Archive for February, 2016|Monthly archive page

Father love

The father of an elderly friend of mine abandoned his family when my friend was still in elementary school.

Another friend’s dad was an alcoholic and let his young son sit alone in a truck for hours while the father drank in a pub. At home, he was abusive.

Still another acquaintance told me years ago that he had trouble seeing God as father because of his own experiences of an abusive dad.

It’s a common story today and Christian ministries are increasingly dealing with this obstacle to faith and trust in God.

I had a good father who cared for me and took an interest in me as I grew up.  So, I acknowledge that I don’t know what life was like for these friends of mine.

But it grieves me that people’s lives can be destroyed by something like parental abuse.

I am thankful, though, that many believers have found healing and hope in God.

One approach, of course, is to recognize that God is father of all those who follow him.  His love relationship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit is exactly what he is seeking with each of us as believers.

Jesus told a wonderful story – often labelled “The Prodigal Son”- to illustrate God’s father love for us.

In the story,  the youngest son in a rich family decides to leave home and asks his dad for his share of the inheritance.  So, off he goes to a distant land where he spends all his money on wild living.

He winds up destitute and starving.  Then, he remembers what it was like at home and decides to return, throw himself on his father’s mercy, and ask for a job as a mere servant.

As he approaches his home, his father, who has been keeping an eye out for him, sees him and runs – runs – to meet the young man.

Before his son can speak, the father hugs him and, rejoicing, he arranges for a party for the wayward son.

This is how God looks at us.  He is waiting for us to come back to him after wandering away.

He won’t abandon us as some earthly fathers have.  He will allow us to wander away as most of us occasionally do.  But he will welcome us back with joy when we return.

No earthly father can match God in fatherly love.

We find healing for our past hurts when we give them all to God and put our faith in his never-ending love.

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What is true?

“What is truth?” Pilate asked 2,000 years ago.

It was an off-hand line he used to dismiss Jesus’ statement that he came into the world “to testify to the truth”.

Pilates remark in John 18:38 is a comment that we hear increasingly in today’s world.  People use it to brush off claims by Christians that Jesus is the truth.

In his book The Power of Story, evangelist Leighton Ford said that the average person now believes “there is no such thing as an absolute, objective point of view in matters of morality and religion”.

Naturally, that leads to an “anything goes” mentality.  If there is no absolute truth, why should I bother living a moral life or putting my faith in God?

For centuries, people in Western countries accepted that God existed and the Bible expressed the truth in matters of faith and moral standards.  Now, most don’t.

Is this bad?

Probably not.  It means that an apathetic, disinterested population in the West is now a mission field – just like citizens of the Roman Empire in Jesus’ day.  That could make life for believers as exciting as it was in the early days of Christianity.

But this skepticism about truth presents believers with a challenge: We must live as if Jesus is the truth and spoke the truth.  It was the commitment of the first Christians after Jesus ascended to heaven that brought people to the Lord.  Do we live what we preach?

Ford and other writers say we Christians must live differently than the rest of society.  We must act as if Christ really is our guide and that we place him first in our lives.

Beau Crosetto says in his book Beyond Awkward that people judge the truth of our words by how we live.  People will listen to what we say if we admit that we have problems but that we are turning to God to take us through them.

Jesus lived what he declared.  He showed that he cared for people.  He offered himself as a sacrifice for the people he loved.  His commitment was real.  And many believed him.

Jesus showed that he was the truth.  He is calling us to live the truth, too.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

Years ago, I bought a book called Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff which urged readers not to stress out about unimportant things.

At the time, I was working under a lot of pressure with a good deal of overtime.  I followed some of the practical suggestions in the book by Richard Carlson and found them helpful.

But Carlson wasn’t original.  The basic ideas go back to Jesus Christ.

I admit that I put a lot of pressure on myself – needlessly.  Many of the things that bulk large in my mind today will be forgotten next month.

Jesus had plenty to bother him.  He was under constant attack from religious leaders.  He was on display every day as crowds came to hear him and seek healing.  He had little time to himself.

But in Matthew 6, he says that we shouldn’t worry about everyday things such as food and drink and clothes to wear.  “Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing?”

Jesus’ words came just after he called on his listeners not to store up treasures on earth where moths and rust destroy.  Instead, he urged us to “store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal”.

His point is clear: Focus on what is really important rather than on the trials, temptations, and sorrows of earth.  What is really important is pleasing God.

He urged his listeners to have faith that God will provide us with what we need.

“So, don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries.  Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

In other words, don’t sweat these things.

Is Jesus saying we should stop working and let God take care of us?  No, he isn’t.  But he is saying that God is working in us and in our lives and he will take us through whatever troubles we may face.

Worries, Jesus says, won’t add a single moment to our lives.

I often think of the words Minnie Louise Haskins wrote a century ago:

“I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year,
Give me a light
That I may tread safely into the Unknown.
And he replied
Go out into the Darkness
And put your hand into the Hand of God
That shall be to you
Better than light
And safer than the known way.”

Great advice.

God is glad!

God is always filled with joy.

“Really?” you might ask.  “But what about the times when God was angry with the children of Israel for rejecting him?  And what about Jesus suffering on the cross?”

True, God hates sin.  And he weeps for us when we weep.  He is a God of feelings.

But, at the very core of his being, he is joyful.

In his wonderful little book Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, John Piper puts it this way: “The glory and grace of Jesus Christ is that he is, and always will be, indestructibly happy.”

In John 15:11, Jesus tells his disciples: “I have told you these things so that you may be filled with my joy.”

And the writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 12:2 that “for the joy set before him (Jesus), he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Jesus had a joyous, loving relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit and was looking forward to more joy having completed his assignment to bring many more brothers and sisters into God’s kingdom.

Jesus talks about rejoicing in heaven over one sinner joining the family of God through faith.

The Father tells Jesus in Hebrews 1:8-9 that he has anointed him, “pouring out the oil of joy on you more than on anyone else”.

When God created the world and the universe, he was pleased with what he had done.  He loves what he has created.

And one of my favourite Bible passages is Zephaniah 3:17 where the prophet says that God takes “great delight” in his children and rejoices over us with singing.

So, why does this matter?

It matters because the character of God matters.  As Piper says, God is not gloomy.  He wants a loving relationship with his children.  He enjoys us and he wants us to enjoy him.

If I truly understand that God is happy in himself and happy that I am his child, my attitude will be very different than if I believe that he can’t stand me because of my weaknesses and failures.

That is no licence to continually sin.  To deal with sin, the apostle John points out in 1 John 1:8-9 that I must confess my sin and I will be restored immediately to the close relationship that I broke by turning away from the Lord.

Fundamentally, I must always remember that when God looks at me, he sees Jesus who took away my sins on the cross and rose again to remove the penalty I deserved.

If God is delighted with me, why should I go around with a long face?