God is not a Hover Parent

Modern men and women have a great deal of difficulty understanding or believing a God that allows bad things to happen to people in general and even a harder time understanding how God would allow atrocities to be carried out on the innocents.   To many today the concept that “God loves” must directly translate into “God takes care of.”  In order for a God that loves to exist, God must shield his creation from poverty, death, discomfort, disease, disability, hate, offense, and any other sort of “bad” thing.  Since those maladies exist and inflict themselves on the innocent, God must not exist.  Over and again people mock “If you are God …” and when God doesn’t meet the implied expectation people complete their own thought by claiming, “Since you didn’t … you can’t be God.”

To a certain degree the aforementioned line of reasoning has always existed.   Job’s wife and friends posited the absence of God as she watched Job suffer.  Currently, however, the clamoring has intensified.  The vitriol has increased, as people speak in harsh terms as God is denounced.  Why has denying God taken such a vocal and aggressive tone?   To me, the answer lies in and interconnected with a change in how people view their relationship to each other and the world around them.  Perceptions of God’s existence and character have a symbiotic and self-re-enforcing relationship with perceptions of the practices of parenting and the interaction between individuals and their community.

Our concept of God does not fit with our practices as a society nor as parents.  The day seems to have passed when there was a strong analogy between how God loves his creation and how fathers and mothers love their children or how we as a community should love our neighbors.   Today the overriding characteristic that defines a good parent or government is one that shelters and provides for children and citizens in every aspect of their lives.  In the realm of child-rearing the hover parent has become the norm.  Parents not only inject themselves into little-league sports and toddler beauty pageants, they are active participants in the college lives of their young adults and recently parents have invaded the job-searches and careers of their adult children.  Not being satisfied in controlling and hovering over the lives of their children, the latest generation of parents have extended the scope of their over-protective angst to the public sphere, insisting that the government become the hover-parent of the citizenry.  Cradle to grave swaddling clothes to protect everyone from the dangers inherent in life.

If one holds such an unreasonable, suffocating, and all-inclusive view of parenting and governing it is logical therefore, that any God that might exist should adhere to the same level of coddling of their creation.  Unfortunately, the God chronicled in the Old and New Testaments does not meet these expectations.  Good people suffered, children died unreasonably, poverty, slavery, prostitution and evil exist in bountiful amounts.  Further, the everyday life of this existence demonstrates that bad things happen randomly inexplicably.  So what type of God could exist that allows such a world to be created?  A divine-less universe thrown together by random accidents makes a more sensible explanation for the chaos witnessed throughout human history.

The answer to “what type of God” would create an existence of good and bad, trials and failures, laughter and sorrowful weeping; the kind of God that is reflected in fathers and mothers of generations past, the kind of God reflected in the great enlightenment writings of Newton, Locke, and yes even some local scholars by the names of Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin.  People who understood that we were created to choose our own way even if it meant suffering negative consequences.  The parable of the Prodigal Son should be embraced as an example of how complex the relationship between parent and child, between God and creation truly is.  God created humanity and let us choose to run away.  Parents give life and nurture and should stand back and allow the same opportunity.

The irony of hover-parenting/governing and like expectations of God, is that all-embracing removal of need eliminates, or at least mitigates, one of the most amazing aspects of human nature:  compassion.  The projection of care onto some higher entity be it God or the State, removes that inner compulsion that drives us to reach out to each other.  We become desperately separate; insulated by an abstract sense that things are taken care of instead of clinging to each other with desperate love.

That immensely hunger-driven love to wait by the door hoping that your son comes home, that they chose you; that is God like love.  The unexplainable desire to go where-ever people are suffering the most is God-like love.  Caring and loving in the worst possible circumstances not the absence of those circumstances is love, not rational or tidy, but real love.  From such a perspective, God can be seen.  Right relationships between our-selves, each other, our Creator, and our community become comprehensible.   We have, like an old family portrait lost in the attic, forgotten how we are related, and like distant relatives we sit in awkward silence.  Perhaps if we open the family album we might be able to rebuild the ties that bind as they were intended.


Meditation on Matthew Chapter One

Fourteen generations from Abraham to David – fourteen generations for God’s promise to be made complete.

