The boys crowded shoulder-to-shoulder around a sheet of paper reviewing with hungry eyes what would either prove to be a ticket to freedom or a dreaded sentence to the most excruciating boredom imaginable. Their fate had already been determined; sealed by how each of their names had fallen on a roster that was marked by the room numbers to which each had been assigned at the hotel awaiting them in Tennessee. As the boys scanned the list there sprang from their midst an amalgamation of sighs and cheers – of slumped shoulders and high-fives due entirely to where their names fell on the list in question.
The crux of this pregnant moment had little to do with the peers who would eventually share a room for the week. This was a fairly close-knit bunch and none were known to be the unfortunate benefactor of such disdain. The rub that drew the attention of this assembly was the chaperone to which each had been assigned – for they knew that the long-awaited trip would either be bliss or drudgery based on the adult who would watch over their room.
As I stood ingesting the contents of this list (a bespectacled lad of fourteen), two distinct discoveries were drawn into sharp relief. The first was no real surprise – for everyone knew who the best friends were within the group and leadership had done us right in pairing such friends together. Sure enough, my buddy Chuck voiced his approval nearby, having glimpsed our names assigned to the same room within the dreaded list. Then the second epiphany struck, and for my friend it came on the heels of the first like the report of a gunshot almost negating it entirely. We both reacted - but as our reactions coalesced into a perplexing dichotemy, it dawned on me that our view of that second revelation could not have been more juxtapposed - or more telling.
“Pastor Kelly…” Chuck moaned as though reading a sentence of death.
“Cool, we’re with Pop!” I uttered without skipping a beat.
We turned to each other, having processed (on a delay) the words that each had exclaimed in reaction to our assigned chaperone. His was face ashen and almost dejected, though I could tell that his countenance would have been far worse were it not for a smidgen of courtesy that had been interjected for my benefit. Pastor Kelly was, after all, my father.
It was a terrible moment and could have been ugly – for there has never been a day in my life when I could hear a bad word uttered about my Pop. Alas, this has proven to be a chronic condition over the years – for to this day I can assimilate a thousand rancid words directed toward me with far greater patience than the slightest off-colored remark raised about my father. This is, of course, a son’s perogative for which I offer no apology.
As I scoured my buddy’s face I could instantly tell that he meant no slight or insult toward my dad, for everyone in the group bore great love and respect for their pastor at the time. His reaction, I had the sense to discern, was actually due to that respect – for he was sure that all fun had been thwarted because of the authority that Dad wielded in the organization. Surely our room would be the stuffiest – every moment would be a bible-thumping brow-beating anecdotal nightmare set to the melodious drone of chanting monks and deep, penetrating discussions. I don’t mean to impugn these things or suggest that any of them are bad – but one must bear in mind that these were the assimilations of a fourteen year old boy whose sole focus wavered between the next crowd-busting gag and the latest object of female infatuation. I was usually no different. Being assigned to the Pastor’s room was to my buddy what a flash of kryptonite might be to Superman, and his dejection was a carnal-minded vantage that is shared by many to this day.
I, on the other hand, was armed with better intel than what my friend utilized in order to form his perspective. I knew Pastor Kelly – not the mere image of his position or the perceptions often attributed to it. I knew the man as only a son can know him, and was certain that our room would be the envy of the trip.
This is gonna be fun, I recall thinking as I scrutinized my buddy’s reaction - and from that moment began reassuring him that all was not lost. Here is where Rhema, the Great Holy Spirit of our Mighty Heavenly Father, began His work in my heart for a lesson that I have never forgotten.
For what my buddy Chuck did not know (and what I had enjoyed many times over the years) is how much fun my Pop has always been when on holiday. Having known him only as his pastor, Chuck could not imagine the years of joy that my siblings and I shared with a man who genuinely loved his children and naturally induced great laughter among them. Chuck could not see that in my mind were springing up the images of tickle attacks and wrestling matches – the din of laughter raised from old stories that are still some of the funniest I have ever heard. This would become my first and greatest lesson on the matter of intimacy, and I was determined from that moment on to introduce my friend to my dad.
The 1983 Beulah Chapel trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee still stands in my mind as one of my most cherished memories. The week was wonderful for boys and girls who were still young enough to be nourished by the intoxicating sap of child-like wonder. Not only were the vistas mind-blowing and the events more fun than we could have anticipated, but it capped off a year-long odyssey of endless fund-raisers and hard work in order to reach that point. We raised an abundance of money for the trip, and were therefore rewarded with restaurants and amusements throughout the week. Important spiritual lessons were liberally applied through devotionals and prayer, intermingled seamlessly with roaring laughter and levels of great joy seldom reached in the years to follow.
