Tuesday, August 21, 2012

a father's day sermon, by patrick

patrick wrote - and shared - the following thoughts on father's day this year.  as vava's arrival draws closer, his thoughts on fatherhood are especially dear to me. 

enjoy! :)

I want to talk about God's Fatherly tenderness. I first noticed it in this section of Matthew 7 and once I saw it here I started seeing it everywhere.

Growing up with the assembly, my conception of God was that he was, at best, distant and unapproachable. I believed that God ought to be approached with reverence and fear and that he was much too serious to be approached in any kind of familiar way. I didn't really believe that God was knowable. I believed that I needed to please God to earn his favour but that ultimately, as far as I was concerned, God was indifferent.

I had a hard time reconciling what I believed about God with passages like Romans 8.15-17:

For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

and 1 John 3.1, 2:

Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see Him as He is.

So, if we’re born again, we have a new life and we have a new parentage. God is now not my Enemy but my Father. The relationship that a Christian has with God is indeed a warm and familiar one and God wants a family relationship with his people. That's why we're called His Children. We're not His subjects or His employees, we're his Children.

So I'm going to read at Matthew 7.7:

Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will give him a serpent? If ye, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

I used to read this and think it just meant that God answers prayer. And that's true: this does teach that God answers prayer. But Jesus here is teaching a principle, he says, “Ask and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you.” And he makes this promise: “For everyone that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” If he just left it there, we wouldn't really get it, so Jesus gives us an example of what God really is like, and it's the example of a father caring for his children. And he says: “If ye, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?”

God answers prayer like a Father caring for his children. It's not a chore for a father to give his children the things they ask for and the things they need. It's not burdensome; it's something a father delights to do. A father—a good father—doesn't delight in harming his children; doesn't delight in withholding from his children. God is not an abusive father. And he's not cold and distant and unapproachable either. God engages with His children, He wants to be known by them, He cares for them. God is really tender towards us, like a father is toward his child.

In Luke 11, Jesus' disciples ask him: “Teach us how to pray,” and Jesus says, “This is how you pray,” and he begins with, “Our Father.” God doesn't think of this as just a metaphor. He actually is our Father and He wants us to approach Him like He’s our Father. His heart is tender toward us. I never realized the tenderness of God's love for me until I became a father myself and I can't help thinking: If I love my son this much, how much must God love me?

If being a father teaches me about God, it also teaches me about me. There's this kind of annoying quality about babies: Everything is a major emergency. One minute everything is fine and the baby is happy and then suddenly the baby realizes he's hungry! And now we're in a major crisis situation, like, we've got to get on the phone to FEMA and get the army here and some helicopters and get some food into this baby, NOW!

So, I start to get the bottle ready, and this whole process only takes about a minute, but it's a minute too long for the baby who's behaving like the food's never going to come, that I'm never going to give it to him—even though, here I am, getting his food ready in plain sight—he's behaving like he really believes that I'm just going to let him starve to death, the poor thing.

So, I've learned that I'm a lot like the baby. My faith in God goes about as far as the baby's faith in me. I know I'm not going to let the baby starve to death—I'm not going to let anything bad happen to the baby if I can help it. And what we just read is Jesus telling us that if we can take good care of our babies, how much more can God take care of us?

But I still act like it's all up to me and I get bitter and upset when things don’t go the way I’ve planned them or I don’t get the things I want. So it kind of helps me to think of myself as the baby throwing a tantrum. God's ready for me, he's got everything under control. And most of the time I just don't see it; I don't trust that God cares and that what God has to give me is better than the things I want.

Sometimes, I've got to keep Sam's food from him for a minute because it's too hot, I don't want him to burn his mouth when he eats it, so it goes in the freezer for a minute. When he sees that it's disappeared in the freezer, he thinks it's never going to come out and he's never going to get fed and he really wants that food so he starts screaming and thrashing around.

Sam hates getting dressed. Getting him into a pair of pants can be a real struggle. He'll scream until his face turns red and he's got these veins that pop out on the side of his head and he'll fight and fight so that I've got to pin him to the floor with my legs. And he's a pretty strong kid, and he's only getting stronger. I've got to wrestle him into his pants, and into his shirt and his sweater, because it gets cold and he acts like he doesn't notice when it's cold, he'll go out naked in the snow if I let him. But I know that's not good for him, so I'm not going to let him do that, I'm going to put his clothes on him. And that makes him so mad so he'll scream and thrash and fight. And it never ends well for him, you know, he never gets his way. I never say, “Ok, Sam. Just this once, I'll let you go play in the snow naked.” No, I'm stronger than he is, I outweigh him by about a hundred and sixty pounds, he's got no chance of winning against me, but he still fights me. You've got to admire his courage, but he's a little stupid.

Sam wrestling reminds me of myself. I can't win, fighting against God, but I try anyway. I hardly ever just surrender and say, “Okay, I trust you. You know best. I'll go with you on this.” Instead I've got to try and do things my way, I've got to fight and fight to have things go just as I’ve planned them, just as I want them to go and all the while I'm praying to God to let things go my way because I've got big plans, you know, and I'm going to do everything I can to make them work out. My plans are that I'm going to get out of my clothes and go play naked in the snow, or run in traffic, play chicken with the cars, torment the neighbourhood dogs until I find one that'll bite my face off, or else just wander off and get lost. One of the reasons God gives us babies is so we'll see how
foolish we really are.