God promised a nation.  God promised descendants that would number the stars and the sand.   Despite greed, disobedience, deceit, and all other manner of turning away practiced by the people of Israel, God was faithful.  He prodded, begged, and even coerced Israel to follow his will.  Finally in David he established the great Kingdom of Israel which, bolstered by David’s son, Solomon, stood as a beacon of God’s provision and will.

Fourteen generations from David to the exile – fourteen generations for Israel’s conceit to be made complete.

God repeatedly showered blessings upon Israel.  He lifted them up as a nation, despite disobedience and sin.  Even when Israel rejected His leadership and clamored for a king so they would be like the other nations, God blessed them with wealth and prestige.   God showed his grace and mercy yet Israel rebelled.   Exile was not a measure of God’s anger and vengeance against Israel, but that it took fourteen generations shows the depth of God’s patience.

Fourteen generations from the exile to Christ – fourteen generations before humanity was ready to be made complete.

Having rejected the leadership of God and endeavoring to live according to their own hand Israel languished in exile.  Even as Israel returned to rebuild Jerusalem, God’s hand remained distant.   Israel, weakened spiritually and physically, suffered waves of invasion until it was firmly in the hands of Roman masters.   All the while, the promise of restoration remained.  How long will God’s promise be delayed?; became the cry of Israel.  Then at the birth of Christ the anguishing wait came to an end.  God provided the perfect plan of salvation through the sacrifice of His Son.  Sorrowfully many in Israel were not able to recognize the Messiah had come.

Three epochs, fourteen generations each, and human interaction with God’s salvation was established.  While God still moves and the final establishment of His Kingdom remains, His plan is brought to fruition.  Praise be to God who is and was and is to be.

Of Jump-ropes and Mountains

Matthew 17: 14 When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him, 15 and said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; he often falls into the fire and often into the water. 16 And I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.” 17 Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.” 18 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly. 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a  mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”

A few years ago, I was cleaning out the disaster zone more commonly know as the boys’ play room and I stumbled across one of those grade school P.E. jump-ropes (actually I nearly broke my neck when my feet became tangled in the pesky thing); you know the ones with the skinny rope encased in colored plastic rings.  I picked it up and looked at it for a brief second then ambled outside to give it a whirl.  I briskly went through the routine of various jumps and steps, then laughed as I thought of the days when jumping rope was hardly so effortless.  For most of us a jump-rope does not represent a major obstacle.  Learning to jump-rope is hardly one of life’s significant rites-of-passage.  For me, however, as a young man that jump-rope symbolized everything that I was and could be.

I was a gangly ninth-grader trying to survive off-season football drills and unfortunately that meant a daily confrontation with the incarnate of evil known as a jump-rope.  Everyday the last task was for us to complete 100 successive jumps with the jump-rope.  Those jumps were the bane of my existence.  I would stumble, trip, and tangle the infernal contraption around every limb.  Everyone would be long gone before I was finished and my older brother would be fuming as he waited for me to bumble my way through the torture.  Believe it or not, that jump-rope was the best thing that ever happened to me.

I was born with some–how shall I say it–challenges to overcome.  You can see one lasting mark of my arrival into this world.  My left ear is folded part-of-the-way over and juts out at a noticeable angle.  You can only imagine the comic value my grade-school classmates found in such a large protruding ear. I guess at this point in my life I could have surgery to repair the ear but I think it serves a purpose.  It reminds me how far I have come and what I have overcome.  Excuse me I got distracted for a moment.  The ear is only a symptom of a rather traumatic early childhood.  I was born with that left ear plastered against my head an outward mark of the trauma to my head.  The internal damage was more significant and as the doctors warned possibly permanent.  My brain suffered damage comparable to having a baseball bat swung at full force.  The doctors told my parents that I might not ever walk or even talk.  Though they were wrong on both counts, I faced some difficult health problems.  Whooping cough before the age of two almost brought a sudden end to my life as I was carried into the emergency room at one point, my body blue from having quit breathing.  I suffered convulsions and radical body temperature fluctuations which caused me to take phenobarbital for most of my childhood.  Looking at me then, you would never believe I would grow into the man I am now.