Our room did indeed prove to be the envy of the trip. Even now I cannot express how endearing it was to watch my friends become acquainted with the clown that had long existed in my father. The pranks and jokes were abundant throughout the week, and to everyone’s astonishment (but my own) the culprit was almost always my Dad. For as I knew would happen, the “big kid” that Poppy always became in such environments sprang forth infusing the room with a wonderful spirit of joy. By the 2nd day of the trip, other rooms with younger chaperones were known to empty as boys filtered in wanting to see what all the commotion was about. Indeed, many a happy anecdote was being regaled throughout our ranks concerning the fun we’d been having, and everyone seemed to want in.
The telling moment came days later as the trip was winding down. A desperate call from home beckoned Dad to leave early and hop a flight back to Ohio to in order to facilitate the funeral of a parishioner who had suddenly died. With his exit came a curious deflation in the room. The ultimate authority had left us on our own, but it felt as though the air had been let out of our collective balloon. As the boys began to reflect (with many guffaws) on all the things that Pop had done while playing with us, I turned to my buddy Chuck and gave him the obligatory “told you so…” The last day of the trip proved to be a great letdown, and not only to me.
What my friends saw in my father that week was entirely genuine - not at all "the real man" slipping out from behind what had before been merely a facade. My father was and remains a holy and righteous man who is deeply in love with our Lord. The revelation for my friends therefore, wasn't wasn't one of discovery but an example of intimacy. They had bothered to peel the onion – they were truly getting to know him for the first time. I’m sure my brothers and I contributed to this phenomenon, for it was obvious by our desire to be around our Pop that there was more to the man than just the authority figure that he could certainly become when circumstances called for action. Seeing our father as "Pop" in the eyes of his children bore testimony to the nature of the man and emboldened others to come closer as a result.
Precious children of God Most High - Do you know our Heavenly Father in this way, or has He been forever confined in your heart to the title of "Father" without hope of knowing Him on a deeper, richer level? Did you know that He longs to bring you in so close to Himself that you can call Him Daddy?
If you naturally recoil at this thought you’re in good company – for I too struggled for many years with the lesson that I just passed along to you. For years my reverent fear and awe of the Lord – though wholly appropriate and never to be abandoned – prevented me from seeing this greater gift of joy and everlasting love that is given freely to all His babies. For though Father Jehovah is God Almighty – the Eternal Light whose very presence gives life to all existence – He also longs to be more in your heart than the authority to which He is naturally entitled.
Too many of His babies (and with this designation I mean you, Dear Ones) have the impression of severity when pondering the greatness of our God. The inclination for many is to give King Jesus all (due) credit for God’s mercy, love, grace, and kindness, while ever holding Poppa in the colder light of reverence and severity. This notion is utterly false – for Abba can no more be characterized in this narrow-minded way than Jesus should be exempted from His rightful role as the judge in calamities that came upon Israel during the fall of their kingdoms.
God has never changed and never will. Long before He came to us as the Lamb of God, Jesus ruled the world as "The Word of the Lord" and is (in fact) by Abba’s power its Creator. The One who stretched arms that were stripped of flesh over a cross in order to make an atoning sacrifice of unspeakable love, is the very one who ordered the killing of rebels during the days of Moses. Jesus is, was, and ever shall be God Almighty – and in the days of His flesh told us that He uttered only that which He heard from His Father. Our Holy Poppa, the Great God Jehovah, is Love.
Are you under the impression that Poppa did not feel every strike of the whips that stripped the flesh from Jesus’ body? I assure you, He did. Have you allowed the enemy to convince you that Abba was detached or aloof when His Son suffered and died for our sins? If so, please reconsider – for nothing could be farther from the truth. Yeshua’s agonies were so horrible that He had to will Himself (by miracle) to survive long enough to reach the cross. Any mere human would have died of shock long before. So take a moment and peruse the faces of your loved ones – a son, a daughter, a father or mother – could you have born it? Abba did for us. No, dear children of my Holy Poppa, there is no greater love than what Father God has for His babies.
Please do not misinterpret what I’m trying to relate. I do not hold to contemporary theology which teaches that our God is all Love with little care for holiness, justice, and purity. Too many theologians have “hippified” Jesus – reducing Him to the role of a benign presence who is incapable of passing judgment on those who do evil. I assure you, Dear Ones, this notion is just as wrong-minded as denying our Poppa his proper role as the great lover of our souls. Jesus is the King – the title is NOT ceremonial – every knee will bow before Him and every tongue will confess that He is Lord. When speaking of His Millennial rule in Revelation, Jesus characterized it more than once with the term, “iron scepter”.
