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My soon to be 6 year old daughter, Tegan, has recently discovered that she has a lovely singing voice and as her dad, I couldn’t be more excited and proud.  I’ve known for a while that she has an ear for music just from hearing her sing a long with the radio but its looking like she might be a little more gifted in music than I had originally thought.  (But then again, I am her dad so objectivity tends to escape me!)

So, a few weeks ago she started tinkering with writing her own songs.  They were mostly made up from random stuff that she likes such as unicorns, fat baby (her beloved baby doll) and rainbows until one afternoon while I was in my office working on some music of my own that she came to me and said “Dadda, will you write a song with me?”  Of course, I was delighted and began to come up with a simple tune that we could write lyrics over.  As I played she started coming up with words and I was pleasantly surprised…I mean, we’re not talking a platinum record or anything but for a 5 year old I was very impressed!

As the days went by she and I spent several sessions forming up her masterpiece.  Well, anyone with 2 kids knows that at this age jealousy is pretty common so I was trying to be sensitive to my son, Gideon, who is her older brother and has a jealous bone when it comes to his sister.  Me and Gideon have always shared some kind of activity together, usually outdoors.  I can say with confidence that I have a great relationship with my 9 year old son.  We have spent a lot of time fishing, hiking, riding bikes through our neighborhood, watching our favorite movies but as I worked with Tegan the last thing that I wanted was for him to feel left out.  At the same time, for now at least, this was mine and Tegan’s “thing.”  I was careful to talk it through with him initially and make sure he understood that I don’t love her anymore than him and that he and I are still buds and will always be.

He seemed fine with it…at first.

The other day she and I were at it again rehearsing the almost completed song when Gideon came in to listen.  She was really improving so naturally I was delighted and expressed that through smiles and words of affirmation as she sang.  I didn’t notice it right away, but Gideon had left the room during one of her performances and after we had finished we came down stairs where I found him laying on the couch with his face buried in a pillow sobbing.  I looked at my wife and asked in a quiet voice “Whats wrong?”  She leaned over to me and said “I think he might be jealous.”  My heart sunk because that is the last thing that I wanted, for my boy to feel left out.  I immediately began to pray as I sat down next to him, “Jesus, give me the words.”  I softly began to rub his back with my hand and said, “Hey bud.  Talk to me.  Tell me what you’re feeling.”  Stubbornly, he said, “No”, somewhat sharpely.  I let it go for the time being.  I just snuggled up next to him, we turned on one of our favorite tv shows and sat there in silence.

Later that night as I tucked him into bed I asked again; “Will you talk to me?  What was going on earlier?”  After a few moments of my gentle prodding he looked at me, eyes wet with tears and said “Tonight while you and sister were practicing you looked at her and smiled and it made me sad.”  Again, my heart sunk.  “Tell me about the sadness,” I said fighting back tears of my own, “Do you think you might be a little jealous?”  He shrugged his shoulders.  He wouldn’t say it but I knew what he was feeling:

Maybe I’m not enough.  Maybe I need to do something to get dads approval.  What can I do to make him smile at me that way?

I said, “Bud, I loved Tegan long before she ever sang her first note and I have always been proud of her no matter what.  I feel the same way about you.  There is nothing that you or sister could do to ever change that.  My love for you guys doesn’t depend on what you do or how talented you might be at this or that…I love you just because.”  After I finished I felt that my words, though they were true, lacked something deep and meaningful.  He looked at me with this look of desperation and I heard Jesus whisper “He wants to know why.”  We sat there for a moment staring at each other as I tried to come up with something to say but my love for my kids is indefinable.  From the very first time that I laid eyes on them I fell hopelessly and madly in love with them.  I’d do anything for them, fight anyone for them, kill for them…but to be honest, I can’t really tell you why.  Call it a fatherly instinct, I guess.  But I’m just completely undone by how much I love those two.

It was in that moment that some kind of secret room deep within my heart where all the reasons for everything are kept locked up was opened.  The words began to flow from that deep place into a deep place within the heart of my son.  I looked at him and said “There is something about you that bursts up out of you when you smile or laugh or tell a silly joke that I absolutely love.  It spills up out of your eyes and face and chest when your doing nothing at all.  You can’t control it or keep it in…it’s what makes you the person you are.  That is what I love about you!  That is what makes me proud to be your dad!”  When I said these words he leaped up out of bed sobbing and wrapped his little arms around me in what was the best hug I have ever had.  I prayed a blessing over him and we said good night.

As I left the room I heard the voice of Jesus say “That is what I have been saying to you all along.”  My heart overflowed!

Days later I thought a lot about that night and the need of my son to know the why behind his dads love.  I have seen the same thing in myself and folks around me that drives us to behave, perform well and basically just to be good moral people.

Why am I loved? Why am I valued?

Where does this question come from?  Could it be that we desire some kind of control? Think about it…

If I know the why then perhaps I can can secure my own acceptance from the people in my life.  If I know the why then I can work to create my own value.  If I know the why I can begin to build up my defenses against rejection.