Despite the health issues, I loved sports and although my parents never coddled me, they were concerned that I would have some difficulties physically (I was a big kid but a little clumsy) and emotionally (how would I react to failures).  So they asked my doctors for advice.  The doctors replied that I would probably never excel but I wouldn’t be hurt in any way and participating in sports could actually help me maximize my some-what limited physical abilities.  I was given the green light and began playing t-ball on my older brother’s team the summer before starting second grade.  I never looked back.

I spent hours throwing and catching.  If no one would play with me, it didn’t matter.  I would toss a football or baseball in the air and run to catch it.  I would play until it was dark and I couldn’t see the ball or my parents would drag me in for dinner.  In those solitary hours I developed a sense of purpose.  I was going to play football.  I didn’t care how hard I had to work to do it.  I was going to be a football player; which leads me back to the jump-rope.

I started playing football in the third grade.  I was pretty good.  I was big and strong and had an unquenchable passion for the game.  As I got older and in junior high I was a starter and the coaches all told me I had potential.  The one glaring weakness I had was a lack of speed and mobility.  Thus the jump-rope.  Everyday the challenge.  Everyday the struggle.  Everyday confronted with failure.  My brother would wait, albeit with no patience.  You see he had to wait because my parents usually had to work and could not give us a ride home.  We lived eight-and-a-half miles from the school and if we didn’t ride the bus home, we had to walk.  The longer it took me to finish those jump-ropes the later and darker it was when we walked home.   Needless to say many late afternoons turned into complete darkness before we arrived home.  The coaches would leave us in the gym and told us to turn off the lights and lock the doors as they left.  I never took advantage of their absence, even though my brother begged me to.  I stayed and finished.  Then we would walk/run home.  Usually running most of the eight plus miles.  Once home, homework and chores were done.  I would collapse into bed knowing that the morning would bring the same challenge.  Why did I keep going back?  Why not admit failure?  Quite simply, the thought of quitting was not an option.  I had made a choice in the deepest part of me that I would do it.  I would conquer the jump-rope.  I would play football.  I willed myself to succeed.

I did succeed.  I never became a superstar football player, but I did start every year I played and received some scholarship offers from Division 2 and NAIA programs.  I played on two state runner-up teams and can look back with pride on what I accomplished.  What about the jump-ropes?  By the time I was a junior I had implemented a rigorous work-out routine.  I began each session with 200 push-ups and 500 sit-ups.  Then, I would do my weight and conditioning for the day.  At the end of every workout, I would grab one of those plastic colored jump-ropes and perform 1500 jumps.  I would jump 750, take a one-minute breath, and then do 750 more.  I had beat the jump-rope.

Now, this is not only a story about my athletic prowess.  The jump-rope was something much bigger.  It was a mountain to climb.  And in climbing I learned that I had strength inside of me to overcome.  That strength has carried me through many struggles.  The lessons taught by the jump-rope helped me overcome a recurrence of seizures when I was in may late teens.  That strength carried me through poverty that included bouts of living in cars and rundown trailers.  That strength helped me finish a doctorate when I faced physical and emotional exhaustion.  When my initial draft of my dissertation came back with scalding remarks.  I didn’t quit.  I rededicated myself to work harder, to relearn things I had deficiencies in, to climb another mountain.  In the end, I did earn the doctorate to rave reviews of the same committee members who had expressed doubt in my academic future.  But without the jump-rope, I truly believe the doctorate would have been impossible.  I thank God for mountains which in climbing them make us stronger.  I thank God for jump-ropes.

Survey the Cross

I meant to post this last week but the trip to Chicago scrambled my internal calander.

Survey the Cross

John 19:  23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier … 24 So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says, “They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.” 25 … Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. 28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross!  Ah one of those old hymns.  I would guess that most of us over the age of 35 are familiar with this hymn.  The youngest among us may not know it, but if you are curious go Google the lyrics.  Either way most of us probably have never stopped to take in the meaning of that phrase?  What was the author saying, when he penned those words, “survey the wondrous cross?”