The point of this caveat (crucial to understanding the larger point that I am trying to convey) is that Jesus and Abba are One – they speak as One, they think as One, they love as One, and they will judge the world as One. Unchanged by time, Elohim still operates as He did at the beginning – Father Jehovah speaking through His one and only Son, Yeshua, who rules this world by the great and awesome power of Rhema – the Mighty Holy Spirit of our Holy Poppa. Jesus cannot love you any deeper than the love that Abba has for you – they are One and their love for you endless. We are His babies, and like any good father, He longs to be intimately involved in His children’s lives.
Have you never felt pity for someone who lacked this intimacy with a natural parent? Intimacy, being an offshoot of love, can neither be contrived nor manufactured. When you hear a son or daughter addressing a parent respectfully (albeit coldly) utilizing the title “mother or father” (instead of monikers like “daddy / mommy”, “Ma / Pa”, or “Momma / Poppa”) do you not feel an ache of sympathy for them? How is it, then, that you have come so far in your journey with God still knowing Him in that same detached way? Have you been misled to believe that Abba is so concerned with His title that He would prefer a detached state of protocol yawning between you? Do you somehow suspect that calling Him Daddy or Poppa (with the sincere love of an adoring child) would somehow undermine His great authority? Did calling your earthly father “Dad/Pop” undermine his authority?
If you are a parent, cast your mind back to when your child was little. Imagine your little one looking up to you with love shining in their eyes – could you in a million years refuse them the intimacy of knowing you as Daddy or Mommy? How is it, then, that you could imagine our Holy Father – who loves us far deeper than we are even capable of assimilating – would ever deny His babies the latitude?
We come from Him – we are His eternal seed. He knew us before we were formed in the womb, and every moment of our lives was carefully planned (for our good) long before we came into being. Our choices of free will often wreck His good plans for our lives, and as an insult to injury, He is often blamed for calamities that ensue because of our disobedience. When our actions place us before the bar to be judged, is it our Father who condemns us, or have we condemned ourselves through wicked behavior? We always know the answer to this question even if the reality is often too hard to digest. Our Poppa is love and He has spent more than you can imagine providing a way out of our deserved eternal punishment. If one makes one’s bed in Hell, he or she is there by their own wicked choice and over His best efforts.
But you may ask; what is the point? What does it matter if one calls Him Daddy or Father? The answer to this question is simple – if your perspective heralds only from the vantage of ceremony or title, then it matters not at all. If your interest lies only in semantics, then I would be the first to agree that there is little point in calling Abba by any of the intimate titles that have been outlined in this dissertation. The larger point of this discussion has been intimacy – not what we should or should not call our Holy God. How we address our Poppa speaks volumes of the state of our intimacy with Him – but one cannot simply start calling Him “daddy” while making no effort to snuggle up to Him in a true expression of childlike adoration. True intimacy with God will naturally make Him your Daddy in due course – but one cannot treat this like a formula and expect intimacy to result.
To appreciate the importance of pursuit into deeper intimacy with God, one need only examine human nature and reflect on the matter of crime and punishment. For we have all been there – standing in the terrible place of condemnation where all our transgressions are laid bare in the cold light of exposure. The first thing to hit most of us is fear – surely the repercussions of our misdeeds will be weighted terribly against us in a variety of unpleasant ways. As children these punishments run the gamut of unpleasant behavioral modifiers ranging from spankings to groundings and lashings of the tongue. Though punishments change as we age, the specter of reprisal retains its terrible aspect as we grow in the embrace of love.
Then one day it happens. A transgression followed by discovery resulting in the terrible light of exposure and condemnation – only something occurs that is far worse than the most brutal lashing that you could have possibly received. The one against whom you sinned scours you with a hurt expression and swimming eyes that cut you to the marrow – a look foreshadowing a broken heart that instantly breaks your own. The parent in question utters not a word – no punishment is brought forth – only a tear of anguish and a turning away that makes you want to crawl into a hole. In such moments you have truly been laid bare, for what you see in the broken countenance of the one you love is your doing – the pain in their heart is of your creation.
Have you struggled in your relationship with God? Are you finding yourself falling into the same old sins over and over again – ensnared by familiar old traps that you should have grown to resist many years ago? This scenario likely speaks to your problem, Beloved. It may be that you do indeed see Abba as an authority figure, but have yet to realize Him as Poppa – not just The Deity who cared enough to lay down rules for the welfare of His creation, but your precious Daddy who is more beloved than life itself. When you have grown in intimacy with Abba, to the point that He is no longer restricted to “Our Heavenly Father” (but has become “my Holy Poppa”), you suddenly find that you cannot stomach the thoughts of hurting Him. Before long, you are instinctively thwarting snares of the enemy with mindless ease.