Jesus teaches us to pray, “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done.” Thy will, not my will. I want God to help me with my plans? That's foolish. The Bible says that we can't even imagine what God has planned, and he wants us to be a part of it. When we pray, “Thy will be done,” we're submitting to God's will, we're saying “Not my plans, your plans.” We're letting God use us in His plans.

We don't pray because we have to remind God to take care of us. When we pray, “Give us day by day our daily bread,” we're not reminding God that we need to be fed. God already knows. I think Jesus gave us this prayer to remind us where our daily bread comes from. It comes from our Father. I don’t think prayer is so much about getting things from God as it is about getting to know God.

One chapter back, at Matthew 6.25, Jesus says this:

Therefore I say to you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit to his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore, take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? Or, What shall we drink? Or, Wherewithal
shall we be clothed? ... For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

Here Jesus is teaching about God's tenderness. God is tender towards his Creation: He feeds the birds, He makes the flowers beautiful. And Jesus says, “Your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” He's saying, 'See how well your Father cares for the birds and the flowers? How much more does He care for you?'

I was just thinking about the lilies and the birds. Jesus tell us here that they don't do any work, they don't do anything to provide for their future, they don't store up food, or plant gardens, the lilies don't make themselves clothes, they don't manufacture textiles. And yet both birds and lilies are remarkably beautiful because God made them this way. It's the way they are. We don't value birds and flowers because of any work they do, we value them because of what they are. They show off God's great glory by being what they are.

Same with us: God does not value us because of anything that we can do. Is there anything we can do that will impress God or make Him value us more? Is there anything we can do or fail to do that will make God value us less? No. We're like babies; we can't even do anything for ourselves. Why do we behave like we can impress God with what we can do? God values us because we're His Children, not because of anything we do for Him.

I love being able to do things for Sam. It’s so satisfying to meet his needs. And when he just trusts me, like when he’s too tired to fight and he lets me carry him and he just puts his head on my shoulder and holds me, nothing can make me a happier father. And sometimes, Sam just wants to be with me, he’ll walk up unexpectedly and give me a hug and a kiss. Nothing makes me happier than that, and I’m just so ridiculously pleased to be Sam’s father.

God gives us opportunity to show His glory by being His Children. Jesus teaches us that we should not worry about material things because we have a Father in heaven who cares for us. And when we trust Him and rely on Him and when we say, “Thy will be done, not mine,” we're showing the world that God is real, that God is dependable, and that God is tender and kind. If we just let ourselves be God's little children, God gets glory. And that's really what we're all about, glory to God.

The relationship we have with God is a familiar one. God is present, He cares for us, and He loves us. I never understood how much God loves us until I saw God's Fatherly care for us in the verses we read. I used to think that it was right and good to approach God thinking poorly of myself and telling Him how undeserving and worthless I am. But God, our Father, does not delight in pious self-abasement. He values us. If my son, Sam, came to me hanging his head and started telling me about how bad of a boy he is and how he doesn't deserve my love and how he's completely worthless to me and he doesn’t understand why I ever adopted him, I wouldn’t get any pleasure from that. That approach is no basis for a relationship. I love and value my son, and I want him to know me. I want him to know who I am and how much I love him. If he thinks he's too
undeserving to be in my presence, he's never going to know me and he's not going to enjoy my presence.

I'm convinced that God wants me to know Him, wants me to be familiar with Him and to enjoy His presence. I should approach God with humility, yes, and confess my sins with the confidence that God forgave my sins and that my sins are put away. I won’t earn favour by reminding God about my sins. We approach God like children entering a father's presence. Hebrews 4.16 says, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” We can come boldly to the throne of grace because it is our Father’s throne and he delights in giving us grace.

My Christian experience was a miserable one. I felt that God disapproved of me—how could he approve of me, seeing as I am such a miserable sinner who can’t stop sinning? I didn’t enjoy God’s presence because I thought of God as a stern, distant, disapproving, and unapproachable parent. Before we’re saved, it is right to see God as unapproachable and stern because we are His enemies. But, once saved, once born again, we’re born into God’s family and He is our Father. And the Bible teaches that He is a good Father, a tender Father, a kind Father, a Father who loves his children tremendously. I never enjoyed God until I saw Him as my Heavenly Father. His presence isn’t fearful but enjoyable because I know that He loves me, He cares for me. I know that I can trust Him.

2 comments:

  1. Patrick, this was what I needed to read today! I haven't read Janelle's blog since the three MacDougall's left your place so was just catching up.
    So exciting as well to hear of your taking a teen for the school year. Teens sometimes get a bad rap, I think, when they just need to be loved and have every effort made to understand what they are trying to tell us. I've had five of our own as well as some that just came to us for a few months or years and I loved being around them all.
    God bless you both as you await the arrival of your baby daughter. Sam will be such a wonderful big brother - you are an awesome family! - hc

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