I was driving between Dallas and Austin one evening, and that question came to me.  I had been listening to an alternative Christian radio station out of Dallas and was rather enjoying the rock/edgy music.  Unfortunately, the signal faded before I reached Hillsboro, and I still had two hours of driving to reach Austin.  So I fumbled with the seek button on the radio until I heard this rich Scottish accented voice coming from my speakers.  As I listened, I heard an incredible, impassioned argument as to why Christians needed to put the Cross back into the center of our RELIGION.  The sermon ended, or the station faded; I don’t remember which happened first. I drove on in silence for quite some time.  Then the title of the hymn leapt into my mind: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.  No sooner had the phrase entered my mind, when the thought struck me; “Wow, SURVEY the Cross, cool.” You probably are thinking, “what is so cool about ‘Survey the Cross’,” but that’s okay.  Hopefully by the time we are finished you will understand.

I think it is interesting that the author chose the word survey.  Depending on the context, the word survey can have a couple of different meanings.  In college, if you took a survey course, it was a broad overview of a particular subject.  You could, for example, take each section of American History separately, or you could take the American History Survey.  In this sense, survey means to step back and take a look at the big picture.

A second definition of survey is to take a careful measurement of.  If you have a piece of property and you want to build a house on it, normally you will have a survey done to mark the precise boundaries of your property.  A few years ago an oil company hired a firm to survey the town in which we were living and surrounding area.  The goal of the oil company was to find any oil and natural gas so that they might be able drill new wells.  In order to find these oil or gas deposits, they needed exact measurements of the country-side.  The firm hired to do this task spent weeks and months using radio signals to make a map of the area.  The key for the oil company was that the map must be accurate or the information would be useless.  Survey, in this context means to take a detailed account.

You may be asking yourself, “What do oilfield surveys and college courses have to do with the cross?”  I ask that you would indulge me for a moment longer.  I promise, at least I hope, this will all make sense in the end.  You see, I believe the author purposely chose to use the word SURVEY.  In this case he meant the latter definition: To take a careful measurement.  While there is nothing wrong with looking at the big picture, I think the author is saying that he is taking a careful measurement of the cross, taking it all in.  He is not simply glancing at the cross in an off-handed manner.  Nor is he merely passing by.  To Survey the Cross, implies to take a serious account of the Cross, to really study it.

Have you ever been driving along a familiar road and suddenly saw something that you have never noticed before?  It happens to me all of the time.  I think it happens to men more than it happens to women.  I can just hear this conversation between a man and wife as the husband is driving along a country road. (I am just saying the husband is driving for purposes of illustration.  I am fully aware that wives have been granted the constitutional right to drive, even in the presence of a man.)  The man notices a big red barn,

“Marge, when did the Johnsons build that new barn?”

“Henry,” the wife answers, “That barn has been there for ten years.  You drive by it every day.”

I have a feeling that many Christians are that way about the Cross.  We come to church every Sunday and sometimes even on Wednesday night.  Some of us are Sunday School teachers or on the Church Board.  But, we don’t even seem to notice the Cross.  Every once in a while, we look up and by some accident catch a glimpse of it and, like the husband ask, “Well look at that, I wonder how long that Cross has been there?”

I believe that God requires more than a passing glance at the cross.  I believe that the sacrifice of Jesus deserves a complete and detailed accounting.  We as Christians need to stop our bustling activities (and I am talking about Church work here) and take a good hard look at the Cross.  We need that image, the image of Christ hanging on the Cross, His body bruised and broken, His shoulders bowed with the weight of our sin; we need that image of the Cross burned into our minds.

The Cross is the center-piece of what we as Christians embrace.  I recently had someone ask me why Good Friday was called Good Friday.  In answer, I explained that it was on that Friday that Christ gave His life on the Cross.  The person responded, “That’s what I mean.  How can it be called GOOD, when Jesus died?”  The answer is that because Jesus DIED it is GOOD Friday.  If Jesus had not died, the price for our sin would not have been paid.  On the Cross, Jesus won the VICTORY.  He took our place.  He took our SIN.  On the Cross, the power of SIN was cancelled and the battle ended when Jesus cried out “IT IS FINISHED.”  The Lord breathed these words not in anguish, but in VICTORY.  This is the full measure of the Cross!