It is simple psychology. While one might be inclined to respect an authority figure out of fear or duty, there is no loyalty like that which naturally resides in the shining face of an adoring son or daughter personally invested in the pleasure and happiness of a beloved parent. If mere duty (or fear) spurns one to respect a certain authority, he/she will still prove to be far more likely to sin against that authority than another who has sought to know and love him/her with all their heart. Though the adoring child is still imperfect and may make dreadful mistakes, the act of willful disobedience is cast away – treated as an abomination rather than a rebellious birthright.
Upon crossing this line into a deeper and more blessed union with our Lord, you discover with great joy the relief of no longer wanting to indulge in sin. Instead of “what can I get away with” (which seems to be the salient question for too many), your primary concern becomes walking straight paths before Him. You want to make Him smile – to bring Him joy – and to one day hear Him utter those beautiful words, “Well done, good and faithful servant”. Here is where we discover that this truth speaks about intimacy, not about title. Contrary to what many in the Body of Christ are taught these days, growing closer to God in intimacy does not give one more license to act out or sin. You are, in fact, more conscious of sin and its destructive impact on your relationship to your Holy Father. Like a beloved son or daughter, you conclude that you would rather be dead than imagine the hurt expression on His face because of a calloused betrayal.
So how does one show our Holy Poppa true love and devotion? Is it by calling Him familiar or by utilizing designators that might hint at a deeper intimacy? Can the One who knows your every thought be mocked? Can you bribe Him with flattery or bat your eyes and twist your hands in an attempt to make Him melt? How does one show our Holy Poppa the deep, penetrating adoration that He deserves? Is it not by doing as He says? Surely the measure of your love for Abba is (and will be) summed up in one simple word:
“If you love me, keep my commands…” – John 14:15
“Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me…” – John 14:21
Do you truly love your Heavenly Father? Then prove it. Daily – hourly – without ceasing and with greater joy than one might receive were it to involve an earthly son or daughter, mother or father. Do you really hope to never disappoint Him again? Then don’t. Impossible, you say? I know this is the popular opinion in a day when precious few shoulder the burden of personal responsibility, yet my answer to such an assertion would be a resounding and unequivocal “Nonsense!” Over and over in the writings of Peter, Paul and John, we see repeated the admonition that to love Abba is to do as He commands. As you read in the passages from the Gospel of John (above), Jesus listed obedience as the sole indicator that one truly loves Him. There are no easy outs or formulaic excuses that will hold an ounce of water when standing before the Judgment Seat of Christ. Punishment has been reserved for all evil doers and for every evil deed that remains uncovered by His Blood – whether one ever knew the Lord or not. Surely this is why Peter was prompted to write:
20 If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. 21 It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. 22 Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,”[g] and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.” – 2 Peter 2:20-22
The key to achieving this deeper intimacy with Poppa is painfully simple for those who have finally tired of the ruin resulting from seeking it elsewhere. The key is surrender – complete and total surrender. You must surrender your mind (with it’s labyrinth of opinions and prejudices) over to your spirit. To walk in the spirit means to remove your gaze from the world around you and all the enticements that are continually warring against our Lord and what He is determined to accomplish before the end. Our spirits, in turn, must be completely surrendered to the Great Holy Spirit and all that He desires to accomplish through His union with you. So you see how the domino effect works to your deliverance in every situation. By surrendering your spirit to Rhema (wholeheartedly), so that your every thought and inclination is subjected to His will, and then (by extension) surrendering your mind to your God-filled spirit, you find that you are no longer dazzled by the meager things of this world. Not only does obedience become easier, but natural – like breathing.
What many of His children attempt to bring to our Lord is a bargain that might result in giving God “what He wants” in exchange for peace, happiness, wealth, or health. Since they still see Him as a bloodless authority, they offer a pretense at love with all the right mutterings and religious incantations – while feeling in their hearts not the slightest actual pang of adoration for the One who powers their every heartbeat and allows them every draw of breath. He patiently endures this behavior because it is a common strand found in his babies when first touched by the awe of God. But like any good parent He waits – He instructs – utilizing any number of resources at His disposal to teach the little one out of this selfish behavior.
Some of the tools of His instruction must eventually become radical (and even hard to endure) if the desired growth is to ever be realized. For He knows (as we do not) that the enemy of the soul is ever lurking, waiting, probing – desperate to find that one chink in the proverbial armor that will lend him passage and block the desired intimacy. Only through maturity of the spirit does Abba’s little one grow to defeat the devil, and Jesus works tirelessly to engender the aforementioned growth until either the growth begins in earnest or the child in question falls away.