smiled a shy smile and chose Impossible Possible.

All day at work I was distracted with wondering how TJ’s day would go.  I’ll be honest, most of my prayers around it that day were out of striving and not union with God.  But it didn’t get in God’s way; you give the Father an inch and He puts on your favorite playlist, fires up the smoker, taps the keg, and starts bringing it!

By day’s end, TJ came out of school all smiles.  His words: “I had a great day!”

Of course he did.

The Kingdom of God is the invasion of possibility.

It’s the disruption of all that is impossible on our plate and in our world that He wants to make possible.

It’s what He’s always been up to.  And He did as much in my heart as He did in TJ’s… exposing the pockets upon pockets of hidden unbelief in me that simply don’t believe that Jesus has within Him the life I’ve been looking for all of my days.

I don’t find myself much different from the “rich young ruler” who Jesus so kindly exposed. As you recall, he was a good man, a rule-follower, doing all that he could to walk with God. And Jesus goes after his heart.  “Yep, looks like you are following all the rules.  Well done…. Oh, just one other thing,” Jesus says over his shoulder in passing, as if a seeming afterthought, “sell everything you have and give it to the poor and follow me….”

Jesus pantsed the guy.  Exposure extraordinaire.

The young man’s deepest security wasn’t in the living God. It was in his bank account.  (Sound familiar? Sure is for me right now.)  That was his one thing, the one thing that was impossible in his life: to believe that God would provide for security beyond what finances could do for him.

Jesus comes right out and names even the impossibility of relinquishing our “one thing” without God’s intervention.  “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for the rich to enter God’s kingdom? Let me tell you, it’s easier to gallop a camel through a needle’s eye than for the rich to enter God’s kingdom” (Matthew 19:24, The Message).

The disciples are aghast and dismayed. “Then who has any chance at all? Who then can be saved?”

And in their dismay, Jesus has the rich man and all His disciples right where He wants them.

At the precipice of impossible.

Then He names the audacious:

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Luke 19:26).

He leads us each to the precipice of the impossible. In our marriages, our finances, our parenting, our relationships, our health, our dreams, and simply in our hourly choices of how we spend our lives and make our decisions.

He waits to be asked,“Jesus, would you make the impossible possible?”

This decade is the decade to roll the dice.  Find out if He really is who He says He is.  What do you have to lose?  What do you have to gain?  These are sincere questions. Consider them.  You’re worth it. So is He.

What’s impossible for you?  Start with the smallest impossibilities today.  Those hard conversations on your calendar coming up, that issue with your kids, that chronic struggle with addiction, passivity or unbelief. That strained relationship that seems beyond repair. Engaging that conveniently-avoided-conversation with your wife and listening to her heart, coming to the center of her being rather than “making your case” and strategically defending your position (my default tactic). Or the seemingly impossible task of giving Jesus access to a deep cavern of pain, wounding, or disappointment within you.

‘Jesus, would you make the the impossible possible? Right here, in this place?”

Ask for it.

There’s nothing He loves to do more.

If you don’t believe me, ask TJ.

Joy Running 2.0

For more parenting soul food, enjoy these great resources:

Fighting for the Hearts of Your Children, recorded at a Wild at Heart Boot Camp.

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And for some worship to receive deeper into your heart that God loves to make the Impossible Possible, enjoy this from Jared Anderson:

Who Are You Becoming?

I was reading an NPR news article on Apple’s recent iPhone release and all the upgrades associated with their big splash.  In the world of “let’s build a better mousetrap,” it was quite impressive.

Here are a few features that caught my attention:

-a new lower-end 5c release at the $99.00 price point to capture an entire generation of future technology addicts

-cool, crazy colors that just might satisfy every single person’s preference and personality

-a fancy “Gold” luxury model that communicates status, power, and prestige for those of us feeling like maybe our iPhone isn’t as big as a buddy’s iPhone

-the all-new “Touch ID,” Apple’s response to the “necessary” fingerprint technology  (I sure don’t want anyone sneaking on my phone and messing up my Angry Birds scores, right?!)

-and as if the current camera wasn’t remarkable enough on the 4s, this next one raises the bar leaps and bounds, boasting 8-megapixel image capture, 33% light-sensitivity increase, new true-tone double flash, burst mode, and the list goes on…

-an all new 64-bit processor that boasts speed of up to twice as fast as anything Apple has ever released before  (This incidentally is 56 times the speed of the original iPhone released in 2007.)