We cannot expect the world to preserve the sanctity of the Cross.  I mean, if we expect the Cross to be something more that an intriguing fashion accessory on necklaces or ear-rings, we cannot leave the Cross in the hands of the world.  We as Christians must make the effort to Survey the Cross on a regular basis.  If we don’t, we will find ourselves in the place of that husband.  I know you wives can relate to that.  If we aren’t really paying attention, we will be like that man, who six months after that divine revelation that the neighbors built a big new red barn TEN YEARS AGO drives down the same road and looks up and proclaims, “Well look at that.  When did the Johnsons build a new barn?”  If we don’t take a regular survey of the Cross we, as Christians, will continue to walk around blindly, only too infrequently and accidently looking up to notice the Cross and muse, “Well look at that.  Wonder when they put that big cross up in the sanctuary?”

So I challenge you to survey the wondrous Cross.  Take a close look.  What do you see?  Do you see the coarse heavy wood that made the beam that caused Christ to stumble?  Can you see the holes where the nails pierced Jesus’ wrists?  Did you notice the blood stains?  Did you see the sign above His head?  Go ahead, take a look.  It is all there.  Survey the Cross!  Soak it all in.  Let the image of the Cross burn itself into your soul.  And it’s okay if you come back from time to time to take another look.  You never know when you might see something new.  “Well look at that. I never noticed those threads from Jesus’ garments before.”

Run to the Father

Luke 15:  11 Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” ‘ 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe——the best one——and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

I remember when as a young boy, only about four and a half years old, I was looking for my dad and I asked my older sister where daddy was.  She told me he was at work and proceeded to point out the directions.  Well, I wanted to be with my dad, so I took off down the road.  Fortunately, the lady that owned the little store at the corner saw me and stopped me before I could try and cross the highway.  On another occasion, my sister, brother, and I were outside waiting for dad to come home from work.  We saw (what we thought was) dad’s car turn down the road toward our house, but rather than coming straight home the car pulled into the little store.  We were so excited that we decided that instead of waiting at the house we would run down the road to meet him.  Unfortunately,  it wasn’t dad, and when we got home, mom was not too pleased that we had run off.  The point is that, as a child, I loved to be with my dad.  Given a chance I would spend all of my time with him. 

Now, as a father, I see the same thing in my sons.  When they were younger I would come home to squeals of delight and big bear hugs.  Even my oldest, who was more reserved, smiled a huge smile and called out “Daaadddyy.”  Even though those days are long gone, with the arrival of the teenage years their reaction to parents is a little more subdued to say the least, I still get a nod of acknowledgement if they manage to glance up from the X-box.  I exaggerate a bit, the oldest one will still hug his parents in the safety of his own home.

I don’t know why, but God has a way of bringing memories and thoughts like these to my mind and then using them to teach me something about His nature and my relationship with Him.  Over and over, Jesus spoke of coming to God like a child.  God wants us to run to Him, to yearn just to be with Him.  When was the last time you caught a glimpse of God and went running down the road to be with Him?  Instead, we chase after almost anything but God.  We will spend our entire lives running after the next pay raise.  We will leave our wives or husbands chasing after our lusts.  We will pursue fame, fortune, power, possessions we will run after anything but God. 

Take the story of the Prodigal Son.  Here is a young man, who in the prime of his life demanded his portion of inheritance.  Then, with his wealth in hand he ran away to fill his desires.  And, to quote those eloquent bards of the 1970’s, a little rock and roll band called The Eagles, “They threw outrageous parties, they paid heavenly bills.”

The reality is that all of this running never gets us anywhere.  We run “up and down that highway” of life until we crash exhausted, unfulfilled, and lost.  We think we are running to reach some higher goal, but, in the end we are simply running away.  We are running away from our hurt and pain.  We are running away from responsibilities.  We are running away from fear and rejection.  But, we are really running away from God, our Father.  Just like the teenager who breaks the apron strings, we break away from God in a rebellious effort to declare our freedom.  I don’t understand it.  I don’t understand why I think that I need my independence, my “space,” from God.  I tell myself, “If I get this job, I will have financial security and then I can take care of myself.”  Or I say, “If I have this beautiful woman, I will be satisfied.”  But, these are all LIES.  The only security, the only satisfaction is back home, back there with Dad, back there with my father, who has everything I could ever want or need.