This kind of control is what causes us to strive and push ourselves to the point of exhaustion.  We see it in our in relationships, in our church communities and in our workplaces.  Grown men and women killing themselves to show that they have value and ultimately to find some kind of love from there peers.  The guy that believes his “why” is his work ethic so he is the first to get to work and the last to leave all the while ignoring his family in the name of trying to give the family that he is neglecting a better life. And then there is that guy in your circle of friends who has to be the funny guy at all the parties because he thinks his “why” is humor.  The woman at the office who shows a little too much cleavage and gets a little to flirty with the single guys because her “why” is her body.  We all have what we believe is the reason that the people in our lives accept us.  The problem is that by chasing the “why” we lose ourselves in the process.  We trade our true identity for something made up, a fake, a poser.

Sad thing is, that guy that over works himself to prove something to his superiors will probably get promoted and eventually move up to the top of his field, but he will have built his career all on someone that he is not.  And that woman that likes to show off her body will probably find a husband but the poor guy will not know who he is really marrying.  And on and on it goes…we are rewarded for our brokenness!  But sooner or later our ability to show the kind of love we are seeking is lost and we start to size up our friends for what they can offer us.

Consider the church as a whole for a moment.  We christians are often accused of being hatful in the public arena because of the stands we take over this issue or that.  We are much more known for what we are against then what we are for.  Now, I know that Jesus said that “the world will hate you because of me” so I’m not suggesting that we set out to make the world love us.  But Jesus also said in John 13 that we will be known by love, as if it should be our trademark.  Instead we seem to be driven by some kind of urgency to protect what is ours by politicizing our beliefs and drawing lines in the sand.  It seems that we live with this “panic” to regain control…(theres that word again).  In all of the causes that we are fighting for and people that we are fighting against, we’ve lost love along the way.

The reason?

Perhaps we don’t really know how to receive the unconditional love of Jesus.  So we reflect that on to the world around us as we lash out against the gay community, muslims, liberals and basically anyone that we disagree with.  We call it standing up for our God and our beliefs but the truth is, we are a broken hearted people that don’t know how deeply we are loved by Jesus.

Before long love is no longer an issue.  We simply use the folks around us to get what we want and to secure the life we desire.  We shift from being lovers to being moral people and as a result, the heart begins to die.  We forget the words of Paul – If you don’t have love you have nothing.  Yet we will be admired by the folks around us for being pillars of our communities.  We will get the pats on the back for how hard we’ve worked.  But when we lay in our beds at night there is our truest self that is starving for freedom and to know that he/she is loved…just because.

I am a part of a community of believers the meets every Sunday and have for the past 3 years with around 150 homeless men and women for a time of fellowship, food and the reading of the word.  It is my church and I love it.  I have learned a lot over the past 3 years about the homeless culture in Birmingham and throughout the southeast.  Most of us see homeless people as lazy, addicted, no good folks that couldn’t hold down a job, and before we began this journey I thought the same.  But you’d be surprised to learn what the common thread of all these folks is.

Its’s not laziness.  It’s not addiction.

The common thread is a deep sense of worthlessness.  They feel no value for themselves at all.  Through abuse they have suffered in their childhood, some kind of tragedy or just a life of poor decisions, they arrive at this place in life were they believe and operate out of one simply message – I am worthless.  Jesus led us out into the streets with a counter message:

You are loved, you matter and you have a seat at the table.

We have seen so many of our homeless friends embrace this message and are changed because of it.  Men and women being reunited with their families, folks on the brink of suicide finally find hope and cycles of addiction end once and for all.  Because when someone looks at you and says “I love you and there is nothing you can do to change that.  I love you just because” it awakens something deep within us.  Hope sparks in the darkness and says Freedom is possible.  Freedom from hopeless striving, freedom from fear of rejection, freedom to offer ourselves, freedom to be loved.  There is power in this kind of love, life changing, world changing power.

For most of us who call ourselves christians, we tend to value the wrong things.  Sound theology, knowledge of the scriptures and church attendance.  We really think that if we can get these things right then that puts us in good standing.

But the question is – do you know how deeply you are loved?

I know what your thinking.  “How can you minimize something like – sound theology?”  Heres the deal, for far too long we christians have put the cart before the horse when it comes to the various faucets of the christian life.  We work to get our doctrines right and manage out behavior first before we give ourselves the freedom of resting in the presence of Jesus and in the assurance of his love for us.  Jesus himself was empowered by the love of his Father.  Jesus began his ministry with love.  We see it at his baptism when God said “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”  (I’ll talk more about that later in part 2). Love has to be our “ground zero”…we have to start there.

In conclusion I want to leave you with an exercise:  Take a few moments everyday to ask Jesus a few questions and then give yourself some space, in silence to hear his answer.  Now, don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear anything at first.  Give it time:

Jesus, do you love me?

Am I really your son/daughter?

Do I bring you joy?

I know they seem like silly questions but your heart needs to hear the answer.  And you’d be surprised at how much your life will change just by knowing that you are loved…just because!