It was the next line that caught me off guard.

And “investors were unimpressed” as Apple stock price responded with a huge drop of 3%.

Of course they were.

Here’s the reality, hiding within it a deeper dilemma.

“Investors” would very likely be “unimpressed” if Apple CEO Tim Cook offered his first-born son as part of the upgrade. Or better yet, raised Steve Job from the grave, restoring him from a losing battle against cancer, just this one time, to release an unprecedented technological revolution, again.

Unimpressed.

Here’s the dilemma: a culture that values progress above well-being will never be satisfied.

The pressure to live for tomorrow and the “next thing” is entirely insatiable.  It’s a perpetually moving target that can never be seized.

What if we took the energy thrown into the drive for perpetual progress and instead harnessed it for its original Kingdom intentions?

Dallas Willard was one of the greatest philosophers, theologians, and spiritual giants of our day.  He said time and time again,

The most important thing in your life is not what you do. It is who you become.

Pause.

The most important thing in your life is not what you do. It is who you become.

Let that sink in.  Consider that, honestly, for a moment.  Do you believe that?

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Rather than “what’s next?” or  “how do we make this better, bigger, stronger, faster?” what if we asked a different question?

Who are you becoming?

How much energy, thought, motive, and consideration is fueling your “becoming” today?

It will do our hearts good to take heed from those who’ve walked the ancient path before us.  As Dallas suggests,

We are becoming, who we will be—forever.

A wise man once said,

If a man cannot have order within him, he cannot spread order about him.

Progress is overrated.  Beyond its ability to move a person or a culture from abject poverty to relatively reliable subsistence, progress never produces its loftier promises.

But on its backside, the immediate yet fleeting gratification of progress may bring more long term hazards than meets the eye.

In a great read on the matter, The Unsettling of America, Wendell Berry quotes Barnard DeVoto regarding the massive unforeseen implications of the momentary decisions by Native Americans in the 16th,17th, and 18th centuries to engage with Europe’s “constantly expanding market” mentality…

The first belt-knife given by a European to an Indian was as…great as the cloud that mushroomed over Hiroshima….Instantly the man of 6000 B.C. was bound fast to a way of life that had developed seven and a half millennia beyond his own.  He began to live better and he began to die.

Of course.  The Indian was mistaken, thinking that progress would make life better.  While the belt-knife and the musket that followed brought short-term progress to their way of life, it was this new found dependency on these modern conveniences that inextricably linked the Indian to the white settlers and led to the eventual annihilation of the Indian’s way of life.  Solomon named it thousands of years ago when he said,

There’s a way that seems right to a man, and in the end it leads to death. (Proverbs 16:25)

What if this core desire set deep in the heart of a man to build something extraordinary, to exercise dominion, was first meant to fuel an inward transformation that then spilled out into an external reality? What if this desire is rooted deeply in God’s design and desire for us, but perhaps we’ve leaped over the process, attached this desire to  fulfillment, and neglected the invitation for this desire to be the fuel of an internal transformation that, in God’s time, is realized in our external world?

What if building a better mousetrap doesn’t mean much to God?

Dallas Willard suggests,

The most important thing about a person is not what they do. It is who they become.

When asked, “What is Christianity?” Dallas responded simply, 

It is more of me belonging to more of God.

I want more.

I want more of me to be given over to more of Him.

Who are you becoming today?

Who will you be in a decade?

It might be the most important question you ever ask.

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Father, forgive me for giving way to deception. Forgive me for making agreement that progress equals maturity. Forgive me for all the ways I have given my heart over to progress rather than giving my heart over to You, to grow me from the inside out.

I invite Your intervention today. You remind me that the same measure I use on others is the measure that will be used on me (Matthew 7:2). I confess that the mantras of “not good enough” and “try harder” are exhausting taskmasters.  In the ways I demand them of myself and those I love.

I invite You in. I break agreement that I have made with progress equaling godliness.

Shine Your light. Come into this place.

Father, what if it is not about what I do but instead about who I am becoming?

I want to become whole and holy. I want to become true, strong, courageous and loving. I want to become settled.

I want my focus to be on

   Who You are,

   What you are doing, and

   How you are doing it.