God is not like me though.  God has a single-minded obsession with his children.  All He wants is to run to us and spend time with us.  He is sitting outside on the porch looking down the road waiting and straining His eyes to catch a glimpse of us.  The first hint that one of His children acknowledges Him or calls on Him and “BOOM” he is there.  God’s love for us is child-like, unconditional and immediate.  Oh, if only we were the same as God.

You have to give credit to the Prodigal Son.  Yeah, he was fairly clueless in wasting all that his Father had given him, but who are we to cast stones?  We have all done the same thing, wasted what our Father has given us that is.  But the Prodigal Son finally came to his senses and decided to go HOME.  He found himself living with the pigs.  All his money and friends were gone.  He was starving.  Then, in a moment of genius, call it divine intervention, the Prodigal Son realizes that his Father is waiting at home and that his Father has everything he would ever need.  Instead of wallowing in self-pity, the son gets up and goes home.

The wonderful thing is that the Father was watching and waiting, when he saw someone coming up the road.  The Father recognized His son, even when the son was a long way off, the Father jumped up, grabbed the purple robe of royalty, and ran down the road to meet his son.  I know how he must of felt.  I remember the pure unadulterated joy when I caught sight of dad’s car turning into the drive.  God, our Father, wants to run to us in the same way.  He will if we give Him the chance.  It doesn’t matter if we have ran away and lived with the pigs for a while.  He doesn’t care if our hair or our lives are a mess and our clothes and emotions are in tatters.  God will run to us like a child, throw His arms around us, and lavish His love on us.  What a wonderful God and Father He is.

What if we were a little more like God?  What if we sought Him with the same child-like exuberance that He seeks us?  Just think what life would be like if we would sit and wait for a glimpse of God; then when he came, we would run and jump in His arms.  God, I want to be like a child again.  I want to be like that young boy I used to be, when all it took was for me to know where Dad was and I would go, without question, without any other thought than that I wanted to be with Daddy.  Oh God, to have the faith that would, when your word spoke, like my older sister so many years ago, saying “Your Father is over there;” to have the faith to drop everything and go and be with Him, to hunger and yearn simply to be in the presence of my Father.  Oh Lord, teach me to come to you like a child.  “Abba, Father, DAAADDDDYY, I’m home!”

Who I Am


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There are certain things that you should know about me, Randy Zabel.  First of all, I’m a dad and a husband.  I have a beautiful, wonderful wife.  Somehow I was able to hide my real personality from her long enough to get her to marry me.  I have three sons.  I know you might think I am just being a typical dad, but I am not exaggerating a bit when I say that my boys are the smartest, most handsome, and most athletic boys to ever live.  Its true.  If you don’t believe me ask their grandparents.  Something else you learn about me if you are around me very long is that I’m a jock.  I love sports, especially football.  I played football and am more than willing to relive the glory days with anyone who can’t run away fast enough.  I love college football; I watch any game that is on TV.  It could be UTEP versus Alabama-Birmingham, and I am there.  I am also a computer geek.  I spend way too much time in front of a computer to be considered normal.  The scary thing is that computers and the internet simply feed my sports addiction.  I can check the latest stats on my fantasy football teams and read the sports sections of 100 different newspapers without leaving the computer chair.  I love it.  The last BIG thing to know about Randy Zabel is Russia.  I have visited and traveled across Russia.  I love the Russian people.  I have studied Russia for almost twenty years.  I love to tell stories about the time I’ve spent in Russia. In addition to these BIG things to know about Randy Zabel, it is also important to know that I write music and sing, and that I am a relatively decent amateur photographer.  So that is who I am.  Oh, by the way, did I happen to mention that I am a Christian?

Growing up in the church, I knew about God and Christ and believed.  I went to church camp, vacation  bible school, revivals you name it.  As grew older, events began to chip away at my faith.  Both my mother and father suffered significant accidents and we had to move away from the hillside paradise of North West Arkansas to the Oklahoma panhandle.  Trust me, I have never quiet gotten over that trauma.  The reality of that transition was more than trading creeks and trees for dust and tumble-weeds.  We lived on my grandparents’ farm for a while and the tension was beyond description.  Continuing health problems meant that we struggled for money for the next three years.

Having gone back to college, my mother finished a teaching degree and was able to get a job and my father found work driving trucks in the Western Oklahoma oilfields.  Though not middle class, the constant struggle for everyday living was over, at least for a while.  Unfortunately, my dad suffered another major accident.  The hot oil unit he worked with used large butane burners to heat oil for drilling.  One afternoon, my mom got a call.  The butane burner had exploded in my father’s face.   The injuries were almost fatal, but he pulled through.  He, however, was not able to return to work for several months.  Once again, we were struggling.

Hope came when my father was offered a chance to teach his specialty, diesel mechanics, at the technical college South of Tulsa.  My mother was able to get a job at a school nearby, so we bought a house and moved once again.  Things seemed to be looking up, we made some good friends and, although the technical college job feel through, my dad found work driving trucks once again.  Our house was nice, we were able to buy a new car.  We had a real taste of the middle class American Dream.  Ok, so I am sure you can guess what I am about to say.  Once again, an accident shook the foundations of our family.  My father was hauling water to an oilfield location and suffered a heat stroke. The affects left him disabled for an extended time and financially we were left in a huge bind.  In the end, we lost our house and some personal issues resulted in yet one more move.

My mother had gotten a job at a Christian school, but that job wouldn’t start until the Fall. With no money and my parents only able to find low income jobs, by brother, sister, and I pitched in the best we could but we ended up living in cars, a travel trailer, and even rooms in a church. That Summer was by far the most difficult time of my life.

I suppose you think that is the end of the trials, well I guess we are just getting to know each other so such a mistake is understandable.   My mother ended up leaving that job and the next teaching position lasted only a year.  I ended up In Pawhuska, Oklahoma toward the end of my Junior year where we struggled through the last months of high school living in a run down trailer house.  Food-stamps and meager pay-checks kept food on the table, but just barely.

All of the struggles took their toll.  The economic ups and downs combined with sporadic abuse from a father with a volatile temper. I also saw too much hypocrisy in people who called themselves Christian. I found myself doubting the beliefs more and more.  I entertained thoughts of how can this thing we call church be more than a fraud?  I remember sitting at the table in church during a banquet for graduating seniors.  The pastor began to pray and I looked out over the congregation and thought, “Who are they trying to fool, they are just doing this to make themselves feel better.”  I was having a difficult time  reconciling the negative experiences I had endured with the culture of Christian life that was being preached from the pulpit.  The temptation was to just give up on church altogether.

Instead of simply walking away from my faith, I decided to try to find answers to my doubts.  A few friends started a bible study the Fall that I started college and I became involved in the student center for the Nazarene Church.  I also did some independent research and over the next several years I took several courses on the Bible.  Over and over again I found evidence that God was real, that Jesus was indeed Christ.  From that point on I was dedicated to my faith.  I have been far from perfect in my struggle to work out my salvation since, but I keep coming back to the reality of my faith in a real God and a real Jesus.

Hello world!

Congregation of One was written for only one purpose: That I would remember the lessons God was trying to teach me.  God has a unique way of speaking to me.  He uses sermons.  I know that might not sound very profound.  A few million people around the world listen to sermons on a weekly basis.  The difference is that these are sermons heard only by me.  God’s words fill my mind, and I hear my own voice preaching to me.  I am not sure when I started preaching to myself, but I admit it has been going on for quite some time.  I could be lying in bed, driving down the highway, or any quiet moment, and something pops into my mind, and I begin to script a sermon in my mind.  Sometimes, the thoughts come in a gushing stream.  At other moments the sermon begins as disjointed fragments that finally fit together as I allow my mind to absorb the lesson. 

It took me a while to understand that God was really trying to teach me through these sermons.  At first, I was overly impressed with my own cleverness.  But, God eventually was able to open my eyes to the true purpose of these private church services.  I remember driving to Oklahoma from Austin.  I was in route to my in-laws home to join my family.  God had been dealing with me over a few very tightly held pieces of myself, and over the course of the seven-hour drive that Plymouth mini-van was a rolling revival service.  It was then I realized that, although in my mind it was me preaching to a congregation of hundreds, in reality it was God preaching to a congregation of one.