I want more of me to belong to more of You.

I’m asking for a divine intervention. I’m asking that You would redirect all the energy I’ve put into progress in my world and into my demand for change in the world around me
and use that energy to guide me deeper into You today, and deeper into the journey of becoming.

Guide me in becoming who You meant when You meant me.

Becoming a son.

Becoming good soil.

Heal me. Restore Your true heart in me.

I receive more of You into more of me. Amen.

 

 

Intimacy in the Fast Lane

“Ask him if he ever makes a phone call while he’s making love with his wife.”

“Really, God?  You want me to ask him that?!?”

Yet again, God wasn’t willing to operate within the limits I had placed on Him.

I had an hour planned with a good friend and alumni of The Intensive to dive deeper into his story.  Of course, like most efforts to move toward life, there was opposition: after his flight was delayed, it became apparent that our time would boil down to only 25 minutes.

So in preparation I paused and turned my heart to God.  “Father, our time is short but I sense it is really important.  Where do you want to go?  What is it that would be most helpful for his heart and his masculine journey today?”

The great risk of really asking God a question and pausing until you receive an answer is that often times, you’ll get one.

So that was God’s response:

“Ask him if he ever makes a phone call while he’s making love with his wife.”

“Really, God? Ok. What do I have to lose? This was your idea…”

In the interest of confidentiality and preserving the hilarity, brutal honesty, and sheer delight in the conversation, I’ll have to hold back details of his response.  But let me offer the heart of what we discovered that God was after…

He was leading us on a treasure hunt, as He so often loves to do.  He took the indirect approach, going after desire, and led us on a soul journey to the gold He was after.

My friend moves as most of us do in a fast-paced, busy world of heavy demands, young kids and a big career…

And his car is one of the few places in his daily routine that holds the possibility of being preserved as an intimate space to be with and relate to God.

And like most of us, his car time had instead become a mobile office – one more place to value efficiency over most other things and check off the to-do list.

God was offering him an invitation.

He was offering my friend His own life. But He was saying He wasn’t interested in sharing that intimacy with other things, namely the intrusion of constant phone calls into that space.

“What if you put the phone down along with every other agenda,  and you set apart your car time as a sacred space for intimacy with God?  What if you received the invitation and refused to multitask or share that intimate space with anyone else?”

It was nearly impossible for my buddy to conceive of making a phone call while making love to his wife: that would be such a violation of the sacred space of their marriage bed. But this violation was what he allowed spiritually time and time again as he found ways to turn down the invitation to be with God and instead exchanged that rare quiet space for the less wild lover of efficiency and the stimulus of being “plugged-in.”

This shift came for me a while back when a mentor completely and lovingly disrupted my world by telling me he gave up the phone in the car; I didn’t have a category.  My reaction revealed how deeply I served efficiency over union with God and unearthed a core value in my heart that believed that more is more and efficiency is close to godliness – all agreements rooted in wounded places and lies that I have come to believe about myself and life.

That day I put the phone down.  And life has never been the same.

It’s not a legalistic rule: there are times when the Spirit leads me to break from the norm and make a call. There are times where I give way to temptation and pick up the phone reaching for something to fill me other than God. But the pulse of my time in my truck has become about God: about protecting, more fiercely with each passing month, this time set apart to simply be with God.  To reconnect with Him.  To receive the Father’s love, to find fellowship with Jesus and enjoy His brotherhood. To lean into, to ask and to sense the leading,  guidance and JOY of the Holy Spirit.

It comes through worshipping with some incredibly anointed songs cranked up.  It comes through listening to the Bible on audio.  It comes through prayer, tears and silence. It comes through asking and waiting.  And sometimes, it comes through merely breathing…  a little slower,  a little longer, until I find that my soul has come back into rhythm with the heartbeat of God.

What have you done with you car time?  What have you given it over to? What is your motive behind that? Really.

Have you ever called anyone on the phone while making love to your wife? (If you answered yes to that question like one of my buddies, please keep that story to yourself or for your closest allies over whiskey and a campfire).

What if you gave that time back to God?

What if He is pursuing you and it brought tears to the eyes of your Father for Him to know that you would give Him that time and refuse to share it with anyone else?

Ask Him.

To help you get there, here are some anointed songs that I’ve played literally over a hundred times in the past three months, as a pause to receive God, letting him fill me again.